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The Revelation of God in Human Life: Through Gratitude

November 18, 2012
Sermon:  The Revelation of God in Human Life:  Through Gratitude
Text:  Luke 21:1-4; Malachi 3:8-10; Luke 6:38; I Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19; Matthew 6:33; 6:19-20; II Corinthians 9:6-8, 11, 15

The word thanksgiving is a compound word made up of the two words thanks and giving.  As you can already see over the course of this time of worship together, we have so much for which to be thankful.  Often at a service like this, we focus on the reasons we have to be thankful.  We will focus on the thankful side during our evening service and the dedication of our new building.  In this morning’s sermon, however, we will focus on giving.

We take as our text today Luke 21:1-4.  Hear now the Word of God.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

This is the Word of God for the people of God.

Some years ago, I preached a sermon here on this same text, using the phrase “the widow’s mite.”  Soon after that sermon we placed containers in the foyers surrounding the Sanctuary and encouraged people to drop their loose change into those containers.  That practice has continued to this day.  I see many of you dropping change into those jars on Sundays.    Most of us carry some loose change.  If you have not added yours, I would encourage you to think of doing so.  Your gift will go to various ministries, as allocated by the Budget and Finance Committee.

Where do we begin in thinking about giving?  Let’s begin with the tithe, which means giving to God one-tenth of everything that God has given you.  Learning to tithe requires a good bit of discipline. 

From the time I was a child, my father taught me the importance of tithing.  The very first summer I began working at the lumberyard, I made $2 a day and time-and-a-half on Saturdays.  I worked from six o’clock to six o’clock during the week and from six to twelve on Saturdays.  At the end of the week Dad gave me my pay in an envelope:  a ten-dollar bill, a one dollar bill, three quarters, two dimes, and a nickel.

I asked, “Dad, why did you pay me like this?”

He explained, “Kirk, a dollar and twenty cents of that pay is not yours.  It is God’s.  That money is your tithe.  I wanted to make it easy for you to take that tithe out of your pay.”

Tithing is a discipline we must learn.  It is a discipline parents and grandparents must teach to their children and grandchildren.  It is a discipline that is important to our lives.

The Old Testament offers much information about tithing.  It teaches us that the first tenth belongs to God and clearly states that a tithe is expected.  I want to point to one passage that you know very well.  Listen to these words from the prophet Malachi:  “Will a man rob God?  Yet you have robbed me but you say, ‘In what way have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:8).  Malachi says that if we fail to give tithes and offerings, we are guilty of robbery, taking from God something that belongs to God.

Consider this example.  You loan me $5.  Two weeks from now I hand you a five dollar bill and say, “I just wanted to give you this $5.”  I have not given you anything.  I have only returned what was rightfully yours.

Malachi 3:10 offers a challenge:  “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse and prove me…Put me to the test.  See if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will be not enough room to receive it.”  God offers the promise of a blessing, especially if we prove the tithe.

Today was our Ingathering for the shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse.  Next Sunday we will have a mission emphasis.   The day for our Ingathering for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering will be held on December 2.  I would encourage every one of you to pray about what you will give to the cause of international missions this year.  It is an important time for us to give to our mission endeavors.

December 9 is the day that we will vote on the budget for the year 2013.  I would like for us to think of that day, December 9, as a Prove the Tithe Sunday.  Imagine what would happen if each person in this congregation brought a tithe of everything that God has given on one Sunday.  What would that look like?  What could God do through this congregation if we all tithe?  I encourage everybody on Sunday, December 9 to bring a tithe of what God has given you.  I am suggesting that we call that day our Prove the Tithe Sunday.  Let’s put God to the test, as He says, and see what He can do through the members of Morningside Baptist Church.

What does Jesus say about tithing?  Some people claim that Jesus revoked the tithe, that because he did not stress the tithe it must not have been very important.  Jesus did address the tithe among all those woes to the Pharisees and scribes listed in Matthew 23.  Verse 23 says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth 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.”  Jesus teaches that the tithe is important.  In fact, it is expected.  He says that we should go beyond what is expected.  Tithing is not just a matter of fulfilling the law; it is a matter of giving graciously.

In Luke 6:38 Jesus compels his followers, “Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Jesus stresses that if we give, God is going to bless us.

Is this the gospel of prosperity?  We hear some who preach the gospel of prosperity, claiming that if we just give, God will give us a whole lot more.  We will come back to that idea in just a moment.

Let me point out to you that in our Scripture passage today, Jesus is sitting in the temple when he sees a poor woman come forward and drop two copper coins in the treasury.  Jesus says that she will be blessed because she has so generously given her two copper coins – an amount actually less than two pennies.  She does not return home with any more money.  She goes home with less money.  How, then, can we say she received a blessing?

Paul remembers a teaching of Jesus that is tucked away in the book of Acts. Chapter 20 Verse 35 says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  What is the blessing?  How can we say that giving is a blessing if it means that we have less?  Stick with me.

The Apostle Paul addresses three different groups in I Timothy 6 when speaking about the use of money.  He is certainly talking about religious leaders, Christians, and maybe even those pastors who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.  Verse 6 continues with, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”  He mentions “great gain,” not necessarily meaning more money.

I do not remember the occasion, but my good friend Bruce Foster said something to me that I have never forgotten:  “Kirk, nobody ought to go into ministry unless they could make more money doing something else.”  Think about that statement.  His point was that the ministry ought not be the last resort as a vocation if you cannot do anything else.  He was saying that a minister ought to be called to ministry and that anyone who goes into ministry ought to understand that yes, there are other ways to make more money.  Ministry requires something else – sacrifice.

Let’s continue with Paul’s comments in the following verses from I Timothy 6.

