Two Sermons on Giving: The Heart and Soul of Christianity

Two sermons in this article examine the heart and soul of the New Testament - giving.

Scriptures: Matthew 20:28

Introduction

Many philosophies for coping with life have been introduced. Most are more confusing than they are helpful. Interestingly, those that are clear enough to be understood usually end up focusing full attention on the individual. Consider a few of them:

Greece said, "Be wise, know yourself."
Rome said, "Be strong, discipline yourself."
Epicureanism says, "Be sensuous, enjoy yourself."
Psychology says, "Be confident, assert yourself."
Materialism says, "Be satisfied, please yourself."
Pride says, "Be superior, promote yourself."
Humanism says, "Be capable, believe in yourself."
But Christianity says, "Be a steward, give of yourself."

At the heart of Christianity is giving.

"For God so loved the world, he gave . . ." (John 3:16). We are never more like God than when we give. Jesus said, "I did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life" (Matt. 20:28). The world's thought is get all you can. But to be like Jesus, we must give.

Let's examine several basic principles of New Testament giving.

I. Giving begins with a cause

The disciples of Jesus gave up everything to follow Him. They left behind homes and jobs and security to follow this Nazarene Carpenter. Why would those men give up everything to follow an itinerant preacher? Because they were captured by a cause. The kingdom of God was at hand. The Son of God was in their midst. They wanted to be a part of a life-changing cause.

Such actions did not stop with the first followers of Jesus. The Book of Acts records men and women giving up houses, incomes, possessions, land, time, and talents to follow Christ. These people were persecuted, murdered, and endured suffering. Why would they endure such pain and torture? Because they saw themselves as a part of a great cause.

These early Christians saw giving as the means of Kingdom building. In giving what they could, the expansion of God's kingdom on earth would occur. We can selfishly live for ourselves, meagerly exist and eventually die. Or, we can give ourselves to the greatest cause of reaching people for Christ and therefore find life.

II. Giving entails a sacrifice

Jesus said, "Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28, NIV).1 Since godly giving entails a sacrifice, does he expect anything less from us? Jesus observed a touching event when he watched people give contributions to the Temple. Many people gave considerable amounts. Then came a widow. She gave two coins amounting to less than a cent. Then Jesus used her action as an object lesson for His disciples. Jesus was saying to His disciples that the size of the gift does not matter as much as the size of the sacrifice. The woman could have kept one of the coins and everyone would have understood. But, she gave everything she had. She did not hold anything back.

The heart of Christianity says that you haven't given God anything until you have given God everything. At 30, Florence Nightingale wrote in her diary, "I am thirty years of age, the age at which Christ began his mission. Now no more childish things, no more vain things. Now, Lord, let me think only of Thy will." Years later, near the end of her illustrious, heroic life, she was asked for her life's secret, and she replied, "Well, I can only give one explanation. That is, I have kept nothing back from God."

III. Giving leads to life

In the Holy Land, fresh water comes from a brook and fills the Sea of Galilee. This body of water has always been fruitful in fish. And then the Sea of Galilee takes that water and gives it to the Jordan River. That famous river uses its water to turn the desert into a rose and make it the land of milk and honey.

The Jordan River spills into the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea does not have an outlet. It takes the water in but does not give any away. That produces the saline problem which makes it salty and dead. Nothing lives in the Dead Sea.

This is a universal principle: One has to give to live. "Give, and it will be given to you," Jesus said. Karl Menninger said, "Our capacity to give is one of the best indications of mental health. I have known very few generous people who were mentally ill." The fact remains, abundant living begins with abundant giving.

IV. Giving produces joy

You've heard it said, "Give until it hurts." That's not true. People don't give because it hurts. They give because it feels good. Again Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35, NIV). The happiest people on earth are givers. They have discovered the joy of giving.

Author Thomas Carlyle tells how, when he was a boy, a beggar came to his door. His parents were out and he was alone in the house. On a boyish impulse, he broke into his own savings bank and gave the beggar all that was in it. He said that never before or since did he know such sheer joy in giving.

Conclusion

When we give of ourselves our heart is changed. And the heart of our Christ shows through.


 

Sermon #2: The Soul of Christianity

Scriptures: Mark 10:35-44; John 13:12-15; Matthew 25:31-46

Introduction

The late Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, was visiting Taiwan on one of his overseas trips. During the visit he hiked with a Taiwanese pastor back into one of the mountain villages to meet with some of the national Christians. The roads and trails were wet, and their shoes became muddy. Later, someone asked this Taiwanese pastor what he remembered most about Dawson Trotman. Without hesitation the man replied, "He cleaned my shoes."

How surprised this humble national pastor must have been to arise the next morning and realize that the Christian leader from America had arisen before him and cleaned the mud from his shoes. Such a spirit of servanthood marked Dawson Trotman throughout his Christian life. He died as he lived, giving his life to rescue someone else from drowning.

Service, in the vocabulary of the world, is often synonymous with duty, a necessary chore. And to many in our hypersensitive society the label "servant" is offensive. To them it would mean belonging to a lower class of people. They would think it demeaned their status in life, marked them as "common people." Consequently, it was to be avoided at all costs.

I. Jesus taught service

Not so with Jesus. Jesus Christ, the King of kings, came to serve. For him, service was not a peripheral issue, not just a neon sign splashing half -truth in a window of self-indulgence. When it came to service, he meant business. It was near the end of Jesus' ministry. He and the twelve disciples were on the wandering journey to Jerusalem that would end in a few days with Jesus' Crucifixion. On the roadside, James and John came up to Jesus with a private, surreptitious request (Mark 10:35- 37).

