November 13, 2016
Have you ever served on the board of a not-for-profit organization? If so, you know that board members are expected to be generous in their support of the organization. In fact, these organizations often seek to find people of means to serve on their boards for that very reason.
Now of course a church is considered to be a not-for-profit organization but I can tell you that when we seek people to serve on our boards and committees we are not looking for wealthy people. We are looking for committed, faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
I don’t know the specific or even the general condition of your finances. I don’t know how much anyone here gives to the church, but if you are a follower of Christ I do know that our giving ought to be regulated by biblical values concerning Christian giving. The work of God in the world today often requires money. And so this morning I want to say that God-given work calls for God-given generosity.
I. HAS GOD GIVEN HIS PEOPLE A SIGNIFICANT WORK TO DO? Ex.36:1-2
The Old Testament is a fascinating collection of books spanning hundreds of years. Beginning in Genesis we learn how God created all things and all people, and how God brought about the nation of Israel. The Old Testament gives us a narrative of God’s dealings with mankind and his people Israel. Specifically it tells the story of how our loving Creator-God went about the work of bringing mankind back into a relationship of life, love, and peace with God. As you can imagine, when God acts on his own he accomplishes all that he desires. But when God acts in relationship to sinful people it gets complicated because men and women continually prefer to do things their own way rather than God’s way. Israel and humanity in general would rather worship idols than God.
In Gen.6:5-6 we read, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Things got so bad that God decided to destroy mankind, preserving only Noah and his family. After the flood God began again with the family of Noah. Noah’s 3 sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth began to repopulate the earth. One of Shem’s descendants was Abram. While the world of humanity quickly became evil again, Abram was called by God in Gen.12. Through Abram God raised up the nation of Israel. God chose Israel to be a light to the nations, showing the nations how good it is to live in relationship with God. God gave wonderful promises to Israel. He would eventually bring Israel into a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. God would be their God and they would be God’s people. And the world would see and turn to God.
But things didn’t quite turn out that way. Much happened over the many years of Jewish history. In the book of Exodus we learn that long before they ever got to the Promised Land, they were enslaved in Egypt over 300 years, but then God raised up Moses who led Israel out of slavery by the mighty hand of God. And God established a means by which Israel could worship him and enjoy his faithful presence all the time. God gave plans to Moses for the building of a tabernacle. The word tabernacle means, “residence or dwelling place.” It was an elaborate tent and in that tent God would dwell with his people.
As you might imagine, the building of this tabernacle was a very important work. God gave explicit instructions on how the tent was to be made, what pieces of furniture were to go inside the tent, and how they were to be made. Every detail was carefully explained because God is holy and he prescribes the way to approach him and to be in relationship with him. And if you were to read these instructions you would find that this tabernacle was not just to be a utilitarian kind of tent. Beauty and artistry were front and center because God is a God of beauty and joy.
Now if you know anything about Old Testament history, you know that Israel built the tabernacle and many years later under king Solomon, Israel built the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the center of life with God. It was at the tabernacle and later the temple that God was worshiped and forgiveness of sins was provided. In many ways the life of the nation of Israel depended on the presence of God in that temple. God, who dwelt with his people, gave them his laws which governed and defined the kind of people they were to be. They were to be holy as God is holy.
But Israel strayed from God in idolatry, rebellion and unbelief. Finally, in Ezekiel we read about how God left the temple as his people went into exile because of their sin of idolatry. And then many years later we come to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We read about how God once again came to dwell with his people in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus became the new temple, the center of God’s presence with mankind. He was called Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” Jesus lived a perfect life, he died for our sins, he rose from the grave, and in doing so Jesus made it possible for the sins of the whole world to be forgiven. Those who turn to Christ receive this forgiveness of sins and eternal life in the kingdom of God. Today the presence of God dwells in the hearts of his people through the Holy Spirit. The church is a spiritual temple in which God dwells. And through the Church, God’s presence is revealed. We embody the presence of God. And as we live our lives in this world, we reveal the faithful, saving presence of God to everyone we are privileged to know.
God has once again given a work to his people. Before Jesus ascended to the Father he said to his disciples in Mt.28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Like Israel of old, those of us who know Christ are called to a great work. It is the work of making disciples of Jesus.
