Love the Giver More Than His Gifts
Love the Giver More Than His Gifts
Molly and Abby are out of town right now for her sister’s graduation, so the other night I went to the ASU / U of A baseball game. It was a beautiful night and I was sitting out with some friends on the grass hill down the third base line. We’re sitting there talking and hanging out when I get a call from a friend of mine named Alan, who goes to church here. From time to time Alan and I will talk and there’s often some kind of spiritual question or insight that he is pondering. Since I was at the game, we didn’t really get a chance to dive into the thought he was having, but what he said has really stuck with me and been rattling around in my head—and it fits perfect with what we’re studying together tonight.
Alan was reflecting on something that Jeff Johnson—who spoke a month or two ago about Islam—said about what it means for a Muslim to start following Jesus. Jeff had said something like, “When a Muslim becomes a Christian, he knows that he is giving up his life and losing all that is dear to him. He has to count that cost and give up all that is familiar and comfortable to him in order to follow Jesus.” So, Alan’s question was, “Isn’t that what it means for everybody to become a follower of Christ? Is it a different thing for Americans than it is for Pakistanis?”
It’s a very good question, and I think that—based on the passage we’ll study tonight—Alan is right. Sure, few Americans face the threat of being killed for their faith or being completely rejected by everyone they know. But, according to Jesus, becoming a Christian is renouncing all that has been previously dear to you because you have been so captivated by Jesus and what he’s done for you.
For me, that’s what it meant to become a Christ-follower—being sold out to him. [Share brief testimony]
Tonight, we’re going to study a portion of Scripture that answers the following questions:
- How does a person enter the kingdom of God?
- Who will and won’t be in the kingdom of God?
- What things keep people out of the kingdom of God?
Open your Bible with me to Luke 14, where we’ll begin in verse 15. [Pray]
This passage is in a section of teaching that goes from Luke 9:51 to 19:27 where Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and the final week of his life. For almost three years Jesus has been doing his ministry of teaching and healing. In Luke 9:51, it says “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” So, Jesus begins a pilgrimage from Galilee down to Jerusalem where he will be killed in just months or weeks. His ministry is coming to its climax and Jesus is focused.
If you read this middle section of Luke, you’ll notice that it’s not filled with much fluff. Jesus means business and he is clear about what it takes to follow him.
- Luke 9:57-62 – Jesus says that there is a huge cost to following him
- Luke 11:37-12:3 – Jesus condemns the Pharisees for being outwardly clean and inwardly filthy
- Luke 12:49-53 – Jesus says came not to give peace, but division
- Luke 13:1-5 – Jesus says that if you don’t repent, you’ll perish
- Luke 13:22-30 – Jesus says that the door that enters the kingdom of Heaven is narrow
We find the setting of this passage in Luke 14:1, where it says, “One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.” Jesus, who is always in the center of controversy, heals a man who had dropsy (abnormal swelling due to accumulating fluids) on the Sabbath and uses it as a teaching moment to the Pharisees, who were so legalistic that they resented the way Jesus healed people on the Sabbath.
Then, in verses 7-14, Jesus gives instructions about how to be honored as a guest and how to be honorable as a host.
We pick up the passage in Luke 14:15, where a man says “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Why does he say this? It seems like a strange statement that comes out of left field. Well, in verse 14 Jesus talks about the reality that those who give themselves away to people who can’t pay them back will receive their reward at the “resurrection of the just.” So it’s likely that this man is simply thinking ahead to what he imagines the kingdom of God to be. Chances are good that he has a very different idea of what God’s kingdom would be. The common idea was that it would be a political kingdom where the Messiah would physically reign as king over Israel and do away with Israel’s enemies. Jesus’ ideas of the kingdom of God are much different, but either way, this man says a very true statement—“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
If you read between the lines, you get the feeling that this guy fully expects to be part of this feast at God’s kingdom. It’s hard to imagine that he’s thinking, “Boy, it will be so great for those who eat in the kingdom of God and I won’t be anywhere near it!” His assumption is that he’ll be part of the kingdom of God.
This is exactly how most people think today. The vast majority of people believe in Heaven or some kind of afterlife, and almost all of them believe that they will go there. George Barna reports that 76% of Americans believe that Heaven exists and that nearly two-thirds (64%) expect to go to Heaven. Some believe in reincarnation, some think they’ll cease to exist, but just .5% expect to go to Hell. So, people expect something good to happen to them. We all give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. I have even talked to people who say they don’t believe in God or Heaven, but they’ve told me that if God and Heaven exist, they are confident they will go there.
