The Bread of Life

1 When anyone brings a grain offering as an offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. And he shall take from it a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its frankincense, and the priest shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. But the rest of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the Lord’s food offerings.

“When you bring a grain offering baked in the oven as an offering, it shall be unleavened loaves of fine flour mixed with oil or unleavened wafers smeared with oil. And if your offering is a grain offering baked on a griddle, it shall be of fine flour unleavened, mixed with oil. You shall break it in pieces and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering. And if your offering is a grain offering cooked in a pan, it shall be made of fine flour with oil. And you shall bring the grain offering that is made of these things to the Lord, and when it is presented to the priest, he shall bring it to the altar. And the priest shall take from the grain offering its memorial portion and burn this on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 10 But the rest of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the Lord’s food offerings.

11 “No grain offering that you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey as a food offering to the Lord. 12 As an offering of firstfruits you may bring them to the Lord, but they shall not be offered on the altar for a pleasing aroma. 13 You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.

14 “If you offer a grain offering of firstfruits to the Lord, you shall offer for the grain offering of your firstfruits fresh ears, roasted with fire, crushed new grain. 15 And you shall put oil on it and lay frankincense on it; it is a grain offering. 16 And the priest shall burn as its memorial portion some of the crushed grain and some of the oil with all of its frankincense; it is a food offering to the Lord. – Leviticus 2:1-16 ESV

The three different burnt offerings the Israelites were instructed to bring before the Lord involved the sacrifice of animals created by God. Bulls, sheep, lambs, goats, and birds were God’s handiwork, and when offered as sacrifices to Him, they reflected the reality that the atonement received by the giver was made possible by God. In essence, God had paid for the sins of the individual by providing the sacrificial animal. Man could breed and care for his flocks and herds, but he played no significant role in their actual creation or procreation.

In the original creation account, God gave man responsibility for cultivating the crops that were to be the primary source of sustenance for both humans and animals.

“Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” – Genesis 1:29-30 ESV

Mankind had been tasked with the job of planting, cultivating, and harvesting the various plants and trees that filled the garden. They were to play a part in God’s creative order, using the seeds of the plants God had created to expand the garden beyond its original boundaries. And the produce from these plantings would provide an abundance of food for all future offspring, both human and animal. And this process would require effort on the part of man. But it was not until the fall that this effort or work became laborious and difficult. Because of his role in breaking the command concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and his future descendants were placed under a curse by God.

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:17-19 ESV

From that moment on, the task of carrying out his God-given responsibility would be marked by pain and difficulty. Planting and harvesting crops would become a chore that was accompanied by pain, suffering, and disappointment. And it was not until after the flood that God gave humanity the right to consider animals as a source of food. But even this concession came with conditions.

“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” – Genesis 9:3-4 ESV

Since each of the grain offerings described in this chapter was intended to follow the burnt offerings outlined in chapter one, they were intended to be a response to God’s gracious provision of atonement. These offerings were to be expressions of gratitude for God’s forgiveness, made possible by the animals He had created. Their blood had been shed in order to cover or atone for the sins of the one giving the offering. As an act of worship and a demonstration of thankfulness, the newly forgiven Israelite was to offer the work of his hands to Yahweh.

The meat of the burnt offering was followed by the “bread” of the grain offering. Both were “a pleasing aroma to God” and “a most holy part of the Lord‘s food offerings” (Leviticus 9:2-3 ESV). Together, they formed a “meal” for Yahweh. But in the case of the grain offerings, God reserved a portion of the sacrifice for His servants, the priests.

“…the rest of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons.” – Leviticus 2:3 ESV

Aaron and his sons were graciously permitted to eat from the table of the Lord. God cared for His own, rewarding them for their faithful service in His house and meeting all of their physical needs.

God provides options when it came to the grain offerings. The first involved grain that had been milled into finely ground flour. This would have required effort on the part of the one making the offering. Fine flour would have been of the highest quality and a fitting gift to Yahweh. A portion of the flour was to be mixed with oil, salt, and frankincense, then burned on the altar. The addition of these ingredients to the gift increased the cost to the giver while enhancing the value of the gift. The burnt offering had cost the animal its life. Its blood had been shed so that the giver might live and not die. And the one whose life had been spared was to express his or her gratitude in a manner that signified the true value of God’s gracious gift.

God gave the Israelites options when it came to the form of the grain offering. They could offer it in the form of flour, baked loaves of bread, or flat cakes cooked on a griddle. But regardless of its form, the flour was to be free from yeast or honey. The grain was to be pure and free from adulteration of any kind. To the Israelites, yeast was a symbol of sin’s permeating presence within the life of the individual and the community. It’s likely that honey was excluded because its high sugar content would have caused the grain to ferment, another sign of corruption or sin.

God’s gift of atonement, made possible through the burnt offering, was to be followed by the grain offering. By offering the “bread of life,” the giver was thanking God for redeeming his life from death. Because of their sin, every Israelite stood before God as condemned and worthy of death, but the sacrifice of the unblemished bull, lamb, or bird provided atonement and forgiveness. The grain offering was a tangible demonstration that God was the ultimate provider and sustainer of life. The death of the animal had extended the life of the giver. The offering of the grain was the giver’s way of acknowledging that, even in the absence of bread, God could sustain life.

It was John the Baptist who declared of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). And the apostle John would later record Jesus’ claim concerning Himself: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35 ESV).

Jesus would become the sacrificial lamb and the bread of life. He would offer Himself as the sinless substitute who offers atonement for sin and freedom from death. But He would also be the ongoing sustainer of life. Jesus boldly declared His intention to provide eternal life in the hereafter but also life more abundantly in the here and now (John 10:10). Jesus provides atonement for sin and freedom from death. But He also offers to sustain all those who place their faith in Him. As the bread of life, He provides the nourishment necessary to live in this life while waiting for the one to come.

“…this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.” – John 6:39-40 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Motivation to Give Sacrificially

1 Moses assembled all the congregation of the people of Israel and said to them, “These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do. Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.”

Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece.

