When it comes to the topic of money, many Christians get uncomfortable. Perhaps they’ve heard too many appeals for money from pastors, or maybe they feel convicted about their own lack of giving. Regardless, this is not a topic that God has been silent about, so we need to know what Scripture says.
How can those who belong to a Savior who was willing to go to the cross not be generous with their money and their lives?
In this message from 2 Corinthians 8–9, David Platt points us to the basis of Christian giving—God’s grace. How can those who belong to a Savior who was willing to go to the cross not be generous with their money and their lives?
If you have His Word, and I hope you do, I’m going to invite you to open with me to 2 Corinthians 8. Pull out that Worship Guide you received when you came in. I know growing up as a kid—in my house and now as a husband and a dad in my house—there were times when my dad or now I (as dad) would call a family meeting, and everybody gets together around the room, and you know there’s maybe something to celebrate or maybe there’s something in the family that we need to address.
As I have prayed about and prepared this week in light of this text for this gathering right now, I feel like that’s what this is. In a way, it’s different. There’s a sense in which this happens every week when we gather together as a faith family to meet together. So, in a sense, every Sunday is that, but maybe in a unique way today, in light of some things that are particularly heavy on my heart as a pastor in this faith family, I put aside my notes and iPad that I usually use and got the Worship Guide here that’s got some notes in it. I was not going to have anything; I was just going to stand or sit on the stairs or something, but my back’s been causing some problems, so I’m going to have something to lean on. As best as I can, I just want to remove any kind of distance and just say, in a sense, “Let’s gather around the table and talk about some things from God’s Word and our hearts this morning.”
Where We’re Going in the Word
So before we dive into that, you’ll notice there in your Worship Guide a couple of things I want to hit real quickly. First, where we are going in the Word. To give you a heads up on where we’re headed as a faith family. You see at the top of your notes, I put that starting in December, we’re going to be Celebrating Christ together through Advent. December 1st is next Sunday, and on that day, we’re going to be walking through Advent, anticipation of the coming of Christ. We’re going to be walking through a season of Advent together as a church.
Some of you may remember last year at this time, if you were here, we made available copies of an Advent guide that one of our elders, Scott James, had written that could be used in personal and family worship, and basically goes through each day from December 1st leading up to December 25th. Everyday focuses on an Old Testament promise and theme and then has some questions you can ask of children and family gathered together for worship. Although it’s not limited to use with children, it could be used with just friends, whoever. Just find somebody to walk together through anticipation of the coming of Christ in the Old Testament.
Scott had written that and we made copies available for folks. But then over the last year Lifeway, which develops a variety of different resources and books and that sort of thing, got a hold of that Advent guide and talked with Scott about making an e-book and an app out of it. And so that’s what they’ve done. It’s just kind of come to fruition over the last few weeks. Now this Advent guide that we used last week is now an e-book that you can download from online. It’s an app that you can actually download for free leading up to the end of November. That’s if you are an Apple person, so you Android users, you’ve got to pay like a dollar for it.
What I put at the top of your notes there was I want to encourage you to download this e book, this app and starting next Sunday to begin using it in personal family worship. What we are going to do when we gather together on Sundays during December leading up to Christmas, is we’re going to dive into one of the texts that’s a part of the Advent guide for that coming week. So our worship is going to revolve around one of those Old Testament promises that help us understand that more. We’re just going to be together, us the faith family, walking through this Advent season. There are instructions there in your Worship Guide. You can go on-line Brookhills.org and just click there, and it’ll take you to all the links for where you can download that kind of stuff.
I want to make you aware of that because that’s going to start next Sunday. Also anticipating, Lord willing, where we’re going to be going starting in January of 2014. Some of you were here a few years ago when we walked together as a faith family through the Bible. We actually read chronologically through Scripture. And so what we’re going to do starting in January 2014 is we’re going to be reading through the Bible again together. We are not going to do it chronologically though; we’re going to use a Bible reading plan that was developed by a hero in the faith from centuries ago. I’ll tell you more about him, named Robert Murray M’Cheyne—I’ll tell you about him in the days to come.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne developed this Bible reading plan that actually involves four chapters a day. You read four different sections of Scriptures a day. You might be in, like, a part of history in the Old Testament, you might be in the Prophets, you might be in the Gospels and you might be in a Pauline letter or something like that in a day. You get a wide exposure to Scripture on a daily basis. In the process of a year, through reading these four chapters a day, you actually read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to take that one year, and we’re going to spread it out into two years.
