The First Law of Christian Giving
November 24, 1996
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.
This week as I studied for this sermon, I made an interesting discovery. Although this saying of Jesus is very well-known, it is not often discussed. In looking through 10-15 commentaries, I generally found not more than one or two sentences devoted to this verse. And I couldn’t find any sermons based entirely on Luke 6:38.
I find that intriguing since most of us have known these words for many years. If you attended Sunday School as a child, you probably memorized these words. Perhaps you have them cross-stitched and framed in your kitchen or you may have them on a poster above your desk. Many people who don’t know much about the Bible have heard this phrase: “Give and it will be given to you.”
This verse isn’t as famous as the Golden Rule, but it’s close.
Yet we rarely examine these words closely. They have become a proverb or a Christian motto that we repeat without thinking. This morning I would like to discuss what these words really mean and how they apply to our lives today.
Luke 6:38 is a call for Christian liberalism. That in itself is unusual because this church is quite conservative in its theology. We make no bones about what we believe in almost every area. We are unashamedly conservative when it comes to the great moral issues of the day. We aren’t moderate or middle-of-the-road. We’re conservative in doctrine and morality.
All that is well and good, but it doesn’t encompass every aspect of the Christian life. There are time and places where liberalism ought to be the rule of the day. One of those areas is Christian giving. In our text Jesus calls his disciple to be liberals in the area of giving.
I. The Promise Jesus Made
Let’s begin by taking a look at the background of this promise. It helps to know that this is part of the famous Sermon on the Mount. You can find the longer version in Matthew 5-7; the shorter version is found in Luke 6. Our text is part of a larger section that begins in verse 27 and stretches through verse 38. All 12 verses deal with the area of human relationships, especially the vexing question of how to deal with difficult people. You might call this section “Love in Action” or “Christian Kindness.”
Jesus begins with 5 staccato commands:
Love your enemies (27)
Do good to those who hate you (27)
Bless those who curse you (28)
Pray for those who mistreat you (28)
Give to everyone who asks you (30)
His teaches climaxes with the Golden Rule in verse 31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” In Jewish law this was often found in the negative, “Do not do to other what you do not want done to you.” However, by stating the command positively Jesus offered a revolutionary, pro-active way of treating others. We’re not simply to avoid retaliation, we are to treat others as we want to be treated.
The next few verses give us 5 reasons for these radical commands:
1. You must go beyond what sinners do 32-34
2. You will win a great reward from God 35
3. You will prove to be the sons of God 35
4. You will reflect God’s character 36
5. You will be treated as you treat others 37
To Market, To Market
That brings us to our key verse. In order to grasp the meaning, we need to know that it is set in the context of a Middle Eastern market where the buyers and sellers would haggle together or prices, quality, and amount. It is a scene often repeated in Third World countries today. I have seen these open-air markets in Haiti and India. Farmers bring their grain—wheat, corn, barley—and spread it on a mat on the ground. Potential customers examine the grain, make an offer, and the haggling begins. When a price is finally set, the customer offers his container—usually a large bowl or pot—and the seller uses a scoop to fill the container.
It’s exactly at this point that the process becomes fascinating. In Jesus’ day there were basically four stages of measuring grain for a customer:
First, the seller fills the container to the top.
Second, he presses the grain down and fills some more.
Third, he shake the container so the grain will settle and then fills some more.
Finally, he fills the container until it overflows.
The seller would catch the overflow grain and pour it into the pouch of his robe. That pouch acted as a kind of carry-all bag so the man or woman could bring food home from the market.
In short, Jesus is describing a situation that took place every time a person went to market. It’s unusual to us because everything we buy at Jewel or Dominicks is already measured, sealed, and wrapped with shrink wrap. It’s also labeled on the outside “Contents sold by weight not by volume.” But in Jesus’ day grain was sold by volume not by weight. That’s why the verse mentions that the grain was pressed down and shaken together.
What Does It Mean?
With that as background, we may ask the simple question: What precisely is Jesus teaching us here about Christian giving? I think there are two simple answers to that question.
1. When you give, God gives back to you
2. God uses the same measure you use!
Or to put it in modern terms …
If you are stingy, God will be stingy in return!
If you are generous, God will be generous in return!
Before I go any further, let me say that I realize this teaching is not often heard in our circles. For various reasons this teaching is more likely to be found in other kinds of evangelical churches. You may in fact wonder if I am interpreting this verse correctly. Before you jump to any conclusions, Let’s take a look at the most famous teaching in the new Testament regarding Christian giving, 2 Corinthians 9:6-11.
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. That’s a principle drawn from the farm. Sow a little, reap a little. Sow a lot, reap a lot.
