By Jason Hood with assistance from Generous Giving staff
“Jesus is Lord!” This cry of the early church has not always been echoed in word and in deed by those who claim to be Christians. Throughout the ages, believers have found it easy to fall into “cheap grace,” or relying on Jesus as Savior yet forgetting that he is King and Lord over every part of life, including our money and possessions. This King is a brother who laid down his life in order to bring us into a new family, a family that shares one Father who provides for them generously and rules over them in justice. This family has the task of creating a loving, caring community that obeys the Lord and teaches the nations to do the same (Matthew 28:16-20). Their obedience leads to good works that lead others to glorify God as the community “shines like a light” (5:13-16). As they live under the lordship of Jesus and the law of love, their mercy, righteousness and justice reflect the beauty and order of heaven itself. These major themes in Matthew’s gospel carry a large amount of explicit and implicit teachings on generosity, money and possessions.
Our study of Matthew consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the book’s teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the book’s major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of Matthew’s goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the book’s possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Giving’s Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, they may prove especially useful as sermon helps for pastors and as a resource for teachers, advisors and lay leaders interested in obeying and teaching the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Passage-by-Passage Study Notes
Matthew 4:17-25 (Key Passage) — Gospel according to Jesus: Separating Jesus’ gospel message into “social” and “spiritual” categories is a big yet common mistake. Jesus’ message is spiritual, but it is also “social” and physical. If all we have is one or the other, we’ll find we have neither. Jesus’ gospel is the good news of the kingdom. God’s reign is now here, defeating darkness; calling sinners to repentance, change and the pursuit of the kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33); and turning the world’s way of doing things on its head, as the next three chapters show. Jesus’ message was not just “spiritual.” He not only talked about the kingdom of God, but he also lived it and demonstrated it by destroying the work of evil, healing the sick and casting out demons. He made claims on people’s lives—including their money—when he called them to discipleship (Matthew 4:22), as his disciples left their vocations and families and followed Jesus. “Kingdom” involvement is not an option for disciples; all who follow Jesus must wholeheartedly pursue God’s kingdom and participate in the “good news” in all of life.
Matthew 5:3-4 — The background of “poor” and “poor in spirit” is debated, but in context it seems best to take this as the crushed and afflicted, particularly (but not necessarily exclusively) those who are suffering in such positions because they are pursuing the kingdom (Matthew 5:10-12). See possible backgrounds in Psalm 34:18 and Isaiah 61:1-2. Both of these backgrounds suggest spiritual and physical poverty, or at the least firsthand experience of injustice or affliction on account of their identity as God’s people. In our day we often hear testimonies of how God blesses those who come to him. While it is true that a godly life can often help one meet one’s physical needs (through self-discipline, faithfulness, avoiding drugs and others dangers), this is not always true, particularly since in this life those “who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 2:12). We aren’t promised riches and success in this life. Our hope and comfort is that the kingdom belongs to us and that one day we will be rich in spirit and in possessions in God’s new creation, where there is no more mourning over sin or over the loss of possessions, family, reputation or health. In the present, we must be prepared to lose all these things for the sake of the kingdom, knowing that God—“the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3)—is giving us the kingdom. See Matthew theme essay Judgment and Reward.
Matthew 5:5 — This beatitude was derived from Psalm 37, which was written as a lament about the state of affairs of God’s people, particularly the fact that they did not possess the land God had promised them. In Jesus’ day there were still many Jews who were essentially “terrorists/freedom fighters,” hoping to drive their Roman masters from the land they felt they rightfully owned. Jesus and Psalm 37 both teach us to resist such an impulse, waiting patiently instead in meekness and humility even though we are dispossessed or called to surrender our land. This beatitude promises the future inheritance of the land/earth to those who wait in patience for it, living in exile in the present time, not holding onto their earthly rights to land. This openhandedness was exhibited by Abraham (Hebrews 11:8-10, 13-16) and Barnabas (Acts 4:34-37). While some concentrate on the kingdoms of this earth and seek to own more houses and lands for power and comfort and pleasure, God calls his children to look to the future land, the entire world which he promised to Abraham and all who share his faith (Romans 4:13; Revelation 21:1-2; 2 Peter 3:13). Such kingdom-mindedness should produce meekness on earth, centering on the needs of others rather than on our rights and possessions, as in the case of Barnabas (Acts 4:34-37). See Matthew theme essay Judgment and Reward.
