Breakthrough Concept #4: God does not measure generosity by the size of our gift but by the size of our sacrifice.
It’s not the size of the gift that God measures; it’s the size of the sacrifice. You know you’ve given sacrificially when you’re giving impacts your lifestyle.
The Christmas Story – A Graduate Course in Generosity
The Magi Gave Their Money
They have very limited information about God, but they know one thing: when you come to worship a King, you bring an offering.
The Shepherds Gave Their Time
Joseph Gave His Reputation
For all of his life, he would be misunderstood.
Mary Gave Her Future
She doesn’t try to negotiate. She doesn’t ask the angel if there is a plan B up there somewhere. Her only question is methodology.
Jesus Gave His Life
The Father Gave His Most Prized Possession
Our Generosity Is a Virtuous Response to God’s Generosity
God Doesn’t Measure Generosity by the Size of the Gift, but by the Size of the Sacrifice
Increasing Levels of Generosity Bring Increasing Levels of Blessing
Illustration: Generosity is to love as thunder is to lightening
Three Practical Principals
Generosity Always Begins with God
Our Generosity Is the Visible Expression of Our Love for God
Generosity Grows into Giving My Life to God as a Perpetual Act of Worship
In the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about the genius of generosity. This week, I want to take you to a place where God says, “This is how human beings tend to measure generosity. Now I’ll show you how I measure it.” To learn God’s perspective, we’ll go to one of the most familiar stories in Scripture that, I think, is often misapplied and misunderstood.
Outside the temple in New Testament days, there was a box that was the temple treasury. People would come and drop off their gifts, as a way to give their offering. By the time of the Pharisees, a lot of outward religious symbolism was attached to giving, but the Pharisees motives weren’t exactly right. When they were going to pray, they would blow a trumpet to attract attention to themselves. And then they would drop in their gifts, making sure everyone could see how much they were giving.
One day Jesus is with his disciples, watching people dropping in their gifts. A widow comes by and drops in two small coins. And Jesus says, “Pete, John, come here, guys, come here. See that? Yeah. With those two small coins, she just gave more than all those other people.” In fact, the story is found in Luke 21:1-4; follow along as I read. “As he looked up Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put more in than all the others.’” And then he gives the reason why. “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Now this account has been highly misunderstood and misapplied. This is how the misapplication gets played out: “See the widow’s mite? She gave just two small copper coins. See, God doesn’t care how much we give; He’s just interested in your heart. If your heart is right, it doesn’t matter how much money you give.” The result is that people don’t give very much, and they think that if you have a good feeling about God--regardless of what you give--that’s a pleasing offering to God. That’s a serious misinterpretation of this text. If you want to understand what Jesus was getting at, here’s His point. In fact, He is teaching our generosity Breakthrough Concept #4: God does not measure generosity by the size of our gift but by the size of our sacrifice. She gave more not because her amount was more; she gave more because the amount she gave put her at risk and left her without anything. She gave out of a generous heart that wanted to honor God, and she put her own needs after what she wanted to give to God.
So Jesus brings his disciples over and says, “Human beings see large gifts and think, Wow, is that guy generous!” But Jesus said no, you don’t understand. It’s not the size of the gift that God measures; it’s the size of the sacrifice. You know you’ve given sacrificially when you’re giving impacts your lifestyle. That’s what He’s saying. The other people gave, but their gift didn’t impact the way they lived. Was it a good gift? Of course it was a good gift. But not nearly as generous as hers. In fact, the truth we’ll see in this lesson transcends money.
If you open the page, I want to show you how God measures generosity. I call this the Christmas Story, and it’s a graduate course in generosity. In this story, you’ll be introduced to some simple characters and some eternal principles. One of the amazing things about this story is that an infinite all-knowing, all-wise God could have chosen an infinite number of ways to send His Son to our planet. And yet, recorded in Scripture is the story of God incarnate entering our atmosphere as a helpless baby.
In this story, we first are introduced to some wise men, or magi. These men study the stars, and one day they see something significant up there. They follow the limited knowledge they’ve ascertained from the stars, and they end up worshiping a child.
There’s another group of people in the Christmas story who are the poorest among the poor. It’s a group of shepherds, and they are hailed by a hallelujah chorus in the sky, an announcement from an angel. They are overwhelmed and eventually find themselves right at the manger worshiping the baby.
