Kaleo San Diego Church
Giving and Grace
Last week we looked at the genealogy of God’s people and talked about living in light of history and making decisions with our future generations in mind.
I was reminded in this chapter of a great story of the dining hall at Christ’s College at
This structure is absolutely beautiful. It has massive tables that seem to go on forever and huge windows that cause your eyes to draw up to the ceiling where there are massive wooden beams.
Several years ago the oak beams of the ceiling starting to rot and needed to be replaced because they were about 600 years old and were being eaten by small beetles that made the structure unsound. The problem was that the beams were so massive and they couldn’t find replacements because the beams were one piece. They looked and looked and sent out requests to various countries to see if anyone had this specific kind of oak tree large enough to cut and shape into beams. They came up empty handed.
They didn’t want to replace the beams with laminate wood or break them up into pieces but felt they didn’t have a choice. But one day, while the college was still searching, one of the laborers that kept and maintained the hall was fiddling around in the basement were his tools were and opened up one of the old drawers to find a rolled up parchment. He opened it up and after looking at it ran as fast as he could to head of the project.
The man unrolled the paper and realized they were the architectural sketches and plans for the hall. As he looked at the corner of the drawing he saw a small forest of trees mentioned with instruction. It said that in about 500 years the wood would begin to rot but that a plot of land was purchased by the college back in 1372 and the same oak trees used for the beams were planted with instruction to use these trees to replace the old ones.
The project manager went to the back of the property line and realized that the trees they needed were there all along.
What I find so fascinating about this story is the long view of planning and preparation that went into the work of planting these trees over 500 years prior. Can you imagine planning and working for something that would be needed in 500 years?
And yet our labor and investment today for the future of God’s kingdom will ring through eternity for much more than several oak trees but for future generations of brothers and sisters who benefit from what we’re doing today!
As we’ve watched God work through this man Nehemiah, we’ve seen Him pray a ton, plan with wisdom, call all God’s people to participate in this great work and through their participation, God made progress in accomplishing His purposes. God is the initiator and is the one to whom Nehemiah gives all the credit and yet God’s glory is tied into His people.
One of the reasons why it’s important to move through the Scriptures like we are with Nehemiah is that it forces us to deal with subjects that we normally wouldn’t pick.
Today we’re going to finish off this chapter dealing with participation and progress by continuing to look at how specifically God called His people to participate with acts of generosity in giving to the work of building their city.
As always, we have to ask why it is that God chose to give us this list and preserved it so that we could, 2,500 years after the events and read this account together.
I want to make a request this morning. I want you to listen very carefully to how your heart responds to this subject—how quickly it moves toward defense and justification, how quickly it blame-shifts, and how quickly it makes excuses and gives reasons for why you shouldn’t be convicted by this message.
The subject of money and possessions is discussed over 2,000 times in Scripture. It’s a massive concern for God and His people since God chose to have this subject discussed even more than love, which is spoken of 300 times.
The way God calls us to our view of finances and possessions is something we should be concerned with if God thinks it’s necessary to talk about it so much. Let’s not let our cynical hearts become hardened. Instead, let us learn from God and love Him for all his Word, not just those sections that make us feel more comfortable.
As God is calling us to move deeper into the city of His church by inviting us into community as we share our lives together, we’re going to see that giving ourselves and our resources is not simply a good idea, but how God accomplishes His rebuilding plan through us.
What we have in this list is a group of people who see the need and respond to it by giving generously to this great work. They realize that money and resources aren’t just going to fall from the sky, but that God has given them everything so that they could give to His work.
Without the leaders leading in giving, hospitality, and generosity, we will lack integrity before the people and ultimately before the world.
In chapters 8 and 9, there are sections where Ezra is reading the Law and reminding the people what God had called them to and how faithful He is. After reading, the people begin to weep as their hearts are broken over how they’ve forgotten their God and have ignored His call upon their lives. They’ve forgotten God because they’ve forgotten His word and have tried to be their own Lord and Savior.
The people repent and bind themselves together as the promise in response to God’s word and their repentance. Jump ahead to chapter 10 and we’ll look at a portion of this starting in verse 32:
Nehemiah 10:32-39: "We also take on ourselves the obligation to give yearly a third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: 33 for the showbread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed feasts, the holy things, and the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God. 34 We, the priests, the Levites, and the people, have likewise cast lots for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, according to our fathers' houses, at times appointed, year by year, to burn on the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the Law. 35 We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the LORD; 36 also to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God, the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and of our flocks; 37 and to bring the first of our dough, and our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the wine and the oil, to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and to bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor. 38 And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes. And the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse. 39 For the people of
In chapter 11 we see that God has his people tithe 10% of the people, to move into the city so that there would be a community within its walls. Can you imagine God calling you to tithe your life and move as lots were cast to determine who’s going? One out of every 10 people move away from their comfort and security into the city.