Today, Jesus Christ is building his Church by working through the Church. In the early church believers met in homes. Over the years of history the Church, the body of Christ, has become institutionalized and localized in buildings. We call them churches. Church buildings are a place for the worship of God and they provide a material, physical sense of presence in a community. But the goal is not to build buildings, rather the goal is to use every resource, buildings included, to make followers, disciples of Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters this is a great work. No one else is doing this work, except the church of Jesus Christ. It is the only work that will last into eternity. It is the work of inviting people into to the saving presence of God in Christ. It is a work that requires great patience, prayer, and thoughtfulness. There is nothing quick about making disciples. It is a work of being present with people both in the church and outside the church, always seeking to help them come to know and follow Jesus. If you know Christ you are part of that work. What you say and what you do has everything to do with making disciples of Jesus.
But here is the question: Does your current relationship with Christ captivate your life to the point that in all you do and say you are following in the way of Christ? Do our lives reveal the reality of Christ in us? Have we embraced this work of revealing Christ to others? Everything we do either shows that we love and follow Jesus or not.
II. HAS GOD GIVEN YOU A GENEROUS HEART? Ex.36:3-7
God’s work is supported by God’s people. But let me point out that this was not the first heartfelt offering taken in Israel. In Ex.32 Moses was up on Mt. Sinai some 40 days receiving the two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. When the people of Israel saw that Moses was not returning in a timely way, they became unsettled and they came to Aaron, Moses’ brother, and we read, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.’
How quickly God’s chosen people turned to idolatry. They wholeheartedly took up an offering for a sinful, rebellious work. They gave willingly for something that was ungodly. There is an interesting passage in Ex.12. When the Israelites left Egypt, because of the devastation of the ten plagues, the Egyptians were happy to see them go. In Ex.12:35-36 we read, “The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.” Where did the people of Israel get their gold earrings, etc.? They received it by God’s grace. I point this out to say that material wealth is a stewardship given to us by God. Israel quickly abandoned that stewardship for idolatry. And it is very easy for the people of God in any age to use what God has given them to worship other things and not God. Moses burned the golden calf and ground it to powder and made the people drink it. God sent a plague upon the people. They were chastened.
Well, again we come to Ex.36. Moses encourages the people to bring offerings in order to carry out the work of building the tabernacle. And what happened? The people of Israel embraced the work of God and contributed far more than was needed to the point that Moses had to stop them from giving. These were free will offerings for the work of God. God had given them generous hearts.
Now in our materialistic culture, it is very easy to begin to think that the money, the wealth that we have is self-generated. And when we view our money as being self-generated we view it as our money. “This is my money and I can spend it however I choose.” Well, it is your money. And you can spend it however you choose. But a clearer understanding brings us to the realization that my money is only my money because God had granted it to me. God has given me strength to go to work to earn the money. Just as life is a gift from God, so money is a gift from God.
Followers of Christ worship God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. This means that everything we have is brought into our worship of God. Throughout the whole of Scripture there is an emphasis on being generous towards God and his work. In the Old Testament such generosity began with the tithe, giving 10% of one’s income to the work of the Lord. And I believe the tithe is still a good starting point for being generous to the Lord. I also believe that followers of Christ are not under the Law. Tithing is not a law for believers, but it is a good benchmark. Why would those of us who have received the grace of God in Christ give any less than Jews who were under the law of God?
If 10% is too much of a stretch for you then why don’t you begin with giving 3% of your income, or 5%? Be thoughtful in your giving and see if God is faithful in providing for your needs. If God is faithful then you can increase your giving, maybe to 8% or 10% or more? You cannot out give God. Do you trust God enough to be generous to him? Has God given you a generous heart towards him and his work?
Now obviously this is a message on stewardship. My goal is to challenge us as followers of Christ to put our money where our mouth is? Why, because most of us would say that we are followers of Christ and that our heart is with Christ and his work. Well, where your heart is there your treasure will be. Our giving truly reflects the nature of our relationship with Christ. If you do not tithe I want to encourage you to seek the Lord on this. Generous giving to the Lord is part of being a disciple of Jesus. We have a God-given work to do and that work needs the support of God’s people. Amen