Friday, December 25, 2015

Giving with gusto

But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you. "But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. (Luke 11:41-42 NASB)

In the previous verses, we saw that Jesus had refused to obey the ceremonial ritual of hand washing before the meal. It was not a law of God but a rule of man, added to expand the law. The Pharisees, Jesus told them, were more concerned with washing their hands than with cleansing their hearts from wickedness. 

Matthew Henry wrote, "to keep ourselves free from scandalous enormities, and yet to live under the dominion of spiritual wickedness, is as great an affront to God as it would be for a servant to give the cup into his master's hand, clean wiped from all the dust on the outside, but within full of cobwebs and spiders." When I visualize his words, it is a startling reminder that God sees our hearts and all that is within them. Allowing Him to cleanse our hearts is much more important than cleansing our hands.

Instead of washing their hands, Jesus recommended that they give to the poor. This was a reference to Deuteronomy 26 (worth reviewing later) in which the first fruits were to be given as a tithe and shared with those who were less fortunate. Only then were they to enjoy the blessings of the land God had given them.

The Pharisee and his friends would have done better to cleanse themselves before the meal by charitable giving. Matthew Henry again wrote "What we have is not our own, unless God have his dues out of it; and it is by liberality to the poor that we clear up to ourselves our liberty to make use of our creature-comforts."

The Pharisees were exacting in calculating their tithe, going so far as to tithe the mint and dill in their gardens. Jesus said it is good to be careful about the tithe, but not at the expense of justice and the love of God. 

Do the most important things first, He was saying, but don't neglect the other. As Micah wrote, God requires justice and mercy as well as walking humbly with Him. Justice and mercy are an outgrowth of walking with our God. Tithing alone is simply a charitable deed, no matter how exacting our calculations. The blessing is gained when charitable giving is an outgrowth of a relationship with our Lord, an outgrowth of our love for God. 

The key word is relationship. God created man for fellowship with Him. Our reason for existence is a relationship with Him, yet we focus our lives on everything else. I'm as guilty as anyone else. It is much easier to write a donation check than to allow God to cleanse my heart of the sin that so easily besets us. My giving, however, only has meaning because of my relationship with God. Allowing Him to cleanse me is a vital part of walking with Him.

I learned something from a young girl with whom I met to pray several times. Before we started to pray, she would wash her hands as a symbol that she wanted to be clean before the Lord, both inside and out. I've found myself doing the same thing since then. As I wash my hands before intercession, I pray the same prayer David prayed. Create in me a clean heart, (not just clean hands) and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:2)

Today, let's ask God to cleanse us inside and out, making sure that our giving is an outpouring from a heart of love toward God rather than one more task on our checklist. Let's give with gusto, because we love.

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 NASB)