Secret GivingErwin W. Lutzer | January 4, 1998
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus was not impressed by the giving of the Pharisees. While they were doing a good thing, their hearts were elsewhere. They sought admiration from others, not from God.
We need to stop giving out of duty and prestige. We need to give with love, without seeking the admiration of men. We must remember that every choice is about whether we want to please God, others, or even ourselves.
Today I begin a series of messages on secrets with God. We’re going to be talking about the soul, the inner part of us, the part that nobody sees, and the most important part of us.
When you speak of what the soul is, it’s difficult to define. It’s something like trying to photograph the wind, as someone says. But all of us know that within us there is that part that nobody can see, that hidden part where we think and feel and desire and decide, and all of the aspirations and the ongoing part of us really takes place, the conscious part of us. That’s the soul the way I’m defining it.
If you are a Christian, your soul is the cathedral of God because God dwells there. But also, even though you are a believer, it’s possible for that soul to be the playground of the devil as well. It is there (in the heart) where all of the battles and the decisions are taking place because the Scripture says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” It’s like the old line that says, “You aren’t what you think you are, but what you think you are.” That’s who we really are. What a man or a woman is, is what they are before God, and nothing else. That’s it!
Well, normally when we think of the secrets of the soul we think of the dark secrets, don’t we? We think of all of those things that are hidden within us, those aspirations that we deliberately and meticulously keep from other people because we do not want them to see what is going on in the dark part of us. And within the soul there may be deceit and lying and dishonesty, but we don’t want anybody to see that, and we jealously guard it. There is something about the soul that signifies power, isn’t there?
You know I was thinking that when I was about 10 years old one of the responsibilities that I had on the farm was to feed the chickens. About five o’clock every afternoon I was supposed to take a pail of grain and pour it out so that they could eat. And one day I was in the garage, and I used to spend a lot of time piddling around making little gadgets that never worked. That seemed to be my vocation. And my father asked me whether or not I had fed the chickens and I hadn’t, but it was so embarrassing, so I lied and said yes. And a few moments later, I left the garage and went to do what I had said I had already done. But I remember that sense of power. I thought, “You know, lying is really good. I mean, as long as he doesn’t find out, what difference does it make?” And there was that sense of control. I lied and he believed me.
Now after coming back from feeding them, my brother, who had overheard the conversation, saw me, and said, “You lied, didn’t you?” That sort of put an end to my feeling of power. It’s a terrible thing. Then you begin to feel the shame and you begin to feel the sense of rebuke and the hypocrisy and everything. Up until that time I didn’t feel that because most of us are really more concerned about what others feel about us than we are about what God feels about us – at least at that point in our lives.
That’s what happens within the soul, and all those dark secrets are developed. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about. I’m going to be speaking about positive secrets – good secrets that we should have with God, the kinds of things that we should share with Him because friends have secrets. And if we know God and if He is our friend, why indeed, we should be able to enjoy those times of intimacy with Him. The kinds of secrets we’re going to speak about are when you know something and He knows something, and only the two of you know about it.
And for this series we’re going to expound Matthew 6 where Jesus repeatedly talks about secrets, and I shall be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. It says Matthew 6:1-4, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Now the topic, of course, is giving, and that’s enough to send some jitters to some people who may be here. And especially if you are visiting you say, “Isn’t that amazing? This is the week we come to Moody Church, and what is he talking about? He’s talking about giving.” If you are feeling that way it could well be that you need the message that God has led me to preach today, so join the club and stay awhile.
I have to say some things though to cut out the underbrush and to get to the heart of a couple of matters. We as human beings forget that money has demonic power. Thomas Morton says, “It has usurped the role in modern society which the Holy Spirit is supposed to have in the Church.” That’s how powerful money is.
