Scripture Reference: Isaiah 6, John 17, Acts 17, 2 Corinthians 8, Philippians 2
The Generosity Of God – Part 1Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | July 6, 2014
Selected highlights from this sermon
Why are we so sensitive about the matter of money and giving to the church? As Christians, we should be free in our generosity because Jesus, who was rich—in material things (He created everything), in honor, in authority, and in relationships—gave everything up for us.
The Creator of the universe came to Earth, was yelled at, spit upon, falsely accused, viciously attacked, and crucified so that we could share in His inheritance and reign with Him forever.
The Gospel should be our motivation for giving.
Today I have the privilege of speaking on the topic of the generosity of God. I’m going to be speaking about God’s generosity, and about giving and money and all those things. And I can imagine already what some of you are thinking. I know you. You’re thinking, “I brought guests today. It’s their first time at Moody Church, and now he’s going to speak about money.”
A couple told us recently that they went to another church where they were fund raising, and the pastor spoke about money and they never went back again. Just relax. I’m not going to try to get blood out of a turnip. I’m not even going to talk about our deficit, which is significant, but that’ll take care of itself. Relax. I don’t want you to think about that. I want us to think about the generosity of God and the motivation for freeing people. I want you, at the end of this message, to be totally free – free in your generosity. That’s what I’ve been praying for and I believe that that’s what’s going to happen.
But why is it that we are so sensitive about the matter of money? First of all it’s because there are some people who live from paycheck to paycheck, and they can barely make it, and they say, “And now you expect us to give and we can’t afford it. Let the rich people give. They’ve got the money.”
Or there are people who say, “We are in debt.” They are in debt to credit cards. They are huge slaves to having to make those monthly payments. And then there are some people who are just plain stingy. They may be rich. They may be poor. Either way they want to hoard all of their wealth and they want to keep it. Well, I hope that all who are in those and other categories today are going to experience a new freedom and joy in the gift of giving.
Now take your Bibles and turn to 2 Corinthians 8, and you need to see this in the text in order to believe it. You need to turn to it. Paul here is trying to raise funds for the saints in Jerusalem who are going through a tough time because of famine, and also because they were marginalized as a result of persecution. So they were out of jobs. They were poor – dirt poor – and he’s trying to get an offering together. And in order to motivate the saints at Corinth, what he does is he uses the Macedonians (which is a territory in Northern Greece) as an example of generosity. And look at what he says about them.
He says in chapter 8, verse 2, “In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” What’s going on? They didn’t use poverty as an example or as a reason to not give. He says, “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” Paul says, “I didn’t have the nerve to even ask them whether or not they’d give because I knew they couldn’t afford it.” This really is the key to giving but we can’t comment on that exactly because I don’t have time. But I’m saying, “What’s with these people giving so joyfully, so generously in the midst of their extreme poverty?” They didn’t use it as an excuse to not give. Paul says, “I’m using them to motivate you because (you’ll notice it says in verse 7) you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge (we could add if it relates to Moody Church in singing, in ministry) and in our love for you — see that you excel in this act of grace also.” You are good at everything else. Make sure that you are good at giving.
Alright, that’s the context. And now in the middle of this the Apostle Paul gives us the motivation, which explains the Macedonians, and should explain us as well.
I know that in the Bible everybody emphasizes John 3:16 as the key verse. And you see at baseball games and so forth people holding signs with John 3:16, as if that means anything to anybody. But I think that John 3:16 has some competition from 2 Corinthians 8:9. Surely you know this one by memory. You’ll notice it says these words, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” Paul says, “That’s the reason that you give.”
Alright, if that’s the reason why you give, let’s look at this verse very closely. First of all, you’ll notice that the Apostle Paul is speaking here about the riches of Jesus. “For you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Let’s talk about the wealth of Jesus, as though He was rich. Think of how rich Jesus was before He came to earth. He was rich in ownership. He owned everything. It says in Colossians 4 that by Him were all things created both visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created by Him and for Him. He owned everything. He was not only rich in ownership but rich also in honor. Do you remember that Jesus in John 17, as He was anticipating the cross, said, “Father, glorify Thou now Me with the glory that I had with Thee before the world was?”
