This past Sunday we picked back up our series, Live Big. In this journey we are talking about how we can live with the abundance God has for us in Christ. And the particular lens we are using to understand that is our finances. The first thing we need to understand if we are going to live big with respect to our finances is how God thinks about them. This and the implications of His thinking are what this message is all about. Thanks for reading and sharing.
The Secret to Abundant Living
Preachers–especially Baptist preachers–have a stereotype when it comes to their preaching. Most notably, when they preach, they only ever talk about two things: Hell and money. Well, today I’m going to play to a stereotype, and we’re not talking about anyone’s eternal destination. Cards on the table out of the gate here: We’re going to talk about money. Specifically, we are going to talk about giving. I’m not really sorry about it either. I mean, it had to happen at some point, right? The Scriptures talk about giving, so we were bound to come across the topic eventually. We’ve talked about it before—although it’s been a little while. We might as well do it today. After all, I told you two weeks ago when we were virtual that we were going to start talking about our finances as part of our new teaching series, Live Big. And if you’re going to talk about giving at all in a sermon series, you might as well put it right at the beginning to get the uncomfortable stuff out of the way right out of the gate.
Have I made enough excuses for myself and today’s sermon to you yet? Are you all riled up for the standard Baptist preacher schpeel about how you need to give more to support the work of the Lord? He’s probably even going to pull back out the plates and pass them multiple times to make up for all the Sundays we haven’t passed them since Covid struck. Why did I even bother coming this morning?!?
Well, as stereotypical as it perhaps is for a Baptist preacher to talk about money, I’m going to try to be anything but stereotypical in how we talk about it this morning. And here are some reasons why. We’re not going to talk about giving today because we need more money. We don’t. Your giving is fantastic. Actually, to be candid with you, since we stopped passing the offering plates every service, and some more of you who are comfortable with it transitioned to online giving, your giving has actually been higher on average than it was before Covid. We’re not going to talk about giving today because I want something from you. We’re not doing it because God needs something from you. We’re not doing it because the church will somehow not survive without you. I don’t need another jet (or a jet) like Creflo Dollar once implored his television audience. We’re talking about giving today because I want something for you. The whole idea behind the series of conversations we’re having in this new teaching series, Live Big, is just what I told you a couple of weeks ago: Jesus offers us a big life. He offers us an abundant life. Living in the kingdom of God is all about abundant living. And giving is one of the biggest secrets to abundant living. In the kingdom of God, living abundantly means giving abundantly.
Now, if you pay any attention to much of anything the world has to say about finances, you could be forgiven for thinking that kind of an idea is just crazy. After all, if I’m going to live abundantly, I need to have all that I can get for myself. And if I am actively giving away my stuff, then how on earth am I supposed to enjoy it in my abundant living? From the perspective of the world, giving abundantly as a means of living abundantly is a wildly counterintuitive idea. It makes zero sense. But we’re talking about living abundantly through the lens of God’s kingdom, and in God’s kingdom sometimes things that don’t make a lot of sense here make perfect sense there. This morning, I want to talk with you about why that’s the case. I want to talk with you about why living abundantly means giving abundantly. And we’re going to do that in three ways. We’re going to do a little bit of background thinking together. Then we’re going to dig into the Scriptures a bit. And then I want to lay out for you some really basic principles on giving that are rooted in that Scripture, that if you’ll keep in mind as you do it, will totally transform your practice and experience of giving.
Let’s start with that background thinking. If you have a copy of the Scriptures with you this morning, find your way right quick to the very first verse of the entire Bible. What’s it say there? “In the beginning God…” what? Created, right? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Now, what does that imply? I don’t want to go too far out on a limb here, but it seems to imply that at some point there were not a heavens and earth, and then God created them.
Now, stay with me here because this is going to get just a bit tricky. Here we go: If you make something for yourself using your resources and abilities, who owns that thing? You do, right? After all, you made it. Now, I know that’s a very western way for me to be thinking, but as a matter of raw economic and relational and vocational and psychological and nearly every other measure, societies that operate under some sort of a system of collective ownership tend to not do as well as those that safeguard the notion of private ownership. That’s all I’m going to say on that this morning. Going any further in that direction will have to be a conversation for another time. The point I’m getting at is this: If you make something, you intuitively think about that thing in terms of ownership. Now, you may transfer ownership of it to another person, say, by selling it, but until that time, you own it.
