Following Jesus As The Way: Giving

YouTube video sermon

In September 2013 there was a 49-year old Brazilian man who had a stroke.  The unusual thing was not that he had a stroke or that there was a personality change after the stroke, but it was the degree of the personality change that caught the attention of Neurology Magazine – a peer-reviewed medical journal for the neurological community.  The man is known simply as “Mr. A.”  And Dr. Larry Goldstein, who used to be a fixture of the Duke University School of Medicine but who is now the chair of the Neurology Department at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine said this, “While it’s not unusual for somebody to undergo a personality change, I’ve never seen anything like this.  In fact, it’s so unusual we call it pathological.”

The thing that made Mr. A’s personality change border on the pathological side was the fact that, following his stroke, he’s now a pathological giver.  Pathologically, he wants to give everything he has to other people.  His wife says that he buys candy and Coke’s and other little treats, and he goes out into the street and just gives it away.  She said he spends his days (now) trying to think of ways to take what he has and give it to people he doesn’t even know.  In fact, they went to him and said, “Would you like to go back to work” because he had a job as a very influential manager in a large corporation, and he said, “No.  I love this too much.  I want to spend the rest of my life giving what I have to other people.”

Now it’s interesting and fascinating to me that neurologists call that “pathological generosity,” while Jesus said that should be normal for His people.  That should be normal behavior for the people of God.  We should be so different in our giving that the world would look at us and say, “The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill needs to study you, we think there’s something pathologically wrong with you because you’re so generous.”

That’s what I want us to consider today.  For those of you that are our guests, or if you’re a member or regular attender and you’ve been away a while, we’re in a series that I’m calling The Way.  In January, I challenged us to increase our regular attendance by 20% in 2020, and we’ve come close in the past two months.  But it’s more than simply adding bodies to our worship.  It’s more than just packing the pews.  It’s a challenge to those of us that are here week in and week out to be the kind of disciples, the kind of followers, the kind of church that Jesus desires.

See, to me, there’s a direct correlation between being the type of person that God has called me to be and doing the things that His Word tell me to do (on the one hand), and numerical growth on the other.  Acts 2:42-47 has been the launching pad for this series, and although we’re not going to be in those verses this morning, I want you to hear them again in their context.  See if you can hear and feel the connection between being/doing and growth.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Doesn’t there seem to be a connection between all the things spoken of in verses 42-47 (the being/doing), to the last statement, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  So, you see, our 2020 Vision isn’t simply bringing more people on Sunday morning.  It’s actually bigger than that.  It’s actually focused on us doing our part – being the people, being the church that God desires: devoted to the Bible, devoted to prayer, devoted to fellowship, breaking bread at the Lord’s table, and today we’re going to consider giving.  Verse 45 says, “[t]hey were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

I want to invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Luke 12.  As you’re finding your spot let me give you a little background on Luke’s gospel.  Interestingly enough, Luke’s gospel is the longest book in the New Testament by word count (not by chapter count – that’s a tie between Matthew and Acts).  But that’s not all the trivia there is.  I mentioned this several months ago when we were studying the Book of Ruth, and that’s is Luke is the only New Testament book written by someone that wasn’t a Jew.  Luke was Greek.  And when you read the Gospel of Luke, it reads with a slant toward Greek thinking and culture.  Here’s another difference; Luke’s presentation of Jesus is largely focused on His humanity and compassion for the outcasts of society: women, the poor, the sick.

When you get to chapter 12 of Luke, it’s strewn with words from Jesus about not being afraid.  And in every case, the contentment and peace and fearlessness and courage that He wants us to have is not owing to the human resources at our disposal (like money or ability or possessions or intellect or looks or status or connections).  In every case, the peace and courage and fearlessness that Jesus speaks about is due to the fact that God will be there for us even when human resources are small or fail entirely.

Real quickly, let me run through some examples.  In verse 4 Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.”  So, there’s an example of how the basis for fearlessness stands when all human resources of help fail and you get killed.  Jesus says, “Even then, don’t fear, because God will be there for you in death and after death forever.”

Another example is in verse 11: “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and authorities, do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”  Don’t rely on human wisdom or memory or creativity or shrewdness, rely on God, the Holy Spirit.  When you feel utterly inadequate to know what you will say, trust God, and not yourself.

A third example is in the parable of the rich fool (v. 13ff) who builds bigger and bigger barns when his income increases.  And he thinks he has found the way to peace and security and freedom from fear.  So, he says in verse 19, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.”  His contentment is in what he thinks he can control – the stock market.  But God says to him in verse 20, “Fool!  This night your soul is required of you.”

A fourth example is verse 22, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. . .”  Again, in verses 29–31: “Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind.  For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows you need them all.  Instead, seek the kingdom and these things shall be yours as well.”

He calls us to be different from the rest of the world: “All the nations of the world seek these things.”  Folks, the followers of Jesus replace thing-seeking with kingdom-seeking.  They leave the financial “success” of their ventures with God.  They focus on the spiritual payoff, the righteousness payoff, the mercy payoff, the Christ-exalting payoff – not the money payoff.  Why?  Because verse 30 says, “Your Father knows that you need them all.”  We trust God to be there.

