The Grace of Giving
I Timothy 6:17-19
What is this? Yes, a $20 bill. If this were your $20, and I burned it, (rip it up or hold lighted lighter under it and pretend and then actually burn it) what kind of an impact would it have on you? Would you be annoyed because I wasted money? Would you be upset with me because I spoiled the plans you had for it? Would you be angry and afraid because I caused you to starve or be sent out of the place you live? I suspect some of us wouldn’t really miss it and some would have to change plans because of it, but I am quite sure that none of us would starve or be evicted because of it.
What that means is that all of us have enough so that at the very least, $20 can sometimes be considered discretionary income. The point I am making is that we are all rich enough that when I Timothy 6:17-19 says, “Command those who are rich, in this present world…” it is speaking to all of us. So as we examine this passage this morning, we all need to listen.
Now before I go on, lest someone be upset with me for ripping up a $20, let me assure you that it was not a real $20, so I didn’t just waste $20.
When someone suggested that we should have a message on stewardship and giving, I was a little reluctant to do so. Somehow it seems that money is a subject that we are afraid to talk about. Perhaps because we don’t want to step on other’s toes, perhaps because we know that we will need to apply it in an area we find difficult, but I believe that it is an important subject that we need to learn about and so we will do so this morning. As I speak, however, please understand that I do so as a fellow struggler.
The context of this passage follows along from what Paul said earlier in verse 6 and following. In this passage, he warns about the love of money. In this he does not condemn riches, but warns about the dangers which riches bring. Dangers, which, as I have shown, we are all subject to.
There are several ways we could approach this subject. We could talk about stewardship, envy, materialism, and all these are important matters, but, I believe that these are all matters which are at the edge of the problem. This morning, I want to get to what I think is the core of the problem with money. The words in this passage are not hard to understand, but they are hard to live. I hope this morning as we examine this passage together we will be encouraged in our thinking and challenged in our living.
Let us read the text.
I. The Pride of Possession
Earlier we read the story of the rich man who trusted in his wealth in Luke 12:16-21. The context of the story is a request by someone from the crowd for a ruling on dividing an inheritance. Jesus did not make a ruling, but warned the people, by use of this parable.
Jesus draws us into the parable by describing a windfall for the man. The windfall of wealth which came to the rich man is what all of us wish would happen to us. There is a commercial I have seen on TV which reminds me of this story. It shows a picture of a young looking middle aged couple enjoying themselves on a tropical beach. The commercial suggests a way to plan for early retirement and a life of ease. As we think about these things, we realize that Jesus is talking about us. Most people would call the man wise because he prepared himself for the future. He could be looked at as a wise investor, but Jesus calls him a fool.
How shocking! A fool for doing what most of us dream of? What made him a fool? He was foolish in his presumption. The rich man presumed two things about the future.
A. Not Arrogant
First, he was arrogant and presumed that he would live forever. “Concentrating on ‘my…my…my…my’ he discovered, too late, that all, even his own being, was a short-term loan from God.” The word “demanded” in NIV or “required” in RSV and KJV is a word that suggests that life is a loan which must be returned to God.”
Kefa Sempangi (whose story is told in the book A Distant Grief,) was a national pastor in Africa and barely escaped with his family from brutal oppression and terror in his home country of Uganda. They made their way to Philadelphia, where a group of Christians began caring for them. One day his wife said, "Tomorrow I am going to go and buy some clothes for the children," and immediately she and her husband broke into tears. Because of the constant threat of death under which they had so long lived, that was the first time in many years they had dared even speak the word tomorrow. Their terrifying experiences forced them to realize what is true of every person: there is no assurance of tomorrow. The only time we can be sure of having is what we have at the moment. To the self-satisfied farmer who had grandiose plans to build bigger and better barns to store his crops, the Lord said, "You fool! This very night your soul is required of you" (Luke 12:20). He had already lived his last tomorrow.
B. Not Hope in Wealth
Second, he presumed that he would have his wealth tomorrow. The passage in I Timothy warns of the uncertainty of riches. You cannot count on what you have, for you may not always possess it. Russell Bake said, “Inanimate objects are classified scientifically into three major categories--those that don't work, those that break down, and those that get lost.”