Jesus, you remember, said, “Woe to those who are rich.” He said, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” And when talking about money, catch this. He said, “That which is esteemed highly among men (and the context there is money because it says the Pharisees were lovers of money and they were scoffing at what He was saying) is detestable in the sight of God.” And Paul, of course, says that, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”
Now you know what our great temptation is. It is to quote those verses and then very quickly jump to others to somehow balance it because we do not want to be reminded of the fact that money has such a power to mesmerize, to destroy and to be a god. We forget that it is predominantly evil, and we don’t want to hear that. You see the thing is that money asks our allegiance just as much as any other god.
Let me ask you this today. Do you recognize that we have to be converted from money to God? And the reason that there are some people who are unconverted is because they are unwilling to make that conversion. I think that Martin Luther was right when he said that everybody needs three conversions – the conversion of the heart, the conversion of the mind and the conversion of the pocketbook. And it may well be that the last conversion is the most difficult.
Jesus said, “Woe to those who are rich for it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Let me ask you this. Why did Jesus say that? It’s because money has all the characteristics of deity, all the characteristics of God. Richard Foster says, “It gives us security. It can induce guilt. It gives us freedom. It gives us power and seems to be omnipresent. But most sinister of all is its bid for omnipotence. It wants to be all-powerful and it can be all consuming. And why is talking about money so sensitive? Well, you’ve had a sore on your arm. Maybe you were lacerated and blood flowed, and now that part of your arm is so tender, and when somebody comes and begins to poke around it, it really hurts. And you say, “No, no.”
I want you to know today that whenever we talk about money we begin to touch our idolatrous heart. We begin to touch that heart, and we don’t like it because it’s painful, and it reveals who we are. And we come to a message like this, filled with the whole set of rationales and reasons, and these are deeply ingrained and not easily unsettled.
Now for the text itself! What was happening in those days? Well, the Pharisees were misusing money, and doing a good thing with it. They were giving it to charity. But in the process they were hypocrites, and the Greek word hypocrite means actor. They were play-acting. “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men to be seen by them. If you do, you have no reward of your Father who is in heaven,” says Jesus.
I want you to know that in those days giving to charity was a big thing. There was a quote from the rabbis that said, “He who gives to the poor does better than he who offers a sacrifice,” and the Hebrew word righteousness – tsaddiq - is actually the word for giving of alms. So in ancient times a mother may have said to her son who came from the synagogue, “Did you do your righteousness today?” And what she meant was, “Have you given your gift today?” That was a very important thing. And Jesus commends the fact that people give because that’s what we should be doing. But here you have people who are using a very legitimate and necessary good act, and they are doing it for wrong reasons, and they are doing even that to serve themselves.
He says, “When you give, do not announce it with trumpets.” Now you may visualize somebody standing on a street corner and blowing a trumpet and saying, “Everybody watch! I’m giving now,” and you know that as soon as the trumpet blows it’s time for an offering. It could well be that Jesus is referring to a custom that the Jewish scholar Edersheim refers to when he tells that in the Temple area there was a cylinder. It was like a pipe and people came and they put their money in and the money would go around this cylinder and would eventually come into a pail that was there in the Temple. And some of the people would stand there, giving their coins like this, one at a time, making sure that those who were behind them saw how much they gave. And they were blowing the trumpet. And Jesus said, “Don’t give that way but give in secret.” In the process Christ gives three very important principles about giving. And what might they be?
Number one, you give with the right motive. Now there are three possible motives that people can have in giving. One is a sense of duty. “I give because I have to. It is expected of me. People will not think well of me. I’m giving because I’m kind of trapped. I have to give.” Have you ever been at a banquet where, after the food has been eaten, an offering is taken? And they say, “Now we’re going to take an offering,” and the offering basket is passed, and you want be very sure that you give something. You hadn’t planned to give it but there’s an elder who is sitting next to you, and heaven help him if he doesn’t give anything, but you are just a regular church member but you need to give.
Well you know that story about an usher, who went by a very, very well dressed woman, and she didn’t put anything into the offering plate, and he held it right before her. And she wouldn’t put anything in it and she said, “I don’t give,” and he said, “Well, take some out because it’s for the heathen anyway.” And you don’t want to be feeling like a heathen, and so you reluctantly give. Now that is giving out of the sense of duty. How do you know whether you are giving out of a sense of duty? How do you know whether this morning you gave out of a sense of duty? I’ll tell you. When you give out of a sense of duty, you give the gift but you don’t give your heart. You reserve your heart for yourself, but you say, “Here is a gift,” as a sense of duty.
