February 28, 2014
Why do you own anything?
Consider what you own:
- Shirts, dresses, and pants,
- Dress coats, rain coats, and fleeces,
- Exercise shoes, casual shoes, and dress shoes
- Beds, mattresses, and sheets,
- Houses, stoves, and refrigerators,
- Gardens, patios, and pools,
- Cars, bikes, and scooters,
- Computers, cell phones, and watches,
- bank accts, 401k’s, and IRAs
- health insurance, car insurance, and life insurance:
You own a lot.
Indeed, you are rich. If you have:
- Indoor plumbing,
- Water readily available in your house that is fit for drinking
- More than 1 change of clothes,
- Enough money or food all year long to know you won’t go hungry,
- Access to medical care that can actually keep sick children from dying,
then you are richer than the vast majority of humanity in all recorded history, and far, far richer than virtually everyone in Jesus’ day.
You own a lot.
But why do you own anything?
Consider emphasizing two different words in that question:
Why do you own anything? That is: Where did what you own come from? How did you get it? Do you deserve it?
Second: Why do you own anything? That is: For what purpose – to what end – do you own anything? How are you to use what you own?
Those two aspects of the question constitute our outline.
Why Do You Own Anything?
Consider two different answers to this question:
1) The Marxist answer, also given by a number of cultures:
“You personally don’t own anything. All you have and all you earn belongs to the state (or the ethnic group or the village).” This idea is well summarized in a phrase popularized by Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
2) An answer common among American citizens:
“Whatever I own, I deserve. I worked hard for it, or made smart investments to get it (or my parents and ancestors worked hard for it). Sure, I’m willing to pay a reasonable tax rate to fund necessary government services, and I choose to give some away to good causes, including my church. But I deserve what I own. It’s mine.”
Is either of these the biblical view?
Some have argued that the Marxist view is biblical, taking as strongest evidence the behavior of the early church in Acts chapters 2 and 4. Let’s look briefly at these chapters – and chapter 5 as well – to see if the actions of the early church can be described in this way.
Acts 2 and 4 tell us how the church helped the needy among them:
Acts 2:45: They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Acts 4:34-35: There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Chapter 4 goes on to tell us that Barnabas was one who sold a field and gave the entire value to the apostles.
Then in chapter 5 we learn of Ananias and Saphira. This couple also sells a field. They too give a substantial amount to the church to distribute to the poor. But they tell the church a lie, saying that they gave the entire value of the sale.
Peter then speaks to Ananias:
Acts 5:4: “While [the field] remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
Peter’s statement shows that the early church recognized private property. The early church did not force believers to sell all their possessions and turn them over to the collective. The sales and giving were voluntary.
Note that Peter doesn’t upbraid Ananias for withholding part of purchase price. Peter makes clear: Ananias didn’t have to sell the field, and having sold it, he didn’t have to give all the proceeds to the church. Had Ananias sold the field and given half the proceeds – and had they been honest about it – Peter’s response would have been similar to Jesus’ when Zaccheus gave half of his goods to the poor: Great joy! (Luke 19:8-10)
So Ananias and Saphira’s sin was not withholding part of the purchase price. Instead, the sin consisted of:
- The lie itself: Peter says they lied not only to the church but also to the Holy Spirit.
- The motivation for lying: Desiring the praise of men more than the praise of God. Ananias and Saphira wanted the accolades that were accruing to Barnabas and others, while not doing what Barnabas had done.
- Most importantly, they participated in an attack on the witness and purity of the church. Satan had persecuted the church externally, and the church only got stronger. At this point, Ananias effectively cooperates with Satan to attack the church internally – to take the institution that should exist to God’s glory, and make it like any other human institution, as its members strive for self-exaltation and recognition. (For more details, see this sermon).
But for our purposes today, the main point is this: Even in the context of great sharing, Peter affirms that Ananias and Saphira have the right to use the proceeds of the sale as they see fit.
So, no, the Bible does not argue that all you have belongs to the church, must less to the state.
What about the second answer to the question, “Why do you own anything?” – what I called the common American view?
Do you deserve what you have?
Think about what you have. Where did it come from?
All you have came as a gift, as inheritance, or from your work (for our purposes today, let’s consider government transfer payments as gifts, and include investment income under the gains from work).
You clearly did nothing to merit what you received through gifts or inheritance. What about your earnings from work? Do you deserve what you worked for, what you earned through investments?
Next week we’ll look more closely at the biblical view of work. We’ll see that work itself is God-ordained, that we are to work hard, as to the Lord, and that we are not to be lazy.
But no matter how hard we work, the Bible claims that even what we earn is really a gift from God:
Deuteronomy 8:17-18: Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power [NIV “ability”] to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
Listen to that carefully. This common American attitude is explicitly anti-biblical. The passage warns, “Do not say in your heart, ‘my power has gotten me this wealth.’” That is, “Do not say in your heart, ‘I worked hard and earned every penny I own.’” Do not pat yourself on the back and say, “I was smart, I bought Apple in 1985 for less than $2 per share. I deserve all those capital gains.”
Instead: Remember! Remember it is the Lord your God who gives you ability to get wealth. He gives you all your ability: Your education, your health, your intuition, your people skills, your looks, your diligence. Everything you use to make money is a gift from God. Every penny you make is to be used by God to confirm His covenant.
Work itself is gift of God. So all you own is undeserved: whether earned through labor, earned through investments, inherited, or received as a gift.
As Paul says: “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Your ability to absorb oxygen from the air and to transfer it into your red blood cells is a gift of God. Apart from that, you are dead. And then what do you earn?
Indeed, biblically the only thing we earn in this life through our actions, the only thing we merit, is death. Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, and every man and woman since born in the normal way has joined them in that rebellion. Death is the wages of sin, the right, just, and fair remuneration for sin. But God graciously grants us forgiveness in Christ, adoption, inheritance, security, joy – by faith, not by works, not by merit. There is redemption for all who believe, not redemption for all who are smart, wise, and hardworking. We are saved by looking away from ourselves, by looking away from our merit, and looking solely to Christ. So Paul writes:
What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Why do you own anything?
- The Marxist view is unbiblical.
- And the common American view is unbiblical.
All you have is a gift from God – even what you earned as wages, or from your business. All is undeserved. He gives us the ability to work, to serve.
Why Do You Own Anything?
For what purpose – if any – do you own anything? How are you to use what you own?
God has given you the gift of your material resources for a purpose:
- The same purpose for which He does everything,
- The same purpose for which He created the world,
- The same purpose for which He sent Jesus into the world, to the cross,
- The same purpose for which He forgives you.
