3/31/19

Life – Generosity Step 4    Generosity #4 (1 Timothy 4:17)

 

This series has been about “life that is life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:17).  Spiritual “Mount Everest.”  God growing us “into to likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29; 12:2), the Holy Spirit cultivating Jesus’ heart and life inside us so that we live generous and joyful.  Out of sinful self-absorption and clutching money and material things to seeing with God’s eyes needs all around, wherever we are. 

 

“OK,” you’re thinking, “Four lessons on money… enough… give us a break.”  True, generosity is somewhat about our money.  If we understand what God tells us about generosity, we’ll certainly give our money mainly because we’re willing to give Him anything we have.  We’re living blessed; we’ve come to think as God thinks, thrown off the chains of slavery to money and things, and jumped carefree into the great depths of generosity, at full peace that God will keep us safe. 

 

The Bono church has well-known generous givers.  Perhaps they have the “gift of giving.”  Paul mentioned such a gift: “We all have gifts... Is it [your gift] giving to others? Then give freely” (Romans 12:6-8).  So some people God has started way past “go” in generosity!  Though that’s true, folks with other gifts are not exempt from giving.  God still calls us everyone to grow in generosity (to be like Jesus).  Jesus’ taught in some of His parables that using the gifts we’ve been given moves God, as reward, to give us more gifts (parables of the “talents” and “minas” both show people using gifts God had given and gaining more).

 

To grow to that place is “life that is life indeed!”  We’re happy and blessed by being generous now, and ahead is the prospect of growing more and being happier still, and God using us as great blessings to our world. 

 

To make our “giving” be the greatest possible benefit to others and to us, one consideration is the PURITY OF OUR HEART.  Jesus’ preached in His SOTM:

 

“So if you are about to offer your gift to God at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift to God” (Matthew 5:23-24). 

 

At the altar, what opens the way to God for us?  Not any gift, but rather the heart behind the gift.  Jesus said, “…the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:6).  So God-credit for our gifts comes only when our life is in order spiritually.  Yes, a gift given in a wrong way can still bless the receiver – God can and does bring immense good even from improperly offered gifts.  But a giver’s full credit from God demands our hearts be clean.  Great generosity doesn’t cover other shortcomings in our life; we can’t buy our way to heaven, we live our way there. 

 

LOVE must certainly be in our hearts: “I may give away everything I have, …even my body to be burned… but if I have no love, it does me no good” (1 Corinthians 13: 3).  A GIVER gets full credit when giving flows out of love… not for tax credits, compliments, applause, or any gain… just because we LOVE “as [Jesus] loved…” (John 13:34), “as we love ourselves…” (Matthew 22:33).  What high bars! 

 

God wants GIVERS RECEIVERS CONNECTED.  A GIVER and a RECEIVER stand equal in God’s estimation, with only their present circumstances differing.  One has something to give, the other is in need of something.  But reversals can come quickly… today’s GIVER might well be tomorrow’s NEED-ER.  

 

Great gifts need not be money.  God blesses simple “cups of cold water” offered in Jesus’ name, and feeding people, and clothing people, and binding up people’s wounds, and being present with people in their trouble.

 

Some are confused whether or not our generosity should be kept secret.  Jesus seems to say contradictory things.  Toward the beginning of the SOTM He said,

 

“You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid… In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). 

 

Then toward the end of that same sermon…

 

“Make certain you do not perform your religious duties in public so that people will see what you do. If you do…, you will not have any reward from your Father in heaven…  But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it.  Then it will be a private matter… your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-5). 

 

But no contradiction.  Our good deeds may be discovered and we may get applause.  What we must be careful of is to redirect that applause to the goodness of God.  And we must be sure a thirst for acclaim and applause is not why we give and serve.  If that’s what we want for our generosity, Jesus says we’ll get it and that’s all we’ll get!  But no credit from God! 

 

If we’re that way, then our generosity being discovered and known is a good thing…. Because people God loves are served and God is praised.  We have examples in the New Testament of God of known generosity: Barnabas was a “son of encouragement” who inspired others to be generous (Acts 4:36-37).  Tabitha (or Dorcas) was known and loved for her good deeds and giving money to the poor (Acts 9:36).  Our reward is the joy we feel as we grow generous like God.

 

I’ve saved time here at the end to talk about the “collection plate.”  What does God expect of us regarding generous giving to the church’s work? 

 

The giving described by Luke in the early chapters of Acts and urged by Paul in 1 and 2 Corinthians and our modern church giving appear to be different.  Early church collections were for mutual sharing  with each other and caring for the poor; modern collections seem to be for paid professionals and property upkeep. 

