Our heavenly Father, we thank you for the time that we have spent in the inspiration through music and the chance to voice our own praise to you of what we feel in our heart about you and your great love for us. We thank you Lord Jesus that you came to die on a cross to cleanse us of our sin and to give us life everlasting and to keep us from eternal punishment. Thank you for your salvation. All of our praise surrounds that. And now Lord as we grow in grace, I pray that we would grow in our knowledge of you and what you want from us, how we can please you in our daily life. As we examine this section of scripture in the early church, we pray that we would be inspired by what we read. In Jesus' name. Amen.
This week I was reading an interesting story about a man who bought a lottery ticket for his girlfriend and she won. She won three million dollars. But the government taxed him on the three million dollars. And to make matters worse, when his ex-wife found out about this whole thing, she upped the ante on the alimony payments every month. So this guy just lost all the way around. I guess the moral of the story is be careful who you know, who you hang out with, and what you do with what you have. I want to talk to you about that this morning: what you do with what you have.
Now I mentioned this is not a typical message for me. In fact, if there's one area that I've been told that I err in is that I don't bring this up enough. And that's because I typically only like to bring it up in matters like today when it's in the context of what we're teaching on and the verses deal with it.
But I want to take you back to a personal experience. The very first time I gave a tithe, a tenth, ten percent of my income, the first time I gave a tithe, I wrote a title check, it was a huge ordeal for me. It was huge. I felt the Lord speaking to me about this as I was a young Christian but I was sweating, literally. I was holding onto that check and I was thinking of all the other things I could buy with it if I didn't give it, all the other things I could enjoy if I didn't give it. And then I started thinking about the people around me and I began to rationalize, "Oh they must have more money than I have and they can afford it. They don't know the situation I'm in," and all of that. I did finally give it but, phew! Did I wrestle with it on that day. But then I discovered something. A little while after that, that ten percent doesn't belong to the Lord, all of it does. A hundred percent of it does. It's all his and he is gracious enough to allow me to manage ninety percent for myself, unless he calls to do otherwise at some point.
So, when Lenya and I were first married, and by the way yesterday was our 28th wedding anniversary (applause), I've been married to the same wonderful woman who's put up with me for twenty-eight years. Well twenty-eight years ago when we first married, one of the things we needed to decide upon was our finances. So we had a meeting and a decision about our finances. We decided early on in our marriage that the first check we write would be a ten-percent of our income check that would always go to our local church and that would never change. But then on top of the ten percent there were other missionaries or organizations that we wanted to support, we believed in their work, so beyond that ten percent we would give to other organizations and just trust the Lord in that regard.
In fact, when it comes to trusting the Lord, the Bible distinctly says we should not only trust him but get this test him, test him. Now we're never told to test the Lord in any area except one area. Interestingly enough, it's the area of tithing. In the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, the children of Israel had been back in the land for a hundred years but they were delinquent on their tithing to the Lord's work of the temple. And so God says to the children of Israel, "You've robbed me in tithes and offerings." And then the Lord says in Malachi 3 verse 10, "Test me in this." It means, "Prove me. Okay, try me out on this," God says, "And see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such a blessing, there will not be room enough to receive it." That's a direct point at which God says, "Try me on this, test me on this." Direct command.
The title of our message this morning is "When Christians are Generous." And I've discovered, Christians are generous. They're generous people, God's generosity makes them generous. According to Barna, who researches this, he said, "Christians tend to be the most generous group of donors, significantly higher than non-Christians to charitable causes," says Barna, "Born-again adults remain the most generous givers in a country acknowledged to be the most generous country on the planet." But did you hear what he said? He said, "Christians are generous compared to non-Christians." However if you were to compare Christian giving to historical trends in Christian giving, we don't fare all that well." According to research, even with the economic downturn in our country recently, American Christians are still the most affluent single group of Christians in the past 2000 years of church history. But one in five American Christians give not money at all to charities. And less than one out of every ten will tithe. In fact, alarmingly, I discovered that modern Christian giving doesn't even match what Christians were giving in the Great Depression, one of the worst economic periods in our history, during that period the average person was giving 3.3% of their income to the Lord's work. According the Lloyd Perry Getting the Church on Target he said, "The average church member contributes between 1.5 and 2.5 percent of his total income specifically to the Lord's work." Interesting.