Matthew 5:6 — The “hunger and thirst” is probably not just passive desire, but active pursuit of something we need but don’t fully have. Those who are oppressed because of unrighteousness, standing in need of godly justice (the same word as righteousness; see Matthew 12:18-21), are probably what Matthew has in mind, based on 5:10-12 and 5:3-5. But there also may be a hint here of the need to do righteousness or justice, as in Matthew 6:33 and 23:23. Those who give themselves over to God’s righteous agenda (loving God and others according to Jesus’ teaching and example) will find themselves filled and satisfied in their quest for righteousness. The implications for our possessions are numerous; see Matthew 5:17-20; 6:25-34; 23:23. This verse is not congratulating those who already are fully righteous or in possession of justice; it is encouraging us always to pursue righteousness and the will of God and congratulating those whose lives are dedicated to that pursuit. See Matthew theme essay Requirement of Righteousness and Justice.
Matthew 5:7 — Jesus elsewhere demands mercy on numerous occasions (Matthew 9:13; 12:7; 23:23), and he is famous for exhibiting mercy to those in need (Matthew 9:27; 15:22; 20:33). Mercy is feeling something inwardly and doing something outwardly to help those in need (Daniel 4:27; Zechariah 7:9-10). We do this for others because God showed us mercy by sending his Son to die for sinners, even when we did not deserve it. This beatitude teaches that we are blessed not when we cast down judgments on others who have wronged us or when ignore those in need, but when we forgive and stoop to heal and comfort, just as God does for us (2 Samuel 22:17, 36; Psalm 19:35). This mercy reveals our identity as children of the merciful Father. Those who do not practice mercy are not children of God (Matthew 18:21-35). For more implications on our possessions, see notes on Matthew 23:23. See Matthew theme essays Jesus' Lordship over Finances and Requirement of Righteousness and Justice.
Matthew 5:8-9 — Those who are blessed are those who dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to God and his kingdom. These people are pure in heart, and they make peace even with their enemies. Both of these characteristics require sacrifice and abstinence from pressing after our own benefit and advantage. For example, suing someone for material recompense (“Wouldn’t you rather suffer injustice and be defrauded?” asks Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:7. And the rest of Matthew’s gospel reminds us that purity of heart is single-minded pursuit of the kingdom and Jesus’ commands to love God and others. This includes seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness instead of worrying about our possessions and our needs (Matthew 6:19-33). See Matthew theme essays Requirement of Righteousness and Justice, Cost of Discipleship and God as Father.
Matthew 5:10-12 — The Beatitudes close with a reminder of the difficulty we can expect if we commit ourselves to Jesus and his kingdom. Whatever earthly sacrifices must be made for God’s kingdom—whether spending our lives on the mission field, sacrificing our reputations for kingdom principles, or perhaps denying ourselves the chance to make money for ourselves or our company illegally—we can be confident of receiving a far greater reward than fleeting earthly safety, comfort and wealth. At the end of the gospel, Jesus reminds us that we will be judged by our treatment of our brothers and sisters in need (Matthew 25:31-46), especially those who are put in such circumstances because of their commitment to Jesus. See Matthew theme essays Judgment and Reward and Cost of Discipleship.
Matthew 5:13-16 — Our money and possessions must produce good works which shine for the world to see—not for our glory or our credit, but so that the world knows the Father through our sacrificial love and care for others, just as we have come to know the Father through the sacrificial love of Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9). As we care for one another, we create congregational communities that are colonies of heaven, places on earth where justice and peace and goodness reign (Acts 2:44-47). We attract the nations, “set on a hill” for all to see. Good works are not an option for believers; God has created us and set us on a hill precisely for this reason, to walk in works which he created and ordained (Ephesians 2:8-10) so that he will receive glory. See note on 2 Corinthians 9:11-15 and Matthew theme essays Jesus' Lordship over Finances and Requirement of Righteousness and Justice and 1 and 2 Chronicles theme essay Interacting with Unbelievers.
