Outside of the Kingdom of God, Jesus taught more about money than any other single topic! He made it a priority because he knew a person’s heart is where his or her treasure is.
It’s liberating to live like we believe Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”Read More
Paul is writing to the church at Corinth, and he says:
But since you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you — see that you also excel in the grace of giving.
This is such fabulous language. “Since you excel at everything…”
Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth — a place where people were really into how gifted they were, and they could actually get a little boastful and competitive about it.
So there are kind of air quotes around that statement — since you “excel in everything…”
I thought how appropriate that expression is here in the Bay Area, where we get all pumped up about how much we know and how much we do and how much we achieve — the pressure to excel around here is intense.
So these words come to us —
Since you excel in everything, see that you also excel in the grace of giving.
There are two words that describe two dynamics in giving that are so striking.
One of them is this word excel.
This is a real stretching word.
Excel at it.
Don’t just do it; excel at it.
Pay attention to it.
Work on it.
Just like so often people will work super hard to excel in their work
or in leadership
or in scholarship
or at golf
or at a hobby or something…
Excel — aim at excellence in generosity.
Then he doesn’t say…
“Excel in your obligation to give”
or “Excel in the duty to give”
or “Excel because there’s pressure on you to give.”
He says, “Excel in the grace of giving.”
Don’t be a gritted-teeth giver.
Don’t do it with clenched fists.
Don’t ask, “How much do I have to? How much am I supposed to? How much must I?”
Turn your giving into dancing. Excel at the grace of giving.
So I want to spend some time on this.
What can I do, what can we do as a church, a congregation, what can you do, to excel in the grace of giving?
I’ll make a series of observations.
1. People who excel in the grace of giving learn to live gratefully within the means of God’s provision for their lives.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi said:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
What a secret that is.
Here’s where people can get into trouble.
Let’s say one of these lines is God’s provision for your life.
It’s usually not a flat line. It will ebb and flow. It will go up or down over the course of your life.
Paul says, “I have learned to live within the means God has provided for me and to do it with contentment.”
In fact, Paul actually instructs people about how they ought to set aside money, they ought to save, and part of why they ought to save is so they would be able to give.
So there actually ought to be margin between what resources have come my way and what I actually spend, my lifestyle.
For a lot of us, we have so many financial resources there ought to be some serious margin.
Where that’s present, where there is margin… plus contentment, it equals financial peace.
margin + contentment = financial peace
That’s what everyone is dying for: financial peace.
At the root of debt is wanting more than God’s provision for my life, wanting more than has come my way, and finding an alternative way of forcing it.
That’s where debt comes in.
At the root of debt very often is a way of saying:
“Hey God, I think you messed up on the provision level for my life. I think it actually needs to be a lot higher than it is.
“What would make me happy is more — more house, more lifestyle, more possessions, more affluence, so I’m going to find a way of doing that.
“God, I think you got your wires crossed. I don’t trust the level of provision coming into my life that you’re sending me is the right one, so I’m going to go into debt to create a new provision line for my life.”
This is what we’ll do. We’ll just say, “I know God wants me to be happy, and if I’m going to be happy, I have to have a higher provision level, and that’s not what’s coming right now, so I’ll find a way to do that.”
We live in a world where it’s very easy to do that.
This last week was a big week for me. I got a letter in the mail this week that said:
“Congratulations, Matthew W. VanCleave, we have checked your credit background, and we have very good news for you.”
It turns out I have personally been selected for a credit line of thousands of dollars.
Has anyone else ever gotten a letter like that?
I thought I was the only one.
Credit card companies send out four billion solicitations every year. That’s the equivalent of 16 letters to every man, woman, and child in the US.
If you can breathe, you got one of these.
You hear from them more than you hear from relatives in your own family.
It may be the primary problem that keeps a lot of people from excelling at the grace of giving — the debt problem.
Debt makes people live with a constant sense of financial pressure and bondage.
The writers of Scripture teach this throughout the Bible.
This is from the book of Proverbs:
The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.
It’s a form of slavery.
I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard from people who get in over their heads financially… and what comes next is shame.
People who have wanted to be honest their whole life long find themselves telling lies.
