The History of the People of God is
A History of Giving
February 12, 2006
The apostle Paul wrote, “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise?” That means that when we read history of the people of God in the Bible we are reading our own history as Christians. When we read the story of Abraham and David or Isaiah or Peter or John or Barnabas or Dorcas, we are reading our story. And one thing which is abundantly clear in reading the Bible is that our story, the story of God’s people, is a history of giving. It is a story of God who so loved that he gave, of a son who was given, of a spirit who is given to those who obey the Lord. It is a story of people who have wanted to imitate God. In II Corinthians 8:7 and following, it says, “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. 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.” The reasons for it can be summarized, I think, by five basic statements that trace this particular activity through the Bible, and I want to try to call your attention to these five great statements today.
The first statement which explains the activity of giving by the Lord’s people is “We have been blessed so richly.” Abraham, who is the father of those who believe, as we read in Galatians 3 a while ago, is perhaps the best example of this truth that I could find. In Genesis 14:18-20 there is a story of what happens when a league of enemy kings have gathered together and they tried to carry off people like Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and all of their stuff. Abraham has gotten together and has gone after them and retaken those things. On his way back home, he meets a man by the name of Melchizedek, kind of a mysterious figure who just appears on the scene and we don’t met him again, but he is said to have been the priest of God Most High. This priest of God Most High, when he meets Abraham, pronounces a blessing on Abraham. He blesses him with the blessing of God. The Bible says that when that happened Abraham gave him a tent of the best of the spoils that he has taken. Abraham did not do that because he was forced to – nobody told him to. He did it because he had been blessed. It was a response to what the Lord had done for him. Apparently his gift was born simply of his gratitude, not of some duty which had been laid upon him. And it was a choice that he had made in a very personal way. I know that sometimes when you put together the subject of giving and church you come up with humorous things that are often well deserved. I saw, for example, a cartoon that showed these two old boys who were just coming out of the church building. One of them had nothing on but a tee-shirt and his boxers and his socks. He turns to the other old boy and says, “Man, that was the best sermon on giving I’ve ever heard.” That is the picture sometimes which is left in people’s minds.
Someone said there are three types of givers. There is the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb. The flint is the kind which has to be struck, but if you strike him just right a spark will fly. The sponge is one who has to be squeezed to have him to give as he should. The honeycomb, though, gives because of what it is. In the New Testament, the giving that we find referred to there is measured simply by the phrase, “as he may prosper.” (I Cor. 16:2) I think it is that way so that every time we give, we have to count our blessings and remember that we have been blessed. And that is supposed to be the motive that produces giving which leaves people not thinking they have been fleeced like the old boy I mentioned. They are people who give because they have been grateful for what God has done for them.
The second phrase that we run across in the story of this in scripture is “We are in covenant relationship with God.” When God entered into the old covenant with Israel, he obligated himself to treasure them, Exodus 19 says, and they accepted certain responsibilities to him. (Exodus 19:5,6,8) The covenant stipulated a number of forms of their response to God, and one of those forms of response to him or expressions of their relationship with him, was giving. There is a beautiful illustration of this in a story of Exodus. In Exodus 3:21 God said to Moses when he sent him to lead the people out, “You will not go up empty handed.” It is interesting to me that when they have come out of that slavery in Egypt in Exodus 23:15, God said to them, “No man shall appear before me empty handed.” Do you see the point? He didn’t send them out empty-handed; he didn’t want them to come before him empty-handed. In Exodus 23:19, it said, “The best of the first fruits of your ground you will bring into the house of the Lord, your God.” The best of the first, in other words, was the expression of their covenant relationship with God. People who are in a covenant relationship with God think “we” belong to him. We are his; we are using what is his so surely our use of it should recognize him.
In the Old Testament the requirements that the covenant had for the people of God were several. They were required to give a tenth of what they had. There was a certain other tithe or tenth which was given for feast days. In the third year there was a tenth for the poor; then there were offerings of the first fruits, the corners of the fields and orchards and vineyards which were left for the poor to glean from. There were freewill offerings. I have read that devout Jews would have given between 30 and 50 percent of what they were blessed with. Some of that may have been in the nature of providing for the theocracy under which they lived. I don’t know, but it is amazing. In the New Testament, of course, there is not a percentage or that type of thing attached to it, but there is the idea that we have a God who has blessed us. We are his people and surely that should be recognized.
The third statement in the story of the Bible which follows this theme is the idea that “The Lord is worthy of whatever we can give to honor him.” This really is the spirit in which great things for the Lord were done in the Bible story and always are done. It is interesting in two particular cases. As the Old Testament unfolds, we see this pretty easily. The first of these is in Exodus 35. The pattern for the tabernacle had been given, the place for God to dwell in the midst of his people. The way that this was to be constructed was that the people, if they chose to, were to help with it. For example, in Exodus 35:5 Moses was told to take from among your contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution.” As it went along, verse 21 said that “everyone whose heart stirred him, everyone whose spirit moved him and brought the Lord’s contribution.” In verse 22, it says “all who were of a willing heart were involved in this.” Verse 24 says, “Everyone who could do so, did.” And the result was that there was so much more than enough that finally the people had to be told that they had already done sufficiently. (36:5-6)
The second episode of this same sort of thing happens at the end of the life of King David. It is described in I Chron. 29. You remember that David had had his heart set on seeing the temple constructed in Jerusalem. God hadn’t allowed him to do that so he had begun to make provision for it to be done after his life. And so, he told Solomon of what was before him, and he told Solomon the work is great; it is not for man but for the Lord. (I Chron. 29:1) Then they called on whoever wanted to offer to help with this task. I Chron. 29:5 says, “Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself (That is important to notice – not his stuff but himself) today for the Lord?” “The people rejoiced,” the Bible says, “because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord.” (I Chron. 29:9) There is the picture that you find in the scriptures.