D.A. Carson, who’s written just wonderful resources for the church today—great teacher and preacher of God’s Word—has taken Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible reading plan and divided it to where you do two chapters a day, and he’s written a devotional on one of those chapters that you read during that day. So what we’re going to do is, starting in 2014, we’re going to begin reading through the Bible together, and over two years, we’ll read through the Old Testament once and New Testament and Psalms twice. If you are a real overachiever, you feel free to go for the four a day. That’s fine. We won’t stop you from reading more of the Bible. That’s what we are going to do. Every Sunday, we are going to gather together and dive into one of the texts that we’ve been reading that week, and so this will just bring our personal worship, family worship, small groups and our worship gatherings all together on the same page as we walk through the Word together.
I put in your notes there the resource is called For the Love of God (Volume 1). That is the devotional, so feel free – and you can actually – we are going to make available to you just links where you can look at all the stuff online. If you want to buy a hardcopy of that book or download it on Kindle or something like that, you can; that’s obviously optional if you want to use that devotional. I want to make you aware of that leading up to January. We’ll make links where you can download the Bible reading plan. Use that devotional if you desire in personal and family worship. Then we’ll walk together each Sunday through selected texts from that week’s Bible reading. I look forward to what God does in our midst as we gather around His Word week after week, reading through it personally and in our families and as a faith family from 2014 to 2015. That’s the plan of where we’re headed.
How We Give in the Church…
That leads into the notes there about how we give to the church. You will also find in your Worship Guide information about our church budget, and later on, at the end of our gathering, one of our pastors, Dennis Blythe, will help make sure that everything is clear on the budget as well as procedure for how we vote on that sort of thing. But over and above the budget of the church, I want us to hear God’s Word and really let it speak to our hearts, maybe in a unique way this morning.
There are so many caveats that I want to throw out and put on the table right now. I want to be clear, first and foremost, that this is not about raising money for the church. By God’s grace, we are in a great position financially as a church. We have – if things continue on track as they are now through the end of this year, we will exceed our expenditures by far. That’s been the case in past years. By God’s grace, we are in a good position financially as a church. So this is not me saying, “Hey, we’re in a hole” like, I’m going to give a pep talk to try to get us out of it. That’s not the point at all.
Another caveat: I’ve just been reminded as we’ve been reading through 1 and 2 Corinthians about how Paul, over and over again, goes out of his way to make sure that the church understands that he’s not looking for personal profit from them. He’s not looking to gain prosperity off preaching the gospel, and I hope this is clear in my life. I just want to—in a Pauline sort of way—hopefully make it all the more clear. Particularly in a day where there are so many stories—even reality TV shows—about pastors making all kinds of money off the church and living in mansions. I want to be clear that I am not preaching the sermon to pad my mansion. I don’t have a mansion—that almost implies that I’ve got a mansion and that’s not true either so, it’s not me saying, “Well, I’ve already got the mansion covered.” No, I don’t have a mansion, but I hope in my life that that’s clear; that that’s not my aim. Heather and I try to identify an enough line in our lifestyle that includes basic giving and freed up to give whatever the Lord entrusts us beyond that for His glory. We’ll talk about that more in a minute.
I want to give that caveat. I realize another caveat – I know there are many people who are here this morning who are not members of Brook Hills, and so you are sitting in on another family’s meeting. I’m trusting that maybe God has providentially brought you here, if you are a follower of Christ—a member of another church—that God’s brought you here to look into your own heart when it comes to giving in your own church. So I pray that you’ll hear the Word of God toward that end. Maybe you’re not even a follower of Christ; you’re not part of church and part of the purpose of God bringing you here is to say you need to commit your life to a local church where you are giving resources to that church. Giving of what God has given to you to a local body of believers. I know, based on the Word of God, that that is His will for your life, to be plugged into a local church like that.