People who have always paid their bills on time and been straightforward in business dealings start to break commitments and betray trust.
They didn’t want to do that.
People who would otherwise be quite courageous end up living in a fear of getting found out and start evading, hyping, and spinning.
Relational trust gets broken. Things start going downhill.
Somewhere in the house there’s a drawer of unpaid bills… or unopened notices from the IRS… or unopened letters from collection agencies. There’s a drawer of shame somewhere.
I just want to say… Because there’s so much financial pressure in the Bay Area. So many people live with that, and it’s just killing them.
There’s no shame here. There’s no guilt here.
At the cross, Jesus died to free us from shame and guilt and sin, and that includes the financial area of life.
He will do that for you.
You can, if you want to, put a stake in the ground on this one and declare:
I’m done with this.
I’m done with debt.
I’m going to cut up my credit cards if I need to.
I will get counsel from a wise financial adviser.
I will join the Financial Peace University class at Blue Oaks.
I will live within my means.
I will get on a plan.
I’m not going to live in financial bondage anymore.
I will learn to live gratefully within the provision God has given for my life.
People who excel in the grace of giving — whatever their financial means are — that’s one of the things they’ve learned to do.
Another facet people who excel in the grace of giving learn — this is also written about a lot by the writers of Scripture.
The Apostle Paul says to Timothy:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth.
In case you’re wondering, “Those who are rich” are all of us.
Poor people in developing countries often spend 80 percent of their money on food. Americans spend less than 10 percent.
Americans constitute 5 percent of the world’s population, but consume 25 percent of the worlds resources.
You might not see it immediately, but even in this verse there’s a perspective, an insight, about the nature of wealth… and people who excel in the grace of giving, in my experience, are generally super clear on this one.
Paul says, “Command those who are rich in this present world.”
In other words, there’s another world.
There’s this world, but there’s a world to come.
When I see this, it makes all the difference in my financial life.
So the second point is this:
2. People who excel in the grace of giving view their present resources from an eternal perspective.
This present world is going so fast.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Store up treasures where it is not vulnerable to corruption and decay, where it’s going to last.
This is just the way we work — when we invest treasure somewhere — if I put it in my house, in my possessions, that’s where my heart is going to go. If I invest it in other areas, my heart will go there.
Temporary stuff is just moth food.
People who excel in giving understand there are two great categories when it comes to treasure: temporary and eternal.
It would be so good for us if in so many areas of our lives, our houses, our clothes, our possessions, our cars, we just had giant stickers that said, “Temporary, temporary, temporary,” because our hearts get all wrapped up in this stuff.
I saw an old Mercedes Benz last week, the hood was completely corroded over. The hood had totally rusted out. Which is kind of ironic, because from an eternal perspective, that guy is just a little ahead of his time… because it’s all going to be rust.
Jesus is saying, “We are eternal people, but in a thousand or two thousand years, it’s all going to be a pile of rust.”
No one is going to come up to you in the afterlife and say, “What kind of rust is your pile?”
“I’ve got a Lexus pile of rust.”
“Oh, mine is just a Toyota pile of rust.”
There is not going to be any status attached to what kind of rust you have. There is not going to be a big difference between Lexus rust and Toyota rust. Rust is just rust.
So Jesus says, “Stuff is weak. It’s going to wear out, so if you build your life around it, you are building your life around something that cannot sustain your life.”
He says, “Instead, store up treasure in heaven. Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, because it is weak. It is not strong enough to sustain the weight of a human life. But store up treasure in heaven.”
Now, we have to think about what Jesus means by this.
Often, people think when they hear the term “heaven” of some place that’s way out there somewhere, and so they think, “What I’m supposed to do is have a really difficult life here, and give up really nice cars and really nice clothes here, so that I will get really nice cars and really nice clothes in heaven, because there they will last forever.”
In heaven when you get an Infinity, it’s an Infinity.
Okay, that was bad.
When Jesus says, “Store up for yourselves treasure in heaven,” he’s really saying something that he has already said over and over and over before – and that is, “Seek first the kingdom of God.” Devote yourself fully toward possessing life in the kingdom. That’s what it means to store up treasure in heaven.
