Living Generously Part One
Topic: Generosity Passage: Acts 20, Proverbs 11:25
Grace Community Church
January 10, 2016
Living Generously Part One
Let's turn to Acts 20. For my birthday Janice set up a golfing tee time for my two sons Jared and Matthew and me. It was a beautiful day and the three of us had a great time together. But a funny moment happened when we got to the sixth hole. The tee-off just seemed really weird. There were trees about 20 yards in front of the tee- off, and we knew we couldn't get the ball over those trees, so we figured we'd have to hit to the right. The other strange thing was we couldn't see the flag where the 6th hole was. It was like there was no clear fairway. We all hit our balls keeping to the right as best we could, but just as we started out to find our balls Jared took another look at the map of the golf course and realized that we were hitting in the wrong direction! We were supposed to be hitting in the complete opposite direction. I have no idea how we got so turned around but we had to go get the balls we had just hit, bring them back to the tee, and tee off again, this time in the 180 degrees opposite direction.
For the next several weeks we'll bein a series called Living Generously and taking a look at what the Bible says about generosity and giving. The Bible has a lot to say about generosity, and Jesus actually spoke more about money than he did about heaven and hell combined. God cares about how we spend our resources - not just our money, but also our time and energy and gifts because how we spend our resources reflects and reveals what's really important to us. There is an artery that runs directly from our wallets to our hearts and so God cares about our wallets because He cares about our hearts.
So this is a very important subject to God and to our lives, but before we tee off this series, I want to make sure we're facing in the right direction. See, a lot of times the subject of living and giving generously immediately produces feelings of guilt. We think in terms of obligation: "I ought to" and "I need to". And to be honest there are churches (and pastors) that use guilt to motivate people to give more - what some have called the "Sunday morning stickup". So when we think about living generously we just assume that we need to face in the direction of guilt and obligation.
But if we take a second look at the map of the Bible we will do a 180 because there are few principles in scripture that have more potential for enriching and enlarging our lives than the principle of living generously. God isn't looking to impose a bunch of "oughts" and "shoulds" on us, He's inviting us on an adventure of faith and blessing that can literally change our lives in some amazing ways. So let's begin this adventure by teeing off at Acts 20:35 and then lets pray.
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35 ESV)
When Jesus talked about our lives being blessed, he loved to use a word that is better translated happy than blessed. Jesus is literally saying It is happier to give than to receive. Now happiness has gotten a bad rap in the church lately. It just doesn't sound very spiritual to want to be happy. I've heard people say - I've probably said it myself - that God wants us to be holy, but He really doesn't care if we're happy. Happiness is characterized as a superficial feeling that is dependent on our circumstances. So, we are told, Christians should seek joy but not happiness. But the Bible speaks of happiness in a broader and bigger sense in which a happy life means a full life, a thriving life, a meaningful life. It doesn't mean a life devoid of sorrow or loss or trials, it means that there is a way that we can, through the tears and heartaches and losses and trials and suffering, be happy and live a happy life! The truth is God designed us to long to be happy - everyone wants to be happy - and God wants us to be happy! AW Tozer wrote many years ago that God takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.
What Jesus is saying here is that it is happier to be generous than it is to be stingy. Notice what Jesus emphasizes. He doesn't say, it's more righteous to give than to receive. Or, we're more obligated to give than to receive. He's turning us around 180 degrees and saying the direction to greater happiness isn't getting more. It's giving more.
Now obviously there has to be wisdom and thought involved in our generosity and next week we'll look at some specific ways the Bible calls us to be generous and how we can and should be wise in how and where we give, but this morning I want to share four benefits that living generously brings to our lives.
Living generously helps us live a richer life
The Mazatec Indians in south-western Mexico have an interesting idea about generosity. They rarely wish anyone well, or say have a good day, or share knowledge that they have with someone else because they believe in "limited good" - that there is only so much good, so much knowledge, and so much love to go around. To teach another means you drain yourself of knowledge. To love a second child means you drain the first child of love. To wish someone well means you have just given away some of your own happiness, which can't be gotten back.
The Bible teaches us the opposite. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. Prov. 11:25 (NIV)
In the Hebrew, the word "generous" literally means to saturate with water - to overflow in such a way that it brings life to others. The Bible promises if we live that way, rather than draining ourselves of good, of refreshing, of prosperity, we will find it returning to us. As we give away, we receive. As we refresh others, we will be refreshed. And the opposite is true, if we keep it all for ourselves, we end up living an empty life. There's a reason why the word miser comes from the word miserable. Stingy people are never happy people!
A truly rich life isn't measured in dollars and cents. Winston Churchill said "we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." The next Powerball drawing will be on Wednesday and the jackpot 1.3 billion so a lot of people are going out to buy lottery tickets. That's always mystified me: so $300 million isn't enough to motivate me to buy a ticket but $900 million is? How much money does a person need? But someone wins this 1.3 billion prize the world will call them rich and they may feel like their winning ticket not only gave them a living, it gave them a life. The Bible tells us that's not the case. Having a lot doesn't make a rich life, it's what we do with what we have that makes our lives rich or poor.
