Do You Surrender All
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"Though None Go With Me..."
Do You Surrender ‘All’?
Acts 4:32–5:11 (focal: 5:3–5)
NEWS FLASH: In an effort to make the great hymns of the Christian faith more palatable to "today's Christian," an interdenominational committee has proposed that the titles and wordings of selected hymns be modified slightly. Here is a sample of the 'new' hymns proposed by the committee...
•I Surrender Some •There Shall Be Sprinkles of Blessings •Fill My Spoon, Lord •Oh, How I like Jesus •I Love to Talk about Telling the Story •Take My Life and Let Me Be •There Is Scattered Cloudiness in My Soul Today •Where He Leads Me, I Will Consider Following •Just as I Pretend to Be •When the Saints Go Sneaking in •Sit Up, Sit up for Jesus •A Comfy Mattress Is Our God •When Peace, like a Trickle •I'm Fairly Certain That My Redeemer Lives •My Faith Looks Around for Thee •Spirit of the Living God, Fall Somwhere near Me •Spirit of God, Descend upon Their Hearts
The first of these facetious hymn retitlings—"I Surrender Some"—is a good way to describe many Christians’ attitude toward giving. Their attitude is much like that of the young boys in this little anecdote:
A certain pastor thought taking his two visiting nephews to church would be a good experience. Neither of the six and nine-year-old boys had any church experience, so Bob looked forward to the opportunity of spiritual exposure. The stark reality, though, of kids growing up outside of the church came to fruition when the kids came down for the children's sermon. In the middle of the discussion with the kids, the pastor's six-year-old nephew, Eric, raised his hand and blurted out, "How much longer do we have to stay up here?" Pastor Bob endured and went on. Eric was still not terribly impressed with what he had seen. This became most evident when the offering plates were passed. Little Eric watched with keen interest as the plate made its way toward him. When the offering plate reached his hands he asked in a very audible voice, "You mean we gotta pay for this?" [source: Baptist Beacon, 2/20/92, p. 5. Qtd in In other Words, Raymond McHenry]
Many different factors can cause us to be reluctant to part with what we have, even if it means giving it to God for the benefit of his kingdom. Whether it's money, time, energy, our abilities, what have you, we can come up with a multitude of reasons not to let go of it. It may be that, like little Eric, you don't feel that you have any reason to want to bring your gift before God. It may be that you feel your gift is too small to matter before God. It may be that you're afraid that your gift will not be used for any good, and then you'll be left with nothing and nothing to show for it—this was the fear of the servant described by Jesus in Matthew 25, the servant who buried his single coin in the ground rather than risk losing it by using it. But God does desire that we present him with our best, and that we honor him and worship him by making available to him all that we have. And even beyond that, God desires for us to "Let Him Show Us What He Can Do" when we are truly faithful in making everything that we have available to him.
In Acts 4:32—5:11 Luke presents us with a study of contrasts. First, he presents the ideal picture of a church and an individual who are committed to giving God their all. Then, he describes another all-too-familiar scenario in which a supposedly "righteous" couple attempt to cheat God out of what rightfully is due Him.
Which picture describes you?
Acts 4:32–5:11: 4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means "son of encouragement"). 37 He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
5:1 But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; 2 with his wife's knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 "Ananias," Peter asked, "why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!"
5 Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. 6 The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him. 7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price." And she said, "Yes, that was the price." 9 Then Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.
"I just can’t..." "You don’t know my situation..." Such are common responses many give to justify their unwillingness to present a full tithe to the Lord. Perhaps there were such persons in the early church. Perhaps some even suggested that, even though the ideal situation would allow for individuals to tithe, the realities of life make such a practice nearly impossible. To such rationalizers, Luke presents (in 4:36–37) the real-life example of Barnabas, who demonstrated by his manner of living what it meant to be faithful to the Lord’s command regarding tithes and offerings.
Then, Luke gives a clearly negative example which illustrates the danger of not remaining faithful in this area! Ananias and Sapphira’s story is a tragic example of the ways in which we attempt to swindle, shortchange, and hold out on our God. And, it’s a severe warning that such behavior does not go unnoticed by the sovereign Lord of the universe.
Instead of keying in on the negative side of the story, though, I would like to focus on the positive truths which we can learn from the tale of Ananias and Sapphira...
Your Full Tithe is a Mark of God's Spirit at Work in Your Life.
"‘Ananias,’ Peter asked, ‘why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land?’" (verse 3).
In Galatians 5 Paul says that one of the fruits of the Spirit—that is, one of those characteristics that's got to be present in the life of a committed Christian—is generosity, or a willingness to share. And that's the essence of Malachi 3:8-12:
8 Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, "How are we robbing you?" In your tithes and offerings! 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me-- the whole nation of you! 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. 11 I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the LORD of hosts. 12 Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.