That wasn't the problem in the book of Acts, far from it. The church in the book of Acts was vital and growing, it was birthed in Acts chapter 2 and it continued full of life and pure, untainted until Acts chapter 5 which we're going to make a note of today. Their fellowship was real, their love for God's word was intense, their care for each other was palpable. They were a generous group of people and as a result their testimony to the world was loud and clear. And because of that testimony, thousands came to faith in Christ within just a few weeks. In fact, I'll make this statement, the world had never seen anything like this since before the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. That's how pure it was. Because after the fall, the Messiah had not yet come, now the Messiah has come. After the fall, new life had never been implanted as a result of the new birth. Now it had. Since the fall, the Holy Spirit never lived inside people, now he did. All of that was changed and all of it was pure. And the world had never seen such purity. And has never seen it since, I would add.
Now this morning I want to look at two verses: verse 44 and 45. And it's very simple, what happens when Christians are generous? The answer is evident. Number one, they are open-hearted. And number two, they are open-handed. The first I'm going to spend just a moment on because we have dealt in part with it in the past, that is they're open-hearted. Open-hearted. What I mean is they're generous with both time and talent. Verse 44 say, "Now all who believed were together." All who believed were together. They were together physically, thus socially. But they were also together in purpose. Now to gather together, you have to give of your time. You have to make a time commitment to leave your house and gather together like here with a group of people. And they did that like you're doing that. You're coming here and giving of your time is a demonstration is that you are generous with your time. You want to spend your time for the right reason, devoted to unity. Notice the second part of verse 44, "And they had all things in common." Now we've already discussed the principle of fellowship, koinae or koininia, having all things in common. But let me put a different twist on it: there is an expanded Greek translation of the New Testament by Kenneth Weese that translates of verse 44 as saying, "They were holding all things in joint participation." Joint participation. They pooled together their talents. They gave their time and their talents in joint participation. And there was great results because of it. In the context of that, verse 47 tells us, "Praising God and having favor (or being attractive) to all the people." And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." Think about that, this group was so attractive because their fellowship was real, their love was real, their care was real, and thousands more came to faith in Christ because of it. They were unified, devoted to unity and community, generous with time and with talent. Now there is such a thing as theoretical unity. And theoretical unity is the stuff we sing about it. We love to sing how one we are, "We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord." And that's wonderful. It is. It's a great subject matter to sing about. But that can be all theoretical. What we read about here in the book of Acts isn't just theoretical unity, this is real unity. This is real stuff. This is real.
This week I received a letter, it's a wonderful letter, I'm just going to tell you a little of it. It was from an 84-year-old widow in this fellowship. And she writes, "I've debated writing this letter but I truly feel that you'll be interested. At the present time, four generations of my family are regular attendees at Calvary of Albuquerque. Three generations are volunteering there. My son and daughter-in-law have gone to Calvary almost from the first days. And my son has been a dedicated volunteer for more than fifteen years. My eleven-year-old great granddaughter has become also a dedicated volunteer. And she goes on in the letter to say, "You know we often come to two services because one is the one we serve at (like many of you do) and the other is the one that we come to to listen to. These reports are so encouraging, it shows how generous people are with their time and with their talents, a joint participation. So there's a little bit of a snapshot of how open-hearted the early church was. Generous with their time, they were together. Generous with their talent, it was a joint participation. But there is a third. They were not just generous with their time and talent but also with their treasure, they were also open-handed.
