Jesus does not intend to give us easy teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Instead, he reveals our innate desire to serve ourselves before we serve others or God. This is painfully obvious in his call for us to give to the needy. There are a few important reminders for us in this passage. Following them will lead to a more fulfilling life and allow us to shine light into dark places. Rather than focus on how much or when we should give, Jesus spends the passage focussed on how we give.
Giving to the Needy should be a Given
The sermon on the mount often uses phrases that start with the words, “when you...” In this instance, it is “when you give to the needy,” Jesus makes an important point here – he doesn’t suggest we give to the needy. Giving is, essentially, a given in his mind.
The Old Testament was filled with commands to give to those in need. Proverbs 3:9, Malachi 3:8-12, Psalm 37:21, and 1 Chronicles 29:10-16 are a few examples of God calling his people to give. The sermon on the mount doesn’t call us to give, it recognizes a call that has already been made. Instead, it teaches us about the way we should give.
Giving to the Needy is not about You
If you’ve ever worked in PR you know that giving often leads to good press. Not everyone gives, but most people are impressed by someone who does. During the time of Jesus, people took full advantage of this. Matthew 6 even identifies people who would sound trumpets in the synagogue before making a donation so that everyone would notice how generous they were. This may seem comical today, similar to Ron Burgundy calling for everyone to “come see how good I look!”
Although we may not use literal trumpets anymore, the temptation remains to brag about our giving. You might share your gift on social media, or casually mention to a friend the way you give to certain causes, or make sure people notice when you drop something in the offering basket at church.
One argument we could make is this: if we want to be a light to the world then people need to see us giving! While you should demonstrate cheerful giving to those you disciple, ultimately God calls us to give in secret. Giving does not create a chance to show everyone how spiritual or holy you are, but rather provides a chance to worship God. Giving to the needy is about Him first, than those in need, and lastly about us.
When we give, God uses that gift to bless and help others. This blessing brings light into dark places, not the fact that we are the ones giving.
Giving for The Lesser Reward
Jesus mentions two possible rewards when it comes to giving. The first is for those who give to impress others. The first reward goes to the hypocrites, “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
When you give to impress others, you’ll earn their praise, but that’s it. Ultimately, this won’t lead to a satisfying life because God did not create us to receive praise, but rather to give praise. Receiving praise offers temporary satisfaction, but giving God praise leads to an abundant life.
Giving for the Greater Reward
The second reward is for those who give in secret. “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” The second reward is more vague than the first, but we know it is much better because of who the reward comes from.
We get hints about this reward from other verses like Proverbs 11:25, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” or Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
There is no formula here. Giving $100 or $1,000 one month doesn’t mean that God will give you a $150 or $1,500 the next. What we know is that God will provide for our needs. Jesus explains this later in the Sermon on the Mount with Matthew 6:31-32, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.“
We also know that giving is good for the community. When you work for the peace and prosperity of your city, you also will experience peace and prosperity. Malachi 3:10 reminds us what happens when we give: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
The third reward? We know that giving to the needy keeps us from being mastered by money. The dollar remains one of the most powerful idols in our lives. By choosing to give a portion of our money away, we put God first. We recognize that our satisfaction doesn’t come from “just a little bit more,” but rather from God.
The final and greatest reward, then, is God Himself. Since giving helps free us from the idol of money, it allows us to draw closer to God. We clear a major distraction out of the way, and so living in His presence becomes simpler. As we live in the presence of God, He equips us to shine all the brighter to those around us.