The Motivation for Generosity
The Motivation for Generosity
Stephen King is the author of 49 suspense and horror novels that have sold over 350 million copies. Some of his novels have been made into blockbuster movies like The Shining, Fire Starter, and Shawshank Redemption. He's a raging Boston Red Sox fan, so the Red Sox always appear somewhere in his novels. Do you know he's a guitar player in a mediocre rock 'n roll band made up of other famous authors? You don't want to go on iTunes to get their music, believe me. Do you know that he's a recovering alcoholic? Do you know that he almost lost his life a few years ago? He was walking along a country road in Maine, and a van hit him and knocked him into a ditch. His legs were so crushed the doctors considered amputating them. But he managed to pull through. Did you know that he's an outspoken advocate of generosity? This caught my attention, and I couldn't believe it: Stephen King, the horror novelist, advocates generosity?
I came across it reading excerpts from a speech he gave to the graduates of Vassar College. It was a commencement address shortly after his accident and recovery. He said,
I found out what "you can't take it with you" means. I found out while I was lying in the ditch at the side of a country road covered with mud and blood and with the tibia of my right leg poking out the side of my jeans, like a branch of a tree taken down in a thunderstorm. I had a Master Card in my wallet, but when you're lying in a ditch with broken glass in your hair no one accepts Master Card. We all know that life is ephemeral, but on that particular day and in the months that followed, I got a painful but extremely valuable look at life's simple backstage truths.
We come in naked and broke. We may be dressed up when we go out, but we're just as broke. Warren Buffet is going to go out broke. Bill Gates is going out broke. Tom Hanks is going out broke. Steve King, broke, not a crying dime. All the money you earn, all the stocks you buy, all the mutual funds you trade, all of that is mostly smoke and mirrors. So I want you to consider making your life one long gift to others. And why not? All you have is on loan anyway. All that lasts is what you pass on. We have the power to help, the power to change. And why should we refuse? Because we're going to take it with us? Oh, please.
Right now we have the power to do great good for others. So I ask you to begin giving and to continue as you began. I think you'll find in the end that you got far more than you ever had and did more good than you ever dreamed.
This resonates with the truth of God's Word. In fact, it sounds like the application of a parable that Jesus told in Luke 16, our Scripture for the day.
We're in the third week of a four-part series on generosity. The first week of the series I told you who the role model for generosity is: God. The most familiar verse in the Bible is arguably John 3:16: "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son." God has been extremely generous with us. The more we give, the more we become like God.
Last week I talked to you about the dark side of giving, the thing that holds you back. You want the rocket of generosity to take off in your life, but there's a gravitational pull that keeps it on the launch pad. And that gravitation pull is greed. Greed is the natural tendency we all wrestle with to accumulate more stuff for ourselves and to hang onto it. If you want the rocket of generosity to take off in your life, you have to fire up the boosters, deliberate acts of giving. They're counterintuitive and countercultural.
If you thought last week's topic—greed—was negative, you're going to love today's topic. Today we get to the positive side of generosity: the motivation for generosity, the rewards you'll experience as you become a giver. These rewards primarily involve the impact that your giving has on the lives of other people. Your rewards involve what Stephen King was talking about in his commencement address. You have it in your power to do tremendous good to others.
Jesus speaks of the rewards of giving in his parable in Luke 16. Bible scholars say this is possibly the most difficult parable that Jesus told. They're quick to point out that it's not necessarily difficult to understand; it's just a bit strange. Jesus uses a person who seems to us a shady character to teach us virtuous truths about the benefits of being generous. You'll see what I mean as you follow along in your Bible. Luke 16:1-9 says,
Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'
"The manager said to himself, 'What am I going to do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to bed—I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'
"So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
"'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied
"The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, make it four hundred.'
"Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?'
"'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied.
"He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.'
"The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."
We're going to learn three lessons from this story and the teaching that follows it:
- Be wise
- Be trustworthy
- Be devoted
The NIV translation titles this section "The Parable of the Shrewd Manager." Shrewd is a good description of this guy. Some Bible commentators call this "The Parable of the Crafty Manager" or "The Parable of the Dishonest Manager." But I don't like those words—crafty and dishonest. These terms are derogatory. Jesus portrays this guy positively. He draws a principle from this man's life for us. In verse 8, Jesus says the owner of this business actually commended the guy. So I like the word shrewd; it's a positive word. The dictionary defines it as "being marked by clever, discerning awareness." This guy demonstrated practical, hardheaded savvy.