God has given you all you own – for the glory of His Name. All you have is a grant from God – to be used for His glory.
There are hundreds of text we could consider to substantiate this point. But let’s look at Romans 11:35-36.
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
In verse 35, the Apostle Paul quotes Job 41:11. God is speaking to Job:
Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.
This verse undercuts the foundation of most manmade religion. All of paganism – and, indeed, much unbiblical Christianity – is based on our giving something to God, putting Him in our debt. Then we draw down that debt when we need help.
We’re all tempted to think this way: “I have resources, time, energy, and abilities. If I use these in ways God wants, He then will have to pay me back. He’ll do what I want Him to do.”
Isn’t that way many, many people think? Haven’t you been tempted to think that way?
- “If I tithe . . .
- “If I attend church services . . .
- “If I pray regularly . . .
- “If I read the Bible daily . . .
- “If I fast . . .
- “If I do good deeds for others . . .
God will be in my debt, and then He’ll be obligated to give me what I want.”
But that’s ridiculous. That’s fundamentally pagan thinking.
Scripture tells us: All things are from Him. He already owns everything. Whatever goods, abilities, or skills you have are from Him. Anything you give to God belonged to Him before you gave it!
Imagine that 8-year-old Megan went to her daddy and asked, “May I have $10?”
He replies, “What will you use it for?”
She says, “I want to buy you a birthday present!”
So he gives her $10, and she buys him a lovely purple tie with pink polka dots that says “It’s My Birthday!” on it.
He opens the present and exclaims, “Oh! A tie! How lovely!”
Is he better off because he received the gift? He surely appreciates the thought, the desire to give. But you’d be hard-pressed to argue that he gained through that transaction. And receiving a gift for which he provided the money surely doesn’t put him in Megan’s debt.
That’s true of all we give to God- whether time or money or energy. All things are from Him. “Whatever is under the whole heaven” is His! So whatever you give to Him was His already.
In Romans 11, after Paul says “all things are from Him,” he goes on to say: “All things are through Him.” That is: He is the means by which all things are accomplished. Just as we said, even the work we do, we accomplish by His grace.
Then, third, Paul answers our question. He tells us the purpose of all that we have: “To Him are all things! So to Him be the glory forever!”
All creation – and thus all you are and have – exists to display His glory, to show what He is like. So He gives and gives and gives so that He might share His bounteous goodness with us, and so that we, in turn, might display to others Who He is.
That is true of all things, so that is true of all things that you own.
All you own is from Him, through Him, and to Him. All you own is a grant from God, which you are to use for His glory.
You deserve nothing; rather, You deserve condemnation. But instead, if you are in Christ, God has granted you life – and more than life: He has granted you material goods, He has granted you time, He has granted you energy. And all this grant is for the purpose of glorifying His Name.
Recognizing this truth leads to a profound change in attitude toward “your” possessions.
In the early nineties I was conducting an economic research project in Kenya and Tanzania. I received a grant of $250,000 from USAID to assist with project costs. I had to account for how I spent each dollar. Now, I had flexibility; I could move the budget among line items as needs arose, as the project turned out differently than I had planned. But I had to justify each expenditure by how it fulfilled the goals of the research project. And if I had reported that I spent $3000 for a party for my employees at the most expensive Nairobi hotel, the accountants at USAID would have said, “That’s not allowable. You can’t spend the grant that way. That violates the purpose of the grant!”
Just so, all you have is not yours to use however you decide to use it. All you have is a grant from God to be used for His glory.
So how does that change your mindset?
Think about what you own:
- My house is a grant from God to be used for His glory.
- My car is a grant from God to be used for His glory.
- My computer is a grant from God to be used for His glory.
- My job is a grant from God to be used for His glory.
- My health is a grant from God to be used for His glory.
- My weekend is a grant from God to be used for His glory.
- My vacation is a grant from God to be used for His glory.
- My savings accounts, my 401k’s, my college savings are grants from God to be used for His glory.
- My income and my assets are grants from God to be used for His glory.
Is your reaction: “God can’t take all that from me! What’s left for me?”
That’s a natural reaction. I feel that in myself.
And there’s a word for that reaction: Sin.
Why? Why is that reaction sinful?
Consider: What attitude underlies that reaction?
When we react that way, our attitude is: “If it’s for God’s glory, it must not be for my joy! I don’t mind giving some to God – but I need to reserve some for myself to be sure I get what I need!”
Is that the attitude of someone whose identity, security, and joy are in God?
Is that the attitude of someone who is content with God?
Indeed, what underlies that attitude?
This thought underlies the attitude: “I know better than God what is in my own best interest. He won’t really look out for me. He doesn’t really have my best interests at heart. I’ve got to look out for myself.”
And that was Eve’s attitude when she chose to eat the forbidden fruit.
My friends: God loves you with an everlasting love. He gives you the greatest joy imaginable. As Paul says in Romans 8:32:
He who did not spare His Son but gave Him up for us all – how will He not along with Him freely give us all things?”
You see? Putting Jesus on the cross was the hardest gift of all for God to give. He did that – for you! Having done that: Won’t He give you what is much, much easier?
Think of it this way: Those of you who have loving parents, think of what they’ve done for you.
- They stayed up long hours at night when you were an infant.
- They stayed up long hours at night when you were a teen.
- They cooked and cleaned for you.
- They counseled and taught you.
- They drove you to practices and plays.
- They prayed for you and played with you.
- They cried with you and comforted you.
- They taught you to drive and drove you to excel.
Now: Your dad drops you off at the airport. You say goodbye, and go to check in. You get to the counter and the agent says, “Sorry, Your flight is canceled. We can’t get you out until tomorrow morning.”
Do you then think: “Oh, no! I can’t call dad back. He just drove me to the airport! He won’t come back to pick me up!”
Could you really think that? After all he’s done that’s so much harder – he won’t come and pick you up?
That’s nonsense. He’s done what is hard. He’ll do this little thing.
Just so with God. After giving us Jesus – after sending Him to the cross – won’t He provide whatever we need for our good and His glory? That is: Won’t He provide whatever we need
- to sustain us through trials,
- to conform us to the likeness of His Son,
- and to bring us safely to His heavenly kingdom?
You are rich. And all you own is from God. All you own is to God, to be used for His glory.
There’s much to explore in weeks ahead concerning how to live this out: What should be our attitude towards work? How do we live out this truth through our budgeting and spending? How do we use all we have for God’s glory? We’ll consider entertainment, saving, giving, and borrowing.
But for now: Think of what you own or have: Material goods. Skills and abilities. Interests. Blocks of time. Pray to God, acknowledging that these are His. And tell Him you want Him to use it for His glory – whatever that may mean. Pray, “We offer our bodies, ourselves, all we have as sacrifices for Your glory.”
