If one love language more deeply reflects the heart of God as Jesus teaches about it, it might be the one we’re going to talk about on Sunday.
Full Sermon Script:
I’d like to start today with a word of prayer. Will you bow your heads and join me?
Heavenly Father, it’s in times of uncertainty that we’re reminded of your unfailing love for us. We’re learning about love in this series — how you love, and you care, and you act.
We’re learning that love, according to the life and teachings of Jesus, is to will and to act for the good of everyone we come in contact with.
I pray you would fill us with that love — your love — for everyone we come in contact with… especially those who are living in fear right now.
You tell us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” God, would your love drive out the fear that we may have right now because of the Coronavirus.
God, you know we’re in our homes today NOT to isolate ourselves in fear. We’re in our homes to do what we can to fight this virus… and to protect those we love who are vulnerable.
And God, because you are a God of love who cares… we pray boldly against the spread of the Coronavirus.
Because you love and you care… we pray for those who are at risk — for seniors and those with underlying health conditions that could pose a serious threat — we pray that you would protect them, God.
For those of us who are experiencing worry or fear, I pray that you would fill us with your peace.
You tell us in Philippians 4 not to be anxious about anything, but in every situation, to present our requests to you. And your peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.
God, would you guard our hearts and minds from fear and give us your peace that surpasses all understanding.
God, we pray for medical staff as they fight this virus on the front lines. Would you give them wisdom and your supernatural protection.
God, we know you are in the business of turning bad situations around and making them work for good. I pray the Coronavirus would be no different. I pray you would use this situation we’re all experiencing to draw us closer to you — to expand our faith.
I also pray for those who are not followers of Jesus, that you would use this situation to open their hearts and minds to a relationships with you.
We pray this all in the name of Jesus, Amen.
Well, I want to say good morning to everyone joining us today. Thank you for being with us at Blue Oaks Church online.
For those of you who are new to Blue Oaks, we’re in week 3 of a series called, “Love — The Greatest Commandment.”
We’re using the book, “The Five Love Languages,” as a template for this series.
At the core of the book is the idea that what makes me feel loved may not be the same thing that makes you feel loved…
So we want to learn the love languages of the people in our lives… so we can learn to do a better job of loving them.
The five love languages are:
WORDS OF AFFIRMATION
GIVING OF GIFTS
ACTS OF SERVANTHOOD
We’re learning — what are the love languages of the people around us?
Now, I would say if there’s one love language that more deeply reflects the heart of God as Jesus teaches about it, it might be the one we’re talking about today.
The most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
God loved; therefore, God gave.
You see, love gives.
The gift doesn’t have to be expensive.
It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.
It doesn’t have to be fancy.
It just has to say love.
I was going through a bunch of keepsake items in my nightstand last week.
I found a tattered piece of cardboard paper. It was colored with pictures on it. It also has some words that were written in crayon, kind of messy.
It’s labelled, “Best Dad,” and these are the words:
“This is an award for being the #1 dad.” And a bunch of other nice things were written. And in it was a coupon for a free hug.
It was a gift to me from my daughter.
Now, do you think I would take $1,000 for that card?
Of course I would. That’s a dumb question. I mean, she can make another one. It’s just paper and crayons…
But the heart, the words behind it, the love… There’s no price for that.
Well, this week we’re focusing on the love language of giving.
And what I want to start with is some learning about the relationship of giving to this agape love — the kind of love Jesus talked about. This kind of love that was so revolutionary, his followers actually had to find a new, unused word — agape — to express it.
If you weren’t here for the first message of this series, that’s where we looked at the meaning of this word agape. You can go back later and catch up if you missed it.
Well, there’s a great book about giving called Gratitude: An Intellectual History by Peter Leithart
A lot of what I’m teaching today I learned from his book, so I just want you to know I’m indebted to him for this message.
I want to start with a question that may be obvious to some of you.
Who had the biggest impact on giving?
Who actually changed the nature of giving and our ideas about gratitude more than anyone else in human history?
It’s not a trick question.
The teacher of a Sunday school class asked a group of little kids, “What’s brown and furry, climbs trees and eats nuts?”
And the kids look at each other with a kind of confused look on their face and no one answers.
The teacher said, “What’s brown and furry, climbs trees and eats nuts?”
Finally a kid raises his hand and says, “Well, I guess the answer is Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”
It wasn’t a trick question — Jesus had the biggest impact on giving.
I want to take some time to look at this…
because it will help us better understand Jesus
and help us better understand the kind of love he’s describing
and also help us to be better able to give to the people in our lives
Let me start with a little background.
In the ancient world, the giving of gifts was very important… in some ways maybe even more important than giving in our day.
