The "Backward" Wisdom of God

Generosity

Teaching t09566

Introduction

If we make happiness our goal by trying to get people and circumstances to give us what we want, happiness will elude us and we will implode into the Black Hole of our selfishness. But if we turn away from seeking happiness, and instead receive God’s love through Jesus and then make our goal to give his love away to others—then happiness will find us.

Tonight we want to apply this theme to a specific area—how we use our money and things. Specifically, I want to argue that one key way of gaining our lives by losing them is material generosity (see Acts 20:35). But before we do this, we need to take a look at two self-saving alternatives . . . 

The “Prosperity Gospel”

This as a gross perversion of this biblical teaching, twisting it in order to bilk poor and ignorant people, etc. I get furious every time I watch these preachers because they prey on such people and inoculate many others from listening to the true Jesus.

But most of us aren’t really in danger of falling for this, are we? How many in this room have ever given a dime to these money grubbers? But instead of turning from this counterfeit/distortion to God’s way of material generosity, most of us turn to something just as horrible and just as ugly, to the very thing that Jesus warns us against—the “American Dream.”

The “American Dream”

The “American Dream” involves the assumption that I use most or all of my disposable income and material resources for my own enjoyment. This is what Francis Schaeffer calls the two impoverished values of “personal peace and affluence.”1 Underlying the “American Dream” is the belief that material affluence can produce true happiness.

Is it wrong in itself to use any of our disposable income on recreation or entertainment? No. Don’t adherents to the “American Dream” give some of their money to charity? Yes (though miniscule percentages, and usually out of peer pressure). But the underlying belief that drives it is “saving your own life.” Walter Williams (professor of economics at George Mason University) is refreshingly honest about this: "What is the noblest of human motivations? Some might be tempted to answer: charity, love of one's neighbor, or, in modern, politically correct language, giving something back or feeling another's pain. In my book, these are indeed noble motivations, but they pale in comparison to a much more potent motivation for human action. For me the noblest of human motivations is greed. I don't mean theft, fraud, tricks, or misrepresentation. By greed I mean being only or mostly concerned about getting the most one can for oneself and not necessarily concerned about the welfare of others. Social consternation might cause one to cringe at the suggestion that greed might possibly be seen as a noble motivation. 'Enlightened self-interest' might be a preferable term. But I prefer greed since it far more descriptive and less likely to be confused with other human motives."2

Losing your life through the “American Dream”

Because he loves us, God expressly and consistently warns us through the Bible that the American dream always eventually turns into the American Nightmare!

See Solomon’s warnings (as one who pursued this way of life) in Proverbs (11:4,28; 15:16,17; 17:1; 21:13; 23:1-8) and Ecclesiastes (2:4-8,11; 5:10,13). Only fools have to learn everything the hard way—we can be wise and learn from others.

See Jesus’ warnings in Matt. 6:19-23 (disappointment when they are taken from you in this life or by death; value-system that blinds you to life’s true path and purpose) and Luke 12:13-21.

See Paul’s warning in 1 Tim. 6:8-11a (ruin and destruction; wander from the faith and waste your life).

See also the whore of Babylon in Rev. 18:3,23 (deceives, makes drunk, corrupts soul).

But you don’t have to take the Bible’s warning on blind faith. All you have to do is open your eyes! All around us the evidence screams at us that if you seek true happiness in this way, you will lose it!

The PBS special "Affluenza" provides an excellent analysis of the results of materialistic hoarding in America: "We're filling our lives with things—and telling others that we're empty inside." They document the consequences of this “disease”—unsatisfied expectations, shopping addictions, chronic stress from credit debt, fractured families, and global infection. This is to say nothing of the financial plight of the Third World poor that Americans could cover and still have disposable income to enjoy!

Or consider these conclusions by David Myers, The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty (Yale University, 1999), who studies the correlation between material wealth and happiness and verifies the Bible’s warning. From 1960-1993, real income in America doubled—but during that same time the divorce rate doubled, teen suicide tripled, juvenile violence quadrupled, and unwed births quintupled. Although the average American has more money today, there is "less happiness, more depression, more fragile relationships, less communal commitment, less vocational security, more crime and more demoralized children."

Paco: “My main goal was to make money so that I could escape poverty and have a meaningful life. But then I noticed that the drugs that were so dangerous that no one in the barrio would take them—it was the middle-class kids who bought these drugs! The people who already had the financial prosperity I longed for had lives at least as meaningless as my own!”

Haven’t you experienced this for yourself? How much longer do you have to pursue this before you admit that it’s a blind alley? The “American Dream” is a horrible, ugly, soul-destroying lie that you should decisively reject! But so pervasive is this ethos, so powerful and seductive, that unless you replace it with God’s way to true happiness (material generosity) you will be drawn back into its vortex of emptiness . . . 

