Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reasons for Giving--Acts 4:36-5:11

Almost all of us are guilty of lying. We use “little white lies,” thinking it’s much easier or less painful than telling the truth. But even lies that seem to be little white lies can be deadly when we are lying to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit speaks only truth, and the unity of the church, which we talked about last Sunday, is founded upon Truth.
VS. 3 literally says, “Why have you allowed Satan to fill your heart?” which goes along well with verse 4, “Why have you conceived this deed in your heart.” Too many people want to blame the devil for their own choices. Satan has no power over the believer but that which we give him. Why is what this couple did so closely linked with the actions of Satan? Because their motivation for giving was self-glory. Self is always opposed to Spirit, and Satan is the Opposer.
As graphic as this story is, sometimes death is merciful for those who continue willfully in sin and try to involve others in their sin. Sapphira was given the opportunity to repent and tell the truth, but she continued in the lie. They had “played Christian” but had hardened themselves against the conviction of the Holy Spirit as described in Hebrews 6. They were pretending to be something that they were not.
I wonder if the problem with Ananias and Sapphira was that they had wrong motivations for giving. Certainly their sin was that they lied to the Holy Spirit, but in what way? Was it really because they didn’t give all their money to the apostles for the good of the community? It was promising something to God and going back on it. They said they were giving all, but they only gave part, claiming that it was all. They were under no obligation to give all, but they made a false claim and a false vow. Also, their giving wasn’t about contributing to the good of the community to the glory of God, but about making a name for themselves so they might be as appreciated as Barnabas, not realizing that it was many other things that Barnabas did that earned him his nickname, and that his giving the money from his land wasn’t the most important thing that he did. They gave in order to get. It was out of self-gain, self-interest that they gave. Selfishness and trying to outdo your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ harms the unity of the Body.
I wonder if the lie to the apostles and the lie to the Holy Spirit was not about the amount of money they received for their land, but the self-importance they placed on their so-called gift, and the credit they took for themselves instead of recognizing that the land belonged to God in the first place and God was the one behind the orchestration of the sale. Ananias and Sapphira had a form of godliness but denied God’s power. They didn’t trust that God would provide for them. They didn’t believe that the Spirit would reveal the truth. They didn’t take the holiness of God seriously. They tried to serve 2 masters.
When we lie to God’s body, we lie to God, and when we withhold from God’s body, we rob God. It’s always difficult for me when people give to something that they can put a plaque on but never give to the general budget of the church. Or people who “give” to the church but want substantial control over “their” money. This is a conversation that has come up in pastors’ meetings on a few occasions. It demonstrates not really generosity but selfishness in giving. People want to be able to say look what I did, not look what God is doing in and through His Church. Certainly it is great to have dedicated restricted funds and generous donations for special projects. In fact, the session has been discussing beginning a capital campaign for our roof. But some of the most generous, truest, joyful givers I know don’t necessarily want a plaque on things they’ve given. It still often happens, many times after those people are deceased, and memorials are done for them out of appreciation, but these folks don’t give to brag about themselves. They give because they know they’ve been blessed by God, and they find joy in contributing to God’s work. They tend to give broadly, but carefully, learning about the projects and causes they are supporting. They look for accountability but not control of their gifts. It’s about being part of something greater and developing relationships.
When we contribute our bits to the offering, whether big or small, it’s about something greater. The gifts combine into a whole to support the work and ministry of Grace Presbyterian Church. It’s not just about paying utility bills and salaries, it’s about providing a place in the community where we can gather for worship and go out in witness. It’s about enhancing our individual worship experiences corporately through quality music and a well-kept facility that glorifies God. It’s about providing space for groups to meet and praying that somehow they might encounter God. It is about raising our children to know and love the Lord. It’s about the Word of God preached and the Sacraments rightly administered. It is about us being discipled and equipped to carry out God’s work in the world. It’s about contributing to works of mercy in our local community and around the world in the name of Jesus. It’s a symbol of our unity. It’s about being part of something we couldn’t do on our own.
Ulitmately, what should be our motivation for giving? Love of God and love for neighbor—the same motivator that we should have for everything. Certainly, we all fall short, sin, every day, multiple times a day, but do we repent or do we try to come across as better than we are?
On the back of your bulletin on the bottom it says “sermon notes”. There are some application questions for you to consider—reasons for why you give or don’t give. What are your motivations for giving? Tax credits? To feel good? To leave a legacy? Out of duty? Out of obligation? Out of guilt? To participate in Christ’s mission in the world? Out of gratitude toward God?
What are your motivations for not giving? Don’t care? Wonder what the church has done for you? Don’t think you can afford to give? Don’t think God’s work is being carried out through the church? Don’t think your contributions are needed or appreciated?
Take an honest inventory of these questions. The Holy Spirit already knows the truth.

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