Another caveat, when we’re talking about giving to the church, I know many people immediately think, “Well, I don’t give to the church; I give to other ministries; I give to other causes.” We won’t belabor this very long because we’ve talked about it a good bit a few weeks ago in 1 Corinthians 16. We see a primacy on giving on a regular basis to the local church in the New Testament. We saw that in Corinth that this was a picture of unity among the people of God as they are committed to giving to one another. And as we give to another we are working together for the spread of the gospel in the world. And this happens through local churches. Not to say it’s wrong to give to outside ministries causes, that sort of thing, but there’s a clear primacy on giving to the local church.
Another caveat – okay, this will be the last one. I realize there are some of you here today who are not even followers of Christ. And you may even be prone to think, “All the church does is talk about money.” I hope—I pray—that nothing you hear today will fuel—increase— that kind of cynicism or thoughts about the church. I hope more than anything that you will see this is not about giving; it’s not about money as much as it is about hearts. I want you to see how the love of God for us transforms our hearts in a way that compels giving. Our prayer—my prayer—is that even in your heart, you would receive the love of God. Hear, know, believe the love of God in an all together new way today.
Enough caveats, let me pray. God, even as I’m sharing all of these disclaimers from the start, I just feel this overwhelming sense that there are so many defenses that go up in hearts all across this room when we approach the subject we are approaching today in your Word. I just pray that you would bring down those defenses all across this room. In my own heart, and our hearts, that you would bring down defenses. That you would humble us, oh God, to hear from you. God, may our reaction not be, as we are opening up your Word, “What about this; what about this.” May we listen to you. We want to listen to you; God we want you to speak. I want you to speak. I know my own tendency to try to use rhetoric toward this or that end, or to manufacture, manipulate. Lord, I don’t want to do that in any way. I want to speak your truth clearly and accurately and trust that your truth is going to do the work that it needs to do all across this room in our hearts. We pray that you would do the work.
Lord, we’re diving into this issue of money and materialism and we confess that we are blind. God, this is such a blind spot in your church in this culture. So, I pray, open our eyes to see what you see. Open our ears to hear what you are saying. Be gracious to us by speaking to us now and giving us grace to respond however you lead us. God, may these next few moments be a spiritual marker in this church, in lives, in families across this room, that it might change lifestyles and families across this room in this faith family. Only your Spirit can do these things, and so we pray in total dependence upon your Spirit for the next few moments. May your Spirit speak to us in this place, O God. Speak to us we pray. We ask these things. When we say in Jesus’ name, we’re saying that because we know everything we’ve prayed now according to your will, will be given to us. We know you desire to speak to us, to open our hearts to hear your Word. And so we pray these things with anticipation in Jesus’ name. Amen.
So I asked our financial folks who handle finances here in the church to do some research for me on giving among the membership of this church—obviously not specific names. So this is not like, “Bob, what’s going on?” “Joe or Mary?” I’m just throwing out those names, so don’t be sensitive Bob or Mary or Joe unless the Lord is saying something then you receive that. It’s not intentional from me here. I asked them just to do some research on giving among members in this church. There were two things that came back amidst many different numbers that stuck out to me most. And these are—I want to be clear—these are conservative estimates. So the numbers I’m about to give might in actuality be lower, but I want to make sure to not exaggerate or anything like that. This is the most conservative estimate.
According to what they showed me, about 25% of the members of the church—again that’s conservative, it could be less than that—but about 25% of the members of this church give 80% of the budget of this church. So 25%, or one-fourth of the church, gives most of the budget. And I think, “Well, those are just the wealthiest people.” Well, you take the average income in Shelby County, and I think we all realize that the area immediately surrounding this campus is income above average in Shelby County. But even if we just took median average in Shelby county, based on that, about 16%—again this is conservative, could be lower than this—but about 16% of this church tithes. That’s 16%, which we talked about a few weeks ago, and we’ve talked about many times before is an Old Testament standard of giving.
You get to the New Testament. Certainly, we wouldn’t give less based on the gospel than that, which was prescribed in the Old Testament. The tithe is the floor of giving not ceiling. So 16% are at that floor and 84% not there. This is not good. Again my purpose in bringing this to the table is not to say we need to raise more money for the church. My concern is not the budget. My concern is our hearts. My concern is what this says about our hearts.