Now there's a text that I sort of want to place over the top of all of this this morning. It's what Jesus said. He said, "For where a man's treasure is, there will his heart be also." There will his heart be also. Martin Luther said there are three conversions. Three conversions that must take place in a person's life. He said, "The conversion of one's heart, the conversion of one's mind, and the conversion of one's wallet," which he says "proves the first two and is the hardest to convert."
Now, what I want to do with you this morning is have you look at verse 45 as sort of the subject verse for the rest of our time together. It shows not only that they were open-hearted but open-handed. Here's the verse: "and they sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all as anyone had need." They were open-handed. Now what does that verse mean? Because I bet if you're honest this verse has bothered you before, it's bothered me before. When I first read it, I thought, "What does that mean exactly? Does this mean that every Christian in every church hereafter must do the same? Yes. And no. Yes, in that every Christian hereafter must be generous. If touched and forgiven by a generous God, we must be generous because we fit the description in verse 44, "All who believed." So if you believe, you ought to also be generous. But know in the sense that we should do exactly the same thing that they did, since we don't have exactly the same circumstances that they had. Now in all fairness to history, some groups have read verse 45 and concluded that all Christians must do this. If you really are a true Christian, you've got to sell everything you own and you pool it together. The Anabaptists in the 16th century, the Hooterite Brethren movement in 18th century Moravia made as a strong encouragement, if not a stipulation, that if you want to join their community, you've got to do this. But certainly not all of the followers of Christ did this. How do I know that? Verse 46, "So continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from…" what? What? House to house? Who has a house? I thought they sold their homes and they gave their money. Well apparently not everyone did. Apparently this was voluntary, this was not compulsory. They could do that if the Lord laid that on their hearts. And there were so many poor people, the Lord laid that on a lot of hearts, because they wanted to take care of each other.
Now, would you turn with me to Acts chapter 4 and look at a few verses. Acts chapter 4, verse 32 takes what we just read and expands on it, just a little bit. Acts 4, verse 32, "Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul, neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own but they had all things in common. Now notice how the group is described. It says, "Now the (what's the number of them?) multitude (we don't know what the number is, it's interesting, they stopped counting by this time. In Acts 1 they count, there's a hundred and twenty of them. In Acts 2 they count, there's three thousand souls added. Now the group is getting so large they don't even count any more. It's just "the multitude of those who believed." There's a lot of them. And what accounts for that growth? I can only conclude that it was this unity, this love, this magnanimity, this generosity was so compelling to the world that many joined their ranks.
Now let's finish off a few verses. Verse 33, "And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked. For all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold and laid them at the apostle's feet and distributed to each one as anyone had need. And Joses who was also named Barnabas by the apostles, it's translated son of encouragement) a Levite of the country of Cyprus having land sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostle's feet." And who gave that order? No one. Peter didn't say, "Okay, you want to join our church, you got to sell everything and drop the money right here, right now." Peter didn't say that, there was no order. The people themselves said that. Verse 32, "Neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own. That's what they said. This was voluntary. It was not forced, it was not compulsory, it was voluntary. Now that's important to grasp and here's why it's important: I don't know how many times I've read books or heard people say, "Well the early church in Jerusalem practiced a form of communism." They did not. This is not communism. This is commonism. There's a big difference. Communism is compulsory. Commonism is voluntary. Communism says, "What you have is mine." Commonism says, "What I have is yours." That's freely given, that's voluntary and that is what is practiced here. If you were to boil it down, God's view of finances is simply this: Everything you have in your possession you don't have. All of it belongs to God. The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, or everything that is in it, it all belongs to him. You might say, "But I paid for it. All 36 months of payments I paid for it." Or, "All thirty years of payments I paid for it." The Bible says God gives you the power to get wealth. He is the source. It all belongs to him. And he has the fight to call for ten percent of it, twenty percent of it or a hundred percent of it. You go, "Now wait a minute preacher. I thought if anything I have the responsibility to perhaps give ten percent to God. Well that's only the stewardship side of it. It's all his. It's all His. Just like when you gave your life to Christ you gave your LIFE to Christ and this is all-inclusive. Now that does not mean that God doesn't want you to have money, far from it. I Timothy chapter 6, "God has given us all things richly to enjoy." The context is money. Abraham was wealthy, Job was wealthy, Theophilus in the New Testament presumably was wealthy and several others. It's not that God doesn't want you to have money. He does. But, but if you love it, it'll mess you up. I can't say it any clearer than that. Paul says to Timothy in I Timothy 6 verse 10, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." It's the love of it. And you can have none of it and have a love of it. I know people who love it, they don't have it, but they want it. Jesus said, "You can't serve God and money." I have never yet met a person who made as a goal of their life making money, making money, making money who has not gotten messed up by it. No one. It just makes something askew and awry in a person's life. So that's the early church, that's what they did.