Matthew 5:23-26 (Key Passage) — Repentance, Reconciliation and Giving: God requires repentance from those who would approach him in worship—even those who come bearing gifts. If we owe something to someone, particularly due to fraud or injustice, we must reconcile with that person. Such injustices are not allowed in the family of God because this family is called to be like “heaven on earth,” reflecting God’s perfect kingdom and reign of justice on earth (Luke 19:1-9; 1 Corinthians 6:6-10; James 5:1-6). This is not an excuse not to give, but a reminder that God does not allow us to presume that we are OK in his eyes simply because we’ve started giving at church. One seldom hears about this passage today, maybe because we do not wish to keep people from giving. But pastors and teachers must teach believers to live justly, making amends for errors and economic offenses: underpaying employees (including immigrants); ignoring their health care needs, particularly those caused by job-related accidents; taking advantage of businesses by refusing to pay for services or pretending to be unsatisfied; illegal avoidance of taxes; business fraud; refusing to pay for damages we’ve caused to other’s property; and other such actions must be repaired. In some parts of the United States (in the 100 years following the Civil War) and the Third World, large tracts of property owned by wealthy families have been acquired from poorer minority families at a fraction of the worth of the land; sometimes land is stolen illegally from the wealthy for the sake of the poor. Similarly, large sums of money have been made at the expense of underpaid, uninsured workers. Sometimes, dangerous work has led to disability without compensation. Large-scale, government-based reparations may prove difficult or impossible, but there is no question that individual Christians must seek to make reparations wherever possible (Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Exodus 21-22). See Matthew theme essays Requirement of Righteousness and Justice and Judgment and Reward.
Matthew 5:38-48 (Key Passage) — Be Perfect as God is Perfect: Jesus calls his followers to stop the flow of violence and retribution, which often escalates out of hand. The Old Testament law allowed for punishment equal to the crime, but Jesus tells his followers to willingly give up their rights to sue for punishment or retaliation. Instead of getting respect, we must give love to our enemies. Such a reversal of human attitudes requires a radical shift in the way we view our possessions—not as things to grip tightly or protect, but as gifts from our Father which can be replaced if he so chooses. Our time, our rights and our possessions become things to surrender in proof that we are children of the Father who cares even for those who hate him. The standard for our behavior is the Father and his perfect Son, whose perfect love led him to become poor for those in need (2 Corinthians 8:9). See Matthew theme essays Requirement of Righteousness and Justice, Cost of Discipleship and God as Father.
Matthew 6:7-8 — God knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8); we don’t need gimmicks or “prayer tricks” or extended prayers full of babbling and meaningless phrases—we simply can come to God and tell him our needs honestly and clearly. See notes on Matthew 6:25-34 and Matthew theme essays Judgment and Reward and God as Father.
Matthew 6:10-12 — We are blessed to be able to present our requests to God, but we must remember that our first priority in prayer cannot be our personal needs. We must begin by orienting ourselves around that which matters most (Matthew 6:33-34): God’s kingdom, which is bringing peace and justice and righteousness to earth. Nor can our prayers focus solely on “material” needs; we also must pray about spiritual needs such as the need for forgiveness of our sins and protection from evil and temptation. See Matthew theme essays Cost of Discipleship, Jesus' Lordship over Finances and God as Father.
Matthew 6:13-15 — See notes on Matthew 18:21-35 and Matthew theme essay God as Father.
Matthew 6:16-18 — The self-denial involved in fasting helps us to reorient our priorities around that which is truly necessary. Although God created everything for our good, in a sinful world it is sometimes appropriate to do without (Matthew 10:38, 39; 16:24; Luke 9:23-26; 14:27). See Matthew theme essays God as Father and Cost of Discipleship.
Matthew 6:22-23 — These verses are connected to the verses before and the verse after it, and they cannot be interpreted apart from them. If your eye is generous, your whole body will have light. Good stewardship leads to spiritual growth generally. But an “evil” or unhealthy eye (which is probably a Jewish idiom for “greedy or stingy”) prevents us from seeing things properly. Light is supposed to make things clear, but if we don’t “see” the truth about our finances, our generosity and the location of our hearts, how can we become whole and healthy—not just in our finances, but in other areas of life as well? Jesus is noting the single-minded, healthy perspective of those who serve the right master, and those who store up treasure in heaven. This is contrasted with those who fail to have the right vision, those who have corrupted eyes focused on things in this present world that are desirable (1 John 2:16). See Matthew theme essay Jesus' Lordship over Finances.
Matthew 6:24 — This verse concludes Matthew 6:19-24 and prepares for the following section. If we want to claim that we love God with all our hearts, our treasure must not be located on earth because, as Matthew 6:21 teaches, our treasure is where our hearts are. We cannot serve both God and Mammon (money and possessions, or “stuff”) because Mammon is an idol that competes with God for our loyalty. If our hearts are invested in Mammon, we will serve this idol and fail to love and serve God. In part, this is why the apostle Paul calls greed idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). God calls his children into radical obedience and discipleship that is rooted in our trust in our loving Father—even to the point of abandoning our own agendas and desires. (Matthew 6:25-34; 10:37-39). See Matthew theme essays God as Father and Jesus' Lordship over Finances, Deuteronomy theme essay Prosperity Idols, Daniel theme essay Idolatry of Wealth and Colossians theme essay Idolatry Is Worthless.
