David Jeremiah - A Life of Generosity
The generous person gives others the benefit of the doubt and treats others with respect. Generosity is giving something to someone and not have any expectation of getting anything back. The same kind of generosity that we receive when we become Christians. But like every virtue that we have talked about in this series and we'll talk about going forward, we can decide to cultivate generosity and we can depend on God to help us do it. How many of you know that we have a generous God? I think James said it best when he said, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and it comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning".
Our God is a generous God and, since we are made in his image, we can take comfort as his children in knowing that generosity is within our reach. And if ours is a world stamped from the beginning to the end by divine generosity, then it stands to reason we ought to risk a generosity ourselves and cultivate that godliness in our heart. The picture of a generous life is much easier to explain than the term. How many of you know there are some things in life that are better caught than they're taught? You don't learn it by the teaching of it. You're learning by the watching of it. One of the best examples of generosity in action is found in the New Testament. It begins with Jesus sitting near the temple treasury, observing the people as they're giving their offerings.
You know the story. It's Mark chapter 12, verses 41 to 44. On this particular day when Jesus was watching, many cast in large amounts of money but then a poor widow woman came in and quietly made her meager offering. Now, in the Greek, the language of the New Testament, the word we translate as poor is the word used to describe someone who is destitute, a pauper, a beggar. In our day, the widow might be someone depending on public assistance for survival, or even someone who's homeless. She was dirt poor. Never one to waste a teaching moment, Jesus pontificates on what happened. Listen to him and see if you don't see how counterintuitive it is to the way we think today. Verse 43: "This poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood".
You see, God does math different than we do. She gave more than all of them. So let's go back to our major central point. Generosity's not about how much you have in your pocket. It's about what's in your heart. Now, the potential to be generous is available to all of us. We see the picture of it. Let's explore the potential of it. The widow who gave all that she had that day would not have been expected to be generous at all. She was swimming upstream against the very culture of her day. She was not born well, she was not wealthy, she was not elite, she was not famous, and she was not powerful. But Jesus said her gift was more than all that was given by the aristocrats of that day. So how do we become generous people? And this is what we all wanna know. What is the true path to becoming generous? How do we cultivate this in our life? First of all, you've got to change the way you think about money.
To be a generous person, you've gotta get over this idea that your money is yours, that you are the owner. The most vital step we take toward developing a generous spirit is thinking about money in the right way. Remember what the Scripture says: "Every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from God". And we realize that nothing is ours to start with. We came into this world with nothing. We'll go out of this world with nothing but in between the beginning and the end, Almighty God gives us the opportunity to manage some of his stuff. And he gives us resources and he wants us to manage, and those of us who are Christians, he wants us to manage them in his behalf to make sure that his work is getting done, that his purposes are being accomplished. And he wants us to manage it in behalf of our family. And yes, the Bible says he wants us to enjoy what he gives us. But we are not owners, we never have been owners, and we will never be owners. All that we have, all that we have ever had, all that we ever will have until we get to heaven belongs to God. And he just wants us to manage it for him.
Number two, if you're gonna be generous, you have to expose your heart to the brokenness of humanity. Several years ago, 400 of us from this church, believe it or not, went to Swaziland, Africa, to help people in that impoverished country plant crops. We were there for 10 days and none of us who went on that trip will ever forget it. Swaziland is a desperately poor country. Before we left on this trip, we were told to bring large supplies of little gifts that we could give to the hundreds of children we would meet along the way. So I couldn't believe my wife, Donna, took one suitcase and filled it up with bracelets and necklaces and everything else she thought kids would like and took it with her. She was determined to have enough to last the entire trip. But when she saw the poverty of those precious children and heard their voices and saw their outstretched hands, she gave everything away the first 2 days of the trip. And there was nothing left for the rest of the time. I was with her. I saw and I saw the children and I saw their poverty and I saw the brightness of their face when they saw something that might make their day better.
Until you see and know the plight of the needy, you will never give to them. Once you do, you will never stop. And you don't have to travel halfway across the world to understand the plight of the poor. Chances are good that you work or worship with some who are in desperate need of your help. So you have to change the way you think about money. And then you have to get in touch with people who need your help and realize God has given you the opportunity to make things better for them. When you see it, then you have a desire in your heart to try to help. So change the way you think, expose your heart to the brokenness of humanity.
Here's a little thought. Before you do the big things, do the little things. You're not gonna start with being a radical philanthropist but, for instance, consciously increase the amount you leave on the table for the waiter or the waitress who serves you in restaurants. And I'm not saying you should, you know, go crazy with that but, you know, don't have to be the best tipper. You don't have to be the worst tipper. Just kind of be a good tipper. Carry some money with you to give away to someone in need. Don't do it nonchalantly. Ask God to reveal ways to express love and generosity to the people you meet every day.
Here's one that will really be hard. Swallow hard. Start giving more than you can afford. The next step in giving a little is giving a lot. This doesn't have to be a crazy, negative, "Oh, I don't want to do that," kind of thing. What it needs to be is start back where we started. Lord God, I wanna be a generous person. I don't wanna be growing old and become a grumpy old man. I wanna be a generous man. How can I do that? Sometimes, when the opportunity comes, you look and you say, "I'm not sure how we're gonna do it. But I know God wants me to do it," and you do it. And then you watch how God supplies. How many of you know God does not work in a closed system? He works from outside the system and he can bring income into your hand as long as you keep it open from places you would never believe. When you close your hand on what you have, you exclude God's help. But when you keep it open, he can take anything out of your hand that he desires, but he can also put in your hand anything he desires. And my experience, as I've struggled and learned about this over the years, is I have never felt like God owed me anything. He always, always proves himself faithful. When you respond with generosity in your heart, God responds with generosity from heaven. It's just that simple.