In this passage it's made clear that, if we as God's people are to claim that we are living in a right relationship with God, we must be able to back that up by pointing to the full tithe which we've brought into his storehouse (v. 10)! Your monetary gift to God through his church; your gift of time as you work in his church and witness in his name in the world; your gift of abilities as you strive to find ways to take the talents he's given you and use them in his service—all of these offerings to God are marks that the Holy Spirit of God is at work in your life, that you know that you are saved and forgiven, and that you want God to have at His disposal whatever part of you he needs to give that same assurance to others and to bring others into his kingdom as well.
During the Master's Golf Tournament in 1997, many fans noticed early on in the first day of competition that eventual champion Tiger Woods was wearing an unusual little badge on his shirt lapel. Now, professional athletes in general have a tendency to be very superstitious—some players will wear the same socks for days on end, or wear their cap in exactly the same precise position for an entire career, if they believe it will bring them good fortune on the playing field. Lots of fans quickly surmised that the same must be true for Tiger Woods—that the little badge he was wearing must be some superstition of his, some "good luck pin" or some little piece of memorabilia that he felt would give him strength during the four days of the Tournament. In good time, though, it was pointed out that the little badge he was wearing wasn't a superstition, nor was it something designed to bring good fortune—it was simply Tiger's Player's Badge, the identification piece that allowed him to walk past security and onto the golf course. Every player had one; people just noticed it on Tiger because he was such a high-profile player and because he was wearing the badge in an unusual place.
Lots of Christians want to misinterpret tithes and offerings, and stewardship in general, in the same way. But understand that your faithfulness in giving is not something you do out of "superstition," because you feel that you'll receive good fortune as a result. It's not something you do to get a sense of security. It's simply part of your "player's badge"—a "mark" of the Spirit's work in our lives, one of the things that identifies us as believers. And if Christ has truly redeemed you and done a transforming work in your life, your greatest desire should be to want to be identified in that way, as a committed follower of Jesus.
Your Gift is Measured By God's Standards--not the world's.
"While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!" (verse 4).
Peter reminds Ananias here that God measures things very differently from human beings. God says in Isaiah 55:9,
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
You know as well as I that the world measures our contributions to society in terms of how sizable and how spectacular they are. Buildings and stadiums get named after the donor who writes the biggest check. The success or worth of an athlete, or a businessperson, is measured not by the sincerity of their efforts but the size of the end results. God's Word, though, teaches us that God's Standards are different! To understand that, we only need to look at the lesson Jesus taught while standing in the Temple one day. Consider Mark 12:41–44:
"Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.' "
Have you ever felt that you didn't have much to offer God? Maybe you're very aware that you can never be a top-dollar giver to God's Church; maybe you're self-conscious about your abilities and talents, feeling that there are plenty of others around here who are far better-equipped than you to speak, to witness, to comfort, to build, to think, and so forth.
Here's the good part: The old saying you may have heard is true: "God is not so much concerned with your ability as with your availability." God simply wants you to make what you have available to Him, without worrying about how your contribution may or may not "measure up" by worldly, human standards. Consider the story of the poor widow in Mark 12. Was she timid, afraid, embarrassed about the size of her gifts? The story says No, Absolutely Not--even though she was surrounded by Pharisees, Scribes, rich honorable sorts, clinking coin after coin after coin into the offering box. No, this bold woman marched right into their midst and dropped her two coins, her two half-pennies, into the offering box, with every bit as much boldness and resolve as the rich folks were demonstrating as they made their offerings.
The key is, she was available to God. And that's all that God wants from you and me. In Malachi 3:10, God says, "Bring the full tithe into the storehouse." The full tithe. Remember that a tithe, by definition, can be a large amount or a small amount, depending on the net worth and income of the individual. Yet God makes no distinction between large and small; he simply asks that whatever we have to offer to him, we bring all of it to him! The full tithe. Make available to God the "full tithe," the full portion, of your resources, your energy, your boldness, your time—make it available to him. Give it to him boldly, yet give it with an attitude of humility and sacrifice.
Consider 1 Corinthians 12...
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable...
Notice that Paul never says that any one member of the body is weaker than another; he simply says that some seem to be weaker. But they are not. Because God measures your gift by a different standard from the world. Human standards declare that the biggest gift wins. That the most publicly admirable talent is the best. But God declares that every gift that is given to him, every ability that you devote to him for his service, if it's done out of humility and sacrifice, it is honorable in His sight! Here's why:
Your Gift will be Multiplied by God's Sovereign Rule in this World.
"Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it" (verse 5).
The phrase is used twice in this little story—once here in verse 5, and again in verse 11. Ananias and Sapphira’s small-minded and small-faithed way of treating their tithes and offerings has caused fear to fall upon the believers. It’s interesting, though, that in 4:33 there’s another phrase that describes the ideal condition of the church—a phrase that’s a complete opposite of "great fear":
"With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all."
"Great grace." A phrase that describes the way God takes our smallness and multiplies it. How he takes our imperfection and makes it perfect. How God takes our pitiful, pint-sized offerings and does God-sized miracles and eternity-sized works with them. When we get serious about our offerings to the Lord, we can see our state of living (and our church’s state of living) be transformed miraculously from "great fear" to "great grace"!
"Big Things Come in Small Packages." "Little Things Make a Difference." There are many different ways to express this almost-cliched truth--yet it is still absolutely the truth. Little things like water: It's been stated that if you are concerned about your weight, be sure not to step on the scale immediately after stepping out of the shower, because more than a pound of water clings to you when you are soaking wet. (Source: Robert Ehrlich, The Cosmological Milkshake.) Or: A single atom of oxygen is practically undiscernable, even with complex scientific equipment. Yet if we remove the oxygen atom from the carbon dioxide, the stuff that you breathe out every time you take a breath, we would produce carbon monoxide, which is a deadly poisonous gas.
The widow's two small coins didn't appear to be worth much when she first offered them to God. A banker has shown otherwise. He estimated that had her monetary gift been placed in an investment account drawing just 4% interest, the account would now be worth almost five billion trillion dollars. (That's a five followed by 21 zeros.) Yes, even in our own earthly, human-made financial institutions we have the ability to multiply resources in astounding ways. And if an investment fund run by human managers can produce that kind of windfall out of a small gift, just imagine what God can do when we invest our resources, our time, our abilities, our devotions, in Him and in his kingdom. [Qtd in In Other Words (McHenry).]
Do you believe that God can multiply your gifts, your talents, in ways that surpass all human potential and understanding? If you do believe it, bring your gift to him. And even if you don't fully buy that, bring your gift anyway!! Let God Show You What He Can Do! In Malachi 3:10 God says, "Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, and thus put me to the test ... See if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing." Put God to the test, and let Him show you what he can do with a gift that's given out of sacrifice and humility!
The people of Israel "tested" God in the wilderness in the book of Exodus, complaining about their lot, saying, "It would be better for us if we'd never left Egypt!" In that case, their "testing" of God was a sin. Why? Because they were testing God with their disobedience. And we can't test God's limits in that way. But while we ought not test God with our disobedience, God loves it when we "test" him with our obedience!
"Bring me your gift—yes, that tiny little gift you're turning over in your hands, that ability of yours you believe is so insignificant, about which you're wondering if I'll even acknowledge it, much less be able to use it—bring it to me and see if I don't open the windows of heaven and pour down blessings on you!"
Let Him show you...
"Times are Tough!" —that's perhaps the most enduring and popular response to any call in the church for stewardship and giving—whether it's a call specifically to monetary giving, or a call in general to stewardship of all that God has granted us, in terms of time, resources, abilities, energies, devotions, as well as money. But is it valid logic to say that "Times are Tough" and that therefore we can't spare anything for God?
After Texas voters approved a state lottery in 1992, people from the Lone Star state came up with an extra $3,738,273,287 to play the game the following 21 months. That was an average of $207 per person—that's an extra $207 in the pocket of every Texan. During that same period the total giving to Texas Baptist churches came to just under $1,700,000,000—or about $93 per person. [sources: Baptist Standard, 4/6/94, p. 6; United States Census Bureau, 1990. Qtd in In Other Words (Raymond McHenry).]
The truth remains—people make room in their lives for what they want. It's not that "Times are Tough!"—oh, they might well be, but that's not the reason we shut God out of our budgets—the reason is simply that God is far too far down our list of priorities.
We are great at convincing ourselves that we can't spare anything for God. Yet as the old lottery statistics show, we human beings are remarkably adept at making room in our budgets for the things we truly value. If you do truly "love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind," then you must demonstrate that love by being willing to surrender all, not "some," to Him. By making available to him a full portion of all that you have. By Budgeting a full portion of your resources and material goods for God, and a full portion of your time and energy for kingdom work, for service and compassionate outreach.
And as we love God with all your heart, individually and collectively as a church, we should know that God not only accepts us in his presence as redeemed followers of Christ; more than that, the greatest joy that God could know today is for us to present ourselves sacrificially and completely to him, to use as he desires.