Published by Michael Bigg on Wed, 21 Mar 2018 10:47

The text of Mike's talk about giving from Sunday 18th March 2018. With much gratitude to Coffee with the King.

As we approach the time when we celebrate God’s ultimate gift to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we turn today to consider what this chapter of Deuteronomy has to say about why we give generously in response.

 If you look at verses 14-15, it shows that we do it so that we can experience God’s blessing: 26:14b-15a. I have obeyed the LORD my God; I have done everything you commanded me. Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us …

 At the heart of it, it’s a pretty simple principle, isn’t it? We give to God, and he blesses us. It’s kind of like an investment with a guaranteed return. Forget the banks with their measly 1.2%! Forget the risks of the stock market! Give money to God, and he’ll bless you with even more. As he says in Malachi 3:10:

Mal 3:10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

We give to God because it makes good financial sense! Give to God, and you’ll get back your initial investment, plus interest. Give to God and get rich!

??? Really  ???

Hopefully you’ll have some problems with my logic there. Of course, you could read Deuteronomy that way. But in light of the rest of Scripture – and Christian experience – does it stack up?

What about Paul and the other apostles, who went hungry some of the time – not to mention being imprisoned and martyred for the sake of Christ? What about faithful Christians throughout the developing world living in poverty – surely it’s not because they’re not giving enough? And what about Jesus’ call to leave our houses, our possessions behind? To take up our cross daily and follow him?

Maybe we should start again.

 

So what does Deuteronomy 26 tell us about why we give generously?

Well if you look at verse 12, it shows that we do it so that the work of God’s kingdom can be done:

26:12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.

In the Old Testament, generous giving was the way in which the poor were cared for. An early form of social security. And it was the way to pay for all those who worked full-time for God – the Levites who ran the temple.

And so it is today. When we give, we fund the work of God’s kingdom. Whether it be bringing food, medicine, and education to the poor. Or bringing the gospel to the ends of the earth. Funding those who are full-time in God’s service, just like the Levites in ancient Israel.

As Jesus said, the fields are ripe unto harvest, but the workers are few. And often that’s because we don’t have enough money to send them. At a Baptist mission convention a few years ago, they lined up a row of 100 empty pairs of shoes – to represent the 100 missionaries who were ready to go out into the field, but there wasn’t enough money to send them.

Clearly, God needs our money if his kingdom’s going to growThat’s why we give. God needs our money.

???   Really ???

I think you’ll agree that we’ve gone off track again. God needs our money? Isn’t this the same God who created the world? The one who, according to John the Baptist, could raise up children for Abraham from stones, if necessary? Do we really think that the God who is sovereign over the world needs our cash (even if, from our perspective, his church seems a little short at the moment)?

Another restart is in order.

 

Again, we ask the question of Deuteronomy 26: why do we give generously?

I think when it comes down to it, we do it because God tells us to. It’s a commandment. Look at verse 13:

26:13 Then say to the LORD your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them.”

Why do we give generously? Because God tells us to, and we want him to be pleased with us. It’s our duty. We need no motivation other than pleasing our heavenly Father. When he sees our financial sacrifices, how much we’ve given up for him, he’ll say “well done, good and faithful servant”. We give generously to make God happy.

???  Really ???

I know we’re starting to get a bit closer to the answer – but is that really our motivation? Doing our duty? Trying to impress God and make him happy?

Particularly because the Bible tells us we’re incapable of pleasing God on our own. And that Jesus has already pleased the Father on our behalf. You remember that whole Gospel thing?


Maybe our approach has been all wrong:  picking out the odd verse (that was addressed to the nation of Israel, pre-Jesus – not the church) and trying to draw some conclusions. Maybe we should look at all the text, in its proper context.

 hese three popular misunderstandings of why we give generously are all missing something. They’re missing the reason for giving God gave Israel back at the start of the chapter – which we ignored earlier, because we weren’t reading in context. Let’s see if we can pick up that reason, starting from verse 1:

26:1-2 When you have entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name…

That is, gather up a percentage of your income, and head off to the temple.

26:3 …and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.”

