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How Does God Measure Generosity?, Part 1

From the series Living Generously

What is God looking for from you when it comes to being generous? Join Chip as he explores the answer to that question in this message from his series "Living Generously."

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Message Transcript

So how does God measure generosity?

Well, Jesus has a way of taking what we believe and what we think and how we evaluate and literally turning it upside down. And the way He does that is to bring life and it’s to bring freedom but we just get used to seeing things and evaluating things in ways that are very, very subtle, that lead us down paths that ruin relationships, that hurt people.

In fact, the word “miser” comes from the root word for miserable. Miserly, non-generous people are miserable. And yet there’s something when we think about generosity when we self-evaluate we say, “Oh yeah, I think I’m pretty generous.”

This series is not about money. This series is about generosity and being smart, about living your life in a way that brings about the highest and best results for you and the greatest glory for God.

So, Jesus has a teachable moment with His disciples. There’s a treasury over there, it’s outside the temple, people are coming and dropping large gifts in it. And a woman comes by and drops something very small. And Jesus stops everyone and says, “Wait a second. Don’t miss this moment.”

Luke chapter 21 verses 1 to 4 pick up the story. “As He looked up Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.” And, by the way, I think He was very thankful. I think when He gives people a lot and they’re giving gifts I think it brings great joy to His heart. There’s not a good person and a bad person in this story. There’s a comparison.

“He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.” And so He’s looking at the balance. Some very, very large gifts, two small, copper coins. Then notice what He does.

“I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all the others.” And then He gives the explanation because I don’t know about you but that’s not good math. Right?

A lot of money versus two small, copper coins, they physically gave more but according to Jesus she gave more. And then He tells us why.

“All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth but she, out of her poverty, put in all she had to live on.” Now, the breakthrough concept here, I put it right up front in the notes. This is how God measures generosity. God measures generosity not by the size of the gift but by the size of the sacrifice.

What He was saying was that it cost her more to put in two small, copper coins than it cost them. Why? Because it impacted her lifestyle. She basically had the faith to believe and had a heart to say, “I love You, God.”

By the way, when we give that’s the message. This isn’t a performance. When we give to God it’s an act of love. And this woman said, “I don’t have hardly anything left but I want to give what I have and I believe and I trust that once I’ve given all that I have to live on that the God that I serve is kind and generous and powerful and He’s going to meet my needs.”

See, when Jesus sees sacrifice that impacts our lifestyle what He sees is a heart of love. And that’s why He said she was more generous.

I actually taught this at a conference once. And it was one of those, like, four-day conferences where you give four or five messages and on the very first day of the conference I told people, “I want you to know, even the title, Genius of Generosity, it’s really not about money.”

And you know how you’re in a line at the buffet, at one of those afterwards and I hear these two people talking and they’re kind of leaning, one over to the other and didn’t know I was behind them.

“Wow, this guy says it’s not about money but generosity, you know where this thing is going, right?”

And it was really interesting when I got done with this message at the very end that lady came up to me. She didn’t know I ever heard it. She said, “You know, when you said that this wasn’t about money, I thought, ‘Yeah, right.’” She said, “When you finished this on how God measures generosity,” she goes, “it’s really not about money, is it?” I said, “Ma’am, it’s really not.”

It’s really about heart. It’s about life. It’s about how smart people live who understand who God is and want the highest and best for their life and for others and to honor Him and not waste their life.

See the whole point of generosity – you know this intellectually. God really doesn’t need your money. He owns everything. But steps of generosity are a part of His plan so that intimacy and relationship with Him can increase.

And the only way that intimacy ever happens with God is this mechanism called faith. The conduit of relationship with God is not knowledge. Knowledge puffs up. Love edifies.

The conduit is faith. You can have knowledge and never put it into action. But when I believe what God says to the point that I trust and I act, I respond to light and He gives more light and the relationship and the intimacy…

So one, not all, but one of the primary ways He develops intimacy is by teaching me to be like Him. To trust that God is who He said He is, that His Word is really true, that when I give my money or my time or we’ll see, our reputation, our future, or even my life or the most precious thing that I deem precious to me, when, by faith, I say, “Lord, it’s all Yours and it’s available whenever, however You want,” it cultivates this amazing thing where the love of God gets deposited in you and it overflows into relationships.

I was thinking about this whole area of generosity. It was the, sort of the background for this book several years ago.