This is a list of how many people were in God’s assembly. These are known members of God’s family who are responsible for the city of
Nehemiah 7:66-73: “The whole assembly together was 42,360, 67 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337. And they had 245 singers, male and female. 68 Their horses were 736, their mules 245, 69 their camels 435, and their donkeys 6,720. 70 Now some of the heads of fathers' houses gave to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 darics of gold, 50 basins, 30 priests' garments and 500 minas of silver. 71 And some of the heads of fathers' houses gave into the treasury of the work 20,000 darics of gold and 2,200 minas of silver. 72 And what the rest of the people gave was 20,000 darics of gold, 2,000 minas of silver, and 67 priests' garments. 73 So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants, and all
We see a couple of things immediately from this text.
First, their giving was sacrificial.
The exiles had just returned and their homes, farms, and businesses had yet to be built. The money they earned through their hard work in Babylon was saved so that they could reestablish themselves in Jerusalem.
They could have easily waited for their finances to stabilize and their lives to get back to normal before they gave. But they didn’t think like that. They knew that in order for their lives to be put back together, what was most important was investing in the work to which God had called them. They believed if they trusted God and honored Him, He would care for all their needs.
Not only was their giving sacrificial, it was an example.
Second, their giving was exemplary.
The fact that the heads of the father’s houses (the patriarchs) and the governor (Nehemiah) are mentioned first is not coincidental.
The fathers had been called to set the example to their family and lead them in radical and sacrificial generosity so that when their children were grown, they would follow in their father’s steps.
Nehemiah wants to set an example of good leadership by giving 20 pounds of gold (about $300,000) generously, plus the bowls, garments and other needs for the priests. He knew that leading God’s people meant more than simply having authority over them, it meant giving as an example for others to follow.
When we give like this in community, it helps others to see what it looks like to love God with everything. It is a testimony of what we believe about God and the priority that He is in all that we do. It expresses gratitude and love, trust and obedience to believe that He will meet our true needs.
Generosity: From Genesis to Jesus
Let me help you to see what God called His people to in the Old Testament as a Law to train His people in generosity.
We start in the beginning, in the book of Genesis, where God makes man and woman to bear his image so that they would show off what He is like to one another and to all creation.
They are to be a reflection and picture of God’s character. One of the many things we thank God for is His incredible graciousness and generosity towards us. He gave man and woman the entire world so that they would look after it, tend it, care for it, and be good stewards of their Father’s good gifts. This is an amazing gift to mankind.
Yet we know that they turn from Him and ruin their relationship with Him by their own sin. Because of their selfish sin, they become more concerned for themselves than they do one another and the God who loved them and made them. Yet through each and every act of rebellion, God continues to pursue His people and shower them with more than they need. He continues to give them what they don’t deserve and even though they’re no longer showing Him off, He doesn’t stop, and everything good they have is still owing to a God who gives to their needy hands and hearts. God has always given far more than we could ever deserve because He is a God of grace.
He continues this over and over again so that His people, though fallen and sinful, can still be a blessing to others. God continues to change His selfish people and when He gives Moses the Law to teach them what He’s like by calling them to obey His Law, He also gives them a system of sacrifice so that as they fail they might have their sins atoned for—so that God could continue to work in and through them even though they blow it.
God lays out the Mosaic Law not only to show them what to do, but also to let them know what they’re to be. They are to be a generous people because they have a generous God. He ties Himself together with them in a covenant and in doing so, He ties His reputation to them. The way people are going to see how generous God is will be through the generosity of His people. They were to declare with their actions what He’s like.
He wanted them to trust Him, to believe that He loved them and therefore they didn’t need to worry like the other nations that don’t know the Living God. Whatever they needed, God provided.
He wants His people to trust that He really is good and really is generous so that they would be generous too.
There were a few tithes God instituted for His people:
Tithe for Priests and Levites: Leviticus 27:30, Numbers 18:21, Hebrews 7:5
He commanded them to give a Priest and Levite tithe, 10% of their livelihood, to serve the work of those who were called to serve Him by leading and serving His people. They were the ones who taught the people and who called the people into a living faith in a living God to demonstrate a living hope before a needy world.
The Festival Tithe: Deuteronomy 14:22-26
God had another tithe called the festival tithe, 10%. This tithe was given so that whenever God’s people were going to throw a party together as His people, they were to give 10% of their livelihood to support the festival.
The Poor Tithe: Deuteronomy 14:28-29
Every three years they were going to institute a tithe where they would give 10% of their livelihood to support the poor among them, those in need.
