Friends, as Lent begins, we bump into a word about one of the three great pillars of life in Jesus that he teaches us in his famous Sermon on The Mount in Matthew 5 and 6;
Giving Praying Fasting
These are not called ‘pillars’ of life in Jesus for nothing. They have always been what people of the gospel do in life.
It is easy to see why Jesus taught people to practice these things in everyday life. These three streams of life in God’s grace go right back to Moses.
Moses teaches about one of the three pillars specifically – giving. The desert wandering people who are just about to receive the long promised prosperous land from God. Moses tells them the reasons and the blessings of regular giving of their best back the Lord.
When I hear this, and ponder Jesus’ words on the same, I am struck by the truth that I was taught the exact opposite in my growing up years.
This was not because Mum and Dad were particularly bad people. It is just that they did not know this biblical way, and because they were also working class people trying to eke out a living to support us three kids and themselves.
I was taught that you keep what you can get because no one else will give you anything. I was taught that it is OK to be ‘on the take’ a little bit, as long as you don’t rip people off (except for ‘rich people’ or the government – so called ‘rich people’ – anyone with money or things you have not got! have plenty and the government deserves it!!).
But Jesus shows us the very opposite. “Don’t keep whatever you get but give away everything I give”.
I have noticed that we do not like talking about the giving of money. I can see why. It’s in this word by Jesus. Giving is never to be about big noting ourselves before each other and especially before God
But I wonder if in our effort to keep our giving secret we seem to either not teach anyone anything about it or just give up on giving altogether?
Do we actually still teach regular planned financial giving of our best back to the Lord for his purposes? In our silence we may be teaching what I learned – “Get what you can because ‘there are no free lunches’ and ‘look after yourself because no one else will”?
Add to that this cry we hear often in our culture, “You deserve what you get” as if everyone is owed something by everyone in this “age of entitlement”, as the once Federal Treasurer, Joe Hockey, called it some time ago, and we have a big challenge – the challenge to hear Jesus and pass on what he teaches and knows about generosity in all of life, including money.
Truth is that God talks about the call to be generous with the many gifts he generously gives in every part of our lives – our time, our talents and of course, like here in this word, our produce/’treasure’.
There are two reasons for generous giving of money/produce given here and throughout the Old Testament.
One is a practical/community reason. It is how the community supports the only family/tribe not given land to work and live off – the priests; the Levites. The people are called to provide for the priests who make sure the Lord is rightly worshipped in temple and all the festivals that tell God’s story with them and for the world. The people give the best of their produce at the temple and the produce supports Levitical families.
But there is another reason for financial giving – a spiritual reason. It is giving thanks to the Lord. In this generous act of giving at the temple, the people rightly say thanks to the God who gives them everything, including the very gifts they now return as a show of love, of thanks, or praise for his goodness.
Generous giving is all about faith in the Lord and reliance on him above everyone and everything else. Giving trains us in reliance.
This giving of your best, your ‘first fruits’, not your leftovers, is planned giving. You need to plan and organise your generous giving. It is also a constant/regular giving. You give in an organized way all year as the season come and go.
This spiritual practice of regular, consistent, planned ‘giving of your best before you give to the rest’ runs from Moses to Jesus and into the New Testament community, of which we are part.
In the New Testament we find another reason for regular planned giving. It is to support fellow Christians in need.
Remember how Paul spent a couple of years trying to get an offering together from all the little communities that had sprung up though his church planting work. The offering was for the fellow saints in the city of Jerusalem who were suffering in a time prolonged severe drought. That would like us getting an offering together for fellow Christians in Queensland and NSW in the floods at the moment.
So, the reasons for generous, planned and constant giving are;
- Supporting the priest/temple – or in our case those called to serve in our mission as paid staff and key volunteer leaders and our church facilities and efforts,
- Giving thanks to God always, for everything he gives us.
- Supporting people in need – especially fellow Christians.
I thank Jesus for teaching me this through his people. I now view generosity of giving a real privilege and joy.
Leanne and I knew it was important to intentionally teach our four kids this generosity in giving of our best, including money, to Jesus and people.
Our kids had three money boxes in their rooms. They received pocket money. One box was for saving, one was for offering at worship, and the last was for spending on yourself.
Why saving first? Because God does not expect us to give what we can’t.
Put another way, Paul is saying that you should give in proportion to what God has given you (which is different for everyone).
So, the biblical shape for us on using the money God gives, whatever amount is in this, in order of priority;
That is the Christian spiritual practice of generous giving of money I have been taught.
And this is never to keep some rule to earn God’s blessing or make more money or have better crops or look good, but simply to respond to the complete generosity of the Father in the giving of life and future and purpose in life in Jesus.
So much good is done in Jesus’ name by the generosity of God’s people, as we see all the time at St Petri and in the Barossa generally. So much generous giving is done here. Giving creates gospel mission, new relationships, witnesses to Jesus’ generous heart for everyone.
Long may we give what has been given to us!
These days I actually look for opportunities to be generous to people. From shouting your mates or family a meal or a beer, to giving to this local church mission, to supporting charities and etc…., we do our best with the best God gives us.
The thing I have noticed is that generous giving, especially regular planned giving of money (and other things) is a way of checking my own inbuilt selfishness, so I trust Jesus all the time and be his grace for others.
Giving helps me stay generous and open to people the Spirit sends my way. It is like a spiritual jack hammer. Giving of my first and best breaks up my ego and lets light and life get in and out.
I believe Jesus knows this very well, as did Moses. It is why they taught the community to give and give generously. It is good for the soul, good for people and good for our relationship with Jesus, the one who gives himself to us every day.