We are also introduced to a young man, a blue-collar worker, a carpenter; and he discovers that God has a calling on his life that he could never have dreamed. And then we meet a teenage girl, probably 15-17 years old, who gets a personal visit from an angel. As you look at all the players, you see a key principle that will help us understand how the Kingdom of God works.
I’d like to walk through the Christmas story through the lens of generosity. Follow along, and then we’ll make some points at the end.
THE MAGI GAVE THEIR MONEY
Let’s start out with our magi, the wiseman. Matthew 2:11 says, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” Now let’s think this through. These fellows don’t know much about Jewish tradition or a Messiah. They’re from another land, and they study the stars on a regular basis. And through their study of the stars they’ve learned to get different kinds of information; and in this instance, God supernaturally orchestrates their study with what He wants to reveal.
“You been studying the stars lately, Joe?”
“Yeah, I’ve been studying them.”
“Have you seen that strange pattern I’ve seen?”
“Yeah, I’ve been seeing it. There’s a king going to be born somewhere.“
“Yeah. Did you see that one star that’s extra big and bright? We’re supposed to follow it.”
“ Let’s go.”
Now imagine this. They finally get to Jerusalem, and they ask some of the locals. “We got rough, sketchy information about a king being born somewhere. Could you give us some help? Is there any expectation of a king in this part of the country?”
They were directed to the scribes and the Pharisees, who said with certainty. “We’re expecting a Messiah; we have hundreds of years of prophecy.“
“Can you give us more information?”
“Of course we can. He’s to be born in Bethlehem,” and they quote the Old Testament passages. Then the magi have a little visit with Herod, who has mixed motives. Finally, they make it to Bethlehem. So what do they bring when they go to see this King? They have very limited information about God, but they know one thing: when you come to worship a King, you bring an offering. So they take their material possessions and offer them as a gifts to the King.
THE SHEPHERDS GAVE THEIR TIME
Let’s follow up with the shepherds. You’re outside on the hills of Bethlehem just doing your job. You’re kind of the low people on the totem pole culturally. And then one night, the sky splits, and it’s as light as the day. You hear this singing, and then the angels tell you, “Hey the Messiah is here. He’s just been born.” Notice in Luke 2:15-17 what the shepherds do. “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. When they hadseen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.”
Notice as the story progresses that they don’t just get a vague idea–like the magi did. They get a vivid revelation from angels and a song and an announcement and direction. And they don’t give their money; they give their time. They stop working, even though their sheep are still out there, and even though someone needs to watch them. They hear a revelation from God, and they leave their sheep and go. Then they see a baby, and everything was exactly as it was told. And then they have the ultimate privilege of being the very first evangelists. They are the first to tell others, “The Messiah is here! We’ve seen him, just as the angles revealed we would.
JOSEPH GAVE HIS REPUTATION
In the progression of this journey of generosity, we now move to Joseph. God does not ask for Joseph’s money, even though he’s going to give a lot of that over the years to this newborn son. He doesn’t ask for Joseph’s time--this is going to be a 24/7 deal. He’s a dad. What God asks Joseph for is his reputation. Follow along as we read the story. Beginning in Matthew 1:18: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
In Jewish custom there was a betrothal period. And that betrothal period could only be broken by divorce. And so, the families had agreed that these two young people would be married. There was a time apart as they prepared and had big celebrations; but the only way you could break the betrothal period was by divorce. Now think of Joseph. We get so caught in these Bible stories, we read them every year, that we forget that he’s a young man. He’s in love with a great girl, and he cares about her; and then he finds out his bride-to-be is pregnant. Now he doesn’t have 2,000-plus years of experience to know that Isaiah is being fulfilled and that she’s a virgin--so there’s no problem here, Joseph. Imagine yourself in his sandals: you’re engaged and your fiancé is pregnant. Joseph could put two and two together. He’d been betrayed. Unbelievable. Joseph thought, “Mary was my kind of girl. I thought she was committed to me, but she slept with someone else. And not only that, but this news will soon be all over town.” Whoa.