Then he says:
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
You know, there was a study done comparing the health of a society with its economics, and one of the things it revealed is that wealthy countries like ours have the highest rates of depression, suicide, and loneliness.
You know what that means? We are the richest and most miserable people in the world.
Wherever your life’s investment goes, then your heart, the center of your being, your soul, will end up in the same place.
So why would you get all wrapped up in what’s temporary?
No one rents a room at the Motel 6 for a couple of nights and pays to have it redecorated in a
really expensive way.
No one rents a car for a day and pays to have it detailed… because it’s just temporary. It’s just for a moment.
What’s in the eternal category?
Just God and the people God loves so much.
A writer by the name of Randy Alcorn will sometimes picture it like this.
He’ll say there’s a little dot, and the dot represents your life on earth. It has a beginning and it has an end, but it goes by so fast. It’s going really fast.
Then there’s a line, and that line represents your existence in eternity.
Just imagine that line going on forever.
Dallas Willard writes, “You are an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.”
We need to aim at the line.
Don’t aim at the dot.
When you think about what you’re going to do with your resources, think of the line.
Don’t think of the dot. Don’t let your heart get all wrapped up in the things of this world when you’re destined for eternity.
Focus on what is eternal, not what is temporary.
Start using what you have to lay up treasure for yourself in God’s kingdom.
3. People who excel in the grace of giving choose their financial goals carefully.
They get quite intentional about their financial lives… because this odd thing happens to us.
I’ll never forget the day when our first child had her first tantrum.
She had been this sweet, cute, loveable, adorable little infant.
And then we adopted her sister… and she needed to share a doll with her sister.
The word came out of her like a volcano: “Mine!”
She got red in the face, and she was trembling all over, and she was “clutchy” and greedy and angry and violent… this tiny little cherub.
I was trying to think, “Where did this come from? Who passed this mutant gene on to my innocent child?”
I tried to think of which one of Kathy’s relatives it could have been.
Here’s the interesting thing about kids. No kid ever had to be taught the word mine. Do you ever notice that?
No 2-year-old ever looked at a parent and said, “Now what’s this concept of personal ownership
again? How do I clutch? How do I grab?”
We have to learn yours.
We have to learn ours.
We have to learn share.
No kid ever had to be taught the word mine.
Here’s what I’ve found.
People who excel in the grace of giving… and so many of you do. I have to tell you at our church one of the things I love… I get inspired by people at our church, whatever their resource level, who excel in this grace.
People who do this get really clear on their financial life in general, including their savings and especially on their goals for giving.
They get really clear, really intentional.
People who do not excel in the grace of giving stay fuzzy on their finances. They’re kind of in a fog.
“How much did you give last year?”
“I don’t know.”
“How much do you plan to give this year?”
“I don’t know.”
“How much will you save?”
“How much will you spend? On what?”
“How large is your debt?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
People who excel in the grace of giving give because they decided to give.
People who don’t usually didn’t decide to not give; they just didn’t decide to give, so they live in this kind of fog.
You ought to think about when you get to the end of your life, how will you have handled your treasure?
You want to think about this.
Someone was telling me about Chuck Feeney.
Chuck Feeney started the duty-free shops.
You know, those shops where you can buy stuff and you don’t have to pay customs on it.
He made a fortune. He was listed a few decades ago by Forbes magazine as one of the 20 richest people in the world.
It turns out Forbes was mistaken, and they wrote another article about this. His fortune was actually larger than they had thought, but when they wrote the article, he had already secretly (because he didn’t want attention) given his fortune away to a foundation that was devoted to philanthropy.
The foundation has given away over 8 billion dollars of Feeney’s money.
Feeney calls it, “Giving while living.”
I mean, you think about it, what could be more fun than that?
He said, “It’s more than money. It’s satisfaction that you’re achieving something that is helpful to people.”
The more recent article about him was called “The James Bond of Philanthropy.”
Now in his 80s, Feeney has left himself with about $2 million worth of wealth to live on — less than .001% of the $8 billion he’s given away.
He said this is his ultimate financial goal:
“I want the last check I write to bounce.” Isn’t that great?