Well, if at some point in eternity past there wasn’t a creation, and then God made all that we see and don’t, then operating on the very same principle we’ve just been outlining, who’s the real owner of all that we see and don’t? God, right? In other words, everything—including all of the things to which we might otherwise affix the label, “mine”—is owned by whom? Again, God. Now, a little later in the creation story God gives it to us to care for and rule over, but does He ever relinquish His ownership of it? No, He doesn’t.
Think with me just a bit further here: If God owned everything in the beginning, and if He never relinquished His ownership of everything, then who still technically owns everything? God. In other words, all of “our” stuff, is really God’s stuff. And because it’s really God’s stuff, then we should really be using it in the way God would use it. That, of course, raises an important question: What is God’s operating principle when it comes to His stuff? Now, we could do a whole survey of Scripture to get an answer to that question, but let me cut right to the chase with you so we can move on to talk about some other important things. God’s operating principle with His stuff is generosity. God gives, and He gives, and He gives His stuff to the benefit of others, and when He’s done giving, He gives some more. That is, God gives abundantly. If we’re going to get the use of our stuff right—you know, the stuff that is really all God’s stuff, but which He has given abundantly to us so that we can enjoy it to its fullest—we’re going to need to use it after the pattern He’s already set. Living abundantly means giving abundantly.
Come back to your Bible with me and turn way to the other side. Find your way to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian believers. When you get there, find 2 Corinthians 9. Chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians are all about an offering Paul was collecting from the various churches he planted across the Greco-Roman world that was intended to bring some material relief and spiritual encouragement to the believers in and around Jerusalem who were struggling mightily because of a number of different factors, including a local famine. The Corinthian church was a pretty wealthy group, and Paul wanted them to give an offering that reflected their wealth. Rather than simply saying, “Hey, you should give,” though, Paul did some teaching about giving, and held out the Macedonian church, which was an exceptionally poor bunch of people, as an example of the kind of giving he wanted them to practice both with this offering and in their lives generally. Well, after lionizing the Macedonian believers for a little while, and using a little bit of preacher-guilt on the Corinthian believers, Paul begins to wrap up this part of the letter with some general concluding thoughts on giving in 2 Corinthians 9:6. Check this out with me.
“The point is this.” Just as a matter of Bible Reading 101, whenever you see an author say something like, “the point is this,” pay close attention to what comes next because he’s giving you the summary of what he’s been talking about to be sure that you understand it. Paul offers three summary points of everything he’s been telling the Corinthian believers. Here’s the first one: “The point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.”
Now, as a purely practical matter, this should make sense. To borrow from the imagery Paul was using, if you are planting seeds and only plant a few seeds, you are only going to get a small crop in return. If you plant a bunch of seeds, the odds of getting a much larger harvest go up in accordance with the number of seeds you plant. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but those situations aren’t what Paul has in mind. If you invest generously in the kingdom of God, you are going to see a generous return on those investments. That doesn’t mean, as I once heard a preacher say, that God is going to somehow give you a financial return on your investment that is proportional to the offering you make. That’s thinking in worldly terms. We’re talking about the abundant living of the kingdom of God here, not the world. If you are generous in your giving to advance God’s kingdom, you are going to see a generous kingdom return. When you invest—if you do it right—the return on your investment is much larger than what you put into it. Well, thinking in the same sort of terms, living abundantly means giving abundantly.
This kind of giving talk, though—especially coming from a preacher—can quickly start to sound like a guilt trip. Someone listening to it can start to feel like he has to give or else he’s falling short in some way. Not giving a certain amount is going to make you less faithful of a follower of Jesus. In this way, giving can start to feel more like a compulsion than a genuinely spiritual exercise. Paul doesn’t want that. Neither do I. Like I said before, I don’t want something from you this morning; I want something for you. Look at what he says next in v. 7: “Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver.”
I suspect you’ve heard that last part before. God loves a cheerful giver. In other words, you’d better be giving and you’d better be happy about it. But forced cheerfulness isn’t any better for us than compulsory giving. Taking the last part of what Paul says out of the context of the first part here doesn’t do us any good. What Paul wants to see is followers of Jesus cheerfully giving what they have decided in their hearts between them and God to give. In other words, it’s not anybody else’s job to tell you what you should be giving. What you give is something that is between you and God and nobody else. Now, that you’re giving is subject to a bit more outside input (namely, you should be), but your giving something other than what you are comfortable giving—in other words, if your heart isn’t in it—isn’t doing you any good and thus isn’t worth your time. But, the more you are willing to wisely trust God with your finances by giving to advance His kingdom, the more cheerful you will become. Living abundantly means giving abundantly.