Matthew 6:25-34 (Key Passage) — When Good Things Are Bad: It is vital to note that the things Jesus discusses here as his “competitors” for our attention (Matthew 6:24) are not wants, but needs, which create anxiety when we focus on them rather than the kingdom and the lifestyle to which Jesus calls his people. Who could blame someone for abandoning their principles and ignoring others so that they could clothe or feed themselves? Who could blame someone for worrying over what the future will bring economically? Who could blame someone for spending more time planning, managing and arranging than actually doing good and developing a relationship with the Father? Jesus, that’s who. Jesus’ teaching about trusting the Father’s provision seems reckless, but it is the only safe bet we’ve got. God’s agenda sets our minds and our wallets to the pursuit of justice and righteousness, not the protection of our own interests and needs or worrying (three times he uses the word “anxious”) about our own circumstances. Worry is a sign that we don’t know whose child we are, and protection is evidence that we think we ourselves are ultimately in charge of our circumstances. We must dedicate all of who we are to the pursuit of the kingdom, knowing that the King will care for all those who give their lives for him (Matthew 10:38-39). After all, he clothes the flowers and feeds the sparrows, and he knows (Matthew 5:32)—better than we do—what we need now and in the future. This is true not only for individuals but for families, congregations and denominations as well. Those who put their trust in the God who clothes the flowers of the field and causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the wicked (Matthew 5:45) can risk spending money not on themselves and their desires (buildings, programs, etc.), or hoarding money for a “rainy day” (see study notes on Luke 12:16-21) but spending their money and resources on others. See Matthew theme essays Jesus' Lordship over Finances and God as Father.
Matthew 7:12-14 — Just as the previous paragraph teaches about God’s goodness, here we are called to reflect that goodness to others. The standard is not a bunch of rules but is based instead on our own clear understanding of what we ourselves want. It applies to relationships, jobs and many other areas, but is especially pertinent to Christian giving. 18th-century preacher Jonathan Edwards used this passage when addressing the complaints of his congregation that he was being too generous with the poor, or the complaint that the poor around them weren’t quite yet “poor”. What would we want from others if we were in the same situation, Edwards asks. The same logic applies today. If we were in the place of some of our poor neighbors today, what would we wish to receive from them? Would we want help providing a good Christian education for our children? Would we want help paying for emergency health care needs? Whatever goodness we would want done for us (especially in moments of need), we should do the same for others. Jesus says that this statement sums up all the Old Testament teachings. See Matthew theme essay Requirement of Righteousness and Justice.
Matthew 7:13-24 — Jesus sums up all his teaching by laying down the requirement for following him: obedience to his commands and a life lived in conformity to the will of God the Father (Matthew 7:21). This is the “hard and narrow” way, and it is not easy. It requires us to “deny ourselves, pick up our cross and lay down our lives” (Matthew 16:24-26) so that we can truly find life. But those who do so will be the light of the world, evidence to the lost of God’s love, justice, peace and goodness, and proof of God’s kingdom breaking into a broken world to heal and restore. Those who claim Jesus as Lord but fail to live under his lordship have no claim to salvation—even if they have done great deeds “in his name” (Matthew 7:22-23). We will be known by our fruits—good deeds which reflect the sort of love with which God loved us in his Son. The cost of disobedience and self-indulgence will be tragic (Matthew 7:23, 26-27). See Matthew theme essays Cost of Discipleship, Judgment and Reward and Jesus' Lordship over Financesesus.
Matthew 8:18-22 — Jesus’ radical kingdom mission and message subverts the “normal” way of living in his culture—giving up the normal pattern of living among family members, owning a home, and practicing a vocation. While not all are called to give up such things, we certainly are called to support those who do (see study note on Luke 8:1-4), and we must never allow social convention to stand in the way of the pursuit of Jesus and his kingdom. This means being prepared to do radical things with our vocations and finances for Jesus: perhaps foregoing a new car or home, turning down lucrative careers to serve “the least,” or committing to a low-budget lifestyle so that our wealth can be used for the kingdom rather than our comfort and pleasure. This is not an invitation to avoid caring for our parents or relatives, as we shall see at Matthew 15:1-9 (see also 1 Timothy 5:8). See Matthew theme essays Cost of Discipleship and Jesus' Lordship over Finances.
