My life alongside God's word, volume 3. 'Daily Christian discipleship' section.
Bible reading: Matthew 6:1-4, 19-21, 24.
The first Sunday of 2015 Brenda and I visited a church 400 miles north of home, in order to meet up with someone who used to be in our congregation in Khartoum. She now serves God in South Sudan out of Nairobi, Kenya.
That morning the pastor preached on “the gift of giving”, from 2 Corinthians 8:1-9. Of twelve dictionary meanings in English, the verb ‘to give’ here means: “to provide someone with something”, “to make someone (else) the owner of something you owned”.
Taken together 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 teach all Christians about using our possessions to meet other people’s needs as well as our own. This applies even when we have few things. The example for us to follow is our Lord Jesus Christ: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich”, 8:9. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift”, 9:15. Do not look at what other people are doing. Carefully think about Jesus.
God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, was given to the world by God the Father for the potential spiritual benefit of the world population throughout all of time. God gave Himself. We must try to use a lot of ‘ourselves’ to bless others. The Greek word “gift” used in 9:15 is dorea, meaning a free gift. Christian giving is not forced in any way. Jesus must be the pattern for our Christian giving.
When we look into the river or a watery swamp on a sunny day we can often see our faces reflected. Every time we look into God’s word, the Bible, we see reflections of our daily lives. To mature as Christian disciples we must understand where we presently fail. When we see we do not reach the set standard we must deliberately change our behaviour. So we become more like the Lord Jesus, who died to make us act and react Christianly in this life.
In Matthew 6 our Lord Jesus is teaching His disciples, (see the beginning in 5:1-2). Having said several things about how differently His followers should live, compared to those around them, He comes to speak about money in 6:1-4.
Giving money to relieve the poverty of other people is a Christian deed, an evidence of a genuine change in life’s values. Our Lord Jesus is expounding 6:20. He underlines real Christianity’s radical holiness. Our lifestyle must show that we know our God is watching us all of the time and in everything we do. We want to please Him 100%, every day and in every way. We are not interested at all in what other people see, or say or think.
Notice by 6:2 our Lord Jesus assumes His followers will give. Jesus says, “when you give to the needy”. He does not say, “if you give”. Giving is not optional. Whenever we receive anything, some of it must be given to others who are in need. This applies to money we get for working, crops that are harvested from the ground, trees or animals, aid we are personally given, gifts we receive from others, rents we get, anything that comes to us from someone else or from our own human effort. We receive and so we give.
In 6:4, having condemned all public show in giving, we learn that our benefit from this secret giving is a reward from God. We hide our giving from other people, but our all-seeing God will make sure we are blessed because of it.
Here we must carefully avoid a trap many Christians fall into. We do not give so that God will give more back to us! Matthew 6:19-21 informs us of where our heart-affections should be focused. Christians who are real followers of our Lord Jesus Christ know that rewards in heaven are much more valuable than any “blessings” down here on earth. I put “blessings” in inverted commas because earthly, worldly blessings can be a heavy curse on those who have them. Even in Sudan and South Sudan some of you know from experience how quickly and easily houses, crops, lands, shops, churches and other community buildings, wells and other water supplies cause conflicts or can be demolished, destroyed or stolen, 6:19-20.
Our Lord Jesus urges us to focus on “heaven” for our treasure, 6:21. Everything we value and see as most important ought to be out of this world, literally! Everything of most worth to Christians is in heaven, where God the Father lives in absolute control, 6:1. He has all the eternal benefits, gained by our Lord Jesus by His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, kept safe for us. They are in heaven where no earthly enemy actions, no natural disasters, no thieves, and even none of our own careless choices can corrupt them or take them away.
Later in this teaching our Lord Jesus says that the birds and flowers we see around us daily are visual reminders of God’s promises to us, 6:25-34. The same Almighty God who supplies food to sunbirds, sparrows and who dresses the glorious bougainvillea, will give you enough to live on for as long as He wants you to live on this earth, 6:31-33.
I paraphrase 6:24 as, “You must serve God or money. You cannot serve both”. If every Christian in Sudan/South Sudan served God by secretly helping other people who do not have life’s necessities, our situation would change.