10 “Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the Lord has commanded: 11 the tabernacle, its tent and its covering, its hooks and its frames, its bars, its pillars, and its bases; 12 the ark with its poles, the mercy seat, and the veil of the screen; 13 the table with its poles and all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 14 the lampstand also for the light, with its utensils and its lamps, and the oil for the light; 15 and the altar of incense, with its poles, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the screen for the door, at the door of the tabernacle; 16 the altar of burnt offering, with its grating of bronze, its poles, and all its utensils, the basin and its stand; 17 the hangings of the court, its pillars and its bases, and the screen for the gate of the court; 18 the pegs of the tabernacle and the pegs of the court, and their cords; 19 the finely worked garments for ministering in the Holy Place, the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests.”

20 Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. 21 And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. 22 So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. 23 And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. 24 Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. 25 And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. 26 All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. 27 And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, 28 and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. 29 All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord. – Exodus 35:1-29 ESV

His face aglow with the glory of the Lord, Moses delivered his latest message to the people of Israel, and he began with a reminder of the Sabbath day of rest. With the construction of the Tabernacle not yet begun, Moses knew that the Israelites would be tempted to violate God’s prohibition against working on the Sabbath in order to complete the massive project as quickly as possible. Since the Tabernacle was to house God’s presence, it would be to their advantage to finish its construction in record time. They likely believed that the longer it took them to build it, the greater the risk that God might abandon them. So, God had Moses warn them against working on the Sabbath.

In six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there must be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of complete rest to the Lord. Anyone who does work on it will be put to death. – Exodus 35:2 NLT

They were not to allow the project’s size and scope and their zeal to complete it to lead to further disobedience. Violating the Sabbath would not be an acceptable compromise. In fact, God reminds them that even the simple task of kindling a fire on the seventh day would result in death. All of God’s were equally valid and binding. There were to be no concessions or compromises. Attempting to fulfill the will of God by breaking the law of God was never acceptable. The Tabernacle was to be built according to God’s terms and no shortcuts or loopholes were allowed. The people were expected to do everything God’s way or not at all.

With the golden calf incident behind them, the Israelites were to prepare for the construction of the Tabernacle. It was time for God’s design to become a reality but before they could begin, the people had to provide the materials for its construction. This was not the first time the people had heard about God’s command for a voluntary contribution of building materials.

“Tell the people of Israel to bring me their sacred offerings. Accept the contributions from all whose hearts are moved to offer them. Here is a list of sacred offerings you may accept from them:

gold, silver, and bronze;
blue, purple, and scarlet thread;
fine linen and goat hair for cloth;
tanned ram skins and fine goatskin leather;
acacia wood;
olive oil for the lamps;
spices for the anointing oil and the fragrant incense;
onyx stones, and other gemstones to be set in the ephod and the priest’s chestpiece.

“Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. – Exodus 25:2-8 NLT

The people had been more than willing to donate their gold so that Aaron could make the golden calf but would they prove generous when it came to all the material needed to build God’s house? And the list was a long and expensive one. Precious metals, rare gems, fine linen, timber, thread, oil, tanned animal skins, and incense were all required for God’s house. Without the building materials in hand, the craftsmen would find it impossible to create the walls, framework, and furniture for God’s house. There would be no bronze altar, ark of the covenant, or mercy seat. The walls that designated the Holy of Holies where the presence of God would rest above the mercy seat could not be built. The entire structure would remain little more than an idea, instead of becoming a tangible reality and the place where God would dwell among His people.

So, Moses reissued God’s call for donations and restated that this was to be a voluntary contribution, given by those “of a generous heart” (Exodus 35:5 ESV). This was not a mandatory tax but was to be considered a freewill offering. God was giving His people an opportunity to participate in His work by donating their time, treasures, and talents. The promise of His presence would require sacrifice on their part. For God’s house to become a reality, they would have to give of themselves, sacrificially surrendering their resources and their lives to the cause. And the people responded.

So the whole community of the Israelites went out from the presence of Moses. Everyone whose heart stirred him to action and everyone whose spirit was willing came and brought the offering for the Lord for the work of the tent of meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments. – Exodus 35:20-21 NLT

Motivated by the Spirit of God, the people rose to the challenge and contributed all the resources God had requested. Nothing was missing. No items were left out or withheld. And Moses records that this voluntary effort had 100 percent participation.

Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord‘s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. – Exodus 35:24 ESV

Everyone gave something, whether wood, gold, silver, fabric, spices, oil, yarn, or talent. The entire Israelite community got involved and engaged.

All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord. – Exodus 35:29 ESV

God moved among His people, creating the desire to fulfill His will. This was not a case of coercion or forced generosity. Their hearts were moved to do the right thing. Left to their own devices, the Israelites would have proven to be stingy and stubbornly resistant to God’s request. But He moved their hearts to do the right thing. And this movement of the Spirit of God was a foreshadowing of things to come. Centuries later, God would declare His intention to move in their lives yet again, transforming their sin-hardened hearts so that they might do the right thing.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” – Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT

God’s will is always done His way, but He graciously chooses to use people to accomplish His will. To do so, He transforms hardened hearts so that they might respond to His invitation to serve alongside Him in His work. God could have built the Tabernacle Himself, but He chose to give His people a part to play in its construction. Their time, talents, and treasures would be essential ingredients in the making of His earthly dwelling place – for their good and His glory.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Team Effort

1 On the day when Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle and had anointed and consecrated it with all its furnishings and had anointed and consecrated the altar with all its utensils, the chiefs of Israel, heads of their fathers’ houses, who were the chiefs of the tribes, who were over those who were listed, approached and brought their offerings before the Lord, six wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for every two of the chiefs, and for each one an ox. They brought them before the tabernacle. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Accept these from them, that they may be used in the service of the tent of meeting, and give them to the Levites, to each man according to his service.” So Moses took the wagons and the oxen and gave them to the Levites. Two wagons and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service. And four wagons and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because they were charged with the service of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulder. 10 And the chiefs offered offerings for the dedication of the altar on the day it was anointed; and the chiefs offered their offering before the altar. 11 And the Lord said to Moses, “They shall offer their offerings, one chief each day, for the dedication of the altar.”

12 He who offered his offering the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah. 13 And his offering was one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 14 one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; 15 one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 16 one male goat for a sin offering; 17 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Nahshon the son of Amminadab.

18 On the second day Nethanel the son of Zuar, the chief of Issachar, made an offering. 19 He offered for his offering one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 20 one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; 21 one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 22 one male goat for a sin offering; 23 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Nethanel the son of Zuar.