What they wanted was rather clear. They knew many people were saying that Jesus was the Messiah who, like David, would be a great military commander and would drive out Israel's enemies (the Romans), and restore Israel to greatness. They suspected that, at Jerusalem, Jesus would start the revolution, stir up the thousands of pilgrims, and begin the war. They expected Jesus to win, and they wanted to have the two chief positions in His new government after the Romans were driven out. They wanted to be the secretary of state and secretary of defense in Jesus' new cabinet.

Jesus seems to have been disappointed and frustrated with them. "You don't know what you're asking," He said. He was referring to the fact that His close associates likely would die the same kind of death He would face in a few days. But they didn't understand what He meant. Jesus said, "But to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared" (Mark 10:40, NIV).

When the other ten disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were furious, maybe because the brothers had beaten them to it! So the twelve disciples, having been with Jesus three years, near the end in Jerusalem, were arguing over who was the greatest. Jesus called them and spoke (Mark 10:42-44, NIV). "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them - Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all." The disciples must have felt as if they had been slapped in the face. Some must have looked at Jesus as if He were the one who didn't get it. What were James and John thinking?

Without doubt, it was one of Jesus' most radical statements. It was revolutionary because it turned the values and advice of the world completely upside down. The world measures greatness in terms of size, power, and authority; in the Kingdom of God, greatness is measured in terms of service. Though we value power and prestige, God values the heart of a servant.

II. Jesus modeled service

As though His statement about radical serving was not enough, the night before He was crucified Jesus modeled, once again, servanthood. It was Thursday night of Passover Week. Later that night He would be arrested and begin the dizzying round of trials before the Jewish high court, Caiphas, Annas, Herod, and Pilate. Before sundown the next day, He would be dead.

He knew that the time of His death had come. That made the celebration of the Passover Meal with His disciples all the more touching. It would be their last meal together, the last real time to talk with them and teach them. We call this meal on Thursday night the Last Supper.

During the meal, as the twelve disciples lounged on cushions around the low table, Jesus stood up, took off his cloak, and tied up his long gown with a towel. He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet and dry them with the towel. When He came to the impetuous Simon Peter, the disciple at first refused to let Jesus wash his feet. But then he relented. Slowly, around the table Jesus went, until He had washed all their feet. The place must have been silent; the disciples had never seen Jesus do this.

When he finished, He put His cloak back on and sat down at His place. He told them He had set an example that they should do as He had done for them (John 13:12-15).

What did Jesus mean that they should do as He had done? Some groups take His words at face value and periodically have foot-washing services. But these people know that there was much more to Jesus' words than an order simply to mimic His action. And the disciples would have seen clearly what He meant. He had acted out for them a basic truth of Christianity. The job of washing feet is a filthy job. People didn't bathe very often and they wore no shoes, or only sandals. People's feet were dirty and smelly, and it was a demeaning job to have to wash them. In fact, the job was usually dumped on the lowliest servant in the household. Washing feet was a lowly act of service to one's betters. And that is what Jesus was acting out to His disciples. He voluntarily took the lowly position, the position of lowest status and prestige. He put aside His due rank and privilege and became the lowly one. He would complete the lesson the next day when He submitted and died on the cross to redeem humanity. He, the mighty God in human flesh, allowing His opponents to kill Him, in order to buy our forgiveness. He took the lowly place. And as He washed their feet, He drove home the point He had made a few days before on the road to Jerusalem as the disciples argued over who was the greatest: greatness in the kingdom of God is marked by being a servant.

III. Jesus judges service

Jesus taught about service, He modeled service, and He said that the basis of judgment will be whether we have been servants or not. One of the most disturbing passages in the New Testament is Matthew 25:31-46. It is Jesus' description of the final judgment, sometimes called the "Sheep and Goat Judgment." Jesus said that when He returns in glory in the Second Coming, He will sit on His throne and pass judgment on the people of the earth. He will divide like a shepherd separates the sheep for the goats.

This is a disturbing passage theologically because Jesus said that the basis of the judgment will be whether we have been servants, whether we have helped the needy. We don't like to hear this, because we think our actions or works have nothing to do with our salvation. And other parts of Scripture make it clear that they don't. So, what is Jesus saying here? Could it be that those with real faith, those who truly know God and will go to heaven, will see servanthood develop in their lives? Can He be saying that those who believe will be servants? What good is it to say that we believe in Christ but have no ev- idence in our lives to prove it? If we have faith, it will show in how we live. Good works don't save us; they prove that we are saved.

But Jesus' words about judgment disturb us for a more personal reason - that many aren't comfortable being servants. We would rather hear that the evidence of real, saving faith is that we go to a lot of church meetings, because we can do that. Or that one is intellectually convinced that Christianity is true, because we are convinced of it. We don't want to hear about service, because we don't always choose to serve.

After a surgery performed by an American missionary doctor, perspiration ran on the doctor's forehead; his eyes were glassy, his lips almost purple from unrelenting strain. His hands began to tremble with fatigue. "How much would you have gotten for this operation in the States?" the physician was asked. "Quite a lot," said the physician, "it was a complicated procedure."

"How much will you get for this here?" The doctor looked at the poor Korean woman who had come to him with only a coin in her hand. She had asked for help in the name of Christ. Tears welled up in the doctor's eyes, and with choking voice he said, "Well, for this I will get nothing but her gratitude and my Master's smile. But that, sir, is worth more than all the plaudits and money the world can give."

Rick Ezell is the pastor of First Baptist Greer, South Carolina. Rick has earned a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Theology in preaching from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Rick is a consultant, conference leader, communicator, and coach.