The fifth example is the one I want to camp out on a little longer.  Verse 32: “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Jesus once said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field which a man finds and . . . sells everything he has to buy to have that field” (Matthew 13:44).  The point is that the kingdom of God is a treasure more valuable than anything you own.

Here in verse 33, Jesus says that when we “Sell our possessions and give them to the needy” we’re providing “purses for ourselves that do not grow old and a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.”  The sequence of thought run like this: Don’t seek to have things the way the nations do; seek to have the kingdom.  And you say, “How?”  Let me give you three principles of seeking the kingdom.

I. Kingdom Sought; Not Kingdom Bought

Yes, the verse says to sell our possessions.  And yes, the man in the parable from Matthew’s Gospel sells everything to buy the field with the hidden treasure.  But let’s not make the mistake of assuming we can buy our way into heaven.  Let’s not read this text as proof that if we just give God enough tithes or offerings, if we write Him a big-enough check, if we trade our cars for sandals and our homes for huts, that He’s in some way indebted to us or owes us the pleasures of being in heaven.

Verse 32 is plain: “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  The kingdom of God is a gift, not a purchase; it’s given, not earned.  Although it is a gift, it’s only a gift to those who want it more than they want things.  It’s a gift to those who seek it more than they seek things.  It’s a gift to those who fear missing it more than they fear not having earthly security.  It’s a gift to those who trust the King more than the dollar.  We don’t buy the kingdom when we scale down our material lives and sell things so we can give.  We show that we value the kingdom more than things.

Zacchaeus illustrates what this means in Luke 19:9, he was the rich tax collector.  When Jesus visited his home, his heart was changed and he stood up and said, “Half my possessions I give to the poor.”  When Jesus heard that, He said, “Today salvation has come to this house.”  Did He mean Zacchaeus bought salvation?  No, He meant salvation changed Zacchaeus, and the proof was his radically different attitude toward money.

How you handle your possessions shows where your heart is.  And where your heart is determines whether you are saved or not.  And whether you are saved or not determines whether you will inherit the kingdom – the treasure in heaven that does not grow old.

II. Maximize God; Not Maximize Money

In the parable of the rich man building bigger and bigger barns (vss. 13-21), Jesus says, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”  What in the world does “rich toward God” mean?  I struggled with that for several hours this week.  Surely it doesn’t mean give God lots of money.  He doesn’t need any money.  He has the cattle on a thousand hills, according to Psalm 50:10.  No, being rich toward God doesn’t mean to enrich God.  I think it means count God as your riches.  If you’re looking for where to be rich, focus on God.  He’s your great reward.  He’s your riches.  You love people, and you want people to love God, so you’re displaying the love of God to them by sharing more and more of what you have.  And in doing that, your joy in God, your treasuring of Him, increases.

Therefore, laying up for yourselves treasures in heaven would be living in such a way as to maximize God as your treasure.  Handle your money in such a way as to show that God, and not money, is your treasure.

III. Fear Not; He’s Our Shepherd, Our Father, And Our King

At the beginning of verse 32 we have the most frequently used prohibition that Jesus utters in the New Testament.  He uses this negative construction more than “Do not steal,” more than “Do not kill,” and more than “Do not commit adultery.”  It’s the exhortation, “Fear not…”  We tend to be afraid, don’t we?  Think about it.

We’re afraid of disease and sickness.  We’re afraid of flying and driving.  We’re afraid of snakes and spiders.  We’re afraid of the dark.  We’re afraid we won’t find “that someone.”  Some are afraid they found “that someone” and they ARE married.  We’re afraid of the weather.  And we’re afraid of money.  We’re afraid that we don’t have enough for retirement.  We’re afraid that the market will crash and take what money we do have with it.  We’re afraid of losing jobs, and the source of our money.  We’re afraid of giving it away.

We think if we give this much to the church, or that much to a ministry that cares for the poor, then we may not have enough.  Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock.”  And if he calls us a flock, what is He?  Our Good Shepherd.  “Fear not, little flock, it is [whose] good pleasure. . .” (your Father’s)  So now we have a Shepherd and a Father, but notice how that verse ends “to give you the kingdom.”  Shepherds don’t reign over kingdoms.  And fathers don’t give kingdoms as gifts.  Only kings have sovereignty over kingdoms.

So, Jesus piles up pictures of God to take away our fear of giving and of laying up treasures in heaven.  He’s a Shepherd.  He’s a Father.  And He’s a King.  Shepherds know everything the sheep need to live, and provide for them.  Fathers take incredible care with their children.  Kings have authority and power to get it done.  God is all of that for you.  So, don’t be afraid.  Be lavish, generous, cheerful givers.  Treat God as your treasure above all treasures, and then show how much He is your treasure by giving and giving and giving to those in need.

One of my favorite poems is by Annie Johnson Flint.  I’ve heard Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias quote it from memory many times, and it speaks of God’s gracious giving.

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,

He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;

To added affliction, He addeth His mercy;

To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,

When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,

When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,

Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,

Our God ever yearns His resources to share;

Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;

The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.

His pow’r has no boundary known unto men;

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,

He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!

As we prepare our hearts and minds to receive the Lord’s Supper, the choir will be singing a song that reflects the full nature of God’s giving.  Would you consider His indescribable gift – the gift of His only begotten Son and the price that was paid for you and your sin.