Anthropologists have studied this quite a lot over the last century or so.
Because of the way economics worked in the ancient world — they didn’t have a market economy like we do with stores and weight structures — generally, in the ancient world, gifts were given… but gifts were not free.
Gifts were embedded in a system that meant there were always strings attached to giving.
A gift would place the receiver under an obligation to reciprocate.
This was just understood in the ancient world. It’s just how things worked.
Which meant the person who was able to give a more expensive gift was the person of higher status, higher honor, or higher power.
And that gift would place the lower person, the poorer person, under obligation.
The poorer person would have to give back through service, time or labor in some way.
And this created what sometimes is called — A CIRCLE OF RECIPROCITY
Giving in the ancient world was about a circle of reciprocity.
In Rome (this is generally true in the ancient world), in Jesus’ day, the giver might be a patron (they would often call them a patron in Roman society) giving a gift, and the recipient or client would be obligated to show gratitude.
The Latin word for gratitude was obsequium.
If you’ve ever heard the word obsequious — that kind of fawning, groveling submission — that’s where it comes from.
Gratitude in the ancient world didn’t mainly mean — “Say, ‘Thank you.’”
It was not primarily an emotion.
It meant you were obligated to offer service in work, time or labor in exchange for what you would receive. You literally owed a debt of gratitude.
That was the system of debt in which everyone lived.
In the morning, if you were a client…
You would present yourself at the house of your patron to pay your respects.
You would surround your patron with other clients as his entourage.
That’s actually where the idea of entourage comes from.
You would accompany him to the forum or the Roman bath.
You would clap for his speeches to make him feel good.
You would address him as sir or king or father.
Now, those who gave the larger gift or the larger amounts of money were known as benefactors.
This is kind of a technical term.
They gave to intentionally impose debts — to impose an obligation of obedience that would increase their own honor or status or power.
A patron expected his clients to form an entourage to blow trumpets and shout his praises as the patrons passed through the streets of Rome.
You would give your patron a little parade — “My patron is the greatest.”
You see, gifts were exercises in power that established one’s own superiority. And they were actually fairly competitive.
Show of hands — how many of you have heard of a white elephant gift?
I can’t see you but thanks for the participation.
How many of you know the history behind it?
Well, the king of Siam would give a white elephant (which was of course incredibly rare and therefore regarded as a sacred gift) to a person who had fallen out of his favor — to someone the king was mad at.
Now, if the king gives you a white elephant… you couldn’t sell it. You couldn’t give it away. They were too rare.
That would just be known.
That would be an insult to the king.
So you would have to keep it.
Do you know how much it costs to maintain an elephant?
It would cost a fortune.
People would be ruined by this kind of strategic gift giving.
That’s where the phrase “white elephant gift” comes from.
Now you can impress your coworkers next Christmas.
Now, there would be variations about this system… and debates about it.
Aristotle actually said, “You ought to work real hard to avoid receiving anything.”
“Because ‘the great-souled man’ never wants to be in the position of receiving,” he would say.
You see, giving was largely a strategy to enrich yourself in order to get even more.
They had a motto in Latin, DO UT DES — “I GIVE SO YOU WILL GIVE TO ME.”
Initially, people would say this to the gods — “Jupiter, I give this lamb as a sacrifice to you so that you will give me rain for my crops.”
Eventually, it spread to the human level — “I give to you so that you will give to me.”
The idea is — In self-interest you have received; in self-interest, give.
So there was this system of reciprocity, of debt, in the ancient world.
The debt of gratitude is restricted.
You should be grateful, express concrete gratitude to your benefactor.
You should be grateful for the benefits your benefactor has given you, and you should use whatever you have, whatever you give in order to get more.
This system of the debt of gratitude — the circle of reciprocity —
It tended to oppress the poor.
It tended to corrupt the rich.
It tended to make everyone self-centered.
Now one person is going to mess all of this up… and that person is Jesus.
He takes from little Israel and gives to the broader world a different understanding of giving and gratitude.
To begin with, he messes up the who —
Who should we be grateful to?
In the Ancient World, it was to your benefactor, to the giver.
But for Jesus, it was God.
Jesus teaches that for all of us, our life depends not on a human benefactor who gives out of self-interest… but on a Heavenly Father who gives with no strings attached.
That’s very different from Jupiter or Zeus or Baal.
Now God is at the center of the great circle of reciprocity… because Jesus teaches people to give with this agape love.
Love as Jesus taught it is to will and act for the good of others.
That’s why Jesus said in the sermon on the mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:43-45
In other words, God gives to everyone, whether they’re going to give back to him or not.
And we ought to be that way.