I had a pastor in high school who used to say, “There are 3 things that will surprise you in Heaven—who’s there, who’s not there, and that you’re there.”
What about you? Will you be in Heaven? If you were to die today, how sure are you that you would spend eternity with God? What is that judgment based on?
Well, Jesus tells this parable to set the record straight. Jesus teaches that many people who think they’ll be part of the kingdom of God actually will not be.
Luke 14:16-24 says, But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ” (Luke 14:16-24)
In this parable, it’s quite clear who the characters represent. The main person in the story is the Master, who represents God. There’s also a servant who plays the role of inviting people to the master’s banquet. Everyone else is somebody who’s invited.
So, what do we learn from this parable?
1. God has prepared a great banquet and invited many people
Verse 16 says, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.” The word “great” refers to the banquet being large. The man had plans on the banquet having great numbers of people. Therefore, he invited “many.” The man had plans to throw a big party with lots of people.
The point is that God has a huge, magnificent banquet prepared for people to enjoy and he is inviting many people to participate. His invitation is sounding out to people all over the world to come and to enjoy him. Isaiah 55 says, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.”
What is the rich food that God invites us to enjoy? Himself.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48). He is supremely satisfying. The primary attraction of the kingdom of God, both on earth now and in Heaven for eternity is God. What makes God’s banquet worth attending? God.
In Revelation 22:3-5 we get a picture of what Heaven will be like after God renews the earth: “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
In Heaven, we’ll be free from pain and suffering. We’ll feel more alive than we’ve ever felt. We’ll have a new ability to see things from God’s perspective without being tainted by sin. We’ll be reunited with family members and friends who loved Jesus and went before us. I look forward to all those things. But what makes it Heaven is that God’s there.
When John Piper was here last fall he asked a very thought provoking question that I had never thought of. He asked, “Why do you want to go to Heaven?” He said, if part of the answer to that question is not “God,” then you are missing the point of everything.
God’s banquet is supremely satisfying because he is there. And God’s banquet is huge because he is inviting multitudes of people to come.
Now, you’ve probably been to a banquet and you know that nice ones are expensive. Last year a report came out that said that the average cost of a wedding is just over $26,000. In fact, a total of $125 billion will be spent on weddings per year in the U.S. (which is the size of Ireland’s GDP). That’s why Molly’s dad (who has 3 daughters total) always told her that when she was ready to get married he would buy her a ladder that she could use to climb out of her bedroom window and elope. Literally within 30 seconds of finding out that we were having a baby girl I was thinking about how in the world I would someday pay for a wedding.
Nice banquets are expensive. And big, nice banquets are even more expensive. Great thought is put into making it a memorable experience.
One of my best friends is a catcher in the Major Leagues and last year we were visiting them towards the end of their season and they were having an end of the year banquet—and we got to go. Having grown up around sports, I have been to a lot of end of the year team banquets. Let me tell you, this was on a different level. It was at the owner’s house (which was really more like a resort/compound) and no expense was spared. I’ll never forget walking around and hearing these big-league players joking with each other about how someday maybe they’d get to have a house like this. They would say, “Hey if you keep hitting maybe someday you can have a place like this.” They were absolutely in awe (It was a great reminder that somebody always has more than you, regardless of your status in life). Part way through the event, a few guys were rewarded for their significant play with Rolexes. This was not a cheap event.
God’s banquet is expensive too. Sure, God owns everything. He has infinite resources available to him. He is not needy. He has 10 trillion times more than the owner of the baseball team. But this banquet that he’s throwing cost him everything.
You see, even though God owns all things, this banquet wasn’t free. It cost the life of his own Son.
Our sin and rebellion against God—our belittling him and our love for other things has created a great chasm between us and God. Heaven is not our automatic destination. We are born into this world headed for Hell and our actions and attitudes confirm day by day that God is just in sending us there. God would be perfectly just in allowing every single person to perish and spend eternity apart from him in Hell. But God’s heart is so filled with love for people, and God so desires that people find their satisfaction and delight in him, that he had his only Son Jesus crucified in order to make it happen.
The Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
God is throwing a huge bash. It will last forever and fully satisfy all who are there. But the price tag was the life of his Son.
Well, if God is so satisfying and if he’s throwing a bash that is so wonderful and cost him so much, why won’t everybody be part of it?
2. Many people won’t come because they love God’s gifts more than God
In verse 17, the Master’s servant begins to go out to the people who have RSVP’d and tell them that the banquet is ready to begin. It’s time for them to start coming and celebrating.
But look what happens: “But they all alike began to make excuses” (v. 18).
