2 Corinthians 9

Read 2 Corinthians 9.

Though they had many spiritual problems, the Corinthian church apparently had some level of generosity for the Lord’s work, for Paul wrote in verses 1-2a: “There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people. For I know your eagerness to help….”

Nevertheless, Paul did teach in this chapter some principles about giving to the Lord’s work. Perhaps he was nervous that the Corinthians might not be as generous in reality as they claimed they would be (vv. 3-5). With that preface out of the way, Paul reminded them of an important life principle: You only get out in proportion to what you put in (v. 6).

If you have a bag full of seeds but only plant one of them in your garden, don’t be surprised if one plant or fewer grows out of the ground. That’s how farming works; you reap in proportion to what you have sown. Having said that, Paul urged the Corinthians to give freely, from their hearts, not because it was the “right thing to do” at the time but because they loved the Lord and his work (v. 7).

Interestingly, Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians that God would bless them according to their giving (vv. 8-11). This blessing must have a financial component to it because verse 11 says, “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” That statement is not teaching “The Prosperity Gospel” which claims that you will get rich if you give enough of your money. But, if your heart is right in giving (v. 2), the passage says in verse 10, “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.”

In other words, if you give happily, in faith, God will not only see to it that your needs are met in this life, but he will reward you in eternity.

If true, why do so few Christians give more than 10% of their income to the Lord’s work? The answer is a lack of faith. It comes from fear that, if I give too much money to God’s work, I won’t have enough money for my life.

That’s similar to a farmer saying, “If I plant all these seeds, I won’t have any left to eat.” But, to borrow a phrase from our world, you are “eating your seed corn” instead of planting it to produce a lot more corn in the future.

You have to have faith that (a) God will make a harvest out of the seed money you give to his work today and (b) that he will provide for your needs in the meantime.

Do you believe that? Does your giving to God’s work show that you believe it?

The harvest may not arrive for you until eternity. But, be certain of this, the Lord of the harvest will reward you if you plant financial generosity for his work in this world.

2 Corinthians 8

Read 2 Corinthians 8.

Way back on May 11 we read Acts 19, then broke off our reading of Acts to read the two letters to the Corinthians. It seems clear that Paul wrote both of these letters during the two years (Acts 19:10) that Paul was in Ephesus. In the middle of Acts 19, verse 21 says, “After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia.” Corinth is in Achaia which is the southern peninsula of Greece. Paul’s purpose for going to Jerusalem by way of Macedonia and Achaia was to collect an offering from the churches in Greece to help the believers in Jerusalem who were suffering under a famine. Today’s reading, 2 Corinthians 8, discussed that offering for the believers in Jerusalem.

First Paul described the generosity of the Macedonian churches (vv. 1-5). Macedonia is the northern part of Greece and the churches there were the Philippians, the Thessalonians, and others. These churches were facing trials of their own (v. 2a) but were generous in their giving (vv. 2b-5). Paul used their example to encourage the Corinthians to give excellently (v. 7a) as well, which they had already promised to do (vv. 10-15).

This chapter closed with a description about how Titus and someone else were coming to collect the offering from the Corinthians (vv. 16-24). In the middle of that section, verses 19-21 discussed the level of accountability that they used in carrying this gift. Paul said in verse 21, “For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.”

In Paul’s world, people paid traveling speakers for their wisdom and even for religious instructions. That gave dishonest, unscrupulous people an opportunity to take advantage of people by asking for money “for a good cause” but keeping much, if not all, of it for themselves. Paul wanted to guard against the temptation to take that money (“to do what is right… in the eyes of the Lord,” v. 21) and against any appearance or accusation of stealing it (v. 21b: “but also in the eyes of man”). Accordingly, each church sent a representative with Paul to accompany this offering to Jerusalem. That way, there were plenty of witnesses that every dime collected was given to the Lord’s people.

Having good financial controls and accountability do not lift one’s spirit to worship. However, the Bible says repeatedly that someone’s attitude about money reflects that person’s walk with God. The Bible warns us again and again about false teachers who are looking for financial gain and for others who will use the Lord’s work as a means to wealth. Many ministries have been victims of embezzlement; others have enriched the ministers in ways that were perfectly legal but not righteous. These fiscal missteps are both sins because they take what was given to the Lord’s work for personal enrichment. I believe the Bible teaches us to give generously to the Lord’s work; I also believe that it requires us to handle the money given to the Lord’s work appropriately.

Ministries are not the only places where money can be embezzled or mishandled. If you are given the opportunity to handle an organization’s money, be someone who welcomes good supervision and financial controls. They will protect you from false accusations as well as temptation.

