Sunday, March 9, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Sermon on the Amount!

Introduction and Offering:

Next Sunday, we start a new series called, “Love Does.”  I wanted to call it “Love Commandoes,” but some folks thought it meant we’d all be running around without underwear. We’re going to spend four weeks talking about how to show love in every day life—and doing it! Because love does! We’re going to finish with a big party.  You’ve heard of the Dove Awards?  We’re giving out the Love Awards.  You won’t want to miss it—starting next Sunday!

Today’s talk is “The Sermon on the Amount”! Here’s how I want to start: for today’s offering, I want you to take the wallet or purse of someone around you, and then give like you’ve always wanted to!  It’s fun to give away someone else’s money!  Ok, we are going to receive the offering; let’s have the ushers come.  Thanks for being generous. And you probably shouldn’t do that with your neighbor’s purse or wallet—but you can do it with your own. 

Here’s why.  It’s all God’s money.  If you are a Christian, you are not your own. You have been bought with a price. You belong to God, lock stock and barrel.  Your life, your time, your money, your stuff all belongs to Him.  So when you give, you really are giving away someone else’s money! 

Today, I want to talk with you about radical generosity—in every area of your life. I want to show you how incredibly generous God is with us, and that He promises to take care of us. We have nothing to fear, nothing to worry about.  I want to help you get past your fear so you can experience the sheer joy of generosity!  I want to start with a great story.

ILL: Donald Rauer wasn’t a giver.  He was a hard-driving middle manager in a large manufacturing company. He worked hard, and believed there is no such thing as a free lunch, so he wasn’t big on philanthropy. One day he got a phone call that changed his life.

Donald’s sole living relative, Uncle Mike, had passed away and left his estate—a large sum of money—to Donald.  There was a catch: Uncle Mike had created a foundation with almost a million dollars in it, and named Donald the sole trustee for the foundation.  It was up to Donald to distribute the money to charities according to uncle’s wishes, and he had 12 years to do it. 

Unhappily, Donald set to work.  With ruthless scrutiny, he examined potential charities, and finally, reluctantly, began to allocate small sums of money to a select few worthy recipients.

In the months that followed, Donald began receiving reports on the work being done due to his reluctant gifts.  Starving people were being fed.  Abandoned children were receiving care. Farmers were learning new methods and gaining increased yields to feed their villages.  Slowly, Donald got intrigued.  Eventually, he began making annual treks to see what his uncle’s money was doing first hand. 

Donald ended up taking partial retirement to spend his summers as a volunteer relief worker.  Each year he gave more of his time, and more of his uncle’s money, until after 8 years it was all gone. At that point, Donald did the unthinkable. He began transferring his own nest egg over to the foundation to continue the charitable work. He also started giving away most of his salary. 

Donald finally retired from the plant at 71, but continued his work through the foundation for the next 15 years until he died at 86.

Donald’s life was transformed—by giving.  At first, he felt no fear about giving the money away. Why?  It wasn’t his money; it was his uncle’s money! He wasn’t worried about how it would affect him because it wasn’t his money.  But as he gave, he was captivated and transformed by the sheer joy of giving. 

Jesus said: Acts 20:35 “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  The word “blessed” can also be translated “happy”.  It is happier to give than receive!  It’s fun to give!  Donald experienced that.  And God wants you to experience it too.  And it starts by simply realizing that it’s not your money!  It all belongs to God, so have fun! Give like you’ve always wanted to!

The Big Idea: Jesus calls us to radical generosity!  Instead of being afraid, have fun with it!

Our text is from Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 6:25–34 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

What’s the big theme here?  Don’t worry!

1. Don’t worry: Your Father’s got this!

Don’t worry about your daily necessities.  Remember, Jesus wasn’t saying this to 21st Century Americans, most of whom have more than enough to eat and wear.  Jesus was saying this to 1st Century Galileans, most of whom lived day to day, and had little or no extras. Jesus told these people who had far less than us not to worry.  Why? 

You have a Father who knows your needs and who cares for you.

Don’t worry about food.  Look at the birds; they don’t sow or reap or stash money away in banks, yet Your Father feeds them.  Aren’t you much more valuable than they are?  Of course!  So don’t worry, your Father will take care of you.