Gleaning the Fields: Deuteronomy 24:19-22
God also asked them not to glean the edges of their fields. In other words, God wanted them to leave the 5-10% of their harvest on the edges so that those who don’t have anything (Levites, strangers, widows, and orphans) could come and take from this unharvested portion.
Then, whenever there was a time of special giving like the building of a Temple, the building of Jerusalem’s walls as we’re reading in Nehemiah, or a famine, the people were to be always ready and prepared to give according to the need, so that it was met.
So when Nehemiah showed up and called God’s people to give to the work of the ministry so the city could be built and the work supported, God’s people were already taught to be ready for such a thing. It wasn’t a shock to them to give to this work.
Because they worshipped the most giving God, they were called to be the most giving people on the planet so that they might be a blessing to others. This was the way they would show off God’s grace.
The Law wasn’t to be simply a rule, it wasn’t supposed to be the bare minimum, but the starting point at which they learned generosity as they were more and more transformed by faith in their God. The more they worshipped Him, the more they loved Him, the more they wanted to be like Him.
The idea of first-fruits and a free-will offering was just that, it was supposed to be the first and the best and was to flow out of our will being changed into His desires. Our will becomes His will so that His delight to be generous becomes our delight.
For many of us, we look at these basic principles as something to intellectually master. We want to memorize the principles to simply have more information about the Bible. It’s like someone cramming for an exam in history. They’re learning the history to get an “A” but not to be transformed by it.
God gave these Laws so that they would be trained in generosity, not simply as a rule to master so they could pass the test and get a cookie. Legalists learn this way; they learn to get a reward if they pass the test. God’s children were to learn of Him through His Law and in so doing, become doers of it because it was their guide to show them how to be generous.
The Law Fulfilled in Jesus
The Law was not only given to train them in righteousness, it was also a diagnostic to show them if their hearts had strayed from Him.
The Law shows them and us how far we’ve fallen from what God intended and desired for His people. Remember, the Law was given after God made them His people and after the promise had been given. He made them His own, then He gave them the Law so that they’d know what it meant to be like Him.
After Nehemiah and the closing of the last book in the Old Testament, there was silence from God through His prophets and word for 400 years. Their awareness of how far they drifted grew and grew as they waited in eager anticipation for the promised Messiah to come and deliver them from their sin and bring them back together under the gracious reign of their Father.
And as Jesus began His ministry, He proclaimed that all the promises of God coming to turn right again what was wrong was found in Him. The King had arrived to gather His people. And how did Jesus do this? Be becoming the most generous and gracious. He healed the broken. He touched the unclean. He gave grace to the needy. He lifted up the marginalized. He fed the multitudes. He loved the unlovely. He lived in every way how man was supposed to live. He loved God with His whole heart the way man was intended to love Him. And He gave everything away so that the selfish could be freed.
And as Jesus went to the cross in the greatest act of generosity to the undeserving, He was able to cry out upon it, “It is finished.” He declared to the whole of creation that the days of man attempting to earn their way into the presence of God were over. The days of toiling and laboring under the weight of their own sinful slavery were over. The days of shame and guilt over hearts that wander away from God were over. He came that God might give us new hearts so that His law would be written upon them and His Spirit would empower us so that we would want to follow Him because we are already loved by the Father as much as He loves His own son.
When Jesus shows up, He fulfills the offices of prophet to tell us about God, priest to represent us before God and to give the sacrifice of Himself to God, and king to protect and watch over us and rule over the hearts of His people in His kingdom. Jesus fulfills the purpose of the Temple because the beauty of God dwelled in Him and through Him into us, who are now called the Temple of God where His Spirit now dwells. All the ceremonial and moral law is bound up and fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus met all of its requirements without fail so that we could be given His righteousness and forgiven and treated by the Father as though His life was our life.
The Law no longer condemns us and it no longer curses us. Instead the law has become the way we learn what it looks like to be fully human. It is now nothing to fear, but something we learn of so that we might follow Jesus in response to His grace. The Spirit now shows you how Jesus lived up to the law instead of condemning you and convicting you in all the ways you’ve failed to live up. When you fail, you’re failing to live like who you truly are in Jesus. You’re already seen by the Father as keeping the law, there’s no need to use it to get His favor.
This is how Jesus can say, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). This is why John says that “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). This only makes sense and doesn’t crush us if in fact we’re already loved and accepted by Him through His Son. Otherwise His commandments are burdensome.
The New Community under God’s Grace
When God’s grace came in Jesus to fulfill all that the Law demanded, how do you think a Jew responded when they heard that all that they were taught to obey had been fulfilled? Were they relieved? Were they now less willing to give because it wasn’t a condition of salvation? Were they less serious, less intense, less obedient?