Finding your life through generosity

The key insight is that life is about love relationships (Matt. 22:36-39)—receiving and experiencing God’s incredible love, and then trusting his love by giving it away to others. When we turn the means of material goods and wealth in to ends, they will always lead us into emptiness. But when we pursue love relationships with God and people as the proper end of our lives, and generously use our material resources to advance these relationships, this always leads to fullness (Prov. 11:24,25). What does this fullness of life look like?

You can better enjoy the material blessings you have because you have a good conscience, and you can look forward to eternal reward (1 Tim. 6:17-19).

You will be rewarded by God in the next life, and your affections for the things of God will grow stronger (Lk. 12:33,34).

You can experience the security of God’s material faithfulness (Mk. 10:28-30; Phil. 4:19). Have you ever stayed faithful to your giving even when unexpected bills come up—and then experienced God providing for you? How much more secure is this than your own hoard? 100 times more!

You will receive increased resources that will enable you to become an even greater giver, and you will have the satisfaction of meeting real needs (2 Cor. 9:6,7,10-12).

Becoming a generous person: This is a way of life that God will personally lead you into if only you believe his teaching on this subject and ask him to direct you and then follow his directions. Here are some practical ways that God has led me in this area:

Practice hospitality (see Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:9). Use your home for outreach (neighbors; kids’ friends) and home group ministry (host meetings and hangouts). Put up Christian workers.3

Make a significant and budgeted giving commitment to advance the work of Christ through your local church, missions, and to the poor.

Give more if you prosper unexpectedly. Ask God to show you where he wants you to do this—it is exciting to see how he answers!

Adopt a modest lifestyle—live below your means. This delivers you from consumer debt, protects you from the snare of materialism, and enables you to be more generous.

Take a family vacation to the 3rd world. There is nothing like seeing with your own eyes the great need to deepen your convictions. It has made a lasting impact on my children. You can do this through Xenos’ short-term missions trips, or through many Christian organizations like “World Relief.”

Many of you in this room have adopted this way of life. How has God led you into from materialistic hoarding into generosity, and what difference has it made?

Footnotes

1 “Personal peace means just to be let alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city—to live one’s life with minimal possibilities of being personally disturbed. Personal peace means wanting to have my personal life pattern undisturbed in my lifetime, regardless of what the result will be in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren. Affluence means an overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity—a life made up of things, things, and more things—a success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance.” Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co.: 1976), p. 205.

2 Walter E. Williams (professor of economics at George Mason University), "Greed Versus Compassion," Ideas on Liberty, October, 2000, p. 63.

3 “Don’t start a big program. Don’t suddenly think you can add to your church budget and begin. Start personally and start in your homes. I dare you. I dare you in the name of Jesus Christ. Do what I am going to suggest. Begin by opening your home for community . . . In about the first three years of L’Abri all our wedding presents were wiped out. Our sheets were torn. Holes were burned in our rugs . . . Drugs came to our place. People vomited in our rooms . . . How many times has this happened to you? You see, you don’t need a big program . . . All you have to do is open your home and begin. And there is no place in God’s world where there are no people who will come and share a home as along as it is a real home . . . How many times have you risked an unantiseptic situation by having a girl who might easily have a sexual disease sleep between your sheets? . . . Don’t you see that this is where we must begin? This is what the love of God means. This is the admonition to the elder—that he must be given to hospitality. Are you an elder? Are you given to hospitality? If not, keep quiet. There is no use talking. But you can begin . . . How many times have you had a drug-taker come into your home? Sure it is a danger to your family, and you must be careful. But have you ever risked it? If you don’t risk it, what are you talking about the drug problem for if in the name of Christ you have not tried to help somebody in this horrible situation?  If you have never done any of these things or things of this nature, if you have been married for years and years and had a home . . . and none of this has ever occurred, if you have been quiet especially as our culture is crumbling about us, if this is so—do you really believe that people are going to hell? And if you believe that, how can you stand and say, ‘I have never paid the price to open my living place and do the things that I can do’? . . . Do you talk against the affluent society? That’s another thing we evangelicals are good at. We are against the affluent society. How many times have you risked your share in that society, getting nicked and scratched in the name of Christ? How many times have you risked breaking the springs of your car crowding kids into it to take them somewhere? Don’t talk about being against the affluent society unless you put that share of the affluent society which is your hoard on the line. And don’t dare tell me that these things that I’m saying are not part of the teaching of the Word of God concerning rich and real community . . . Pray that the Lord will send you the people of his choice. But don’t pray that way unless, no matter who these people are across the whole board of 20th-century man, you are willing to take them into your home, have them at your table, introduce them to your family and let them sleep between your sheets.” Francis A. Schaeffer, The Church At the End of the 20th Century (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1972), pp. 107-111.

Copyright 2003 Gary DeLashmutt