24 On the third day Eliab the son of Helon, the chief of the people of Zebulun: 25 his offering was one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 26 one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; 27 one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 28 one male goat for a sin offering; 29 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Eliab the son of Helon.

30 On the fourth day Elizur the son of Shedeur, the chief of the people of Reuben: 31 his offering was one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 32 one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; 33 one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 34 one male goat for a sin offering; 35 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Elizur the son of Shedeur.

36 On the fifth day Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai, the chief of the people of Simeon: 37 his offering was one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 38 one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; 39 one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 40 one male goat for a sin offering; 41 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai.

42 On the sixth day Eliasaph the son of Deuel, the chief of the people of Gad: 43 his offering was one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 44 one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; 45 one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 46 one male goat for a sin offering; 47 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Eliasaph the son of Deuel.

48 On the seventh day Elishama the son of Ammihud, the chief of the people of Ephraim: 49 his offering was one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 50 one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; 51 one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 52 one male goat for a sin offering; 53 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Elishama the son of Ammihud.

54 On the eighth day Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur, the chief of the people of Manasseh: 55 his offering was one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 56 one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; 57 one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 58 one male goat for a sin offering; 59 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur.

60 On the ninth day Abidan the son of Gideoni, the chief of the people of Benjamin: 61 his offering was one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 62 one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; 63 one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 64 one male goat for a sin offering; 65 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Abidan the son of Gideoni.

66 On the tenth day Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai, the chief of the people of Dan: 67 his offering was one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 68 one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; 69 one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 70 one male goat for a sin offering; 71 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai.

72 On the eleventh day Pagiel the son of Ochran, the chief of the people of Asher: 73 his offering was one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 74 one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; 75 one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 76 one male goat for a sin offering; 77 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Pagiel the son of Ochran.

78 On the twelfth day Ahira the son of Enan, the chief of the people of Naphtali: 79 his offering was one silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 80 one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; 81 one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; 82 one male goat for a sin offering; 83 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. This was the offering of Ahira the son of Enan.

84 This was the dedication offering for the altar on the day when it was anointed, from the chiefs of Israel: twelve silver plates, twelve silver basins, twelve golden dishes, 85 each silver plate weighing 130 shekels and each basin 70, all the silver of the vessels 2,400 shekels according to the shekel of the sanctuary, 86 the twelve golden dishes, full of incense, weighing 10 shekels apiece according to the shekel of the sanctuary, all the gold of the dishes being 120 shekels; 87 all the cattle for the burnt offering twelve bulls, twelve rams, twelve male lambs a year old, with their grain offering; and twelve male goats for a sin offering; 88 and all the cattle for the sacrifice of peace offerings twenty-four bulls, the rams sixty, the male goats sixty, the male lambs a year old sixty. This was the dedication offering for the altar after it was anointed.

89 And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him. Numbers 7:1-89 ESV

This chapter seems to be a look back at a month earlier in the lives of the Israelites when they had just finished the construction of the Tabernacle. At that point, the various tribal leaders brought to Moses what appears to have been an unsolicited, spontaneous gift of six wagons and 12 oxen. The twelve tribes gave these gifts in order to assist the Levites with the transport of the Tabernacle and all its contents from the wilderness to the Promised Land.

While it seems that God did not prescribe or demand these gifts, it was obviously prompted by God’s Spirit. The six wagons and 12 oxen would prove highly beneficial when transporting the large quantities of material associated with the tabernacle.  The gifts were distributed by Moses to the Levites, but none were given to the Kohathites, because they were commanded by God to carry the sacred objects on their shoulders.

In addition to the oxen and carts, each of the tribes presented a variety of offerings that included silver dishes, rams, goats, lambs, and grain. These gifts were offered one tribe at a time over a 12-day period. The extent of the offerings seems to suggest that they were a collective gift given by the people of each tribe. In a sense, the community was joining together to give collectively. Each tribe gave the same gifts. None was greater than the other. But the most significant gift was the very practical one of the oxen and carts.

While care of the tabernacle was to be the sole responsibility of the Levites, the other tribes showed their desire to honor God and His house through their contributions. Their gifts showed forethought and a commitment to solidarity. They were all in this together. As a community, they were all dependent upon the care of the tabernacle because it served as a guarantee of God’s abiding presence.

In much the same way, we can help support those who have been called by God to serve as ministers or missionaries, by giving them the practical support that will make their task more tolerable. In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells us that God, “is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT).

There are those whom God has called to serve the body of Christ in specific roles that come with heavy responsibilities. It is up to the rest of the faith community to support them and to stand beside them as they carry out their duties. Paul wrote to Timothy and gave him the following instructions regarding those men who are appointed as elders of the church.

Elders who do their work well should be paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not keep an ox from eating as it treads out the grain.’ And in another place, ‘Those who work deserve their pay!” – 1 Timothy 5:17-18 NLT

The unique nature of the gifts given by the 12 tribes provides a powerful lesson in the collective nature of the ministry. It reminds us that God’s people need to see to it that God’s work is always fully funded and supported – for the good of the ministry and the glory of God. The Israelites’ gift was practical and highly utilitarian, but it was an offering to God as much as any other sacrifice associated with the tabernacle. Sometimes our practical gifts get overlooked and overshadowed by the more impressive “spiritual” gifts of teaching and preaching. But just imagine how difficult it would have been for the Levites to transport all the contents of the tabernacle had the tribes not been sensitive to God’s leading and given those six carts and 12 oxen.

The family of God is designed to work together in a unified effort to accomplish His divine will. The priests, Levites, Nazirites, and the individual members of each tribe were each to do their part in ensuring that God’s work was accomplished. God’s people should give and serve for the collective good and for God’s glory. Practical, powerful, and life-transformational.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Good and Godly Life

27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
    when it is in your power to do it.

28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
    tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.
29 Do not plan evil against your neighbor,
    who dwells trustingly beside you.
30 Do not contend with a man for no reason,
    when he has done you no harm.
31 Do not envy a man of violence
    and do not choose any of his ways,
32 for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord,
    but the upright are in his confidence.
33 The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked,
    but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous.
34 Toward the scorners he is scornful,
    but to the humble he gives favor.
35 The wise will inherit honor,
    but fools get disgrace. – Proverbs 3:27-35 ESV

At this point in his lecture on wisdom to his son, Solomon turns to some practical advice on wise behavior. It is not enough to seek wisdom; one must also be willing to put it into practice. The wisdom of God is intended to influence and inform every area of life, including our relationships with others.

