Introduction: Our study of Luke 12 last week taught us some important lessons. First, Luke 12:30 tells us that our Father in heaven knows that "we need" the material things that the "pagan world runs after." Second, Luke 12:31 tells us that if we seek God's kingdom, God will give us the things the pagan world seeks. That is an interesting message, one that is easily misunderstood. Let's continue our study this week by looking at what the Bible teaches us about taking and giving to others!
The God Who Promises Us Wealth
Skim over Deuteronomy 28:1-14 and read Malachi 3:8-11. A lot is written against what is called the "prosperity gospel." That gospel essentially says followers of God will be wealthy. Considering Deuteronomy 28 and Malachi 3, is this prosperity idea based on the promises of God? (That seems to be exactly what these two references promise.)
Look again at Malachi 3:10. How much wealth does this say comes to those who are faithful in tithes and offerings? (It says you will not have room for it. That sounds like our farmer from last week who was blessed so abundantly that he built new barns to house all of this wealth.)
There are some who rightfully point out that Malachi 3:10 refers to "blessings" and not "money." How do you understand the nature of the promised blessings in Malachi 3? (First, telling us that we will not have "room enough" certainly sounds like material blessings. However, Malachi 3:11 removes all doubt because it specifically refers to a farmer's success with his crops. God is at a minimum talking about our material success.)
When you consider these verses, do they seem to indicate that God is some sort of generous heavenly vending machine - pay tithes and offerings and you will get back more than you can currently store? (That is exactly how this sounds.)
Is there any reason to believe that is not what God has in mind? Read Luke 12:31. What does this tell us is God's goal for us? (To seek God's Kingdom rather than seeking (or worrying about), material things. The point of Luke 12:22-31 is that we should not make getting rich a priority. If God truly is offering to be a machine that multiplies our money, that would be a direct appeal to materialism. That misses God's point.)
Read Matthew 7:9-11. Do you want to give your children material things? If yes, explain why and then explain why that does not make you a "vending machine?" (We give our children things because we love them. You could be cynical and say that seems like a vending machine, but the truth is that we do it because we love them.)
Read Matthew 7:12. What do the "law and the prophets" do for us? (They give us a better way to live. God's love for us causes Him to give us good things, just like our love for our children causes us to give them good things. My parents wanted me to be successful and prosperous. God has the same goals for us, and He gives us His law to help make that happen.)
Read Hebrews 11:32-35. Except for the last part of verse 35, is this the life you would like to have? Is this the life that God wants you to have?
Read Hebrews 11:35-38. Wait a minute! How do we explain this result? Was not Deuteronomy 28 and Malachi 3 promised to them, too?
Read Hebrews 11:39-40. Who are the "none" who failed to receive all that was promised? Is it just the people of God described inHebrews 11:35-38? (If you are uncertain, read all of Hebrews 11. God's point is that His followers had various levels of success, achievement and prosperity. However, none of them received here on earth the full promise of God.)
What do you think is God's point about materialism and success in Hebrews 11, and how does it relate to Deuteronomy 28 and Malachi 3? (God wants to give us great gifts, God wants to prosper us. However, the sinful world gets in the way so that none of us will realize God's full promise until we reach heaven.)
How should that make you look at the prosperity gospel? (If the full promise comes only in heaven and the earth made new, then our efforts here should be focused on advancing the Kingdom of God - exactly what Jesus directed in Luke 12:31.)
So, how does this work out as a practical matter? Let's turn next to a real life example.
The Practical Life
Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-2. Wait a minute! These are Christians who are experiencing both a "severe trial" and "extreme poverty." How do you explain this result? Is it because they are not obeying God, not giving the Kingdom of God first place, or not being generous with God? (They clearly are being generous. Paul calls them "brothers and sisters," so it appears they are following God.)
How is it possible to be joyful and generous in the midst of trials and "extreme poverty?" (Verse 1 tells us that it comes by "grace." This is further evidence of them having a right connection with God.)
If God is showing them grace, then why are they not enjoying wealth? (This begins to give us a fuller picture of what the blessings of God can mean. We connect joy and generosity with wealth. But, God's grace makes this possible without wealth.)
Read 2 Corinthians 8:3-4. Does Paul have to urge the Macedonians to give? (No. Paul says it was their idea. They "urgently pleaded" to share their money.)
Why would they be begging to share when they are in extreme poverty? (This reflects their love for fellow Christians.)
Read 2 Corinthians 8:5. Paul says that the Macedonians gave themselves first of all to the Lord and then to Paul and Titus. Is that order important? (Yes. The gift to Paul and Titus came as a result of "the will of God." It is this change in our attitude, caused by the Holy Spirit, that counteracts our natural tendency towards greed.)
Read 2 Corinthians 8:6-7. Do we need help to acquire the "grace of giving?" (Titus' job was to help them with that.)
As you look at the list of things in which the Corinthians excelled, does this suggest that a Christian might fall down in the area of giving, but not in many other important aspects?
If you answered, "yes," would that mean that each of us should specifically consider how we are on the generosity/greed scale?
Read 2 Corinthians 8:8. Are you encouraged that Paul does not make being generous a command? (It certainly seems to be more flexible than what God said in Malachi 3!)
Have you ever had your spouse say, "I'm not going to tell you to do this, but if you loved me and were as good a spouse as the one my sibling married, you would do this for me?"
If so, did you consider that a command? (That seems to be an exact parallel to what Paul is saying. If your love is sincere, and if you are as earnest as those Macedonians, you would be generous!)
What does this tell us about the connection between generosity and love?
Read 2 Corinthians 8:9. Are the Macedonians, or other earnest Christians, really the appropriate point of comparison? (No. Jesus died painfully on our behalf because of His love for us. That is our benchmark.)
How does this help us reconcile the situation faced by the Macedonians with God's promise of material blessings to those who follow Him? (If our first goal is to pursue the Kingdom of God, then love should be reflected in our life. Although the general result of obedience is a blessed life, some face serious problems, including trials and poverty. Even in the face of those problems God's followers should reflect His love by being generous with others in need.)
Friend, if you find that you need some help in the love/generosity department, why not ask the Holy Spirit to help you?