October 12-13, 2019
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#2—Generosity instead of Greed
The Big Idea: God’s generosity overwhelms our greed and makes us grateful, content and generous.
True confession: there are some foods that I don’t have an “off-button” for. My wife’s homemade lasagna. More, more! Tillamook Mudslide ice cream. More, more! Just about any kind of chips—Laina teases me that I always have 4 or 5 bags of chips open. More, more! Anybody else have some foods you just can’t say no to?
But it goes deeper than food. We have the “more” disease, the inability to say “enough” in other areas too: clothes, cars, vacations, toys. More, more! Is there a way to keep from being overwhelmed by consumerism and greed? Yep! I’m going to tell you today!
ILL: Let’s start with a story. A little boy who was visiting friends with his parents managed to get his hand stuck in a very expensive Asian vase, worth hundreds of dollars. His embarrassed parents and their hosts tried everything to free the tearful boy’s hand. They tugged and twisted, even lathered him up with soap and then with Vaseline. All to no avail. Finally, the awful decision was made, and the vase was broken. That’s when they discovered that the little guy couldn’t get his hand out because he had it balled up in a fist, curled around a penny he had seen in the bottom of the vase.
Greed is like that. We grasp a penny and lose something much greater.
Do you believe that God has something bigger and better than a penny for you? Me too. Instead of being overwhelmed by greed, God wants to overwhelm you with His generosity! God wants to bless you. He wants to give you life to the full! He wants you to thrive and flourish! And when you are overwhelmed by His generosity, you can let go of the penny!
The Big Idea: God’s generosity overwhelms our greed and makes us grateful, content and generous.
1. Overwhelmed by my greed.
Do you think of yourself as greedy? Yeah, me neither. Most of us don’t think of ourselves as greedy—I sure don’t. So maybe we need to define greed. Webster defines greed as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed.” And the Greek word that is translated “greed” in your Bibles means “a desire to have more, irrespective of need.”
“Greed is a selfish and excessive desire.” Of course, that implies that not all desires are wrong; not all desires are selfish or excessive. It’s not wrong to desire to have your needs met. You’re hungry; it’s not wrong to desire food. You’re thirsty; it’s not wrong to desire drink. It’s getting cold; it’s not wrong to desire warm clothes or shelter. It’s also not wrong to desire to thrive, to flourish, to do well. I believe it’s what God wants for us. Jesus came to bring us life, life to the full. He wants you to thrive and flourish! We should desire that for ourselves and for others. So, I want to emphasize that not all desire is wrong. There is healthy ambition. There is a healthy desire to thrive and succeed. So when does right desire go wrong and become greed? When it becomes a selfish and excessive desire for more.
“Greed is a selfish and excessive desire for more.” That word “more” is key. Greed cries, “More, more!” It is never satisfied. No matter how much you have, it’s never enough. Greed always wants more, more, more. The Romans had a proverb that said that money was like sea-water: the more a man drank, the thirstier he became.
ILL: In her book, My Father’s Daughter, Tina Sinatra, recalls her famous father’s unceasing drive to make money even when his health was at risk:
“His health was in tatters, but my father (Frank Sinatra) refused to stop giving concerts. “I’ve just got to earn more money,” he said. His performances became more and more uneven. After seeing one too many of these fiascos, I told him, “Pop, you can stop now; you don’t have to stay on the road.” With a stricken expression he said, “No, I’ve got to earn more money. I have to make sure everyone is taken care of.” Since his death there have been constant family fights over his fortune.”
That fortune was worth hundreds of millions of dollars! “I’ve got to earn more money.”
More, more! That’s being overwhelmed by greed—a selfish and excessive desire for more, more than is needed.
And notice that greed isn’t just about money. Greed is “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed.” You can be greedy for other things: for fame, for power, for pleasure, for thrills, for sex. In fact, the apostles Paul and Peter both include greed in lists of sexual sins.
Ephesians 4:19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
Paul is describing the behavior of non-believing people in his world. Sensuality and impurity are terms describing immoral sexual behavior—and Paul adds, “they are full of greed.” Paul includes greed in a list of sexual sins.
Ephesians 5:3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.
Speaking of believers, Paul says that sexual immorality, impurity and greed are improper for us. Again, Paul includes greed in a list of sexual sins.
Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
This time Paul uses four terms for sexual sin and then adds greed to the list. Paul includes greed in a list of sexual sins. And notice the last phrase: greed is idolatry. Hold that thought. Finally, Peter writes:
2 Peter 2:14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood!
Peter too includes greed in a list of sexual sins.
