Perhaps we can learn how to give by observing a certain hypocrite and thinking through why his giving in particular is especially ridiculous. R.W. Glenn tells of a certain man who brought in eight figures yet consistently boasted of his giving. He would speak of how he gave a thousand dollars to this charity and to that cause. His giving is repulsive first because as we see in our text, it is not about God, it is not even about others, it is about self glorification. But secondly it is ridiculous because it’s nothing, he is giving away pennies. We think it would be easy to give away a few thousand if you posses such wealth. Here, I think is where we can learn from the hypocrite.
Giving liberally might be thought to be easier in proportion to the wealth one already possesses, but wouldn’t it be equally true, no, more true, that it would be even easier to give in proportion to the reward one expects to receive for giving. If I am told I will be given one hundred dollars for every Washington that I give away…
For the Christian both truths allow him to be liberally generous. He is already immeasurably rich in Christ, and He is promised yet more for giving in a way that shows His devotion to God. Focusing on the reward makes our giving unselfconscious. We don’t boast because we don’t think ourselves to be giving but receiving. Let’s focus on the scandal of the reward and the nature of the reward and see how it works toward this end.
First the very idea of reward is scandalous; how can God reward the spiritually bankrupt? How can the poor in spirit merit anything? They can’t! Even when we do all that we should have done, we have only done that which was our duty (Luke 17:7-10). Consider three further reasons why the idea of reward is scandalous.
1. All our acts, even our best acts are stained, contaminated with sin. They are acceptable only in Christ. John Owen wisely wrote,
Believers obey Christ as the one by whom our obedience is accepted by God. Believers know all their duties are weak, imperfect, and unable to abide in God’s presence. Therefore they look to Christ as the one who bears the iniquity of their holy things, who adds incense to their prayers, gathers out all the weeds from their duties and makes them acceptable to God.
2. The reward is immeasurably disproportionate to the service rendered. This is a repeated motif through the gospels of which Matthew 19:29 is just one example.
3. Our good deeds are not only accepted only in Christ, they are also only through and because of Christ. God rewards his own activity in us (Hebrews 13:20-21, Philippians 2:12-13). Commenting on 2 Corinthians 9:8 John Pipers says, “Good deeds do not pay back grace, they borrow more grace.”
The scandal of reward is the scandal of the gospel all over again, the gift that keeps on giving. God’s grace moves us to be gracious. But the most liberating freedom to give comes in contemplating what He has given us. What is the nature of the reward? Notice that Jesus does not go into spelling out exactly what the reward is. Jesus does not say, “Give and you will have land and great wealth in heaven.” If this were the case giving would be self-serving and not God-glorifying. I think the reason the reward is not elaborated is because what moves us to give here is not what is given, but Who is giving. In contrast to the hypocrite who gives to hear the praise of others, the Christian gives to hear the praise of His Father. God is the reward.
So then the key to giving unselfconsciously is to believe God’s promises and be enthralled with the reward.
The engaged young man working two jobs to buy a wedding ring doesn’t think himself to be doing anything, why? Because he is getting the bride. He doesn’t draw attention to it, doesn’t manipulate her with it, he is in awe that she graciously said yes, and wants to put a rock on her finger that says, “mine!” She is honored by his service and brags to others of it, but he doesn’t. The reward is incredibly disproportionate to the service rendered.
But he is a man. And there are times when he wonders if all this hard labor is worth it all. How can he gain gusto to work with joy again? By looking at her picture, conversing with her, dreaming of her, or seeing her.
If you want to give liberally and unselfconsciously think on your God, know His majesty, and remind yourself of the gospel and His promises. Go to the Bible and be in awe that in Christ you can say, “He is mine!” Do this and you will think all your meager giving ridiculous.