Matthew 9:35-37 (Key Passage) — Laborers Wanted: Jesus’ comments about the “harvest” in Israel anticipate his command to harvest the entire world (Matthew 28:16-20). Here we see that such commands to reach the lost are driven by Jesus’ compassion. When we become involved financially and personally in reaching the lost and pastoring those in need, we participate in ministry that is close to Jesus’ heart, and he will reward us for the immense sacrifices that accompany such (compare Matthew 4:19 with 19:27-29). In the world today there is a great shortage of missionary activity in many places, but the harvest is still plentiful. The great need is for laborers to leave their lives of comfort and go out into the harvest, laying down their lives for others just as Jesus did. Note that the people don’t just need “conversion” or a “great experience”: They need shepherds, those who will live with them, guiding and leading them in the difficult, challenging road of Christian maturity. This, of course, is the original meaning of the word, “pastor.” See Matthew theme essay Jesus' Lordship over Finances.
Matthew 10:16-39 — While many are familiar with the final verses in this section, it is not often that we think of them in context. Jesus is telling us that his missionaries will be in danger because of their mission. But this is the nature of Christian discipleship: not just “missionaries” to hostile foreign nations, but all Christians must take up their cross if they wish to follow Jesus, losing life so that they might find it. For Christians, sacrifice, persecution, trial and even death are not something to be avoided. “Have no fear” of those who will hurt you, Jesus said, although he just noted that they will be “put to death”. This is an important reminder that the fact that we are more valuable than many sparrows is not a promise of earthly comfort, but of ultimate consolation in the kingdom of God. See 1 and 2 Corinthians theme essay Ministry and Sacrifice and Matthew theme essays God as Father, Jesus' Lordship over Finances and Judgment and Reward.
Matthew 10:40-42 — The Lord himself will never forget and always reward those who care for his missionaries. Again, this reward is not primarily to be found in this present life but in the age to come in the New Creation. Our response to God’s people—whether prophets, righteous leaders or “little ones” in the kingdom—shows our identity as those who are participating in the work of the kingdom. The point here is not that “a cup of cold water” is all we need to do; it is that Jesus observes every single gift, and we can be confident that all of our gifts for his sake will be remembered. God our father will care for us, in large part through the hands and feet of his people. See also the notes on Matthew 25:31-46 and Matthew theme essays Jesus' Lordship over Finances and Judgment and Reward.
Matthew 11:7-9, 18-19 — John the Baptist’s ascetic, self-denying lifestyle was vilified as being “too radical,” and the lavish, festive love of Jesus shown to sinners was vilified as being “too wasteful and too profligate.” But God’s love is just that way—it calls us to indulge on others (particularly those in need and the lost) and also engage in immense personal sacrifice. Jesus and his followers did both of these things.
Matthew 11:25-30 — While the world promises progress and success and the survival of the fittest, Jesus promises difficulty: a cross and a yoke, but at the same time rest. Those who know that this world is full of suffering and evil are not surprised when they encounter such things. And if they know that they have a Father who will care for them, they are prepared for difficult circumstances, knowing that their Father has a plan for hardships and will use it for their good and ultimately will take them home to a New Creation free from pain, hardship and need (Romans 8:18-25). Jesus does not call us to power plays and pride, but he says that those who learn from him are “gentle and lowly in heart.” Only those who follow that path will find rest (Matthew 11:29) and easy burdens. A “yoke” is something a beast of burden carries, but Jesus calls his own yoke that he gives to his followers “easy”. In a similar way, giving one’s possessions away seems to be something that is burdensome but brings great joy. Kingdom-minded generosity is a part of Jesus’ easy yoke. See Matthew theme essays God as Father and Cost of Discipleship.
Matthew 12:15-21 (Key Passage) — Leading the Nations in Justice: Jesus’ mission as Messiah is summed up in this Old Testament quote. His goal is not just to serve as a light to Israel but also a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6-7). He does this by leading the nations in justice, or right relationship with God and others (Matthew 22:34-40; 23:23). He is to be God’s servant who comes to reign but also comes to suffer (Isaiah 53). This shows us that the path to victory that he and his followers pursue is not aggressive buyouts, high-publicity campaigns (Matthew 12:16) or hostile takeovers, but humble, self-sacrificial love. Perhaps our money is not to be used to get “prime real estate” and use it in ways that alienate unbelieving neighbors; perhaps we aren’t to engage in “high-profile” publicity complete with slick packaging, Botox and promises of “the good life”; perhaps instead we are to use our resources to pursue the justice that must characterize those who are part of his kingdom (Matthew 23:23; James 1:27). See Matthew theme essay Jesus' Lordship over Finances.