Don’t worry about clothes.  Look at the wildflowers; they don’t labor or spin, but not even the glittery outfits at the Oscars can compare!  If your Father takes care of the grass like this, won’t he take care of you?  Of course.  So don’t worry.  He’s got this!

Don’t worry.  Don’t be afraid.

Why? You have a Father who cares for you.  Behind the command to not worry or fear is God’s great love and generosity.  The more I understand how deeply loved I am, the more I experience God’s faithfulness and generosity, the easier it is to trust and not fear.  God’s generosity is mind-blowing. 

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.

God so loved that He gave—and look what He gave.  The Father gave His one and only Son—a gift so generous that we can’t wrap our minds around it.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is that there is one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  So God is a community. God is a relationship. The Father, Son and Spirit share a perfect love within themselves.  God didn’t need to create us to have someone to love. God is love.  And that love is shared in God Himself, between the Father, Son and Spirit.  This changes everything.  This means not only that a personality is behind the universe, but a relationship is too—the universe is fundamentally personal and relational.  This is why the most important thing is loving God and loving people—it’s all about relationships because God is a relationship.

Why the theological aside?  I want you to see how generous God is, what it cost Him to redeem you.

ILL: Imagine a great family—it could be yours—in which everyone loves and respects each other deeply.  I’m thinking of my family—we love each other.  Now imagine that you have an opportunity to save a troubled child—this is what we talked about last Sunday—no relation to your family, just a troubled child. You know that it will cost you. But what if you knew that it would cost you one of your family.  Could you do it?  Could you sacrifice one of your own deeply loved family for a stranger in need?  Could you lose this to gain him or her?  It’s pretty hard to imagine…isn’t it?

This is what God the Father did to adopt you. It cost Him more than we can imagine.  For God so loved that He gave—and the enormity of the gift is beyond our imagination. But wait…there’s more!

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

If God gave the ultimate gift, will He withhold the lesser?  Not a chance.

ILL: When we adopted our boys, they became our sons.  That was the big gift.  But along with that gift came everything we have.  Would I feed them?  Of course! Clothe them!  Absolutely!  Give them candy and toys?  Whatever they want!  Why?  Because they are my sons!  All that other stuff comes with that.

God adopted us into His family in Christ. Along with Jesus He will graciously give us all things.

This is why Jesus said, “Don’t worry.”  He knew the Father’s generosity.  He knew that inside the Big Gift of God adopting us, all the little gifts were wrapped up. 

What keeps you from being as generous as you wish?  What keeps us from experiencing the sheer joy, the incredible fun of giving? I’m betting it’s fear.  FOMO—fear of missing out.  Fear of not having enough.  Jesus says that you never need to worry or fear again; you have a Father who loves you.  Your Father’s got this.  Instead, you can:

2. Seek first God’s Kingdom.

Matthew 6: 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Jesus says that instead of worrying about your daily necessities, you can trust God. He’s got this. Since you don’t have to worry about your deal, you can turn your attention to God’s deal. 

ILL: When our twins were born, Andy had just turned 3; we had four kids three and under.  We’d sit down for a meal, and one of the twins would fill her diaper.  Laina would say, “What do you want to do: diaper or dinner?”

“I got this,” I’d say, pointing to the dinner, freeing her up for the diaper. What can I say…I’m a servant!

Jesus is saying: “What do you want to do: focus on your deal or God’s?”  We can focus on God’s deal because God’s got ours.  He’s taking care of you, which frees you up to focus on God’s Kingdom.  Since God is taking care of me, I can focus on Him and what He wants. 

Earlier in this chapter, Matthew 6, Jesus taught us to pray, “May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  That’s what we pray; here’s what we do. We back up our prayers with action.  We not only pray for God’s Kingdom, we seek it.  We seek to do God’s will, to see that what God wants actually happens. What does it look like to seek first God’s Kingdom?

Two things.

First, it means that we help people find and follow Jesus.  We help people come under God’s loving reign. God’s Kingdom expands as more and more people find and follow Jesus.  So:

  • We generously share the good news of Jesus with others.
  • We also give generously to make that happen. 

