Giving Thanks

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Much that is said about "giving" is about encouraging people to give more.

A journalist in The Times newspaper just before Christmas was not only wanting people to give more to charities but also to tithe - to give a tenth of their income away or more than a tenth. Nor was he writing as a Christian believer. Indeed, he pointed out that the tithe was common in many societies before bible times. But this man had personally been challenged about giving by two things.

One, by the fact that "nearly half the world's population live on less than £1.10 a day." And, two, by realizing that if you wake up in the morning "with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the one million people who will not survive the week." He then tried to challenge his readers with some other facts. Let me quote:

"Americans are almost twice as generous [as the British], donating 1.75 percent of GDP compared with 0.76 percent in Britain. [And] in Britain ... the wealthiest fifth of the population give only 1 percent of their earnings, while the poorest fifth in society give an average just under 3 percent.

He concluded with these words - again I quote:

"it really is true that the more you give - of yourself, your thoughts, your time and your money .... the more you will receive in the form of discovering a purpose, new friendships, love, learning - and a large topping up of your human spirit."

Here is someone, who does not claim to be a Christian, but who nevertheless has discovered the truth of Jesus' words:

"it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20.35).

That seems to be part of the natural law, so something for all human beings whether Christian or not. Nor is it surprising. If our God is the supreme giver and we are made in his image, we should expect human fulfilment to come not through getting but through giving.

Now last Sunday morning we were looking at 1 Chronicles 29.1-9. That is a passage that also encourages giving. Chronicles (and so chapter 29) was written centuries after many of the events it records. But the author was wanting to teach some fundamental principles to the Jews in the period after their return from exile in Babylon in the 5th century BC. The temple and the city were in ruins when they first returned. And when rebuilt, they were not what they had been. Many felt depressed and marginalized as still under foreign rule. So the Chronicler uses history to teach various lessons; and one of them is about giving. Then as now people would need to be challenged over giving.

The Chronicler uses the example of David and his leaders, from centuries earlier, and their amazing giving recorded in verses 1-9 of chapter 29. And this example has challenged the people of God to give ever since. But what lessons are there for when people have responded positively and given amazingly? And that does happen. During Christ's ministry there was that poor widow who gave her one mite - which was 100 percent giving. In the apostles' time there were the Macedonian Christians who 2 Corinthians 8.2 says:

"Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity."

And at JPC last year there was amazing giving (or promises of giving) for the Gateshead project. So what do you do when there has been such giving? Well, 1 Chronicles 29 verses 10-20 gives you the answer which we will look at now. And my headings are simply, first, GIVING THANKS and, secondly, KEEPING LOYAL.


First, GIVING THANKS

The danger when there has been generous giving is that people can wish they had even more.

When the second temple was being rebuilt after the exile, in Ezra chapter 2 you read how people had given for its re-building. But then in chapter 3 verse 12 you read:

"many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy."

The old guard were a dampner on the proceedings. This new temple was not as physically magnificent as the old one. The prophet Haggai says (chapter 2 verse 3):

"Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?"

There is always a temptation to want more and something better, after God has provided you with something remarkably good. Some of us may have had that temptation last December over the Gateshead project. It was the temptation not to focus on the amazing answer to our prayers and the amazing amount given or promised, but to focus on the (relatively) small, short way still to go. So how do you counteract such negativity?

And remember, David didn't know for certain that the vast amount given for the first temple would cover all that was needed. But what did he do, nevertheless? Answer - he give thanks to God.

You see, praising God and thanking him increases faith. It gives you a true perspective on things. You have a new confidence in the greatness and goodness of God and that he will, in his time, sort out any further problems.

So as he thanked God, David focused on three things - first, on his eternity - verse 10:

"Praise be to you, O Lord, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting."

Secondly, he focused not just on God being great and glorious but on the fact that his is the greatness, the power, the glory, the majesty and the splendour. He is the source of everything else that is great and glorious. So all else in the universe, however exalted, by comparison is small, powerless, lacking in glory, majesty and splendour - by comparison. Look at verse 11:

"Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all."

Thirdly, David acknowledged that all human financial and material resources and any position we have in this life that enables us to get those resources, comes from God. Look at verse 12:

"Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all."