May He bring that about – for our great joy.
February 28, 2014
When you hear the word “generous” what comes to mind?
In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 and 9:10-15, “generous” and “generosity” appear three times. What did the Apostle Paul mean by those terms?
Suppose you are returning to Charlotte by air, and to your surprise are upgraded to first class. You sit next to a well-dressed man, and strike up a conversation. Eventually you share your story of what God has done in your life; you share Jesus’ story, the Gospel; you tell him of your growing in Christ while at DGCC.
Your seatmate is cordial, and asks good questions. But he makes clear that he is not interested in following Jesus. But after the announcement that you’ll be on the ground in fifteen minutes, he says, “I’ve enjoyed our conversation. I admire you for what you’ve said. I think churches play an important role in our community, and yours sounds like a good one. Would you please accept this check made out to your church for $100,000?”
Would that be generous?
One dictionary defines “generous” as “showing a readiness to give more of something than is strictly necessary or expected.” On that definition, your seatmate’s action is certainly generous.
But as you know, the New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek word translated “generous” in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 would not apply to that act.
Paul is talking about a different form of generosity – a form so different from the normal meaning of the English word that the word “generous” can be misleading. Seeing this distinction is key for understanding the inner attitude Scripture commends toward others. That is: What should be going on inside us as we encounter people who have needs?
Background of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9
When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, the church in Jerusalem was hurting. They were persecuted both by the religious leaders and by their families – often being disowned and disinherited once they came to faith in Jesus. Furthermore, the entirety of Judea had suffered a famine in recent years, and in the aftermath there was still considerable poverty. So in general, the new, Gentile believers scattered around the Roman Empire were better off financially than believers in Jerusalem.
So Paul arranges for a collection from the churches in Greece, Macedonia, and Galatia (now central Turkey) to the church in Jerusalem. He refers to this collection in a number of his letters:
- In Galatians 2, Peter, John, and James (Jesus’ half brother) ask Paul and Barnabas, as ministers to the Gentiles, to remember the poor in Jerusalem. Paul says that was “the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).
- In 1 Corinthians 16 he instructs the church to set aside money for this collection on the first day of every week. Evidently the church had made an encouraging beginning in raising funds, but then not much happened.
- Here in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 he encourages them to complete this grace that they have begun.
- In Romans 15, he writes that the collection is now complete, and he will be taking it to Jerusalem.
What Does “Generous” Mean
We’ve seen the normal definition of the English word “generous.” But we know that Paul does not mean “showing a readiness to give more of something than is strictly necessary or expected” in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. We see this by looking at his first letter to the same church:
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3)
To give away all I have certainly would be generous in the English sense of the word. That would be showing readiness to give more than is expected. But if that generous act is done apart from love, Paul says it is of no value.
That should prompt our curiosity about what Paul means by “generous” in this passage. So let’s briefly turn our attention to the Greek word he uses.
The word is used nine times in the New Testament, and three of those occurrences are in today’s text. The lexicon of New Testament Greek widely regarded as most authoritative defines this word generally as “personal integrity expressed in word or action ([as in] our colloq[uial expression] ‘what you see is what you get’) simplicity, sincerity, uprightness, frankness. Then when referring directly to today’s passage, the lexicon says the word concerns
“simple goodness, which gives itself without reserve, ‘without strings attached’, ‘without hidden agendas’ . . . ingenuousness” (Danker and Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, University of Chicago Press, 2001).
That doesn’t much sound like giving a $100,000 check.
The lexicon acknowledges that some want to use the English word “generosity” for the meaning of the word in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, but that usage “is in dispute, and it is probable that [the meaning] sincere concern, simple goodness is sufficient for all these pass[ages].”
So we have a word with a disputed meaning.
These different understandings of the meaning of the word come out in the translation of Romans 12:8. Compare the ESV and the NET (including the beginning of the sentence from verse 6):
ESV: Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: . . 8 the one who contributes, in generosity.
NET: And we have different gifts according to the grace given to us. . . 8 if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity.
The two translations sound very different to our English ears – it sounds as if there is no overlap in the command. The ESV seems to say, “If by God’s grace you have the gift of giving, give a lot!” The NET, however, seems to say, “If by God’s grace you have the gift of giving, give out of genuine concern, with no ulterior motive.”
Now, Paul may intend to make both of these statements: “Give a lot, and give it out of sincere concern.” But he does not mean only “give a lot.”
So as we read “generous” and “generosity” in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, we must broaden the meaning of the English word. We need to examine the context closely, seeing what information that gives us, and consider that the word may mean “sincere concern.”
In examining the context, we’ll particularly focus on where Paul says generosity comes from, and what, according to Paul, it leads to.
Where Does This “Generosity” Come From?
The chapter begins in this way:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:1)
Notice first that this generosity is a free gift of God. It is a grace of God. It is not earned. It is not self-generated. It is not the result of an emotional appeal, or a leader’s manipulation. Nor is it the result of someone begging for money. It is a gift of grace.
Now verse 2:
for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
The Macedonians gave out of joy. They did not give out of an abundance of material goods they had owned for a long time (as in the airplane example). Nor did they give the excess out of a short term windfall. Quite the contrary. They are afflicted. They live in extreme poverty. But because they have joy, they gave. Out of the overflow of their joy, they gave.
So we begin to see the link between this passage and the earlier sermons in this series: We can have a biblical attitude towards possessions if and only if we find our identity, security, and joy in God.
Verses 3 to 5 tell us more about this joy:
For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord,begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints –and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
Verse 3 says that they did give generously in the English sense – given their poverty, they gave much more than Paul expected. But then the Apostle goes on to explain more about the joy they had that overflowed in this gift.
Look at verse 5 first: This monetary giving results from them first giving themselves (emphatic in the Greek) to the Lord. That is, their joy is joy in God. Their giving is first and foremost a giving of themselves to God. Their contribution to the saints in Jerusalem is an overflow of that joy. They have such joy in God – as His adopted children, as His heirs, as those protected and guarded by Him – that out of the overflow of that joy they give.
But Paul’s statement is even stronger. Note in verse 4 that they have such joy in God they beg to give. Paul didn’t beg them to give. Rather, they begged Paul for the “favor” – literally, the “grace” – of contributing to this effort.
Continuing in verse 4: “begging us earnestly for the favor/grace of taking part.” “Taking part” is a loose rendering of a Greek word many of you know: “Koinonia.” Often translated “fellowship,” it means “partnership in a common purpose.”
