Psalm 37:21-26 & Psalm 112:1-5, 9
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 5, 2023
In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller told how he once did a seven-part series on the Seven Deadly Sins. His wife Kathy predicted that one he did on greed would have the lowest attendance.” She was right. Many showed up for lust and envy, but few seemed to think they might love money too much.
We pastors hear confession about every kind of sin, but it’s very rare for anyone to admit to us that they spend too much money on themselves and are too stingy in sharing it with God and others. Greed, Keller observed, is uniquely able to blind us to its presence in our life.
If we find stewardship campaigns and the call to pledge annoying, it may be that we’ve grown to love money inordinately. Consider this analogy: When we go for a check-up, the doctor will often poke, prod and press in various places, asking all the while, “Does that hurt? How about that?” If we feel pain, one of two things has happened. Either the doctor has pushed too hard; or, more likely, something is wrong there inside of us that the physician needs to heal. For it’s not supposed to hurt like that!
So it is when a pastor preaches on giving, and we feel upset. Either the pastor has pushed too hard; or, more likely, there’s something wrong there inside of us that the Great Physician needs to heal. For it’s not supposed to hurt like that.
For example, if the biblical idea, on which we reflected last Sunday, that God owns everything we “have” upsets us, it may indicate we need the Great Physician to heal our heart. We may be harboring the unbiblical idea that what we have belongs to us and failing to appreciate that our possessions are actually God’s. We may be forgetting we owe God for everything have because God chose to share some of His stuff with us for any or all of three reasons: 1) that we might just enjoy it, 2) that we might know the joy of passing some of it on to bless others and 3) that we might do right by Him and keep our greed from doing Him an injustice.
Consider another analogy, one that might give us some empathy for God: Suppose you want to get something important to someone who needs it badly. So you package it up and entrust your box to UPS to deliver it overnight. But the UPS driver doesn’t take it to the person; he takes it home. When you confront the driver about it, he replies, “If you didn’t want me to keep it, why’d you put in my hands?” Wouldn’t you answer: “I put it in your hands, not for you to keep, but for you to deliver for me to the person who really needs it.”
God owns every good thing we have. If He puts money in our hands, it doesn’t mean He wants us to keep it all. We’re stewards of His possessions that He’s seen fit to delegate to our care and responsibility.
If that’s the truth, then how we handle our money is a spiritual matter, tied up in the quality of our friendship with God. If we want to keep or to improve the friendship, we’ll make sure Jesus co-signs all our checks and cash transfers before they’re negotiable, and reviews every use of our credit and debit cards. Such will help us make more righteous monetary decisions.
Listen to what generous people say about why they give: The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability once surveyed 16,500 donors to churches and charitable causes. They discovered most gave on the basis of their values, not on who asks or how they ask. Forty-five percent of the donors said they give primarily to thank God for how much He’s blessed them. They feel they owe God a debt of gratitude and want to pay it in the currency of generosity. Another 23% of the donors said they give primarily to make a God-pleasing difference in the world. Then, another 15% said they give to honor God by obeying to His commandments. In other words, 83% of the donors give to do right by God one way or another.
That’s what generous people say. Now listen to what the Bible says: Psalm 37 is a Psalm of David addressing, not God, but God’s people. An acrostic, it lifts up ways to live right before God. It tells us that being righteous leads us to be generous with God and the needy. It says, “The righteous are generous and keep giving…they are ever giving liberally.”
Psalm 112 is not attributed to any human author. It is the second of a closely-linked pair of Psalms, both written as an acrostic like Psalm 37. Psalm 111, the first in the couplet, speaks about God and His ways. Psalm 112, the second, speaks about God’s people and their ways. There are points where the two Psalms echo each other closely. Verse 3 in Psalm 111 refers to God and says “his righteousness endures forever”; while verse 3 in Psalm 112 refers to God’s people and says the same thing about them: “their righteousness endures forever”. Likewise, verse 4 in Psalm 111 celebrates how “the Lord is gracious and merciful”; while verse 4 in Psalm 112 celebrates how His people are “gracious and merciful and righteous”. Psalm 112 goes on to note how their righteousness makes them generous. They “deal generously” with others, says verse 5; they “distribute freely” and “give to the poor”, says verse 9.
A rich business man named Tom White took such scriptures to heart. As a result, he resolved, as he put it, “to die as close to penniless as possible” by giving his whole fortune away to church and charity. This Christian achieved his goal by donating $100 million to bless the world. When people would ask him why he was being so generous, he’d say, “I can’t take it with me; my kids are okay; my wife’s taken care of…and I’m motivated…by what Jesus wants me to do…help make the world a better place.” White said his only regret was not having more money to give away.
A whole lot of us wish we had more money to give away. But all of us have some, and the righteously generous among us want to give as much as we can.
Next Sunday we’ll have not only the normal opportunity to give with a weekly offering, but also a special opportunity to give with a pledge. In that, we won’t be giving more money that day, but a faith promise to financially support Covenant’s mission in 2024.
Next Sunday, there will be physical pledge cards that those physically present in worship can fill out and drop in the slot of a chest up front here, and virtual pledge cards that those virtually present in worship can fill out online and submit electronically.
I implore you to pray this week to hear from God what would be righteous generosity for you in your pledging, that you might be gracious and merciful to the needy and do justice to God. We show we belong to God by our loving, and we show our loving by our giving.