Giving With Joy
In this series on giving, we began with Jesus’ parable about a rich man who was a fool. Then we heard Paul encourage generosity in his words to a group of churches who he wanted to contribute in an offering he was taking for some Christians that deeply needed it.
This morning we go back in time, into the Old Testament. The first Temple in ancient Jerusalem was built by King David’s son, Solomon. Though David didn’t build this holy place, he got the ball rolling by leading what one person called “the mother of all capital campaign funds.”
The temple was going to be spectacular, and David knew it would take beaucoup materials and serious giving to make it happen.
Here’s what he did:
First, King David set the tone himself. He didn’t ask the people to give without giving of his own resources. He says, “…in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God…” A Hebrew translation reads, “I gave over my private hoard.” David had it and David gave it. After all, he was the king. He gave his own gold and silver for the Temple, and he gives it first.
Then came “the ask”: David asks the people, “Now, who is willing to consecrate themselves to the Lord today?” David doesn’t ask who will give, but who will consecrate themselves to the Lord? Do you understand the difference? He frames the question totally as a matter of how one stands in relation to God. David sees the giving as part of one’s devotion to the Lord. The word “consecrate” is the same word used for the setting apart of priests.
Belonging to God is a life-consuming experience. Some people just think a few things there and a few things here are relevant to their faith. No, our family life, work life, financial life, leisure, retirement, everything is part of our relationship with the Lord. We can’t just compartmentalize certain things and say “this is part of my relationship with the Lord” while holding other parts back. All of life is claimed by God. We belong to God heart and soul, body and spirit, in life and in death.
David doesn’t ask “who will give” but asks who belongs fully to the Lord.
Then it says that the leaders of the families, the officers of the tribes and the commanders all stepped up and gave willingly. They gave because they wanted to. They gave gladly and with joy.
You just imagine this scene of all the leaders coming forth with baskets and trunks and containers of gold and silver, and these valuable stones. They are dumping them out as cheers and shouts of joy go up. They do it with smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts.
There is joy because the giving isn’t coerced nor out of guilt. The giving was done, it says, “…freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord.”
Centuries later, in the days of the New Testament, Paul made “the ask” to the Corinthians to help other churches that were poor and hurting. He asked, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  That is the verse we have been using the past several weeks during our offering.
God doesn’t make anyone give. If you want to hold back you are free to do that. Perhaps God doesn’t twist any arms because he wants our giving to be cheerful and joyful.
T he leaders of Israel gave willingly and joyfully on that day when David asked them. And the people rejoiced when they saw the giving, the generosity, and the willingness. They were inspired and uplifted.
After the gifts are brought, David prays. He prays in praise and blessing to the Lord. This is what he prays:
“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”
We have only given what comes from your hand. As all the gold, silver, precious stones and gems have poured in David acknowledges that the only reason he and the people can give in the first place is because it came from God. They have only given what has been given to them from the hand of the Lord.
When we see our stuff as having come from God in the first place it becomes much easier to share and give it.
Centuries later, when the church was just beginning, we read that, “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own…” Well, if their possessions weren’t their own whose did they think they were? God’s.
And it says the Christians were unified in heart and mind and shared everything they had. Some went on to sell off some of their holdings so that they could contribute to others. They didn’t share just for the sake of sharing or making themselves all feel good. They had a mission. It was to be a people who lived the good news of Jesus. And it says “great grace was upon them all.” Grace rested upon the whole community.
Ancient Israel’s mission was to provide a place for the worship of the Lord. The mission of the church is to proclaim the risen Lord Jesus Christ with our words and our works.
Do you know this church has a mission statement? It helps remind us why we are here and what we are about. It is:
“Growing a community of followers of Jesus Christ who love God, neighbor, and self,
and who share that love in Word and service.”
That is what we believe this church stands for. God has placed us in American Fork and this area to do that.
We get the impression that those who gave toward Solomon’s temple, and those earliest Christians who gave to the community, were deeply joyful in their giving. Those people who gathered before the place where the Temple was to be built, and the people in the first church, were convinced and convicted of the reality of God in their midst, and of their need to respond.
Their generosity was an acknowledgement of the place of God in their lives. I have never seen a Christian who passionately gives of the stuff of their lives who doesn’t have the Lord Jesus at the forefront of their lives.
Some people give for philanthropic reasons. Some people give for tax advantages. People of faith give because of a relationship. We give to the Lord our God, who has made himself known through Jesus Christ, and claimed us.
There is tremendous joy in giving.
Several years ago when I was the pastor at Mount Olympus Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City a man came into our church building on a Saturday morning. It was quiet and the only reason the building was open is because our custodians were cleaning. The man asked if I was there, which I wasn’t. He handed our custodians an envelope and said, “Pastor Phil will know what to do with it.” In the envelope was a significant amount of money. A few thousand dollars.
They had never seen the man before and he wouldn’t identify himself. After they told me what happened I began to put some pieces together and figured out who it was. The giver was not a man who worshiped at our church at that time. He had a very distant and loose connection to this church, at best. I don’t know really why he did this or his motivation, but he had this money and he wanted to give it and did so gladly.
I pondered what to do with this gift. After all, he said I would know what to do with it. Well, no, I didn’t exactly know. I had met this man a couple of times and there was never any talk of a gift and doing something with it. I really knew little about him. I was somewhat puzzled, but grateful.
