Giving Freely

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Some here will remember my first car – a custard yellow Cavalier whose colour, let alone ride, made you queasy. But it taught me the attitude to have to old bangers – which is: use them, but invest the bare minimum in them. And so long as it got me from A to B, I didn’t care that it was rusting away and was an increasingly bad advert for Vauxhall.

Contrast that with the attitude of Rolls Royce. The true story is told of a couple touring France when their Rolls broke down. So they phoned Rolls Royce to report this, and the company immediately flew out an engineer to fix it. And later, back from holiday, they contacted Rolls Royce to say they hadn’t received an invoice for the breakdown. To which the company replied, ‘Dear Sir/Madam, We have no record of a Rolls Royce ever breaking down.’ Which is called the attitude of investing for the sake of your company’s name.

And those are the two attitudes we can have towards church. There’s the old banger attitude that says: just invest the bare minimum so that it meets your needs – no bigger vision. As long as you’re getting a bit of spiritual nourishment for you and your children, that’s fine. Or there’s the Rolls Royce attitude that says: the name of the Lord Jesus is at stake. Because just like a Rolls Royce carries that name, and the name is judged by the car, so we carry the name of Jesus on our lives individually and as a church, and his reality and credibility, is judged as people look at us and look at the quality of everything we do as a church. And if we want to see Jesus honoured then, among other things, that means investing money in church life.

Those are the possible attitudes. And Chronicles was written for God’s Old Testament (OT) people at a time when they’d succumbed to the old banger attitude. They’d come back from exile and were a minority who felt demoralised and insignificant – like many Christians today. And one symptom of that was that they’d stopped giving to the temple ministry.

Now we need to understand a bit about the temple. It was partly a symbol – of God’s presence. But it was partly a ministry centre – where people were taught from the Bible and came to meet with God. So just listen to Isaiah’s vision for how the temple ministry would ultimately develop. Isaiah 2 says:

In the last days,
the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established
as chief among the mountains;
it will be raised above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.’ (Isaiah 2v2-3)

So that was a vision of people who don’t yet know the Lord coming to those who do and saying, ‘Tell us about him’ – what we’d call world evangelism. And the temple ministry was meant to be the engine that drove that vision forward. But people had stopped giving to it – either because they’d retreated into treating their faith as just a private thing – rather than something true that everyone needs to hear about; or because, actually, their faith was quietly slipping away. And God inspired Chronicles to call them back to the Rolls Royce attitude.

So would you turn in the Bible to 1 Chronicles 29. One way to encourage faith and vision is to look back to past highpoints of faith and vision. And 1 Chronicles 29 looks back to those who gave to get the temple built in the first place. So three quick lessons from this morning’s helping of it:

Firstly, REALISE THAT THE CHURCH IS CENTRAL TO GOD’S PLAN FOR THE WORLD (v1)

Just imagine getting up a Google map of Newcastle on your computer. And you know how it can show things like terrain and roads. Well imagine you could click on something to highlight the places of ultimate importance and significance in Newcastle. What do you think they’d be? St James’s Park, for the football? The Centre for Life, for world-class research? Procter & Gamble for flagship industry? The answer is actually: the churches. Because there is nothing more important and significant going on in Newcastle than what God is doing through his churches. Just look at v1 to see where I get that from:

Then King David said to the whole assembly: My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the LORD God. (v1)

So the background is: that David has planned the temple but is now handing over to his son Solomon to build it. And there’s no greater task, no more important or significant thing to be involved in, ‘because,’ says David, ‘this palatial structure is not for man but for the LORD God.’ I.e., because it’s going to represent God’s presence in his world and it’s going to be that ministry centre through which people can come to know, and honour him as they should. And the New Testament (NT) says: that vision for the temple is now being fulfilled by the church. So, e.g., to the church in Corinth, Paul writes:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple...? (1 Corinthians 3v16)

And he’d say the same to any local church: ‘JPC, don’t you know that you are God’s temple? That you’re here to represent God to this part of his world, and to be a ministry centre through which people world-wide come to know him and have their lives and eternal destinies changed.’ And there is nothing more important or significant to be involved in.