WHAT DO WE HAVE TO BE GRATEFUL FOR?
Well, according to Jesus, everything.
Jesus is expanding the sphere of gratitude infinitely.
God is always making the sun shine.
He’s always making the rain fall.
He clothes the lilies of the field.
He feeds the sparrows in their nest.
He counts the hairs on your head.
This is the reality in which we live. This is the kingdom of God.
God is giving all the time — with every beat of your heart, with every breath of air filling up your lungs.
That’s why we have these statements from Jesus and his followers.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
“Give thanks in all circumstances,” not just to your benefactor for what you get.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks” — not to a human benefactor but — “to God the Father through Jesus.”
See, these verses were not just about having an attitude of gratitude. They were not mainly talking about a psychological trait; although, of course that experience of emotional gratitude is a great gift.
They were subversive. Now all of humanity is on level ground.
We’re all to be grateful to a single patron — our heavenly Father.
We are to be grateful for every single innumerable gift.
Because we all rely on God’s goodness from one moment to the next, there is no place for the old, fawning, self-centered, self- promoting system anymore.
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Matthew 6:2
Now the reason Jesus says, “Don’t announce it with trumpets,” is people used to announce it with trumpets. They would literally do that.
Jesus is not just making this stuff up out of thin air. He’s saying, “We’re going to stop with that system now. We have a newer, better system.”
Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles (like the Romans) lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.
He uses precisely that title.
But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” Luke 22:25-26
“But you are not to be like that. You are not to do that. Instead, for you, the least will be the greatest.”
Now when Jesus says this, he’s not using hyperbole. He’s not being sarcastic. He’s simply giving a sociologically precisely accurate description.
The Romans would have heard those words and said, “Yep, that’s how our system works — We lord it over people. We have benefactors.”
Jesus said, “We’re going to start a new system.”
And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Matthew 23:9
Now when Jesus says, “Don’t call anyone on earth ‘father,’” he doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t call their dad “dad.”
It means we all stand together in common — humble humanity under a great and generous God. He’s changing everything.
Who should be enriched by your gratitude?
These are fundamental questions about giving and gratitude.
In the old ancient system, it was those who can pay you back. You give to people who can give back to you.
Jesus says, “I want you to give even when it’s not to your financial advantage.”
In fact, Jesus actually gives priority to gifts that would go to those who could not pay you back, and he knows he has to overturn a big entrenched system.
That’s what’s behind words like this from Jesus:
“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14
Now is Jesus saying here it’s a sin to have your relatives over for dinner?
Yes… it’s right there in the Bible. That’s what it says.
Some of you have been searching for that verse your whole life and are so glad you’re watching online today.
Okay, he’s not saying that.
What he is saying is, “Okay, everyone, we’re going to opt out of the old give-to-get system now.”
Of course, sometimes have your family over for dinner. Of course.
He’s saying that in fact — when you give to the poor, you are somehow giving to God himself.
…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40
See, the old motto was, “In self-interest, you have received; in self-interest, give.”
The new motto of Jesus’ agape love is,
Freely you have received; freely give. Matthew 10:8
That’s incredible, isn’t it?
I mean, he changed the world.
Now God is at the center of humanity.
You see, now we’re all alike.
Now we’re all receivers of God’s unceasing gifts.
Now we express our gratitude through joyful generosity.
This is revolutionary.
For example, James writes in a letter in the New Testament:
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights… James 1:16-17
“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.”
He writes this because people were deceived.
“Every good and perfect gift…” Not from a human benefactor. “…is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…”
God is our patron.
That’s why James goes on… we read his letter to learn about the new way the rich and poor must be treated in this new community.
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. James 2:1
The apostle Paul writes, to the followers of Jesus in Rome of all places, words he designed to stagger Rome.
Owe no debt to anyone except the debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8
Now Paul is not giving money-management advise here. He’s not saying, “You should never take out a loan.”
He’s rejecting an entire way of life that oppresses, enslaves, humiliates, patronizes and corrupts human beings.
And he’s embracing a radically different way, the way of Jesus, where we all trust God will meet our needs… so we become part of a community of mutual humility and confident generosity that honors the value of every human life.
That put Rome on tilt… as Jesus knew it would.
That’s why, even though the New Testament is filled with command after command to be grateful, the Romans charged the early Christians with ingratitude. They charged them with being ungrateful.
There’s a reason for that.
The emperor Diocletian found out one of his favorites, a man named Sebastian, had become a Christian, and this is what he said.
“Ingrate, I have given you first rank in my palace, and you have striven against me and my gods.”
He tied Sebastian to a stake and shot him full of arrows.