“The Book of Proverbs is the best manual you’ll find on people skills, because it was given to us by the God who made us, the God who can teach us what we need to know about human relationships, whether it’s marriage, the family, the neighborhood, the job, or our wider circle of friends and acquaintances. If we learn and practice God’s wisdom as presented in Proverbs, we’ll find ourselves improving in people skills and enjoying life much more.” – Warren Wiersbe, Be Skillful

So, knowing that wisdom that remains un-applied is unhelpful, Solomon gives his former advice some practical application. He begins with five statements that each start with those two words that no young person likes to hear: “Do not…”

But it isn’t just young people who dislike being told what they can or cannot do. People of every age bristle at the idea of having any kind of restrictions placed upon their behavior. It goes against the grain and wreaks havoc with our fallen human nature. Ever since the fall, we human beings are inherently wired for autonomy. We want to be the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls. Yet, Solomon knows that the kind of wisdom God graciously grants requires that we behave in such a way that our actions reveal just how wise we truly are. Our actions give evidence that we have heard from God.

The first thing Solomon addresses is the goodness that the godly should display.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
    when it is in your power to do it. 
– Proverbs 3:27 NLT

This is an interesting verse. At first glance, it appears that any goodness we show others must be somehow deserved. The phrase “from those to whom it is due” might better be translated “from its owners.” The idea seems to be that acts of goodness rightfully belong to those who need them. If God has blessed us with resources, He has not intended them solely for our own benefit. They are to be shared with others, especially those in need. The apostle Paul provides further insight into this lifestyle of generosity and openhandedness that flows from a wisdom-filled life.

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say,

“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
    Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.

Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. – 2 Corinthians 9:7-11 NLT

The next point Solomon addresses is deferred goodness. In other words, he warns about putting off you acts of generosity to another day.

Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
    tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you. – Proverbs 3:28 ESV

There is such a thing as delayed gratification, which is a good. It’s the idea of putting a hold on fulfilling a desire you have so that you might see if you truly need it. To put it more simple terms, it is the ability to wait to get what you want. But delayed goodness is something different altogether and, it is never the right thing to do. If someone is in need and you have the power to help them, do so. Don’t put it off. Don’t delay.

James dealt with this problem of delayed or deferred goodness in his letter.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? – James 14-16 NLT

To put of till tomorrow what you could easily do today is the definition of procrastination. But to put of doing an act of goodness for someone in need is the definition of wickedness. It is insensitive and evil, and does not reflect a reverence for God or a heart for the less-fortunate, for whom He cares greatly. Solomon’s book contains other proverbs that encourage timely care for the down and out.

If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord
    and he will repay you! – Proverbs 19:17 NLT

Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing,
    but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed. – Proverbs 28:27 NLT

Don’t rob the poor just because you can,
    or exploit the needy in court.
For the Lord is their defender.
    He will ruin anyone who ruins them. – Proverbs 22:22-23 NLT

The third admonition appears to be directly tied to the second. It involves a neighbor in need.

Do not plan evil against your neighbor,
    who dwells trustingly beside you. – Proverbs 3:29 ESV

What Solomon describes is the opposite of doing good. It is the intent to do evil. And Solomon continues to us the illustration of a neighbor in need. As a wealthy individual, his son was not to allow his affluence to affect his relationship with the less-fortunate. He was not to use his wealth as a weapon to oppress or take advantage of the down and out. Another proverb describes this unacceptable relationship between the haves and the have-nots.

The poor is disliked even by his neighbor,
    but the rich has many friends.
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
    but blessed is he who is generous to the poor. – Proverbs 14:20-21 ESV

Think about it. To purposefully delay your assistance to a needy neighbor is to “plan evil” against him. You know of his need and you have the ability to meet it, but you choose not to do so. And it would appear that Solomon is inferring that the one who delays his goodness has no intentions of ever helping is needy neighbor. You promise to come back to tomorrow, and he believes you, because he trusts you. But when tomorrow comes, he finds himself still in need and his “generous” neighbor a no-show.

Next, Solomon warns about unnecessary and unprovoked conflict between neighbors.

Do not contend with a man for no reason,
    when he has done you no harm. – Proverbs 3:30 ESV

Solomon continues to warn about the unjust treatment of the poor and needy among us. There is never a reason for a rich man to take advantage of someone who, because of his poverty, appears to have fewer rights. There is unacceptable and not in keeping with wise behavior. In fact, the last proverb on this book will promote a completely different attitude toward the marginalized and defenseless.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
    ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
    and see that they get justice. – Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT

Finally, Solomon warns his son about guilt by association. He begs him to avoid those people who lack wisdom and who are prone to behave in ways that are in violation of God Word and will.

Do not envy a man of violence
    and do not choose any of his ways,
for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord,
    but the upright are in his confidence. – Proverbs 3:31-32 ESV

His son was to avoid these people like the plague. Instead, he was to surround himself with the upright and righteous. In fact, Solomon recommends a life of wisdom, righteousness, and humility. He promotes a lifestyle marked by generosity and care for the needy. Wisdom is not intended to be a self-centered attribute. First of all, it comes from God, and it is designed to reflect His nature. Wisdom allows us to live in keeping with His heart and in community with His people. It provides us with the insights we need to live in a fallen world and not be corrupted by its evil influences. Wisdom flows from the throne of God through the people of God and impacts the lives of all those whom God has made.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

True Greatness

1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Luke 21:1–6 ESV

Jesus and His disciples remain in the temple courtyard, where He underwent a series of confrontations with the religious leaders who had been attempting to entrap Him. In a bold affront to their arrogant sense of superiority, Jesus had labeled their displays of self-righteousness as nothing more than hypocrisy.

Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.” – Luke 20:46 NLT

These men were addicted to fine clothes and flattery. They craved recognition and demanded the respect of all those whom they considered their inferiors. And almost as if to provide a glaring contrast to their style of behavior, Jesus directs the attention of His disciples to a poor widow. He has positioned Himself opposite the temple treasury where He is silently observing the various people bringing their offerings and placing them in one of the 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles arranged around the perimeter of the Courtyard of the Women.