Do you believe that? Because whether or not you do will determine whether you meet this Giving Review with an old banger attitude or a Rolls Royce one. And that’s why David says at the end of v1:

This... is not for man but for the LORD God. (v1)

Applied to us, the point is: this Giving Review is not just about stuff for me – giving just enough money that JPC ticks on so that I and my family get some spiritual nourishment. It’s about the Lord. It’s about the honour of Jesus. It’s about whether it bothers us that a million people around us on Tyneside are going to live today as if Jesus was not their rightful Lord and as if they owed him nothing. It’s about whether it bothers us that a quarter of the world’s population still have no contact with the gospel.

So, realise that the church is central to God’s plan for the world.

And if we do, we’ll act on lesson number 2 which is:

Secondly, RESOURCE THE CHURCH AS IF IT’S CENTRAL TO GOD’S PLAN FOR THE WORLD (vv2-8)

Look at v2, where David goes on to say:

‘With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God— gold for the gold work, silver for the silver, bronze for the bronze, iron for the iron and wood for the wood, as well as onyx for the settings, turquoise, stones of various colours, and all kinds of fine stone and marble— all of these in large quantities.’ (v2)

Now he is speaking as King of Israel. And his resources included national resources like the spoils from his military campaigns. So it’s tempting to think, ‘Well it was OK for him – he didn’t have to dig into his own pocket and sacrifice his standard of living or savings.’ But v3 puts us back on the hook:

‘Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple: three thousand talents of gold (gold of Ophir) and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for the overlaying of the walls of the buildings, for the gold work and the silver work, and for all the work to be done by the craftsmen. Now, who is willing to consecrate himself today to the LORD?’
Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king's work gave willingly. They gave towards the work on the temple of God five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze and a hundred thousand talents of iron. Any who had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the temple of the LORD in the custody of Jehiel the Gershonite. (vv3-8)

So those amounts listed tell us this was serious giving. And, again, it’s tempting to think, ‘But this was a one-off, wasn’t it? This was the once-in-however-many-generations giving to build the temple’ – a bit like our forebears who gave £5 million in today’s money to build this building and establish this ministry 150 years ago. And it’s true that we’re not called necessarily to build a new building every year. But we are called to give so that the ministry of the church moves forward every year. And if we have the Rolls Royce attitude, that does call for serious giving every year.

And that’s because ministry requires money – on the one hand, for people. Sometimes we’re asked, ‘Do we really need more staff (or even as many staff as we’ve got)?’ And taking the old banger attitude, the answer’s, ‘No. We can tick on and survive and just keep doing the same with the same number – or even less.’ But the Rolls Royce attitude says, ‘The ministry of the gospel, for the honour of Jesus, always needs more people.’ After all, the Lord Jesus told us to pray more workers into the harvest field (Matthew 9v38). So, e.g., five years ago we took on Rod Earnshaw not because we needed him but because Gateshead did – where he’s now leading that church plant which has grown from 50 to 250.

So ministry requires money for people – but also for ministry costs – e.g., the cost of all the new technologies we use. I don’t know if you saw the article in The Journal about our 150th anniversary services. The headline was ‘150 years old but not old fashioned’ (which is a debating point I won’t stop on). And the big thing it picked up on was the fact that – wow! – a church has TV monitors in its building (‘These Christians have actually heard of electricity!’). Which reminded me that the assumption of most people around us is that church is totally out of date and irrelevant. To which the Rolls Royce attitude says, ‘then for the honour of Jesus we have to spend money to communicate the gospel in ways that win the hearing and respect of our contemporaries – not in ways that worked 20 years ago.’ And we could multiply examples of resourcing the church as if it’s central to God’s plan for the world.

And lesson number 3 is:

Thirdly, IF WE DO SO, WE’LL FIND OURSELVES REJOICING (v9)

Look at v9:

The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly. (v9)

Now the world doesn’t associate giving away money with joy. But the Bible does – especially when it’s giving for the spread of the gospel and the ministry of the church. And I’ve found it a huge joy to be part of the more extraordinary, one-off things God has done through our giving – like planting Holy Trinity Gateshead. But I want to remind you of the ongoing joy – the satisfaction of investing in what’s of ultimate importance – by two quotes from past JPC members. One is Simon Price, a past staff member who yesterday became senior pastor of a key church in Bristol. He e-mailed this week and said,

I pray for JPC with real affection. I want you to know that much of my ministry was shaped at JPC and I thank God for the abundant fruitfulness of its labours for Jesus.

The other quote is what one couple said on their last Sunday here before moving away from Newcastle. They simply said, on their way out of the door, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing. It has changed our lives completely.’

And if you can tell me what I can invest my money in that’ll give me more satisfaction than that, let me know.

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