This is very personal for me. I have finished reading my great-grandfather’s diary. It was a good thing that he was not a man who trusted in his wealth because he found that it did not stay forever. He was a wealthy businessman in Russia and after the revolution in 1917, he lost everything. What a contrast it must have been when at age 40 he had a thriving business, a large home, a growing family and at age of 60, when he made a living by walking door to door in Winnipeg selling eggs. If we depend on wealth, it may not always be there. If we are depending on our wages, our insurance, our pension plans or our savings account, we do not know the kind of things that can happen that will cause us to lose them.
So the warning in I Timothy 6:17 is, “do not be arrogant nor put your hope in wealth, which is so uncertain.”
II. Hope In God
A. Hope In God
Instead, Paul tells Timothy to teach that they should “put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” Here we get right to the heart of something that is a problem for me and I suspect for most of us.
Paul does not condemn making money, saving money, buying insurance or making investments. These things can all be done while being obedient to what he is teaching. It is possible to have a huge bank account and put absolutely no confidence in it. It is wise to have insurance and a pension plan, but still not to have an attitude of dependence on that insurance or on the pension plan. It is possible to lack many of these supports and to be filled with worry because we don’t know how we are going to make it.
What he condemns is an attitude. He gets right to the heart of the matter when he causes us to ask, “Where is my hope?” I have to confess that my hope is easily in my money. Life is a lot easier now that I have a steady income than it was when I was on unemployment. Even then there was a certain security in what I had. It is so easy for us to place our security in what we have because we have so much, but Paul warns us not to do so.
Jesus taught this important lesson in the story of the widow in Luke 21:1-4, which we read earlier. While the disciples were admiring the great gifts which many wealthy people were giving, Jesus saw something else. He saw a woman give a few small copper coins. Why did he commend the woman? Was it because she was so sacrificial, giving all she had? I don’t think that is the whole story. What she was demonstrating was that she depended on God. She had nothing else to depend on. Humanly speaking, we might say that it was an easy decision for her. She was simply deciding that she would starve today instead of tomorrow. But I would suggest that Jesus commended her because she had nothing and had to depend on God. It was her life, her livelihood, all that she had to live on. In giving this money, she evidenced her trust in God to provide for her needs, and to sustain her life. Her trust was in God, not in her money.
That is exactly the point. When you have nothing, you have to look elsewhere for help and Jesus was teaching His disciples and us and Paul is teaching us that we need to learn to recognize that we are dependent on God whether we have much or little.
The passage in I Timothy commends an attitude of trust in God. I have to confess that I want to trust God, but too often I trust what I have.
B. God Supplies
If we think a little more deeply, we will recognize the reason that we are tempted to trust in our wealth and not in God is because deep down, we do not believe that God has our best interest in mind. Why should we trust in God? He might ask us to give up our fun. He might ask us to give away all we have. He might ask us to make difficult sacrifices and go to the Sahara Desert to be a missionary - no more swimming pools, movie rentals, cars with air conditioning or trips to Dairy Queen.
That is the view we have of God and that is really the heart of the matter. You thought we were going to talk about money and here we are talking about your heart and your understanding of God. What is this God like whom we are being asked to trust?
The problem is that we have bought the lie of Satan that God is only interested in making us miserable. We are yielding to the same temptation that Eve was tempted with when she listened to the serpent suggest that perhaps God was placing too many restrictions on her.
But the passage we are looking at reminds us that that is not what God is like at all. Look at what the text says. It says, “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” That is the God we are asked to trust.
Just think for a moment of the flowers. What useful purpose do they provide? Was it really necessary for God to create great big, full coloured, multi-coloured flowers? Little white flowers would have provided the function of allowing bees to make honey well enough, but God created roses and petunias and Tiger Lilies and Irises. That is the God we are invited to trust, the God who made flowers, who “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
Does that mean, as some teach, that we can expect God to give us every luxury that this world has available? Am I preaching a health and wealth gospel or the doctrine of Amway? Not at all. Such things are a lie and a miserable substitute to what real life is all about. Joy has never been found in things and the enjoyment he is speaking of here is a much deeper and much more valuable enjoyment than anything on earth can give us. The amazing thing is that God does often give us many good things on earth and is not displeased when we enjoy the good things he gives us.
So when we face this decision whether we will trust in God or in what we have, we need to do so with the reminder of the rich grace of the God we are invited to trust.
III. Be Generous
The question then becomes how can we make that real in our lives?