Last Sunday, Michael said that every life that is saved and transformed here happens because you give.  We baptize about 200 people a year, and help thousands more follow Jesus.  And it’s not just here; we are planting churches and helping people find and follow Jesus all over town and around the world.  Every life that is changed is a result of your generosity.

To seek God’s Kingdom is to help more people find and follow Jesus.

Second, it means that we do what God wants done, right now here on earth, just as it would be done in heaven.  Some examples:

  • What is God’s will for orphans?  He wants every child to have a loving family.  So we seek that, and in doing so, seek His Kingdom.  By the way, last Sunday, 160 of you signed up to help at the tables in the commons, and dozens more took information home and signed up online. The lives of hundreds of children and families will be affected and changed because of your generosity.
  • What is God’s will for more than 20 million people in slavery?  He wants everyone to be free.  So we seek that—we seek justice and freedom for the oppressed, and in doing that, we seek His Kingdom, His will.
  • What is God’s will for the one billion people without access to clean water?  He wants them to have water.  So we seek that—that’s why we’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars to drill wells.  Your generosity made it happen.

To seek God’s Kingdom is to do what God wants done, right now.

So to seek God’s Kingdom is both making disciples and doing good. And this becomes our priority. “Seek first God’s kingdom.” This is our priority: God first. God’s will first. First before your own agenda and needs.  And this is where radical generosity comes in.  Instead of living for ourselves, we live for Him.  Instead of spending it all on myself, I have a new priority. I am seeking first His Kingdom: making disciples and doing good.  Since He is taking care of me, I can throw myself into seeking first His Kingdom. Now, like Donald Rauer, I can start investing God’s money into Kingdom enterprises rather than spending it all on myself.

And when I do, that’s when the fun starts!  A life of radical generosity is not a life of destitution and misery. It is a life filled with adventure!  It’s fun to give your time, your talent and your treasure and see lives changed because of it.

Get over your worry; God will take care of you.  Get over your fear, and seek first God’s Kingdom.

3. Freely you’ve received, freely give.

Matthew 10:8 Freely you have received; freely give.

Jesus sent His disciples out to share the gospel and do good, to meet needs everywhere in Jesus’ name.  And radical generosity was at the core of their mission. He told them, “Freely you have received, freely give.”

God’s given everything to us, now we can give it away.  Let me tell you two things I know.

First, God gives generously so you can pass it on, not pile it up!  God blesses us so we can share, not hoard. This idea is all through the Bible, starting with God’s promise to Abraham: “I will bless you…and you will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3) It was clear that God’s blessing was never intended to stop with Abraham, but go through him to the whole world.  He was blessed to be a blessing.  Freely he received so that he could freely give. Pass it on, don’t pile it up!

2 Corinthians 9:11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

God will enrich you in every way so you can spend it all on yourself?  No, so that you can be generous on every occasion.  And in the end, your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. God blesses us to pass it on, not pile it up. 

ILL: Just this week, I was talking with a friend who told me that recently he had an unexpected windfall of $2800.  For most of us, that’s a lot of money, especially to have it unexpectedly dropped in your lap.  He told me that his first thought was, “How much of this can I give away?” Honestly, it stunned me.

My first thought when I get extra money is, “What do I want to buy?” It’s fun money!  How many of you are with me? We’re the spenders.  How many of you would say that your first thought would be tucking it away in savings?  You’re the savers—and you’re no fun!  And how many of you are like my friend and your first thought would be giving it away?   And you’re the saints!

Seriously, I admire you and want to be more like you.  I would like my first thought to be about seeking first God’s kingdom. What good could this money do? Who could I help? Whose life could I change forever?

I want to be more like my friend and think, “give first”.

God blesses us so we can pass it on, not just pile it up.  Recently, I heard someone say that buying that next new thing won’t really make you happy. I know that.  Don’t you?  But it just hit me hard when I heard it—almost like it was a new thought. I’ve bought new things, but they’re only new for a little while, and eventually it’s just more stuff to maintain, fix and store.  The fun factor wears out pretty fast.