As Jesus looks on, a variety of people drop their freewill offerings into the boxes, many of whom are wealthy and can be seen donating large sums of money. Luke’s inference seems to be that their actions were intended to attract attention. The size of their contributions was intended to be noticed. Since all currency was in the form of coins, their gift would have made a great deal of noise as it clanged on the metal trumpet that topped the offering box. All heads would have turned to see who was giving such a generous amount.

But Jesus takes note of “a poor widow put in two small copper coins” (Luke 21:2 ESV). This woman’s small gift would have garnered little attention from the people who crowded the temple courtyard, but she caught the eye of Jesus. She was exactly the kind of person He had mentioned in His diatribe against the scribes.

“…they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. – Luke 20:47 NLT

This widow was someone the scribes and other religious leaders would have taken advantage of in order to line their own pockets. Yet, to Jesus, she represented the truly righteous. Her two small coins would have made little noise as they descended into the offering box, but to Jesus, her actions spoke volumes. So, He pointed her out to His disciples and said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them” (Luke 21:3 ESV).

It was not the size of her gift that mattered, but it was the state of her heart. She had not given to be noticed. Her gift had not been meant to impress. But Jesus knew that her gift had been a great sacrifice because she had “given everything” she had to live on (Luke 12:4 NLT). This entire scene is a visual demonstration of Jesus’ lesson from His sermon on the mount.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” – Matthew 6:1-2 NLT

This woman, though poor, had sacrificed everything in order to give her freewill offering to God. But the others had given “out of their abundance” (Luke 21:4 ESV). It had cost them nothing. Their gifts, while impressive in size, had required no sacrifice on their part. They had actually profited from their efforts, having garnered the praise and admiration of others for their obviously generous contributions.

By pointing out this widow to His disciples, Jesus had been trying to continue His lesson on greatness in the Kingdom of God. But it seems that His disciples remained stubbornly oblivious to all that He was trying to teach them. In fact, as they made their way out of the temple courtyard, none of the disciples mention the widow and her sacrificial gift. But one of them takes note of the grandeur and opulence of the temple.

“Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” – Mark 13:1 ESV

The temple was a magnificent complex that made an impressive sight from its prominent location atop Mount Zion. The Jews took great pride in this grand structure and the disciples were rightfully proud of and impressed by its sheer size and beauty. After all, it was the dwelling place of God.

The image of the poor widow had faded from their collective memories. Now, as they made their way out of the temple and back to the Mount of Olives, their attention was fixated on the structure that Herod the Great had helped expand and improve. The original temple, built by King Solomon, had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. Seventy years later, God had allowed a remnant of the people who had been exiled to Babylon to return and rebuild the temple. But, when completed, the new temple was just a shadow of its former glory. Herod the Great, in an attempt to win over the people, had decreed a massive rebuilding program that resulted in the grand structure that now dominated the landscape and captivated the attention of the disciples.

But Jesus, always ready to turn every moment into a teaching opportunity, told His disciples, “The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” (Luke 21:6 ESV). This news will shock the disciples. They couldn’t believe what they were hearing. How could God allow His beautiful house to be destroyed? But as hard as it was to fathom, everything Jesus said eventually came true. In A.D. 70, the Roman army, under the leadership of Titus, besieged Jerusalem in an effort to put an end to a long-standing Jewish revolt against Roman rule. After a three-month standoff, the Romans invaded the city, destroying and eventually burning the temple to the ground. They left no stone upon another.

The disciples had been unimpressed with the generous widow, but they couldn’t help but notice the grandeur of the temple. But Jesus ended up commending the woman and condemning the temple. She was elevated as an icon of righteousness and virtue, while the temple was declared to be the symbol of all that was wrong with Israel. As Jesus had declared earlier, the temple of God had become a “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17 ESV). The dwelling place of God had been desecrated by the very ones who were responsible for its care and protection.

Jesus was reminding His disciples of the words of God, spoken centuries earlier through Isaiah the prophet and directed at the rebellious people of Israel.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the LORD, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 7;8-11 NLT

Nothing had changed. Just as the original temple had been destroyed by God, so would this remarkable structure come under His judgment. Because the people of God failed to live in obedience to the will of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Giving to Get

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“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. 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.– Matthew 6:1-4 ESV

Jesus has just dropped a bombshell on His listeners: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ESV). And as disconcerting and discomfiting as His words may have been, He was simply trying to explain to them about the true nature of godly righteousness – that alien, outside-of-yourself kind of righteousness that comes from God and can’t be manufactured, only faked.

But how easily we trade in God’s view of perfection for that of man’s. How quickly we forget about what God expects of us and lower our standards. That is exactly what Jesus is confronting among the Jews in His audience. They had long ago traded internal holiness for external piety. They had learned to settle for the praise of men rather than the praise of God. They were stuck on a horizontal plane, viewing righteousness from a purely human standpoint, measuring themselves by comparing themselves with others. So, Jesus starts off this section of His message with a warning. He uses the word “Beware.” In the Greek, it is prosoche, and it means “to beware, take heed, be attentive to.” Jesus used this word a lot.

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” – Matthew 7:15 ESV

“But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues.” – Matthew 10:17 NLT

“Watch out!” Jesus warned them. Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” – Matthew 16:6 NLT

Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.” – Luke 20:46 NLT

In essence, Jesus is telling His listeners to be perfect and to be careful. His use of the word “beware” is designed to get their attention and to warn them to listen carefully to what He is about to say. Jesus is trying to open the eyes of those sitting on the hillside, using stern words of warning to make His point.

If you recall, the word “blessed” that Jesus repeatedly used in His opening remarks, really refers to the approval of God. So, those beatitudes or blessings could read like this:

Approved by God are the poor in spirit

Approved by God are those who mourn

Approved by God are the meek

Approved by God are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Approved by God are the merciful

Approved by God are the pure in heart

Approved by God are the peacemakers

Approved by God are the persecuted, reviled and slandered

We are to seek the approval of God, not men. We are to seek the reward of God, not men. And when we come to faith in Jesus, we receive the full approval of God. We are counted as righteous and adopted into His family as sons and daughters. And those who enjoy God’s approval become part of His Kingdom, receive comfort, inherit the earth, experience satisfaction, receive mercy, see God, and enjoy the promise of a great reward in heaven.

