Monday, May 23, 2011

The Morning After: A Life of Generosity (Matt 6:1-4)

Does any pastor really like to talk about money? Or at least, any pastor that is not seeking to manipulate and trick their congregation (or TV viewers) into helping build their little kingdom. Most preachers I know do not love it, but we all know it is important. Jesus talked about money and possessions more than heaven and hell combined, so it must be important.

Yesterday, I continued in my series through the Sermon on the Mount and came to Matthew 6:1-4, where Jesus does talk about the way in which we give our money away (Listen HERE, usually posted by Tuesday). Our main thought was Our Motivation For Being Generous With Our Money Should Be Our Father In Heaven, Not Others Or Even Ourselves! Of course, we know that is difficult. Most people act differently when other people are watching, particularly when it comes to religious things.

Jesus warns that we should not seek to do things for the sake of other people. If we do, we forfeit our reward that is in heaven by our Heavenly Father. Think about that for a second. Who would you want to reward you for your righteous acts? The Almighty Creator of the universe who knows all things or the person who cannot even remember what they had for dinner two nights ago.

Jesus begins verse 2 by saying, "When you give...", because He assumed those who are part of the Kingdom would be givers. Unfortunately, the statistics say just the opposite. The stats say that those in America who claim to be Christians are generally not givers, let alone generous givers.

I would highly recommend a book by Christian Smith called Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money. In this book, he diagnosis the problem of the American Christian as to why they do not give away more of their money. He tackles the issue from a sociology standpoint. At the end of his chapter entitled "Failed Generosity," he makes this statement:

"First, American Christians appear to possess the financial resources to give generously if they so desired. Second, nearly every tradition in American Christianity explicitly teaches its followers to give liberally, if not to tithe 10 percent of income . . . Third, generous financial giving promises to help achieve so many things that American Christians profess to desire to accomplish, and to achieve them through means consistent with their core values and standards. Here, then, is the confounding riddle: why, in light of these three points, do Christians in the United States not give away their money much more generously than they do?" (55-6).

Good question! In response to that question, I give you the words of Jesus: "WHEN you give...". As I thought about this, I wondered if Jesus would have given this teaching today, if he would have given more instruction on it. I don't think so. From the OT all the way through the NT, we are continually told that those who have been impacted by their Lord would be givers. They would not hold onto their stuff with tight fists, but have them open, seeking the Lord as to what He would have them do with them.

And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continually is telling them that He wants their heart. He is not about the external duty only (like tithing in this case), but He wants our hearts. There was so much more I talked about in this message. Listen to it if you have the time.

I think the best illustration I could come up with as to what Jesus is teaching in this section is the issue of delayed gratification. We have all heard about the experiment where the child is offered a few pieces of candy now or a whole bunch a week from now. The young child cannot think that far away and so almost always picks the here and now. We think the child is not smart. However, maybe they learned that from the adults in their life. We often choose the here and now instead of investing and thinking about the eternal with our money. We pick the treasures today instead of the treasures in heaven!

In response to this section of Scripture, let us not ask the wrong questions. The wrong question is how much do I need to give or should I give. The right question is how can I develop a more generous heart. To answer that, I would encourage you to take a long, hard look at the cross of Jesus Christ!

"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15)

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