Now why would he call him an ingrate?
You see, it’s because Sebastian broke the circle of reciprocity that Rome and the Roman emperor was built on.
In the emperor’s way of thinking, “I gave to you. I made you first. You owe it to me to worship my gods. You owe it to me to make me rich. You owe it to me to pump up my ego. You owe it to me to do what I tell you to do.”
See Christians made their gratitude extend as far as God… and they made their generosity extend to the poorest of the poor who were unable to pay them back.
This is from Peter Leithart:
The emphasis on charity to the poor and the inclusion of God in the circle of reciprocity were unprecedented in the ancient treatments of giving and generosity, and this changed our world.
I don’t know how else to say this, so I’ll just say it —
If you still think of agape love as this soft, romanticized, sentimental concept, know that it was not.
It was an idea of enormous substance.
It was an irresistible force.
It was taught and embodied by this man, Jesus of Nazareth.
He intentionally formed a community around it to test its strength.
And that community, with absolutely no resources or power, was pitted against the unprecedented wealth and might of the Roman Empire… and little agape kicked Rome’s butt.
I don’t know how to say that in a churchy way.
I just want to ask at this point in this series — have you received God’s greatest gift?
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son… and there has never been anyone — and I want to invite you to test this out — there has never been anyone who has taught us what God is like like Jesus.
One of the most popular gifts in our day are gift cards.
But sometimes they don’t get used.
Have you ever gotten a gift card for Christmas or a birthday or something?
You know how those cards have a way of getting thrown in a junk drawer… or getting thrown out on accident… or getting lost.
I saw a study on this recently.
Just for fun, if you’re sitting with someone, tell them how much money you think there is in the world in unused gift cards.
Just tell the person next to you how much you think it is. How much money? If you put all those gift cards together, how much cash do you think that would be worth?
I just read this in a study this last week. In a ten year period, between 2005 to 2015, there was $45 billion dollars that went unspent in gift cards.
In 2019 Walmart made $1.9 billion dollars in unused gift cards.
Amazon made $2.8 billion in 2018.
Starbucks made $1.6 billion in 2018.
In the industry, they call these cards unredeemed.
Here’s the point — God is in the redeeming business.
God wants to give you the forgiveness of your sins through this man Jesus — through his life and his death on a cross and his resurrection.
God wants to give you a fresh start in your life.
God wants to give you the power of his Spirit to guide you.
God wants to give you the love of brothers and sisters all around the world — every culture, every century, every civilization.
God wants to give you spiritual gifts to empower you… and a purpose to sustain you… and the hope of eternal life to comfort you beyond death.
You see, that will just be lying in a drawer somewhere if you don’t actually receive it.
So how do you receive it?
It’s real simple. Just confess…
“God, I have sinned, and I don’t come before you as someone who has any claim on you, God. I don’t have you in my debt. I’m in your debt, God… and I just receive your love, your forgiveness, your friendship and your power as a free gift.”
And God will do that if you ask him.
And then, Jesus calls us to love. That’s why we’re a church.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
The church is just about love.
This week, if you love people — out of the abundance of God’s generous gifts to you — practice speaking the love language of giving gifts.
Just say, “This week, I will offer to God and to people a giving heart.”
There is a little switch in your heart where you can ask God to move you from a reluctant giver to motivated giver.
Last Sunday morning, my wife and two daughters were here listening to me teach about how love is spelled T-I-M-E. We were talking about expressing love through quality time.
So my youngest daughter asked me last week, “Dad, would you read with me? It will be like spending quality time together?”
My immediate response honestly in my spirit was, “Man, I don’t have time right now. And I don’t like how you’re using what I taught to manipulate me into doing something you want.”
Now, I love my daughter… and I’m teaching this whole series about learning how to do that better.
Some of you might know this — the apostle Paul was talking once about the kind of attitude or heart God wants us to give with.
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. 2 Corinthians 9:7
Paul says to not give reluctantly, for God loves a cheerful giver.
I’ll tell you a little secret — so does everyone else.
It’s amazing how subtly but clearly my heart can communicate itself. I can say, “Okay, I’ll read with you.”
In other words, “You have successfully placed this burden on me. I will do it because I cannot think of a smooth way out of it, but I will make my response in this moment unpleasant enough to make it less likely that you’ll ask me again next time.”
Am I the only person who ever does something like that? Does anyone know what I’m talking about?
Or I could say, “I have a great daughter. And I could give a tiny little gift that would cost me almost nothing… and communicates love.”
Because love gives… and giving wins.
Giving gives life.
Giving is the best way to live.
I’ve been focused this week because of this message on giving, and it’s so interesting — every time I freely give, I think, “Why don’t I do this more? It’s really the best way to live.”