Paul finishes this little section off with an encouragement. Getting into financial generosity in pursuit of the big life of the kingdom of God can be a bit of a scary thing. When we’re thinking about giving away our hard-earned money, we’re getting in close to our hearts, and that’s always risky business. Paul wants us to know that God has our backs in this. In fact, it’s even better than that. Look at v. 8: “And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.”
Are you with him here? God wants to see us living abundant lives. Like we established last week: Jesus offers us a big life. But He also knows that it’s a big deal to step out in faith and pursue the kind of kingdom abundance He desires for us. It is such a big deal because it demands that we live in ways that are wildly out of sync with the way the world around us trains us to think and behave. When we are willing to start moving in that direction, He’s going to make sure we have more than enough to do all that He’s leading us to do. Just listen again to the abundant language in that verse. “And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.” When we are willing to pursue the abundant life of the kingdom of God in spite of the challenges such a pursuit will have in this world, our faithful God will go over the top in making sure we are equipped to do it. Living abundantly means giving abundantly, and God wants to make sure we can do both.
Knowing that’s what we need to do, though, is not the same as actually doing it. We can want to do it all we want. But if we don’t have some direction, we’re much more likely to be doing little more than making unhelpful shots in the dark. Occasionally we’ll hit the mark doing that, but not very often. So then, taking what we’ve been talking about in mind, how can we build a spiritual practice of abundant giving into our lives so that we can more fully live the abundant life of the kingdom of God? I’m going to give you six principles that, if you will follow them, will set you well down the road.
The first principle seems so simple that it could go without saying, but this is about framing our thinking, so we need to say it. The first principle of abundant giving is that giving has to be our priority. Now, maybe that seems like it should be perfectly obvious, but I’m not so sure. The idea here is that giving should be our first thought in any situation we are in. Let me rephrase that so it perhaps makes a bit more sense. In every situation we are in, our first instinct should be to find out how we can leverage our available resources for the benefit of the people around us. That sounds different from being told we should give more money away. No matter what our circumstances happen to be, our priority—if we are going to utilize the resources God has given us in a manner consistent with His own priorities for them (you know, since they’re all really His)—must be to use those resources to advance the people around us in the direction of His kingdom. We do that because that’s what God does. Yes, that means that when we get money, we think first about how we can give a portion of it away, but it’s bigger than that. When you develop a new skill, your first thought should be of how you can use that skill to make someone else’s life better. What we are doing in this effort is to reframe our thinking so that abundant generosity becomes the lens through which we see everything. When generosity becomes our lens for seeing the world, we will be far more likely to sow generously. And when we sow generously, what did Paul say we will do? We will reap generously as well. Living abundantly means giving abundantly.
The second principle here is that our giving should be sacrificial. To understand why this is, think for a minute about who our giving is for. Is it for God? Not really. He already owns it. Our giving Him something that already belongs to Him and which He could produce more of with a thought doesn’t benefit Him in any meaningful way. Who is our giving for? For others? Well, yes, in a sense. When we give something useful to someone who did not already have it, we have indeed helped them. God has provided for them through us. That’s good. But He doesn’t need us to accomplish that providing. Who is our giving for? Can I suggest something you may not have considered before: Our giving is for us. Okay, but how is it for us? I mean, if we are giving away something we could have otherwise used, how does that help us? It makes us feel good. It does, but in the grand scheme of things, there are other ways to feel good. Giving frees us from the tyranny of our stuff—you can’t give away something that owns you. That’s a good thing too, but there’s more. Giving deepens our faith and dependence on God which in turn makes our character more reflective of His.
Given all of that, giving that does not put us in a place of greater dependence on God—that is, when we give in ways that don’t leave us at least just a little bit short of what we think we need to get by as comfortably as we’d like—isn’t accomplishing any of that. Giving (you pick the object) that is not sacrificial isn’t growing our faith or making us more like God. It is ultimately rooted in either trying to make ourselves feel better about ourselves, making others more impressed with us, or both. Perhaps there are a few exceptions to this, but not many. Thus, our giving, whatever it may be, needs to be sacrificial. If it’s not, honestly, we might as well not even bother with it. God can still take our gifts and accomplish His work with them, yes, but it won’t be accomplishing in us what we need it to accomplish, and without that, the deeper point is missing. It’s at best a religious exercise. God’s position on religious exercises is clear in the Scriptures: He doesn’t like them. At all. So, if you are going to give, make it a sacrifice. Sacrificial giving is abundant giving, and living abundantly means giving abundantly.