So the Macedonians are saying something like this:
“Please Paul – don’t exclude us from this contribution just because we are poor. God has changed us! We have full joy in Him. We know how to be content when we are lacking material goods. We want to live out the partnership in the Gospel we have with our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. We want to display the gracious character of God that we have as His children. There is nothing we would rather do with this money. This is to our joy– so don’t leave us out!”
This type of generosity is a grace of God, a gift of God, that comes from the overflow of joy in God.
So, working from this passage and 1 Corinthians 13, John Piper defines Christian love as “the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.”
What Does This “Generosity” Lead to?
2 Corinthians 9:11-12 helps us define this type of generosity by showing us what it leads to. Let’s begin in verse 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.You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.
First, note that this generosity leads to thanksgiving to God. Why “to God” rather than “to you Corinthians”? Because those in Jerusalem know that the generosity is itself a grace of God, a gift of God! They know that joy in God prompted the giving. They know that those giving the support first gave themselves to God.
All true Christian giving results in thanksgiving primarily to God. If our giving results in thanksgiving primarily to us, that’s a problem. We’re not handling our giving correctly in that case.
Verse 13 tells us more about what this generosity leads to (we’ll quote the NET translation here):
Through the evidence of this service they will glorify God because of your obedience to your confession in the gospel of Christ and the generosity of your sharing with them and with everyone.
So, second, this generosity leads to those in Jerusalem to glorifying God. They praise Him. Why? By this generosity, God gives proof that the Corinthians are genuinely in Christ, are genuinely transformed by the Gospel. Through the “generosity of your sharing” they see evidence that these Gentiles are partners in the common purpose of the Kingdom of God. Their sincere concern as partners in the Gospel proves that God is at work among them, thereby showing that the Gentiles are joint heirs with their Jewish brethren, one family, with one common purpose. This leads those in Jerusalem to praise the God of the Gospel – the God who breaks down the “dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).
We see the third result of this generosity in verse 14 (returning now to the English Standard Version):
while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.
This generosity leads to love for those giving! Prayers on their behalf! And thus a deeper partnership in the advance of the Gospel among their own people, as God’s church is united that much more across cultural differences.
So, yes, Paul is saying the Corinthians will benefit from giving. But the benefit is not a health, wealth, and prosperity gospel promise, “Give $1,000, and God will make sure that you receive $10,000.” Rather, they will receive love. They will receive prayers. They will deepen their fellowship, their partnership with the wider Church of Jesus Christ.
So now let’s step back and consider what we have seen:
- This type of generosity comes from God; it is a gift.
- This type of generosity is the overflow of joy in God.
- This type of generosity leads to thanksgiving to God.
- This type of generosity leads to praise of God.
- This type of generosity results in love and prayers for those giving, and unity in the Gospel across the wider Church.
Note how all of this is God-centered, Gospel-centered. This generosity is prompted by God, and redounds to His glory and to the advance of His Gospel purposes. Man is not the center – either in receiving praise as the giver or in receiving support as the recipient.
Furthermore, note that money is secondary to all that is going on. Money is the vehicle used to display the overflow of joy in God. And to those receiving, money meets their material needs, but much more importantly unites them in heart in Christ with those giving.
- Prior to Paul preaching the Gospel in Corinth and Macedonia, these Gentiles gave not a whit about the Jews in Jerusalem. Now by grace of God, they care. Because of their joy in God, they have sincere concern. They beg for the grace of giving.
- Prior to Pentecost, the Jews in Jerusalem looked down on all those unclean Gentiles. They wouldn’t eat with them. They wouldn’t even enter their houses. Now, they long for them, they pray for them, they thank God for them, they praise the God who has welcomed into His family these, their former enemies.
That’s true, biblical generosity. It comes from God. It results in thanks and praise to God. It displays and deepens the impact of the Gospel.
How Then Can We Be “Generous”?
We want to be “generous” in this sense. We don’t want to be like those that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 13:3, who give away all they have to no gain. We want to be like these Macedonian believers. We want to obey Paul’s injunctions to the believers in Corinth.
How do we do that?
Our inner attitudes are key: Our inner attitude toward God, and our inner attitude toward persons in need.
If we are to be truly generous,
- we can’t give primarily to build up an institution.
- We certainly can’t give to get recognition for ourselves, or to get influence for ourselves, or expecting more money for ourselves through giving.
- We can’t give primarily out of gratefulness to God.
- We can’t even give in order to accomplish some great work for God.
Instead, Paul tells us our main motive must be joy in God. Our genuine generosity, our sincere concern, must overflow from a deep joy in the One who saved as, who adopted us.
So if we are to be generous, we must seek this grace from Him. We must cultivate this joy in God daily.
We do this in part by meditating daily on the Gospel itself:
God created you, He created all of humanity to glorify Him by enjoying Him forever. He provided for our every need. Yet all of us have turned our backs on Him, have rejected Him, finding joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction elsewhere. We have arrogantly called into question His goodness, His love, His provision, His power, even His existence. Having rejected the very purpose of our creation, we deserve His rejection of us; we deserve to be cut off from the source of every good and perfect gift. And yet in His mercy and grace, God sent His Son into the world as Man to live the life each of us should have lived: To love Him with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength every minute of every day, to love each person He encountered as He loved Himself. Just as all of us reject God the Father, the authorities of His day rejected Him, and put Him to death, nailing Him to a cross. But God, through that evil act, placed on Him the iniquity of all who would trust in Him; Jesus took on Himself the punishment, the rejection, that you and I deserve. And on the third day, God raised Him from the dead, displaying that the penalty paid was more than sufficient. And He now calls all men everywhere to repent, to come to a restored relationship with Him by confessing their sin and believing and Jesus is their Savior, their Lord – indeed, the greatest treasure imaginable.
Remind yourself of these truths every morning, every afternoon, every evening. You are in Christ by grace! You are reconciled to the Father by His demonstrated love! You are being conformed to the image of Christ because of Jesus’ sacrifice.
Thus, cultivate joy in God through meditating on the Gospel, that you may be truly generous.
Furthermore, meditate on what the Gospel says about those in need.
- If those in need are not believers in Jesus: We are to love them as we love ourselves. And as we help with their physical needs, we may well have the opportunity to speak to their yet greater spiritual needs.
- If those in need are believers in Jesus: We can expect the results we’ve seen from 2 Corinthians 9: Thanks to God, praise of God, the progress of the Gospel, and love and prayers for ourselves.
So beg God that you may have such sincere concern in your heart. Beg God for the privilege of giving time, money, and your very self to those in need.
By God’s grace you can be truly generous, biblically generous. May He grant us that grace more and more.