Maybe you listened to the story and you're thinking, This man sounds like a crook to me. Here's a guy who knows he's soon going to be out of work, so he calls in the people who owe his boss money, and he shaves something off of each of their bills. He cooks the books. He cheats his boss out of a profit. In what sense is that commendable?
It helps in interpreting the story if we know something of the business practices in Jesus' day. A manager was often given the liberty by his boss to add a commission onto the price of the goods that were being sold. The boss would set a price on his goods, and the manager would tag on an additional amount for his commission. This manager was probably calling in the customers one by one and forfeiting his commission. He wasn't being dishonest; he was being shrewd. He was giving away money—his commission—in order to gain something more important: friends who would welcome him with open arms when he lost his job.
Then Jesus applies this to us. He gives us a principle to live by. But before I tell you what the principle is, let's see who Jesus is addressing with this story. Jesus would often tell parables to a crowd of committed followers, some skeptics, some tire kickers, and maybe some antagonists. But according to verse 1, he tells this parable to his disciples. Jesus tells the story to committed followers for a reason. He's not telling it to the general populous because they wouldn't get it. They would think that Jesus' principle is ridiculous. They would think, I'm not going to do this with my money. If you're not yet a Christ follower, the principle we're about to look at may not make a lot of sense to you. But if you are a committed follower of Jesus, I hope it resonates with you.
It's wise for me to give money to efforts that lead people to faith in Jesus Christ because those people will then end up in God's eternal kingdom and they will welcome me one day with open arms.
Our generosity is to be focused. There's no value in giving money away just to give it away. There's no benefit in being generous with the wrong cause. For example, Maria Assunta passed away, and according to a news magazine she was a very wealthy real estate investor. According to her will, her 15-million-dollar estate is to be left entirely to Tomasino, her cat. That's one more reason not to like cats.
In this parable Jesus is teaching us to be wise in our generosity. I don't know about you, but it motivates me to be generous when I anticipate the day when people whom my giving has impacted will greet me.
Sue and I recently put our taxes together. Our accountant asked us to tally all our charitable giving. So we compiled a list of every donation we've made to Christ Community Church and other Christ-honoring organizations. I calculated it and had the same reaction I have every year when I see the bottom line: Whoa, that's a lot of money we could have spent on ourselves. When you give a little at a time, you don't think about it. But once a year when you tally it up, you think, Oh my, we could have had an extra vacation. We could have upgraded our cars. We could have gotten new cabinets for our kitchen. That reaction lasts for about two seconds, and then I think, God has done so much through the ministries we've supported. This coming year 63,000 people in West Africa are going to hear the good news of Jesus on Proclaimers, a project that we gave to. Maybe some of them will come to know Jesus personally, and they will be there to greet me in God's eternal kingdom and say, "Way to go. Thanks for giving. I heard the message on one of those Proclaimers."
Our middle school group had an outreach night a while back. They had over 500 middle schoolers show up. I wasn't just impressed with the overall number of kids that showed up. Our middle school pastor told me that during the course of the night, there was a boy who was bullying others. Bullying is a pretty big problem in schools these days. So he took the boy aside, and the boy said, "They don't treat me well at school, and one of the ring leaders of the group at school is here tonight." So the leader sat down with this girl, and he said, "You're a brother and a sister in Christ. Let's talk this out." They talked it through, and then they prayed. They apologized to each other and prayed and left the room saying, "We're going to look out for each other." When I heard this story I thought, I helped to support that ministry through my giving.
I could give you one example after another as to why generosity towards the Lord's work is such a wise investment of money. People connect to Jesus Christ. These people will one day say, "Thanks for giving. Your giving helped make it possible for me to be here in the kingdom." I'm not the only one who's experiencing this joyful return on investment at Christ Community Church. Many of you experience the same.
I received an e-mail from a young dad last week. He said to me, "After the last installment in the generosity series, my wife and I went home and talked about greed." This young couple already tithes, but he said, "We looked at our budget, and we decided that we could do without DISH Cable and the monthly Netflix subscription, because that's the amount of money it would cost to support an orphan through Compassion International Ministries." I thought to myself, Why would he do that? Compassion International feeds and clothes and educates and leads kids to Christ. He said to me, "My two kids are too young to understand this, but I'm looking forward to them sharing in this experience with me." He is a wise dad. He knows to spend his money on something that will impact people's lives for eternity. Are you wise in that regard?
In Luke 16:10-12, Jesus says,
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?
