True Generosity – July 8, 2018

One Sunday, a pastor asked, “Is there anybody in the congregation who wants a prayer for their shortcomings?” “Yes,” cried out a man in the front pew. “I’m a spend-aholic. I throw money around like it is growing on trees! I desperately need to stop it and save.”

“Very well,” said the minister, “We will say a prayer for our brother — just as soon as the collection plates have been passed.”

There are thousands of jokes about ‘faith and money’. Maybe that is why people believe that, “All the church cares about is money.” Today, I hope to break that myth.

Many have spoken about the church and money but they often use a misguided or incorrect set of assumptions. Because there are so many passages of scripture that deal with money, some will twist the words of God to manipulate others or use any excuse not to give.

Where you are in your spiritual walk is very important to how you understand giving. If you have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, your mind set will be far different than others who have not.

To understand what God wants us to do, we must be seeking the mind of Christ. He told us that the truth would set us free. (John 8:32) What we believe about giving is ‘not rooted in any one man’s agenda’ but in the principles that God has laid out for us in the Bible.

The beloved preacher and theologian Martin Luther has been credited with saying, “Every man needs two conversions; the first of the heart and the second of his pocketbook.”

Jesus said in Matthew 6:33 “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all things will be adde3d unto you.” So we must seek our answers not by our own motives but by God’s.

To do that, we begin with John 3:16-17. Here we find three important principles, related to God’s generosity…

“For God so loved the world that he gave his ‘one and only Son’, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

The First principle we see is … God gave – out of love.  “For God ‘so loved’ the world…”

We do not give to get back, to fulfill a duty or to try and earn God’s love. There is no joy in that kind of giving. Giving is a response of gratitude – to God’s grace and mercy. Our gift to God is not a bribe – but a debt of gratitude. It is not an obligation — as much as a dedication. We are not doing God a favor – when we give to the church, instead we are honoring God for his amazing love and trusting Him. And he blesses us — so we can bless others.

Our offerings should be a gift of love, not a requirement. Giving is not (as some would have us believe) just an obligation; instead, it is an opportunity ‘to get God in your life’.

The ‘I earned it and I can do what I want with it’ attitude is more about control – than gratitude or love. God gave because God loved. He did not require anything or put limits on his love.

The secret of giving is, understanding our capacity and need to love. That’s the first principle.

The Second principle is this, God gave His best.  “For God so love the world ‘that He gave His one and only Son’…”

We call that the first-fruits or the best portion. We also call it the tithe. Abram (before he was called Abraham) gave a tithe in the bible because he had returned a victor in battle and wanted to honor God.

Scripture says (in Genesis 14:20) “Abram gave a tenth of everything” to honor God, before he took any for himself or gave to others, he gave the best and the first portion to God. Later in Leviticus 27:30, Moses made the tithe the law of the land.

And I think God makes himself perfectly clear in Malachi 3:8, when he says that we should Tithe – because if we don’t, we are robbing him. God wants us to understand ‘he is the owner and we are just stewards or caretakers’. We are called to use our money, as he would use it. Greed is a sin and god calls it theft.

Incidentally, that also goes back to Genesis chapter 4:7, when Abel honored God – with the first and the best and Cain did not. God reminded Cain, “Sin (or greed) is crouching at your door but you must master it.” We are called to take responsibility and give God our best. That includes our actions as well as our money. That is the second principle.

The Third principle is this, God gives according to our needs. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him ‘shall not perish but have eternal life.’ 

God not only wants to redeem us from our sin but also wants to relieve all our unnecessary suffering. His plan is that we all use what we have to ‘better the conditions for everyone’.

In Deuteronomy 15:4, God tells us that his plan is ‘that there should be no poor among us’. Over and over in scripture we are told to attend to the widows, orphans and people in need. God, he reminds us, has provided enough for all, if we are not greedy and share.

Proverbs 22:9 reads, “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.” As the Holy Spirit begins to work in our lives’, we begin to think less about ourselves and more about others. We begin to see others in need and ask ourselves, “If I don’t do something, who will?”

