Let’s face it: preaching on giving and generosity can be awkward. The subject of money is already a difficult one for many people, and no one likes to appear as if they’re asking for a donation.
Even so, the Bible is clear that followers of Jesus are supposed to give, so we need to find a way to talk about generosity. Thankfully, the Bible itself includes lots and lots of passages about giving. And since people are generally more receptive to stories than they are to lists of do’s and don’ts, a great example from the Gospels might help you broach the subject.
We’ve already seen a few passages from the Old Testament that reveal God’s heart toward giving. Now let’s look to the Gospels to see what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and Jesus Himself—had to say.
Take a page from these biblical stories, and you’ll be able to preach on giving without feeling like you’re constantly asking for money.
1. The wise men give lavish gifts to the King (Matthew 2:1–12). Most of us have heard the story of the Magi who traveled from some far off place in the East to find the King of the Jews who had been born. They followed a mysterious heavenly body that went before them to the place where the Child was living.
At the time, Mary, Joseph, and young Jesus were living in Bethlehem under humble circumstances. How do we know they were financially scraping by? Because when Jesus was born, they offered the sacrifice for the poor: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons'' (Luke 2:24; see Leviticus 12:8).
The visit of the wise men, though beautiful and appropriate, was about to rock their world. When Herod got wind that there was a new King who had been born, he lost control of his rage and ordered the slaughter of every male child two years old or younger living in the vicinity of Bethlehem. This forced the holy family to flee to Egypt.
Unlike in today’s world, where there are often provisions for political refugees, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were likely on their own. They had to make their way with whatever they had. So, the question is, how could they afford to leave everything behind, make the trek to another land, and start a new life—at least a temporary life while they waited for Herod to pass away? They received very valuable gifts from the Magi.
We give to God because He is worthy, but we may never know just how our gifts to our local church and various gospel-based ministries will affect someone’s life for good.
2. Jesus tells His disciples to give in secret (Matthew 6:1–4). In Jesus’ day, as in our own, giving to the needy was a clear way to virtue signal. It’s a way of telling the world just how good we are. But Jesus told His disciples and all those within earshot—and you and I who read His words in the Gospels—that virtue signalling through our giving is a surefire way to lose out on something far better: pleasing our heavenly Father.
“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” (Matthew 6:1). Ouch. When we give in order to show people how good we are, we actually forfeit our reward from God. Even if showing off our virtue isn’t our only motivation, it spoils the whole act.
Here’s what this means for us today: our giving is a private transaction between us and God. Of course, the person or organization we’re donating to is in on it, but the giving itself is an act of worship. It’s supposed to reflect the goodness we have found in God’s heart, not the goodness in our own.
3. Jesus sees a widow give sacrificially (Luke 21:1–4). Toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He spent some time in the temple. While there, He watched as various people placed their gifts and offerings in the temple treasury. One after another, the rich brought their large gifts, but then in the midst of it all, a poor widow brought her offering—two small copper coins. These were lepta, the smallest denomination of currency in circulation at the time.
Jesus praised this woman for her generosity: “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:4). Her gift was an act of faith. Without those coins, she would be dependent on the Lord for her next meal, but she gave anyway, because she trusted Him.
There’s a lesson for all of us in this short account. We are to be people who look to the Lord for all we have. The money in our bank accounts, whether it’s a lot or a little, really belongs to God. We should not hesitate to give it back to Him.
But there is another side to this story often overlooked. Just prior to this woman’s act of generosity, Jesus issued a warning against the Jewish teachers of the Law: “They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely” (Luke 20:47). How did the scribes “devour widows’ houses”? By pressuring them into giving what they cannot afford.
As we’ve seen, generosity is between us and God. No one should force someone else’s hand. Each one of us must listen to the voice of Jesus in this regard.
Over to you
Was anything in these familiar stories new to you this time around? As you teach on giving, trust the Spirit to work through God’s Word and in the heart of His people.