Acts 5

\Read Acts 5.

The growing church we’ve been tracking since Acts 1 felt the weight of persecution here in Acts 5, but that was nothing new for them.

What is new as that the church encountered internal problems for the first time. This happened when Ananias and Sapphira wanted both to make money and get credit for generosity (vv. 1-11).

Sometimes people misunderstand the issue in this passage. The problem was not that Ananias and Sapphira wanted to keep some of the money. In verse 4 Peter said, “And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” This question, which assumes a “yes” response, affirmed that this couple had every right to do what they wanted to do with their property and with the money they gained from selling it. The Bible affirms the right of people to own private property which is the foundation of capitalism. The problem was not that they kept some of the money or wanted to keep any of the money.

No, the issue in Acts 5 was that they “lied to the Holy Spirit” in verse 3.

By lying to the Holy Spirit they had “not lied just to human beings but to God” (v. 4d). The lie they told was regarding the price of the land. Verse 2 told us that Ananias “kept back part of the money for himself” but “with his wife’s full knowledge” (v. 2) they told the church it was sold at a lower price (v. 8) and that they were giving all the money to the church, just as Joseph had in 4:36-37. By doing this, they were taking credit for more generosity than they were truly giving. That’s why they were judged for “lying” not for being stingy.

Wealthy people have funded health care institutions, art, schools, libraries, parks, concert halls, and other civic institutions. Usually, though, the giver puts his name on the gift so that everyone will know who funded that project. And by getting credit for it, Jesus would say “they have their reward in full” (Matt 6:2).

But if you give to the Lord’s work AND act like it was more of a sacrifice than it really was in order to get people to think well of you, then you have a sinful attitude compelling your act of goodness.

Whenever we give money or do any kind of ministry to get the praise and admiration of others, we are trading financial income for praise income. Although it is not always possible to do ministry without being noticed for it, the heart of a believer is to give to God so that He is glorified and we are not. May God purify our hearts and motives so that we give to his work and his people for His glory not to enhance our own reputations. But, in God’s amazing grace, he promises to reward us eternally anyway when we give with a servant’s heart.

Luke 21

Today we’re reading Luke 21.

Materialism is an ever-present temptation for us. We are material beings, after all, because we have these physical bodies. They need to be dressed and enhanced and housed and driven around.

Because God created us with an appreciation for beauty and we need physical goods to live, it is not surprising that beautiful physical possessions interest us. And, honestly, there is nothing sinful about having things; the Bible tells us that God’s creation is good (1 Tim 4:3-5).

The problem is not that we appreciate and enjoy material things; the problem is that we worship material things. We believe that they will make us happy and/or we think that having things will cause people to value us more highly. So we spend money recklessly or hoard money to accumulate wealth and its trappings.

Here in Luke 21, Jesus addressed our thirst for materialism. He began by talking about the poor widow who gave generously to God’s work in the temple (vv. 1-3). Knowing both how easily the rich could afford their gifts and how much this woman needed the money she gave, Jesus praised her for her faith and love for God. To Jesus this woman “has put in more than all the others” (v. 3). That was not true in terms of raw value but, relative to her means, it was very true. Instead of living for material things, she gave to God and trusted him to provide for her.

Although the disciples of Jesus lived by faith for their daily lives, they were still much too impressed with material things. As they praised the beautiful work in Herod’s temple (v. 5), Jesus prophesied about the destruction that would fall on the temple and all of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. in verses 6-33. Then he cautioned the disciples, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.” The widow who gave her last bit of money did not need to worry about being “weighed down” by anything because everything in her life had been handed over to the Lord.

This is how we should look at money and material things, too. May God help us not to trust in anything but him, not to worship anything but him, and not to let anything in this life weigh us down from following him with all of our hearts.

Matthew 25

Today we’re reading Matthew 25.

Christ continued to prepare the disciples for the future here in Matthew 25 by describing his coming kingdom using three parables:

  • The Parable of the Ten Virgins calls us to be prepared, watching and waiting for Christ’s return (vv. 1-13).
  • The Parable of the Talents teaches us to be productive with what God has given us, not just be happy to preserve his gifts to us (vv. 14-30).
  • The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats instructs us to help the needy around us as if we were giving assistance to Jesus himself (vv. 31-46).

Let’s focus on that last one and notice that those who are stingy toward the poor and homeless will be sent to hell (vv. 41-46).

[Pause, and let that sink in.]

