Generosity + Joy: A Reflection on Matthew 6

Young group of smiling adults walk at sunset under a bridge

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”

Matthew 6:1-4

Several years ago, I was in New York City doing short-term missions work. It was this time of year – cold, crisp, and full of the expectation of Thanksgiving. During the grueling 14-day trip facilitating worship, outreach, and ministry to the homeless, I had one 10-hour break to enjoy the city. A few subway stops later, I was strolling through Central Park with a friend, on our way to gawk at 5th avenue and the finest that New York had to offer. Everything was full of lights and color, and overwhelmingly decadent. We strolled, carefree, and I’ll admit I was a little taken in by it all.

Ahead of us, a light turned red, and we stopped.

Beneath the cold street sign that boldly proclaimed “5th Avenue” was a homeless woman. She was lying on the sidewalk, wrapped in a dirty, gray cotton sheet. Her dark hair was matted into dreadlocks; her lips were crusted yellow with dehydration. Tears flowed freely across her beautiful cheeks as she stared at the ground in desolation. The glamour of 5th Avenue disappeared with a sort of violence, and my heart broke in two.

Her shoulders were shaking in agony as she wept. I placed a dollar in her plastic solo cup full of pennies and nickels. My friend knelt down and tenderly asked if she could pray for her. The woman nodded. We prayed.

Hundreds of people were passing by without a second glance, and who could blame them? Sometimes the need is so great that it is too much for our hearts to feel. We have to shut it out just to avoid despair, but I think we all can relate to getting it wrong sometimes. In that moment I was repenting for forgetting compassion. 

As my friend prayed, the woman raised her eyes. Slowly, afraid of what she might see, she looked up into my face. Surprise registered as she saw that I was crying too. She held my gaze for a long time, like a thirsty man drinking water. She tentatively held my hand with two of her bony fingers. There was not enough space in my heart to contain what I felt in that moment.

Suddenly another woman, in cashmere and leather, aggressively came marching up from a restaurant a few feet away and angrily spat at me, “I just want you to know, we decided to buy her dinner, and they’ll bring it out to her.”

I had to smile. As reluctant as that woman was, our choice to see this child of God in the street, had allowed her to see also. Our conviction begat more conviction. Our tiny, almost insignificant, generosity begat more generosity.


When I was a child (a very legalistic, perfectionist, pastor’s-kid of a child), I would read Matthew 6 with horror. How could I possibly keep every act of charity a secret? Would God be angry with me if someone else knew I was tithing from my $6 allowance? Once I even went so far as to sneak into the office after service with my dad’s key and add my tithe. It makes me laugh now; I imagine I may have caused the accountant some frustration over 60¢.

I didn’t understand the heart of it. I didn’t understand that it was about heart motivation, not a legalistic practice of physically hiding. I didn’t understand that generosity done for accolades receives its reward in the moment. It’s still generosity, it still has value to the one who receives it, but there is something higher to strive for. Generosity done out of care for the other, out of compassion, out of conviction, out of the love of Christ produces not only eternal rewards, but also produces joy.

In the famous soliloquy, Shakespeare penned Portia’s words:

“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

Like mercy, real generosity blesses “him that gives and him that takes.” Or more appropriately from scripture:

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work 
we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus
himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’.”
Acts 20:35

One day we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Our selfish deeds will burn away like chaff, and we will have to make an account for our actions. In Matthew 25, Christ admonishes us that whatever we do or don’t do for the least of these, we do unto Him. 

I like to imagine that I will be taken aback by the deeds that Christ honors in that hour: that woman who provided a dinner on the street in New York; a mother turning the other cheek as her son angrily rejects her; a man struggling against the temptation of pornography and choosing holiness; a husband quietly caring for his ailing wife without thanks or praise; an overcomer of sexual sin silently enduring slander from our culture and loving beyond the accusations and hatred. 

I like to imagine that as the Bride of Christ, we will have the opportunity to celebrate powerful acts of unseen love and generosity.