In other words, God’s lived up to his promises. We’re here in the land, just as he promised we’d be.

26:4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the LORD your God.

 So far so good. God gets the gift basket full of tiny jams and Twinings teabags. But what happens next is striking. The person bringing the gift was to give God a history lesson. What’s that all about?

26:5 Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.

That’s Abraham we’re talking about. The ancestor of Israel.

26:6-9 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labour. Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our ancestors, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey;

That’s a summary of the events of Exodus. God’s miraculous rescue of his people. Bringing them into a land of their own.

And it’s this that’s the reason for giving generously:

26:10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, LORD, have given me.” Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him.

Do you get that? That’s what giving generously is all about. It’s a response of gratitude for what God has done for them. Bringing them out of Egypt, and into a new land. And to make this abundantly clear, it goes on to say: 

26:11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household.

Generous giving is a joyful response to God’s grace.

 

For Israel, the defining event in their history was being redeemed from slavery in Egypt; and being given a new life in the promised land. It’s what defined their relationship with God.

 For us, the defining event in our history is being redeemed from slavery to sin by Jesus’ death; and being given new life through his resurrection. It’s what we remember at Holy Communion. It’s what defines our relationship with God.


When we give to God, we’re not doing it so that we’ll get something back – we’ve already received everything we need in Christ.

When we give to God, we’re not doing it because God needs our resources – he’s already made the abundance of his resources available to us in Christ.

When we give to God, we’re not doing it to try and make him happy – he’s already been fully satisfied by the supreme sacrifice of Christ.

When we give to God… we’re simply saying thankyou. We’re expressing our gratitude for what he has done for us in Christ, and nothing we give him could ever repay him for that.

 

It’s true that God wishes to bless us as we give (although not necessarily financially). It’s true that God loves us to join with him in the work of the Kingdom by giving (but he doesn’t need us to). It’s true that God delights in generous giving but it is more true that we can more fully delight in God when we trust him.

I’m yet to meet anyone who has come to the end of their life and said that they wished they’d given less to God. When we give, we grow further into the image of God whose very nature is to give from God’s own abundance. Giving avoids the terrible disease that is cirrhosis of the giver and the gradual spiritual death which often follows. I exhort you to give cheerfully and generously!

 

You may wonder what we mean by “generous giving”. The Old Testament tithe of 10% is a worthwhile aspiration (and you can decide whether that is 10% before or after tax!) However, a 10% tithe isn’t a commandment for Christians. It is not a requirement.

Here are two principles that I think are helpful.

 Firstly, look to increase your giving as a percentage of your income each year and do so with thanksgiving. The story is told of Rick Warren who made such a private commitment with his wife. At first they gave a modest percentage each year but sought to increase it in good times and bad, even by a tiny fraction. Later, Mr Warren wrote The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church and within a few years became a very wealthy man indeed. He and his wife were soon able to give away some 95% of their income.

 Someone challenged him one day, saying: “You can only give so much because you have so much”. Mr Warren replied: “We are only able to give so much now we are wealthy because we were in the habit of giving when we had little”. It’s always easy to say: “I’ll give more when…” That day rarely comes. Give generously today to enable you to give generously tomorrow.

 A second principle that I encourage you to consider. Give until it hurts a bit. Give in a way that makes you feel a little uncomfortable. If you barely even notice the money going out of your bank account then I humbly suggest that you might like to review your giving. I’m not suggesting that you make yourself destitute, but be bold. Trust God. He is faithful! Forego an exotic foreign holiday and do something more modest. Perhaps wait another year before trading in your old car.

 In Ely Diocese we pray to be the generous and visible people of Jesus Christ. I encourage you to play your part in working towards the day when the church in this place is known for its overwhelming generosity that overflows from our love of God.

May you know the grace of Jesus Christ as you lay down your own life and take up the cross. May you know the challenge of the Holy Spirit as you steward the resources given to you. And may you know the blessing of God the Father as you joyfully and generously serve him with thanksgiving. Amen.

If you want to sign up to the Parish Giving Scheme then please speak to Jason, Mike or Marissa.

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