We think of greed primarily in relation to money or things, but most sexual sin is motivated by greed: a selfish and excessive desire for more. More than is God’s plan for us. If you are involved in sexual sin—whether it’s having sex outside of marriage, or cheating on your spouse, or using porn—you’re being overwhelmed by greed. If you want to overcome your sexual sin or addiction, you have to address the greed behind it. It’s time to repent, and let God overwhelm you with His generosity.
Jesus had some powerful things to say about greed in Luke 12:13-21 (p. 894).
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Here’s a common scenario: relatives fighting over an inheritance—like Frank Sinatra’s family. I’ve seen families torn apart by this. And Jesus puts his finger on the problem: greed. He warns us: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” All kinds of greed—excessive and selfish desire for more of anything. In this case, it was money and things. So Jesus says, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” The life your looking for isn’t found in more stuff.
That thing you must have to be happy—what is it? What have you been dreaming about? Hoping for? Scheming for? It may make you happy for awhile, but only a short while. Soon it will be at the dump. Or a second-hand store. Or an estate sale. In fact, if you want a sobering exercise, go to those three places: the dump, a second-hand store and an estate sale. You’ll see people’s treasures there—things that people had to have, the things of their dreams—being incinerated or sold for pennies. I’ve got stuff that was a treasure to me that my kids don’t want—what’s wrong with them? Your life doesn’t consist in an abundance of possessions. More, more, more doesn’t satisfy.
In fact, you can own too much stuff. A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure. More stuff doesn’t mean more happiness, more contentment, more life.
Then Jesus told a story about a farmer who prospered, had bumper crops and built bigger barns. He was all set! He was living the American dream. He had it all: money, stuff, a big savings and retirement account; he was ready to kick back and take it easy. And then God called, and it turned out he wasn’t rich at all. He was poor in what mattered—he didn’t have a relationship with God. Jesus was telling us that the life we long for isn’t found in bigger barns, and more things; it’s only found in knowing and loving the God who loves us.
Remember that Paul said greed was idolatry. How so? Greed seeks to find satisfaction in more of something: more money, more power, more sex. But the satisfaction you long for is found in God alone. So greed is idolatry because it replaces God with other things. I’m looking to someone or something else to satisfy me.
So back to our first question: are you greedy? Most of us have to admit that sometimes we are. Sometimes we get fooled into thinking that someone or something else will satisfy us. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by the consumerism of our culture that screams, “More, more, more!” What’s the fix?
Instead of being overwhelmed by greed, let’s be overwhelmed by God’s generosity. When we know He is giving us the vase, we can let go of the penny.
2. Overwhelmed by God’s generosity.
How can we begin to describe God’s generosity? Everything we have comes from Him! The world and all that is in it is His creation. He has given us life, breath, food, water, the air we breathe, everything! It all comes from Him.
And of course, the ultimate expression of God’s generosity is…Jesus!
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 His one and only Son. This is a level of generosity that I can’t even imagine.
ILL: Jim, I love you, but if it’s a choice between saving you or my son, you’re going to die! If it’s his life or yours, I’ll save my son. Sucks to be you. I may not love you that much, but God loved you so much that when He had the choice of saving you or His Son, He chose you. He gave His Son to save you.
That’s a level of generosity I can’t even imagine. God gave the ultimate gift—His Son—so you could have eternal life, life to the full! But that’s not all. But wait…there’s more!
Romans 8:31–32 (p. 972) What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 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 didn’t withhold His Son—if He gave the greatest gift He could give—won’t He give us everything else along with Him?
ILL: Gabriel Hurles’ sixth birthday party wasn’t a surprise but his present sure was. The kindergartner was so engrossed in the cupcakes his mother brought to his class that he didn’t notice the enormous wrapped box off to the side. When a classmate finally pointed it out, Gabriel peeled back the wrapping paper to find the surprise of his young life: his father, an Army mechanic back from his second tour in Iraq. 23-year-old Casey Hurles hadn’t seen his son for six months. When he learned his leave would coincide with his son’s birthday, he hatched the plan to hide out in the 4-foot tall box.
What was Gabriel’s gift? His father! Way better than Legos! Legos—here today, gone tomorrow. But a father—that’s a gift that keeps on giving…and giving…and giving. What came wrapped up with his father? Everything—everything that a parent can provide for a child.
ILL: Laina and I have 5 incredible children—all grown, married and 9 grandkids. Here’s the family pic. Our kids didn’t just get my name; they got us! I like to remind them that they hit the parental jackpot! They got us and everything that we have: love, a home, food, clothes, money, education, opportunity, a car, gas, insurance, money, extended family, a bed, a computer, money, vacations, birthday parties and gifts, medical care, money—everything! Everything we have is theirs. And all of that is wrapped up in one gift: us!
God gave us His Son, and wrapped up in Jesus is everything—everything that God the Father wants for us, His children. Since God gave His Son for us, will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things.
