Rewards

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.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:3-4, 6, 17-18

In Matthew 6, Jesus continues His Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus lays out what life is like as a citizen of the Kingdom of God on earth. Specifically, He describes some spiritual disciplines that should be a part of the normal Christian life.

The pattern here is: 1) assumption, 2) command, and 3) promise. Jesus assumes His followers will give to the needy. He doesn’t command that it be done because He assumes it is a natural part of life with Christ (“…when you give to the needy...” verse 2). So the command is to do it in secret. The command is to give to the needy in a way that doesn’t flaunt your gift. It’s not a call to secrecy but to humility. And finally, Jesus gives a promise that Father God will reward us for doing this.

Then Jesus does this again with prayer. Jesus assumes we will pray (“…when you pray…” verse 5), commands us to do it in secret/private (in a way that is humble), and then promises us that Father God will reward us for it.

Finally, Jesus repeats this pattern with fasting. Jesus assumes we will fast (“…when you fast…” verse 16), commands us to do it in secret/private (in a way that is humble), and then promises us that Father God will reward us for it.

One of the hardest parts of this for American Christians to accept–besides the need to actually do these spiritual disciplines for a healthy spiritual life–is the fact that Jesus promises us that the Father will give us a reward. In our culture, we always suspect people’s motives to be impure if they do something for a reward. We treat it like it is bribery. We assume that if the person was more altruistic in their motivation, they wouldn’t need or want a reward.

Part of this is false humility (which is really pride in sheep’s clothing). Everything we do in life comes with some kind of reward, we just don’t label it that. Our own bodies were designed to release “feel good” chemicals in our brain any time we exercise or eat food or have sex. The whole world was designed this way. Of course it can get abused and become an addiction or selfishness, but that is only evidence of the human ability to allow our sin to corrupt good things. The reward system in itself is a good thing, created by God for our good.

The other part of being skeptical of God’s rewards is not realizing that God’s reward is actually more of Himself. He can give us more of Himself in a variety of ways. It can look like experiencing more of His provision, more of His revelation, more of His Presence, more of His gifting, more of His love, but ultimately, God rewards us with more of Himself.

In human terms, God’s reward isn’t like a father telling his son he’ll given him $20 if he cleans his room. God’s rewards are more like the father saying, “After you clean your room, we’ll go the park, throw the ball around, and practice your hitting.” The reward, ultimately, isn’t baseball but the father giving of himself to his son.

Our God is a God who rewards. Over and over again we see this in scripture. False humility struggles to receive rewards (because it is really just pride). But true humility can gracefully and gratefully receive rewards that are given to us. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

In other words, part of living a life of faith in Jesus is believing the truth that God the Father is a rewarder–specifically a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him. And three of the ways that we earnestly seek Him in the Kingdom of God is through prayer, fasting and sacrificial giving.

Do you tithe and give to worthy nonprofits?

Do you pray? How consistent is your prayer life?

Do you fast? Weekly? Monthly?

God the Father can’t wait to reward you!

Grace of Giving

There is this interesting tension in Scripture where we are encouraged to pursue, be zealous for, and excel in something that is categorized as a “grace.” 

The word grace in Greek is “charis.” When Paul talks about the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 & 14 the word translated as “gift” is “charis-ma.” The word translated as “gifts” is “charis-mata” the plural form. It’s simply the word grace with a suffix. One could just as easily translate the word “gracelet” or “grace-outworking” instead of “gift.” 

So it’s clear that gifts of the Spirit are not earned. They are pure grace. They are droplets of grace working in our lives. And we know it is the Spirit who “distributes them to each one, just as he determines”(1 Corinthians 12:11). 

But then Paul turns right around and says “eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit”(1 Corinthians 14:1). He continues by saying, “Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church”(1 Corinthians 14:12). 

So, though these gifts are droplets of pure grace, we are still commanded to eagerly desire them, pursue them, and try to excel in them. We don’t sit around passively. We go after them. 

Paul echoes this same tension when, later, he sends a letter to tell the Corinthians, “But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving”(2 Corinthians 8:7). 

He calls financial giving a “grace” (a “charis” in the Greek). Once again we see that receiving a grace from God does not mean we operate without agency. Just like any other gift, or grace, we must engage in it for it to mature. We must practice it for it to develop. Like any other grace, the way to grow in it is to be a good steward of it. The more we engage in and practice giving generously of our finances, the more we mature and grow in the grace of giving. 

We don’t sit around passively and say something selfish like, “Well, I just don’t have the gift/grace of giving.” No, what we lack is the willingness to give. If we start giving sacrificially of our finances, we will find that grace pours down like rain.