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. That’s the application to all of us. When we took the offering a few minutes ago, we didn’t put a gun to your head as the plates were passed. That wouldn’t be legal and it wouldn’t be ethical. We want people to give because they want to, not because they have to.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. Notice the word “all” is repeated 4 times in one verse.
“All grace”—that’s the source
“All things”—that’s the extent
“All times”—that’s the duration
“All that you need”—that’s the result
This is God’s promise to those who dare to become generous givers. You will have everything you need. Maybe not everything you want, but God will not let generous givers go unrewarded.
As it is written: ‘‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.” 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. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. Here God makes a very plain promise. If you need more seed, he’ll give it to you. God will make you rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.
Have you ever heard an appeal for money and felt like you wanted to give, but just couldn’t afford it? Perhaps the call came from a missionary you respect or from a school you support or from a church you greatly love. Perhaps you know of a need and wish you could do something about it.
“You Go First!”
What do you do when you’re running short on money but see a need and you want to get involved? I think the answer is clear. You give whatever you can and trust God to take care of you. It may not be a lot. Indeed, it may be very small. The amount doesn’t matter. What matters is the attitude of the heart.
Both in Luke 6:38 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-11, God specifically promises to take care of generous givers. And he promises to give back to you in accordance with the measure of generosity you use in your giving in the first place.
In essence, God says, “You go first.” We don’t like that. We want God to go first. We say, “You give me the money and then I’ll give.” God says, “I’ve give you my Word. Isn’t that enough?” “Well, your Word is nice, but I’d like some cash to go along with it.”
To all our bargaining, God says, “Trust me. You give and I’ll take care of you. And I promise you’ll never be disappointed.”
II. The Principle Behind the Promise
Now that we know what Luke 6:38 means, it’s important to understand the principle behind the promise. Everything Jesus says rests in the character of God. When Jesus said, ‘It will be given to you,” he based that promise on the truth of who God is.
He is a generous, benevolent God who loves to give good things to his children. Because it is in his nature to give, he will always give more to us than we will to him. This to me is the First Law of Christian Giving. You can’t out-give God
In just a few days we will gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. As you prepare your heart, consider the first three verses of Psalm 103—The Thanksgiving Psalm—from the King James Version: “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” I love that last phrase. What a wonderful command for this season of the year: “FORGET NOT ALL HIS BENEFITS!” In case we’ve forgotten them already, David lists five of them for us in verses 3-5.
1. He forgives all your sins
2. He heals all your diseases
3. He redeems your life from destruction
4. He crowns you with love and compassion
5. He satisfies your desires with good things
This week I started to do an interesting bit of Bible study. Taking my concordance, I attempted to list all the things the Bible says that God gives to his people. I never finished the project because the list was too long. You would have to read the entire Bible verse by verse to find everything that God gives his children.
A Short List of God’s Gifts
But here’s a short list of God’s gifts: victory, peace, hope, life, success, what is good, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, strength, health, discretion, wealth, honor, power, love, children, a heart to know him, songs in the night, joy in the morning, answers to prayer, food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, rest to the weary, good gifts to those who ask, eternal life, living water, all things, a spirit of unity, the new birth, the crown of life, the light of heaven, and the Word of God.
And what is his greatest gift? Is it not found in the greatest verse, John 3:16? “For God so loved that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God so loved that he gave. The whole truth of the gospel is in those six words.
That’s the Kind of God He Is
Have you ever wondered why God loves sinners? Or have you ever looked in the mirror (especially after doing something really stupid) and saying, “If I were God, I wouldn’t love a person like me.” Most of us have had that experience because most of us have fouled up and felt ashamed and embarrassed many times. Deep inside we doubt God’s love because we know the truth about who we really are.
Why does God love people like you and me? I know of only one answer to that question. He love us because that’s the kind of God he is. It’s in his nature to love sinners and (I saw this reverently) he couldn’t stop loving us even if he wanted to. His love for us is so eternal and his character so faithful that his love does not depend on anything we say or do. He loves us just the way we are because that’s the way he is.
Four Facts to Remember
How does this truth about God’s character apply to Christian giving? Let me suggest four answers.
1. You can’t out-give God
2. God will be no one’s debtor
3. He invites us to trust his Word
4. He challenges us to put him to the test
When God says, “You go first,” we say, “No, you go first.” “But I did go first,” he replies, “I went first when I gave my Son to die on the cross for you.”
III. The Truth Behind the Principle
There is one final area that must be addressed—the truth that behind the principle that you can’t out-give God. In the last year I’ve become convinced that this truth is in fact the central issue of life. I am speaking of the goodness of God.
