Giving in God’s Gift Ex 35:4-29; Ps 116:12-19;Acts 13:1-3; John 3:31-36 St Mark’s 23.7.17
As soon as you mention “giving” in Church most people begin to think about money. This is because what Jesus said is true, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:34). Money rules in most of our lives in ways that properly belong to the Lordship of Christ who should be our highest treasure (Luke 16:13; Eph 3:17). If Jesus were the treasure of our hearts rules he would already be ruling our use of resources and sermons like this one wouldn’t be needed (2 Cor 4:7; Col 3:15). A key to allowing Jesus into that place in our lives where only he, and not money, belongs comes from a text Dale pointed out recently. In 2 Corinthians 8:5 Paul commends those who “gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Cor 8:5). We should give where we see God giving. But how do you know where God is at work. One answer would be God is giving where numbers are increasing; judging the presence of the Spirit would however make us all Catholics, or Pentecostals. Perhaps then we should give where the need is greatest. Sounds simple but as the old saying goes, “The need does not create the call.” I went to theological college assuming God would call me to a Third World country short of Bible teachers, but he never did. In fact giving where God is giving requires us to grow in the Gift of God, who is Christ.
God Gives to All
Jesus was in no doubt about the indiscriminate giving love of his Father; ““I say to you, Love your enemies…45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”” (Matt 5:44-45). The Father gives extravagantly even to his enemies. The giving of God was at the cutting edge of Paul’s preaching to idol worshippers; ““he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness….God….gives to all mankind life and breath and everything…”” (Acts 14:17; 17:24-25). Beer and barbies are made possible by the all-giving God. James puts this brilliantly by saying, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17). The Father is the giver of everything enjoyable; husbands, wives, family, food, friendship, music, sex, sun, stars, surf. But I haven’t noticed people spontaneously worshipping on the beach, breaking into singing on a star lit night or falling on their knees on a bush track. and glorify his presence in the bush. The whole creation is a “dazzling theatre” of God’s glory (John Calvin) but people do not want to acknowledge this. I remember climbing to the top of Uluru shortly after sunrise looking out across the vast desert plains and sensing the still presence of the Lord. But it was a bit hard to get away from people boasting on their mobiles about their achievements in climbing the rock. Paul puts the problem bluntly; “For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom 1:21)
Our refusal to acknowledge God’s glory in giving to us “life, breath and everything” is incredibly stubborn. When the painter doing our house the other week told me he had survived a serious operation, I said, “God saved your life.” So he said, “I thought it was the doctors!”, so I said, “Who gave the doctors the skills to save you?”, to which he said nothing. Generally speaking the more God gives to a people the more obstinate their sin and idolatry becomes. God gave himself as Husband to Israel but they so wickedly turned to idols that in Jeremiah he describes their guilt as “incurable” (Jer 30:12, 15). Anyone who has visited churches in the Third World will testify you will find a spiritual zeal that embarrasses us e.g. the rest of my life will be impacted by the pure passion for Christ I saw amongst the children in rural Myanmar. We turn the gifts health, wealth, education, liberty and happiness into weapons to shield us from our need for God. I sense that there is something in me, and in all that is spiritually stubborn and unyielding. If you don’t sense this about your own life then I am truly worried for you (cf. Rom 7; Gal 5:17).
As a young Christian whenever I heard the Ten Commandments the Lord describing himself as a jealous God who must always come first I felt that there was something selfish about God (Ex 20:3, 5). I sensed he wanted to take from me without giving back. My problem as a young Christian was that I didn’t know Jesus and the power of the cross well enough. Only a revelation of the Gift of God himself can uproot our stubborn inbred convictions that God holds back in his giving (Matt 10:8).
The Gift of God
What is the most famous verse in the Bible….; ““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). At the centre of Jesus’ self-identity was his conviction he was the Father’s unconditional gift to humanity. So he says about himself to the woman at the well; ““If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”” (John 4:10). Paul shows his appreciation for Jesus as the Gift by ending his teaching on giving in 2 Corinthians with an outburst of praise; “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor 9:15). Jesus is the unspeakably, indescribably wonderful gift given to us from heaven.
There is no limit to the profuse giving in God. In our Gospel reading today the Son of God testifies he has been given “the Spirit without measure” by the Father so that “all things might be given into his hands” (John 3:34-35). That the Father has personally placed me in Jesus’ hands; the hands into which little children were placed for a blessing, the hands which healed lepers and cripples and of course the hands which were crucified for me (Luke 5:13; 7:14; 18:15 cf. John 10:28-29). Knowing this should impart to us unlimited security. But we haven’t all had a revelation of such things. When Paul exhorts the Corinthians; “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7), he is first and foremost making a statement about the Lord’s own character. God always gives joyfully; Jesus announced, ““Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32). If giving as a duty rather than a delight we must be confused ask about the true spirit of giving; as most people are (John 8:29). Let me illustrate.
