For Bible Study Nerds

For Bible Study Nerds

Matthew 6:1-4; Giving to the Needy (Theological Commentary)

posted by Mike Nappa

“Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Jesus’ comment, recorded in Matthew 6:4, is an affirmation of the related ideas that God is both everywhere and all-knowing. Theologians call these concepts “omnipresence” (or “immanence”) and “omniscience.” So what do they mean?

Omnipresence, in its most practical sense, simply means that all of God is everywhere at all times. It is both his necessity and his nature to exist completely in every space at any time. Or as theologian Michael Horton says, omnipresence is “God’s transcendence of time and place.”

We must be aware, though, that although God himself fills all of creation, he is not spread out through his creation. His immensity doesn’t dictate that only parts of him are present in any particular place or space or moment or hour. Rather, “he is present in every place because he transcends spatial categories…[and] God’s transcendence of time is the very presupposition of his presence in every creaturely moment.” (See Jeremiah 23:23-24, Psalm 139:7-8, Proverbs 15:3, Matthew 28:20, Acts 17:27-28.)

Nor is God’s omnipresence a passive or inert existence. Jesus is very clear that the Father “sees what is done” (Matthew 6:4), indicating an active, accurate, intelligent understanding of every place and every moment in our universe. This is called “Omniscience.”

“By the omniscience of God,” theologian Henry Thiessen explains further, “we mean that He knows Himself and all other things, whether they be actual or merely possible, whether they be past, present, or future, and that He knows them perfectly and from all eternity. He knows them immediately, simultaneously, exhaustively and truly.” (See Psalm 139:1-4, Matthew 10:29-30, Hebrews 4:13.)

Thus, when Jesus reprimanded his hearers for seeking human admiration while they gave to the poor, he did more than just point out a social or religious wrong. Christ reminded us that we all (individually and corporately) are constantly, irrevocably acting within the intelligent, active presence of our awesome, omnipresent, omniscient Creator—and his attention should be more than enough for anyone.

 

Works Cited:

[CHF, 254-255; LST, 124-125]

 

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Matthew 6:1-4; Giving to the Needy (Inductive Studies)

posted by Mike Nappa

“When you give to the needy…” Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount. This simple introductory phrase is striking both for its assumption and its audience.

The audience first: We must remember that at the time Jesus sat down to deliver this teaching, he was speaking to two groups of people. Closest to him were a gathering of unnamed disciples, which undoubtedly included Peter, James, John, and Andrew, and may have included up to 72 others (see Matthew 10:1-4 and Luke 10:1-24). Ringing these disciples and listening in on Jesus’ teaching were “large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and the region across the Jordan” (see Matthew 4:25 and 7:28). Knowing what we know of the demographics of Jesus’ disciples and the population of Israel at the time of Jesus, we can say with near certainty that these two groups of people represented pretty much every economic and social strata of the time: rich and poor, working class and unemployed, Jew, gentile and Samaritan, sick and healthy, young and old.

Second: With that enormously diverse audience in mind, it’s important to acknowledge Jesus’ assumptive obligation for everyone in the “large crowd” who heard his words:

When you give to the needy…” (italics mine).

Note that Jesus didn’t say “If you give” or “If you are rich enough to give” or “When you are not in need yourself and so you give…” or even a hypothetical “Suppose someday that you give to the needy…” He said “When you give.” His expectation was that every one of his hearers, regardless of economic or social status, was already engaged in the practice of regularly giving to the poor. (This expectation was also displayed in Luke’s gospel when Jesus commended a poverty-stricken widow for giving two minuscule coins; see Luke 21:1-4.)

Giving to the needy then, by Jesus’ standards, doesn’t appear to be a voluntary task. Nor does it seem to be a responsibility of only the wealthy. Nor an occasional option for when we feel we have surplus resources. The expectation here is obvious:

Christ’s followers are givers.

For them, giving is not out of the ordinary, not a special occasion. It is, instead, a normal, mundane part of life, expressed by constant preparation for new opportunities to give. Thus, those who follow Jesus are expected to be constantly ready to give to the needy, in big or small ways, as God provides.

 

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Matthew 6:1-4; Giving to the Needy (Historical Backgrounds)

posted by Mike Nappa

In ancient Israeli society, giving to the needy ranked among one of the highest religious duties. As such, it was a regular, ordinary part of the Jewish person’s experience.

Historians tell us that, “In every city there were collectors who distributed alms of two kinds, i.e. money collected in the synagogue chest every Sabbath for the poor, and food and money received in a dish.” Contrary to our modern experience, it was not the government that shouldered responsibility for the welfare of the poorer and needier members of the locality. It was the religious community.

In spite of the intent of this provision, poverty was rampant in Jesus’ time. “There were few middle-class Jews,” scholars report. “If you were not rich, you were probably poor. And in the cities, divorced from the productive land, that meant that you were very poor indeed.” This economic disparity, coupled with the unique circumstances of living in a Roman-conquered territory, created a large population of beggars and day laborers who woke up each morning not knowing how they’d meet the day’s necessities.

It was in this setting that Jesus took to task those who viewed others’ poverty and hardship as an opportunity for self-aggrandizement. Although almsgiving was a basic responsibility everyone shared in that society, some demanded public praise in repayment for fulfilling this obligation. They would announce with fanfare the amount of their gifts in the synagogue, or call attention to themselves when delivering a coin or sustenance to a beggar on the street. Generosity toward God’s loved ones was irrelevant unless it also gave them better social or political standing in the community.

“When you give to the needy,” Jesus rebuked his hearers, “do not announce it…”

Giving to others, he seems to be saying, is a matter best left between you and God.

 

Works Cited:

[ID1, 33; JHT, 74-75]

 

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Matthew 5:43-48; Love for Enemies (Word Study)

posted by Mike Nappa

“Be perfect,” Jesus said, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So what does that mean?

In our 21st Century experience, we tend to define “perfect” as meaning “flawless,” or without any kind of shortcoming. “That diamond solitaire is perfect,” we say, “without any inclusion to mar its clarity or brilliance.” But that’s not an appropriate view when it comes to Christ’s command here. His definition was something different, particularly as he applied it to the idea of loving our enemies.

The Greek term for “perfect” that’s transcribed in Matthew 5:48 is teleios, and instead of “flawless,” it means most literally: “finished” or “mature.”

In other words, Christ’s command to love our enemies is not simply a demand that we attempt to achieve a higher standard of behavior. It’s actually a call for us to participate in a Holy Spirit-cultivated growth process by which we continually become more “mature” or “finished” in our ability to genuinely love our enemies. As Dr. Wayne Detzler explains, “Perfection in the New Testament is not a flawless imitation of God. Rather it is a growth into maturity which is discernible as one makes progress in the faith.”

“Be perfect,” Jesus said. If perfection were simply a destination on the moral landscape, that would seem a cruel, impossible command. But it is not that. Christ’s words instead are a beckoning motion, an appeal for you and me to spend our lives on a journey of perfection, continually growing and maturing in his limitless love, one unsteady step at a time.

As we pursue this kind of perfection, we begin to reflect more and more our Father’s “finished” character of love toward our enemies, moving toward maturity in fulfilling God’s purpose within each of us.

 

Works Cited:

[CWD, 1372; NTW, 307]

 

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About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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