I don’t know about you, but I find Christ’s words there to be very sobering. I was raised to tithe and have never had any struggle with obedience in that area, but that doesn’t mean that generosity in other areas is easy for me.

It is easy for me to give to people in our church who have needs. I know them, so I am naturally inclined to help. But, when it comes to complete strangers who have needs, it is much harder for me to give.

Behind my stinginess there are a lot of excuses–what if they use the money I give them to buy drugs or booze? What if they are begging to avoid working and also collecting welfare, too? If I let them stay at my house, will they steal from me or hurt my family?

Some of these are legitimate questions and we should try to help people responsibly–not enabling them or putting ourselves at risk of being exploited. But I’m much more likely to turn away from a legitimate need than to be so generous that someone might exploit me. My instincts are selfish but Jesus says that his followers will be generous. That’s the takeaway from this passage: Do we want to hoard cash and stuff for ourselves or, since we are merely managers of God’s stuff (vv. 14-3), are we learning and desiring to assist others in need because we love Christ and see generosity as a pathway for serving him?

One more thought: a lot of people apply passages like this one by calling on the government to help the needy. Their interpretation is that obedience demands that we pay more in taxes so that more government programs can be set up and funded for the poor. There are practical reasons why I think that’s a terrible application of this passage. So much money earmarked by the government for the poor inevitably goes to pay government employees to design and manage programs.

But beyond the usual complaints of “waste, fraud, and abuse” which I think are legitimate, Jesus’ parable talks about person-to-person giving, not indirect giving through the government. Furthermore, he wants us to give willingly, from the heart, not because federal agents with guns threaten us with fines and jail time if we don’t pay up. So, I reject the argument that this passage demands a government application.

Still, let’s not allow the political stuff to let us off the hook.

Jesus clearly taught that a sign that you are a genuine follower of his is that you are genuinely generous when you get the chance to help others. I’m asking God to help me grow in this area and to be ready today if a need presents itself to me. Hope you’ll do the same or at least consider how to apply this parable in your life as a Christian.

Judges 1, Jeremiah 48, Romans 10

Read Judges 1, Jeremiah 48, and Romans 10 today. This devotional is about Judges 1.

A repeated theme of Joshua and Judges is Israel taking the land God promised to them, but not completely. Their territory was larger at times and smaller at other times but Israel never occupied all the land God promised them.

Why not?

Unbelief which leads to inaction.

Here in Judges 1, Joshua was dead (v. 1a) but Israel still procrastinated when it came to taking their land. Judah followed God’s word in verses 1-21 and won some significant territory. But notice that they took Jerusalem at one point (v. 8) but then apparently lost it again (v. 21) and did not have it again until David took it many years later.

Notice also the intriguing words of verse 19: “The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron.” The Lord was with them… but they couldn’t dislodge the guys with iron chariots. Why not? Because God is no match for iron chariots? No; because Judah did not believe God would give them victory over people with iron chariots.

In other words, they were willing to follow God to a point. But, when it came to confronting their fear and moving out of their comfort zones, they stopped obeying God’s word, claiming God’s promises, and decided to be happy with less than all the land God had promised them.

This is already starting to feel like a “name it and claim it” devotional. I definitely disagree with that theology and don’t want to bend the principles in this passage too far.

But, think about what’s going on in this passage.

Do you ever do that?

God has made many promises to us. You’ve believed and acted on one or more of those promises. And, God blessed your faith with results. But, then, the challenge started to look hard. So, you quit and settled for less than what God promised.

Hasn’t God promised to be with us to the end of the age as we go and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20)? Yes, he has.

But, how much effort do you put into making disciples?

Hasn’t God said that we are his “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10)? Yes he has.

But how much effort do you put into growing in grace, pushing out into new areas of ministry that might be uncomfortable for you?

What about in your work? Doesn’t God’s word say that, “All hard work brings a profit” (v. 23a)? Doesn’t it tell us to diversify what we do and try different things in order to find what will succeed (Ecc 11:6)? Why, yes, the Bible does say these things.

But are you stuck in a job that isn’t providing enough for your family because you feel comfortable and safe there?

How about when it comes to giving? Doesn’t the New Testament encourage generous giving to see God provide? Consider 2 Corinthians 9:6-8: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

But are you giving to his work sparingly or not at all?

Again, the New Testament doesn’t teach us that God wants us all to be rich or that we can have whatever we want in Jesus’s name if we just name it and claim it. But it does tell us that God will be with us and will bless things that we do for his glory. It may not be easy–iron chariots are nothing to sneeze at–but are we settling for less than God would give us if we stepped out of our comfort zone in faith and tried some things for his glory?

