There is nothing quite as moving as the birth of a child. The entry of an eternal soul into a world of light, air and sound. The continuation of the chain of humanity that reaches back to the first marriage and the first breath. It is fascinating to watch the daily progress of an baby…so slow…yet so fast. It begins with a oneness between mother and child…a symbiotic bond. For the first few months the child has no sense of his own individuality. But with time, there is a sense of emerging person-hood. The child discovers that there is a you and a me in this world. That discovery of own self is very important. “I Am” is the beginning place for everything else that we will seek to do in life. It occurs to me that until you know that you are an individual, a person in your own right, you can have no sense of ownership or possessions.
While it is a sign of growing up, this discovery can be annoying to parents. You know that Sam or Sue has gotten the concept of possessions, when suddenly everything is “Mine” Mine, Mine. There is little time lost between the discovery of Me & Myself, and the claim that certain things are “Mine”.
The word Mine is not only a formative when it comes to character, but a word that shapes the world of business & commerce, the world of love and family. The word has a ring of exclusivity to it. It points to those things that are mine and mine alone. Not to be confused with the things which belong to my brother or sister and are therefore common property.
Now I don’t want you to get the wrong Idea here. Mine is not a bad word. In and of itself, it is not even a negative word. It flows from the sense of individual person-hood that God has given to us. If “I Am”: if I am a person in my own right, then those things belonging to me are mine. That is, they have a special and exclusive relationship to me and me alone.
There is perhaps no one individual in the Bible who uses this word more often God does. “God is the possesser of heaven and earth. He states: “The earth is mine and the fullness thereof” Ps 24:1 The book of Deuteronomy alone has 43 direct references to God giving the land of Canaan to Israel so that they will come into possession of it
Ownership is at the very heart of the Biblical message…because it precedes giving. It is a necessary ingredient in the story of Grace. Unless you know that you are a person in your own right, you cannot possess. Not your own life, and not anything outside of yourself in this life.
Unless you possess something, you cannot give. Personhood and ownership come first.
Now It is a sign of emerging maturity when a child takes some treasured possession and lends it to another. Or when he places it in the hands of his friend and says…”it’s yours”
When you look into his eyes and know that his heart-strings are still attached to the gift…but he gives it anyway…and maybe he even gives it for that reason……you know that he is growing up.
Giving is all about relationships. It is about You and somebody else.
You can possess something all by yourself. You can be an owner without any company at all. But you cannot give without someone to receive. You cannot be a benefactor, without someone else who receives the benefit. And you cannot give without involving yourself with other people. Perhaps it goes without saying that you cannot give that which you do not possess.
There must be a giver, a receiver and a gift.
Now all acts of Godly giving have three things in common:
1. Giving begins with the right motivation.
2. It requires the right attitude.
3. It is consummated in the right gift
Let’s talk about these three as they pertain first of all to God.
John’s Gospel brings them together.
“For God so loved the World, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)
God had a motive for sending Jesus into the world. He loved us. As we stood under the judgment of eternal damnation…He loved us. Dead in our trespasses and sins…He loved us. With our backs turned to Him and to the truth of His word…He loved us. Beyond human remedy and without hope in this world…He loved us. Alien to His kingdom….ignorant of His ways….defiant to His will…..His love rose above it all.
The love of God was not an afterthought. It did not come into being at some point in time. It was not just God rising to meet the occasion. The love of God is eternal and like God, it is without beginning or end.
Paul says, that it took place before time…and in love..
He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Eph. 1:4-6)
God had the right motive. He did this to make us the objects of His love. To make us like God…holy and blameless.
At one time, we were someone else’s children. But now, by adoption we are children of the Most High God. Adopted through divine agency…grafted into the family by God’s one and only son with all of the privileges of that family.
The possessor of heaven and earth loved us and for that reason He gave his one and only Son. There can be no higher motive.
You know, when the motive is right, then the attitude will be right.
Jesus was not just sent into this world, He came of his own free will.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped (tenaciously held onto), but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)
Attitude is everything. It shapes actions. It colours behaviour.
