Friday, May 6, 2011
Giving Like Jesus
John 12:1-8; John 13:26-29
"Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?"
Jesus and his disciples had a treasury, out of which they gave to the poor regularly, which these passages show. The normal pattern, which the disciples never even gave a thought about, was to give to the poor. Judas, who was appointed over the treasury, was the one who would take the money and give. When Jesus rebuked Judas’ attitude about Mary’s anointing him, he was not saying that there was no use giving to the poor. Rather, he was reflecting the attitude of Deuteronomy 15, saying that there will always be poor to give to, and so there will always be an opportunity to do that good work. But this is the only opportunity Mary had to anoint Jesus, which is also an honor to God.
When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not weep." And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Jesus also gave to the poor by healing. He resurrected this man from the dead because of his compassion for his mother, who was a widow. Having lost both her husband and her son, she would be lost in Jewish society in the first century, having no adult male to care for her. But Jesus’ concern for this poor woman allowed her to continue to live.
"I feel compassion for the people because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a great distance."
Jesus also had compassion on the crowds who followed him to listen to his teaching. They may not have been poor all the time, but they were at a loss there in the wilderness. So Jesus provided them food that came from the Father. This too was giving to the poor.
The congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them....For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
The early church had a regular practice of giving to the poor. They would give money to the apostles and the apostles would distribute it to the poor, as the poor had need. Later, the apostles would appoint deacons to administrate the work among the poor for them (Acts 6), but it was an essential part of the church to regularly provide for the needy among them and also outside.
"Your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Freely sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Jesus is saying there are two opposites—greed and giving to the poor. To give to the poor is actually to put that treasure in heaven—as a retirement account, so to speak—and thus the Father will provide for you in the kingdom even as you cared for the poor in this life. In this respect, Jesus said, don’t worry about your life. The Father will care for your needs now, if you would just focus your wealth and resources on the poor now.
"Make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings."
Jesus makes a clearer statement here—use your wealth for the sake of the needy who will welcome you into the kingdom of God. In other words, take your resources and use it for those doing God’s will now and then a place will also be made for you in the kingdom of God. And Jesus makes a clear antithesis—either you will serve money, or you will serve God, you can’t do both. If we are faithful in the little thing of giving our money away, then we will be given more. But if we can’t obey God in this little thing—the giving away of our unrighteous money—then God will not grant us a place in the kingdom.
"When you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."
When we give, we need to do it focused on God, not to impress other people. If we give to the poor to be rewarded by men, we will not be rewarded by God.
George Mueller was a minister in England who determined that he needed to assist the poor, and so he focused on the orphans of Bristol. Over his lifetime he received and gave over 7 million dollars for the orphans, not using any for his own security. He assisted more than ten thousand orphans begin their lives.
Francis of Assisi was determined to help the poor. He would associate with lepers, even though they were personally repugnant to him. And if he had anything, he would provide it for others. If he received a coat, he would give it to one who had none, even if that meant that he was to shiver in cold himself.
Living It Out
Give to those who have need
God commands us to provide for those who have need. That doesn’t mean we must provide things that are not needs, but if we see anyone in a desperate situation and we have the resources to help them, we must do so.
We must be also open to giving in a way that hurts, even if we ourselves lack because of it. In our society, we are often too concerned with our health insurance, retirement or maintaining a certain lifestyle (such as eating at restaurants) to really be able to give to the poor. Often we must sacrifice what we might need to provide for what others really need. Food for the hungry and providing the gospel to the ignorant is more important than our desires and lifestyles.
Give for God’s reward, not men’s
Jesus commands us to give to the poor so that we can receive from God. We need to focus on the Father’s reward and not on other people’s in order to gain God’s reward. Let us not give for the sake of a tax break or for the praise of other people, but instead do what we can for the sake of others’ for God’s sake alone. In this way, we will gain the kingdom of God.
Don’t look at the poverty of your resources, but at the need and God’s supply
Often we don’t see that we have enough to give, but we are often looking at the wrong resources. Jesus didn’t have any money or food to give to people, but he was able to provide food for them anyway, through God’s power. Even so, we need to seek God’s provision for others and depend on God to provide for both them and us.
Give toward the need, out of love
When we give, let us give in love. We shouldn’t give out of our own need—to relive guilt, or to get some poor person off our backs. We must look at the persons’ need and give to that. And if it takes time to do it right, out of love, then we should do it. To give out of love, we need to listen to the person and we need to give to the need, not necessarily their desire. Be shrewd in your love, and be known as a person who really cares.