Generosity touches others and changes us ‘when we move from a clenched fist – to an open heart’. Dave Ramsey puts it like this, “If you take your money, and close your fist around it, that money is not going to get away. On the other hand, you cannot receive more money in that hand either, it’s closed up tight. When you freely give with an open hand, your hand is already open – and is ready to both give and receive new blessings.”

Again, the third principle is that we are blessed ‘when we give to those who are in need’. And the Bible says in Acts 20:35 that, “It is more blessed to give than receive.”

Some scientists believe that generosity is a built in human trait. Dr. Jordan Grafman, chief of the Cognitive Neuroscience Center at the National Institutes of Health reported, “It appears, if we give from the heart…it satisfies our brain. It definitely shows that we’re going to get more pleasure, if we are giving – then when we are simply receiving.”

Over the centuries spiritual and moral thinkers have advised ways of living that lead to greater happiness, over the course of a lifetime. The goal of a good life, they agreed, is a deep happiness consistent with simplicity, integrity, and a profound generosity. Satisfaction comes, they say, from seeking a higher purpose than ourselves.

Jesus, I think, said it more simply when he told this parable…A poor widow puts two small copper coins into the offering box, and Jesus told the disciples she put in more than everyone else! What? Did we miss something here? Indeed, they did miss something — something that the widow understood.

It’s not the amount that we give to God that matters most — it’s what the amount represents. In other words, a little offering means very little sacrifice – and very little love. It is the gift that comes from the heart, completely and un-compromised – that gets God’s attention. It isn’t what we give – but why we give.

If our motives are pure, God knows it. 2 Corinthians 9:7 reads, “God loves a cheerful (or joyful) giver.” So what we see is … God is not after your money – but after your heart. Let me repeat that. God is not after your money – but after your heart.

Another clear example comes from Matthew 23:23. It reads, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a 10th of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

The Pharisees were devoted to giving a tenth of everything but they were doing it for the wrong reasons. Obviously this influenced Paul, as he reminds us later in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give all my possessions to the poor and surrender my body – but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” There ‘must be’ a greater vision that directs our use of money.

Alexander the Great burned his plunder so it didn’t weigh down his army. How we use money says more about our choices and principles than it says about money in general.

It is no wonder Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

When we become Members of a United Methodist Church, we are asked to support the church in 5 ways: by our prayers, presence, gifts (which includes our tithes and offerings), service and witness. 

  1. The tithe is just the beginning of our giving; it is 10%. That is considered ‘the base of our giving’ or the lowest level which should be given to the church. Our other offerings go above and beyond that. 2nd mile giving goes to youth and missions; above the original 10%. And 3rd mile giving goes for emergencies or agencies outside the church. I don’t deduct what I give to those other organizations from my tithe to the church. That only hurts my church. I choose to give because my heart has been touched and my response is to help. No one can decide how to do that’except me’ and I base it on my relationship with God.
  2. Contrary to popular belief, you can tithe at any giving level; we all live on fixed incomes, I know, I have done it.

If we all gave 10%, the church would have enough income to support all its ministries and we could do so much more! Also, because the tithe is the base of giving, if I am able, I can choose to give 11% or higher. Some folks do!

What you give and why you give is between you and the Lord. But you cannot hide your motives from God, he knows. Love is sacrificial.

I have never seen a bumper sticker on a Christian’s car that said “I Love My 401k,” – never been in a kitchen where the refrigerator proudly displayed photographs of the family’s finest silver or the wife’s mink coat – and never had a parishioner take me in the living room, get all misty-eyed and say with love,”Have I ever shown you these pictures of my bank statements?”

We know love because because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19) We offer our best – because God offered his best, his Son. And we give because God first gave to us.

Your assignment this week is …to examine your motives for giving to the church – and make sure they are in-line with Christ’s teaching. God gave ‘to teach us how to give’, in all ways.

If you are currently tithing, thank you. Examine other ways in with you give. If you are not currently tithing, give tithing a try for three months. Most people find that they are blessed by giving. It is just one way’that we can help bring God’s kingdom a little closer’. And thank you for your faithfulness.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Malachi 3:10