Jesus made it clear in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” You want to know where your heart is, look at where your money is. Look at what you spent money on this month. Everything from mortgage to payments for this or that; bills, food, clothing, entertainment and whatever. You want to know where your heart is, look at your money. So I’m looking at those numbers and I’m concerned for our hearts.
At the same time, I’m really zealous to see what would happen if our hearts were less consumed with the stuff of this world and more consumed with Christ. I mean just imagine. There was a research – I pulled it back out from a project at Stanford. It was done. They concluded if church members in America gave at least 10% of their income, to church—to tithe—in two years’ time, financially, they could eliminate global starvation and malnutrition, provide education for every child on the earth and provide universal access to clean water and sanitation. In two years. And that’s not to say anything about unreached peoples.
We know it’s six thousand people groups, a couple billion people, who have yet to hear the gospel that we celebrate and we know. And that’s just it! We know! We know these realities. We talk about these realities. We know what the Word says about these things. That’s why they’re in your notes and I didn’t put in any blanks. The last thing I want us to do is come in here and open up the Word and get a sermon on giving and fill out the blanks and say, “Oh, that was a good sermon on giving.” Somewhere we’re missing it.
There’s a clear disconnect. We know the needs of the world; we talk about the needs of the world all the time. We know what the Word says; we know it! We know what the Word says; it’s not that we don’t know—we know the Word! So where’s the disconnect? What’s going on in our hearts? And just to be clear, Brook Hills is not unusual in this; this is common among all churches. I don’t think that necessarily brings consolation.
I’ve racked my brain trying to think what it is. Like, why? We know the Word; we know the Word. We’ve seen the world; we know the needs of the world. What is it? Is it just basically – is it just simply we’ve bought into the lie that whatever salary we have is the standard at which we live? And so, we live according to our salary and we don’t have margin to give, or maybe even beyond. I don’t know all the economic statistics for our community. But I have a feeling many, many people in our community—many people in this church—are living way beyond our means, in over our heads with no margin to give.
I think about that and I share that even just to say what we are talking about this morning is not, “Okay, you need to give.” Let’s challenge each other to give an extra ten dollars. We’re talking about a need to change our lives. Our lifestyles, our families need to change in a way that looks very different from the culture we live in. It needs to change for what we’re united together to be a part of—for the spread of the gospel in the world and for meeting urgent spiritual and physical need. But not even just for all that; it needs to change or our own sake.
I know you are in 2 Corinthians 8, but turn back to 1 Corinthians real quick. First Corinthians 5 and 6. Remember we walked through these texts a few months ago where we saw church discipline and restoration revolving around a man who was sleeping with his father’s wife. Then we looked at what the Bible says about sexual immorality. We talked about homosexuality and all that around the time the Supreme Court was passing decisions about marriage. You remember what we studied?
Look at 1 Corinthians 5:9-11. Read this again and just hear this. The Bible says, through Paul, “I wrote, to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people…” Talking about this man who has his father’s wife. “…not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother…” Don’t associate with someone who calls himself a “Christian”, but “if he is guilty of sexual immorality…” Now this doesn’t just mean in the past; we know this is unrepentant sexual immorality. “…or greed…” It’s put on the same plane as sexual immorality.
Go to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Do we realize how serious this is? The greedy won’t inherit the kingdom of God. You say, “I’m not greedy.” Remember, remember how this diverse picture of greed we have in Scripture. Yes, it is covetousness; it is wanting what others have. It’s wanting nicer, better, and we’re tempted to this every single day in this culture. Much of our spending is driven by this: “I want that.” “I think I need that.” “I see what they’ve got and want that.” It’s so subtle we don’t even see it.
It’s not just covetousness; it’s also possessiveness. It’s hoarding what we do have. Greed, storing up more in barns, keeping more for ourselves. The Bible says if you’re greedy, you won’t inherit the kingdom of God. I mean, God help us not to be guilty of selective moral outrage, pointing the finger at homosexuality in our culture while indulging in greed all across the church. We miss the point. I don’t know what to do with 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 when I realize – yes, we as a church have discipline for unrepentant sexual immorality. Are we going to discipline for unrepentant greed? What does that look like?