Number five on my little list: don't be afraid of spontaneity. All of us have experienced the awkwardness of the long red light that extends the encounter with the homeless person who's standing at the freeway entrance. I've actually read stories about people who really struggle with that. Some who have even written letters to the Bureau of Traffic seeing if they can get the lights sped up so they don't have to sit there so long and watch this. I mean, it's true. This is really annoying to a lot of people. We try to look past these people. We pray for the light to change. In a similar fashion, when we go to a convenience store, we fix our eyes doggedly on the door of the convenience store and not where, of course, there are always people who need help. But here's how we deal with this, men and women. We ask God to keep our hearts open so that if God wants to speak to us by his Spirit and encourage us to do something, we haven't built such a blockade against it that he can't get through to us. We ask God at the beginning of the day or sometime during the day, "Lord," and maybe as we see the opportunity coming, "Lord, do you want me to help here? Is there something I can do here"?
Weekly, perhaps daily, we pass people in need. As adults, we know we can't stop for everyone but that doesn't mean we should never stop. If we can't do everything, that doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything. And if all of us would just ask God to give us a sensitivity to that, we'd be helping a whole lot more people than we do. And that's how people become known as generous people. That's how a church becomes known as a generous church. We work hard at the programs to promote the spirit of generosity corporately, but really what happens, it comes down to how generous are we, individually? Here's one that I'll just touch on. This won't affect very many people but maybe will affect one or two people. Pray about becoming a radical. Do you know what radical generosity is? Do you know what it looks like?
Let me tell you. During the first half of the 20th century, there was a teenage boy named R.G. LeTourneau who committed his life to Christ. He was at a revival when this happened and when he became an adult he went on to build successful companies. He held more than 300 patents in the USA and, in a radical reversal of the typical way of looking at giving, he committed to living on just 10% of his income and allowing the 90% of his income to be given to worthy causes. Beside founding LeTourneau University in Texas, he gave generously to mission work in Africa and South America. He laid much of the groundwork that would support the explosion of Christianity that we have witnessed in the global South. When asked about his radical generosity, LeTourneau said, "The question is not how much of my money I give to God, but rather how much of God's money I keep for myself". That's radical. I'm not there yet, but that's a goal, isn't it?
To be radical in our love and in our generosity. God hasn't called everybody to be radical, but we have a couple of radicals in this church. I know that. People that God has impressed upon that this is what they're to give their life for. They're usually people that have great ability to create resources. But they don't do it so they can hoard them themselves. They do it for the kingdom. And I just wanna tell you that story because sitting out here someplace is somebody who has that ability, that great ability to create resources and maybe God has been speaking to you about becoming a radical. I won't tell anybody. Then let me remind you too that in your life you're either moving toward your treasure or you're moving away from it. In 1 Timothy chapter 6, we are told that we're to teach those who are rich in the world not to be proud, not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. And then he says they should store up their treasure as good foundation for the future so they may experience true life.
Now let me just simplify this. The treasures that we can send to heaven are in two different ways. There are only two things that are eternal: the souls of human beings and the Word of God. Those are the only two things that are eternal. So whatever we invest in the souls of human beings so that they can go to heaven, whatever we invest in the Word of God, those are treasures the Bible says go to heaven and they're stored up for us. When you're involved in those things as a Christian, you're headed toward your treasure. If everything that you do is save money for your stuff, build houses, take care of all the things you ever wanted on this earth, you can have the treasure but every day that you live you're getting closer to the day that you die and you're getting closer to leaving your treasure behind.
So whoever you are, I can tell you one thing, you're either headed towards your treasure or you're headed away from it. Hey, I've chosen as much as I can to head toward mine. I always like the stuff that's gonna happen, not all the stuff that's happened. My dreams are greater than my memories. And I hope yours are too. I think the world is yearning to see some generosity. And Christians ought to lead the way. We ought to be the champions of generosity. We ought to be known as people who love others, care about the needs of people who are less fortunate than we are, and we don't just stand around and watch it and talk about it in our Small Group, but we get involved. We find ways to make a difference. And it all goes back to the fact that we ourselves are the first recipients of generosity. The Bible says that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe in him would have eternal life".
God did that. He didn't just go down and send us some incidental gift that was in heaven. There's no gold or silver that could ever measure up to what he gave. He gave his only begotten Son to us. That's how generous he is. And he says, "If you will just receive him as your Savior, you can come and live in my heaven forever and ever, and your sins will be forgiven. You will never have to feel guilty again because I love you so much. This is how I'm pouring out my generosity to you. Just come and take it". That's all you have to do. I wanna urge you at the close of this sermon, if you have never received Jesus Christ as your Savior, please take the opportunity today to accept the generosity of Almighty God and receive the gift of his Son into your heart and, once you do that, the spirit of generosity will start within you. You will want to be to others as God has been to you. And I pray that you will make that decision today.