The great Bishop Latimer was once preaching before King Edward VI. He began his sermon by quoting three times over those words of Jesus from Luke 12.15:
Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed (verse 15).
And he then went on, 'what if I should say nothing else these three or four hours?' Greed is a serious temptation.
Did you read about the woman in the paper yesterday who won £22 million on a fruit machine in Las Vegas - the world record? We were told the Desert Inn casino immediately gave her £900,000 to tide her over. Just before she won those millions, at another casino a policeman lost £12,000 playing blackjack. He then took out a pistol and shot himself through the head as he sat at the table. Those two incidents say so much about today's world and greed.
But there was greed in Old Testament times. That brings us to our passage for this morning, 1 Chronicles 29.10-20. Let me just put this passage in context. The author of the two books of Chronicles is writing after the Jews have got back from exile in Babylon. They had gone there as a punishment and to bring them to their spiritual senses for continually disobeying and defying God. The second book of Chronicles closes when Cyrus, the Persian King who had defeated the Babylonians, is in power. And he says that God was wanting him to oversee the building of a new temple in Jerusalem; and he was wanting the exiled Jews to return home to help build it. And many did just that.
Yet, what happened? The Jews had such high hopes. The temple was, indeed, rebuilt. But it was nothing like the old temple. Their hopes were not fulfilled as they wished. They failed to see that God's purposes were not going to be fulfilled as they imagined. No - they were going to be fulfilled in a totally new way - through a new Temple and a new Israel - Jesus Christ and his people. Those who returned expected, no doubt, instant answers to their prayers for power and wealth and the good life.
But what did they get? They got insignificance. The territory of Judah after the exile was tiny. It was 20 miles by 25 miles in extent - about the size of the Isle of Man or the Isle of Wight. Its population had declined to probably a mere 150,000 - much much smaller than Tyneside. They had religious freedom but they were continually harassed by those that lived around. And there was no king - they didn't realise that the king of David's line was going to be, in time, a very different and infinitely more effective king than previous kings, Jesus Christ. They were spiritually depressed. It was a situation very much like today - when the church nationally is declining dramatically and the Christian presence and Christian faith in the UK seems very weak. Malachi - the last book in the Old Testament - gives you an 'eye-witness' picture of what was going on in the period in which Chronicles was written. Basically the people were doubting God and his love. And they were then drifting away from him. There were five main problems.
First, they were sloppy in their devotion to the Lord. Secondly, the priests were teaching falsely and, Malachi says, they 'caused many to stumble'. Thirdly, there was adultery, immorality and marriage breakdown. Fourthly, there were social injustices. And, fifthly, there was a failure to give to God and his work - they were failing in their 'tithes' - giving 10 percent; - and in their 'offerings' - giving above that 10 percent. It was so like today.
So Malachi says - you can read this when you get home in chapter 3 - that God's people needed to repent - they needed to return to the Lord. But, and this is important for us at this time, there was a practical way for these people to say,
'Yes, Lord, I want to return and be on your side. I can't see how everything is going to work out. Life seems bleak at the moment, but I am going to trust you for the future because I believe you love me and want the best for me' -
That practical way to 'be real' was through 'giving' where they had been failing to give. Malachi 3.7ff:
"Return to me, and I will return to you," says the LORD Almighty. "But you ask, 'How are we to return?' 8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse - the whole nation of you - because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."
As Jesus said (Mat 6.21):
where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
There is an undoubted relationship between the way we handle our money and our spiritual state. That is why this giving review is so important. It is not just about funding the church and funding missionary work and helping God's work on Tyneside. Vitally it is about our own spiritual states. It is a practical spiritual health check. And how we all need that check up in this very materialistic world!
But perhaps there is someone here this morning and you have not yet given yourself to Christ. If so you need to sort that out before you think about giving. Never think you can give money as a substitute for giving yourself. You cannot buy your way to heaven. The only way is through faith in Christ. But giving will then help make your faith real and definite. So that is the context of 1 Chronicles 29.
I now want us to think this morning of how our author addresses this situation. And you'll see that I am summarizing what he is teaching by my two headings, first, THINK AND THANK; and secondly, PRAYER NOT PRIDE.
First, THINK AND THANK
This chapter 29 is actually teaching about giving. Our author is taking the history of Israel and drawing lessons from it. And here he is drawing lessons about money and our response to God regarding money. Undoubtedly the situation with the lack of giving that Malachi describes was known to the author of Chronicles. But he deals with the problem in a different way to Malachi. Malachi was very blunt. Sometimes it is necessary to be blunt and black and white.
Jesus was very blunt about money. He didn't seem to mind upsetting people about money. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus he warned of the danger of hell if people lived only for themselves. He was blunt in the Parable of the Rich Fool. You remember he was teaching about the man who put himself and his money first. So God says to him:
'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God (Luke 12.20-21).