And as I was thinking about generosity, I was just sitting at my desk and Christmas is a tough time for pastors on messages, okay? Because have you ever heard this story before? I mean, right, you know like, “Okay, let’s go to church.” Okay let’s see, there’s Maggi, we got shepherds, we’ve got Mary, we got Joseph, we got the manger. I mean, what am I going to say?

And I was thinking about generosity and sometimes I just put my feet up on my desk and had a good cup of coffee and I just sort of mentally thought about, “Lord…”, I don’t know why this question came. “…why did You come to this planet the way You decided to come and why did You introduce us to the very characters…”

The Christmas story is very interesting where you have these probably Persian or Babylonian studiers of the stars who see a star probably eighteen to twenty-four months before the baby was actually born. They see it and they go on a journey.

And then you have these low-life kind of, actually sort of a disenfranchised social group of shepherds. They get in the story. And then you have a teenage girl, Mary, probably fifteen, sixteen years old. And a blue-collar worker who is betrothed to her. Well, they become a big part of the story.

And then pretty soon you have angels involved and I just started thinking about… and I just laid the story out and as I did I thought, “It’s a graduate level. Each step of each person introduced into the story, all the way to Jesus and God the Father is a snapshot of what the Bible teaches about the heart of God and generosity.”

Now normally I would have you get in those Bibles and follow passage to passage with me, but I want you to listen through the story through the lens of generosity. We pick it up where, far beyond money, the Maggi come and that’s what they give.

“On coming to the house, they followed the star for almost two years, and they saw the child with His mother Mary and they bowed down and they worshipped him. Then they opened their treasuries and they presented Him with gifts of gold and incense and of myrrh.”

And so the first people in the story are people that they literally get the least revelation, right? It’s not an angel it’s just a star. They’ve studied the stars, they’ve done some research, they follow it, it lands over Bethlehem, here’s a couple, they know the star is about the King of the Jews, they inquire about the King of the Jews, they see the child, and they give and they give money. It’s great. Lots of good reasons and they’re generous. They want to worship. And it’s an act of worship. Notice it didn’t say they gave. It says they worshipped Him. Like David said, “I will not worship God with anything that costs me nothing.” There’s a sacrifice. There’s a, “We want to honor Him.”

But here’s the catch. When you get generosity just in the financial realm you can give and not be generous. You can give regularly, systematically, the first fruit, and not be generous. I got an interesting email. Someone boldly went online because I asked you to kind of tell me your story. And she wrote, “The last few sermons have been very convicting,”

It says, “But when you talked last week and you said everyone thinks they’re generous, I knew in my heart that I was not a generous person. Oh, my husband and I, we give regularly to the church and when you went through those steps about giving the first and the best and systematically and proportionally, we do all that.

“But I knew at the personal level, in my heart, there still existed the greed of a child looking at a birthday cake always wanting the biggest piece and the best one. This showed up often any time our money was at risk and especially when people showed up at my door and asked me for things.”

It’s kind of like you know the boxes we play in? Generosity, give first, got that done. Then you miss the point.

Generosity is an issue of the heart, always tied to relationships and it’s a sense of, “How do I love people?”  And so the email is pretty long and she goes on and says basically, “Lord, I believe now that You really do own everything. And even my own kind of personal money. And these people that sort of irritate me when they come to the door and want me to give them something and I just want You to know that I want to learn to become generous.”

So she actually prays and says, “Send someone to my door and I want to give to them.” And so of course God answers those prayers pretty quickly. And she was at the door right in the middle of dinner and had a ministry meeting that night, had to be there by seven o’clock, the door knocks, and she comes and here’s someone from Teen Challenge, you know it’s the, it’s a Christian group that does drug rehab.

And she looked at him and her supper is there. Everybody is eating. She’s got to go. All the things that make you want to be what? Non-generous. And she remembered her prayer. She listened to their story. And then the little girl said, “I just want to thank you for listening to us. You know, it’s kind of like we’ve gone door to door and it’s not going real well.”

And she said, “Well actually, you’re an answer to my prayer.” She goes, “Our pastor is talking about generosity and I prayed God would send someone to my door today that I could give to.” And she goes, “I gave to her,” and she goes, “Wow, you’re going to go on the top of our ministry report and…”

And here’s what I want you to get.  The end of the email says, “Joy welled up in my heart. I went back, I had only five minutes to eat my dinner. I ate my dinner in five minutes. Everyone had already eaten theirs. I was going to be a little late for the meeting. I was a little late for the meeting. But my countenance and my heart and my joy, who showed up to that meeting was a different person.”