Speaking of getting messed up by it, we're introduced to chapter 5. Chapter 4 is a contrast to chapter 5. "But," notice how the section begins with a negative, "But a certain man named Ananias with Sapphira his wife sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it. And brought a certain part and laid it the apostle's feet. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself. While it remained, was it not you own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." Then Ananias hearing these words fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him." The church was so pure up until chapter 5. This was the first incident of sin recorded in the church and it's over money.
Now what was the problem? It's not greed. If you're reading that into the story, you've read it wrong. It's not that they kept part of it back. It's not greed. The sin was deceit. They said, according to Peter, that they were giving all. And they kept part of it back. They could have kept it all. This was voluntary. In fact, look at verse 4 again, "While it remained, was it not your own?" You could do whatever you want with it. "And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?" It's between you and God, you can do whatever you want with it before the Lord. But you brought it to us and you said, "I have given all to the Lord." But you didn't, you lied just to get your status raised. And god showed his obvious disapproval. Now verse 4 is to me a great principle. It tells me that I need as a believer, you need, we all need, to make a conscious decision of how we're going to handle our finances. We do it before God, we do it as a couple, husband and wife, or as a family, or as a single person. We make that determination, as I did in my early marriage. Now to do that, this might help, because you might be thinking, "Let me just tell you something right now. This whole economic thing has just put me under the wire, I'm so far behind." And I do appreciate that and we are as a church here to help. But I just want to help frame something for you. According to the United Nations, the latest statistics, the number of destitute people in the world, those who live, those who live or survive on less than one US dollar per day exceed one billion people. Less than a dollar a day, one billion people. And the average number of people who die every day due to hunger are 24,000 people every day. I bring that out because some of those are our brothers and sisters. So, whatever you decide to do with your finances, that should be a consideration. And in Jerusalem it was. They had a tender social conscience. And having that conscience, they simplified their lifestyle and they were generous.
So, the early church was open-hearted. And the early church was open-handed in their distribution. Now would you turn with me and we'll close here, II Corinthians chapter 9. This is Paul writing. And I'm closing here because this gives us principles in giving. Principles, New Testament principles, in generous giving. As you're turning there let me tell you that though I often don't talk about finances like I'm doing it today, I've discovered something, the Bible has a lot to say about it. Now maybe not as much as some preachers but it has a lot to say about it. In fact, maybe it has more to say than some preachers. In fact, I discovered and I was shocked, that in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the three synoptic gospels, one out of every six verses deals with money. Did you know that? One out of every six verses. Out of the 29 parables Jesus told, sixteen deal with a person and his money. Now I'm convinced of something and I'll share it up front: If Christians understood the New Testament principle of giving, they would be aching to do it. They'd be aching to do it. I know that because (we don't have time to cover it) but in chapter 8 of II Corinthians Paul cites the Macedonians who found Paul and begged him to be able to give to this cause, because they caught it, they understood the principle.