But know: He has already granted us that grace in part.
- Who has ministered the Gospel to you?
- Who has counseled you, comforted you, and even upbraided you when necessary?
- Who has brought you meals?
- Who has cared for or taught your children?
- Who has honored God through serving this church in the background, in roles which are often unseen?
- Who has smiled at you when you were down and depressed and hurting?
- Who has prayed for you ?
- And, yes, who has supplied for your material needs when you experienced loss or poverty?
All these are expressions of sincere concern.
All these are expressions of this type of generosity.
All these are given by God, and the result of the overflow of joy in God.
So praise God, thank Him, and express your love and prayers for one another – even using the words of 2 Corinthians 9:14 “I love you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.”
Paul closes 2 Corinthians 9 by saying, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
- He is the ultimate giver.
- He is the one truly showing sincere concern.
- He is the source of all biblical generosity.
So, may we express love and prayers for one another – and may all praise, glory, and honor be unto Him.
February 14, 2014
Are you content?
Are you content with God?
- The psalmist tells us, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10).
- Moses told the Israelites, “[God] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna . . . that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
- Paul prayed that we would be strengthened so that we can know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:14-19).
- Jesus said that He and He alone is the bread of life – if we come to Him, we will never hunger; if we believe in Him, we will never thirst (John 6:35).
- Jesus said that knowing the Father, knowing Him is eternal life (John 17:3).
If all these Scriptures are true – and if you believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord – you should be content. If Jesus is the bread of life, and if you have Him, you shouldn’t hunger for anything else – even if you are hurt by others, or lose your job, or are in danger.
So: Are you content with God?
In fact, we often are not content. What leads to this lack of contentment?
In our series Where Do You Find Identity, Security, and Joy? A Scriptural Understanding of Money, Giving, and Material Possessions, we have seen that those in Christ are adopted, beloved children, indeed heirs of God. As God’s children, those in Christ are secure, because our Father will never leave us or forsake us. Furthermore, He promises us eternal joy, and begins that eternal joy now, in this life, as He fulfills His purposes through us, and as we delight in who He is.
Our lack of contentment arises because we forgot this identity, forget this security, forget this joy that should be ours.
Finding Contentment in God through Identity, Security, and Joy
- If God gives us identity, telling us who we are, who we were made to be -
- If God gives us security, guiding us and guarding us through all dangers and sorrows -
- If God gives us joy as we see Him for Who He is and as we know Him better and better –
Then we should be satisfied in Him. We should have contentment in Him. As Jeremiah 31:14 says, “My people shall be satisfied with my goodness.”
When should we be satisfied? When should we be content?
Always, in every circumstance, as Paul tells us in Philippians 4:10-13. The Apostle recently has received financial support from this church. He writes:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. ” The Greek word Paul uses for “content” has come into English as an economic term, “autarky.” A country that produces everything it consumes, and thus does not engage in foreign trade, is said to be in a state of autarky. That country has no needs that must be met by others. It is self-sufficient.
But Paul is not saying, “I am self-sufficient. Because of my skill, because of my abilities, I can meet all my needs, regardless of whether or not you send me support.”
Rather, He says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Paul is not self-sufficient. He is God-sufficient.
Whether He has little or much, in every circumstance, Paul is content. Why? Because if He has God, He has all that He needs
Note that Paul emphasizes His contentment both when He has little and when He has much. For both lead to temptations:
- The temptation to murmur and be dissatisfied when we lack material goods.
- The temptation to have contentment in possessions when we have an abundance.
Indeed, in 1 Timothy 6 Paul warns us against the love of money, whether that love is aspirational (“I long to have more!”) or is delighting in what I have now (“This money gives me such joy!”). In contrast, the Apostle says, “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content“ (1 Timothy 6:8). That is, if we have enough food to keep us going and covering to protect us from the elements, that should be enough. We should not lack contentment because of what we don’t have. We have Jesus. We have the Father. That’s the secret of contentment.
Similarly, the author of the book of Hebrews writes, “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Again, the author tells us not to be self-sufficient, but God-sufficient. If I have God, and if He will never abandon me, I have all that I need. I can be satisfied. I can be content.
2 Corinthians 9 brings out the same idea:
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 (2 Corinthians 9:8).
The Greek word here translated “sufficiency” is the same word mentioned above, the word we get “autarky” from. The NIV translates it here, “having all that you need.” That is, we can be content because at all times God gives us all that we need to accomplish His good work. He gives us whatever inputs we need to produce His desired outputs. We may discern a lack – and we should pray for what we think we need to fulfill God’s work. But His provision is perfect. And if, after prayer, we still lack what we think we need – we don’t really need it. We can step forward, content that He has provided all that we truly need.
Thus we can have the attitude of the psalmist, “Earth has nothing I desire besides You” (Psalm 73:25), because if we have Him, we have a sufficiency. We can be content.
So the Puritan pastor Jeremiah Burroughs writes,
Have I health from God? I must have the God of my health to be my portion, or else I am not satisfied. It is not life, but the God of my life; it is not riches, but the God of those riches, that I must have, the God of my preservation, as well as my preservation. (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Chapter 2)
That’s contentment: “My people shall be satisfied with My goodness.” If we have Him, we have all that we need. If we have Him, we have all that we should desire.
Is It Wrong Then to Desire the Things of This World?
Many philosophers over the centuries have argued that it is wrong to desire the things of this world. Someone once asked the Greek philosopher Socrates who was the wealthiest man. His reply: “He who is content with the least – for self-sufficiency is nature’s wealth.” (Socrates uses here the same Greek word we’ve been considering.)
Epictetus, who lived shortly after the time of Christ (50 to 138AD), wrote, “Destroy desire completely.” And Epictetus, though not a Christian, unfortunately influenced later Christian thinking. His message is: Don’t desire the things of this world at all.
Does the Bible teach the same?
Coveting vs Desire
Consider the 10 Commandments. We are commanded not to steal; we are commanded not to covet. Does that mean that we are to stifle all desire?
No. As God’s child, God has given you Himself. That never changes. At this moment, at every moment, He gives you all you need to fulfill His purposes. So you don’t need to steal to obtain what you need.
Thus, when soldiers come to John the Baptist, asking what they should do now that they have repented, he replies, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14). God has provided them with wages. So they are to be content. Be satisfied. They are not to think they need to take what belongs to another in order to be happy.