Listen to me. We can only use our imaginations to know what that glory was like. It was brilliance. It was filled with honor and worship, and of course, we see a little bit of it in the 6th chapter of the book of Isaiah where Isaiah is falling before the Lord who is there in a blaze of glory. And that, by the way, was Jesus, the Bible says.
So we see that He was rich in honor. He was rich in authority over all created creatures. And of course at first it was just angels, but then demonic spirits who fell. All of them are subject to Him and have to give an account to Him. Everyone is ultimately accountable to Jesus Christ.
And He was also rich in relationships. You know, sometimes the impression is given that God was kind of lonely and then He decided to create us so that we also might be able to have fellowship with Him. And in this fellowship God finally has some companionship. The Bible says in Acts 17 that God had need of nothing. Why? It’s because of the Trinity. We can’t explore this today because it would take time, but the Trinity has an inter-Trinitarian relationship - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It was one of love. It was a relationship of mutual respect. It was a relationship that was fulfilling to God, and He had need of nothing. He decided to create us simply because of the overflow of what He intended to accomplish, but God existed in complete satisfaction and happiness. And that was Jesus in His riches. Try to grasp it. We can’t but we can try.
Well, you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, how that though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor. I’m saying to myself, “I can’t believe this.” I’ve known many rich people who were generous, and by the way, I thank God for rich people. Rich people are oftentimes some of the most generous people. They fund all kinds of ministries, and so I am thankful for them. But I personally do not know a rich person who gave himself so much away that he became poor because he gave so much. Now there are a few, and I’m sure that somebody can text me and tell me about an autobiography that’s been written about some (quote) saint in the past who’s done it. But I don’t know of anybody and I don’t expect him or her to give that way.
But here is Jesus who gave Himself away and became poor in such a way that he actually had to become poor so that we might become rich. Do you notice that little phrase? You’re looking at the text I hope. It says, “for our sakes.” For our sakes He assumed poverty, not just giving away out of His riches. Oh no, no! He gave until He was poor.
Now many people think He gave economically – He became poor economically. This past week I listened to a message by John MacArthur, and he pointed out, quite correctly I might say, that Jesus was actually born into a middle-class home. He was not dirt poor, being a carpenter there in Nazareth. And when the Bible says that foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, well, Jesus, of course, as an itinerant evangelist had to sleep in various homes. But it isn’t economic poverty that might be part of it.
I think that Jesus became poor in the sense of dishonor. He was no longer honored on earth. In heaven everyone knew who He was. On earth He got shouted at, He got spat upon, He was viciously attacked and falsely accused. That’s the way He was being treated here on earth. It was the incarnation and not only the fact that He became poor in the sense of giving up his position. You know the Bible says in Philippians 2 that He did not believe that being equal with God had to be something He had to hang on to. He still retained God’s attributes. When He was here on earth He was God in the flesh, but He gave up the use of His attributes and depended totally on the Father. That’s why He spent so much time in prayer.
It would be as if I were a millionaire, but lived and worked with the poorest people in Chicago. At any time I could write out a check. I could live in a beautiful home, but I choose not to because I am identifying with them. That helps us understand a little bit about the incarnation and the tremendous price that Jesus gave. He did not consider Himself that He had to hang on to His position, but He humbled Himself and became a servant.
Now think about that for a moment. Today if you ask somebody who has a position to step down we hang on to our positions until our knuckles turn white. We will not step down. We will not humble ourselves. Just try it. Try it in business. Try it in relationships. Try it in your home. And yet here’s Jesus who gives it all up. And the thing that He gave up the most was His relationship with His Father, especially when He was dying on the cross, and He said, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?” and the fellowship with the Father was broken. That was the severest test and the most humiliation that Jesus went through. And to be nailed on a cross with everybody gawking at Him as He died! Talk about not dying with honor!