So let me give you some quick principles in giving, you can write them down. Number one, give intentionally, give intentionally. When I saw that, I mean give knowing that the scripture commands you to do it and God will bless you for it. Give with that understanding that giving is powerful, spiritually and practically there are results. Verse 6 of II Corinthians 9 look at that, "This I say he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and he sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Now the whole context is about giving. And Paul says giving is like farming. And so the truth in verse 6 is axiomatic, it's a self-revelatory truth, you don't dispute it, every farmer knows it. You reap what you sow. And if you sow seeds into the ground, it's a little bit of seed, you get a little bit of result; you sow a lot, you'll get a lot. It's a principle of farming but it's also a spiritual principle. It's a spiritual principle. I don't get it, I don't understand it but it's a spiritual principle. It is said over and over again in the Bible. Jesus in Luke 6:38 said, "Give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure you use it will be measured back to you. Proverbs 11: 24 and 25, "There is one who scatters yet increases more. There is one who withholds more than is right but it leads to poverty. The generous soul will be made rich and he who waters will also be watered himself." Proverbs 19 verse 17, "He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord. And he will pay back what he has given." All these verses say the same thing, that when you give it is invested with God and he pays dividends on it. Listen, you can never outgive God, all along the way, whatever you give, whatever I give, God will give and bless more. In fact, God says, "Test me, try me, try this out, it works." And Paul and Jesus and Solomon all agree. Again I don't completely understand it, it doesn't make sense, it's counterintuitive because the world tells me if I give my stuff away I have less. God says, "Yeah, but do that, and just watch, I'll give you more." So, give intentionally.
Number two, give proportionally. Give proportionally. Verse 6 through 9 is the cycle of giving, let's just go through it and read it all, it probably would have helped at the beginning, "This I say, he who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully, so let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly nor of necessity for God loves a cheerful giver. God is able to make all grace abound toward you that you always having all sufficiency in all things have an abundance for every good work. As it is written he has dispersed abroad and given to the poor, his righteousness remains forever. Now may he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness. It's a cycle, you sow, you reap. And with that you sow more and you reap more and that's the cycle that a farmer experiences. And the farmer sows, if he's a smart farmer, in proportion to what he has. And we should give in proportion to what God has blessed us with. I Corinthians 16 verse 2, "On the first day of the week," Paul says, "Let each of you lay something aside storing up as he may prosper (or in proportion to your income) that there be no collections when I come. Now this always brings up questions. "Well what proportion? Do I tithe on the net or do I tithe on the gross?" People get very technical about this. Well, the tithe is Old Testament. You're never commanded to tithe in the New Testament. You're told to be generous, you're told to give proportionally. And the tithe was Old Testament and that was always just the place of beginning like it was when I made a decision in my early marriage. But that's just the beginning. According to W. A. Criswell, who's now in heaven, he had experience with this man, J. L. Kraft from the Kraft cheese corporation, he said he gave always twenty-five percent of his enormous proceeds, income, to Christian causes over the many years. Twenty-five percent. Now that sounds like a lot to some but it pales in comparison to another man by the name of R. G. Liturno, an industrialist, some of you know his name because he was one of the first guys that invented large earth moving equipment. He decided, he said if God blesses me I'm going to use it to further his kingdom. Well, God blessed him and he lived on ten percent of his income and he gave ninety percent of his income away. God blessed him, a lot, and he could live very comfortably on just ten percent of the enormous profits he made.
Number three, give prayerfully. Give prayerfully. Verse 7, "Let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity for God loves a cheerful giver." You've got to purpose something in your heart. It carries the idea of premeditation, not giving on impulse, not giving because the music and the chords just bring up that emotion and somebody says, "Now please, we need your help." Don't do that. Don't give on impulse, predetermine it. When you get your paycheck have a meeting with your heart before God, that's where it takes place. Don't let anybody tell you exactly how much you're to give. It's really none of my business what you give and I've never made it my business, I never look at proportions, "Hey tell me what this guy's tithing." I never have ever looked at it. I want the freedom to minister to you apart from anything you give or don't give. And my responsibility ends when I make known the need and then it's between you and God. That's how I see it, I think that's how the Bible teaches it, you give prayerfully. Now in Exodus 25, God says to Moses that he wants to take an offering. Listen to how he puts it, "Speak to the children of Israel that they may bring me an offering, from every one who gives it willingly, with his heart, you shall take my offering." It has to be willing, you have to want to do it.