Matthew 16:21-28 (Key Passage) — Road to Success: Peter has the approach most of us have here: “No way—Lord, you don’t have to suffer and sacrifice ...” (“... and neither do we,” Peter was probably thinking). But stewardship of our Christian calling centers on self-denial (literally, “disowning himself,” Matthew 16:23) and living a crucified life (Galatians 2:20-21), just as Jesus’ stewardship of his own mission centered around self-denial and the cross. Attempting to preserve our lives, wealth, pleasure and comfort will lead us into conflict with Jesus’ kingdom agenda, and it will lead to our ruin: We will “forfeit” our souls—our very selves. Jesus’ death on the cross and his life lived in the service of God and others are set forth as an example. Note that being ashamed of Jesus—perhaps for social reasons?—is indicative of such rejection. So is shame at his words; and we must not run from, downplay or be ashamed of Jesus’ admonitions when it comes to money and possessions. Such shame may be an indication that we are trying to “save our lives,” not “lose them” for Jesus’ sake. See Luke theme essay Possessions, 1 and 2 Corinthians theme essay Ministry and Sacrifice and Matthew theme essay Cost of Discipleship.
Matthew 18:15-20 — When we see sin in the church, we must deal with that sin according to Jesus’ instruction. One sin that should be dealt with in this manner is the presence of greed or covetousness among God’s people, which is idolatry (see study notes on Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5). Those who presume to be part of God’s family must not flagrantly give themselves over to greed, because such people have no place in God’s kingdom, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 5:11 and Ephesians 5:3 (see 1 Timothy 6:9-10). Elders should notice when people who appear to have means fail to give (to the church or related ministries) and must carefully assess whether or not the person is in danger of falling prey to selfishness and idolatry. Such observations are not popular in our individualistic, materialistic contemporary culture. But cultural trends do not determine what is ultimately right and wrong. If greed is idolatry, it must be dealt with in God’s house. See study notes on 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 and Matthew theme essay Requirement of Righteousness and Justice.
Matthew 18:21-35 — Although the obvious financial aspect of this parable is a metaphor, not a command regarding debt, the attitude which Jesus requires carries implications for the way we treat one another, looking unto the all-forgiving, generous heavenly Father as our model. Self-defense and preservation of one’s rights makes it difficult to give and forgive. But this paragraph illustrates the massive importance of Christian generosity—being willing to give up one’s rights, whether the right to do whatever we want with our bodies and our possessions, or the right to hold a grudge and be angry. See study notes on Luke 6:27-36. See Matthew theme essay Judgment and Reward.
Matthew 19:16-30 — A rich young man discovers that his great wealth will keep him from Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus exposes the man’s idol with one command. He was probably a very devout, religious person who tithed, obeyed the law, and generally did what was socially required of him. As we see from the following verses (especially Peter’s observation and Jesus’ response, Matthew 19:27), Jesus was quite serious about his command to the rich ruler (see notes on Matthew 18:28-30; see also Luke 14:33). Note that Jesus tells him to give to the poor (Matthew 19:22), which relocates his treasure “in heaven” (Matthew 16:19-21), because the one thing he “lacks” is the wealth he holds as “gain.” We cannot become disciples of Jesus and ignore the implications of his lordship when it comes to our pocketbooks and our possessions and the poor of this world. Jesus does not always ask people to sell everything. Zacchaeus only had to give up half (Luke 19:8) to earn Jesus’ praise; but Jesus does insist that all we are comes under his lordship, and anything that distracts us from God our first love must be surrendered. It’s important to note that Jesus doesn’t just tell him to “get rid” of his money: He tells him to give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21). If we claim to be Christians, we must make provision for those in spiritual and material need the utmost priority. This relocates our treasure from earth to heaven (see Matthew 6:19-21 and the following study note). God tells us that when we give to the poor, we are in effect lending to him and can expect repayment. (Proverbs 19:17). See Matthew theme essay Cost of Discipleship.
Matthew 19:28-29 (Key Passage) — New Home: In verse 28 Jesus uses a word meaning “becoming again”; we might translate it “re-creation” or renewal of everything. We must recognize that everything in this present world will “pass away” (Matthew 5:18; 24:35). And in reality things already are passing away, being “destroyed by moth and rust” and stolen by thieves (Matthew 6:19) or simply getting old and dying. But the recreated new heavens and new earth will last forever. Therefore, it is far wiser to relocate our treasure. In fact, as author and former pastor Randy Alcorn says, it’s “stupid” not to relocate it. Anyone who sacrifices for Jesus’ sake will receive many times more than he or she gives up. See Matthew theme essay Judgment and Reward and 1 and 2 Corinthians theme essay Resurrection and New Creation.