There’s a second motivation and that can be prestige, which is exactly what the Pharisees were doing. You give in such a way, hoping that it will come back to you. You hope that there are other people who will see what you are giving, and because you have given to them, you have certain expectations. Number one, you are thought of as a generous person, and that’s worth something to you. And number two, you actually give in such a way that you hope you will receive back because you’ve given.
As a matter of fact, did you know that there are certain religions and cultures (and some of you are familiar with what those are) in which there are intricate social theories of obligation where you do something good for someone but it is completely understood, even though no words are said, that the intention is that they in turn owe you something. And you expect that in return, and woe to them if they don’t give that to you, whatever it may be – hospitality or a gift or whatever. There’s a very intricate network of obligation.
Now the Pharisees, you see, were not necessarily expecting that people would give back to them but they were thinking that people would watch them give and say, “I just can’t believe how spiritual that person is. Look at how generous he is, even though he has a very, very sour face but, look at how generous he is.” That’s what they were hoping people would say.
There’s a third motivation, and that’s what Jesus is talking about here, where you give because you love to give. Your wallet has been converted. You’ve given yourself to God and you’ve said, “God, I’ve given you my heart and therefore I can give not only my money, but when I give my money I’m also giving my heart.
Samuel Johnson was a very generous person, and he always had people living in his house that were poor. And somebody said, “Why do you put up with all of these poor people?” And he simply answered, “If I didn’t help them, no one else would and they cannot be rejected or lost simply because they are needy.” In other words you give because you want to give and because there’s the motivation to give, and you don’t care whether or not anybody knows about it. You just give because giving becomes a part of your nature. It’s a part of who you are. It’s like a mother. My wife, Rebecca, didn’t say, “Well, you know, I got up at night to take care of the children, and I want everybody to know that I got up and took care of the babies.” No, that isn’t the important thing. The need is there. The love is there. The commitment is there. And so you do it because you love to do it. The Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver. He loves those who give joyfully, who maybe even give more than they should because it is not merely their mind that has been converted, but their heart has been converted, and their pocketbook has been converted. And all that they have is God’s and so they enjoy giving. They enjoy it!
Now you say, “Well, if you don’t have the right motivation, what do you do? How do you get that? That’s not natural. That doesn’t come just because you go to a good church, or because you read the Bible or because you listen to a wonderful choir. That does not come. No, no, no! This monster called greed and selfishness is so much a part of who we are that being generous is not usually something that comes very, very easily unless there is some return, unless there is some prestige that’s going to be involved. If you are a billionaire and you want to give a billion dollars, you call a news conference and announce it to the world. That’s different, but we’re talking about secret giving.
How do you do it? Well, what you do is you deal with it as you deal with other sins. You repent as thoroughly as the Holy Spirit enables you to and you spend as much time in God’s presence as you have to until that monster is subdued. And you deal with the rationalizations. People say, “Well, you know if I had more money I’d give more.” Nonsense! If you were a bad steward with a little money Jesus taught that you were going to be a bad steward with a lot of money. It does not have to do with the amount because we’re talking about proportionate giving, and so what you need to do is to deal with that rationalization.
Or the idea is that we’ll begin to give when we get out of debt. Now that’s a real good one, isn’t it? And you know, of course, that Rebecca and I have had to learn, as young couples always learn, that debt, devil and dirt are all related. I’m not sure exactly the connection but I know that it is there. So there are people who are in debt and that would be a separate message. Debt is a terrible curse and if you are in that situation I suggest that you purchase some books, if you can afford them, that will enable you to learn how to get out of debt so that you can have some financial freedom. But the problem is this: We use that as an excuse, and by bad management we’re always in debt and therefore we excuse ourselves consistently. And we never learn how to be generous. So there are all these rationalizations.