Do some of you who are a little older remember what it was like, say in the early 60s or even 70s when a teenage girl at a high school got pregnant? Remember what that was like? Even though it was the time of “free love,” it was scandalous. Well, multiply that by about 100 in Joseph’s culture. But Joseph decides to be as gracious as he can, to divorce her quietly. “But after he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David”--watch this because it’s going to be repeated to Mary--“do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.” Do not be afraid as God takes you on your journey of generosity, even though the higher the cost and risk, the greater the fear. Don’t be afraid. “Take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” He not only gets the child’s name in this dream, but he knows the mission. This child is going to save people from their sins. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel--which means, “God with us.’” When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”
Now let’s play out how it works. He finds out she’s pregnant. Other people kind of know. Now he’s the laughing stock of the town. “Mary,” he says.
”You know that conversation we had yesterday about the divorce and stuff. I got a visit last night in a dream, and it turns out that crazy story you were telling me is true. And he told me that this really is from God. And so I want you to marry me.” And so they get married. The text says they never had physical union until after Jesus is born.
Now let’s play out how the people in that culture would have reacted. “What kind of guy is this Joseph to marry a pregnant girl?”
”You mean that guy actually married her? What kind of girl is she? Who would take a woman like that? I mean she’s not a virgin. I can’t believe he would take a girl who’s been with another man.”
Do you see where his reputation went? No one understood the price that Joseph paid. For all of his life, he would be misunderstood. For all of his life, he would look like an idiot. The sacrifice God asked from Joseph was that he be obedient, that he walk with Him.
MARY GAVE HER FUTURE
Mary gave more than money or time or reputation. God asked for her future. Follow along in Luke 1:26, “In the sixth month God sent the angel Gabriel.” We start out with the magi who get vague information from a few stars, then the shepherds get a chorus and a choir and an angel saying, “Here’s where to go.” Then it gets real personal: an angel of the Lord personally meets with Joseph and tells him about the Messiah and the mission.
Then there’s Mary. Can you imagine? I can’t because, obviously, I’m not a woman; but imagine being 15, 16, 17 years old, and then boom, there’s an angel in your bedroom. Not just any angel, but Gabriel. A heavy hitter. The one who makes the big announcements. Notice what happens. Gabriel was sent to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married, then to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.
“The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you,’” Notice her response, “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” Can you imagine that? Here’s this angel, and you’re in your bedroom, and light is emanating from everywhere, “Greetings, you’re highly favored.” When God has a new wonderful step for you, and you’re highly favored, and He wants to use you beyond what you’ve ever dreamed; the first reaction is often, “Uh-oh.”
“But the angel said to her,” notice, “‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Mary is a godly, Jewish woman. In the Song of Mary, which she sings when she’s with her cousin Elizabeth, she quotes eight to twelve Old Testament passages. She knew her Old Testament. So when she heard that her baby would be called the Son of the Most High and that He would sit on the throne of David forever and ever, she got it. Her child would be the long-awaited Messiah. God coming to take on human flesh. “The savior of the world is going to come through me.” The highest, most amazing privilege on the earth. She got it.
She doesn’t try to negotiate. She doesn’t ask the angel if there is a plan B up there somewhere. Her only question is methodology. See verse 34: “‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Human mother, the spirit of God as Father: 100 percent human nature, 100 percent divine nature. He will have no sin nature. He will live a perfect life. Fully God, fully man--born to a teenage girl. Now Gabriel tries to give her some encouragement, “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age”--she had been barren for years--“and she is in her sixth month.” And then notice this: “For nothing is impossible with God.” Before we get Mary’s response, let’s play this out.
Ladies, remember back when you were 16 or 17--maybe in our day it would translate more into 19-22--and you had your eye on a guy and thought about what life might be like if you two were married, and you thought about where you might like to live. And maybe you’ll have a couple of kids and live down south or up north or maybe move back to Iowa and find a place with a nice picket fence, and you kind of play out your whole future and the agenda--what you’re going to be and what you’re going to do. Guess what? All of Mary’s future got erased. Gone. Mary, you have no right to your future. “You will be the mother of the Messiah,” she was told. “All the dreams you had, all the direction you had, everything you thought and wanted in a life for you and Joseph--gone. I have a different agenda. It’s a high calling. It’s a blessing. It’s supernatural. It’s amazing.” But here’s the deal, the cost was her future.