And this holds for the future as well as for the present. The 8th Commandment, “Do not steal,” focuses on the present. The 10th Commandment, “Do not covet what belongs to your neighbor,” focuses on the future. If you are in Christ, you are God’s child. He will give you all you need in the future to fulfill His purposes. He will never abandon you. So don’t look at what another person has and think, “I should have that instead of him. I deserve that instead of him. If only I had what he had, I would be happy. If only I had what he has, I could do great things for God.” Instead, rejoice wwith those who rejoice! Rejoice that God has been good to them, confident that the same God is good to you – even in your lack. Confident that the same God can and will work through you for His glory, whatever you might think you lack.
So we are never to lose our joy because someone else has joy. That’s a terrible sin. We are never to hold our own joy hostage to our receiving some good, or some relationship.
But this is very different from saying, “Destroy Desire completely.”
How can we have good, biblical desires, and yet not covet?
Contentment and Holy Dissatisfaction
Biblical Contentment is consistent with strong desire on our part. Consider again the commandments, “Do not steal,” and “Do not covet.” Neither commandment tells us, “Never desire what your neighbor has. ” Rather, if what your neighbor has is good for you and is to God’s glory, and if you can obtain it in a God-honoring way, work for it! Earn it! That’s one of the purposes of work. Be content today in what you have, and strive to earn that good tomorrow. When tomorrow comes:
- if you’ve earned it and obtained the object of your desire, thank God.
- If you haven’t been able to earn it, still be content in the present, and consider whether you should continue to work for it.
2 Corinthians 12 gives us an example of such a desire from the life of the Apostle Paul. Verse 7 speaks of a “thorn in the flesh” that Paul had – evidently some disease. He writes:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. [That is, he desired to be healed. And there is nothing wrong with that desire. But God’s answer is, “No.”] But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
Prior to Paul’s prayer in verse 8, did he know that God’s grace was sufficient? Surely He did. But he did not know he would have to live out that truth in the case of this disease. His desire for healing was right. But when God said, “No, I will not heal you – I have better plans,” Paul was content.
Just so with us. When we are weak, when we seem ineffective, when we are lacking, our desires for change are good. We desire change so that we can be more effective for God’s glory. But God in His sovereign wisdom may use that very weakness, that very ineffectiveness for His purposes. If so, we can be content with being God’s child. We have Him. We have His power. That is enough. We can be content.
Thus, being content is consistent with having a holy dissatisfaction:
- I can have a holy dissatisfaction that I don’t know Him better, and yet be content in my personal relationship w Him (consider Paul in Philippians 3)
- I can have a holy dissatisfaction that my neighbors, friends, family, and all the nations don’t know Him, and strive to bring that about, yet be joyful and content in Him
- I can have a holy dissatisfaction in thinking marriage would be for my good and God’s glory, and yet remain content in Him while single
- I can have a holy dissatisfaction in thinking that raising children would be good for me, good for my marriage, good for the children, and for God’s glory, and yet remain content in Him while childless
- I can be content with the food and covering I have, and yet have a holy dissatisfaction in thinking what more I could do for my good, the good of my family, and the glory of God if I had more income
- I can be content with my job or my lack of a job, and yet have a holy dissatisfaction with my skills and abilities not being used, and thus actively seek ways to use those skills for my good, the good of my family, and the glory of God.
Holy dissatisfaction is a gift. It spurs us on to work harder, to strive with all His energy that powerfully works in us (Colossians 1:29). God gives us these longings, these desires.
But in the midst of these longings, we are to be content. For we already have Him – whatever else we might lack.
3. Channeling Our Desires Godward
Think of your desires as a raging river. There’s a lot of energy in that river, a lot of power. That energy and power can be harnessed for good. But that same energy and power can wreak tremendous destruction if it overflows the banks.
We have to dredge a deep channel for our desires in a Godward direction,
- so that our desires do not turn into coveting
- so that our longings do not transform into lack of contentment
- so that our passions result in God’s glory rather than His dishonor
How do we do this? How do we channel our desires?
Consider these three maxims:
a) Keep reminding yourself of the identity, security, and joy you have in God. Contentment is the fruit of finding these three in God. Meditate on the Scriptures we have looked at in those first three sermons. Pick some to memorize. Praise God daily as your Father; praise Him for faithfulness; meditate on Him as your joy.
b) Pray for singleness of purpose and purity of desires. Fight the fight to believe that what God says is true. Pray specifically psalm 119:36, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!”
The fight here is similar to the fight to be faithful to your spouse in marriage. I must cultivate a desire for Beth, and for her alone. If I find my eyes wandering, I must remember who she is – her love, her character – I must remember the joys we have shared. I must remember our covenant promises. And I must remember God’s promise of provision. I must not downplay the importance of such wandering eyes – I should call it lust, call it adultery (Matthew 5:27-30). Instead, I should dig the channel of sexual passion deep in her direction.
Just so: If I find my desires wandering to the things of this world instead of godward, if I begin to feel as if I can’t be happy without obtaining some good or some relationship, I must not downplay it. I should call it spiritual adultery. I should call it idolatry. So I must fight the fight to believe. I must remember who God is, who He has revealed Himself to be. I must remember His love, the joy that can be mine in Him. I must remember His covenant promises, and my own commitment to Him. I dig the channel of desire deep in His direction.
c) Act consistently with that singleness of purpose, and then pray that your affections and desires would follow your actions. Sometimes the right desires simply aren’t there. In such cases – act out of duty. Act as if you had the right affections and desires for God. Duty is a crutch. A healthy person shouldn’t go hobbling around on crutches. That’s foolish. But when your leg is broken, praise God for crutches! Just so, we sometimes need the crutch of duty. In my experience, often when I act out of duty, God grants the right affections while I am in the midst of dutifully obeying.
We often sing, “You are my only worth.”
Can you sing that without lying?
As long as we are in this world, we will face temptations to find worth elsewhere. So pray, “Father, use the truth of Your Word to channel my desires toward You today. Enable me to fight the fight of faith to find contentment in You alone today. I desire to desire you. Answer my prayer, O Father!”
So sing such lines as your aspiration, as your hope, as a true statement about God’s worth which you long to be true in your heart.
For there is no lasting joy, no genuine security, no true identity apart from Him. We are created to delight in Him, and nothing else will satisfy. To reject Him is to reject your very purpose, and will be the destruction of your joy.
So come to Christ for cleansing. Confess your rebellion, your seeking contentment elsewhere. He promises acceptance – indeed, He promises that He’s been the one drawing you all along.
So repent – come to Him – and find true contentment in Him. “My people shall be satisfied with My goodness.” May that be true in each one of us.
February 14, 2014
What would make you happy?
Do you ever think, “If I only had ______, I would be happy?”
- “If I only had another $10,000 annually . . .
- “If I only had a nicer, more reliable car . . .