 

But there were paid preachers in New Testament times.  Both Jesus and Paul declared “the laborer is worthy of his hire.” (Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 4:17-18).  Paul mentions some who preached only for financial gain (implying the reality of “paid preaching with higher motives”) (Philippians 1:18).  And though he never asked for it, Paul accepted financial support from his “children in the faith.” 

 

It’s true that a sizeable part of our offering maintains brick and mortar where there was no such expense in the early decades of the church’s existence because churches met for the in homes or public places.  Many churches, just starting in our day, have used public places.  But most have grown far too large to meet in homes.  So most churches have building expenses.  With us here at Bono, for better or worse, for plusses and minuses, the church has had a building as a tool to use (and pay for) since its beginnings sometime around 1900.

 

So should members’ generosity extend to share in maintaining the church’s work?  The principle seems to be… if you receive personal blessing, be grateful and be a part.  Let’s visit Leviticus a minute.  Leviticus is “Holiness Code,” God telling His people how they were to differ from other peoples because He was their God: “When any of you offer a fellowship offering you must bring part of it as a special gift to the Lord, bringing it with your own hands…” (Leviticus 7:30).  A “fellowship offering” was brought in person by a worshipper for God’s share when he felt abundantly blessed.  A part was burned for God but a part was given to the upkeep of the tabernacle/temple and supporting priests.  Throughout Bible history, people have especially dedicatedlives to keeping work going – here… “elders” (or “shepherds”), “deacons,” “ministers” (“preachers”), and others who minister in various ways. 

 

Wearing no halo nor claiming perfection for Bono’s elders (or “shepherds’) or deacons, and other church servants… But speaking as Bono’s minister (tomorrow in place 12 years) and one of your shepherds (a group soon in place 4 years), and also as one who knows the nature of our deacons’ hearts and work…  I tell you that the men who serve you love the Lord – they seek Him first with their hearts, souls, minds, and strengths.  Then they love you as the “family of God”.  Then they have deep love and concern for all our “neighbors. ” They long to lead us to maturity and success in accomplishing many “good works” in our world. 

 

They likely make mistakes – so every member has a duty to first cover us with prayer and then cooperate and assist in every way you can, never hindering.  We are approachable… so come with your dreams and ideas, with issues of concern, and even disagreements and criticisms.  No doubt, some of you, if you served in these roles, would do some things differently, and perhaps far better.  Who knows? 

 

So a bottom line answer about the “collection plate”… God will see our generosity (or lack of it).  Therefore, we should give to causes our hearts beat for.  But we must remember that, removing personalities and baggage, God has sanctioned the local church treasury as a means to accomplish His mission in the world; He can take our generosity far beyond our imagining.

 

The generosity mission for all of us today is to respond to every opportunity God puts before us.  We must grow “generosity antennae” that are keen to sense openings to give and serve around us every day, whatever we’re doing.  Our generosity, because God has been so generous with us, is a 27/7/365 ¼ job! 

 

Seeing that keeps us “dressed and ready and our lamps always burning” for the King’s return (see Luke 12:35ff.).  We won’t be discovered as a left-in-charge manager who misjudged the timing of our Master’s return and was surprised and caught acting badly.  We must not be caught planning to be generous, but thinking Jesus’ return is so far off we need not worry… and never growing at all in the “grace of giving”… and then be caught unprepared.  Let’s be ready to instantly open the books of our lives and possessions to God without embarrassment! 

 

Parents must teach and model generosity to their children.  That’s training them!  Set up a “family giving plan.”  Encourage your children to do some giving of their own.  Teach them that what they have is God’s, not theirs: “The things that I love and hold dear to my heart are just borrowed; they’re not mine at all.  Jesus only let me use them to brighten my life… remind me, remind me, dear Lord.”

 

Our church family – collectively – must both teach giving and model it.  We must be generous as God’s church as we give – we represent Him!  Leaders must be generous.  New converts and newcomer members should both see and be told that it’s a Christian grace we practice here.  We’re growing in Christ by our giving, it’s not what we have to do but what we want to do.

 

It’s very easy on a Sunday morning, having God’s Word opened to us, to say we’ll make a change to be a better follower.  Some have heard about generosity and said, “I need to give more – and want to.”  And perhaps you’ve even promised God to do it…  So now follow through on the good, Spirit-prompted impulse and FINISH IT!  Talk is the cheapest thing in the universe. “…be as eager to finish it as you were to plan it, and do it with what you now have” (2 Corinthians 8:10-11).      

 

Paul calls generosity the “grace of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7). 

 

We’ll eagerly accept the salvation Jesus offers us… let’s all be equally eager to take on the disciplines He asks of us and be genuinely His people in this fallen world.