So I thought about what to do with this money. I thought, “Well I could go to Cancun.” I thought about a weekend staff retreat at a resort in Park City. I thought of how that Utah Jazz private box at the arena could be a powerful tool for evangelism. “Pastor Phil will know what to do with it.”
This was during the time the national economy took a large downturn about 11 or 12 years ago.
I went to the elders of our church and told them about this. I asked them to help me know what to do with it. We decided to use this money for people in need. We started a fund called the Acts 4:32 Fund, named after that verse we read today about all the believers sharing whatever they had. From that fund we were able to help people who needed medicine, or couldn’t pay a certain bill, needed rent money, or food to feed their families. And people of the church contributed to the fund to keep it healthy and growing.
Whenever we gave from the Acts 4:32 fund it gave me, and others, great joy. I love being able to help people who have need and do it in the name of Christ.
I remember one of the gifts we gave was to a young woman. She was part of a Sunday night worship service that was primarily for young adults. She came to faith in Christ through that community and was baptized in our church. Her father had been struggling with cancer and we were able to contribute to his treatments. They were deeply touched and it gave us tremendous joy to be able to do this.
I have had to learn how to give in my own personal life. I have never been one of those people who have the gift of generosity, and by the way the Bible names generosity as a spiritual gift. And the way I have learned, and am still learning, is to give. We learn to give by giving.
Jesus said to not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing when it comes to our giving. His point was that we are not to flaunt our giving. So I share this with some trepidation. But I only do it in hopes of highlighting for us the joy of giving, and how I have known that joy in my personal experience.
When I was preparing to become a pastor, another pastor and mentor shared how he had made it his practice to never keep money he received from funerals he did. Families usually give pastors an honorarium after leading a memorial or funeral service. Instead, he told me that he gave it away where there was a need. He believed that the members of that church gave in their regular offerings so that he could be there, that part of his ministry was to do funerals and memorial services, and so he was already taken care of. So, chose to give away whatever gifts a family might give.
I immediately resolved to adopt that practice, and any gifts I have received for funerals or memorial services for people who were members of churches where I was pastor, I have given away in some way that helps others.
Over many years of doing such services that has totaled up to quite a bit in gifts. Yes, if I had invested all that money in a mutual fund I probably could have tens of thousands. Yes, if I had invested that in a retirement account, it would serve me quite well. There were days I could have used it for college tuitions.
But it has been one of the joyful experiences of my entire life being able to give to missionaries, to ministries that feed hungry people, to buying Bibles for people who don’t have them, to people doing the work of the Lord in different ways and different places. It has been a blast.
I don’t want to say I look forward to memorial services, but… And I have never resented giving it, nor have I missed it. It has been a way of, to use the way David put it to the people of Israel, consecrating myself to the Lord.
We have the opportunity to give in our offering every week. It’s more than just giving some money. It is a way of giving ourselves to the Lord. Soon we will have the opportunity to adopt a family through Angel Tree, which provides Christmas gifts to families with a parent in prison. We have the opportunity to give to the One Great Hour of Sharing every year which helps with disaster assistance, food to hungry people, and the self-development of people. It gives us joy when we can provide a scholarship to help a young person go to a youth event in our presbytery. I am glad we have these opportunities to give. Because God has given us so much.
Our lives are full of stuff. We have so much.
Maybe you have seen the store called The Container Store. Do you know why a container store can be a business and prosper? Because we have so much stuff. We need more containers to hold it all.
But our stuff is non-material as well. Our stuff is our abilities, our know-how, our skills. Our stuff is our time, our physical strength, our position in life, our privileges and honors. And it all has been given to us by God.
Like David prayed, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”
The joy of giving was modeled for us by the Lord Jesus Christ who surrendered his life for us. In Hebrews it says of Jesus “…for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross...”
Have you ever known such joy that you are willing to sacrifice for someone or something, sometimes at great cost to you?
Christ gave his very life, and he did it with joy. The joy that was before him was to make us his own. He did it to remove every sin, every barrier, every wall between us and God. And in that cross we have reconciliation with God. The way to God is wide open. Someone paid with their life what I owed God, and it was the very Son of God. He did it with joy because he wanted to do the Father’s will.
David asked the people, “who will consecrate themselves to the Lord today?” Who does your life belong to?
When we give we are just responding to the incredible self-giving of Christ.
This is our church and the place God has entrusted to us. This church has been nurtured and blessed by people who have given their finances, their know-how, their energy, their wisdom, their very selves. People who love the Lord have been giving to this place for almost 150 years.
It is a place where we are nurtured and cared for. It is a place where when we are hurting or grieving or in need people are here to hug, encourage, and walk with us. It is a place where we are welcomed, where people pray for us, where people put up with our faults with love and grace. It is where we encounter the God who came for us, died for us, and claims us as his.
We have sent out and made available the cards for those who are going to make a financial commitment to the ministry of this church for 2022. If you didn’t get one they are available outside the door.
If you want to do this but aren’t prepared today, that is OK. Don’t do this on a whim or carelessly. Get a card, bring it before the Lord, write your commitment, and you can bring it next week.
As David asked, “Now, who is willing to consecrate themselves to the Lord today?”
As we sing “Take My Life And Let It Be” let it be our prayer as we get ready to bring our offerings and our pledge cards.