- “If I only had an Iphone . . .
- “If I only had a better job, a better boss . . .
- “If I only had a wife, a husband . . .
- “If we only had children . . .
Many people think that more money, more material assets, or a better family situation would make them happy.
Most of us know that Scripture tells us that is not the case, that we are to find our greatest joy in God. Indeed, our mission statements as a church states that truth: We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the JOY of all peoples.”
But how does Scripture argue that having a passion for God is truly the way to happiness? And is that consistent with what we see around us?
In this series, we are considering: Where Do You Find Identity, Security, and Joy? A Scriptural Understanding of Money, Giving, and Material Possessions. We’ve seen that we can’t find our identity in money, possessions, our jobs, or even our families. We are to find out identity in what God does through His Son: We are adopted into His family, we are His beloved children, we are heirs, joint-heirs with Christ.
We’ve also seen that it’s foolish to trust in money or possessions for security, for we may lose them all in this life, and will definitely lose them all at death. And it demeans God for us to rely on His gifts for security, rather than to trust Him. But when we trust God, we must understand what He promises. He doesn’t promise us any easy life. He doesn’t even promise that we won’t suffer hardship, illness, persecution, or early death. Yet He does promise that He will use every hardship for our good and His glory. Nothing will separate us from His love. He will bring us to Himself, and will wipe every tear from our eyes
As we turn to joy, consider the attitude of children toward their parents. Some children are loyal to their parents, and are thankful to be part of a family – but they don’t love their parents. They don’t take joy in their parents.
Or consider the attitude many of us have toward the US military. We are protected by the military, and are grateful to those who serve well. But that’s different from loving the military, from taking joy in the military.
In the same, it’s possible to be thankful to God for salvation, to be grateful for the security He promises, yet not to see Him as treasure, not to love Him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, not to delight in Him above the joy we take in His gifts.
And to do that is not a minor sin. It is demeaning to God. It is idolatry.
So let us consider Scripture’s commands in this regard, and Scripture’s arguments so that we might truly rejoice in God, and in His Son Jesus Christ.
1) Scripture Commands Us to Rejoice in the Lord
a) We are to rejoice because He gives us identity and security
Note that Scripture does tell us to rejoice in the Lord because of the identity and security He gives us. For example, the psalmist says “The Lord is my strength and my song, he has become my salvation” (Psalm 118:14). He sings a song of delight, in part, because of the security God provides.
b) We are to rejoice primarily because of Who He is
Turn to Psalm 100. Recall that when our English Bibles print the word “Lord” in all caps, the Hebrew word is not a title but the name of God, likely pronounced “Yahweh.” Substituting “Yahweh” for Lord helps us to get the point of this psalm, especially the phrase, “Yahweh is God.”
The psalm begins with three commands, each telling us to rejoice:
Make a joyful noise to Yahweh, all the earth!
Serve [worship] Yahweh with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Why are we to rejoice?
Know that the Yahweh, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Note that the psalmist rejoices in part in the identity and security God gives him. But more than that, He rejoices that God created us for a purpose; He created us for Himself. He created us for His praise. He is the only God, and He is truly God. So He alone is worthy of such praise.
Verse 4 then reiterates the command to delight in Him:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
Verse 5 then explains the primary source of this delight: God has revealed His character to us, and He is the proper object of our delight.
For Yahweh is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
He is good – he does not do evil, nor is He influenced by evil. He is loving – and that love will never end.
He is faithful, fulfilling every promise – and that will continue through all human history.
So you must delight in God. He made you – for Himself! He gives you identity, He gives you security, and these should lead to joy. But most of all: Delight in God for who He is: Good, loving, faithful.
2) God Gives Us the Only Possible Joy in the Next Life
It’s illogical to expect money to provide us with lasting joy, because you are eternal and money is not. You need a source of joy after the end of this life, and money won’t provide that.
Jesus speaks of this eternal joy as treasure in heaven:
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:32)
IF you hold on to your possessions in this life, you will lose all. There are thieves. There are moths. The most effective thief of all is death. Your possessions will not provide one bit of joy after death.
But treasures in heaven will never be taken away. For no thieves, no moths, can take from you the joy of being in God’s presence. And that’s the greatest of all the treasures in heaven: Not the streets paved with gold, not the gates made from a single pearl, but seeing Jesus face to face, being in the presence of God the Father always.
Both the Old and New Testaments highlight the joy that is ours eternally as we see God face to face:
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD/Yahweh; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” . . . 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:3-4, 6-8)
In Revelation, note the similarity with the images from Isaiah 35: God wipes away our tears; He removes death. But the Revelation passage goes further. Here there are only two categories of people: Some are children of God, loved, comforted, having joy for all eternity. The others – those lacking faith – have their portion in the lake of fire. All are in one group or the other.
So we are to rejoice in Him:
- For the identity and security He gives us
- For His character that He reveals to us
- For the eternity of joy He offers to all through Jesus Christ – the only alternative to eternal suffering.
3) And He Gives Us Great Joy Now
But there is an additional reason to rejoice in God. He gives us great joy in the present. Consider four points:
a) Eternal joy gives us joy today
Imagine you receive letter saying a rich, unknown relative died and left you $5 million. You check it out and find that the letter is not from some scammer in Nigeria, but is indeed genuine. You have to pick up the check at the Bank of America building uptown. As you are walking down Tryon Street, you you’re your friend: “Hey, on my way to pick up check for $5 mil.” But someone bumps into you right when you hit send. You drop the phone. The screen shatters.
How do you react?
Do you say, “Oh, no, my Iphone is destroyed! And I’ve got 18 more months on my contract!”
No! You’re about to pick up a check for $5 million! You can buy hundreds of Iphones! Forget the broken screen; rejoice!
Just so, the eternal joy promised us puts sorrows and failures in this life into perspective. We rejoice today because of the promises yet to be fulfilled.
b) Money and possessions do not give us true joy
We already read Psalm 16:11; fullness of joy is in God’s presence, not elsewhere.
Psalm 4:7 directly compares the joy from God with the joy from material goods:
You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.
Note that the psalmist is not saying “I will have more joy eternally than they have now.” Rather, he says, “You have put more joy in my heart.” He is speaking of the present. He sees God’s enemies having plenty of food, plenty of drink. They look to be having a great party. But the psalmist says: “I have more joy because of You than the joy that comes from the greatest party. I have more joy because of You than that produced by Mercedes and mansions.
c) Riches don’t satisfy even now
Even many of those who have an abundance of riches and know nothing about the joys of fellowship with God are not happy on their own terms. Ecclesiastes 5:10 states this well:
Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. (NIV)
When I was in graduate school, we were part of a church in Silicon Valley. There were rich people all around us. And many, many were profoundly unhappy. Our pastor, Ray Stedman, labeled this unhappiness “Destination Sickness:” The illness that occurs when you get everything you thought you wanted, everything you worked for, everything you thought would make you happy, and find that you are still dissatisfied.
