I think that everyone wants their life to make a difference. We may not all get the chance to achieve fame or fortune, but we all get the chance to make our life count. It is in our nature to strive for this. In fact, all an employer has to do to destroy a worker's morale is to give out meaningless and insignificant tasks. A worker who feels that he or she isn't making a contribution becomes demoralized and disgruntled. It has been proven again and again that people will work harder for less money if they believe that what they do makes a difference.
This morning we will examine the Biblical principle designed to help us live lives that count. Our model for this is the early church. The Christians of the first century had a tremendous impact on their world-- in spite of the fact that they were small, they had no money, and the government was against them. Considering all they had going against them, and all we have going for us, there is no limit to what we can accomplish--if we will follow their example.
If you really want to make a difference in life, you must learn to be a giver. In Acts 20:35, Paul quotes Jesus as saying, "It is more blessed to give than receive."
What we do with our money is a very important spiritual issue. Everything that God gives us is a test of our loyalty to Him, especially our money. We are all stewards and we are all responsible to be involved in giving a portion of our money to the Lord. Giving is an important function of the spiritual life. How we use our money demonstrates the reality of our love for God. John links money and the love of God.
1 John 3:16-17 (NKJV) By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?
Most of us will never have the opportunity to lay down our lives for others. How can we then show that we love our brother and thus God? Verse 17 tells us, "by giving of our money and material goods." If we fail to do this, we show we don't love our brother or God. We all show by our giving, the measure of our love for God.
Giving is our responsibility, our duty. Every believer is to give. Giving is not God's way of raising money. Giving is God's way of raising children. Every time we give sacrificially, we give away a little of our selfishness and God is honored.
The early church was committed to giving. From the very beginning, the church was involved in helping others. In Acts 2, we see the church sharing all things in common;
Acts 2:42-45 (NKJV) And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
In Acts 4, we see believers selling their possessions and giving to those who are in need;
Acts 4:32-35 (NKJV) 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. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 34 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, 35 and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
In Acts 6, we see the church distributing food to widows and orphans;
Acts 6:1-4 (NKJV) Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 "Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 "but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word."
In Acts 15, a council of church leaders met and decided (according to Paul in Galatians 2:10) that a primary focus of church ministry is outreach to the poor;
Galatians 2:10 (NKJV) They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.
From the beginning the church has been committed to the principle of giving, and it still is. Today, the church is making a difference all around the world because it is made up of millions and millions and millions of givers. In fact, if all the good things being done in the name of Christ were to suddenly stop, the world would be totally evil and heartless. In America; thousands would become homeless; hundred of thousands would have no food to eat; millions of children wouldn't have decent clothes to wear or wouldn't receive any gifts at Christmas. If all the good being done in the name of Christ were to stop, it would be only weeks before tens of millions of people throughout the world starved to death. Considering this, it could be argued that the church is making a big impact on the world. We are making a difference in the world because Christians, for the most part, are committed to giving. In fact, I would go so far as to say that being a Christian obligates us to be a giver. Anyone who wants their life to make a difference must be willing to put in more than they take out-- from society, from church, from relationships, from business, and so on. With that in mind, today we're going to look at three ways we can become better at giving. First of all, we must
Acts 4:32 (NKJV) 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.
Before we can begin to give, we have to let go of our attachment to possessions. John Michael Talbot is the General Minister of the Hermitage, a community of monks, nuns, and families belonging to a religious order called "the Brothers and Sisters of Charity." Everyone in the group is committed to living a simple life, and has relinquished all but the most necessary possessions. When talking about this, Talbot said, "Taking a vow of poverty is not a cure for materialism. Many people come to this community and go from being selfish with thousands of dollars to being selfish with a coffee mug." The problem is not in what we have, it's in our attachment to what we have.
A pastor shares this experience. "I like to collect old books. Once I came across an early edition of C.S. Lewis' Pilgrim's Regress-- the first book he wrote from a Christian perspective. Of course, I bought it. It was one of my favorite pieces in the collection. I also have a friend who collects old books, and he also loves C.S. Lewis. A few years ago his house burned, and he lost everything. While he was in the process of replacing furniture, clothes, and other possessions, it occurred to me that the kindest thing I could do for him would be to give him that rare copy of Pilgrim's Regress-- as a start to building a new collection. When I gave him the book, he was overcome with gratitude. He even cried. You would think that giving such a wonderful gift would make me feel warm inside, but the truth is, after giving him the book, I had an empty feeling in my heart. I missed that book. I would find myself sitting at my desk, looking at the spot on the bookshelf where it once sat. I would remind myself that I'll probably never find that edition of Pilgrim's Regress again. I asked myself, 'Why, in your moment of weakness, did you give away that book? Why didn't you wait a little longer, till you had time to talk yourself out of it?' Obviously, I had given it away but I hadn't given it up. I was still attached." Can you relate to that? Have you ever given something to someone and wished you hadn't?