This week in Dallas I was in Dallas for several days doing interviews for my book Man of Honor. On Friday morning I did a local TV program called “Praise the Lord.” After having done about 20 interviews in the last two months, you feel like you’ve heard every question that can possibly be asked. But Friday the host asked me a question on the air that came in from left field. It had nothing at all to do with my book.
He leaned over to me and asked, “What’s God been teaching you lately?” That’s not an easy question under any circumstances, but it’s doubly tough when the camera is staring in your face. I thought for a moment gave a simple reply: “I’ve been learning lately that I’ve still got a lot to learn about God.” That may seem elementary, and in a sense, it is, because no matter where you are in your spiritual life, you’re still far from knowing God in all his fullness. Several times recently the thought has occurred to me that even though I’ve been a pastor for almost 20 years, there is so much I still don’t know about God. At this point in my life I’m more aware of what I don’t know than what I do know.
“Is God Good?”
If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that my number one lesson in the past 12 months has been primarily about God’s goodness. I don’t think a day has gone by that the question “Is God good?” has not been on my mind.
Several times I’ve told you about the refrain often spoken in the churches of Nigeria. When the pastor cries out “God is good,” the congregation replies in unison, “All the time!” They repeat it over and over, each time proclaiming that “God is good …all the time.”
Do we really believe it? Think about the bombing in Oklahoma City or the crash of TWA Flight 800. How will you explain the goodness of God to the families of those who perished?
A few days ago a woman I hardly know told me that after 27 years of marriage her husband decided he didn’t want to be married any more. So they have separated and now he says he never loved her in the first place. To make matters worse, he looked her in the face and said, “There is absolutely nothing at all I find attractive about you.” Did I mention that he is a pastor?
When we hear about parents killing children and children killing parents, about high-level corruption and drive-by shootings, when families break up and children abandoned, we want to cry out, “Where is God?” What does it mean to say “God is good all the time” in those situations?
God of the Good Times
I fear that some of us have constructed a God of the good times. When are our prayers are answered and life is going our way, we say, “God is good.” Does that mean when our prayers are unanswered and the cancer returns that God is no longer good?
If your God is only good during the good times, then your God is not the God of the Bible.
Let me make this very personal. Last year on Thanksgiving Day my wife and I came to the sharing service in the Dining Room. Several months earlier our oldest son and his friends survived a terrible crash in our van that nearly cost them their lives. During the service Marlene stood and said something like this: “We are very grateful that God spared our son and his friends. Many people have said, “God was certainly good to you.” Ray and I believe that with all our hearts. But I want to say that even if our son and his friends had died, God would still have been good whether we understood it or not.” While I confess that I believe every word is true, I was unnerved when she said it.
The day after Thanksgiving last year Len Hoppe went to the doctor and was told that he had cancer that would probably prove terminal. Seven weeks later—just days before his 43rd birthday—he died. When he died, he still believed in the goodness of God.
“How Can You Be So Confident?”
More and more I am convinced that this is the fundamental question of life: “Is God good and can he be trusted to do what is right?” If the answer is yes, then we can face the worst that life has to offer. If the answer is no, then we’re no better off than the people who have no faith at all. In fact, if the answer is no or if we’re not sure, then we really don’t have any faith anyway.
A few months ago while doing a radio interview I was asked how I could be so positive and confident when I spoke about God’s will. The man asking the question seemed burdened with many cares and difficulties. My answer went this way: “Twenty-two years ago when my father died, I came face to face with the ultimate unanswerable question of life. I didn’t know then why such a good man would have to die at the young age of 56 or why he would leave my mother and her four sons without a husband and a father. I had no clue about what God was doing. In the years since then I have learned many things about life, but I confess that I still don’t understand why my father died. It doesn’t make any more sense to me now than it did then. I am older and wiser but in the one question that really matters I have no answers. But I have learned since then that faith is a choice you make. Sometimes you choose to believe because of what you see, often you believe in spite of what you can see. As I look to the world around me, many things remain mysterious and unanswerable. But if there is no God, and if he is not good, then nothing at all makes sense. I have chosen to believe because I must believe. I truly have no other choice. If I sound confident, it is only because I have learned through my tears that my only confidence is in God and God alone.”
My older brother Andy is a urologist who recently lost a 20-year-old patient to a rare form of kidney cancer. When he asked me in all seriousness, “Why did he die?” I had no answer. But I felt no shame in saying that. I have decided to believe that God is good and can be trusted no matter what happens. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have the strength to get out of bed every day.
God’s Goodness and Our Giving
What does all this have to do with our giving? You may agree with everything I have just said and still wonder what this has to do with Christian giving. I will offer four answers to that question.