Jesus infers that his listeners have been entrusted with someone else's property. They should prove themselves trustworthy with this property because it doesn't belong to them. They are managing it for its owner. You're a manager, too. You're not an owner. Everything you think you own, you actually manage. God owns it. Your house is God's. Your car is God's. Your golf clubs are God's. God is looking at how we spend the money we have, because it's his money. He wants to know are we giving it as he wants us to give it, because we're not owners, we're managers.
Have you ever worked with a financial planner? When you hire somebody to help invest your money, one of their first questions is this: What are your financial goals? They ask this because they understand that they're going to be investing your money, not their own. If you turn over some money to a financial planner and he spends it on a cruise for himself, you're using the wrong financial planner. He's investing your money toward your goals, not his money toward his goals.
If everything we have belongs to God, are we spending our money to achieve God's goals? If we're not, according to the Scripture we just read, we're not being trustworthy.
The word trust or trusted or trustworthy appears five times in verses 10 through 12. Would God say that you're a trustworthy money manager? Would God say that you are pursuing his goals with the money he has put in your care?
A guy named Joe was in business for himself, and his business was starting to take off. He was beginning to make a significant profit. He went to see his pastor and said, "Pastor, I'm wrestling with this generosity thing. When I made 50 dollars a week, it wasn't a big deal to be generous. Tithe on 50 dollars was 5 bucks. It was easy to put five bucks in the offering bag. Then I started to make 500 dollars a week, and the tithe became 50 dollars. It was a little harder to put 50 dollars in the offering, but I did it." He said, "Now my business is taking off. I'm making 5,000 dollars a week. I just can't bring myself to tithe. Would you pray for me?" The pastor said to him, "I will pray for you. I will pray that God reduces your income to an amount that you feel comfortable tithing on."
It doesn't matter how much money you make. The question is: Are you being trustworthy with it? Whether you're making ten bucks an hour at a part-time babysitting job or you're making half a million dollars per year as a business owner, it's God's money. He wants you to be trustworthy. The way that you demonstrate your trustworthiness is by doing with that money what God asks. This means an initial portion of it should come back to God.
You might say, "What if I don't do that?" In verse 1,1 Jesus says if God can't trust you with the handling of worldly wealth, he's certainly not going to trust you with true riches. Bible scholars come up with a variety of explanations for "true riches." It might mean answers to prayer. If God's going to trust you with answers to prayer, he's going to first need to see that you're trustworthy with the handling of your worldly wealth. It might be spiritual growth. Before you can take off in a relationship with God, God wants to see if you are going to be faithful in the handling of your paycheck. It may be good relationships with other people, with your friends, with your family. It might be people you know who need Jesus. Those are spiritual riches. God says that spiritual riches will come your way when you prove yourself trustworthy in handling material wealth.
In over 30 years of ministry, my observation is that when people get this giving thing down, they take off. Until they start giving, something is holding them back in their relationship with God. They might begin to serve in some area of ministry. They might begin to worship at weekend services. They might get to know God's Word, studying it in a community group with others. But they never take off until they start giving. I think Jesus explains the reason for this here. God says, "I'm not going to trust you with real riches, spiritual riches, until you prove yourself faithful in this regard."
A lady spoke to me after one of our services in this series and said, "We started coming to Christ Community Church a few years ago when you did a giving series. That was when our relationship with God as a family took off."
In verse 13, Jesus concludes by saying, "No servant can serve two masters. Either he'll hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." Jesus says we have a choice. We can serve God or we can serve money and the things money buys. But we can't serve both. Which of the two masters are you devoted to? Which of the two masters is first in your heart?
1 Kings 17 illustrates the choice we have to make. It's a time of drought in ancient Israel, and Elijah has nothing to drink, nothing to eat. God says to Elijah, "Don't worry. I'm going to provide for you through a widow who lives in a little village called Zarephath. So go to Zarephath." Elijah goes to Zarephath, and he meets this widow. He says to her, "Would you give me a jar of water and a piece of bread." She looks at him like he's crazy, because everybody knows there's a drought and no one has anything to eat. She says, "I'm down to my last handful of flour, and I'm going to bake some bread for my son and myself. Then in a couple of days we'll probably die." Elijah says, "Don't be afraid." And then he turns the corner and says something that sounds so unsympathetic that it takes your breath away: "First make something for me with the flour. Then you can make something for yourself and for your son. If you'll do this, God will replenish your store of flour" (17:14). This seems selfish, but we have to understand Elijah is not just speaking for himself. He's speaking as God's representative, God's prophet. He's basically telling her, "This is a test of priorities. I want you to make something for God's man first. Then make something for yourself, and let's see what God does." She took up the challenge, and her flour was renewed. Day after day she had enough to eat.