And Mary’s response is the response God longs for in your heart whenever He speaks to you about His agenda for you--especially when it’s different from your agenda for your future. Mary’s response, “I am the Lord’s servant.” And I love the translation that says, “Be it unto me according to your word.” You are God. I am your servant. Of course I had plans for my future, of course I had dreams; but You’re the maker, I’m the clay. Be it unto me according to your word. This may be the best New Testament response to God’s word in all of Scripture.
The next time you hear a sermon and God speaks to you, the next time you’re reading your Bible, and God speaks to you; the next time you’re driving in your car, and you hear a message and God speaks to you, the next time you hear a song and God prompts you, and it’s His word speaking to you, do you know what response God wants from you? He longs for you to say, “I’m Your servant. Be it unto me according to your word. Of course, I’ll do that Lord.”
Did you notice the progression as we talked about this graduate course in generosity? We tend to think that giving our money is a really big thing; but in this progression, it’s at the bottom of the list. Then it moves to our time and then our reputation and then our future, but we’re not done. We now have modeled for us that God would have us give our life.
JESUS GAVE HIS LIFE
Mark 10:45 gives the perfect statement of Jesus’ life, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many.” He came to make the ultimate sacrifice, to give His life for you and me. From the foundations of the earth, from the moment He was born, He entered human history to become fully God, fully man, with a singular agenda to live a perfect life. And in that perfect life, He would reveal what the Father is like; He would be affirmed by miracles, signs, and wonders; and He would teach that He was, in fact, the Messiah. And then, guiltless in every way, He would go to the cross and die there, taking upon Himself your sin and my sin and the sins of all the people who ever lived and all the people who will ever live. And He would pay for all those sins with His blood. He would become the great atonement, so that every single person who is ever born on the face of the earth would be offered forgiveness through the purchase price of His blood. And the good news we share with others is simply, “Would you like the free gift that has been purchased for you by Christ’s work on the cross?”
He gave His life, but that’s not all. We’ve been in a kind of high-level graduate work, but now let’s move to the PhD in generosity. Let’s look at what the Father does. The Father gives His most precious possession. He gives His son.
THE FATHER GAVE HIS MOST PRECIOUS POSSESSION
How many people here are parents here? Okay. I already know the answer to the question I’m about to ask, and I don’t want to be crude; but if you lined up my four kids and me and someone had a .45 magnum gun and said you have an option: I’ll kill any one of your kids or you. What am I going to say? What would you say? It’s a no-brainer. It’s much easier to give your life than to watch one of your kids die and know that you could have prevented it.
Your life is not the most precious thing you have. In the graduate course of generosity, God starts with things that are tangible and easy to see—He asks you to trust Him with your money. And then He asks you to trust Him with your time. And then He asks you to take a real stand and trust Him with your reputation, even though family members won’t understand and some people at work won’t understand. Then He asks you to trust Him with your future. And one day you come to a curve in the road that doesn’t go along with all the planning and training that you thought was God’s will for you. But God says no, and He rearranges your whole future. And even after that, He says we’re not done. I want all of you; a living holy sacrifice. I want your life. As is happening to believers all around the globe--at this very moment—He wants to know you would give your life to the point of dying physically for the gospel.
And then He’ll take you on to your PhD level of generosity and at some point in time may ask you and me to give up your most precious possession. It may be your child. Maybe your mate. It may be a dream. It may be something you possess; I don’t know what it is. But here we see God’s progression through the Christmas story. Notice that the cost goes up, but so does the reward.
May I make three observations here to give us some encouragement?
Our Generosity Is a Virtuous Response to God’s Generosity
Observation number one as we look at this Christmas story is that generosity is not so much a virtuous act as it is a virtuous response. Do you know what I mean by that? I’ll never be the man God wants me to be if every time I’m generous with my time or money or reputation, if somehow I think, “Way to go Chipper; thatta boy! You’re a cut above the rest.” That attitude produces self-righteousness. Genuine generosity always begins with God.
I’m a magi from a distant land; in God’s great generosity, He revealed His plan in the stars--just for me.
I’m a shepherd sitting on a hill; my generous God sent an angel chorus and a revelation-- just for me.