Instead, they gave more when you look at Acts 2 and 4! They realized what had been accomplished for them and that they were now free from the curse of the Law. They now could give out of love for a God who proved His love for them by giving His Son.
You see, when the people forgot that the Law was given to show them what God was like and what they were created to be, they started to rebel against it. The Law became a burden to them instead of a blessing and they turned from it because it only showed them that they failed. To drown out their guilt, they ignored it, suppressed their conscience and closed their hearts off from God.
But when God sent His promised Messiah, He came to rescue us from our guilt and shame which only caused us to give up. He came to say to us, “I know you’ve failed. I know you’re ashamed. That’s why I’m here. I’ve come to give you life. I’ve come to succeed where you’ve failed. I’ve come to take your shame. I’ve come to swallow all your guilt so that I free you from the chains of your own failure. I died the death you deserved. I lived the life you were supposed to. Wake up! Wake up! You’re alive!”
Why is money so important to God? Jesus said more about money and possessions than any other single thing. Why? Because when it comes to a man’s real nature, money is of first importance. Money is a man’s index and reflection of his true character—what he loves, what he worships, what he finds his greatest treasure and pleasure in.
All through Scripture there is a direct correlation between a man’s heart and character and his money and possessions. Since God made man to show off His character, it’s no wonder that God wants our hearts and character to match his generous heart and character.
One of the famous stories of Jesus interacting with a man and his possessions was the story of the rich young ruler found in Luke 18. Why did the man go away so grieved? Because Jesus went after his false god to show that he really didn’t love God as much as he thought. He kept all the Law since he was just a kid, but when it came to his possessions, Jesus went after them and called him to give them away, and the man instead decided to leave sad. Why? Because he couldn’t leave his god of money and possessions which he worshipped with his whole heart and therefore missed the truth that God came so that through Him he could have freedom and life.
You see, the thing about money, unlike any other idol, is that our idols of comfort, pleasure, approval, power, control, influence, and security are all idols that can be purchased with money. Money is the arch-god above all these other idols. This is why it is so hard for us to let it go because as we do we realize that our ability to get these others gods has just been seriously diminished. Money can buy us just about any idol our hearts long for. This is why Jesus speaks of them so much, confronts issues of money so frequently, and why he dares to say you can not serve two gods, you will either serve the true God or you will serve money, but you can’t have both.
The commands to give were the basic exercises so that God’s people could graduate into generosity at all times, in all seasons, famine or plenty, with a heart that wants to obey the God they love so very much.
As God’s people struggled to be what God wanted, they learned that they couldn’t perfectly keep it because their hearts were not fully surrendered to God. They were still clinging to the things of this world. They would learn in their failure and depravity why they needed blood to be shed so that atonement could be made and their sin be forgiven by a Holy God.
Apart from God our hearts become so inwardly focused and so sin-sick that they turn from Him. They become selfish, self-serving, and stingy. As they harden they look less and less like Him and more and more like the enemy of God, Satan. Pride, wanting self-glory, self-obsession, bitterness and anger are all characteristics of Satan, not our Father.
Where we are today? We are the Acts 2 and 4 people.
6% of Evangelical Christians in
During the great depression we actually gave more (% per person) than we do now. The richer we become the less generous we become. The more things we have, the less we give away.
Isn’t that odd if you think about it? When we are the most selfish what we need is the One that is the most selfless. God meets our needs by giving to us what we’re unwilling to part with. For us, our money is the thing we treasure most; for God His Son is the One He loved, delighted in, took pleasure in, rejoiced over, and treasured the most. Yet He was willing to give His greatest treasure to meet the needs of our empty hearts.
We think that by keeping our money and possessions we’re maintaining our health and security. But God thinks that by keeping our money and possessions we’re actually making ourselves poor, bankrupt and placing ourselves in the greatest danger.
Our hearts are not meant to run on the fuel of selfishness but on the fuel of generosity. When we’re selfish, we’re not simply moving against God, we’re moving against ourselves. We’re harming ourselves. We’re putting water in our tank and choking out any forward progress. In fact, we’re destroying the engine.
We don’t earn our righteousness through giving. We don’t earn God’s approval through giving. We don’t secure our place in His kingdom by giving. We demonstrate it by giving. Because He’s given us His Son, grace is His lightening and our generosity is His thunder. It’s the only right response to such a generous God.
2 Corinthians 8:7-9: “But as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you--see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
Generosity proves that your love is genuine. It demonstrates outwardly who you truly worship inwardly.
The answer for our selfishness isn’t guilt or emotional manipulation, its grace. This is how Paul deals with every issue at the church in
2 Corinthians 9:6-15: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
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