Are you a senior doctor or businessman or lawyer or teacher? Do you hold some other position that makes you wealthy? Well, everything comes from God your maker and provider. So, of course, you must, verse 13 ...

"... give ... thanks, and praise [his] glorious name."

But when you start to praise God like this, it is humbling. Praising God doesn't only remind you of his greatness. It also reminds you of how much you need God's help and strength. Here was David - a successful man if ever - intelligent, good looking, athletic, artistic, and by this time hugely wealthy. But look at what he says in verse 14:

"who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand?"

He knew that he was just a steward of God's gifts - whether they were in the form of money or power. He also had the sense to realize his finitude. He and his nation were always politically under threat; and physically he knew, that sooner or later, death comes to all. Look at verse 15:

"We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope."

That put all his (and his people's wealth and generosity) into perspective. So, of course, there was (and is) no place for human pride or for flattery of any big givers. It is God you are to thank - verse 16:

"O LORD our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you."

So, first, after this abundant giving, David gives thanks. He praises God. And we should do the same at JPC after there has been great giving. But ...


Secondly, David, then, prayed for his people's KEEPING LOYAL to God.

John Wesley once said this: "Wherever true Christianity spreads, it must cause diligence and frugality, which, in the natural course of things, must beget riches! And riches naturally beget pride, love of the world, and every temper that is destructive of Christianity.

When there is faithful giving for God's work and people are disciplined about their money and steward it wisely, on average, their wealth grows. True, God sometimes allows our wealth to be taken away as in the case of Job in the Old Testament.

Social science, however, has shown that Christian believers, on average, do better financially than their peers from the same social background. But increasing wealth leads to temptation - to be proud and not humble. People think their wealth is all due to their own efforts. They forget that it is God who has given gifts and skills in the first place. David seems to have been aware of this temptation and seen the need for the long haul, spiritually speaking.

There is a book by Eugene Petersen entitled, A long obedience in the same direction. That is what is so needed in many areas of the lives of God's people and not least in this matter of giving. But what precisely does that mean? Answer - a loyal heart. Sort the heart out and all will be well. David saw that so clearly.

Look at verse 17

"I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you."

There was integrity in the giving recorded in verses 1-9 and it was joyful and willing. There was no compulsion. The people wanted to be partners together with God in forwarding his kingdom. They treated it as a privilege to be able to have a share in his work. Their hearts were right.

Jesus said that money and your heart are linked - Matthew 6.21:

"where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

So in David's time; in post-exilic Judaism; and now in the 21st century, giving for God's work was (and is) evidence that people's hearts are right with God. David, therefore, doesn't pray: "Lord keep me and them giving money like we have been giving." No! He prays, verse 18:

"O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you."

That raises the question: are our hearts right with God?

Is our number one passion in life that God's kingdom comes and his will is done on earth as it is in heaven? Do you seek first God's kingdom trusting God that all else will then be given to you as you need it? That is what Jesus said we should do (Matthew 6.33).

Maybe someone here this morning hasn't even responded to God's basic offer of a new heart as you trust Christ to forgive you and to remake you by his Holy Spirit? Why not receive that offer this morning?

David, of course, knew that once the temple was built there would be day to day costs to be met. Similarly once this church was built in 1861 there have been on going costs ever since and these have to be met. But what is needed is not arms twisted but people keeping their hearts loyal (not to king David or to any man) but to God.

Yes, money is a spiritual issue. So first David prayed for hearts to be kept loyal to God.

But, then, secondly he prayed for the new leader - Solomon - that he would keep spiritually sound. That is still a fundamental prayer need in every age - that the leaders of the people of God remain true to his word.

They then are to spend the money that has been given so that God is glorified. And with us he is to be glorified on Tyneside in an age when more and more are going further and further away from him. Look at verse 19:

"give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, requirements and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided."

Let me conclude and sum up.

What do we do when there has been wonderful giving?

First, thank God who is king of all and the giver of all.

Then, secondly, pray that we all keep our hearts loyal and desire to see God honoured and his work grow. Then we will continue with our giving and there will be further cause for praise - as in verse 20:

"Then David said to the whole assembly, 'Praise the LORD your God.' So they all praised the LORD, the God of their fathers; they bowed low and fell prostrate before the LORD and the king."

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