I’m a blue collar worker, a good old carpenter trying to do what God wants me to do. God, in His generosity, sent a dream that included a special visit from an angel--just for me.
I’m a teenage girl who wants to walk with God. God’s unbelievable generosity toward me is the privilege of birthing and nurturing the Messiah of God.
Even with Jesus, God was generous the Father. Do you know what Hebrews 12:2 says? “Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” The joy. Didn’t He sacrifice his very life? Yes. But He saw you and me, and He knew that His sacrifice would pay for our sin and that through His death, He would have relationship with us. See, our generosity is always our response to God’s initial generosity.
God Doesn’t Measure Generosity by the Size of the Gift, but by the Size of the Sacrifice
The second observation is also our Breakthrough Concept #4: God does not measure generosity by the size of our gift but by the size of our sacrifice. Does that sound familiar? Let me ask you who gave the most, Mary or the shepherds? Who gave the most Jesus or Mary? You see, our money is the training wheels to teach us the life of sacrifice. When you give your time, the training wheels come off and you are rolling on your own. As you progress to your reputation, you’re on your bike and you’re rolling along pretty good. With each step, God measures generosity not by how much we give but by the sacrifice that it requires.
Increasing Levels of Generosity Bring Increasing Levels of Blessing
Lest you get discouraged, observation number three is crucial: increasing levels of generosity bring increasing levels of reward and blessing. This is how the kingdom of God works. Listen to that. Increasing levels of generosity or sacrifice bring increasing levels of reward and blessing.
I’m a magi; I don’t know much about this God, but I see these things in the stars. What’s my reward? I get to see the Messiah. What did I sacrifice? My money. Training wheels.
I’m a shepherd and I respond to this chorus of angels that I see, but what do I get to do? I get to see Mary and Joseph and the baby, and I get to be the first people ever to tell others. Can you imagine being one of those shepherds 40 years later, sitting around the house with your son, your grandson, maybe your granddaughter and saying, “Man, I remember that night. We were just out on the hill doing the job, I was only 16 at the time. I was young, so I got stuck with the night shift. It was unbelievable. The sky—it lit up--the angels, singing with the most beautiful voices you ever heard.” Can you imagine the reward and the blessing of that experience for the rest of your life?
And here’s Joseph. You say he had to make a big sacrifice--his reputation. He was misunderstood. Yeah, he was misunderstood, but look at the reward. Can you imagine being the dad of the Son of God and watching Jesus take his first steps? Can you imagine that time when Jesus gets to be 11, 12, 13 and you really start talking heart to heart. As a father of sons, I know you cover some pretty sensitive issues in those years.
Can you imagine them walking out into the field together, Joseph with his arm around Jesus and Jesus putting His arm around His dad. And then they sit down on s across from one another and Joseph says, “Son let me tell you how life works.” Can you imagine them in the shop together as Joseph teaches Jesus, “See son, here’s how this fits together.” As a carpenter, you want to do a good job for the glory of God. Can you imagine how your chest would swell with pride and reward. And one day you say to Mary, “I thought He was with you.” “No, Joe, I thought he was with you.” Oh brother. You check with the relatives, and then you make a two-day trip back to the city. Then there by the edge of the temple is your 12-year-old son, baffling the greatest theological intellects of the day. What’s that worth to you?
Every step of generosity and sacrifice is always met with greater and greater reward. Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father, and now His joy is you. He loves you. Without His sacrifice, He couldn’t have relationship with you. And the Father looks at the evil in the world and the redemption and reconciliation that come through His son. God’s plan is being fulfilled, and He will one day bring about truth, justice, and life. What reward!
Notice at the bottom of your page. Generosity is to love as thunder is to lightening. Wherever you find the thunder of generosity, you can know that it started with the lightening of love. You can give without loving. I’ve done it. You can give your time, your money; you can give all kind of things without loving. You can do it to impress people, you can do it to make people feel better, you can give just to get them off your back. So you can give without loving. But you cannot love without giving. Generosity is to love as thunder is to lightening.