It turns obligation into privilege…it changes the things that I have got to do into the things that I want to do.
It walks willingly in the valley of the shadow of death for His name sake.
It pours out self-will on the ground and allows itself to be filled with the purposes of God.
The attitude of Jesus blazed a trail for us to follow. It is a high road to travel and if we stay on it, it will mean the death of us.
Jesus assures us that without the right attitude, we just will not last to the end of the journey.
That is why Jesus said:
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, Let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.” Matt.16:24-25
As the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus calls us to share His attitude.
To trust God.
To seek servitude over equality.
To consider others to be more important than ourselves.
To look out for one another’s interests.
To stand in the place of the one who gives, instead of the one who receives.
Motive and attitude go together. For God So loved the world that He gave his one and only Son. Motive and attitude produced the right Gift.
Throughout the Bible, God is described as the source of every blessing.
The one whose love for mankind is evident in good gifts. Food and shelter…the rain that falls on the just and the unjust. The gifts of family, health and prosperity. By themselves, none of these are a true measure of the love of God.
Instead, God so loved the world, that He gave his One and Only Son. This gift was not external to God. It was not inexpensive. It was not impersonal. It was not trivial or unimportant.
The gift was alive…A person, not a thing. There was no more treasured possession in heaven or earth. The price was way beyond measure…at the limits of God Himself.
You see, giving…real giving begins with the “I Am” in each of us. Not something outside of us…but ourselves …heart..body..mind..& soul. God gave nothing less – and He expects us to follow His example.
Jesus touched on a principle when he said:
” What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul. Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?. matt.16:26
The things that are external to your life are of less importance than your life.
Would you trade your eternal soul for a house, a car, a career , a husband or a wife? What price do you put on your soul? What price do you put on your life?
It is beyond price. It is all that you are.
What Jesus was saying is this. Your soul is not yours to keep. On your own, you cannot possess it into the life to come…you cannot hold onto it. In order to truly possess it, you must make it the possession of Jesus Christ. To find your life, you must lose it….lose it in the cause of Christ. Until you are a Christian, you cannot begin giving in the way that Jesus gave.
As a Christian, God does not want your money. He does not want your house, your car, your time…He wants you. He wants you, heart and soul, body and mind. He wants all of you. Jesus did not die on the cross to save your stuff. He died on the cross to save you.
God did not sacrifice a few mountains or even a few solar systems to save you. In his Son, God sacrificed himself. The Hebrew writer says that God gave Jesus a body for the purpose of sacrificing it. (Heb.10:5, 10)
Jesus was God on earth…All the same, He came to do the Father’s will. His whole life was used up doing the father’s will. Christ’s life on earth was not His own. His goals belonged to the Father: He lived and breathed to do the Father’s will. He was ambitious for the purposes of heaven. He brought every appetite under the Father’s control. His hopes and dreams all came from the Father.
That is what God wants from you and me.
Only God gives without first receiving. And only God can give the gift that enables us to become givers. He loved us…and gave His Son to die for us…So that we could truly possess life.
That’s why Paul said:
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body”
Do we really believe that? That we do not belong to ourselves?
There is a lot of talk among religious people about having the Holy Spirit…almost as if God were just another one of our possessions. Now It is true that God has given us a gift…and that gift is His Spirit. But we do not possess Him. Instead, He dwells in us as we have become His place to live. His presence within us is evidence that we belong to God…that God has taken ownership of us.
On the one hand, the thought of power is exiting to many people. And the presence of God’s Spirit in us promises power. But the truth is that the power of the Spirit is for the purpose of doing the will of the Father. To fight successfully against selfishness and sin….so that God’s will might be done here on earth as it is in heaven.
What I would like for us to ask ourselves this morning is this: do we really believe that we are not our own? That God actually owns us completely?
If we say yes, then what does that mean? Practically speaking, what difference does that make? Is it possible for God to be the owner if I am still calling the shots?
How long do I think that God will be satisfied to call me His child if I don’t bow to His wishes? Words are important, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. I may claim that Jesus owns me, but act otherwise.