There's no telling what God will do in your life if you put him first in this matter of money. Devote yourself to God first.
How do you do that? The most basic way is by giving back to God the first portion of every paycheck. Ideally, as we've taught you from Scripture, you should tithe a minimal ten percent. But if you're not there yet, start giving some amount regularly, whether it's two percent or five percent. Start on a trajectory. You might ask, "How does God get his hands on my tithe? How do you pass a check on to God?"
Three Christ followers were having a discussion about how to give money to God. The first guy said, "I take my paycheck to the bank and cash it. At home I draw a big circle on the ground, and I throw the money up in the air. Whatever lands in the circle I give to God, and whatever lands outside the circle I keep." The second guy said, "I do something similar. I cash my paycheck and bring the money home. I draw a circle and throw the money in the air. Whatever lands in the circle I keep for myself, and whatever lands outside I give to God." The third guy said, "I don't draw a circle. I take my money and throw it up. I figure if God wants it, he'll hang on to it. So whatever comes down to the ground is mine."
How do you give your money to God? You do this primarily by bringing that tithe, that first ten percent to the local church. Some of you are thinking, I knew it. He's a pastor. Of course he's going to tell us to give money to the church. But let me give you three reasons why this is a good idea.
Give your money toward efforts that connect people to Jesus, because they will live forever in God's eternal kingdom and will welcome you with open arms. The church's mission is to connect people to Jesus. Every week students get connected to Jesus through our high school ministry. People come to Celebrate Recovery with hurts and hang ups and habits from which they're trying to break free. They're connecting to Jesus. Every week we're supporting pastors who are planting churches in the far reaches of Bangladesh through International Impact Ministries, and people are connecting to Jesus through that project. Give to that which will connect people to Christ so they'll be saved for all eternity. That's why the church exists.
Tithing originates in the Old Testament. The principle purpose for the tithe was to support those who worked at the local worship center, initially the tent tabernacle and later the temple. Numbers 18:11 says a tithe is to be used for this. Paul picks up on that in the New Testament when he says every church ought to support their pastors. I am grateful for the staff that God has given us at Christ Community Church, and for your support of those people. We have over 100 people on staff. Around 40 of them are pastoral staff that oversee our kids ministry, youth ministries, International Impact, Community Impact, and more. They teach God's Word. They lead in worship. We couldn't do these things without thousands of volunteers. But those paid staff members recruit the volunteers and train them and oversee them and shepherd them.
I got an e-mail last week from a guy who says, "I've been a regular cash giver, but now I'm up for the challenge of tithing. So this week I'm going to give eight percent. Next week I'm going to try to give ten percent. Christ Community has been extremely generous to me, so I don't find it difficult to give back to you. Thank you."
That's how I feel about our staff. They've been generous of their time and effort to serve you. I thank God for the tithes that make it possible to bring those people onboard.
I'm a little cynical about giving. I want to know where my money goes. I want to know that it's going to be spent wisely. I want to know that there's going to be juice for the squeeze, bang for the buck. Many of you are wired the same way. I want to monitor the money that I give. I don't want to give to somebody I don't know. I'm not sure what they're doing with the money or how the guy at the top is living.
When you give to the local church, you can keep an eye on how it's spent. You can check out where I live and what I drive. You can say, "At least I know the pastor's not getting rich at Christ Community Church." Every year we hire an outside auditor, an independent source, to look at our books and publish a report that anybody can see. Accountability is important when it comes to money. Don't give to things without accountability.
Christ Community Church is also accountable with people and organizations that we give money to. When we say the Proclaimers are going to reach 63,000 people, we follow up on it. You can give to missions organizations independently of Christ Community Church. But when you give through us, you know we're going to monitor how that money is spent.
Make God first in your use of money. Give him the tithe, or at least become a regular giver. Make that the first check you write every time your paycheck comes in, because God has a reward in store for you. You'll be investing in things that connect people to Jesus, and they will greet you one day and say, "Thanks for your generosity. It's why I'm here." God is going to dump spiritual riches on you. I won't promise that he's going to make you materially wealthy. If you take up this giving challenge for three months and you're hoping God's going to dump a bunch of money in your bank account, that's probably not going to happen. But I guarantee you will be deluged with spiritual blessings.
Be wise. Be trustworthy. Be devoted. You're going to love the rewards.
Jim Nicodem is founder and pastor of Christ Community Church in St. Charles, Illinois.