Or here’s another one. Listen up for this. “I’m not going to give because I don’t like what the church did with its money. Ten years ago they did something that I don’t like, and because I don’t like it I’m not going to give.” Do you notice how easy these rationalizations come? You know, Jesus blessed the woman who gave two mites even though the Temple was not perfect, and even though the running of the Temple was not perfect. Jesus still blessed the motivation of the woman because He saw in her a generous spirit.
So we’re talking about motivation, a motivation of love. Did you know that there is only one other saying of Jesus that is not found in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John in all the New Testament? At least it’s the only one that I know about, and it is in the book of Acts where Paul said that Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” And what we need to do is to stay before the Lord until we say, “God, this monster within us is so great. The evil of it is of such magnitude.” You think of the extremes of people - people who gamble and are willing to sacrifice anything to gamble just to make money easily, and people who buy lottery tickets hoping to win it big, and people who think that trusting God is not sufficient. What they need to do is to resort to all kinds of means. The demonic power of money is just unbelievable.
I said to a friend, “How could these Christians take other Christians to court when the Bible is so clear that you shouldn’t?” And he said, “You never underestimate the evil of the human heart when there is big money involved. Don’t ever underestimate it. Even fine committed Christians who we thought have known better will do sinful things if they can get a couple million dollars.”
But Jesus said the right motive is you give because you love. Did you give this morning because you loved? You say, “No, I cried before I gave.” Keep it. Next Sunday don’t bother. So the right motive!
Number two is the right method. You give in secret. And He says, “Don’t announce it with the trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and the streets to be honored by men. They have received their reward in full, but when you give to the needy or your alms do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Jesus said, “Don’t announce it to others and don’t even announce it to yourself. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t think to yourself, ‘You know, I’m such a generous person, because look at what I just did.’” You give in secret.
Now we here at the Moody Church give anonymously. I’m not sure if I’ve ever met “Anonymous.” I am sure he must exist somewhere but all giving is really in secret, and this has an upside and it has a down side. Let me tell you about the down side first. The downside is we could actually have ushers here at the Moody Church who aren’t giving, and we wouldn’t know it. Now you know the Bible talks about those who do not give are robbing God. Now we would not invite robbers to take the offering, would we? And yet that’s possible. It’s possible to have members of the staff, or the elders or the deacons, or people who sing in the choir who are not faithful with that which God has given them. And Jesus said in Luke 16, “If you are not faithful with unrighteous mammon, who will give the true riches to you?” And He says, “Whether or not you get the true riches is dependent upon what you do with your money.” That’s the kind of importance that God puts upon it. So giving is secret.
The upside of secrecy is, of course, that everyone is treated alike. We do not cater to the rich. We recognize that there are people for whom giving $10,000 is much easier than for someone else who gives $100 because of their financial situation. And we leave the matter with God.
Jesus is not saying that nobody should ever find out what we give, or that it is wrong if giving is known. In fact, in the Old Testament in the book of Ezra an entire chapter lists everything that people gave, including those who did not give. All of their names are there on God’s register. Jesus sat across from the treasury and He noticed all the people who were giving and He saw the woman. The text is very clear. It says He sat across from the treasury and watched as people gave and He saw a widow giving two mites. Christ was that close so that He knew how much people were giving.
I think I told you some years ago about the little church that I used to attend when I was a child, and my parents would go to it, and they weren’t getting enough money. That’s a perpetual problem, isn’t it? What they decided to do was to publish at the end of the year the names of all of the members and how much they gave and put it on the church bulletin board. Wealthy farmers who bought thousands of dollars of machinery that year and had fantastic crops gave $200. It was all there for people to see. Can you imagine how excited people were to have that put up? I mean some of the people. Can you imagine how angry it made the people? Absolute anger! I think the next year, though, that the giving was up somewhat. I don’t advocate that. I’m just telling you what happened. I’m just reporting.
