3/10/19

Generosity Step 1… A New Mind  (Generosity 1… Romans 12:1-2)

 

God’s plan for every redeemed soul is to grow it to be like Him – to “transform [us]… by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:1-2).  As we live on, He never stops working to “sanctify” us, that is, to change us.  He grows us day by day, year by year, to be like Him, think like Him, love like Him, give like Him.  Today we focus on “to give like Him”… and for three more Sundays…

 

Would it surprise you if I told you that every time I preach on anything related to giving I have hearers build barriers against what God says to keep it from getting into their hearts?  Sermons about the way we give are “whoever has ears to hear” tests where responses say far more about hearer than preacher.  Some people will, in effect, say, “Preacher, you’ve quit preachin’ and gone to meddlin’, and I’ll show you… I’ll withhold what I have been giving.”  No kidding! 

 

I know without doubt that we have Christians here who give generously.  How-ever, very few have no need to grow in this grace. 

 

Equally without doubt, we have Christians here who rake in God’s blessings and the church’s blessings but give back little or nothing, in any way.  Their reasons are varied but generally belie self-absorption – folks hoard for their use and enjoyment, or they clutch out of their insecurity (distrust in God).  Self-absorption may be our greatest sin.  We, like the farmer in Jesus’ parable in Luke 12, are thinking we’re really living; we’re building “bigger barns” so our “souls” can “take [their] ease” with “our goods laid up.”  Jesus objected!  So did Paul.  Writing to young preacher Timothy, he refers to some doing religious work as “a way to become rich,” and says:

 

6 Well, religion does make us very rich, if we are satisfied with what we have. 7 What did we bring into the world? Nothing! What can we take out of the world? Nothing! 8 So then, if we have food and clothes, that should be enough for us. 9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and are caught in the trap of many foolish and harmful desires, which pull them down to ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a source of all kinds of evil. Some have been so eager to have it that they have wandered away from the faith and have broken their hearts with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:6-10 GNT).

 

Later, he tagged this on:

 

17 Command those who are rich in the things of this life not to be proud, but to place their hope, not in such an uncertain thing as riches, but in God, who generously gives us everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share with others. 19 In this way they will store up for themselves a treasure which will be a solid foundation for the future. And then they will be able to win the life which is true life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19 GNT).

 

I hope you saw it…  “Put… hope… in God, not uncertain riches.”  “Do good, be rich in good works, be generous and ready to share with others…” and “store up a treasure that will be a solid foundation for the future and will be able to win life that is true life” (another version says, “lay hold on life that is life indeed”).

 

I repeat it for emphasis… God’s aim is to grow everyone of our souls into  generous souls, just like Him, completely loving, generous, and selfless

 

Paul once told the church at Corinth, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Now he meant people giving cheerfully to God’s work in the world. But it strikes me that Satan has his armies of “cheerful givers,” too… folks who call themselves disciples of Jesus but lack generosity and trust in God who walk out church doors patting themselves on the back for giving a pittance.  Paul was really thinking of a Macedonian church who, when asked to help Christians suffering from a famine in Judea, first “gave themselves to Jesus,” and then naturally gave anything they could, until it hurt their own welfare… yet they didn’t weep or worry; they rejoiced in having something to give and in trusting God’s certain provision for themselves.

 

The Biblical case for generosity is easily made… (it’s as easy an argument as there is).  Consider WHO gave first… GOD MADE THE FIRST GIVING MOVE… THEN THE NEXT, AND THE NEXT.  Creating us was an act of His pure love and generosity, a desire to share Himself and all His gifts.  We can give without love, but genuine love is always behind true generosity.  Then He gave again: made us higher than all else in creation.  Then, when we betrayed Him, He gave again: started a plan to reconcile our sin (that ended with Jesus’ death on the cross to finish the plan).

 

What’s the best-known, best-loved verse in the whole Bible?  It’s a verse about God’s profound love for us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 GNT).

 

God asks us to be completely generous, but it’s nothing He hasn’t already done Himself.  Every generous giver’s heart reflects God’s generous heart – from it comes compassion and love that sees and values all of mankind as God does, and that can’t help being drawn to broken souls and all of Satan’s wreckage of our world.  It’s a love which can’t contain itself when there’s opportunity to change lives and circumstances for any – so many – who can’t do it for themselves.

Since God gave His very best – His one and only Son – generous givers imitate and give their very best – not tokens of our wealth, but whatever it takes, even if it indicates what is most precious to us, including time, convenience, earthly security, and creature comfort.  All God gives us above basic needs becomes resource to build bridges so others can come across from the world to God.

