Mark 12

Read Mark 12.

Last year, a man on the University of Michigan’s board of regents and his wife offered to give $3 million to help build a multicultural center on campus. The university accepted their offer (of course) and offered to name the building after them. Students, however, objected because the building was to be named after another man and it would have been the only building on campus named after a minority–in this case, an African-American. In response to the objections, the university changed their plans and decided to keep the original name. And, the couple who offered to donate the $3 million changed their minds and rescinded the offer. Strangely, however, they claimed publicly that getting their names on the building was not a condition of their offer. They also claimed that they usually give privately to philanthropy.

If these things are true, then why not leave the original $3 million pledge in place since it was not, they claim, pledged on the condition of having the building named after them?

Regardless of how they came to their decision, you and I both know that wealthy people like to get their names on stuff when they give a lot of money. So many buildings on U of M’s campus are named after wealthy people who donated money to the university. Some of the amounts given by these people is extraordinary. That’s why the university wants to honor them by putting their name on something.

Here in Mark 12, however, Jesus was not impressed by the people who paid a lot to the temple (vv. 41-42). Instead of being impressed with the “large amounts” (v. 41b), Jesus was impressed by the small amount given by the widow (vv. 42-44). Although her amount was small in cash value, her gift was incredibly generous because it was “everything–all she had to live on” (v. 44). Her generosity made the big impression on Jesus, not the absolute dollar amount.

Why?

Because it takes a lot of faith to give all the cash you have in the world to the Lord’s work. Others may have given huge amounts but their gifts were much smaller when compared to their overall income or wealth. It was a genuine sacrifice for this woman to give as much as she did; for everyone else, it didn’t hurt at all.

Have you ever given extravagantly like this woman did–not in the total dollar amount you gave but in the percentage of your income you gave? If not, learn the lesson from today’s passage. God doesn’t need your help or mine to care and provide for his work; instead, he invites us by faith to be part of it so that he can reward us for our faith in him. So trust him with your money and invest in God’s work.

Philippians 4

Read Philippians 4.

When we read Philippians 1 last week, I described to you the giving track record of the church in Philippi. Thanking the Philippians for their financial support was one of the key reasons that Paul wrote this letter. We saw that in verse 10 when we read, “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me.” Later in verse 14 Paul wrote, “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles” then he went on to describe different times that this church had sent him money:

  • “when I set out from Macedonia” (v. 15b)
  • “when I was in Thessalonica… more than once” (v. 16)
  • “now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent” (v. 18c).

The result of this most recent gift was that Paul was “amply supplied” (v. 18b). Their giving allowed him to rent a house in Rome for two years (Acts 28:30a) while he awaited trial there. Although he was under house arrest, Acts 28:30b-31 records that Paul “…welcomed all who came to see him [and that h]e proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” Although Paul used this money to pay for his personal needs, having his personal needs taken care of allowed him to serve the Lord. So Paul could tell the Philippian church here in chapter 4:18b that their gifts were, “…a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

Years ago we brought in someone to do ministry here at Calvary and one of our members at the time asked me if he was being paid. I answered truthfully that, yes, of course he was being paid. The member in question suggested (not subtly) that his work was not really ministry since he was being paid. I’m not often dumbfounded, but I was then. ”I get paid by the church,” I finally managed to tell her. She had no problem with that, but an outsider was somehow not a legitimate servant of God because he was paid for his work.

There are plenty of scriptural passages that refute her, including one from my message Sunday, Luke 10:7, “Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages” (emphasis added). Yet even though God’s servants consume what is paid to them or even prosper from it, that does not detract from the fact that their work is done for the Lord. Paul saw the gifts that the Philippians sent him as timely provisions for his needs–yes–but also as acts of worship to God. Remember those words in verse 18: “They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

Do you believe that? Do you believe that giving to God’s church, God’s servants, God’s work, and even the poor, are actually gifts to God himself? Do you believe what verse 19 said, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus”?

If you believe these things, are you giving faithfully to the Lord’s work?

Philippians 1

Read Philippians 1.

This is another of Paul’s prison letters (v. 7: “whether I am in chains…”), this one written to the church at Philippi.

Paul founded this church during his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6-40). He also visited Philippi twice during his third missionary journey (note: Philippi is in Macedonia; Paul went there in Acts 20:1-2 and returned in Acts 20:6).

The Philippians were givers:

  • They supported Paul’s work by sending him money while he was in Corinth (Acts 18:1-5 and Philippians 4:16) so that he could stop making tents (Acts 18:3) and devote himself “exclusively to preaching” (Acts 18:5).
  • They also gave generously to the fund Paul collected for the Jewish believers in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:1-5).
  • This letter, Philippians, was written to thank these believers for their long financial “partnership” (1:5, 4:15-16) and for a new gift they had sent to him while in prison in Rome (Phil 4:14, 18.

The tone of this letter is happy! Words like “joy” and “rejoice” show up again and again throughout.

Although Paul was still in prison, he expected to be released soon (v. 19). Still, his joy came less from his anticipation of release and more from how the gospel was advancing among the men who were guarding him (vv. 12-13) and how it was causing others to speak up for Christ in his absence (vv. 14-15). If his trial unexpectedly went badly, Paul could still rejoice because dying for Christ meant going to be with Christ (v. 23).

The source of Paul’s joy, then, was Christ.

Christ was the one he was serving (v.1).