God our Father is more generous than you’ve ever imagined. And this is the solution for greed—God’s boundless generosity, or what Paul called in Ephesians 3:8, “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” If you have a Father who has everything and is giving you everything you need, it kind of takes the edge off that excessive desire for more, more, more!
ILL: I love to play golf, and because I spend lots of time in the woods, I find lots of balls. Lots and lots of balls. I like to brag that I’ve never bought a golf ball. I have buckets and buckets of golf balls in my garage. And yet every time I play, it’s like an Easter egg hunt—I can’t help myself—I look for more balls. More, more! A friend of mine who observed this when he played with me for the first time said, “You never get over growing up poor.”
So I’ve got another friend who owns a golf store. Imagine that he came to me and said, “Joe, you never need to look for another ball. Come by my store anytime you want and help yourself to as many new balls as you want.” Do you think that would take the edge off my golf ball search? It would for a normal person!
You have a Father who has given His Son for you, and thrown open the store! It’s all yours! The unsearchable riches of Christ! God’s generosity is the death blow to greed. No more, “more, more, more!”
When you understand the generosity of God, you become grateful, content and generous. I want to take a few minutes with each of those.
We are grateful. This is the first overwhelming response to God’s generosity. We are grateful. I spend a considerable amount of my prayer time saying thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I know people who have started a “Gratitude Journal” and every day they write down a few things for which they are thankful. Take a moment right now and write down 3 things for which you’re thankful. It’s a great reminder—God is generous, and we are grateful.
But perhaps the best way to express our thanks to God is to get close to Him. It’s what He most desires.
ILL: A missionary couple in Brazil rented a house that they used not only for their own family but also to host people in their community. One day a wealthy widow in Brazil approached them and said, “I want to buy the house you are renting and give it you. Please take this as a free gift, without any strings attached. I can afford it, and I want to give it to you.” It was a beautiful, gracious and unexpected gift.
This couple lived in that house for the next twenty years. They knew that they could never repay this widow for her generosity, but they naturally wanted to express their gratitude. So what did they do? They brought her into their family. She became family and was included in all they did. “The gift she gave to us didn’t come with strings attached, but it has bonded us to her forever. We belong to her and she belongs to us.”
God is generous; we are grateful—and we are bonded to Him forever! The best way to express your gratitude to God is to get close to Him, be family.
We are content. To be content is to be satisfied. To have enough. We are no longer restless, dissatisfied, grasping for more of something else. I have enough because I have Him. The only thing I truly need more of is Him!
Hebrews 13:5 (p. 1042) Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have. Why? Because you have Him! Because God has said that He will never leave you. Actually, in the Greek, the author uses a double and then a triple negative. Literally, it says, “I will never, never leave you; I will never, never, no never forsake you!” We are bonded to Him forever! And that is enough. Because He is our generous Father. I have enough because I have Him.
How much is enough?
ILL: I wish I could take all of you to Kenya with me. You should start saving and plan on going sometime. Being there reminds me of how much I have, and that I want to be grateful, content and generous. I have enough.
We are in the middle of a huge project, called I Was Thirsty Campaign. We are bringing clean water and sanitation to 41 public schools serving 15,000 students. Imagine going to school without clean water, and with only a couple outhouses that are unsafe and unsanitary. We’re installing water catchment systems—they catch the rain water off tin roofs and collect it in large plastic reservoirs. Look at the joy on those faces. These reservoirs are plumbed to spigots where the kids can fill their bottles and cups. When was the last time you were celebrating over clean water?
They were even more excited about the latrines (pic of old and new)—outhouses by American standards—but new, clean, and sturdy. Look at these girls’ smiles at the new latrines. When was the last time you were excited about an outhouse?
I have enough. I have more than enough. More about Kenya in weeks to come.
When we understand God’s generosity, we are grateful; we are content. And…
We are generous. God’s generosity makes us generous. We have a Father who has promised us everything in Jesus, so we have no reason to be stingy, to be grasping or greedy or selfish. Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give.”
In 2 Corinthians 8-9 (p. 997) Paul encourages the Corinthians to give generously. Throughout the two chapters, he keeps returning to God’s generosity as our example and motivation. After telling them in v. 7 that he wants them to excel in the grace of giving, he points them to Jesus.
2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Jesus gave everything to make you rich in what matters. Freely you have received, freely give.
Paul goes on in the next chapter to remind them that they can’t out-give God.
2 Corinthians 9:6–11 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. 9 As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 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.
Paul encourages them to be generous, to sow generously, knowing that God has blessed them, and will bless them even more abundantly. You can’t out-give God! Paul finishes his appeal with this:
2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
That indescribable gift is Jesus—and everything God has for us is wrapped up in Jesus. Freely you have received, freely give. When we understand how generous God is…
We are grateful.
We are content.
We are generous.