1. Generous givers are not the people with a large bank account, but the people with a large view of God.
We often look at people who give generously and think, “They must be rich.” But it is not so. Poor people are often very generous and rich people can be very stingy. Generosity has nothing to do with how much money you have. But it has everything to do with your view of God.
If your God is big, you will be generous. If he is small, you will be stingy. If you struggle with your giving, it may be because your God is too small. The bigger your God, the easier it will be for you to give.
2. When we give generously, we do so because we truly believe God will reward us one way or the other.
Note what the text says, “Give and it will be given to you.” Not might be given or may be given or could be given but will be given.
Our only problem comes with the nature of God’s reward. Too often we focus on money or material gain as if there were the only way God could reward us. But 2 Corinthians 9 speaks of receiving a bountiful “harvest of righteousness.” God’s blessings are often material, but his best blessings can’t be added up on your pocket calculator.
So how does God reward his generous children?
–Might be with money
–Mighty be with answered prayer
–Might be with deep inner joy
–Might be with new friendships
–Might be with more opportunities to give
–Might be with a new revelation of His power in our lives.
–Might be with amazing miracles
–Might be with the peace that passes all understanding.
3. Generous givers understand the shovel principle.
I learned this from Howard Harvey, who gave me the best explanation of Luke 6:38 I’ve ever heard: “I shovel it out and God shovels it in, and he’s got a bigger shovel than I do.”
4. Generous giving is a testimony to an unbelieving world that our God is alive and well today.
If you watch much TV, you’ve probably seen one of those infomercials featuring a man named Tony Robbins. I know nothing about him except that he sells Personal Power tapes to millions of people. I can’t offer any words of recommendation because I haven’t heard them myself. However, I do know that on his tapes he recommends tithing as a key principle of success in life. The interesting point, he doesn’t tie it to the Bible or the Christian life to any religious activity whatsoever. He believes that tithing is an excellent step toward financial success. He says that when a person gives a tithe—even when they are very poor—they are sending a strong message to themselves and to others: “There’s a lot more where that came from.” That attitudes actually creates the atmosphere in which success is possible.
I agree with the main point. Generous giving is an excellent testimony because it’s a way to say to the watching world: “There’s a lot more where that came from.” Only when we say it, we’re not talking about our investment strategy, we’re talking about the God of the universe who has promised to care for his children.
Good News About God’s Goodness
Let me wrap up this message by suggesting an application that doesn’t have anything to do with money. In four days Thanksgiving will be here. Perhaps you’ve been so busy that you haven’t started counting your blessings yet. May I offer a suggestion in that regard? Take a few minutes today or tomorrow to make a Good News About God’s Goodness list.
Simply list five ways you have seen the goodness of God in the last 12 months. Then read your list before you have your Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. As the song says, “And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
God’s Indescribable Gift
I said earlier that Christianity is a giving religion. Paul certainly thought so. When he reached the end of all he wanted to say about giving in 2 Corinthians 9, his mind went back to the greatest gift of all, the gift of God’s Son. In verse 15, Paul calls Jesus “God’s indescribable gift.”
I think he means to say something like this. If I were to go to the bank and withdraw all my money and give it away, and if I were to sell my car and give the money to the poor, and if I were to give the clothes off my back and the food off my table to world missions, if I were to give everything I had and then gave myself as someone’s slave … I wouldn’t have given as much as God did when he gave his only begotten Son.
God can never owe me anything. I can never outgive him. When I come to the end of my philanthropy and begin to pat myself on the back for being such a wonderful person, God bids me to look to the cross and see the bleeding Son of God. Then I realize I know nothing of what real giving is.
Jesus is God’s indescribable gift. Anything I do pales into insignificance by comparison. Therefore, I will not hold back, I will not be stingy. I will be a generous giver. If God really did so love the world that he gave his only begotten Son, then I will follow him and give whatever I can. I can do no less.
Somewhere I read the story of Maxey Jarman, president of the Genesco Shoe Company. Mr. Jarman was a wealthy man and a well-known Christian layman who loved to give money to support God’s work around the world. He served for a time on the board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. At one point in his career he suffered a series of financial reversals that cost him nearly everything he had. As he struggled to put his life back together, a friend asked him if he regretted all the money he had given away over the years. “Oh no,” he replied, “I only lost what I kept for myself.”
Lord Jesus, teach us that we only keep what we give away. We have tried so hard to hoard things, only to have them slip through our fingers.
We have tried stinginess, Lord, and it didn’t work.
Teach us to be generous.
We thank you that we have everything we need … and more besides. Open our eyes to see what you are doing in the world. Save us from spending our lives building castles of sand.
Help us to give as you did, bleeding, dying for us.