Matthew 20:29-34 — Even when ridiculed for our faith, we must look singularly to Christ for mercy and provision (Matthew 7:7-8; 21:22). Those who are conscious of the gravity of their need find salvation; those like the rich ruler (Matthew 10:17-22) who allow their success or wealth to blind them, thinking they have no need, will fail to find salvation (Revelation 3:17-19). As the old pastoral adage says, the words of Jesus “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”
Matthew 21:12-13 — God hates hypocrisy in religion and religious activity that interferes with true kingdom business. The citation from Isaiah 56:7 reminds us that Gentiles were to be included in the worship of God (see the next words after “house of prayer,” for all the nations). Jesus’ reference also echoes Jeremiah 7:3-15. In that passage, the temple is a “cave of bandits” talking about how great their religion is, while they ignore or oppress the poor, the sojourner and the widow and go about practicing greed, idolatry, and violence. See the study notes on Matthew 23:23 and 15:1-9.
Matthew 21:20-22 — It is important to stress that this passage is not about money or getting rich although God does sometimes provide supernaturally for his people (see study notes on Mark 6:30-44). We must ask in accordance with God’s will (James 1:5-18; 1 John 5:14-15), and our Father who knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8) has instructed us in what to pray for: “our daily bread,” enough to do the work he has called us to do. Using this passage to teach that we can desire and pursue and demand wealth from God ignores passages such as 1 Timothy 6:6-11, which teaches that we may not desire to be wealthy. See Matthew theme essay God as Father.
Matthew 22:15-22 — This passage simultaneously seems to undermine and support the Roman Caesar’s authority. We must pay taxes, but we recognize that God owns all things. Caesar’s “ownership” is only temporary, and even he is under the authority of God and owes him allegiance. Our loyalty belongs to God, even if we pay taxes to the government. We honor God by honoring the government and authority that has been placed over us (1 Peter 2:17). Since we bear God’s image (Genesis 1:27), we owe him all of who we are and all of what we have.
Matthew 22:23-33 — Those who lose their lives in Jesus will find them again in the New Creation. This is the greatest hope of Christians. The Saduccees’ inability to believe in the Resurrection prevents them from seeing the beauty of God’s plan to restore all things. They focus on the impossibilities that seem to disprove any reality or hope other than the life we presently have; so they cling to the power and treasure they have in this life. Those who know of God’s plan can sacrifice greatly in the present because of their hope for the future (see notes on Matthew 19:28-29). See 1 and 2 Corinthians theme essay Resurrection and New Creation.
Matthew 22:34-40 — The heartbeat of our task as disciples is loving God with all we are and “loving others as we love ourselves.” If we don’t do this with our pocketbooks and our resources, we are not doing it at all. On loving God (and Jesus) with all we are, see notes on Matthew 25:31-46 and 26:6-13. On loving others as we love ourselves, see Matthew 25:31-46 notes; as well as 1 John 3:16-19 and James 2:14-24. See Matthew theme essays Cost of Discipleship and Requirement of Righteousness and Justice.
Matthew 23:23 (Key Passage) — Beyond the Tithe: New Testament giving flows from that which Jesus issues here—a command and an invitation to be more biblical than simply giving a certain percentage (based on the standard in Matthew 22:34-40). The fact that “tithe” only appears in four passages about giving in the New Testament indicates that it is not the standard for the Christian; none of the passages in question applies the Old Testament tithe to Jesus’ disciples after they separate from Judaism and care for the temple and its rituals. Jesus was not concerned by a mere absence of generosity: these wealthy Jews were probably tithing 23 and one-third percent (there were three Old Testament tithes, the third coming every three years). Rather, Jesus targets the lack of justice and mercy and faithfulness—often expressed in whether we are loving others with our resources as Jesus loved us with his (1 John 3:16-18 and 2 Corinthians 8:9 in context)—as the biblical standard, “loving others as we love ourselves.” What would we want others to do if we were lost or needy? That’s what we are required to do. Note the similarities with Micah 6:8: “He has shown you; what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly [faithfully] with your God?” We must use our financial resources to show mercy to those in need, and many Christians recognize this. But do we do justice with our resources as well? Do we make things right financially when we have wronged or neglected others? Potential injustices abound: last month’s lawsuit (1 Corinthians 6:1-10), years of over-billing clients, or decades of benefit from past injustices. Have we striven to build expensive private Christian schools “for God’s glory” while ignoring the need for Christian education among poorer brothers and sisters? See Matthew theme essay Requirement of Righteousness and Justice.