Culture, and so much of the Western Church, has turned its back on people who are struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions and sexual brokenness. These are a people “thirsty” and “given nothing to drink.” Someday, all of the agendas, the rhetoric, and the arguments will fade away, and Christ will bring right judgments about the way that the Church has responded to this sexual crisis. You are part of a different company of people. You see the need, and you believe in healing and transformation. You have poured out incredible generosity to help us bring hope and healing. You have helped bring living water to those in need.

As we enter into Give to the Max 2019 and this season of generosity, would you consider giving a gift to Outpost to help us continue in ministry? Your generosity begets so much more generosity, and your generosity brings joy.

Thank you for standing with us.

Donations can be given online at GiveMN.org on the TCJHOP organizational page, which will be directed to the Outpost General fund.

Temptation Tool Kit

tool boxResisting temptation is a very important topic to me. I’d like to share with you some tools from my own personal tool kit. My old-nature appetites are not in the arena of same-sex attractions, but the principles are the same. In pastoring people, I never give this whole tool kit in one shot, so pull out one or two insights that might help in that day’s battle.

Something Even Deeper

Before I even start though, three things need to be said: First, most of us already know how to resist temptation when we want to. We already know what we “ought” to do. But something in us has been twisted to make us want to sin. Yielding to temptation gives short term, undeniable relief, but it brings worse pain long term. This article won’t help a bit unless there is something even deeper in you that wants to stay free and right with God. God’s Spirit lives in us, once we’ve invited Him in with Jesus. May He have the deepest place in our hearts, the highest place in our affections!

Second, much of what I share here is scripture. God’s Word is Truth that sets us free (John 8:31-32). You probably already know these scriptures, but just knowing the verses won’t help much. The point is not to know the verses but to do what they tell us to do. That is the path to freedom. We have to put into practice what God tells us, just as the wise man built his house on the rock (Matt. 7:24ff).

Third, this is a life-long journey, not fixed in a day or in a single article, but well worth the journey! Please join me!

Satan’s Main Goal

First, some thoughts on our situation. We know too well that there is an enemy of our souls. Satan’s main goal is not just to get us to sin, but to pry us away from God and keep us locked up in shame and bondage. Sin is just the bait he uses because sin separates us from God. Remember Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden in Genesis 3:8? Satan tries to trick us into hiding—staying away from God. But Christ has come to speak reconciliation and forgiveness and set us free.

The first step of “damage control” if we fall (you already know it; do you do it?): confess and return to Christ (1 John 1:8-10). He’s not surprised; He doesn’t love us any less. He already paid for our cleansing. Don’t despise His gift! It is here for us as much after as before a fall into sin. Jesus told the Pharisees that it’s not the healthy who need a doctor. He came for us–sinners (Matt. 9:12-13)! When we run straight back to God after we’ve fallen, we can be forgiven and restored, and so we escape Satan’s main trap.

I don’t dare pass up the forgiveness Christ offers because “I don’t deserve it.” Whoever deserves forgiveness? It is a free gift, already bought and paid for. Don’t be too stuck in self-condemnation to forfeit the cleansing Jesus offers. Every single human being is saved by grace, not by merit! Come back quickly to Jesus. When we fall, we need Him more than ever!

Straight from the Tool Kit

Now for some tools. A huge part of temptation is mental/imagination/fantasy. We imagine the pleasure before we act on it. I often tell myself, “Think about what you’re thinking about.” What we focus on, what we let ourselves think on, is a huge part of our battle. Scripture tells us to “fix our eyes” on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). That includes His character, His words, His ways. He is really good in every way, and to think or meditate on Him is encouraging.

This is not just a religious, spiritual sounding verse to quote. We can actually access or lay hold of God’s presence and power when we do this. We serve a living Savior who is interceding for us right now at the Father’s right hand, and He knows when we’re looking to Him. Remember Peter walking on the water; he was fine until he looked at the waves (Matt. 14:30). The enemy tries to distract us, divert us from our Lifeline. When we fasten our eyes on Jesus, we are much less able to be distracted, and that makes us less vulnerable. It is a skill to be learned and applied, and it can save you from great pain when you learn it.