Some of you are thinking, “Hey, I’m bouncing checks right now. I’m already there. I’m not even dead yet.”
People who excel in the grace of giving get really clear.
And what an incredible way to live — “I want to give away so much that when I get to the end, when I write that last check, there’s nothing left in the account, because I’ve just wanted to enrich God’s world and make a difference in people’s lives.”
Get real clear on what you want to do, what your goals are around giving and around spending and around saving.
Get out of fuzzy. There’s no life in fuzzy. There’s no effectiveness in fuzzy. There are people who spend their lives in this financial fog, and it may lead to debtor’s shame, but for sure it never leads to excellence in the grace of giving.
John Wesley had three principles about giving — three principles about storing up treasures. I’d like us to consider them for our lives.
3 principles of giving by John Wesley
The first one is:
1. Earn all you can.
That’s kind of good news, isn’t it?
Some people have a great gift for creating wealth and for earning money… and they sometimes feel guilty about it.
Wesley said, “If you are a follower of Christ, the first rule is, earn all you can.”
The second rule is:
2. Save all you can.
That’s a little more painful for some of us. You have to get on a budget… and stop spending so much.
“Earn all you can, save all you can,” and then the third one is:
3. Give all you can.
When I was telling a friend these three principles, he said, “Well, two out of three ain’t bad.”
The capacity to earn is a great thing. Some of you have great gifts in that area… and you need to just pursue them.
And saving is a good thing; but…
When you give, you reflect the heart of God.
Actually track what it is you give. Then when you give, celebrate the fact that you’re reflecting the heart of God.
4. People who excel in the grace of giving associate generosity with joy.
It actually makes them happy.
So many people in churches associate the word money with the word guilt.
If they come to church and hear about money, they just assume…
I’m going to feel guilty about how I handle it.
I’m going to feel guilty about what I’m giving.
I’m going to feel guilty about what I’m not giving.
I’m going to feel guilty about how much I want it, how much I covet money.
Guilt generally doesn’t do a whole lot of good in creating excellence in the grace of giving.
So as I wrap up this message and we get ready for an offering, I want to declare this a guilt-free zone for a moment, a shame-free zone.
Over and over the writers of scripture make a connection between generosity and joy.
Over and over we see people who excel in the grace of giving experience joy.
You just don’t see a lot of happy selfish people in the Bible or in life.
In the same chapter in the letter to Corinth, Paul says:
We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
We live in a world, in a culture, that says, “The more you get, the happier you’ll be.”
Overflowing joy and extreme poverty… Really?
In the Old Testament there was this huge burst of generosity, and we’re told in the book of 1 Chronicles:
The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord. David the king also rejoiced greatly.
When we see generosity, it inspires us.
Greed never inspired anyone.
“The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders…”
The willing response.
“…for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced
Just real concretely, what’s a way you could give, even this week, that would bring you joy?
I have a friend who at one point in his life experienced a big increase in his income, so in addition to tithing and other giving he did, he would give away a 100 dollar bill every week.
He would pray about it and ask God to lead him to someone in need who could use the money… and when he found a person where there was a lot of need (and sometimes he would go to parts of the city where he would find people like that), he would just give them 100 dollars.
It wasn’t his main form of giving and it wasn’t the most strategic; it just brought him joy. It brought him more joy than the people he gave the money to.
I have another friend who lives in the South and goes to a restaurant called Waffle House.
Anyone here know of Waffle House?
Waffles are one of the great proofs for the existence of God.
Waffle House is a low-cost restaurant.
If you ever go to a Waffle House and get grits, it is not a high-end deal. So my friend will leave giant tips for the people who work there who are just struggling to make ends meet.
Waffles and generosity are just kind of a cool combination.
You can join, I would say the majority of our church, who are rescuing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. Families and individuals in our church are sponsoring 450 children in Ecuador.
You can sponsor a child and put their picture up in your house.
Learn their name. Track their birthdays. Think every once in a while like, “If I don’t do anything else with my life, there’s a kid in Ecuador. They’re having a fundamentally different experience of life than they would if it weren’t for me.”