You say, “In the same way it’s not possible to be a follower of Christ and continue in sexual immorality, it is not possible to be a follower of Christ and continue in the greed of this world?” It’s not possible. There comes a point where it’s clear you are not actually a part of the church. This is serious stuff. It’s why Jesus said to that rich young man, “It’s hard for the rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Do we realize this? We need to hear this. We don’t always think of ourselves as rich, but we are very wealthy compared to the rest of the world; compared to the history of the world, we are extremely wealthy.
It’s hard to enter the kingdom of heaven from this culture that we live in. It’s hard. We’ve got to hear this. We’ve got to hear the Word of God and change our ways in this world. We need to change our ways. I need to—we need to be careful here. Be really careful if you are the one of the 16% that does tithe, or, “I’m sure I am in that 25%,” you’re thinking. Oh be really, really careful not to just say, “Okay good, this one’s not for me.” The reality is there’s some who are giving ten percent that could be giving 50% or 75%. I don’t know. We need to change our ways. We need God to change our hearts. We need Him to change our hearts.
I put in the notes there what we say in our covenant:
As members of The Church at Brook Hills, we will give cheerfully and generously to the support of the church, the relief of the poor and the spread of the gospel through all nations.
I mean, is that true or not? So 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 shows us a picture of how God compels His people to give, and so I’ve come into this text this morning and I want to read – we’re not going to read all of both chapters. I want to read two sections, one in 1 Corinthians 8 and one in 1 Corinthians 9. As we read this, just ask God by His Spirit and His Word to change hearts all across this room.
2 Corinthians 8:1-9:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.
I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. [Now here’s the key verse] For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:1-9)
Skip down to 2 Corinthians 9:6-15:
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:6-15)
What a beautiful passage! We’ve got an example in the Macedonian church giving like this. You know from 2 Corinthians 8, Paul is talking about an offering for the church in Jerusalem where they were suffering famine. And he’s urging the Corinthians – he had said in 1 Corinthians 16, “Regularly take up an offering for the saints in Jerusalem”, but apparently they had not been doing it. So he writes in this other letter, “Let me tell you what others are doing.” So he uses the example of the Macedonians and gives them exhortations in 1 Corinthians 9 to give. So I want us to hear what God said to them, and what He is saying to us in this room.
We give out of an abundance of grace.
We give out an abundance of grace. This is stuff we all know. So this is not, “Okay, fill us in.” We know this. It’s all of grace. Verse 1 is about the grace of God. Verse 7, “…excel in this grace…” Verse 9, “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…” This is so key. I want to be so careful, even in putting on the table some of the things I’ve already put on the table about how we need to repent. I don’t want to leave it there and just say, “Okay, well, we need to feel guilty for that and then start giving.” That won’t last. Guilt is not a sustainable motivation for giving.
We need to see realities. We need to come face to face then, but not stop there. We need to realize we are selfish. Our hearts are in our money more than we’d like to admit. Our hearts are in our things more than we’d like to admit. Pleasures, pursuits and possessions of this world – our hearts are more there than we like to admit. We need to realize that God loves us. He loves us. He loves you; He loves you. He is gracious towards you. This is where giving flows out of the abundance of grace.
His grace does something that is totally supernatural in us. We are talking about something today that would cause us to live very different from the entire culture around us. And that is exactly the example of the Macedonians. The Macedonian church he’s talking about here were abysmally poor. They were living in extreme poverty! They’re taking up money for church in famine when they live in famine! But did you hear what it said? It said, “for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:2). Look at the equation there: Severe affliction plus extreme poverty equals abundant joy and generosity; a wealth of generosity.
It doesn’t add up. There’s something supernatural at work here. That’s why I feel so inadequate to address this today in this gathering. Because I know there’s nothing I can say to cause our hearts to change. We need God to do it. That’s the whole point of verse 1: We know by “the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia.” That’s what I am praying. I’m praying that God would show His grace in this church. That He would not show His judgment upon this church. You know what His judgment looks – when He judges us, He gives us over to ourselves. I am praying that God would not give us over to ourselves in this. I’m pleading, “God, don’t give me over to myself in this. God, don’t give us in this church, in this culture, over to ourselves. Be gracious to us, be merciful to us today. Change our hearts. We need your grace to do this in us.”