If you could grasp what God has shown us in this story, you would see our world for what it is: this man-made world is about getting and keeping and controlling and having and inching and competing. But if you would study the Christmas story through the lens of generosity, you would see a door that leads to another world. That door is generosity. And when you opened that door, you would step inside and close the door behind you. And there in the new world, you would see the magi and the shepherds and Joseph and Mary and Jesus and the Father, and you would see that the kingdom of God operates differently. It operates under this principle: “Give and it will be given unto you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, for in the same measure that you give your time, your talent, your treasure, your heart, your reputation, your future, your life. In that same measure, it will be returned to you multiplied times over. That is life in the Kingdom. In Kingdom life, you become a tiny little mirror that reflects and responds to what the King thinks and feels. And as you respond, you begin to think and feel like the King thinks and feels, and you become generous in the same way.
It’s revolutionary. It could change the whole world.
If you’re struggling a bit to get your arms around what this might look like in real life I’ve got about a three or four minute testimony on video that I want to show you. Listen to Garth talk about his journey in the last three-plus years since he’s come to Christ. And think as you listen about where you are in your journey of generosity.
Did you see the progression? Did you see a guy who’s been a Christian three, maybe four years, and how he worked through financial and time issues. I happen to know him, so every now and then I drop by his market. They have transformed it! I study his new set-up—and by the way, they have great coffee. One day, one of his employees said to me, ”This guy is nuts.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He said, “Man, we could’ve gotten a ton of money, but we took all these movies out and we just destroyed them--he wouldn’t even give them away.”
Another time I went out to see him, and he was right on the edge financially, and he said, “Boy, I hope God shows up soon, but I know he will.”
I know that when you hear him on this short video, it sounds nice and easy. But the end results happened through a lot of ups and downs and fears and struggles. Even so, you ought to ask him about the reward side. Fantastic story. When the level of generosity is great, so are the blessings.
THREE PRACTICAL PRINCIPLES
I don’t know where you are in your generosity training, but there’s a graduate school in generosity where God wants to give you far more than most of us are ready or willing to receive. And so I want to end with three practical ways for you to look at this journey of generosity, inwardly figuring out where you are right now in this progressive study. These three principles will guide you on how you can become the generous person you long to be.
Generosity Always Begins with God
Principle number one is that generosity always begins with God. Generosity is the visible expression of his infinite, incomprehensible love for us. James, in 1:17, lays the foundation. He tells us that every good thing, every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of life with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. Every good thing that you have is a gift from God because He loves you.
Listen to this prayer by the apostle Paul. He prays, “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom the whole family in heaven and on earth derive its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches”--See? God gives to us from His own wealth--“he may strengthen you with power through his spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” It all boils down to faith. “And I pray that you being rooted and established in love may have the power together with all the saints to grasp how wide, how long, how high and how deep is the love of Christ and to know his love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Let me ask you a question. Are you living with the constant awareness that you are the object of God’s infinite, unconditional love? I told you early in this series that it’s not all about money. Money’s is just a symptom. God wants you to understand that He loves you. He loves you. He doesn’t love only if you do something, or because you do something. His love does not require performance, ought, should, or earning His favor. He loves you. And when you being to grasp this, you can open the door of generosity and live inside the Kingdom of God. You’re secure. He loves you. He knows your needs. He wants to bless, He wants to help.
And so how do you get there? Are you ready for the application? I encourage you for the next 30 days to pray Ephesians 3:14-21 for youself. Take that little section about the height and depth and length and breadth, and pray, “Lord, will You begin in my psyche and in my heart and in my soul and help me to grasp and understand how much You love me.” Pray this prayer, and you will begin to get a comment here and there from different people, showing you that God was loving you through that person. And you’ll read something in your Bible, and things will jump off the page just for you. You’ll begin to see that God’s arms are not crossed, waiting for you to shape up. He loves you. He’s for you. He’s behind you. Too often, we don’t believe that.
Our Generosity Is the Visible Expression of Our Love for God
The second key principle on this journey of generosity is that our generosity is the visible expression of our love for God. In John 14:21, it’s Jesus’ last night before His crucifixion, and He says to his disciples, “He that has my commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves me. And he that loves Me will be loved of My Father and I will display, or literally, the Father and I will reveal ourselves to you.” If you have His commands, you know what is right to do, and you do it. And Jesus says if you know His commands, the litmus test of whether you love Him is that you “keep” them.