Charles Spurgeon said, “Beware of growing covetousness, for of all sins this is one of the most insidious. It is like the silting up of a river. As the stream comes down from the land, it brings with it sand and earth and deposits all these at its mouth, so that by degrees, unless the conservators watch it carefully, it will block itself up and leave no channel for ships of great burden. By daily deposit it imperceptibly creates a bar which is dangerous to navigation. Many a man when he begins to accumulate wealth commences at the same moment to ruin his soul, and the more he acquires, the more closely he blocks up his liberality, which is, so to speak, the very mouth of spiritual life. Instead of doing more for God he does less. The more he saves the more he wants, and the more he wants of this world the less he cares for the world to come.”
The cure for overcoming the danger of trusting things instead of God is found in verse 18 and 19. The answer to dealing with wealth is not asceticism, but generosity.
I recall a conversation with a group of pastors from several different denominations. We were talking about giving patterns for a certain charitable project. They were quite open in recognizing that Mennonites were generous and if there were Mennonites involved in a project, it would probably raise enough money. I don’t have to tell you about all the organizations that are out there looking for donations and looking to us for those donations. God has been gracious to teach us generosity in giving to His work.
What puzzles me is that as generous we are in giving donations, we sometimes have an extreme opposite reputation when it comes to other areas. For example, our daughter has worked in restaurants in a number of different areas and finds that Christians and also Mennonites are not very good at leaving tips. Or consider that we have learned to get a good deal and are known as shrewd in business and we do so with the thought that we are being good stewards, but often that is a negative reputation. I have sometimes wondered what it would mean to learn about a whole life generosity. A few years ago pig prices were so low that farmers could not even pay for the cost of production. At that time, it was possible to get a pig for a very low price. I knew a man who found out what the cost of production was and paid the farmer that price, which was almost double the market price. Are we willing to live that kind of generosity?
If our dependence is on God, will he not provide for what we need? Will he not help us to be good stewards? This text is not limited to receipted donations, not even to donations. It talks about a lifestyle of generosity, which means that we need to do good, be rich in good deeds, generous and willing to share. What will it mean for us to have such a generous lifestyle? I know that I have a lot to learn about this, but I also know that if our dependence is on God, then such a lifestyle will be possible for us. I want to learn it.
If we want to have a stewardship perspective on this concept of generosity, we need only look at the next verse which tells us that generosity is an investment in eternity.
You have heard that there are no “U-Haul’s” behind hearses. When we die, we go out as naked as we came into this world. We take nothing with us. But that is not entirely true. We can stock eternity with all kinds of riches but the only way to do it is by generosity. That is what it says in verse 19.
True life, eternal life which begins for us as soon as we put our trust in God, is life in which we trust God in everything and in which we are generous now and so invest what we have now in the life hereafter. Generosity does not lost money, it is an investment in the future. That future is the true life of heaven which is not transitory.
At the end of the year, organizations often have an audit done. The purpose of an audit is to make sure that the money that came in and the money that was spent balances and is all accounted for. It is a test of integrity in the organization. I am most familiar with audits in Christian organizations where the income is by donation and where integrity is expected and checking for it is simply another aspect of integrity.
There is an audit which is coming for all of us. One day, we will have to stand before the judge of all the earth and give account of what we did with our life. There will be only one question asked and that is the question of whether we trusted God. The evidence of that trust will be evaluated by the way in which we lived our life and when it comes to the financial aspect of the audit, generosity will measure whether we trusted God or not.
One way we often talk about money is to think about how much we should earn, how much we should save, how much we should donate. We could come up with a list of proposals and vote on them. Some churches do that. What I would like you to do is much harder. It requires that you examine yourself on a regular basis. That you examine not only your actions, but your heart and that you constantly evaluate the connection between your heart attitude and your actions. I am fully convinced that if your heart is right in this matter, then right actions will also follow.
Sometimes internal audits are made to do a check up on a company and this morning, I would like to invite you to do a personal audit. Do you depend on what you have or on God? Are you generous? Do you see the value of investing in eternity rather than in the temporal?
Today we are having the offering at the end of the service. We will take the offering in the normal way this morning, but as we take it, I invite you to do so as a response to God’s voice to you this morning. If you want to give your offering the way you normally do, that is just fine. If you aren’t able to give an offering this morning that is fine also. But if God has spoken to you about the condition of your heart and if you know that you depend on money rather than on God, then I want to invite you to give an offering. I invite you to do it not for the purpose of getting a charitable receipt, not because you want to support a particular project. I invite you to give it strictly as a sign to God about what is happening in your heart. Give it as a confession that you easily depend on money rather than on God. Give it as a prayer that you want God to help you depend on Him rather than on money.ss