You know what this is like, don’t you? We’ve all had moments when we committed to going to something or planned on going to something and then when the time comes, we don’t feel like it anymore. We get tired, we get disinterested, we get distracted with other stuff, or we just don’t feel like going. So, we make excuses. Things like:
- “It’s been a long week and I think we just need some time together as a family”
- “I’ve got to get up early tomorrow and there’s a lot of work to be done”
- “Something came up at the last minute”
That’s what the guests begin to do. Verses 18-20 catalogue the reasons: “The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’”
If you give any thought to these excuses at all you see that they are ridiculous. It’s inconceivable that the first man would have bought a field without having seen it already. It’s also impossible to think that a man would make the significant investment of five yoke of oxen without having examined them to see if they could work hard. And having a wife in no way prohibits a person from coming to a banquet.
These are not legitimate reasons. But even if they were, they reveal hearts that are much more in love with temporary things than with God. These are small things, and they can all be put off later. Why couldn’t you go look at the field or go test the oxen or go hang with your wife tomorrow? You could, but those things are more important than the banquet. They are more pressing than the banquet.
Notice as well that all these things—land, oxen, a wife—are good things. There is nothing inherently sinful in any of them. It is good to own land and have property. It is good to have the things that make work more productive and beneficial. And, of course, it’s good to be married. God doesn’t have a problem with any of those things in themselves. But, in the case of these people, good things have become ultimate things.
They wanted to fit the banquet in with all their other plans, but in the end it didn’t work out. Many people want to fit God into their plans, but they just don’t get around to it. I know a man who is going through a vicious divorce and for years he and his wife knew they should be in a home group where they could be spiritually encouraged and refreshed. But, they owned a growing business and there just wasn’t time. They had “five yoke of oxen” that needed to be tried and worked with first. Now it’s almost too late.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned recently has been that there’s a big difference between God as a concept and God as a reality. When God is a concept, you try to fit him into your agenda. When you have the time and desire to think about God, you do—and when you don’t have time, you forget him. When things are going the way you want, you have room in your life for God. When things are going bad, you get mad at God and don’t have room for him anymore. But, as Tim Keller says, if God is just a concept for you, you don’t have the real God—you have a “Stepford God.” You have a God that just says “Yes, dear. Whatever you want, dear.” You don’t have the real God. You just have a God concept. You see, God doesn’t just fit into our agenda; God is a whole new agenda. When God as a reality comes into your life he rearranges your values, your priorities, your schedule, your relationships. He rearranges everything.
Is God a concept for you or a reality? Who rearranges who? Do you fit God in to your agenda or does God become a whole new agenda?
You see, it’s not immorality and obvious evil that keeps these people from coming into the banquet. It is good things that become more important.
J.C. Ryle writes, “It is not open [wickedness] that fills hell. It is excessive attention to things which in themselves are lawful. It is not avowed dislike of the Gospel which is so much to be feared. It is that procrastinating, excuse-making spirit which is always ready with a reason why Christ cannot be served today…Infidelity and immorality no doubt slay their thousands; but decent, plausible, smooth-spoken excuses slay their tens of thousands.”
It is so sad that so many people love the gifts of God more than they love God. It is so sad that I often love God’s gifts more than I love God.
I can get very excited about good things—sports, food, family, friends, church, ministry—that it can even eclipse my love for God. I was at a wedding recently and met a man whose father was a pastor. He told me that his dad loved the ministry more than he loved God. If I’m honest, that is a danger for me.
We all have things in our lives—good things—that if we’re not careful can steal our hearts and keep us from knowing and enjoying God.
John Piper says it this way:
‘God’s Greatest Adversaries are His Gifts…The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for Heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable…“The pleasures of this life” … are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and potatoes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV-watching and Internet-surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.’ (John Piper, Hunger for God, 14-15)
Friends, don’t let that happen to you. Love the Giver more than his gifts.
3. God gets angry when people love his gifts more than him
Verse 21 shows the Master’s response: “So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry…”
This man is belittled by the guests indifference and complacency towards the banquet and he doesn’t like it. How much more should God be angry when we love other things more than him?
The first of the Ten Commandments says that we should have no other gods. God alone is to be worshiped and adored. He alone is worthy of our devotion and our lives. When we love sports or shopping or TV more than God, it makes God look little and unimportant and he doesn’t like that.
But, God will not be deterred in his plan to have a huge banquet where many people adore him.
Verse 21 continues, “’Go quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
God’s house will be full. His plan will not fail. There will be many people who enjoy him and are satisfied in him in this life and forever. But this passage teaches us that it will be different people than we think. Those who have lots of advantages will have a difficult time. Those who are outcasts and on the fringes will be welcomed in. That’s why Jesus said that 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” (Luke 18:25).
