“Let’s play church,” the Vicar’s son said to his father one day. “Let’s sing a few hymns and then I’ll take your money off you.”
I learned an interesting fact about table manners the other day. There is only one topic of conversation at the dinner table which is regarded as taboo nowadays. Apparently the surprising subject which is considered too rude to talk about in polite English society is money. Any other topic – but not money. Although it is true that many churches also avoid talking about money. Perhaps that is our over-reaction to the appalling tendency of tele-evangelists and prosperity gospel preachers who spend all their time making appeals for more giving. But probably some of us should talk about money and giving more often. Across Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels one verse in six talks about money and 16 out of the 29 of the parables Jesus told were concerned with money or wealth or possessions. So for our Gift Day this morning, a sermon on Giving.
When Jesus sent out his 12 apostles he gave them these instructions.
Matthew 10: 7 As you go, preach this message: `The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
“Freely you have received, freely give.”
And indeed, freely, freely we have received. God has blessed each one of us in SO MANY ways. We can start by listing the material blessings we enjoy but so easily take for granted. Our food. Our clothing. Our warm and comfortable homes. All the luxuries of life we enjoy while millions are dying without the necessities. We forget that these things only come to us as gifts of God’s grace. We praise the Lord as Creator of the world, but often forget that He is also its Sustainer. Without the continuing activity of Almighty God, upholding His creation in love, we would all instantly cease to exist.
1 Timothy 6:17 reminds us of how generous God is to us all.
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. NIV
17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. NRSV
17 Command those who are rich with things of this world not to be proud. Tell them to hope in God, not in their uncertain riches. God richly gives us everything to enjoy. (New Century)
17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. NLT
Freely, freely you have received. Freely, freely give! So many material blessings, so many good things so richly to enjoy, but beyond that so many spiritual blessings. God is our Saviour, and He has bought us back to Himself at the cost of His only Son Jesus Christ. The first chapter of Ephesians gives us catalogue of blessings we should be grateful for.
EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING EPH 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
HOLY AND BLAMELESS 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
ADOPTED AS GOD’S CHILDREN In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
REDEEMED – BOUGHT BACK 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
All guaranteed by the HOLY SPIRIT Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
And what a wonderful inheritance. So many blessings now, and the certainty that this is only a foretaste, the appetiser of all the blessings waiting for us in heaven!
“15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”
God has done so much for us! How can we show our love and appreciation and gratitude for all God’s blessings? If we don’t make an effort to show God how grateful we are, we can end up taking His love and grace for granted. If we really understand how much God loves us, we will want to show our love for him! NOTHING would be too much for us to do for him. And one way of showing how grateful we are to God is by what we give back to Him. “Freely you have received, freely give.”
So how much should we give? The Old Testament had a simple principle. We should give in proportion to what we have received.
Deut 16:10, 16-17 10 Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you.
16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.
Giving in proportion to the blessings God has given us is a very important and helpful principle. It encourages us to consider just how much God actually has given us. “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” And as well it reminds us that EVERYTHING we have comes from God and EVERYTHING we have belongs to God. We are not giving to God OUR money or OUR possessions. We are honouring God by giving back to Him money and possessions which are always HIS anyway!
It was the great Missionary Hudson Taylor who once said, “When God’s work is done in God’s way for God’s glory, it will never lack God’s supply.” God doesn’t need OUR money. Christian work doesn’t need OUR money. We give to the church and to Christian work because God wants us to remember it is HIS money anyway.
God does not bless us with everything we need so that we can just sit back and enjoy life. God meets all our needs so that we will be able to dedicate ourselves to good works, serving God and each other.
8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
As long as we have enough for what we need, then we can abound in every good work. We may not feel that we are “abounding” materially or financially. When we compare ourselves to some of our neighbours and many people in this country, we may not feel we are rich. But actually we are. I read some challenging statistics the other day.
• Do you have £1,500? Possessions worth more than £1,500 put a person in the top half of the world’s wealthy.
• If you earned or received a pension of £1,000 or more last year you are in the top 20% of the world’s earners.
• If you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment, and have a reasonably reliable means of transport, you are among the top 15% of the world’s wealthy.
• If you own more than £40,000 in assets, including the value of your home and all your possessions and cash in the bank you are among the richest 10% of the adults in the world.
• If your income is more than £16,000 each year you are in the top 10% of the world’s earners.
• If your family live in your own home, have any money saved, a variety of clothes in your wardrobes two cars in any condition then you are in the top 5% of the world’s wealthy.
• If you earn more than £32,000 a year you are in the top 1% of the world’s earners.
• If all your assets added up, including your home and the value of your possessions and any money you might have in the bank, if all of these add up to more than £330,000 then you are part of the richest 1% of the world.
We may not consider ourselves to be rich. We may not feel we are rich. But in fact, compared with the rest of the world, compared with the vast majority of people in Africa and India and South America and China, we are all vastly wealthy.
God is enormously generous to us, so it is right that we are generous in return. If God in His grace chooses to bless us and makes us wealthy it us NOT so that we will be blessed with a comfortable easy life and more possessions than we know what to do with. If God in His grace has given us money and possessions the appropriate response is that we should be generous to other people who do not have the riches we do!
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
God gives us enough so that we are able to be generous on every occasion. So how much should we give? Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “If you give what you do not need, it isn’t giving.” C.S.Lewis said, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”
If that sounds extreme, then listen to these words of Jesus.
Luke 6:30-35 L30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners’, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
God expects us to be GENEROUS givers and God also expects us to be CHEERFUL givers!
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
We shouldn’t give in a grumbling way, or because we feel we ought to, or because somebody is pressuring us to give. God loves a CHEERFUL giver! Unfortunately some people misunderstand this verse. There was a mother who gave her daughter a pound coin for herself and a five pound note to put in the offering at church. But she told the girl, “Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself.” When they were coming out of church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. “Well,” said the little girl, “I was going to give the five pound note to the church, but just before the collection the minister said that “God loves a cheerful giver” and that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I’d be a lot more cheerful if I just gave the pound, so I did.”
So we should reflect on just how very much and in how many ways God has blessed us, materially and spiritually. Our proper response is to give in proportion to what we have received. God expects us to be generous givers and He also wants us to be cheerful givers. Freely freely you have received. Freely, freely give!