We give willingly. That’s the whole point. Verse 4, they’re begging for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints. Begging to give. We give based upon God’s blessing. They’ve been given from God. That’s the whole point. Grace from God overflows in grace to others. That’s the whole picture. We give based on God’s blessing. We give (at least) according to our ability. Verse 3, they give “according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord…” Beyond their means. Like, this is the heart here behind giving. Do you remember this?
Turn back to Mark 12. Do you remember this passage, Mark 12? Let’s read this passage again and let’s remember how Jesus perceives giving. How Jesus values a gift because it’s not based on the amount of that gift. Follow this, Mark 12:41-44:
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
See how Jesus values a gift? Not according to its monetary value but according to its comparison percentage of that which was given. Out of all she had out of her poverty, she gave all. These people who gave large sums weren’t making any sacrifice at all. This is what the story of the New Testament church is all about.
Turn over to Acts 2. Do you remember this? Acts 2, these are the first believers. Thousands of people come to Christ and immediately they start giving. This isn’t once you get mature, “Okay, I need to grow into maturity in my giving.” No! This is immediate.
Zacchaeus in Luke 19, remember? He comes face to face with Christ. He says, “Half my possessions I give away.” Then Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house…” It’s automatic; it’s not something I grow into. This is something – it’s the fruit of an initial relationship with Christ. These people are saved and what are they doing? Three thousand people saved and beginning in Acts 2:44-45, “And all who believed were together and all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings…” They’re selling what they’ve got, “and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” They just immediately start selling and giving away stuff. This is the grace of God provoking this kind of giving. “Distributing the proceeds to all as any had need.”
Go to Acts 4:32. This is the church. Are we the church? Verses 32-37:
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. [What does that grace provoke?] There was not a needy person among them [not one person need among them], for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32-37)
Do you see this? I mean they’re selling lands, they’re selling houses, they’re selling their stuff and they’re bringing it to the church and saying, “Give to those in need.” We read this and our red flag just goes up. “What is this socialism? We’re going to become like Europe?” We have all our Republican arguments against this. This is not communist-driven socialism; this is gospel-driven sacrifice. This is a people who have been transformed by the grace of God, and it makes sense for them to sell houses. And they’re selling houses, they’re selling lands, they’re selling possessions, they’re selling stuff that they don’t need and they’re giving it to anyone who has need.
What does that look like in the world we live in today? That’s not the kind of church that we are. Is it the kind of church we are willing to be? And we want to be? God, by your grace give us the desire to be this, to give, not even just according to our ability, but beyond our ability.
We give generously.
We give generously. Willingly and generously; this is a wealth of generosity. Here’s the picture; go back to 2 Corinthians 9:6. Look at this. I love the simplicity here. Paul writes, “The point is this…” I’m going to make it clear for you. “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Cor. 9:6) You reap what you sow. I put in the notes there: Generous giving to God results in greater giving from God. Now don’t misunderstand that right there – sowing and reaping. What I’m saying, “Generous giving to God results in greater giving from God” that does not mean, if you give to God, then you are going to get rich in return. That’s what a lot of people are selling you on TV. We’re not going to mention names. Sometimes we mention their names. We’re not going to mention their names this morning. That’s not what – the Macedonians debunked that totally. They are still in extreme poverty as they’re giving, but they are experiencing bountiful blessing from God in ways that far surpass material prosperity in this world. Don’t promise me material prosperity in return for my giving. I want something better than that. That’s what we are promised. We are promised something much better than that.
Generous giving to God results in greater giving from God. Oh, God help us to realize this. We are surrounded by lies. We’re swimming every day in this culture in an ocean of deceit that says, “The more you have, the happier you’ll be. The nicer you have and the more things, then you’ll be better.” Don’t buy it. We can’t buy this. It’s not true.
The more we give, the happier we’ll be. I’m saying this today to us as a faith family, for our good—to myself—for our good; for our good. I’m diving into this family meeting, not because I’m against you, but because I’m for you, because the Bible is for us, because God is for us. He’s for us. That’s why He is saying these things to us. Happiness is not found in having and hoarding more. Happiness is found in giving more. Having and hoarding more will kill us.