Should we, “Give until it hurts”, “Give until it doesn’t hurt anymore.”, or “Give until it hurts not to be able to give more.”? What do you think…? I think every time we try to understand spirituality through principles we remove Jesus from his proper central place in our lives. In the last week two people separately asked me if they should give 10% of their income to their church. These are questions sincere Christians ask because they don’t grasp that God has given his Son to us so that through his Spirit we might share in his giving of himself to the world.
We see the true spirit of giving is Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem; ““O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37). Jesus spills his guts because they were unwilling to accept the gift of his protective presence giving. There is a deep mystery in the spirit of giving that was understood by the Early Church and the thousands of Christian martyrs across the centuries; as Paul puts it, “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Cor 4:11). As we lose life our lives n the service of Christ life is given to others. This is the message of the cross.
The terrible cry from the cross, ““My God…why have you forsaken me?”” means Jesus has been stripped of the Spirit of the all giving Father, so in agony he feels he has nothing to give for the glory of God and the salvation of the world. (Mark 15:34). Exhausted and at the point of death there yet remains one thing he can give, not physical strength, not mental capacity, not strength of will; he calls out, ““Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”” (Luke 23:46). Jesus gives his crushed innermost being into the Father’s hands on behalf of a humanity that would never give its deepest life to God (cf. 2 Cor 1:8). The cross is the launching point of a new creation.
Jesus “was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God” (2 Cor 13:4). The resurrection of Christ from the dead illuminates the mystery of all godly giving. In giving according to the will of God divine power fills and multiplies everything. This is how the seed of the Word in the parable of the sower brings forth “fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”” (Mark 4:20). This is why the tiny mustard seed hugely expands as a sign of God’s kingdom (Mark 4:31-32). Everything given to God in Christ multiplies because Christ himself is “a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies …but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24).
Psychotherapist Paul Tournier perfectly describes human nature when he says; if a brother or sister takes some toy of ours we protest, “No! It’s mine!”….but “If I have courage and I give it to one of my patients, I end up with more courage. If I have faith and impart it to another, my own faith is increased.” The love of God in Christ is limitlessly expandable, for it brings a share in the boundless ever giving inexhaustible life of a limitlessly giving Father. As Jesus said; ““Give, and it will be given to you. Your gift will return to you in full – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more….the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”” (Luke 6:38).
In giving himself in Christ God has given all that he could ever possibly give. The gift of God’s Son is the gift which inspires all Christian giving in the confidence that; “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32). But someone might think; “What do I have to give?”
Firstly, when Paul teaches, “each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” (1 Cor 7:7 cf. Rom 12:6; 1 Pet 4:10) it means we all have something special to impart to others. Often this gift will have been formed and refined through pain; since, for instance, I have had many bad experiences of the Church lots of hurt Christians gravitate to me looking for a word of wisdom. Perhaps you have experienced much mourning, or suffering in marriage, through mental or physical illness, family rejection. Suffering turned to the Lord yields a powerful gifting. When a father known to me found his lost 3 year old drowned in a creek he called out at the top of his voice asking to God to use his life to bring many people to Jesus….he has become a passionately effective evangelist. When you yield agonising experiences to the power and presence of the crucified victorious Christ you will find a gift of God powerfully working in you for others. There is however something even more potent than all this to say about giving.
Paul points us to something exceeding wonderful in teaching us that when Jesus ascended to heaven he gave the gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher to the Church (Eph 4:10-12). These are not gifts in people, they are gifts of people. E.g. Dale here, is not simply gifted in what he says and does, but as a person he is a gift to the Church. Do you see yourself in Christ as a gift to the world? Most Christians get stuck in giving because they still look at themselves and the poverty of their own resources instead of turning to Jesus who shares his life with them in the power of the Spirit of the all giving Father. Forget about yourself, turn away from what you think you know about yourself or what others have to say about you, if I listened to the opinions of others I wouldn’t be here today. When we look at ourselves through the lens of the crucified Christ we have a testimony in ourselves, in our weakness, brokenness and ignorance, of being a gift to the world (Gal 2:20).
I am not a visual person but the Spirit gave me a picture some years ago. When believers walks in submission to the Lord in the way of the cross they become like a prism through which the light of Christ shines with endless manifestations of his wisdom and love to give to the world (Eph 3:19-20). The giving Church becomes a spectrum of all the colours of the rainbow glory of God so men and women might turn to Christ and be saved (see below).
Following Jesus is not about what God can give to me but to share in God’s Gift to the world. There is no measure to how much the Father wants to share his giving with us no measure of how much delight he gets through this giving (Luke 12:32; Phil 2:13); no measure other than the immeasurable gift of Christ crucified and risen (2 Cor 9:15). To the extent we know Jesus as God’s Gift to that extent we will have a heart bursting to give more of Jesus to the world. Do you have a heart bursting to give more of Jesus? If you can answer “Yes” then praise God for together God will help us give more, if you want to say “Yes” but are unsure or afraid about what this might mean, we can pray for you about that, if your honest answer is “No” then we can pray that you might give your life to Christ as your Lord and Saviour.