Sometimes our actions may say: I would like to enjoy the benefits of sonship without any of the cost. But Jesus called on all who would be His disciples to count the cost. To love God more than all other human relationships. To be willing to die for Him, if it came to that. There is no free lunch; spiritually speaking.
My actions may suggest that my time is my own. I will participate in worship when I feel like it, and no more. But Jesus warns us not to make a habit of forsaking the assembly. He cautions against falling away and leaving our first love.
And when I do show up here on Sunday morning, I expect to be served.
Jesus said: “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet,
you also ought to wash one another’s feet”.
I would like to be lord of my time…Lord of my coming in and going out.
The boss of my life. What I do with my time is no-one’s business but my own.
There are 168 hours in the week. If we get 8 hours of sleep a day, that means that we are awake for about 112 hours each week. How many of them do we plan to give to the Lord? If We truly belong to the Lord, they are not ours to keep.
Jesus said: The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Not much has changed. He went on to conclude: “Let us work while it is still day…the night is coming when no man can work” Time is of the essence.
You know, I have heard stories told by people who have had a brush with death. Without exception, they say that it has changed their lives. They now savour each moment…they feel the need to make their time count for something.
In Jesus’ words, the only way to save your life is to lose it!! Since your life and mine is measured in time; what else do we have?
We have been bought with a price, the truth is, that we are not our own. And if I am not my own, then I should find out what my owner wants me to do. And then make every effort, every single day of my life, to do His will.
But unless we really believe that we belong to Jesus, there is no point in talking about “giving” in the traditional sense. Because giving and belonging are tied together and cannot be separated.
There was a famine that swept through Palestine during the reign of Claudius in about the middle of the first Christian century. it profoundly affected the welfare of the church and the relationship of its mixed membership.
Paul gathered relief funds from Gentile congregations all over Asia and Europe and brought these to the elders at Jerusalem. In the course of reminding the Church at Corinth about their commitment to help, Paul makes an amazing statement about giving. He said:
“Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favour of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. (2Cor 8:1-5)
Two things stand opposite one another.
The Macedonian churches were experiencing a great affliction and living in deep poverty. Nevertheless, they had an abundant joy because they had truly come to know the grace of the Lord. And that abundance of joy overflowed in a wealth of liberality.
Deep poverty…great affliction <–> abundant joy…rich generosity So they gave as they had means? No, they went way beyond their means. They begged, they earnestly pleaded for the privilege of sharing in the support of the saints. To be so honoured…to be partners in the work of God.
How did they do It? What was their secret? It was no secret at all. The first thing that they did…before anything else, they gave themselves to the Lord. They started at the only place that a person can start….with themselves.
Once you give yourself to the Lord, then the rest is easy. Once you give yourself to the Lord, then all other gifts are anticlimactic. Once you give yourself to the Lord, your mind will be changed and what you used to think of as giving will become stewardship.
Gifts that we might give in the service of the Lord are not really changing ownership when they pass from one human hand to another…they still belong to the Lord. If you belong to God, then so does your stuff. People who belong to God do not belong to themselves…they have been bought with a price. That is a fact, a spiritual reality
The Christians in Macedonia took that spiritual fact and acted on it. New as they were to the faith, they understood what God had given them…and they wanted to give in return. They had received spiritual riches…so they gave themselves one spirit at a time, to the Lord.
They got the order right. And then, though they were living in poverty, they gave beyond their means…they gave sacrificially.
All of which raises the question: have we given ourselves to the Lord? Do our lives say that God owns us? Are we giving our stuff to God but holding ourselves in reserve?
The truth is that God wants you…your stuff can’t make the journey. There is no place for it in His world of imperishable people. If we haven’t done it yet, let’s get it right.
Let us give ourselves to the Lord by starting over again in our commitment and service to the Lord. And let us be faithful…as long as there is time and opportunity…as long as it is day…for the night is coming when no man can work.
Let us give up what we cannot keep, to gain what God will not let us lose.