The greatest lessons in my opinion on giving are not on giving at all. I don’t preach on giving very often, and yet I do all the time. The best lessons on giving are on the God who is worthy to be praised. I noticed this truth in the New Testament where the longest discussion on giving (2 Cor. 8, 9) never mentions money at all. Paul never used the word or how much. He never talked about that. What he did was to dwell on the grace of Christ and on what God loves and on what God is able to do and on thanksgiving offered to God and on God’s inexpressible gift. That seems to have been enough. In Psalm 96:8, the psalmist said, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. Bring an offering. Come into his courts.” That offering may have referred to prayers or songs, expressions of love and devotion, but it may have also included freewill offerings.
The fourth statement that summarizes the history of giving is “We want to help.” Here is most of the giving in the New Testament church in this one little phrase. It is not something that is merely commanded. It springs up spontaneously from the hearts of people which are full of faith that works through love, as Galatians 5:6 puts it.
You can’t miss this thought in the book of Acts. In Acts 4:33-35, there is a statement of what happened with the church in Jerusalem as it grew and grew in its early days. It says that the people were of one heart and soul. “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person 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.” Now, admittedly, it was a special circumstance, but these people gave without being told to because they wanted to.
In Acts 11:27-30 with the first congregation that apparently had a significant Gentile membership, the Bible says, “Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.” The disciples determined to do according to their ability and then they did. That is the simple story of giving.
Givers want God’s kingdom to grow and to prosper. They want his cause to move ahead. They see themselves as his stewards. They want to be found faithful. They are a little bit like a little girl that I read about. She for some reason became fascinated with her daddy’s work in mowing the lawn. Every time he mowed she watched him. If he would let her, she would get out and kind of walk in his steps and observe him. Finally, she got big enough where she could ask him if she could try to mow that day, and he let her do so. And her parents were amazed at how well she did - just real carefully, just like her daddy did. In all the same patterns she mowed that lawn. Her neighbor noticed what was going on. When she finished mowing and cut the mower off and was admiring her work, he hollered out over the fence to her from his back yard, “How’d you like to tackle this one? How about three dollars?” A look of sadness came over the little girl’s face. He said, “What’s wrong?” She said, “I only have two.” She was somebody who wanted to help, and that is the idea that is behind real Christian giving. There may be other things that raise more money. People may come up with schemes that raise more money, but the church has to be about hearts. Is God worthy and do we want to help?
The fifth statement is “Our hope is set on heavenly things.” You know giving says something about where our hearts are, and usually giving will be somewhat of a gauge on how involved we are in other parts of the work and even on what is going on in our lives and our relationships. Very often giving is simply a reflection of those other things. It testifies to our personal values; it has the effect of helping to draw us away from the lure of materialism of our time and from the smugness of self-satisfaction, and it stretches our compassion and our spirituality and our faith. There is, in fact, something transforming about real giving.
Paul says in I Timothy 6:17 and following, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” It is interesting that in I Corinthians the Apostle Paul’s discussion on how to practice giving follows immediately on his long discussion about the resurrection of Jesus. Have you ever noticed that? I Corinthians 16:1-2 which we read often as we are involved in our giving follows chapter 15 which is all about victory over death. It is as if Paul is implying that the knowledge of the resurrection is the basis for Christian giving. In Colossians 1:3 and following, I read, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.”
In working on this lesson, I ran across a story told by Larry Ward in his book “And There Will Be Famines.” Larry Ward told the story of a time when he had been involved in a number of relief efforts following a series of disasters. He was wondering whether anybody still cared after so many appeals for aid during those times. He had surveyed the earthquake damage which had just before that happened in Managua, Niguara, and he was about to issue another call for help. He had an appointment to go speak that day. A few days later he got his answer to that wondering. In response to his talk about the stricken city to an elementary school assembly, the youngsters donated packaged food that they had brought from home. But as Ward loaded that food into his station wagon to be taken and loaded on the trucks, he noticed one brown paper sack, and inside the bag there was an apple, peanut butter sandwich and a cookie. On the outside carefully printed in a little girl’s handwriting was “Christi, Room 104.” Ward said that he hadn’t gotten any canned goods from Christi because she hadn’t brought any from home, but he had gotten her heart. She gave her lunch. That is the reason you don’t find the Bible pleading with people, “Give this much! Give this much!” You don’t find psychological pick-pocketing or appeals like that. What you find is a God who does not want ours. He wants us because he knows if he gets us, he gets our hearts, and then what it takes to do the work will follow along.
In the passage we read from earlier from 2 Cor. 8, you remember that the Macedonians were used as an example of Christian giving. They weren’t people who gave a whole lot. They didn’t have much. But Paul says that they were examples because they had first given themselves to the Lord. They had given their hearts, and that is the thing that we lay before ourselves this morning. What about us? Have we given our hearts? Does God have us as his very own? Through the gospel he invites us to be his, not for what he can get out of us, but for what he can do for us. This morning if you are here and you believe so strongly that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, that that changes your heart and you are willing to live from here on for the Lord’s will, not for your own, and you are ready to be so identified with Christ that you put him on in baptism. If we can help you with that today, won’t you let it be known while we stand and sing.