IN GIVING WE RECEIVE 1-7-18

IN GIVING WE RECEIVE

January 7, 2018

         

       The title of my message for today sounds a lot like one that would be given by a “prosperity preacher”.   In case you don’t know what that is, you can look up ‘prosperity theology’ online in Wikipedia and read a very in depth description of what it is.   In short, it is a way that some pastors and evangelists use the Bible to promise their members and listeners that they will become prosperous financially if they give generously to their particular church or ministry.  And there are many Bible verses that, taken out of context, one could read that concept into, and use in a way to persuade, even bribe, desperate people into giving money in a misguided attempt to receive even more money back – our 2nd Scripture reading being one of them (2 Corinthians 6:9-15).  In essence, they are trying to turn God into a financial adviser or stockbroker.  They equate God’s blessing with material gain.  So if you ‘want God to bless you’, (which they translate as ‘if you desire prosperity in this world’), and want to double or triple your money, just put it into the collection plate, mail it in, or type in your credit card info.  Put in a little, you will only get a little.  Put in a lot, and you will become rich!  To quote a humorous commercial for e-surance:  “That’s not how this works.  That’s not how any of this works!”  The apostle Paul even warned Timothy about people who mistakenly think “that godliness is a means to financial gain” in 1 Timothy chapter 6. 

     So right now my church treasurers are thinking, “please don’t tell me she is going to discourage people from giving!”  Not at all!  For it is true that in giving we receive – just not in the way that the prosperity gospel teaches.  Let me explain...

     To begin, listen to the dialogue between Jesus and the rich, young ruler in Luke 18:  Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” …Jesus answered …”to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’” The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich. When Jesus saw this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

     As the person he was talking to was a Jewish religious leader, Jesus first answered him by asking if he has kept the law.  Now we all know that no one has ever kept the law perfectly except Jesus, but this wealthy religious leader claimed that he has, revealing his own lack of repentance and his self-righteousness.  So Jesus went on to tell him he needed to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor.  But of course we know that giving away all of our money and possessions won’t buy us eternal life.  So why did Jesus tell him that?  In order to reveal his heart.  Did he love the Lord his God with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his mind and with all his strength?  (The first and greatest commandment).  And did he love his neighbor as himself?  (The second, which is like it).  No.  His ‘god’ was money.  He loved his money more than the true God and also more than his poor neighbor. 

     Now if we go a bit further into that chapter (Luke 18), we hear Jesus say, “I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”   This is another verse that has been misused to encourage people to give generously; after all, ‘repaid many times over in this life’ sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it?  And eternal life is even thrown in as a bonus.  But giving up your house doesn’t buy you heaven.  And it won’t guarantee that God gives you three houses on earth in return.  So again, what was Christ trying to tell us?   Christians were persecuted in those days, and are in many countries today as well.  They were often driven from their homes, and families were divided over faith.  Christ was saying you had to be willing to sacrifice everything for your faith, and if you truly loved Him above all else, you would indeed be willing to.   It is our faith that God rewards, our love for Him, and our desire to honor him with our lives.  

      Let move on to our third Scripture reading (Mark 12:41-44).   Did Jesus praise the Pharisees who faithfully gave 10%?  No.  He mentions them in Matthew 6:1-4 in which he warned, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”  No, he didn’t praise the Pharisees, but he did praise the poor widow who gave two copper coins, which was all she had to live on.  Again, I am not saying that God expects you to put your last dime in the collection plate.   But I am saying that in your heart you should believe that everything in your life, all your money, all your possessions, everything, belongs to God and should be used for His glory in whatever way He directs you to do so.  Did Jesus promise the widow she would receive 4 copper coins in return?  No.  Did he promise her any material blessings at all?  No.  But she received honor from the Lord, which is the best blessing anyone could ever receive.  Not honor from men, which the Pharisees so greatly desired as they made sure everyone took note of the amounts they threw in, but honor from God who saw the motivation of her heart.

     As the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”  So what is your motivation for giving?  Do you expect material blessings in return?  Do want to have something to boast about?  Are you trying to look like a good Christian?  Remember the words of 1 Samuel 16:7, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."  Make God no. 1 in your life, give from a pure heart out of love, and you will be blessed with blessings that can’t be put into a bank account or bought at a store.   And you will have treasure in heaven, as Jesus advised us in his words recorded in Matthew 6, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”   Where is your heart today?  Amen.

          CHILDREN'S MESSAGE:

                  Jesus said it’s better to give,  

                  Than it is to receive,

                  That is how He wants us to live,  

                  And how we should believe.

                  So if you see a girl or boy,

                  That is sad, and living without,

                  Food, or shelter, or even a toy,

                  Don’t hesitate or pout.

                  Do what Jesus Himself would do,

                  And help them however you can,

                  You’ll make them happy and you’ll be too!

                  Trust God, it’s part of His plan.