Which leads us to the fourth and final principle and we close here, give joyfully. Not just willingly but joyfully, happily. Verse 7, again, "Not grudgingly (which means with grief literally. "Oh, this really hurts man, really hurts to give this. I really don't want to. I get so depressed when I think of this." Don't give that way he says) "Not out of compulsion, not grudgingly nor of necessity for God loves a cheerful giver." This describes a person who says, "I know I should do it, I know God wants it and I know it will bless people and God will probably even bless me but I just really don't want to do it." Then keep it, go spend it on yourself, or change your attitude. And the attitude is to be a joyful attitude, hilaron is the Greek word cheerful. Yeah cheerful, hilaron, we get the word hilarious from it. Have you ever seen a hilarious giver? It probably would be something like, "Ha-ha-ha-ha, woo, all right." Who does that? God loves it. God loves a cheerful giver. Now please mark that, it's a unique statement in the New Testament, it's a singular statement. God loves, agapao, the unique divine covenant love, a cheerful giver. It's not that God doesn't love everybody, God does love everybody, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. And God loves all believers. But here it's stated, God has a unique love for those whose hearts like his are generous and will give away what God has entrusted to them. I want that. I want that benediction of being uniquely loved by God. I don't want to lose that. And any preacher worth his salt would never pressure his people to give because he doesn't want to take away the joy of being uniquely loved by God by having a cheerful heart and doing it out of necessity or compulsion. God loves a cheerful giver.
So what happens when Christians are generous? A lot. They're open-hearted, they're open-handed, they see a need they want to meet it. They give prayerfully, needs are met, the kingdom is furthered. God blesses them with more and they give more to God's work and that cycle continues. If you ever come to Israel with us, on the same day I will promise you this, we will show you on the same day from morning to evening two bodies of water that are inland from the ocean. One is the Sea of Galilee and one is the Dead Sea. What's interesting is both of them are connected to the Jordan River. The Jordan River flows from the north into the sea of Galilee, continues south, flows into the Dead Sea. But when you see these two bodies of water they're vastly different. The Sea of Galilee is green, lush, verdant, full of life, children playing around it, there's little villages on it, farming communities. You get down south to the Dead Sea and it's aptly named, nothing grows around it, nothing lives in it, it is dead. Which prompts the question, why is one living and one dead? Answer: It has nothing to do with the source, it has everything to do with the outlet. Now hear me, the Sea of Galilee takes in water and gives out water. The Dead Sea only has an inlet, there's no outlet. It just takes in and takes in and takes in all the blessing and gives none away. And it collects it all and evaporates and it's dead. The Jews often use that as an illustration to point to two kinds of people: those who are living and vibrant and joyful and attractive are those who like God have a generous heart because they have been generously forgiven and been lavished upon. Those who do not are dead.
So, God says, "Take an offering and give but only do it with the right heart." You know, you can give without love but you can never love without giving. I know plenty of people that go, "Oh, I've got to do it, it's my duty." That's giving without love. But if you truly love, the natural result of love is to give. For God so loved that he gave.
Heavenly Father, we are recipients of your love and of your gift of eternal life. You are so generous to us, you've blessed us with all things, all things come from you. Now Father I pray that we would be as generous with others and with your work as you are and your work has been toward us. Help us Lord to get not only the four priorities in verse 42 down pat, be devoted to the apostle's doctrine and fellowship and the breaking of bread and the prayers; but may we also as Paul said, "Excel in this." The excellence of giving with the right heart, a joyful heart, an abundant and loving heart. In Jesus' name. Amen.