Consciously remember the deception of the enemy’s offers. When we yield, it never satisfies. We just end up with a “continual lust for more” (Eph. 4:19). Rom. 6:19 expresses the same idea: we are lured into “ever increasing wickedness”. It’s not as if we can give in once and never again. Giving in reinforces addiction to sin patterns. It’s a downward spiral. As with most addictions, what worked to satisfy last week needs a stronger fix to get the same satisfaction now. The enemy is never trying to satisfy our need! He’s trying to draw us in even deeper into the downward spiral. Remembering this fact helps me not even start down that path.

Now for the Eye-Rolling

Now come some verses you’ve heard so often they make you roll your eyes. “Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you” (James 4:7-8).

The key here for me is that these two verses are adjacent in scripture. They should be held adjacent in our warfare for freedom. They must come together for our warfare to be effective. Otherwise, we focus on just the first half—the enemy we’re resisting, instead of focusing on the loving Father who encourages us daily. Looking at some sin I want but can’t have is worse than looking at something I want even more—being right with God. We resist the enemy by drawing near to God.

Ready for another one? “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matt.6.33). This one is huge. Again, the key is that this is not just a verse to know, it is a lifestyle. It is an action step. It is a whole life re-orientation. We do not just seek God first and then go on with our own agenda. Rather, we seek His Kingdom and lordship and presence in our normal, daily life. We look for Jesus in every situation as we walk through our day. This becomes our whole life purpose.

Self-indulgence is wasting time. Self-fulfillment leaves us empty! When we look for Jesus, we will find Him (Matt. 7:7), and we receive more than we can ever give back. Living water overflows from our hearts (John 7:38). This can be real for you, the “new normal”—it really can!

Our Daily Bread Today

Please believe me that I’m not just talking “religion”. I’m talking about real life, here and now. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:10-11). Eternal rewards in heaven, though certain in Christ, are simply beyond my imagination. So for me, they do not help much because life hurts too much here and now. Again, yielding to temptation gives short term relief that I long for (but worse pain long term). If and when I hurt too badly right now, eternity is too unreal to me, too far away to be helpful.

Seeking the Kingdom of God fills us on earth. When we do it, God’s nearness and Spirit kick in with power, and as that happens, the pull of sinful self-indulgence is diminished. When I am actively engaged in advancing the Kingdom of God, I don’t have as much time for my crazy imagination to run down the wrong streets.

This principle even comes with a huge guarantee-promise attached: When we do it, all the other needs we worry about will be taken care of for us by Father God (Matt. 6:33).

There is still more. 2 Peter 1:3-11 speaks of character qualities we are to grow in. It’s worth checking: faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love.

These are character qualities that require some effort (v.5) but they should mark our lives, and in increasing measure. When we are consumed by growing in Christ, sin has less opportunity to suggest itself. This is not magic, not foolproof, but it certainly helps us in the battles. When our focus is upward toward Christ, actively seeking first the Kingdom of God, the appeal of the addictions is diminished.

Prayers of the Saints

One last thought: I have people praying for me in the area of my appetite and my imagination. We need each other’s support! I ask God to sanctify my appetite, to sanctify my imagination so that what I am hungry for and what I imagine can come with His blessing.

Without prayer, without effort, our natural mind goes to things that are very worldly, and very often unclean. We were created with natural appetites, which are fine, but after the Fall, the enemy twists them to pull us into things far from God, things that can never satisfy.

If our natural appetites can have an acquired taste for bitter drinks like coffee or beer, just imagine what spiritual nutrients God can make us hungry for! I want to acquire a taste for things of God! What would a sanctified appetite be like? What would a sanctified imagination be like? I want to imagine great things of God, for God. I want to imagine doing and being great for God. Our imaginations, linked to His good intentions, can run free on fabulous pursuits.

This again has to do with mental disciplines, a learned habit. The effect of this learned mental discipline is to keep us on a path of life and godliness instead of sin and self-indulgence and increasing distance from God. It is worth the effort!

This is a lot to read, I know. One article won’t change your life. My hope and prayer for you is that this will be like a tool kit you can go to from time to time, as needed, and that one or another of these thoughts will give you the strength, leverage, or motivation you need for that day. May you be blessed with increasing FREEDOM in Him as you grow in Him.

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