Do you see the difference between just giving your money and being generous?

Now what I want you to see in the Christmas story is I think God introduces us to the Maggi. They know Him the least and they get the least clear revelation. But they respond to what they know.

But after they respond to that the next group is the shepherds. And you know the story of the shepherds, right? The sky lights up. It’s a chorus. I mean they’re singing. Can you imagine you’re just sort of a regular guy, you’re out on the job, “Hey, Bob, it’s your turn. It’s the night watch.” “Gah, okay.” You know and it’s kind of in the middle of that and then whom! Right? The sky lights up and there’s singing and you’re going, “What’s this about?”

We pick up the story. It says, “When the angels had left them and went into heaven the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go! Leave work? Yeah! Let’s go! Where? To Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So, they hurried off and they found Mary and Joseph and the baby who was lying in the manger.”

And when they had seen Him they didn’t just worship by giving a gift, it says they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child. These shepherds probably didn’t have anything to give. They didn’t have any money to give. These are people that are, like, way below our welfare. I mean they just had subsistence living.

They couldn’t get into good restaurants. They smelled. They had a bath once every one month whether they needed it or not.

And God chose to reveal the child to them and then notice they got a story. Because they went around and they were the first evangelists, were the first people to say, “The Messiah has come and we’ve seen Him.”

And so the Maggi were generous with their money and their hearts were open but they got a star. The shepherds, they get an angelic choir with clear direction. And they hear from the parents, “This is the Messiah,” and they get the privilege of taking what they had and sharing it. For the first time in all the earth the awaited God-Man who would come to save the world shepherds get to give their time. For most of you, not for all, but for most of you your time is more valuable than your money. When we’re talking about generosity please don’t think writing a check, as good and wonderful as that is.  My question would be, “How are you doing in your growth of generosity of giving your time?”

I want you to know money is the training wheels. When you begin to say, “God, I want to give You the best of my time.” I don’t know what that looks like for you. It’s the early morning for me. “I want to give You the best of my time.”

And if you’re like me you’re going to get a call from someone and it shows up on your phone and I have about three people in my life, when their name comes up it’s like, “This is not a short conversation.” It’s never a short conversation. In fact, it’s a conversation where I can ask one or two questions and forty-five minutes later I’m not sure…  if I hung up they wouldn’t know it.

But you know what I’ve realized is? Jesus loves unlovely people. Jesus made time for people that most of us don’t want to make time for. And what I’m really saying, see what generosity is, it breaks your pride.

Generosity says, “This person, where this dysfunction, with this conversation, with this baggage matters to God so they matter to me because He lives inside of me and giving my money is a pretty high control, I can do it on my terms. I give my time, it gets messy.

The shepherds left work. It’s one thing to write a check but to leave work? To not work so much? To give time to family or a friend or to minister or to open your home in a small group? “Oh, but I’d have to leave work early and other people will get ahead while I…”

Yeah. Takes faith, doesn’t it? Do you, are you starting to see? Time is way more valuable.

But it goes beyond that.  The Christmas story then introduces a new character and we get Joseph who is engaged. And as you read this the engagement period in the Jewish culture is the families would be involved and the families would agree this is the right man, this is the right girl and in this culture it would be a semi-arranged marriage.

And then there would be what’s called the betrothal and so you would get engaged and then you’d have up to sometimes a year and the man would then get the house ready and get financially responsible and where they’re going to live.

And the betrothal period was very official. It wasn’t like today when you’re engaged and say, “Hey I’m not sure this is really right. Let’s break the engagement.” The only way to break an engagement then was to have a divorce.

Now listen to Joseph’s story and think of what it would be like, especially guys. Think of this as your girlfriend and you hear this story about her.

Matthew chapter 1 beginning at verse 18 it says, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man he didn’t want to expose her to public disgrace but he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

“But after he considered this, an angel of the Lord,” that phrase often, “angel of the Lord,” is the pre-incarnate Christ. “The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son. You will give Him His name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.’

“And all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call Him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God is with us’).

“When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and he took Mary home to be his wife.”