Jesus is speaking of the vast difference between man-made and spirit-induced righteousness. Jesus tells His audience that they are to beware of practicing their righteousness before other people. In other words, their motivation should not be recognition. Those who seek to do good things so that they will be deemed to be good people by those who see them will have all the reward they are going to get. They’ll receive the praise of men, but not the approval of God. That kind of man-pleasing, praise-seeking righteousness will get you no reward from God. Why? Because it is not the kind of righteousness He requires.

To make His point, Jesus provides three examples from real life. The first has to do with alms-giving, which was the act of providing for the needs of the poor and destitute as an act of mercy. The Greek word is eleēmosynē, and it refers to “a donation to the poor” and was sometimes called “compassionateness.”

Jesus is accusing His audience of giving to get merit, but not out of mercy. Their giving to the poor was motivated by a desire for recognition. That was the reward after which they sought. And Jesus tells them that they will have the reward they seek: The praise and approval of men. But they will not receive the one reward they so desperately need: The approval and blessing of God.

The kind of man-made righteousness that Jesus is describing is driven by one thing: The desire for the praise of others. It is done in order to be seen by others and to garner recognition and reward. But Jesus says that, when you give, you are not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. In other words, your giving is to remain private. So private, that it will be like one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing. Even your closest friends or family members won’t know what you have done.

What a different mindset. Instead of seeking recognition, you are to pursue anonymity.  You are to keep your actions hidden. Do what you do in secret, concealed, private, and hidden from the view of others. But know this, God will see what you are doing, and reward you, in His way and according to His own timing.

Jesus is not suggesting that there is anything wrong with alms-giving or charity. But anyone who thinks they are righteous because they give has missed the point and misunderstood the true nature of godly righteousness. In fact, giving in order to get recognition isn’t righteousness at all. At least, not according to God’s definition. And throughout this portion of His message, Jesus will emphasize that our greatest concern should be what God thinks and how He views our actions. In fact, Jesus will repeatedly emphasize that, when we give motivated by mercy, rather than the need for merit,  “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

While no one around us may know what we have done, God will and, more importantly, He will know why we have done it. He will know the motivation of our hearts. And that is still the key behind what Jesus is trying to teach here. This is all about the heart. Giving to get noticed is about the head. It’s about ego, pride, self-esteem and measuring our worth by what others think of us.

But alms-giving was intended to be an act of mercy. It was giving to those in need, not so you could get something out of it. To give to those who do not have, just so you can have what you desire, is a twisted and warped way of life. It is ungodly and unrighteous. It reveals a love of self, but not a love of others. And Jesus warns, “Beware!” Don’t do it. That kind of giving is hypocritical, mere play-acting, intended to give the impression of mercy but motivated out of the insatiable need for merit and men’s praise. And, Jesus says, practicing that kind of righteousness will get you exactly what you desire, but not what you so desperately need: God’s approval and blessing.

In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul wrote:

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

We did nothing to earn our salvation. And we can do nothing to earn a right standing before God now. Our acts of righteousness do not earn us God’s favor. We perform acts of righteousness because we have already earned His favor and have His Spirit living within us. It is the righteousness of Christ, credited to us by God the Father, that allows us to do “the good things he planned for us long ago.” We have been made new so that we might live new lives, motivated not by merit and men’s praise, but out of willing obedience to God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

And You Shall Rejoice

1 “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God.

“And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. 11 And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.– Deuteronomy 26:1-11 ESV

Moses has finished reviewing all the rules and regulations intended to govern and guide the lives of the Israelites. Now, he provides them with instructions regarding the first harvest they will enjoy in the new land. Moses opens this section with the word, “when.” There was no question in his mind as to whether the Israelites would occupy the land. It was God’s will and it was going to happen. One generation had delayed the promise through their disobedience, but what God had ordained was going to happen. And Moses wanted the people to understand that God’s faithfulness was going to require an expression of gratitude on their part.

Once they settled in the land and began to cultivate it, they were to follow Moses’ instructions: “you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 26:2 ESV). Essentially, this would be the first of the firstfruits. The offering of the firstfruits was to be a regular occurrence in Israel and was intended to accompany every single harvest. But this command from Moses seems to be a unique offering that was specifically tied to the very first harvest in their new homeland. It was to be a special occasion, marking their official inheritance of the land of promise.

At this point in the their story, not only would the houses and towns be theirs, but they would reap the benefit of the fruit of the land. Back in the early chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses had told the people what God was going to do for them.

“The LORD your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-11 NLT

And, because God is a promise-keeping God, the day was going to come when they would feast from the vineyards, orchards, and fields they had inherited as part of that promise. When they did, Moses told them they would need to express their gratefulness to God by offering Him the firstfruits of all they had harvested. This offering would not only be an expression of thanksgiving but a demonstration of their faithfulness. By giving God the first and the best of their harvests, they would be displaying their trust in His ongoing provision of all their future needs.

As part of the process of offering God the firstfruits of their harvest, the people of Israel were to recite the following phrase: “A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous” (Deuteronomy 26:5 ESV). This would be a direct reference to Jacob, who is referred to as an Aramean because he spent much of his early days in the region known as Paddan-aram. It was there that he married his wives and began his family. Eventually, Jacob would end up in Egypt, a guest of his long-lost son, Joseph, who had become the second-highest-ranking official in the land. When Jacob and his extended family arrived in Egypt, they were just over than 70 in number, but by the time they left some 400 years later, they would have numbered in the millions.

A significant part of the firstfruits offering was the importance that they recognize and remember all the suffering that had proceeded God’s deliverance. Their arrival in the land of promise had been prefaced by four-centuries-worth of trials and difficulties. But their ancestors had cried out and God had heard them and sent them a deliverer in the form of Moses. And Moses himself reminds the Israelites of what God did to free them from their bondage in Egypt.

“…the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Deuteronomy 26:8-9 ESV

And it was their remembrance of God’s gracious actions in the past that was to drive their display of gratitude in the future.

“‘And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.’” – Deuteronomy 26:10 ESV

Their giving of the firstfruits of their harvest would be a form of worship. It would honor God for all that He had done and prove their commitment to trust Him for all their future needs. He was and is a good God. He had kept His promise and delivered them to the land just as He had said He would. And as long as they continued to rely upon Him and reverently worship Him, He would continue to meet their needs for generations to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Motivation to Give

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. – Philippians 4:14-23 ESV

Paul was grateful, and he expressed that gratitude to the Philippian church. They had lovingly and generously reached out to him in what they believed to be was his time of need. Paul didn’t want his admission that he had no needs to come across as ungratefulness or to offend his brothers and sisters in Christ. They had seen Paul in trouble and had reached out in love and concern.

