Give All Our Belongings to Anyone Who Asks?

car-giveaway

Challenge #6: You Must Give Others Anything That They Ask of You

A cursory or shallow reading of Matthew 5:42 (also 40) may lead a person to conclude that Jesus asks us to give away anything that we have (and more) just because somebody asks for it. In conjunction with this is a passage in Mark (as well as Luke and Matthew) when Jesus tells the rich man to go, sell everything he has, and give to the poor, before following Jesus. I have heard Bible skeptics who have knowledge of these verses use it to test the Christian (much the same way Jesus was tested on “difficult” passages of Scripture. The Christian is usually stuck saying, “No. You cannot have my car.” To which they are accused of being unbiblical and admitting that the Bible has poor teaching.

Let me quickly tackle the Mark passage before taking to what I consider the more challenging passage in Matthew. Jesus tells the rich man, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”[1] This is not necessarily a formula to following Jesus. Jesus used it in this specific circumstance to show point (because many others could learn from this). Jesus knew the greedy and arrogant heart of the rich man. He would serve as a clear example of the heart that the rest of us should have. Rather than being a rule that we must give everything before really being accepted by Jesus, it is a challenge to obey the leading and calling of Jesus at any and all cost. The more one clings to the things of this world, the harder it is for him to forsake all in order to follow Jesus. Jesus revealed the rich man’s heart of self-absorption by this challenge. He was challenging hearts through the heart of a specific person; he was not creating a blanket rule.

There about three levels of interpretation in order to read the Matthew 5 verse the most accurately. What does the verse say in English? What does the verse say in its original language (Greek)? And how would the listener hear it?

What is the context? There are also about three levels of context in this. What is the immediate context (the paragraph, verses 38-42)? What is the greater context (Sermon on the Mount)? What is the grand context (how does it contribute to the whole of Scripture)?

First, before letting an accusation throttle us or a difficulty trip us, what does it say? Sometimes we have to look, not only at what it does say, but at what it does not say, or what we needlessly assume it to say. It says, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”[2] It does not say, “everything you own.” It puts a contingency on it with the word “borrow.” The Greek reads, “τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε δός, καὶ τὸν θέλοντα ἀπὸ σοῦ δανίσασθαι μὴ ἀποστραφῇς.”[3] To the—requesting person—(to) you—you (must) gave,—and—the—wanting one—from—(of) you—to borrow—not—(should be) turned away. The English seems to pretty effectively render the Greek. How do the listeners understand this?  They may be hearing conviction about the greed that they mix in with their supposed generosity. “Not turn away” does not necessitate that we have full obligation to give or loan to them. In fact, a few minutes later in the sermon, Jesus says, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine.”[4]

Let’s look at the context. The paragraph is framed around the idea, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’”[5] Jesus is taking an old law that was apparently made according to the hardness of man’s heart and raising it closer to God’s standard.* He is saying repay with grace. If something bad is done against you, respond graciously. This softens the heart of people and causes them to be a better representation of Christ’s nature toward us.

What is the greater context? The Sermon on the Mount is typically taken as the new set of rules that we should give diligence to follow. Much of what Jesus is doing early in his teaching ministry is what Paul also did early in his teaching ministry (to the Romans). Jesus is bringing to light the sinful hearts of people. In the sermon, Jesus calls people to these things: zero hatred, zero lust, full honesty, full marital faithfulness, full love toward every neighbor (enemies), full perfection (5:48 and 5:20), full humility, full forgiveness, full trust, perfect (righteous) judgement, perfect dependence, and… the beatitudes. The greater context certainly appears to be the call for people to live according to God’s perfect and complete standard (he could have gone on and on).

This brings us to the context of Jesus’ entire story and the total story of Scripture. I think people are greatly mistaken when they read things like Matthew 5 and are content to say that Jesus’s objective was to be a great moral teacher. This does not take the mission of Jesus or the point of Scripture nearly far enough. As it has been greatly said before, Jesus did not come to make bad people act better; he came to make dead people live. And if they were to live, they had to be shown that they were dead. This was done through the lens of God’s perfect standard. God’s standard has always been perfection. It has only been His grace that has caused Him to accept anything from us. He came as a physician to the sick, but some people were not convinced of how dire their sickness was.

Back again to the text of the challenging verse: “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”[6] Both before and after the comma may be implying a loaning type of deal, but other passages can be used to show the generosity that should be typical. We are to desire nothing in return, which I believe would usually mean that no interest should be required. Other times we give because we have more than we need while others have less than they need. What one needs must be according to what God asks you to give up.

This is not the same as unguarded, careless distribution. The generosity in giving and loaning is to be done according to a person’s need, not according to their cravings. In doing so, we realize that if we have a need, that God is generous to meet those needs. If we have a craving, God will often withhold giving us such things for the sake of disciplining us and protecting us. Jesus’s commands reflect the character of God. Paradoxically, we examine the character of God because we need to see how great He is and how fallen we are. But we also examine the character of God to be a reflective representation of Him on earth.

Through the Holy Spirit, these commands are parts of the fruits that God’s presence brings about in us. They are not strivings for God to accept us. Another gift that goes hand in hand with the generosity described here is discernment. Through discernment we can be responsible with our generosity. We should be careful to be generous to those that will benefit the most from it.

 

(*Deuteronomy 15:7-11 describes the generosity that God commanded of Israel under Moses)

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mk 10:21). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mt 5:42). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[3] Aland, K., Aland, B., Karavidopoulos, J., Martini, C. M., & Metzger, B. M. (2012). Novum Testamentum Graece (28th Edition, Mt 5:42). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mt 7:6). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mt 5:38). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mt 5:42). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

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