Now don’t miss Christ’s point. Here’s what Jesus was saying. He was saying, “Look, when you give, give generously because you love God, and give in such a way that if nobody ever finds out about it, that’s okay because you are content with the approval of God.” God knows! Even if I don’t get a letter back, even if nobody knows how much I gave, even if this is done in secret, even though people have no idea as to how generous I really am, I am content with God because these are my secrets. And of course it doesn’t just refer to giving. It refers to random acts of kindness that we do where we bless people in sacrificial ways even if nobody knows.
One of the most delightful things that happens often here at the Moody Church is we “by accident” find out about acts of kindness, and acts of generosity that happen that nobody knows about, but that may come to our attention. And we just know that there are lots of people who are doing a lot of nice things for other people, and they are unsung heroes, and nobody ever points them out, and they never get praise, and they never get thanked, but they just keep being faithful. And Jesus said that if you are that way, your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And the question that I want to ask as we emphasize secrets is: Are you content to have those secrets with God? Are you content with saying God knows, and it’s okay? It’s okay if I participate. It’s okay if I sing. It’s okay if I play. It’s okay if I preach a sermon. And even if it isn’t really appreciated, I did it for God.
So Jesus talks about the right motive and the right method, and then He also talks about the right reward. He says, “Your Father will reward you.” What reward does God give? Well, the satisfaction of having done it is part of the reward, because Jesus said that if you are faithful with something I have given you, you shall receive more. Also, there’s the reward in the life to come. You don’t see it all in this life but you will in the life to come. He will reward you.
I know the King James Version says that He will reward you openly. And you know that at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ, when all of the books are opened (and I don’t want to be too dogmatic about this but I do believe it is a public judgment), I think we are going to see one another being judged by Christ. And I’ve mentioned that we’ll all, first of all, be in the same boat. And secondly, what others think will actually not matter because at the end of the day, the only thing that will matter is what Jesus Christ thinks. And so that will be very, very important. And we’ll stand there before the Lord Jesus and the Father will reward us. And we will see all of these secret things that have been done by others, and we will see them, and the Father will reward us.
Why do Christians sue one another? Why all these hassles? It’s because they don’t believe in another world. They don’t believe that there is a world coming in which God is going to make all of the unjust things right and bring to light the hidden things of darkness (and this is speaking about Christians now), exposing the motives of men’s hearts, and resolving unresolved issues here on earth. That’s part of the responsibility of the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Let me give you three very important lessons that will help us tie this together. First of all (number one), remember that every choice we make is a matter of pleasing ourselves or pleasing God. And it’s possible, you see, for us to be more concerned about pleasing others than we are about pleasing God. And that’s why we live two different lives – the outward life and the inward life - because we don’t care so much about what God (who sees the inner) thinks. We are only concerned about what other people think and they see the outer. And all of us live that way, don’t we? And to a certain extent it may be necessary for us, but looked at on another level, the simple fact is that oftentimes we are not real because we fear the disapproval of other people, and we don’t care about God’s approval or disapproval. So every choice is a matter of pleasing ourselves or pleasing God.
Secondly, we are always in the presence of God. Will you remember that? The Father sees in secret, and if there is any slogan that should be on the wall of our homes, it is simply this – “Thou God seest me.” Every deception of the heart, every lie that is told, every false impression that is given, every motivation that is either pure or impure – all are naked and open before God, and the Father sees in secret. And you can get away with what other people think. And you can (shall we say?) control or shape what they think, but at the end of the day it’s just you and God. We are all in God’s presence.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, we will not be rewarded twice. May I read the text again? “Do not do your acts of righteousness before men to be seen by them. If you do you will have no reward of your Father who is in heaven (verse 4) so that your giving may be in secret, and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Either we serve people and we get the reward and we do it to be seen, or do it because we want to make sure that there’s a return and we receive that return, and it’s the end of the deal. It’s over. You did it for man. Man praised you. You got back what you wanted. End of transaction! But if we do it for God, then we believe that He will reward us and will do so openly. Can we trust ourselves to Him? Do we have enough confidence in God that we don’t need to get rewarded in this life?