And Paul wanted them to know that he was appreciative because not every church had been as kind and caring. Not only had some of the places in which he had preached failed to give toward his ministry, that had rejected his message. While Paul had been in Macedonia and Thessalonica, it had been the Philippians who had donated toward his ministry and provided for his needs.

Yet Paul, always trying to keep their minds focused on what is truly important, reminds them that their eternal reward is of far greater importance value than any temporal benefit he may have received from their gift. God was going to reward them for their generosity. He would bless them for their willingness to sacrifice on Paul’s behalf. The gift was not the important thing. It was the condition of hearts behind the gift.

The generosity of their gift had left Paul well-supplied and in need of nothing. But,  more importantly, their gift had been “a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18 NLT). Paul was blessed, God was pleased, and the Philippians were fruitful. What more could Paul ask for?

And Paul wanted the Philippians to know that the God who had met for his needs through them would be faithful to do the same for them.

“…this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:19 NLT

God loves a cheerful giver. And God expresses His love for that giver by generously meeting their needs. Paul expressed this very same idea to the church in Corinth.

Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 NLT

Paul was not preaching a prosperity gospel. He wasn’t suggesting that we should give to get. Personal reward should not be the motivation behind our generosity. That is a totally self-centered and selfish approach that does not gel with Scripture. But it is important that we understand that gracious, selfless giving is proof of the Spirit’s work in our life. It reveals His presence and power.

But if the things we do are motivated out of a desire for reward and recognition, we will never enjoy the blessings of God. Jesus made this perfectly clear in His Sermon on the Mount.

“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.” – Matthew 6:2 NLT

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. – Matthew 6:5 NLT

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. – Matthew 6:16 NLT

Paul expressed his thanks, but he didn’t want the Philippians to mistakenly assume that it was the nature of their gift that had earned them a reward from God. He didn’t want them to think that God was now somehow obligated to them or owed them a blessing. It was their love for Paul that was important. The gift was simply an expression of that love. We can all give, pray, and fast, expecting God to reward us for doing so. But if we don’t do it out of love, our giving, praying, and fasting have no value in God’s eyes.

Paul was able to declare that God had met each and every one of his needs. And Paul knew that God would continue to do so. God Almighty wasn’t reliant upon the Philippians to meet Paul’s needs. He could have sent an angel to minister to Paul. But God allowed the Philippians the joy of knowing what it is like to be used by Him. They got to experience the blessing of being His hands and feet. And their sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading, as evidenced by their gift to Paul, was meant to remind them that God was at work in them. And this brings us full-circle to a statement Paul had made earlier in his letter to them.

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. – Philippians 2:12-13 NLT

They were, and God was. Their gift blessed Paul, pleased God, and rewarded them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Self-Denial vs Self-Sacrifice

1 “Cry aloud; do not hold back;
    lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek me daily
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
    and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
    they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
    and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
    will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
    and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
    and a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
    from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
    and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
    or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 58:1-14 ESV

Something is wrong with this picture. In this chapter God is going to paint a somewhat confusing image of His people. On the one hand, He describes them as transgressors of His ways. They are disobedient and rebellious, failing to live up to the standards He had provided through His law. And he pulls no punches in pointing out their guilt.

“Tell my people Israel of their sins!
   Yet they act so pious!” – Isaiah 58:1-2 BNLT

There is a palpable dissonance in the outward behavior of the people of God. At times, they appear to be enthusiastic seekers of God. From all outward appearances they seem to be genuinly excited about growing in their knowledge of God. They even display a certain allegiance to God, in the hopes of winning His favor.

They fast. They pray. The offer sacrifices. In other words, the display all the right evidence of being faithful followers of God. But then, God reveals the disconnect between their actions and His judgment against them. Even they can’t understand why God seems so upset with them. From their perspective, the were doing all the right things to win God’s favor and earn His assistance in time of need. They even ask God:

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” – Isaiah 58:3 ESV

They are at a loss as to why God would ignore such obviously righteous behavior. So, God explains His evident inattention and inaction.

“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
    you keep oppressing your workers. – Isaiah 58:3 NLT

It was all about themselves. Their fasting was nothing more than an outward display of righteous-looking behavior that was intended to win brownie points with God and impress other men. And Jesus addressed this kind of hypocritical fasting.

“When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward” – Matthew 6:16 NLT

They were fasting to get noticed. And all the while they fasted, they were taking unjust advantage of the people who worked for them. Their outward display of morality had a certain inconsistency about it that God found unacceptable. Everything they did was intended to impress. But God was having none of it. He could see into their hearts and knew full well that they were simply going through the motions. They were expecting God to reward their actions, but Jesus made it clear that the only reward these kinds of people were going to get for their efforts was the praise of men.

Fasting was intended to reflect a repentant and remorseful heart. It should have been an outward display of their inner desire to turn from all other things in life and seek God only. But their brand of fasting was meant to satisfy their own selfish desires. Their fasting wasn’t a reflection of a changed heart. It was simply meant to change how others thought about them.

And just so they don’t miss His point, God points out the difference between their kind of fasting and His.

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” – Isaiah 58:6-7 NLT

God expected a change in behavior. He demanded that their outward displays of self-denial be true reflections of a heart that was selfless rather than selfish. They were fasting to get God’s attention and to garner His help. But God had no intention of responding to their hypocritical charade. Going through the motions and feigning a false commitment to God was not going to cut it. Seeking His assistance while remaining unwilling to follow His commands was not going to cut it.

But if their fasting became sincere, and their display of humility were to reflect a truly repentant heart, they could count on God’s assistance.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
    and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
    and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
    ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.” – Isaiah 58:8-9 NLT

He would show up in a big way. And their fasting would bring about significant change in their own lives. Fasting that is accompanied by true self-denial that puts the will of God and the needs of others first, brings about true godliness. It also brings the favor and glory of God. He steps in and answers us when we call. He delivers the salvation we desperately need.

At the end of the day, God is far more interested in self-sacrifice than self-denial. Giving up food for a season is nothing when compared to sharing your food with the needy. Fasting from buying new clothes means little if you are unwilling to clothe those who have nothing to wear. Giving up something you enjoy for a predetermined period of time bears little merit when compared to giving what you have to care for those who have nothing.