But helping someone find and follow Jesus, seeing a life transformed, loving a child, feeding someone who is hungry, bringing life-giving clean water where there was none—this is a happiness that doesn’t wear out. 

Here’s an idea: what if there’s a better way to have fun with your fun money? If you really want to have fun, get radically generous!  What if our fun money was the money we give to do God’s work?  What if giving wasn’t a dreary obligation, but was the fun adventure of seeking first God’s kingdom.

I know you might think I’m crazy, but I think God intends giving to be fun.

2 Corinthians 9:7 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 word “cheerful” translates the Greek word hilaros; we get the word “hilarious” from it.  It means happy, glad or cheerful.  God loves happy givers.  Giving is a joy! Jesus said that it’s happier to give than receive.  So when you write out your offering check, it’s fun money!  When you sponsor a kid each month, it’s fun money. When give to help a needy friend, it’s fun money!

I know this: God blesses us so we can pass it on, not just pile it up. But that fear factor keeps some of us from the fun.  So here’s the other thing I know:

Second, you can’t outgive God. I said that fear keeps us from being generous.  Fear of not having enough; fear of running short, fear of mission out.  But what if giving meant you had more, not less? Jesus said:

Luke 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Jesus said this in context where he was talking about love, forgiveness, and mercy.  The more you give, the more you get.  I think it applies to everything, including money. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting this is way to manipulate God to get what you want.  “If I give this, I’ll get that.”  We give mercy, love, forgiveness and money simply because it is the right thing to do, and it’s fun.  We don’t give to get.  But I think Jesus wants to take away our fear and worry, so He says, “This is how it works.  You can’t outgive God. When God sees someone giving to others, God knows that’s someone He can trust with more.  So the more you give, the more comes back to you.”

I have learned over and over that I can’t outgive God.  In every situation, I would rather err on the side of generosity than stinginess.  Generosity has never cost me; stinginess has.  Generosity is fun and enlarges your soul; stinginess is miserable and shrinks your soul.  Every time I give—whether it’s money, or time, or love, or mercy—it comes back to me in spades.  Here’s how Paul put it.

2 Corinthians 9:6–8 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 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. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

So we’ll wrap up here by going back to our title: the Sermon on the Amount.  How much should we give?   What’s the amount?

Paul says, “give what you have decided in your heart to give.”  Your giving to God should be planned and purposeful; you decide what to give in your heart.  What does your heart say?  And Paul adds that you should never give reluctantly or under compulsion, but you should give happily, cheerfully. God doesn’t want a reluctant or forced offering.  God wants it to come from your heart.  God wants it to be happy!

Should you tithe?  A tithe is one tenth of your income, and the Old Testament law required the Jews to tithe. Jesus tithed.  He taught His disciples to tithe.  But we’re not under the law any more, so should we tithe?  I have friends who say no—don’t tithe because we’re under grace, not law.  It’s true that we’re under grace, and that grace is greater than the law!  So I ask my friends, since they’re under grace, do they give far more than a tithe. Sadly, most of them seem to use grace as an excuse to give less than the law required, rather than a motivation to joyfully give more.  I tell them that if your giving under grace doesn’t exceed what the law requires, their “grace vs. law” argument is pretty hollow. 

ILL: I was recently reading On the Apostolic Preaching, by St. Irenaeus of Lyons at the end of the second century. He says that we no longer need the law as a guardian since we’ve come to Christ.  “For no more shall the Law say, ‘You shall not kill’ to him who has removed all anger and enmity from himself, nor ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s field or ox’ to those who make no care at all of earthly things, but lay up heavenly fruit…nor will it exact tithes from him who dedicates all his possessions to God…”

Irenaeus said that the Law doesn’t require tithes of people who have given everything to God out of happy gratitude for His great grace!  I have always tithed—not as the end of generosity, but only the beginning.  I start by giving God the first tenth, and then happily give more because of His grace.   

So, what’s the amount? What does God ask for? Here’s the answer: God doesn’t ask for much; He asks for everything!  And the more you give, the happier you will be!  It’s the sheer joy of giving!  So have fun!!