Numbers 4, Isaiah 29, Proverbs 11:19-31

Read Numbers 4, Isaiah 29, and Proverbs 11:19-31. This devotional is about Proverbs 11:19-31.

Generosity is a key theme in today’s readings. We see it in verses 24-26 with three separate proverbs on the subject.

  • Verse 24 talks about people who gain more and more even though they give a lot of what they have away. Those people are contrasted with those who cheat others what they owe them and yet become poor.
  • Verse  25 states that the generous will proper and be cared for when they have cared for others.
  • Verse 26 talks about how other people view the generous. People call down curses on hoarders but ask God to bless those who sell the products that they have.

Are you a generous Christian? You know that I believe every Christian should tithe and give to God’s work above that. But are you quick to help others in need when you see that need? Do you enjoy giving to others with no expectation of return?

I can tell you from my own life that helping someone through giving brings more joy than buying more stuff.

These proverbs, however, teach that giving actually enables prosperity. Not only should we be generous, then, because of the joy of generosity and because it pleases God; we should be generous because God blesses generous people with financial blessings. Take some time to consider how generous you are or aren’t. Consider: Are you trusting God by faith or hoarding things in fear?

Then step out and become a more generous person. When you do, watch to see how your life is enhanced because of your obedience in generosity.

Leviticus 19 and Isaiah 15

Read Leviticus 19 and Isaiah 15 today. This devotional is about

Leviticus 19.

Leviticus 19 contains a large number of commands on various topics. The passage begins with a call for God’s people to emulate his character: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”’” Every command in this chapter flows from the holiness of God.  If you want to know God, you must also desire to become holy. This chapter gives some specific ways in which holiness works out in the life of a believer.

Being “holy” simply means “set apart.” God is set apart from humanity in two ways: First, he is Creator and we are the created. There is a distinction between the Creator and creature that we can never cross. As Creator, God has certain qualities that we can’t understand, much less emulate. These are things like knowing all things, having all power, being everywhere present in the fullness of his being, and others. These are qualities that only God can have; they are one way in which God holy.

Usually, though, when we talk about God’s holiness, we are talking about his moral perfection. God is set apart from people in the sense that he is perfect morally. He has no sinful desires or actions. God did create us to emulate this quality. Adam and Eve began with a perfect moral nature; if they had refused the temptation offered to them in the garden, humanity would have existed in moral holiness just as God did. Since we chose to sin, however, we are unholy.

In Christ believers are declared to be holy and God’s Holy Spirit is working us over morally so that we become more holy like Jesus was, but it is an ongoing process that does not reach completion until we see Christ.

When God commanded Israel to be holy (v. 2), he was commanding them to set themselves apart from the nations around them. This required faith that living according to God’s commands would be better than living according to the ways that were common and their natural moral instincts. Many of the commands here in Leviticus 19 are easily understood as categories of holiness—either moral holiness, such as “no idols” in verse 4 or cultural holiness, such as “do not mate two different kinds of animals” in verse 19.

But what do you make of the command, “do not reap to the very edges of your field… leave them for the poor and the foreigner”? In what way does this command flow from the holiness of God?

The answer is this: God affirmed the righteousness of private property rights in verse 11a where he said, “Do not steal.” That command tells us people have a right to private ownership and that it is morally wrong to take, either by force or by deception, any property that justly belongs to someone else.

Our capitalist system is built on private property rights. Not only do you have the right to own productive assets (land, flocks, woodworking tools, trucks, whatever), you have the right to use those assets in ways that are productive and keep the product of that production. That’s why people are allowed to own land, farm land, and harvest what they have planted.

However, God wanted his people to show generosity to the poor. Unlike other nations where the poor had to beg, borrow, or steal to live, God affirmed the right of his people to private property and to the cultivation of wealth but he also wanted them to be different from the nations around them by generously providing for the poor. Leaving food in the fields for poor people to reap on their own without fear of being killed or prosecuted for trespassing showed love and compassion for the poor. Instead of selfishly gathering every bit of profit, God commanded his people to be productive but also to provide a means for those who were poor to live.

This kind of love for one’s poor neighbor would set apart God’s people from the nations around them. It should also mark us, his people by faith, today. We should be generous to the poor—regardless of why they are poor-because we want to live a holy life that emulates God.

That doesn’t mean that we have to support every (or any) government program but it does mean that we should do what we can personally to help anyone within our reach to meet their daily needs for survival. This goes against our instincts to watch out for ourselves alone; that, too, is an expression of holiness because it sets us apart from people who despise the poor and even take advantage of them.