Christ was one he was trusting to provide for him, whether through the giving of the Philippians or not.

Jesus was using his imprisonment to advance the gospel (vv. 12-18).

Jesus was the one Paul would meet whenever his time on this earth was over (v. 23) and Christ was the one who would keep causing the Philippians faith to grow and mature (vv. 6, 27-30). Paul’s circumstances were not the cause of his joy or his discouragement because he had faith in his God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Are you looking to the Lord for joy in your life at this time?

Philemon

Read the book of Philemon.

This is yet another of Paul’s prison letters as we saw in verse 1, “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ….” Verses 1b-2 tell us the recipients of this letter who were, “Philemon… Apphia [almost certainly Philemon’s wife] our sister and Archippus [possibly the son of Philemon and Apphia].” When we take this mention of Archippus and compare it to Colossians 4:17, “Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord’’ we begin to see that Philemon lived in Colossae.

This family was not the only recipient of this letter, however, for the last part of verse 2 says, “…and the church that meets in your home.” Although Paul has a couple of big, generous things to ask of Philemon, he did not want his requests to overwhelm the people too much.

In verses 4-7, Paul described his prayers for Philemon and the others. Then, in verses 8-19, Paul got to the core of the letter–to ask Philemon to forgive his runaway slave Onesimus (vv. 17-19).

After he forgave Onesimus, Paul then wanted Philemon to free Onesiumus so that he could serve with Paul.

But the verse that intrigues me in this chapter is verse 6: “I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” Paul considered Philemon a partner because of his faithful giving to God’s work (v. 7). But here in verse 6 Paul prayed for a spiritual benefit to come to Philemon. That benefit was that the “partnernership with us… in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” In other words, Paul wanted Philemon’s financial support and prayer investment to strengthen Philemon’s faith. He wanted Philemon to know God better as a result of his “partnership” with Paul’s ministry.

Have you ever considered that serving the Lord and giving to his work could actually be good for you, spiritually? Not only do others benefit from this kind of “partnership” but YOU benefit from it because it “deepens your understanding” of Christ and his mission.

So I have to ask, What is your level of spiritual growth? Did it peak when you were called to be saved or is it growing? If you feel that you are stuck and not growing, then you need to find a place to serve. Serving Christ, investing in his kingdom, is helpful to your spiritual life. So, find a place to serve if you don’t have now already and watch how your understanding of God, his goals, and his people grow as a result.

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 18

Read Acts 18.

In this chapter Paul met a couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who would become his friends and ministry associates. Verse 3 tells us that, in addition to having Christ in common, they also made a living by making tents just as Paul did when he needed money. That work allowed Paul to travel and give the gospel anywhere without asking anyone for money. However, earning a living that way meant spending less time preaching the gospel.

In verse 5, Luke dropped this into the story: “When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching….” Why would he do this? Why would he work part time with Priscilla and Aquila until Silas and Timothy showed up and then stop making tents and start preaching the gospel exclusively?

The answer is found in Philippians 4:15-16 which says, “Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.” Second Corinthians 11:9 conveys the same information. So here in Acts 18:5 Luke alludes to the financial support the Philippian church sent by saying that “Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching….” Their financial contributions made it possible for Paul and his team to concentrate on giving the gospel instead of splitting time between giving the gospel and earning a living.

Because of this passage, missionaries who provide for themselves by doing secular work on the mission field are called “tentmakers.” There are some good reasons to do tentmaking, but in most cases the gospel advances better when God’s servants can give it our full attention. That happens when God’s people give faithfully and generously to his work.

So, let me close this meditation by saying thank you to everyone who tithes to Calvary! Your faithful giving allows me to make a living for my family and funds our other staff members and expenses. The same is true for the missionaries our church supports. Their work is funded by our giving.

If you are not giving–or giving very little–please understand how important financial support is to our church and to our missionaries and re-prioritize your finances to support God’s work.

Note: Tomorrow we take a break from Acts and turn to reading the 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

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.

Luke 9

Read Luke 9.

This chapter began with Jesus sending out the Twelve to give the gospel and to do miraculous works to authenticate their message (vv. 1-2). Jesus told them to take nothing so that they would learn to rely on God’s provision for everything (vv. 3-6).

God did provide for them and he used them powerfully to serve Jesus (v. 10). But they did not completely learn the lesson. When food was needed for a large crowd, the Apostles wanted Jesus to send the crowds away (v. 12). Jesus challenged their thinking and commanded them to feed the crowds themselves which they protested (vv. 13-14). Christ showed them once again that he had the power to meet every need they had in ministry. But the implication is that, if they’d had trusted him, they could have fed the crowd themselves through his power (vv. 16-17).

When we’re serving God, we can trust him to meet every need we have. He has more than enough power–infinite power, in fact–to meet every need we have and then some. The question is whether or not we look to him in faith to provide for our needs or if we conclude in unbelief that it cannot be done with the present resources.

Ministries and churches–including us–are being tested on this right now. As the precautions against the spread of COVID-19 do damage to our economy, we have the opportunity either to trust God to provide or to freak out about what this will mean.

Will you believe God with me for our church about this? Will you pray and ask God to keep providing money to pay our staff, fund our missionaries, provide for those who have benevolence needs, and continue to pay for our building and other expenses?

Will you trust God to provide for you and your family and keep giving to his work? We have a unique opportunity to see God work and provide. Will you trust him in faith or give up in fear?