You don’t have to go to California to witness this disease. Pick up a newspaper almost any day and read of successful, rich people whose lives are a mess, who are fundamentally unhappy.
Riches are often like a drug: They give us a high, but to maintain the high, we have to obtain more and more and more and more. If we love money: We will always want more, no matter how much we have. And we will always worry that we may lose what we have. So we remain dissatisfied.
So money cannot give us joy.
God gives us joy in the future and also in the present. Let’s turn to one way He gives us joy now:
c) We have joy as we fulfill the purpose of our creation
What is that purpose?
Isaiah 43:6-7 refer to God’s scattered sons and daughters, “Whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Thus, our purpose is to glorify Him.
Now, it’s not immediately clear that there is a link between glorifying Him and having joy. Indeed, we all know people who will sing, “O praise Him, O praise Him, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!” with no joy whatsoever.
But God’s command to glorify Him is not burdensome. Fulfilling the command does not diminish our joy – father it is a way to joy.
Consider Psalm 67:3-4. First, a translation note. The Hebrew verbs here are in a form similar to imperatives. Most English translations use the word “let” to communicate the imperative. But “let” is ambiguous, making the verse sound as if we are asking God to give the peoples permission to praise Him. I’ll read these verses using “must” instead, which communicates the imperative force of the verbs unambiguously:
The peoples must praise you, O God;
all the peoples must praise you!
The nations must be glad and sing for joy.
As Isaiah 43 shows us, all humanity is created for God’s glory. So all the peoples must praise Him. But the psalmist then draws a parallel between praising Him and being glad, between praising Him and singing for joy.
Consider it this way: Our Creator made us to this end. He made us to take joy in Him. With that in our makeup, whenever we look elsewhere, we will eventually be disappointed. We will eventually be dissatisfied. If we do finally submit to Him, however, we find great joy, as we discover, “This is what I was made to do!”
Imagine if Usain Bolt had tried to be a weightlifter. Imagine that he goes to the gym day after day, and keeps lifting weights, but finds that others far surpass him. But then one day on a lark he goes to the track, and runs. This man was made to run! Consider his joy in discovering, “This is what I was created to do!”
That’s the joy that is ours when we turn from what never satisfies, and fulfill the purpose of our creation: Living to the praise of God’s glorious grace.
d) There is more joy in Him even when we suffer
At this point, some of you might say, “Ok, Coty, I agree that money doesn’t satisfy. I agree that God promises us joy eternally. But you’ve also said that God doesn’t guarantee freedom from suffering. And life is hard! I’ve been sick; I’ve been disappointed. People have let me down. My loved ones are suffering; others have turned their backs of Jesus; others have died young after terrible pain. And you’re telling me: This is joy?”
That’s a logical question. A good question. A question that Scripture addresses directly:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:9-11)
What does this have to do with suffering?
Remember that Jesus makes this statement the night before his crucifixion. In the next 24 hours, Judas will betray Him, He will be beaten, whipped, and mocked; soldiers will drive nails through His flesh; they will hang Him up naked on a cross; He will die a horrible, painful death.
This is the man who says: The Father has loved me. I remain in His love. And I have great joy in Him.
We have to understand that if we are to understand His command to us. He tells us, “You are to remain in my love. Keep my commandments. Stick close to me, and you will have my joy, fullness of joy, joy overflowing – regardless of your circumstances, just as I have joy, regardless of my suffering.
Paul makes a similar statement in Romans 5:2-5:
Through [the Lord Jesus Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Even in our suffering, we know that God is at work. He uses suffering to conform us to the character of Jesus. And He gives us the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Encourager, to remind us of God’s love, and to demonstrate God’s love to us.
Finally, consider the story of the Habakkuk. The prophet writes this book about 20 years after a great revival under King Josiah. But he has seen the revival peter out, and the land filled with corruption, evil, and violence. He has prayed and prayed for God to intervene, but nothing has happened. And so he cries out again, asking for justice.
God answers: “I’m going to do something you wouldn’t believe even if I told you.” At this point, Habakkuk may well have thought, “Wow! A revival even greater than I can imagine is coming!” But then God says, “You know those Babylonians – those vicious warriors? I’m going to bring them here and they will destroy your nation.”
Habakkuk is floored. He rightly asks, “How is this consistent with your revealed character, O God? Your eyes are too pure even to look at evil. So how can you use evil men doing evil deeds to accomplish your purposes? And when they conquer us, they won’t praise you – they’ll just be like fishermen praising their nets! I’m your prophet, and I have to explain this to your people – so I’m going to wait here until you help me understand.”
God does answer, saying, “My righteous one will live by faith.” He then pronounces five woes on the Babylonians – and, implicitly, on anyone who does not live by faith in Him. They will be destroyed. But in the middle of the five woes, God says:
The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)
God has a purpose. He has an eternal plan of redemption. He is working it out. And there is real pain and suffering that takes part as that plan is fulfilled. But all history is moving towards this goal. God will be glorified in all His creation. Humanity will fulfill its purpose.
Habakkuk responds to this revelation with a psalm, contained in chapter 3. He concludes with these words:
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
Note that Habakkuk is imagining a time when the permanent crops fail (fruit trees, grape vines, olive trees), the annual crops fail (“fields yield no food”), and the livestock all die. In an economy that was primarily agricultural, this means zero economic activity, zero income. Even in such an extreme circumstance, the prophet says: I will rejoice in the Lord! He gives me strength to go even where I don’t want to go. I will take joy in Him.
My friends, you and I were created to glorify God through delighting in Him. Yet we have all turned elsewhere to find joy.
- We have turned from what is eternally satisfying to what will never satisfy
- We have turned from fullness of joy to light, momentary joys
- We have turned from the sweet fountain of life to sips of diet soda
Our God cries out to us
- “Come to me!
- “I will give you rest!
- “I will give you fulfillment
- “I will give you accomplishment!
- “I will give you an eternal inheritance!
- “I will give you Myself!
- “Only in My presence is fullness of joy. Only in My presence are pleasures forevermore.
So turn to Him and be saved!
- You won’t be protected from suffering in this life
- You won’t be guaranteed a $5 million dollar check
But you will have what is more valuable – what no money can buy: God Himself. His arms around you. His empowerment to play your role in His plan.
This is the path to genuine joy.
So: Where is your joy?