 

Paul’s two letters to the Corinth church were blunt, in their face, no nonsense, no punches pulled.  Christian lives had to be completely different from worldly lives.  They surely squirmed when his words were first read: “Stop divisions.  Seek God’s wisdom, not Greek wisdom.  Grow away from milk to meat.  If you harm each other, you harm yourself because you’re part of each other.  Banish arrogant pride that would accept open immorality in your body.  Never, ever make a spectacle of the church in a pagan court.  Quit fretting over who gets credit for things.  Don’t marry because strong persecution is coming to Christians.  Learn and practice the true meaning of the Supper, don’t destroy anyone by what you eat, rightly value spiritual gifts (love beats everything), don’t doubt Jesus’ resurrection and your own, too, and give regularly to love and bless Christ’s kingdom and its people.  Letter #2: “No relationships that put you at a spiritual disadvantage.  And about your giving… a question… does your generosity measure up to the generosity of your brothers and sisters in Macedonia?

 

The answer was NO… so Paul reminded them of Jesus’ generosity, telling them, “…you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:8-9 GNT).  Our political talk these days references “transfers of wealth.”  Well, here’s one from heaven to Corinth (and to every believer).

 

No need to hedge about it, God makes enormous demands on us for generosity.  He knows we’re naturally selfish beings and He wants to work that out of us.  Though He asked once for a “tithe” (10%), He knew generous giving was far more – it’s someone moving from wealth to poverty so someone else can move from poverty to wealth.  He showed us Himself in Jesus in flesh, who was rich in position, heaven’s treasures, and inheritance.  Yet He exchanged it all for poverty… many demotions, so we could be rich.  In Paul’s words:

 

The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had, He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God.  Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant.  He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness.  He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death— his death on the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 GNT).

Notice His self-emptying steps: from the God to a man, from man to slave, from slave to criminal, from criminal to a death-sentenced-and-executed criminal, from the One who couldn’t die because He held the keys of death to dying.  Folks, the central act of our faith – the cross – is an act of wealth-to-poverty generosity, from HIGHEST OF THE HIGH to LOWEST OF THE LOW!

 

It’s so difficult to wrap our mind around… but that’s not the end of the story:

 

9 For this reason God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.  10 And so, in honor of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees, 11 and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 GNT).

 

The end of the story is from HIGHEST to LOWEST to HIGHEST again!  Paul’s shows us Jesus’ great sacrifice and His generous giving, and it ends showing us that every generous giver catches God’s eye, always.

 

Was our Savior generous?  Think of Him being God but still taking a basin and towel and setting Himself to washing feet (John 13:3-5).  And whose feet?  The feet of thick-headed, ambitious, braggart disciples… among them feet that had already run to betray and sell Him to His enemies!  The scene tells us that generous giving sometimes might have nothing to do with money at all.

 

Was Heaven generous?  Think about the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (John 14, 15, 16; Acts 2:38).  Of the Spirit, Paul wrote, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us…” (Romans 5:5).  And take note that it was “when we were powerless (helpless and with no standing or pull) (v 6).  Paul says basically that we’d done, are doing, and can never do anything to deserve Jesus’ love.  Mostly, we spurn it. 

 

The way God gave us this magnificent gift – the Spirit – teaches us that we can give good gifts, God gifts, to anyone in need, anyone weak, and anyone oppressed not because they ask us, or because they promise us great praise, or because we’ll get immediate results (or any results at all, ever), but simply because we are generous lovers and givers like God.  Outcomes become the business of the receiver and God.  Wonderfully, there are times God graciously grants us to see results and feel joy.  But our joy is not why we give; we give because God gave.

 

What was the effect of Jesus’ generosity and the gift of the Spirit on our first-ever church brothers and sisters in Jerusalem?  They became a living, breathing culture of Heaven’s generosity:

 

“All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of his possessions were his own, but they shared everything they had… there were no needy persons among them…” (Acts 4:32-33).

 

The world’s dominant attitude toward the poor, needy, and oppressed is indif-ference, often callousness.  In contrast to what we see all about us now, Luke’s description of the early church is stunning; how utterly remarkable it is to be able to say, “…there were no needy persons among them”!

 

Here’s what was happening…  A man named Barnabas was leading the way by generous example…  The Holy Spirit describes him as a “son of encouragement.”  His heart, and the hearts of his fellow Jerusalem Christians, overflowed with mercy because they had found mercy in Jesus. 

 

There’s no question about it at all… God is out to change you and me into pipelines through which His blessings flow to the world.  If you stay with Him, He will do that with you… He will make you to be like His Son!

 

And if He can’t make any changes in you…?  Then you and God stand in different places and your soul is in grave eternal danger…