Corrie Ten Boom, that saintly lady who endured such brutality from the Nazis in Ravensbruck during World War II, once said that she had learned to hold everything loosely in her hand. She said that she discovered, in her years of walking with Him, that when she grasped things tightly, it would hurt when the Lord would have to pry her fingers loose.
On his radio broadcast, Paul Harvey told about an 8 year-old named Ben who won a contest at the local McDonald's. His prize was a brand new bike. When Ben got home, he told his parents that he already had a bike and that he didn't need two. Ben decided to give the new bike to a friend who didn't have a bike, and whose parents were unable to buy one for him. When the manager of McDonald's heard about this, she invited Ben and his family to dinner, and presented him with a $100 gift certificate. The next day Ben used the gift certificate to buy a crash helmet for his friend. For some people, holding things too tightly is not a problem.
In order to become better at giving, we have to let go of our attachment to things. The happiest people I know are people who walk the thin line of having things-- because you have to have things-- without being attached to them. Being a Christian means being a giver, and we can't become better at giving if we're so attached to our money and our things that we can't let go of them. Our lives will never make a difference if we don't first learn to let go of things. The second way we become better givers is to
Acts 4:34-35 (NKJV) 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, 35 and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
Every successful businessman understands that his greatest asset is not his product or his equipment, his greatest asset is the people who work for him. Companies who invest in building people, become successful. So do churches. Businesses succeed on a large scale when they grasp the concept that people are more valuable than things.
An elderly man on the beach found a magic lamp. When he rubbed it, a genie appeared and told him he would grant him any wish. The man thought for a while and said, "My brother and I had a fight 20 years ago and haven't spoken since. My wish is that he would finally forgive me." The genie clapped his hands, a bright light shot across the sky, and then he said, "Your wish has been granted." Then the genie said, "You know, most men would have asked for wealth and fame. But you only wanted the love of your brother. Is it because you are old and dying?" The man said, "No way! But my brother is, and he's worth $60 million." It wasn't the relationship with his brother that was important to him, what he cared about was his brother's money.
The early church made a difference because so many Christians believed that it is better to change lives than it is to own things. As a result, they sold some of their possessions and gave the money to the Apostles. A couple of quick notes about this. First, this giving was completely voluntary; the Apostles didn't require it or force people to do it. Secondly, these people were selling extra possessions, not basic possessions. In other words, they weren't forcing themselves into poverty, they were just simplifying their lives. This is something we can all do. This doesn't mean that we can't own things or have things or collect things but it does mean that our first priority is changing lives, not accumulating possessions.
This principle should influence the way we give, and the way we do ministry. Reaching people is more important than building buildings. I think it would be nice to have our own building, but I think having your own church building is more of a luxury than a necessity. We don't want to put ourselves into great debt trying to get in a building so that we don't have the money to help people. We are the church, and as long as we have a place to meet, we should be thankful.
When we give, when we do ministry, when we do business-- whatever we do, we should look for ways to invest in people, not possessions. For example, it is obvious that this country needs prisons. When people commit crimes, they need to be locked up so the rest of society will be safe. But wouldn't it be better if, instead of spending money building jails, we figured out a way to invest money in people so that they don't become criminals in the first place? As a society, we cannot afford to be soft on crime, nor can we let criminals roam the streets. But we must remember that the buildings we build will someday crumble and fall, but the lives we change will be changed for eternity.
Being a Christian means being a giver. We become better givers when we invest in people, not possessions. The third way we become better givers is to
Philippians 4:16-18 (NKJV) For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. 18 Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.
The book of Philippians is, in reality, a thank you letter to the Philippians for sending Paul a financial gift. Notice what verse 18 teaches us about their financial gift-- Paul says it was a "sweet-smelling aroma" this is from the Greek words osme -- aroma and euodia, -- offering or sacrifice. Both of these words are used in:
Ephesians 5:2 (NKJV) And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
"Sweet-smelling aroma" is used here of Christ's sacrificial offering of himself to God on man's behalf. It is the language of worship. Giving is an expression of worship.
The Psalmist affirms the ultimate priority for man by echoing God's desire that we worship the Lord:
Psalms 29:2 (NKJV) Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
We give God the glory due to His name when we worship Him. Clearly, the supreme duty of the creature for time and eternity is to worship the Creator. And a very practical way in which we worship Him is through our giving. Is giving important? I can answer that question with a question. Is worship important?
Well, how much should we give? Is ten percent commanded? For the answers to both of these questions look with me at:
1 Corinthians 16:1-2 (NKJV) Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: 2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.