Genesis 29, Esther 5, Matthew 20

Read Genesis 29, Esther 5, and Matthew 20 today. This devotional is about Matthew 20.

Jesus told some very odd stories and Matthew 20:1-16 contains one of them. It started out unsurprisingly enough: A farmer needed harvesters for his vineyard. He went where the unemployed workers hung out and hired a bunch of them. They agreed to work all day for 1 denarius. That was the standard amount paid for one day’s work in Jesus’ time.

At noon, he hired more guys; their wage was ambiguous: “whatever is right” (v. 4). That equals more than zero, so they agreed.

The same thing happened at 3 p.m. At 5 p.m., he hired even more guys.

A few hours later as darkness fell, each worker was paid. The farmer instructed his foreman to start with the last guys in, pay them first, and pay the first guys last. The foreman paid 1 denarius to the guys who started working at 5. In other words, they made a full day’s wage for one hour of work. Nice work if you can get it!

The guys hired at 3 got their denarius, and so did the guys who clocked in at noon. The guys who had worked all day eagerly looked forward to their paychecks. They reasoned: “This crazy landowner is paying a day’s wage to guys who worked for 1 hour; how much will he pay for those of us who worked 8 hours?” The answer:

One denarius, just as they had agreed in the morning. No bonus money for working all day.

Although that is the amount they had agreed to from the beginning, they were unhappy. Even though it was a fair wage for a fair day’s work and even though they had agreed to this pay in advance, they felt it was unfair to pay the last workers as much as the first workers made (v. 12).

When they complained about these unfair labor practices, the farmer told them, “Hey, it’s my money! I can do with it whatever I want and what I want is to be crazy generous to those who only worked an hour.” Jesus concluded in verse 16 by saying, “So the last will be first and the first will be last” (v. 16).

This is a parable about justice and generosity. It is a parable about God and, specifically, how he treats people in his kingdom. The lesson taught in this parable is that God is generous in his kingdom; he does not operate in typical human ways. If you follow Jesus for 50 years or for 1 day, you receive the same blessing of eternal life, the same gift of God’s love, the same adoption into God’s holy family.

Do you ever feel a sense of inferiority as a Christian? If you were saved as an adult, do you think that people who were saved as children are more loved by God or more capable of serving him effectively?

Or do you suffer from superiority? Do you look down on other believers because they lack a Christian heritage or don’t have the fund of Bible knowledge that you do?

Let this parable correct your thinking about God and his ways. God is generous with his grace. He makes the same promises to everyone who calls on him. So enjoy and marvel at the grace of God and don’t look at any other Christian as more or less blessed than you are.

2 Kings 8, Daniel 12

Today we’re reading 2 Kings 8 and Daniel 12.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 8.

Back in 2 Kings 4 we were introduced to a married couple who lived in a town called Shunem. That chapter described them as “well-to-do” (4:8b) meaning that they were wealthy. The wife in this family invited Elisha to come to their home for a meal and that became a pattern. 2 Kings 4:8c says, “So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat.”

This woman was gracious with more than just their food. Verses 9-10 of chapter 4 describe how she planned with her husband to make a room on the roof for Elisha to stay in whenever he came to town. There’s more to that story–Elisha asked God to give her a son and, after he did, he died but God raised him back to life through Elisha.

Here in chapter 8 we learned that Elisha told this family to leave when the famine was coming (v. 1) and they listened (v. 2). While they were gone, someone squatted on their home and their land. She went to see the king to ask him to restore the land to her. Wouldn’t you know it, just at that very minute Gehazi, servant of Elisha, was telling the king about the resurrection of her son (v. 5). Timing is everything and, in the providence of God, Gehazi’s story plus her appearance at the end of it caused the king to give her both justice and favor. Justice was the restoration of her home and land; favor was also getting “all the income from her land from the day she left the country until now” (v. 6e).

All of these good things that happened to her began when she showed kindness to God’s servant Elisha. By volunteering to feed him, then welcoming him back again and again to her dinner table, and then building a private room for him, she was aiding the Lord’s work by blessing God’s servant. After those acts of kindness, God blessed her again and again–giving her a son when she was childless, raising that son from the dead when he died prematurely, and restoring her home, land, and income.

The Bible does not guarantee wealth to those who bless God’s work, but it does promise blessings to those who give. Jesus said it this way, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).

Are you faithful in giving to the Lord’s work? Are you generous with others and look for ways to volunteer and meet the needs of God’s servants?