A third principle can help with that. Our giving—especially the financial kind—needs to be on a percentage basis. Giving a set amount is not a bad thing, but if our financial reality changes, that set amount may become either no longer a meaningful sacrifice, or too great a sacrifice given our circumstances. When we practice percentage giving, though, both of these pitfalls can be avoided entirely. We merely set our financial giving at a certain percentage of our income, and it will grow or shrink with whatever our current financial reality happens to be.
As for what this percentage should be, Paul’s already given us the answer to that. “Each person should do as he has decided in his heart.” I’ll bet some of you were waiting for me to tell you to give 10%. I’m not going to do that. I won’t for three reasons. First, for me to tell you to give a certain percentage would seem to violate Paul’s instructions here. Then your giving would be between you and God and me, and that’s not what Paul said. Second, while for some of you 10% may be a meaningful sacrifice, for some of you it isn’t. For some of you, a meaningful sacrifice is well beyond 10%. For some of you, it is less. Your giving needs to be sacrificial, not merely 10%. Third, while the idea of a tithe is mentioned in a few places in the Old Testament, the people of Israel were actually to give several different tithes totaling about a third of their income on an annual basis. The tithe is not a concept picked up in the New Testament at all. Instead, we find the principle of sacrificial giving all over the place. What your percentage is is between you and God. Just be sure it represents a meaningful sacrifice.
This points us to our fourth principle. Our giving should be progressive. Just because something is a meaningful sacrifice at one point in our lives, doesn’t mean it will be that way forever. When we get used to a certain percentage of our income not being there, after a while we don’t feel it any longer. That is, it ceases to be a sacrifice. It’s merely something we do. When we find ourselves growing comfortable with a certain percentage, it is time to prayerfully consider whether it is still a meaningful sacrifice, and if it isn’t, what a more meaningful sacrifice would be. If you’ve been giving 10% all your life because that’s what you were always told to do, it may be time to start giving 11%. Or 12%. Or 15%. Or whatever it is that is going to represent a meaningful sacrifice for you. I knew of a guy once who gave about 30%. Living abundantly means giving abundantly. But just what exactly abundant giving looks like changes over time and so must our giving with it.
Two more principles here. The first echoes something else Paul said. Our giving should be cheerful. Begrudging gifts are spiritually worthless gifts. If you don’t want to let a certain amount of your resources leave your control, then don’t let them leave your control. As we have said more than once this morning, your giving should never be a matter of compulsion whether external or internal. Instead, abundant giving is done with a light and glad heart. We joyfully give away whatever it is knowing that our self-enforced lack will give us the opportunity to depend more fully on God which will allow Him to reveal Himself to us in more personal and powerful ways. We gladly leverage our resources and advantages for the benefit of those around us because doing so will move them in the direction of the kingdom and serve as significant kingdom investments for us that will be returned with interest when the time comes. Living abundantly means giving abundantly, and giving abundantly is always done from a glad heart.
One last principle, and this one is important: Our giving must be intentional. That is, we need to have a plan. This should not be a last-minute, thrown-together plan, but one to which we have given a significant amount of thought. Does this mean there’s something wrong with spontaneous giving? After all, we don’t always know when a great opportunity to give is going to come along. If we’ve got all our funds available for giving tied up in planned giving, how can we help when a moment suddenly comes upon us? Spontaneous giving is great. But people who plan to give, give both more and more generously than folks who simply give when their heart strings are sufficiently tugged. Folks with a plan are giving both on purpose and with a purpose. Because of the inertial pull of our selfish selves, generosity is not something that will happen by accident. No one wakes up one morning to suddenly discover they are generous and enjoying the fruits of such a lifestyle. Living abundantly means giving abundantly and abundant giving always happens on purpose. There is great intentionality behind it.
These six principles may not seem like much, but if you will take the background thinking we did and the Scripture and the principles and seek to start putting them into practice, you will find yourself moving with speed down the path of abundant giving. Make it a priority, make it sacrificial, pick a percentage, make it progressive, put your heart in it, and do it all with a clear plan. Living abundantly means giving abundantly, and this is how you build that into your life. God wants more for you. Jesus offers us a big life. But that more can only come when you place your full trust in Him. Money is a sneaky thief of our trust. These practices will thwart its efforts. They will thwart its efforts and put us in a place of using God’s stuff after the pattern He has already established. The world may not understand, but this is the road to abundance. Living abundantly means giving abundantly. I can’t wait to see with you just how big of a world we can create together.