It is right to be black and white and to challenge people with the fact of eternity. God will want to know how you and I have spent our money at the judgment day. But Chronicles realizes that people need more than threats and warnings - important as they are. They also need encouragement. And what we have here in this chapter 29 is a wonderful encouragement for our giving to God. You see, the disease of selfishness and greed (or the love of money) is so deep-rooted. The fear of hell or the hope of heaven - certainly a Giving Review - will not root it out. It is only when the reality and love of God breaks into someone's heart and life, that things change. In fact it is God's love in Christ that alone can break the power of sin and motivate us (2 Cor 5:14-15):
Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
That is at the heart of the Christian goodnews - Christ dying in your place and mine, so that we can be free and truly open to God and forgiven. And as you understand the eternal debt you owe Christ, you calculate that nothing is too great or costly to give to him. That was the position of the Psalmist (116.12):
How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me.
And that is the position here in 1 Chronicles 29.10-20.
So his message to the depressed people of Judah (and, yes, to Christians in the paganized West today) is first, THINK. He has already said, in effect, 'think about some great examples of giving' - that was in the first part of chapter 29 when he reminded his readers of the generosity of David and his fellow leaders and how they gave for the temple.
When you read of Christians who have given ten percent or more of their income and proved how faithful God has been, it is encouraging. Jonathan Pryke told us last Sunday evening about John Laing - who gave away to God's work so much of his great fortune. When he died there was £300 left. Wesley left just two silver spoons.
But then there are others who have not been wealthy. Rather they have prayed in money for God's work. There was George Müller of Bristol who founded an amazing work among orphans in the 19th century and prayed in all the money. It is encouraging when you hear of such people.
So Chronicles encourages the people of his day by reminding them of David and his giving for the temple. We are told that David gave out of public funds that he had access to, but he also gave out of his own money - verses 2-3 of this chapter. Then the leaders of families, and the commanders, and the state officials gave. Giving is infectious. And all that is in the first part of chapter 29. But in this second part of the chapter which is far more important in one sense, our author teaches us to think not about human examples, but about God himself. Look at this great prayer of praise, verse 11:
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 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.
That is the reality. Do you believe that? Do you believe that 'wealth and honour' come from God? Then, of course, you will want to help extend his kingdom through your giving. It is only common sense. You see, there are measurable benefits even in this life, from trusting and obeying God. Nor is this a prosperity gospel - 'give to God so that you will get.' But Jesus teaches 'give to God and you will get'. There is a world of difference between those two propositions. Jesus taught (Luke 6:38):
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.
There is a world of difference between a purpose and a result - between giving so that you get, and giving and the result is that you doget. God is good. That is why David is praising God. So as you 'think' about God, you 'thank' him and praise him. And it is progressive. As you thank and praise him, so you remember more about his goodness - and it will lead to gratitude and wanting to give all the more.
In the paper there was an account of an eight year old little boy. He had written to the judge who had granted his adoption order. The letter went like this:
Dear your Honour,
I thank you so much for letting my Mum and Dad adopt me. I'll be nine soon, and I'm in the Cub Scouts ... Here's a picture of me. I'm also giving you four [pennies], because you deserve it.
The judge put the four pennies in a children's fund and told the newspaper reporter: 'It makes it all worthwhile'.
Saying 'thank you' and meaning it helps transform any relationship. It certainly does that in our relationship with God. Giving then becomes, as Paul says of the giving of the poor Macedonian Christians, an 'overflow' (2 Cor 8:2): Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. So think and thank.
Secondly, PRAYER NOT PRIDE
Our author, through focusing on David, is wanting to teach another important lesson with regard to giving: and that is that there is no room for pride. He is perhaps confident that many of the people of Judah will respond and return to the Lord and give. So he wants to warn them about pride.
What about us? I am praying that we get the increase of giving that we need to continue effective work this year at JPC. But what is going to happen next year, when Jonathan Pryke shows the graphs and the charts and God has, as we trust, answered our prayers? There is always a danger of thinking
'aren't we good because we give sacrificially.'
That is dangerous and wrong. All we have in terms of money and property is simply ours to steward. God is the ultimate owner. We are simply returning what is already his. Verse 14:
Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.
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.
If you borrow a book and give it back to me, you are not entitled to be proud; you are just doing the honourable thing. So it is as we give back to God.
You say, 'but why does God operate like this? Why does he let us steward what he needs for his work? Why doesn't he just perform miracles?' From cover to cover the bible teaches that God uses people - to evangelize, to teach and to provide for material needs. Christ's work on earth is now done by his people. Theresa of Avila once said: 'Christ has now ... no hands but yours.'
There is a mystery in God's working. He can work independently of human means, but mostly he calls us to co-operate with him. He requires our prayers. He requires our giving. So there is a paradox. God owns everything but will have nothing unless his people give it to him. To realize that is an antidote to pride. But pride is also overcome through prayer. Look at 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.
And 'this desire' is the giving with 'integrity', giving 'willingly and with honest intent' mentioned in the previous verse. But the people are also to pray to remain loyal to the Lord. And they are to pray for Solomon, verse 19, for his 'wholehearted devotion to keep your commands' and 'to do everything to build the palatial structure'.
So at this time we all not only need to give, but to pray for our own integrity in giving; to pray that our hearts remain loyal and wholeheartedly obedient to Christ; and to pray that God's work gets down once the money is given. So David concludes, verse 20, by saying ...
... 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.