6“Godliness with contentment is great gain. 7We brought nothing into this world.  We cannot take anything out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Whom is Paul addressing?  Paul is addressing every single Christian, all of us.  This is God’s personal Word for all of us.  When we read this, we understand that money is not the root of all evil.  Money is neutral.  The root of all evil is the love of money.  The focus on money, the desire for money above everything else is the root of all evil.  Jesus teaches, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will fall into place” (Matthew 6:33).  If money is the primary goal in your life, you are headed for some type of disaster.  Money will not make people happy.  I have seen it too many times.  People may have everything in the world money can buy but they have no happiness.  Paul says that “people, eager for money, have wandered away from the faith and pierce themselves with many griefs.”

Billy Graham put it succinctly:  “I have never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer.”  We cannot take any possessions with us.  They are temporary.  They are not eternal.

Consider Paul’s words of advice in Verses 17-19:

17“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant or 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.  18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous and willing to share.  19In this way they will lay for themselves treasures as a firm foundation for the coming age, so they may take hold of the life that is truly life indeed.”

My goodness!  Have we learned that wealth is so uncertain!

That passage does not say that wealth is wrong.  The world needs wealthy people.  Wealth is only wrong when it is the person’s primary motivation or goal, when it offers the person the meaning of life.  A person who is wealthy may be an instrument in the hands of God.

You ask, “What about the rich young ruler?  Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor.”  Yes, Jesus did tell this rich man to sell his possessions.  His money, his wealth, was interfering in his relationship to God.

Consider Nicodemus, for whom status was more important.  Jesus said nothing to Nicodemus about money.  Instead, Jesus taught him, “You have to be humble and become as a little child as if you were born anew” (John 3:3).  Jesus knows what interferes with our relationship to God; he wants to remove that interference.

In this passage from Timothy, you can hear an echo of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Do not store for yourself treasures on earth where moth and rust can destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store for yourself treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).

Let me go a little further with you.  In II Corinthians 9:6-8, Paul makes a very clear statement about giving that we always need to remember:

6“Remember this:  Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  7Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  8And 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.”

Years ago my grandfather, Pappy, was attending a business meeting at his church on the night the church had voted to air-condition a Sunday School department.  An old grumpy man sitting next to my grandfather complained about everything.  He said, “Doesn’t it just burn you up to see the church wasting money like this?”

Pappy answered, “No, it doesn’t bother me.”

“Why not?”

My grandfather explained, “The church is not wasting my money.  I give my money cheerfully.  The church can use that money for the Lord’s work.  Because you give grudgingly, the church has to waste your money.  The church cannot use your money for the Lord’s work, so they have to do something with it.  I guess air-conditioning a Sunday School department is as good as anything.”

I do not know how that theology washes, but Pappy said that to the old man.

Look at what Paul says in II Corinthians 9:11:  “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.”  Why will we made rich in every way?  So we can be generous.

The gospel of prosperity proposes giving so that we will get.  That gospel ends there.  The gospel of Jesus Christ, however, says that God will bless our giving.  God may bless us with money, or maybe not.  God may bless us in some other way.  We give, and God blesses.  If God blesses us with financial wealth, it is so we can give even more.  As we give more, God gives us more, and we can give even more.  The point is that God chooses people to become channels of blessing.

I actually believe in the spiritual gift of generosity.  Those people with this gift receive from God what they need in order to give to the work of God.  It is not a gospel of prosperity.  It is a gospel of blessing so that we can become generous on every occasion.  You see that this generosity enhances thanksgiving, not only for ourselves but also for those who benefit from our generosity.

A deep connection exists between thanks and giving.  It is not just in the word.  A clear intrinsic connection exists between gratitude and generosity.  God connects the two in the lives of His people.

One of the ways we often chart our financial well-being is by creating a pie-shaped graph.  We divide the pie into slices to illustrate where certain percentages go.  That pie-shaped graph reminds me of the story I heard years ago about a little girl who was going to have a birthday party.  She asked if she could have a chocolate pie instead of a cake.  Her mother, father, and brother would be at the party, and she invited four more friends.  The mother sliced the pie into eight slices.

Just as the party started, the girl’s grandfather knocked on the door.  He said, “I just stopped by to tell you happy birthday.”

The mother invited him inside the house; and when she offered him a piece of the pie, the girl became distressed.  She knew that the pie had already been cut into pieces for the eight people she had counted.  She loved her grandfather very much and did not want him or anyone else to go without pie.

The girl had an idea.  She pulled a stool up to the kitchen counter and got out a biscuit cutter from the drawer.  She pressed it down in the middle of the pie and made a circle, which she gave to her grandfather.  Everybody else got a piece of pie with a scalloped tip.

When you eat a piece of pie, where do you start?  Do you start on the tip-end that comes out of the middle of the pie and eat back toward the crust?  That tip is the best bite.  When we give God the center of the pie, when we give God our best, everything else in our lives is affected.  Every part of the pie is affected.  Nothing is eliminated.  We must give with a sense of generosity and cheerfulness because He has given so much to us.  All of us as Christians should give with hearts of gratitude and generosity, not because we want to get wealthy.

Paul concludes II Corinthians 9:15 with these words:  “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”  That indescribable gift is Jesus Christ, symbolized by the cross.  Think of what God has given to us.  There is no way in the world that we will ever out give Him.  He has given so much.

Do you want to respond to His gift?  One way to respond is through giving.  Another way is through giving him your heart.  If you have never responded by giving your heart to Christ Jesus, we invite you to do so today.  Make a decision to accept Christ.  Make him the center of your life.  If you do that, you will develop a heart of gratitude and a heart of generosity.  Then you will know the true meaning of thanksgiving.

 

Kirk H. Neely
© November 2012

 

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