Matthew 23:24-26 — So what was the true attitude of Jesus’ opponents? They were fulfilling their religious duty—and looking great doing it. Tithing, dressing and acting properly, doing everything that was required of them as far as written commands and community standards. They were probably great folks, well respected in the community. But they did whatever they wished with their non-tithe income. Jesus calls them “greedy” and “self-indulgent,” immediately after pointing out their overall lack of concern for mercy and justice. Again, the issue is not the appearance of generosity by conforming to a standard (in this instance, tithe). Are we pouring ourselves out in love for others and denying ourselves? Or are we more focused on doing what impresses the culture (tithing), desiring what others have (which Paul calls idolatry, Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5) and indulging our desires and wants?
Matthew 23:29 — While there is probably nothing inherently wrong with honoring the dead—particularly those who died because of righteousness and truth—Jesus cites this “religious giving” as a sort of monumentalism: people celebrated the achievements of others through gifts and monuments, but they failed to produce works in keeping with the lives and messages of such radical characters.
Matthew 25:31-46 (Key Passage) — How to Give to Jesus: More than any other passage in Matthew, this one points to the way we should identify ourselves with Jesus by identifying with his people in need, particularly if they are in need because they are suffering for Jesus’ sake. This passage teaches that in many instances, to fail to do good is actually to do evil (see Luke 19:16-31). It is possible to make yourself out to be an enemy of God by failing to care for those in need. This proves Jesus’ point, that the second greatest commandment is not just avoiding harming others, but actually doing good to others just like we would want them to do good to us. Astonishingly, this passage shows how we become “God’s debtor” (Proverbs 19:17; Revelation 19:7-8; 2 Corinthians 9:9) as we meet the needs of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. It is not that works save us; but those who have no works have no true faith. The rest of the Bible makes this clear that our works—particularly works of mercy and compassion to those in need (1 John 3:16-19; James 2:14-24)—prove our identity as followers of Jesus. Those who lack such works—who neglect Jesus’ teaching and fail to bring their lives and resources under the lordship of Jesus—will be judged accordingly. Giving to Jesus, then, does not mean giving abstractly to “the church” or to buildings (though this is not inherently wrong); rather, it is especially contributing to those in need, especially when they are in need for Jesus’ sake. See Matthew theme essays Jesus' Lordship over Finances and Judgment and Reward.
Matthew 26:15; 27:3-9 — The conspiracy to kill Jesus picks up steam when Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus for love of money. Judas began by embezzling and now turns to full-blown betrayal. Small sins usually turn into big ones. Foolish actions with money often put us in bad company, and this was certainly the case with Judas. He tries to “repent” (the Greek word in Matthew 27:3) when he realizes that his “partners” want Jesus killed, but evil already has been set in motion. Perhaps he was trying to prevent widespread violence by getting Jesus arrested and make a little money on the side, but bad motives and methods make good intentions worthless.
Matthew 28:16-20 (Key Passage) — Great Commission: These verses establish four things relevant for generous giving: (1) Our job as Christians is not just conversion but also the forging of disciples. This requires our dedication and our dollars and may even require our lives. (2) Only Jesus is Lord over all heaven and earth. We are to obey—and teach others to obey—Jesus; this is how we fulfill the Great Commission. Since much of Jesus’ teaching has to do with our money and our resources, modeling and teaching others about money and kingdom financial priorities and stewardship is very much a Great Commission task. The heartbeat of this task is “loving others as we love ourselves”; if we don’t do this with our pocketbooks, we are not really doing it at all. (3) This task is all embracing. There is never a day when we are not in some way engaged in this task of becoming and making obedient disciples. For many of us, it will require great sacrifice and hardship; others can willingly expose themselves to hardship for Jesus’ sake to fulfill the Great Commission. Our world presently stands in need of those who will give themselves and their resources cross-culturally, as growing Christian populations are in dire need of learning what “obeying Jesus” means. (4) If the job seems too hard or the cost too great, we have the comforting promise that Jesus is with all those who commit themselves to him and his kingdom, “even until the end of the age.” See Matthew theme essay Jesus' Lordship over Finances and Cost of Discipleship.