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Paul is giving good financial advice here - being rich with money without being rich in generosity is to be seriously poor. And the great thing is we don't have to have a lot to be a generous person. The poorest person in the world can do what Paul advises: do good…be rich in good works…be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
It may seem counterintuitive, but when God invites us to live generously, it's not because God wants to kill our happiness, it's because He wants to fill our happiness. He wants us to live richer lives, not poorer lives, bigger lives not smaller lives. Living generously helps us to live richer lives.
Living generously helps connect us with others
A man that hath friends must show himself friendly…Prov. 18:24
Chip Ingram writes, When people are generous and gracious, they exude love and happiness. There's something very attractive about those who have a sense of kindness, who do nice things for others, who pick up a bill or go out of their way to do a favor. Generous people create positive feelings in their relationships. They cause others to want to be around them. 1
When we overflow the waters of generosity, people will be attracted to us because they will feel refreshed and encouraged when they're around us. The truth is relationships take generous amounts of time, energy, and sacrificial unselfishness. One of the challenges today is that technology has made it so easy for us to feel like we don't need anyone else. We can have favorite TV shows every night of the week, so getting together with people is an inconvenience and intrusion on my NCIS night, or Chicago Fire night, or whatever. If it's not TV, it can be FB time, or computer time, or just wanting to draw in night after night and spend time with our families (I can be a homebody so I relate to that). But God has put a deep longing in our hearts for relationships, and while we may not feel any immediate lack when we choose to avoid people as a pattern, when we come to the end of a year and certainly when we come to the end of our lives and look back, there will be regret if we don't see consistent moments of encouraging friendship by showing friendship.
In our second year of marriage, Janice and I moved into some apartments and after awhile we noticed living next to us was an older man who had to carry an oxygen tank with him wherever he went. He seemed lonely and we reached out to him and got to know him. Phil was divorced and his adult children did not come to visit him very often, so he was a very lonely man. We befriended him, having him over for dinner a few times, and helping him out in different ways: a trip to the grocery store, he'd ask me to come over to help him with one of his oxygen tanks or something, one time I spent my day off driving him to NJ to a VA hospital for a check up. More than once as Janice and I were getting ready for bed, we would hear pounding on our bedroom wall - it would be Phil needing something!
Phil and I would have Bible studies together and I had the privilege of praying with him to receive Christ. When he was able to he would come to church. As his health deteriorated, he began to struggle with the fear of dying and I remember praying with him and assuring him of God's love and faithfulness to see him through. Phil passed away about two years after we met him.
We didn't spend a million hours with him, but our relationship took time, and to be honest sometimes it was at inconvenient times. We never knew when we'd hear a pound on the wall (I'm not sure why he didn't call us on the phone). But I am very grateful we got to be Phil's friends, to be just about the only friends he had in his last year on this planet, and to lead him to Christ. Generosity helps connect us with others.
Living generously helps us invest in things that really matter
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a]destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matt. 6:19-21
Jesus is giving some really good investment advice here. We can invest our lives in treasures that are destined to rot and decay, treasures that we can't hold onto forever. Or we can invest our lives in the eternal - where our treasure never rots or decays and we can never lose it.
We'll be looking more at this point because it is really important for us to get a good grasp on this, but I want you to notice the power that investing our treasure has on our hearts. Where our money goes, our hearts go too. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Years ago I got a hot tip that Krispy Kreme Donuts was going to skyrocket in value. I didn’t have money to invest or I might have put a lot into it, but just thinking about the possibility of investing in KK had me checking their stock price every day for months. At the time KK stocks were running about $40 share, now they're averaging about $13-14 share. It would have been a bad investment for us. But the idea of putting some of my treasure into KK engaged my heart with KK. If we want our hearts engaged in the things of God, we need to invest our treasure in the things of God. And Jesus that's the only investment that isn't going to go down in value. We can't lose when we invest our lives in the kingdom of Christ - even if it costs us our lives we come out way ahead.
Living generously helps to grow our faith and trust in God
As we stand at the 2016th hole and a fresh new year lies before us, God is inviting us to resist our natural impulses to hit the ball in the direction of our selfish desires by making this year about getting more for ourselves and instead to hit the ball in the opposite direction by being generous and spend ourselves generously for the sake of others and for the kingdom of Christ.
How do we do that? All of us only have so much resources - be it money or time or energy or friendship or whatever. How do we balance savings and dealing with debt and being practical and not wanting to give money without knowing our money is going to be well invested for the kingdom of Christ and the true good of others. We'll look at that a little more carefully soon, but God doesn't want it to be about guilt or duty. He wants our generosity to be a delight to our hearts - God loves a cheerful giver.
He wants us to come to Him with faith and trust and ask Him to direct us in the adventure of living generously, so that our giving reflects His heart and His priorities and not just our own. So that our giving draws us daily into a closer relationship with the Lord. Chip Ingram writes about this,
This is why Jesus talked about money so often. It wasn't because God is in need of our money and Jesus wanted to make sure we gave it to Him. It was because the way we handle money is one of the
most accurate reflections of our relationship with Him…2
It's not about a bunch of rules that we get from God - it's about an adventure of faith that we share with God. As we tee off on hole 2016, God is inviting us to face in the direction of a bigger life, and a happier life, by living generously.
1 Chip Ingram, The Genius of Generosity, pg. 16
2 Ibid, pg. 37