There is an interesting story in the New Testament about a man who was a rich ruler who came to Jesus, and he said, “What must I do that I may inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Well, keep the commandments.” And this young guy, being blinded by sin said, “Well, I’ve kept all of them from my youth.” And of course the answer to him is “Well then, you don’t need to get saved because you already are.” I mean if you’re perfect, God isn’t going to reject anyone who is perfect from heaven. So if you’ve lived a perfect life, fine. It’s like that cab driver that I told you about a couple of weeks ago. I mean if you are absolutely perfect you are going to slide into heaven, and do so with a lot of flourishes and a great deal of fanfare. But Jesus suspected that he was unaware of his sin and that that was his problem and He said, “Well, if you’ve kept all the commandments, fine. Sell everything that you have and give it to the poor and you’ll have treasure in heaven. And then come and follow Me.”
Now let me ask you a question. What if Jesus asked you and me to do that today? Let’s suppose He said, “Well, if you want to inherit eternal life, sell your house, sell your car. Get rid of it all. Go live in a monastery. Follow Me and give it all to the poor and give all of your wealth, all of your securities, all of your retirement accounts, all of your mutual funds. Sell it all and give it away and come and follow Me.” Well, what would you do? I think we’d all choke just a little bit just before we made our decision. That’s a tough thing to do.
Jesus, of course, was not saying, as we know, that it is through such an act that you are saved. We are saved because of the sacrifice of Christ and the gift of salvation. But what Jesus was saying to this young man was, “Look, don’t you realize that you have to be converted from your money to Me, and that it is your money that really makes you stumble and not see the great need that you have to come in humility and receive eternal life?”
That’s why Jesus said, “Woe to the rich,” because it is unlikely that they will inherit the Kingdom. It doesn’t mean that they won’t. There are some who will, but it is hard, Jesus said. It’s because you’ve already got a god. Why do you need a different one? It’s a god that we intuitively love. It’s a god that makes us all those promises. It’s a god that gives us what we want. It’s a god that gives us power and leisure, and ability and freedom, and all those things, so why do we need this other God called Jehovah?
There are some of you who are listening to this message today and you need to understand something. The purpose of this message is not so that you may give more money to Moody Church, though if that happened I think we’d try to work it into our system here. I think that we’d use that, but that really isn’t the purpose. The purpose I had was a much deeper purpose, and that is to ask if we have been sincerely willing to give to God this god called money that wraps itself around us and builds rationalizations in our hearts and minds, and that will not allow us to be free. That’s the question.
And for those of you who have never received Jesus as Savior, do you realize that you have to turn from that idol and perhaps a whole host of others? You have to turn from that idol. And you have to turn your heart toward God, and to receive Him in humility, recognizing that you are an idolater, and that you come as an idolater. You come helplessly bound by idols to receive the gift of eternal life and to say, “Lord, I want to accept all that You have for me.” Jesus said it clearly. He said, “Give in secret and be content with that, and trust your Father who sees in secret and He will reward you openly.”
Let us pray.
Father, we confess today that it is difficult to give You everything that we own, everything that we’ve worked for, all that we have saved. We confess, Father, that it is difficult to crown You Lord over all of it, but we ask today that You shall help us to do that. The issue is not even where we give or how much we give but whether or not, Father, we have transferred finally and totally the power of money from our hearts to Yours, to use the mammon of unrighteousness for just ends. We ask today, Father, that there shall be deliverance in the minds of businessmen who are present, and other people, for whom money has become so important that they don’t even see that they are worshipping another god. It’s become so much of a fabric of them.
And then, Father, there are maybe those who aren’t businessmen but they are struggling with finances, and they also don’t realize that money has become their god. We pray, Father, for all of us, as a staff, and elder and executive committee and ushers and choir members. We pray today, Father, that You will make us faithful in the thing for which You promised us a harvest of righteousness if we would be faithful in it. We ask You, Lord Jesus, that You shall transform us into God lovers. May we be intoxicated by our love for You, and therefore give with joy and hilarity and peace and contentment.
And for those who have never accepted Your Son, we pray that even today they may do that, to know that they can ultimately bring nothing except to receive Your grace. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.