God gives enough for us. He’s a giving God. That’s what I love about these verses in 1 Corinthians 9. He’s “able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times…” (2 Corinthians 9:8). You’re covered in God. Paul quotes from the Psalms, “‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:9-10).
God gives enough for us. This is what 1 Timothy 6 is talking about when it says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6) And Paul goes on to talk about contentment as having food and covering. Like, the basics of life, I’ve got. And in the basics of life, God, I’ve got everything I want and everything I need. God gives enough for us.
And He gives excess for others. Did you see it? Verse 11, “You will be enriched in every way to…” Why? So you can have more? No! So you can “be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” God gives us more than we need. Why? Contemporary American Christian answer: So we can have more stuff. Biblical Christ-centered answer: God gives us more than we need, so we can give more away. He gives enough for us; He gives us excess for others. For others – that’s the whole point in 1 Timothy 6. “Godliness with contentment is great gain”—when you live in that contentment, then you are free to give generously—the rest of 1 Timothy 6 talks about. Which is why—we’ve talked about before—just establishing in our lives a line of enough, a line of contentment. It says, “Okay, I’m going to live a level of contentment without always looking for more.”
It’s not that there’s a specific rule about what that looks like for any of our lives, but to say, “Okay, what are the necessities in my life.” To identify necessities, to minimize luxuries and this is tough in our culture. The reality is as long as we are in the culture, we are going to be surrounded by luxuries. A bed is a luxury. Not everybody in the world has a bed. I’m going to be honest, I sleep on a bed. I’m just going to put it out there. I sleep on a bed. Spoons and forks are luxuries and I use them. So as long as we’re in this culture we’re going to have luxuries, but try and minimize those.
John Wesley said Christians should “give away all but the plain necessities of life. That is plain wholesome food, clean clothes and enough to carry on one’s business.” I mean, that sounds very similar to 1 Timothy 6. Then, he goes on, “Any Christian who takes for himself anything more than the plain necessities of life lives in an open habitual denial of the Lord. He gains both riches and hell-fire.” That’s strong. But it’s exactly what 1 Timothy 6 says. When you desire more, it’ll plunge your soul into ruin and eternal destruction.
So Wesley, putting this into practice, said, “Okay, I’m going to live at a level of contentment.” And whenever he made more than that during a year—and that level of contentment involved basic giving—but beyond that, anything that went beyond that level of contentment, he gave away. The end of his life, he’s making the equivalent of about $160,000 a year and he’s living on a $20,000 lifestyle. He was freed up to give $140,000 away. What if we believe that? What if we said, “A $50,000 lifestyle, $75-100,000, $200,000, whatever it is, it doesn’t necessitate that kind of lifestyle.” This is a very different way to live in this world. You will not get encouragement anywhere in this culture to live like this. God give us grace. Change our hearts.
He’s given us excess for others. You think about it. What if God really did desire His glory among every people group in the world? What might He do? He might give His people unprecedented wealth in the history of the world to make His worth known across the world. It’s what He’s done. It’s what He’s done in us. Let’s not waste it; let’s not waste it. He’s given us excess, not for us. He’s given us excess for others. We have worldly wealth for the sake of world-wide worship. So we give generously.
We give cheerfully. He says, “Each one must give as he’s decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God love a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) This is not intended to be compulsory giving. This pictures life, where life is found. Some people say, “Well, it doesn’t feel very cheerful for me to sell this house or do this or that, so I’m not going to do it because He doesn’t want me to give if I’m not cheerful.” Well, that’s one response, but I don’t think it’s the response the Word and the Spirit of God are provoking here. It’s, “God give me a new heart that realizes that there are so many better things I could be doing than this.” And in the process to be giving cheerfully.
We are not forced by God to give; we are freed by God to give. It’s why we don’t use the tithe as a picture of, “Well, okay, then that’s – okay, how much do I have to give? I am just making sure.” No, that’s not what they’re asking here in the New Testament. They’re asking how much can we give—not have to—how much can we give. How much more can we give? They are begging to give more. All of that is an overflow of the gospel; it’s a demonstration of the gospel.
We give as a demonstration of the gospel.