God’s desire to have a full house compels us to go out to the highways and hedges—to the fringes of society and to places where people don’t fit—and compel them to come into God’s banquet. When God is a reality in your life you have become so oriented around him and have found so much treasure in him that you can’t help but reach out and invite others in. It’s no longer because you have to, it’s now because you want to.
There’s a man at our church who has been in my life for a couple of years and he would tell you that the last 3-4 years have been a real struggle for him. He was battling with all kinds of sin and all kinds of feelings of inadequacy. One thing that he constantly felt bad about was that he wasn’t sharing his faith enough. But in the last year things have really changed for him. Rather than focusing all the time on what he wasn’t doing right, he started focusing just on treasuring Jesus. Instead of thinking, “Don’t sin, Don’t sin, Don’t sin” he started thinking “Treasure Jesus, Treasure Jesus, Treasure Jesus.” As a result, God has become more of a reality than ever. Now he says he shares his faith with everybody because he just loves Jesus so much. He can’t get enough.
God’s plan will not fail. God’s desire to have people delight in him and find satisfaction in him will prevail. But, sadly, many people who think they are fine will not taste of the banquet.
That’s how Jesus finishes the parable in verse 24: “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
This story is Jesus’ call to take the kingdom of God seriously. This is a call to love the Giver more than the gifts.
Prior to serving as the Gilbert Area Pastor, I was an intern with the college ministry here. Sometimes people ask me what the differences are between working with collegians and adults. Overall, the differences are minor. Both are groups of people who desperately need God to be a reality and to rearrange the furniture of their lives. Both groups are people who have serious questions and issues and need God’s intervention. Both groups are people who mess up and need constant reminders that God is gracious and forgiving. But the biggest difference between collegians and adults is that, in general, collegians have fewer gifts to love.
They have fewer commitments, fewer obligations, fewer scenarios that prevent them from going hard after God. But adults have lots of excuses—many that seem legitimate. They have marriages, kids, mortgages, car payments, soccer games, dance recitals, second homes, career changes, retirement planning, and seemingly endless other things, all of which are okay. But the cumulative effect of these things is that adults are much busier, much more distracted, and much more likely to wait for a crisis before they turn to God.
Enjoying God’s banquet is satisfying, but it’s also costly. Jesus goes on to say in the passage after this that we should count the cost of following him. He says that we are to renounce our allegiance to all other things, even to the point that we would hate our families compared to our love for God. It is a narrow road and few find it.
In conclusion, I think there are some practical applications and implications that will help you love the Giver more than his gifts. There are some things we need to do so that we don’t end up like these men who don’t get to taste of God’s banquet.
- Get out of debt
So many people are shackled to the cares of this world because of debt. If you have consumer debt, or if you’re living a lifestyle bigger than you can afford, it will affect your ability to freely love God. You’ll have to work more hours and devote yourself more fully to other things.
Proverbs 22:7 says, “the borrower is the slave of the lender.”
Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Is your pursuit of things getting in the way of your pursuit of God?
- Prioritize and Eliminate
Just as many of us are stretched with our finances, we are also stretched with our time. The old adage that “time is money” has never been more true than now. Yet many people I know are so maxed out with their lives and schedules that there is no room to really pursue God.
Serve? Connect in community? Invest in the life of another person? Take time to think, read, and enjoy life? All these things are out of the question because there are endless activities to attend to (especially for kids).
Not every good activity that can be done should be done. Prioritize your life and think about how the way you spend your time will push you either to love God or to love his gifts. Then consolidate things when you can, and eliminate things when you need to.
- Find a group of people who will help you love the Giver (you need fellow soldiers)
The Bible tells us that because sin is deceitful we should have other people in our lives who will regularly call us to live out the commitments and convictions we have. Each of us constantly wanders from having our eyes fixed on Jesus. That’s why we need people who will be in the trenches with us who can point out enemy fire and help us keep alert.
- Study the Giver until you love him
For many of us, Jesus is not particularly desirable because we don’t really know him. We aren’t familiar with him. We think we know what he’s about but we haven’t really taken time to study him and think about him. If you find yourself not being particularly drawn to Jesus, then it’s time to study him. Read the gospels and get familiar with Jesus. Study the Bible and know the God of the word. It is through this work and discipline that God will give you what your heart most deeply needs—trust in him.
J. C. Ryle, Luke, The Crossway classic commentaries (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1997), Lk 14:18.