We can see in these verses, two important principles for giving;
1. Giving is incumbent on each person.
"Let each one of you lay something aside." Giving is the privilege and responsibility of every believer. Giving is not optional, just as worship is not optional, and giving is a concrete manifestation of our worship and love for God.
2. Our giving is to be proportionate;
1 Corinthians 16:2 (NIV) On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
1 Corinthians 16:2 (DNT) On <the> first of <the> week let each of you put by at home, laying up <in> whatever <degree> he may have prospered, that there may be no collections when I come.
It doesn't say to give ten percent, it says to give as you have prospered. It's not difficult to compute 10% of one's income, but how much is "as God has prospered?" It is neither a specific amount nor a particular percentage. Our responsibility is according to our ability. The portion is incidental, the proportion is what counts.
Acts 11:29 (NKJV) Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.
They didn't give ten percent, they gave according to their ability. Increasing prosperity should result in an increase in the percentage given. Most Americans are rich and should think in terms of 15, 20, 40 or 60 percent of their income.
Proverbs 3:9 (NKJV) Honor the LORD with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
Is giving important? Yes, it is very important. God has given us everything and He desires that we give a portion of it back to him as an expression of our love and worship. God wants to train us in the area of stewardship and He wants to wean us of our selfishness.
We should all be looking for opportunities to give. The truth is, we're more likely to look for reasons not to give than we are to look for chances to give. "Besides," some of you may say, "I have too many things coming at me right now. I get hit on about 25 times a month from every charitable group in the world."
It's true! There are many organizations out there asking for your money. If you give to one, chances are that your name will be put on a direct-mail list of "charitable givers" that gets used by other charitable organizations. Unless you're just stinking rich, you have to be selective where you give your money. And, unless you have all the time in the world, you have be selective with where you give your time.
Obviously, when it comes to money and time, one of the best places to give is right here, your local church.
When you give beyond the local church, I encourage you to look for ministries that are biblically sound and ministries that you really have a heart for. Maybe you would like to give to a mission team that smuggles the Bible into countries that do not allow it to be distributed. Maybe you would like to help build houses for people in the West Indies who live in shacks. Maybe you would like to support a missionary who is running an orphanage in Albania. I could go on and on; there are many opportunities to give. I encourage you to find one that you can get behind and give to it.
Don't get the impression that I'm talking only about giving money. That's really not it. Being a Christian means being a giver--but it's not just money we must give. It's ourselves. A young British boy was spending the summer with his family in Scotland. One hot day, while wandering through the woods by himself, he came upon a swimming hole, and jumped in. The water was extremely cold, and he soon found himself doubled up with severe cramps, unable to swim to shore. He struggled and flailed in the water, and was about to go under when suddenly he felt a pair of strong arms reach around him, bringing him to safety. It was a Scottish farm boy who had been working in a nearby field when he heard the cries for help. The next day, the father of the English boy sought out the Scottish farm hand. He thanked him profusely for saving his son, then asked him what he planned to do with his life. "I suppose I'll be a farmer like my father," the boy answered. "Is there anything else you'd rather do?" the Englishman asked. "Well, I've always wanted to be a doctor. But we are poor people. My parents could never afford the schooling." "Never mind that," said the Englishman. "You shall have your dream." And that day the man pledged to pay the Scottish boy's way through medical school. Years later, in 1943, Prime Minister Winston Churchill was in North Africa, dangerously ill with pneumonia. The brilliant scientist, Sir Alexander Fleming, was summoned to fly down, and to bring with him a sample of his new wonder drug, penicillin. Fleming administered the new drug to Churchill, who made a remarkable recovery. As he injected the drug, Fleming saved Churchill's life for the second time: it was Alexander Fleming who had pulled the young Winston Churchill from a Scottish swimming hole so many years before. As a young boy, Fleming gave all that he had, risking his life to save a fellow human being in distress. Churchill's father, in gratitude, gave Fleming the priceless gift of an education. Neither one could have imagined the long-term impact their gifts would have. Each one gave what he had -- and it was enough.
We give because Christ first gave to us. Two thousand years ago he came into this world. While he was here, he gave so much of himself to his followers. He spent time with them, he taught them, he healed them, he fed them, he met their financial needs, he poured his life into them. But that's not all. The most important part of this story is that Jesus didn't just give of himself. He gave himself. Christ died a painful death on the cross for our sins. He died so we could be forgiven, so we could have everlasting life, so we could live in peace-- with others, with God, and with ourselves. Jesus said, "Freely you have received. Freely give." (Matthew 10:8) Being a Christian means being a giver. By giving his life, Christ made a difference in our lives that will last for eternity; by giving ourselves to him, and to others, we too can make a difference that will last forever.