My dear friend, today will you remember that nobody has ever been that high who has stooped that low, and who has been willing to give it up, that we through that poverty might be made rich. Give Jesus a hand. Would you please? (applause)
And then notice the riches that we inherit, the generosity of God. Oh, try to grasp this. I’m searching for words today. I can’t get my mind around this, but hey, it’s in the Bible. You know, here at The Moody Church we have this naive belief that if it’s in the Bible, it’s true. Do any of you agree with that? (applause) And it’s not naïve because it is true, by the way. But you’ll notice that the text says that we through His poverty might be made rich. Well, how rich do we become? We become as rich as Jesus is. That’s how rich we become. We are heirs of God. We are joint heirs with Jesus Christ. We share in His inheritance. The Bible says he who is faithful will inherit all things, so in ownership we become as wealthy as Jesus. And in honor, to some extent, we become like Jesus. Nobody is ever going to worship us, but the Bible says this: “He who overcomes, to him I shall grant to sit with Me on My throne, even as I overcame and sat with My Father on His throne.”
And in terms of relationship imagine how rich we are going to be because we shall reign with Him forever and ever. His name shall be on our foreheads, and we shall see Him face to face forever without any sin ever coming in between. What a glorious prospect. (applause) And that’s what the text is saying. And it all happened because He was willing to be made poor.
So when the Apostle Paul said, “You know, when it comes to giving (He goes on to talk about giving.), don’t you know that that’s our motivation? Don’t you realize what Jesus did for you?”
I’d like to make three very important points that I hope we never, never forget.
First of all, remember this: Giving is a matter of appreciation. It’s not a matter of duty. Maybe you were brought up in a church where everybody was told they should give a certain amount. You know, we just came from Europe recently, so that’s on my mind. In Europe in some of the countries, you support the church through your income tax. I think it’s 6%. And so many, many Europeans are very angry about that, because they don’t go to church.
I have to tell you a little secret just between us. Most Europeans go to church when they “hatch, match and dispatch.” (laughter) That’s about it. And you know, one of the reasons they do that is because they are so sick and tired of having to support the church whether they attend or not. Whether they are born again or not, they have to give to the church.
One day on a previous tour I was in a hotel. I was sitting with a German who was drinking his beer, and I ordered coke. I might explain that I mean Coca Cola. (laughter) I thought I’d just throw that in. And he told me that he signed off on the fact that he would not give that percentage to the church. Therefore he’s not even allowed to attend the church since he doesn’t give to it in his income tax. And he said that he’s going to give his money to animal shelters – the 6% that he’d give to the church. Now I’m all for animal shelters. Don’t write me any letters about it, but I really thought, “You know, that’s really interesting. I won’t support the church but I will support an animal shelter.”
Now maybe you were brought up in a church here in America, but the expectation was there that everybody should be tithing. Now I am in favor of tithing. I think it’s a good benchmark, but that was an Old Testament teaching which also was something like a tax. And so what I’m saying to you is you should give a percentage, and I’ll clarify this in the next message on the generosity of God. You should certainly give a percentage. When Rebecca and I were first married, we didn’t give a full 10%. I think we were developing our understanding of giving, but as God prospered us, we have been able to go beyond that. And we seek going beyond that because it isn’t a matter of saying, “Now you owe the church this.” No, because what you are interested in is making sure that your heart is right, and you become as generous as you possibly can be, whether you are rich or you are poor, no matter your background and no matter how hard you work for your money because even then it belongs to God. You’ll notice that it says very clearly that the Macedonians, bless them, gave out of extreme poverty. Poverty did not stop them from giving.
There’s a second lesson and that is this. Giving is proof of salvation. Now I’m not contradicting myself. It’s proof of salvation. Look, your Bibles are open. It says in verse 8, “I say this not as a command (In other words, I’m not laying a duty on you.), but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.” Jesus said to none other than the man by the name of Zacchaeus, “I’m going to your house.” And Zacchaeus, the Bible says, was rich. I read it this morning in Luke 19. The Bible says he was rich because he was fraudulent, and as a tax collector he did all kinds of cheating. And then Jesus has lunch with him, and he says, “Look, half of my goods I am going to give to the poor, and if I wronged anybody I’m going to repay them fourfold.” And Jesus said, “Wow! Salvation has come to this house.” You find somebody whose heart has been changed by the Gospel and I’ll tell you salvation has come to his house.
