What is Our Motivation in Giving?

An example of a Tzedakah Box

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. 

Matthew 6:1-4 

There were not any chapter breaks or even commas in the original scrolls of the Bible. With this in mind, it is interesting to note the last verse of Matthew 5. “…be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48. We discussed previously that being perfect does not mean being completely sin-free. but rather separated to God—where our life focus is to do God’s will.  After saying this, Jesus went right into speaking about giving.

In other translations of Matthew 6:1-4, it reads this way, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.”  In the King James Version, it says, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them.” The word righteousness is translated tzedakah (said-ah-kaw) in Hebrew.

In the period, between the Old Testament and the New Testament, gospel Sages used the word tzedakah as a synonym for charitable giving. Jesus chose to use it in this way as well. And He links it to the quest for being perfect or walking in holiness. In other words, Don’t do things with the goal of impressing others with your holiness, with the goal of their approval or reward.  In other words, keep your focus on honoring God, not on gaining attention of others.

Yet, when the rich young ruler came to Jesus claiming to have followed all the commandments (Luke 18:18-23), Jesus told him “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (vs. 22)

Judaism stresses that giving to the poor is not just a desirable option, it is a duty. The box seen at the beginning of this post is a ‘Tzedekah’ box. You will find one in every home.  Deuteronomy 15:11 states, “…the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.”

Proverbs 31:20, in the description of a ‘woman of valor,’ you see this verse repeated. “She extends her hand to the poor, Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.”

And consider these two scriptures: Proverbs 22:9 He who has a generous (good) eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor.

Proverbs 23:6-7 KJV  Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: 7 For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.

So, what was Jesus referring to when He promised the rich young ruler ‘treasure in heaven?’ 

The treasures of heaven are not financial wealth or things. Rather they are the attributes of God. Treasures like compassion, faithfulness, and love for others. This kind of treasure will last for eternity. No one can steal these from you. As we walk in these attributes now, we are storing up treasures in heaven and experiencing peace. We are also bringing heaven to earth and glorifying God. 

Acts 10:1-8, 17-35, is the story of a Gentile named Cornelius. Let’s see what Luke says to him. “a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.”

Did you see that? Luke is writing about a righteous Gentile. 

The angel that comes to visit Cornelius when he is praying says, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.” (vs 4) God took note of Cornelius because of his prayers and charitable giving. Does charitable giving carry this kind of importance today? 

Later Paul visited Peter and the disciples in Jerusalem. These early church leaders approved Paul’s mission to the Gentiles with one stipulation. “They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.” Galatians 2:10

When Jesus told them not to practice their righteousness before others, He highlighted their need for humility. How we behave must reveal the character of God. 

In verses 2-4 of our text today we read, “Therefore when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”

The phrase, they have their reward, has to do with human recognition. “Heavenly reward,” has to do with heaven’s applause. 

There are three practices of righteousness expected in Hebrew culture:

  • 1. Study of Torah 
  • 2. Prayer
  • 3. Giving of Alms – Charity

Even, three-year-old children memorize portions of the Torah. Prayer is practiced three times a day at 9 AM, Noon, and 3 PM. Religious Jews offer prayers for various reasons all day long. And giving to charity is a part of every person’s daily life, poor to rich.

In Mark 12:41-44, we have the story of the widow who put in two small copper coins. They were worth only a fraction of a penny. At the same time, the rich were parading their giving of large sums. In verses 43-44, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on.”

How about the phrase “do not sound a trumpet?” Were people blowing shofars before giving? 

No, they were not. Still, the tzedakah boxes were often metal. When the coins went in, a clattering noise resounded. More coins dropped in resulted in more noise and more attention. 

“Did you hear that, Martha? He just gave a week’s wages. He is very committed.” — God’s attention responds to the motivation of the heart to give, not to the clatter of coins. 

Then Jesus speaks of the ‘hypocrites.’ In Greek theater, actors and actresses didn’t wear costumes. Instead, they held up different masks to identify their character and emotion. So, Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t pretend to be a holy, humble person when you are not.’

Instead, “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” — Give without a second thought. It all belongs to God anyway. 

We will continue speaking about motivation next time when we discuss where and how to pray. We will also cover the model prayer He gave His disciples to pray.

God bless you in your walk with Jesus. 

Shalom ♥ 

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