David has this line in that Old Testament passage that I just love. He says to God, “Who am I that I’m able to give so generously?”
“Who am I? Why should I be able to do this? Here’s a little kid on the other side of the world. They’d be starving. Why is it you’ve given me so much and there’s so much need? Who am I that I’m able to give like this?”
All of that leads up to the offering.
What should the spirit in the room be when we bring God our tithes and give him our offerings? What should that moment be like?
This is what Paul wrote to that church at Corinth:
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
That’s such a striking little word. It’s translated cheerful.
The Greek word Paul uses there is hilaros. We get our word hilarious from that word. It’s the only time it’s used in the New Testament.
Offerings ought to be hilarious.
God loves it when people get so freed up from greed and worry… and so filled up with love and trust they just give with joy — they laugh, they come dancing — and say, “I’m one of the strong ones. I’m one of the givers. I’m not one of the takers.”
So guilt-free zone.
We’re going to take an offering in a moment. Maybe this is your first time here, and all of this sounds new and strange, and you’d say, “I couldn’t give with joy today.”
Just let the basket go by
Maybe you’ve been coming here for 6 years and you have never given and you’d say, “I can’t give with joy.”
Well, fake it.
After 6 years, for crying out loud?
God doesn’t say in this passage, “Wait to give until you feel cheerful about it.”
Sometimes the joy comes first. Sometimes the giving comes first, and then the joy follows.
What would it look like as we close today if we gave God the greatest offering in the history of our church?
I don’t mean the biggest. I mean the most grateful, the most thoughtful, the most celebrated, the most trusting, the most faith-filled, the most hilarious offering in our history.
I was talking to Ray Johnston about this. Ray is the pastor of Bayside Church in Sacramento.
Ray was telling me, “At our church, when we tell people it’s time to take the offering, they cheer.”
That church actually cheers when it’s the offering. How weird is that?
In our culture, we cheer for the goofiest things.
People will go crazy cheering at a football game when it’s just people hitting other people.
People will cheer at boxing matches when one man is trying to batter another man into unconsciousness.
People cheer on game shows for someone getting money.
The New York Stock Exchange opened, and there’s this bell ceremony. Have you ever seen the bell ceremony? People go crazy when the bell rings. It’s like this big deal now for companies or celebrities to show up when the bell is going to ring, and everyone will cheer for the opportunity to get more money.
So just one time, why couldn’t we actually cheer the giving of money? Why couldn’t we cheer the giving of generous gifts to a generous God?
I’ll tell you something. Some of you don’t know about this. There will be acts of heroic faithful generosity going on in this room in just a moment that deserve to be cheered by us.
So here’s the deal. Again, it’s optional. There’s no compulsion around this.
In a moment I’m going to say, “Let’s bring God our tithes and give him our offerings with great joy,” and if you want to cheer, it’s okay.
The ushers are going to come forward to receive the offering.
If you want to bring your gift forward, we have a couple baskets on the stage. You can get up and bring it forward as an act of joy. You can dance your way up here if it helps you to give more cheerfully.
Here’s what’s going on, because we never want to cheer mindlessly.
In light of all of God’s gifts to us… We bring all of our mind before God, and we remember how gracious God has been.
Our bodies, our possessions, our health, our friends, our family, our church, Jesus’
life and death on a cross and resurrection.
In light of all of God’s unending, ceaseless gifts to me, as a way of saying thank you, as a way of expressing my trust in my provider, in order to extend his kingdom, because what we give now we pray and ask God to use to help little children learn God loves them, to help grown men and women discover that Jesus saves them, to help hungry people to be fed and trapped people to be freed.
We get to be part of that. There’s nothing like the church.
As an encouragement to other people to give, because there will be someone who doesn’t have a job and they’re giving out of great need, but they’re saying, “I want to be a giver.”
There will be a widow on fixed income, but she’s giving.
There will be people who have been devoted, who have been really careful with their finances so they can be able to give.
As an encouragement to others, in the name of Jesus, who though he was rich yet for your sake became poor so you, out of his poverty, might be made rich…
Now we bring God our tithes and give him our offerings, and we do it with great joy.