Near the end of His earthly life, Jesus taught a timeliness lesson to His disciples. It had to do with the end times, during a period known as the Great Tribulation. There will be those on earth who find themselves persecuted for their relationship with God Almighty. And yet, there will be those who step in and provide these individuals with food and shelter. And Jesus announces that these gracious individuals will be blessed by God for their generosity. He claims that their actions to help the helpless were just like they had been extending the same courtesies to Him. But they will ask Him:

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’” – Matthew 37-39 NLT

And He will answer them:

“‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’” – Matthew 25:40 NLT

And God tells the people of Judah that, if they will practice true fasting, sacrificing themselves for the well-being of others, He will reward them.

your light will shine out from the darkness – vs 10

The Lord will guide you continually… – vs 11

You will be like a well-watered garden – vs 11

you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities – vs 12

“the Lord will be your delight…” – vs 14

I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob – vs 14

Physical fasting accomplishes little, if the heart is not sincere. But selfless sacrifice is always in keeping with the will of God and always brings with it the rewards of God. Going through the motions may impress others, but it will never impress God. Jesus provided His disciples with the key to receiving the reward of God.

“When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:18 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Giving To Get.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“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. 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.– Matthew 6:1-4 ESV

Jesus has just dropped a bombshell on His listeners: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ESV). And as disconcerting and discomfiting as His words may have been, He was simply trying to explain to them about the true nature of godly righteousness – that alien, outside-of-yourself kind of righteousness that comes from God and can’t be manufactured, only faked. But how easily we trade in God’s view of perfection for man’s. How quickly we forget about what God expects of us and lower our standards. That is exactly what Jesus was confronting among the Jews in His audience. They had long ago traded internal holiness for external piety. They had learned to settle for the praise of men rather than the praise of God. They were stuck on a horizontal plain, viewing righteousness from a purely human standpoint, measuring themselves by comparing themselves with others. So, Jesus starts off this section of His message with a warning. He uses the word, “Beware.” In the Greek, it is prosoche, and it means “to beware, take heed, be attentive to.” Jesus used this word a lot.

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” – Matthew 7:15 ESV

But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. – Matthew 10:17 NLT

“Watch out!” Jesus warned them. Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” – Matthew 16:6 NLT

Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.” – Luke 20:46 NLT

In essence, Jesus is telling His listeners to be perfect and to be careful. His use of the word, “beware” is designed to get their attention and to warn them to listen carefully to what He is about to say. Just as He had in the verses above, Jesus is trying to open the eyes of those sitting on the hillside, using stern words of warning to make His point.

If you recall, the word, “blessed” that Jesus used repeatedly in His opening remarks, really refers to the approval of God. So, those beatitudes or blessings could read like this:

Approved by God are the poor in spirit

Approved by God are those who mourn

Approved by God are the meek

Approved by God are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Approved by God are the merciful

Approved by God are the pure in heart

Approved by God are the peacemakers

Approved by God are the persecuted, reviled and slandered

We are to seek the approval of God, not men. We are to seek the reward of God, not men. Those who do will be part of the kingdom, be comforted, inherit the earth, be satisfied, receive mercy, see God and be called His Son, and enjoy a great reward in heaven. Jesus is speaking of the vast difference between man-made versus spirit-induced righteousness. Jesus says they are to beware of practicing their righteousness before other people. In other words, their motivation should not be recognition. Those who seek to do good things so that they will be deemed good people by those who see them, will have all the reward they are going to get. They’ll get the praise of men, but not the approval of God. That kind of man-pleasing, praise-seeking righteousness will get you no reward from God. Why? Because it is not the kind of righteousness He requires.

Now Jesus gives us three examples from real life. The first has to do with alms-giving, which was giving to the poor and needy as an act of mercy. The Greek word is eleēmosynē  and it refers to “a donation to the poor” and was sometimes called, “compassionateness.” Jesus is accusing His audience of giving to get merit, rather than giving out of mercy. Their giving to the poor was motivated by a desire for recognition. That was the reward they sought, and Jesus tells them that they will have the reward they seek: The praise and approval of men. But they will not receive the one reward they so desperately need: The approval and blessing of God.

The kind of man-made righteousness that Jesus is describing is done only to receive the praise of others. It is done to be seen and to garner recognition and reward. But Jesus tells them that, when you give, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. In other words, keep your giving private. So private, that it will be like one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing. What a different mindset. Instead of seeking recognition, seek to keep your actions hidden. Do what you do, in secret – concealed, private, and hidden from the view of others. But know this, God will see what you are doing, and reward you – in His way and according to His own timing.

Jesus is not suggesting that there is anything wrong with alms-giving or charity. But anyone who thinks they are righteous because they give has missed the point and misunderstood what godly righteousness really is. In fact, giving in order to get recognition isn’t righteousness at all. At least, not according to God’s definition. And throughout this portion of His message, Jesus will emphasize that our greatest concern should be what God thinks and how He views our actions. In fact, Jesus will repeatedly emphasize that, when we give out of mercy, not in search of merit,  “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” While no one around us may know what we have done, God will and, more importantly, He will know why we have done it. He will know the motivation of our heart. And that is still the key behind what Jesus is trying to teach here. This is all about the heart. Giving to get noticed is about the head. It’s about ego, pride, self-esteem and measuring our worth by what others think of us.

But alms-giving was intended to be an act of mercy. It was giving to those in need, not so you could get something out of it. To give to those who do not have, just so you could have what you desire, is a twisted and warped way of life. It is ungodly and unrighteous. It reveals a love of self, but not a love of others. And Jesus warns, “Beware!” Don’t do it. That kind of giving is hypocritical, mere play-acting, intended to give the impression of mercy, but motivated out of the insatiable need for merit and men’s praise. And, Jesus says, practicing that kind of righteousness will get you exactly what you desire, but not what you need: God’s approval and blessing.

In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul wrote:

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

We did nothing to earn our salvation. And we can do nothing to earn a right standing before God now. Our acts of righteousness do not earn us God’s favor. We perform acts of righteousness because we have already earned His favor and have His Spirit living within us. It is the righteousness of Christ, credited to us by God the Father, that allows us to do “the good things he planned for us long ago.” We have been made new so that we might live new lives, motivated not by merit and men’s praise, but out of willing obedience to God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson