logo Living Water Christian Fellowship logo
Home Recent Sermon Multimedia Sermons News & Events Our Vision Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

The Grace of Giving: Blasting the Snowbank that Smothers Generosity”

Feb. 4 2018 Huron Chapel EMC, Auburn ON – Acts 2:41-47 (2Cor.8:1-14)

ADDLED BY HAWKERS: GRUDGING GIVING

“Ya, mon! Where you from? I be your guide, mon. You can trust me, I work at the resort.”

             My best efforts to avoid eye contact with the tall thin 50-something Jamaican native had failed. I highly doubted the sincerity of anything he had spoken: any native from that part of Montego Bay would have deduced in an instant from my bright yellow wristband that I was staying at a local resort up the street. To me, he was just another hawker out peddling his wares – in this case, his services – not unlike another fellow that morning who offered me cocaine, or some girls who suggested a good time.

             Our week in Jamaica in early January for a ‘destination wedding’ had been going smoothly enough. But halfway through the week I was running short on US$1s for tipping so sought out the ATM conveniently located a 5 minute walk up the street from the resort. However it apparently was not cooperating with any of the tourists that day, so I turned and headed in the direction of downtown, where a couple of days previous I had noted a large Scotiabank while a driver took us to his local church. What began as a 5-minute errand turned into a half-hour trek over 2 km down into the heart of historic Montego Bay.

             Frankly, I was lost. The bank I was looking for was nowhere in sight. Reluctantly I agreed to let my benefactor escort me to the Scotiabank in the heart of downtown at Sam Sharpe Square. I probably felt a little more secure as a lone white male wending through the crowded streets with his companionship. When we arrived at our destination, despite the lack of mention of any compensation required when he first accosted me, he began to imply heavily some reward was in order. What could I say? He had delivered, in that he got me to a bank in one piece. I sorted through my wallet and handed him a $500 bill.

             Now, although this sermon is about giving and generosity, I do not say this to toot my own horn or boast. It was $500 JAMAICAN – which, for any unconverted, translates to about just $5 US!!

             This story illustrates how many of us approach the subject of GIVING – with our GUARD up. We find it difficult to automatically do what Jesus commanded in the Sermon on the Mount: Mt 5:42 “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” In view of the abundance of hawkers, scammers, and con artists, where would that leave us? Instead we prefer His counsel in Mt 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” THAT we can buy into!

             But our self-protectiveness can become a barrier to giving where it’s genuinely warranted; a snowbank smothering generosity. Our default posture toward someone approaching us for help becomes, “Not unless you prove it to me.” This attitude can begin to infect our attitude about giving to God as well, our tithes and offerings. When the offering plate is passed around – are you more a “tipper” or a genuine “giver”? The tipper contributes out of their excess, what they can SPARE; even if that’s based on some percentage ratio, like tipping your server at the restaurant. Whereas a godly giver recognizes all they have is the Lord’s; it’s not just a matter of parting with what we can happen to spare at the moment.

             Today we’ll look at the example of the early church when it comes to the subject of giving and generosity. It begins with giving one’s ATTENTION to God. Then Jesus’ Lordship messes up our sense of AUTONOMY. Only then are we freed from our ATTACHMENT to material goods and empowered to share God’s wealth for His Kingdom purposes and to assist others in need.

GOD GETTING OUR ATTENTION

Stewardship will never make sense if you start right off talking about dollars and budgets and donations. Stewardship has to address first of all the subject of what’s most valuable to us – where our heart is, what we treasure, in fact what we WORSHIP – attribute “worth-ship” to. Jesus acknowledged this pointing to non-rusting incorruptible heavenly treasure in Mt 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

             The level of stewardship in the early church as described by Luke in Acts 2&4 is truly breathtaking. But it didn’t start with a pumped-up stewardship campaign. Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” They DEVOTED themselves: they GAVE themselves, paid attention to the apostles’ teaching etc. The lexicon says the Greek verb here means “to adhere to one, be his adherent, to be devoted or constant to one; to be STEADFASTLY ATTENTIVE unto, to GIVE UNREMITTING CARE to a thing.” As the apostles taught, the Lord got the full and complete ATTENTION of their listeners.

             In the companion passage summarizing the early church’s intense fellowship and community in Acts 4:32ff, we read v33: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.” The apostles’ message was arresting, powerful, a means of GRACE being discovered by those who heard. We’ll be coming back to this word GRACE quite a bit today: some define it G-R-A-C-E, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” So even at the heart of the Good News about Jesus we find economic language: Grace is transactional, Jesus was doing business at the cross, imputing to us HIS righteousness and taking upon Himself OUR sin. The lexicon explains the Greek term for ‘grace’ (charis) as, “good will, loving-kindness, favour; of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.” Thus, grace is all good stuff – BRING IT ON!! The apostles were continually unpacking God’s great gift of lovingkindness for fallen sinners made real at the cross of Jesus – reinforced by the miracle and wonder of Christ’s resurrection, which underscored that His giving of Himself for us had been acceptable to His Holy Heavenly Father.

             Our theme verse today, 2Cor.8:9, sums it up well: “For you know the GRACE of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” Focus your attention on the cross, and the wonder of that becomes ever more apparent.

             If it’s not GRACE, it’s not CHRISTIANITY.

THE CROSS MESSES WITH OUR AUTONOMY

We live in a SELFIE generation. It’s no longer enough to take a picture of a beautiful sunset: you need to get your face somewhere in front of the beautiful sunset. Google supplies ads on my browser pages that are custom-geared to what my recent searches suggest I personally am interested in. Advertisers craft their commercials to my instincts, WHAT I WANT. Like our Jamaican friend offering to be my own personal guide, “No problem!”

             But the message of the cross challenges our basic selfishness. It exposes our sin, our alienation from a holy God, and our deep need to be born again, to die to the old sinful self and receive the Holy Spirit’s renewal in our inner core. Repentance and confession is a deeply personal experience in which we OWN our trespasses and unloving deeds to others, and beg God to remake us by His power into Christ’s likeness. Pride, stubbornness, selfishness, greed, are replaced by humility, yieldedness, God-consciousness, and a new love for other people.

             In the early church, autonomy of individuals was radically replaced by a deep appreciation for community. Acts 2:44 “All the believers were TOGETHER and had everything in common.” Note - this is not ‘communism’ because they appear to have retained individual ownership until and unless they liquidated it and brought the proceeds to the apostles, at which point it entered the common fund. There was no compunction or pressure that said, “To be a Christian, you have to give up all your belongings.” But what’s significant is their ATTITUDE: while they retained ownership for legal purposes, in effect they took the view that what they owned was held on behalf of, for the good of, all the Christian believers. It was all available for God’s Kingdom use if needed.

             More detail about this spectacular elimination of AUTONOMY is provided in Acts 4:32: “All the believers WERE ONE IN HEART AND MIND. NO ONE CLAIMED THAT ANY OF HIS POSSESSIONS WAS HIS OWN, but they SHARED EVERYTHING they had.”

             Jesus surrendering His life to die on the cross becomes the model, and the empowerment, for a believer’s own renunciation of self. Paul writes to the church in Philippians 2:5ff, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God...made himself nothing...he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” It’s an EMPTYING of ourselves. Gal 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” All things belong to us, but we belong to Christ (1Cor 3:21ff). 1Cor 6:19f says more precisely: “You ARE NOT YOUR OWN; you WERE BOUGHT at a price.Therefore honour God with your body.” Our basic personal being is no longer to be serving ourselves: the Lord has ‘bought us out’ lock stock & barrel at the cross!

             So, to sum up so far, the early Christians gave their ATTENTION to the apostles’ teaching about the Good News of Christ’s GRACE. The Holy Spirit used the message to cause people to repent, confess their sin, and ‘get over themselves’ so they could honestly start to love other people more than themselves. Their AUTONOMY was transcended by a new sense of TOGETHERNESS, being ONE in heart and mind, not selfishly claiming ownership of possessions but SHARING. As Christ had in absolute love poured out Himself for them, so they were now freed to unselfishly ‘be there’ for others, as the Holy Spirit might lead.

ATTACHMENTS SEVERED FOR OTHERS’ BENEFIT

Attention; Autonomy; now we get to the nitty-gritty, our ATTACHMENTS, the “stuff” we find it hard to let go of.

             It’s interesting the things we develop attachment to in our everyday lives. After my father’s death some months ago, my brother and I as executors are dealing with clearing out the house where Mom & Dad lived for upwards of 40 years. We are having an “in-family auction” using Google Photos so family members can place bids on items they’re interested in. Most things I can “let go” of and not feel I should bid on, but there are a few items that seem worth it: not because of their market value necessarily, but because of the association with my parents attached to it. For example...

             1) My mother’s teaspoon collection. Frankly, I am NOT into collecting teaspoons! But this was the one area of my mother’s life where she seemed to indulge herself a little bit – bringing back a teaspoon as souvenir from vacation spots they visited.

             2) The glass maple syrup pitcher. Dad loved maple syrup and used it liberally, largely ignoring those who at 97 warned him it might aggravate his borderline diabetes (not his cause of death!). However I discovered my brother had accidentally broken the syrup pitcher and hunted and found a replacement, so I think I can let this one go as it’s not the ‘real McCoy’.

             3) A miniature deer head, about 4" tall, mounted on a wall plaque. Don’t ask me why this stirs up such emotional resonance! My Dad wasn’t even a hunter (except for the occasional coon and groundhog). But there’s something about that deer head that just speaks to me deeply subconsciously about my maternal home. So I put a 25 cent bid on it. Until my children got on my case, so I deleted my bid.

             To what “STUFF” do you find yourself getting most ATTACHED? What material goods would you find it hardest to give up, if needed, for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom?

             We read about the early Christians’ freedom in the area of material ATTACHMENTS in Acts 2:45: “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” Here’s where it gets very practical. They gave up and relinquished their ‘stuff’ in order to help those in need. See also 4:34f, “There were no needy persons among them.For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” Note the emphasis on genuine NEED: they could look past their own challenges and problems and see the desperate straits others were in. They were willing to become UN-ATTACHED from their personal property in order to help others in the fellowship who were suffering.

EXAMPLES OF ATTAINERS

The Book of Acts lists at least three examples of individual believers who demonstrated the grace of generosity. Barnabas would accompany Paul on his first missionary journey. We meet him in 4:36f: “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” But Barnabas was not just generous with his property; he showed grace toward those who’d failed. John Mark bailed on their mission trip for some reason. Later, in 15:37ff, Paul refuses to take this deserter with them, but Barnabas gives John Mark a second chance and takes him with him to Cyprus. That’s grace.

             A second example is Tabitha, also called Dorcas (‘gazelle’). Luke introduces her in Acts 9:36 as “always doing good and helping the poor”. After she becomes sick and dies, Peter is called to her town and arrives to find, 9:39 - “all the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.” And the apostle proceeds to raise this generous giver from the dead!

             And do you remember in whose house the Gentile church was born? It was that of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. Luke introduces him in Acts 10:2, “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” Here again you can see the connection between ATTENTION (devout, God-fearing, praying regularly) and ATTACHMENT materially (‘gave generously to those in need’). The angelic messenger notes, Acts 10:4, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.”

             Barnabas, Tabitha, and Cornelius were all brought into the Christian faith-community by grace. And they impacted others’ lives by their generous gifts and gracious behaviour. God was building a community in order to reach a community.

             There are also a couple of negative examples in the apostles’ early ministry that show a wrong attitude towards wealth is linked to not treasuring God foremost. Peter rebukes Ananias for pretending to give all the proceeds of a land sale for church use when in fact he and his wife had colluded to keep part back for themselves and lie about it. Acts 5:3 “Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has SO FILLED YOUR HEART that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?’” He hadn’t given attention to God, so he misused money – and died on the spot.

             Simon the Sorcerer is another person whose heart wasn’t right, and so money became an idol. Peter rebukes him for trying to “buy” power to confer the Holy Spirit in 8:20-23, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because YOUR HEART IS NOT RIGHT BEFORE GOD.REPENT of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having SUCH A THOUGHT IN YOUR HEART. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

             When it comes to stewardship, giving, anything to do with money – the prior question is always, “Is your heart right before God?” Does He have your full attention? Are you experiencing Jesus’ grace? Giving toward others in need then flows from that.

ALL-STARS IN THE GRACE OF GIVING

To really appreciate how the apostles and early church understood giving, we need to study a group Paul holds up as an example par excellence. In his books, the churches in Macedonia were “all-stars” when it came to the characteristic of generosity. 2Corinthians 8 tells us of their setting: they were undergoing “the most severe trial”; they were experiencing “extreme poverty”. It could be argued that, if anyone had a good excuse NOT to give, they would qualify! Yet when they heard of the distress caused by a famine back in Judea, Paul tells us in v4, “they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” PRIVILEGE! Not an obligation or burden, but PRIVILEGE. Paul notes (v2) “their overflowing joy...welled up in rich generosity.” Giving springs from joy in God, being focused on Him, satisfied in Him, ATTENDING to Him. Now notice the sequence in v5: “And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” They yielded themselves to God, He was building their community in faith toward Him, then they gave themselves to Paul and the other believers, and those far off in need in Jerusalem. Reaching a larger community.

             V6 calls this collective offering “this act of grace”; v7, “this GRACE of GIVING”. If we’re note careful, if we’re not conscious of all God’s done for us, it’s easy to slip into a mindset where giving is done GRUDGINGLY rather than based in GRACE.

             It’s not about becoming lop-sided, or haves and have-nots, but about sharing and togetherness – overcoming that AUTONOMY syndrome with a new appreciation for the community and oneness we share. Note the word “equality” Paul uses repeatedly in vv13f: “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be EQUALITY. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be EQUALITY...” Even-ing things out. “We’re in this together.”

SEEING IT IS YOU

Experiencing this grace of giving all begins with giving our attention to the Lord, worshipping and treasuring Him, realizing HIS richness – and ability to outgive us.

             A missionary returned to his home city, where he announced a collection for foreign missions. A good friend said to him, “Very well, Andrew, seeing it is you, I’ll give $500.” The missionary replied, “No, I can’t take the money since you give, seeing it is me.” His friend saw the point and after a moment’s reflection said instead, “You’re right, Andrew. Here is a thousand dollars, seeing it is for the Lord Jesus.” Let’s pray.