We give as a demonstration of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 8:9, that’s where Paul moves from the Macedonian example to the Christ example. He was rich, enthroned in glory, and what has He done? He has become poor. That is the essence of gospel. You think about it. How does the gospel affect giving? We sacrifice our rights for others. You know one of the first things people start thinking when we talk like this is people say, “Well, are you saying that all my stuff is bad? My house is bad, this is bad, that possession this or that thing – are you saying this is bad?” And that’s one of our first lines of defense.
I remember sitting in a coffee place one day. We were walking through some Radical stuff, and I was having time with another pastor. And this woman, who was not a member of this church, comes up to me and she just gets in my face – I don’t know – just gets in my face, she says, “Not everybody has to sell their house and all their things.” I said, “Yes ma’am.” And she said, “All these things I have in my life are not bad.” She began talking about all the things that she’s got, and she said, “They’re not bad.” Then, she walked away.
Here’s the thing. As long as that’s our standard—that’s the question we’re asking—we’re never going to get to the heart here; we’re never going to get to the heart here. It’s not that things in and of themselves are bad by any means. That’s not the point. The point is we sacrifice good things for the sake of others. This is Christ. Did He have to save us? No. Did He have to leave His throne in glory? No. But He did; He did. He sacrificed to become a baby, to become a man and live in poverty and humiliation, so that we in our poverty might become rich. And so then it just makes sense for us to sacrifice all kinds of good things. And to sacrifice – that’s a key word: “Sacrifice.”
Let’s be honest as a church as individuals, as families we give to the poor, but I mean, do we give to the point where it hurts? We are really having to let go of a lot of things that we want. This is what the gospel compels us to do. Sacrifice for others.
We spend our resources on others. Another one of the things that people often say at this point, “He just doesn’t understand economics. Like, if you sell everything you have and you spend it, then you are missing out on what you could be giving away if you were to just invest it. Take the $10,000 and invest it in something, and 20 years from now, you’ll have hundreds of thousands of dollars. So just invest.” I’m not saying that investment is wrong. We’ve got pictures in Scripture of that kind of investment, so I’m not saying at all that that’s wrong. But just don’t forget there are other types of investment. I mean there’s—just to be as blunt as can be—there are people who are starving right now that, in providing for them, that they invest in a life.
Or take that $10,000 you have, and you put it in the bank—$100,000 or whatever after how many years. What if you take that $10,000, and you invest it in a church planter going into an unreached people group? And that church planter has an opportunity to lead people in that people group, for the first time, to a relationship with Christ. And they gather together as a church in that people group. The first church formed, and that church begins to spread. And they begin to mobilize missionaries to go into the three or four people groups around them, and you’ve got, 20 years later, five or six people groups here that are rejoicing and giving God glory for His salvation that He’s brought to them. That’s a worthy investment. That’s a wise investment.
That’s a wise investment, so don’t limit your investment thinking to the ways this world views investment thinking. We’re not investing in that which is going to be the most profit 30 years from now. We’re investing in that which is going to bring the most profit 30 billion years from now. That changes the way we view investing.
We give to promote thanksgiving to God.
We spend our resources on others, all of this to promote to promote thanksgiving to God. We give to promote thanksgiving to God. That’s the whole point. When you get to the end, verse 11, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” This is my prayer for Brook Hills. The ministry of this service will not only supply the needs of saints all around the world, but it would overflow in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service that many people would glorify God because of our submission that comes from our confession of the gospel and the generosity of our contribution for them and all others.
Let’s remember that giving unites the people of God. This is seen in two steps. One, we give regularly to the church, and two, the church deals responsibly with our gift. And through our giving and the church’s responsible spending, giving exalts the goodness of God.
So I guess the question is, “Do we really believe the gospel?” I mean really believe it. Have our hearts been changed by it? We could go on, but here’s what I want us to do. I want us to pray. I’m going to pray first in this room, and then for the next few minutes, we’re just going to spend in silence. I hope—I trust—that the Spirit of God is speaking to you. But don’t put your things up; what I want you to do during this time – okay, you’re not filling in the blanks today; instead, you’re writing out what is the Lord telling you to do. Maybe it’s things you know He’s telling you to do or maybe it’s questions you need to answer. “Should I sell? Should I do this? Should I give away? Should I sacrifice this?” Be specific. I’m trusting and praying that God, across this room, is changing hearts at this very moment.