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Question and Answer

Meaning of Matthew 5:42

Question:

Does Matthew 5:42 mean that we are supposed to give to whoever asks for something no matter what? If someone asks me $1000 this verse seems to say that I'm to give it to him without further thought. But, I find that hard to believe because in the extreme that person could ask for my home and then I'm supposed to give it to him. It seems to me that we should be using our intelligence as we give. We don't give to a charity unless we know that it is legitimate, first of all, and then secondly, that it is something we believe is worth supporting. So why does it seem wrong to use our minds when responding to someone who asks for something? I've been told that "Jesus didn't tell us to use our minds; he said to give to him who asks." How do I respond biblically to that? What exactly does Matthew 5:42 mean?

Thank you.

Answer:

You ask a good question. Let's look carefully at what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:42.

Jesus is speaking about a request for either a gift ("the one who begs") or a loan ("the one who borrows"). In either case, without discriminating, Jesus says that we should give and not refuse the one asking of us. Whether we expect to get paid back or whether we have no hope of being repaid we are to give to those who need.

We must not miss that Jesus is describing radically selfless behavior, the kind that is unnatural to sinners and incomprehensible to the world. The person who lives this way isn't governed by self-interest or self-protection and doesn't plead his legal or personal rights. His life is characterized by lovingly serving others.

This is where it helps to remember the context of Matthew 5:42, the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is setting before his disciples the ethic of the kingdom of heaven. Just as Jesus has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, those who by his grace become the true subjects of this kingdom offer up a "greater righteousness" that fulfills anything required under the Mosaic law.

So Jesus is not establishing an inflexible rule that everyone give until they've been bled dry. This is to miss what Jesus is saying: those who have experienced the grace of God do more than just keep the rules! They live by a new set of values. They are transformed in such a way that they now live a lifestyle of service that is characterized by Jesus' selfless love.

So if the point is the radical and selfless service that characterizes the citizens of his kingdom, this bears on how I responsibly apply Matthew 5:42. When I am giving and lending, am I really serving the person who is in need? Am I acting in their best interest? I would not really be serving them if I just let them indulge their greed or escape the consequences of irresponsible and unrighteous behavior by giving them what is mine.

But whether or not I give financially (which I think this passage calls us to do much more liberally than is our practice), Matthew 5:42 calls me to recognize that I have been made a citizen of heaven and should act with the values of that kingdom as I give myself to others as Jesus gave himself for me.


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