The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 6, 2022
Money can work for God and His servants. For example, money is enabling this church to rebuild after a flood and to become more effective in serving the Lord.
So money can work for God’s servants. But it can also work on God’s servants. Handled rightly, money can expedite the development of Christian character and increase the degree of Christian joy. Jesus wasn’t fooling when He said “it is more blessed to give than to receive”. Blessing others with our money brings us greater blessing. Giving in response to God’s giving gives to us.
In his book Giving It All Away, David Green draws a helpful analogy. Some act as if life is like a game of Monopoly in which you win by accumulating the most. But life, God says, is more like a game of Uno or Crazy Eights in which the point is to run out of cards, since each one left in your hand at the end counts against you. The Bible says the goal of life is to come to the end of our days holding very little because we’ve given away much and pledged everything else to God and others.
Deuteronomy, the fifth book in the Bible and the last of Moses, runs 34 chapters. The middle third of it, starting at chapter 12 and concluding here in chapter 26, lays out specific commandments given by God to show us how to live rightly and happily. These commandments cover every aspect of life, from how to cook food to how to make political decisions, and are designed to lead us into a maximally satisfying and enjoyable life.
It is worth noting that this 15-chapter long list of precepts starts and ends with precepts about worshipping God – specifically here with one about making an annual offering to God in worship. In the agricultural economy of ancient Israel, produce was a form of money; and this scripture prescribes an offering of the first fruits of one’s harvest. It is meant to remind God’s people of two things: i) what a debt of gratitude we owe God for having given us our freedom, a homeland and the ability to make something of it, and ii) how He gave us all that, not because we’re something, but because He’s something else in His generous grace.
In grace God gives us every good thing we enjoy. This short scripture drives that truth home by repeating six times, in one formulation or another, that all we have is a gift from God. So when we make an offering in worship to God, we should remember how we’d be had He not been so gratuitously and extravagantly good to us.
God’s first chosen people had to do that. When they offered their first fruits, they were to recite how their ancestral father was “a wandering Aramean” – Aram being that portion of the Fertile Crescent (now a part of Iraq) out of which Abraham and his tiny family arose to lead a nomadic existence until God made of them a great nation and made them a home in Canaan. They were also to recite why they had to wait for God to make all that happen: they were at first too “few in number” and then later too weak by enslavement and inhumane workloads to improve their lot – so that their only hope was to cry to God in helplessness and a wild faith.
But God was faithful and gracious. So they were then to recite how God responded with mercy and a “mighty hand”: how He, all by Himself, brought them out of bondage and into “a land overflowing with milk and honey”. Though they’d had to take a long hard journey to get there, had to fight off enemies trying to stop them, and had to work the land by tilling, sowing and watering it, their ending up bountifully blessed with the fruit of such land was entirely God’s doing. God gave them every good thing they had – including the energy, endurance and strength they’d applied in receiving His gracious gifts.
In offering their first fruits then, they were to recognize that their giving arose from God’s giving to them and that God’s giving was so extravagant that they could give God first dibs on their produce with no worry about being deprived thereby. God blessed them abundantly that they might pass on His overflowing blessings abundantly.
Some years ago, Philip Yancey learned to consider his abundant blessings as, well, like body fat! Until he’d talked with the famous missionary physician, Paul Brand, Yancey had always thought of body fat as just something to get rid of. But Dr. Brand valued body fat highly. For example, it insulates against cold and provides protection for vital internal organs. But its greatest benefit to the health of the body is to serve as its treasure chest of stored energy. Its reserves sustain us in long hard efforts, and get us through tough times.
So it is with the body of Christ, Dr. Brand told Philip Yancey. Christians in a wealthy country such as America are like fat cells, capable of supplying energy and strength to the rest of the body – for instance, today to Ukrainian brothers and sisters resisting Russian repression.
Yancey says that, ever since that conversation with Dr. Brand, he’s taken whimsical pleasure in making out checks to his church and Christian organizations. He loves thinking that God has made him fat with blessings so he can bless the rest of Christ’s body.
Let us generously give to others from God’s giving to us so generously!