We are living in a day that is so existential; we have Christians everywhere who think that if they have an ooey-gooey feeling about God or sing a song or raise their hands or do something nice for someone, then they must really be pleasing God. Buzz. Wrong. When you know His commands and you do His commands, that’s the response that evidences your love. It’s not about how you may or may not feel. In fact, I’ll go one better: when you least feel like doing “what is right” and do it anyway, you are probably loving the most.
Some of you parents out there love to sit in the recliner and watch a great ball game. But then one of your kids act up, and you know you have to get up and address the situation, but you don’t want to. You love your child the most when you push the mute button, get out of the recliner, and go address what’s going on.
My wife really needs sensitivity and time from me, but down deep in my heart I’m thinking, I have some needs, too, and I’d like things to come down this way. And I don’t want to meet her needs. Okay? Maybe none of you struggle in your marriage in this way, but indulge me in some self-confession. It’s when I choose to meet her needs when I don’t feel like meeting her needs that I’m probably loving her the most.
Love is not about feelings; love is about actions. I have a commitment to spend time with God first thing every morning--and I want to challenge you in the next year to do the same thing—but sometimes when I wake up, I don’t feel like reading the Bible. When I choose to do it anyway, I’m probably loving God more than the morning I feel, “Oh, God, I can’t wait to hear what You’ll say to me today! When I don’t feel like praying and I choose to pray anyway, I’m probably loving God more than those days when I feel excited about my prayer time. When I pull out of the parking lot where I do a little studying and I see a homeless guy, I might think, “I have a lot to do, I have a busy schedule,” but God prompts me and says buy that guy a meal. And I think, “You don’t understand. I’m a very busy person. I have to write messages on love; I don’t have time to help that guy. I don’t feel like it.” But when I choose to do it anyway, that’s when I love God most. And by the way, I don’t always choose to do it and neither do you--so I go back to God and ask Him to forgive me.
Where are you on your generosity journey with God. Money? Time? Reputation? Life? Future? Your most precious possession? Where are you? What might the Spirit of God be telling you about what you need to begin with? And then, by way of application. I encourage you to memorize John 14:21 this week. Just say to yourself, “I’m gonna memorize that verse so I remember it’s about obedience, not about how I feel.
Generosity Grows into Giving My Life to God as a Perpetual Act of Worship
The third principle in generous living graduates to making our very lives a gift to God as a perpetual act of worship. And I can’t repeat this enough. I told you in week number one that when we started talking generosity, it wasn’t about money. Here’s what God’s after; ready for this? Money is the training wheels. Time, reputation, and future move us future along in our graduate studies. But the real PhD is seen in Romans 12:1-2. This passage shows us the worship God looks for: “I urge you therefore you My brethren, by the mercies of God and His great love for you that you offer your bodies a holy and living sacrifice acceptable to him.” This is the spiritual act of worships that God requires. If you’ve never done that, today would be a great day to literally say, “Lock, stock and barrel--all that I am, all that I have You. I give myself to You.” But this commitment is not just one big, emotional moment. Verse 2 goes on to say that you’ll need to renew that commitment, just like your marriage vows, day after day. You are not conformed to this world--that means you say no to some stuff that’s evil. But you are transformed how? By the renewing of your mind. That means that God’s Word is a regular in your life. And you renew your mind why? Because God is a good God. So you can prove or demonstrate or test or find out what the will of God is. And what is God’s will like? Good, acceptable, well pleasing. God wants to do great things in you.
So here’s the closing question: Are you aware of how important it is to remember that God has your best interest in mind? When people hear verses like we have, some immediately go to, “Oh gosh, if I take this step of faith, I’ll end up in Africa, I’ll end up a missionary. If I’m single, I’ll never get married.
But here’s the application. Get a clean sheet of paper and a pen, some coffee or diet Coke, and feed up. This is going to be fun. List every blessing you can think of. And if you need more than one sheet, turn it over. You might need even more than that; you might even want to write every blessing you can think of from the last year. When you get down to the air you’re breathing right now, you’re probably near the end. And when you look at that sheet, you can say, “If the God of the universe has done all this for me, the smartest thing I can do is to offer my life as a living sacrifice. And with that, you will enter the graduate school of generosity. And you will experience God like never before.