I love how giving gives life to the person who receives.
God has set up the universe so you cannot authentically give without receiving.
It changes the receiver… and it changes you.
My wife and I decided to surprise our daughter with an iPhone 11 for her 14th birthday. It’s her first phone and she had no idea it was coming.
And I have to tell you, I got as much joy out of planning that surprise and giving that gift as Lily did in receiving it. Giving is just that way.
A lot of you know I taught on giving last month and we have a group of people who are taking the tithe challenge right now.
They made an agreement — “I’m going to take the first 10 percent of my income like the writers of Scripture teach and give it to God.”
They’re going to do that for 3 months. If it’s not sustainable, we said we’ll give your money back.
It’s been such a great journey for so many of the people involved.
One of the guys I talked to said, “The biggest surprise was as I give more, I find I love God more. I knew my giving would grow; I didn’t know my heart would grow.”
It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35
And that statement is as important for marriages, for families, for relationships, as it is for financial stewardship.
Now, a gift doesn’t have to cost anything. Sometimes they can just be fun.
I have a friend who is great at connecting with people. He sends little notes, “You would love this article,” or, “You would love this book.” He’ll text a funny cartoon to someone.
He sent me a text last week with a product that has to do with hair growth that I won’t tell you about, but he said, “I saw this and thought of you.” He has a weird sense of humor.
But sometimes just getting a text or email or note from someone is a gift. Just knowing someone cares.
Another thing you can do is — be like a giving detective. Be on the lookout for clues about people in your life, especially those who speak the love language of giving.
When you find out something they want, get it for them.
I know a person like that. If she’s with someone and they say something about something they like or want, she’ll make a mental note of it and get it for them. She’s just that way.
If I was talking about how much I like butter chews from See’s candy, then at Christmas or at a birthday or for no reason at all, I would find a box of butter chews on my desk.
Again, this isn’t bartering. You don’t use a quality like this in someone to get stuff from them slyly.
Just because I mentioned how much I love butter chews from See’s candy, I don’t expect anyone to get me any of them… even though I suppose more than anything else in the world, I love butter chews from See’s candy… and Ducati motorcycles. Those are the two things…
Maybe you have someone in your life, and God is calling you to do a week-long campaign of gifts — a gift once a day.
One of the most moving stories in Gary Chapman’s book on The 5 Love Languages is about a couple — Doug and Kate.
Kate told Gary Chapman about how for years she had been complaining to Doug about how empty their marriage was, but she felt nothing back. She said it reached the point where she actually hated him.
Then they learned about The 5 Love Languages. And Doug realized for the first time that receiving gifts was his wife’s love language… which flipped a little switch in his heart.
That week, on Monday afternoon, he brought home a rose, just one rose, and gave it to Kate. And she started to cry.
Tuesday, he called home and said, “How about if I bring a pizza home for you and the kids for dinner?” He had never done that. She gave him a hug when he got home.
Wednesday, he brought all the kids home a box of Cracker Jacks. Do you remember Cracker Jacks? I bought my son Ezra Cracker Jacks recently. That little prize in the box, the greatest thing in the world.
And Doug bought Kate a potted plant. He said, “I know the rose will die, and I thought you might want something that would stick around a while.”
Thursday night, it was a card saying he had never been able to express love very well but hoped the card would help him do it… inviting her for a date on Saturday.
Friday night, he took her to a cookie store for her favorite cookie.
She said, “Dr. Chapman, you have to understand this man had never given me a flower since the day we got married. He never gave me a card. He said, ‘It’s a waste of money. You look at it and throw it away.’”
Doug looked at his wife and said, “I’m sorry for all those years I was so lost. With God’s help, I’m going to be a gift-giver for the rest of my life.”
She said, “You can’t go on like this every day. You can’t afford it.”
He said, “Maybe not every day, but I can do it once a week. That would be 52 gifts per year more than you’ve received in the last five years put together.”
With God’s help, a marriage got reborn… because it’s all about love, and love gives.
God so loved the world that he gave. Let’s go do that this week.
And next week, we’ll learn about a love language that can maybe change a relationship faster than any other.
Alright, let me close in prayer.
God, thank you so much that you are the great giver.
We remember now so many gifts — the gift of life… our families… our bodies… our minds… our friends… our jobs… our food… our clothes… music… sunrises and sunsets. Just gift after gift, God, and you give all of them to us. Thank you for being such a generous God.
God we thank you especially for the gift of your Son.
God, help us to be givers. There are people around us who are just waiting to be loved. Help us to love them. Help us to have generous hearts and become cheerful givers.
We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.