And there are young couples today who never even speak about what they should be giving. If they have 20 bucks, they throw it in the offering basket, and they think it is sufficient. Well, you know I made a statement here several years ago, and some people reacted to it a little bit. I said, “If you are stingy you are probably not a Christian,” and some people didn’t like that. I think that there are stingy Christians because they don’t understand the enormity of the price that was paid for their redemption. But how in the world can we be a stingy people? You know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Although He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor that you through His poverty might be enriched and become the heir of all things.” And you are stingy?
All the way through Scripture Jesus uses it as a proof of salvation. Now there are people who are unsaved who also sometimes give very generously, and that can be a great misunderstanding on their part. By that I mean that sometimes it is dangerous when they do that because they think they are buying salvation. I’m thinking, again having been in England recently, of Henry the Eighth, who had six wives, two of whom he eliminated through taking them to the Tower of London and having them beheaded. There are some guys, you know, who get their own way rather consistently. Before he died he gave the church all kinds of wealth, and all kinds of money so they could say a lot of masses for him, because he knew that he was in trouble unless the church bailed him out. And I may say in passing, the church was unable to bail him out. But rich people who give sometimes and are not believers think, “Well, surely God should be impressed. Look at how much money I’ve given.” And that can be deceptive because you cannot buy the gift of God with money.
In fact, that’s my third point. The first step to real generosity is to receive the free gift of salvation. And don’t be confused about this. You come to Jesus Christ, and you cannot buy any salvation. You cannot buy any righteousness. It has to come as a free gift. And if you don’t understand that, you don’t really understand the Gospel. It absolutely cannot be purchased by our good works, including sacrificial giving. It just can’t be done.
There is a story I read some time ago about a Hindu in India who became very good friends with a missionary. And the missionary was trying to explain to this Hindu that salvation has to be a free gift. Of necessity it has to be free. But the Hindu thought to himself, “You know you have to go to Delhi. You have to get on your knees. You have to work at this business of salvation – perhaps bathe in the right river and a full list of various things.”
But before the missionary came back to the United States for a while, this generous Hindu gave the missionary the most perfect pearl one could ever imagine. Now you know that pearls are garnered through divers who go to the depths of the sea. And this Hindu said to the missionary, “This pearl, which is really a pearl of great price, I’m giving to you. My son drowned and died as a result of getting it from the bottom of the ocean.”
The missionary decided to make a point. He said to this man, “Oh, let me buy it from you.” The Hindu was insulted and rightly so. I mean, “Come on! My son dies getting this pearl, and you think that you can pay me for it? What an insult to the huge sacrifice that was made that you could have this very beautiful object.” But then the Hindu got the message.
That’s why we can’t buy salvation. It was purchased by Jesus, and Jesus gave us a memorial, and He said often, “What you should be doing is you should be drinking the cup, and you should be eating the bread to remind yourself that it was My body that was broken for you, and it was My blood that was shed on your behalf, and salvation cost Me death.” And that’s why the Bible says we were redeemed, not with corruptible things such as silver and gold, (Oh no!) but with the precious blood of Christ, as a Lamb without blemish and without spot,” and you can’t purchase that. You can only humbly receive it.
And even now while I am speaking, however you may be listening to this, whether it’s on the Internet, whether it’s by radio, or right here in the wonderful sanctuary of The Moody Church, if you have never savingly believed on Christ, the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. It has to be a gift. And after you have received that gift, then you begin to say to yourself, “In light of the fact that He has given to me all this so freely at such high cost, how can I not contribute to His work, and to do so sacrificially?” The Gospel reminds us that it is the motivation for giving.
Our Father, we do want to thank You today that You have given us Your Son. We thank You that God so loved the world that He gave. I thank You that He is a generous giving God. We ask today, Lord, that You will make us a generous, giving people. Break us out of our own selfishness, our own stinginess, and make us generous for Your honor and glory. May we overflow with the joy of giving.
And now, Father, for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, I pray that right now there may be people believing on Jesus.
You can pray to Him wherever you are, no matter where you are listening to this. Say, “Jesus, I am a sinner. Today I receive the free gift of eternal life. I recognize my sin and helplessness and I transfer all of my trust to Jesus. And I believe Him to be the Savior, and today I accept Him as mine.
Do that, Lord, we pray. Do the miracle that only You can do. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.