generosity

2 Kings 8, Daniel 12

Today we’re reading 2 Kings 8 and Daniel 12.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 8.

Back in 2 Kings 4 we were introduced to a married couple who lived in a town called Shunem. That chapter described them as “well-to-do” (4:8b) meaning that they were wealthy. The wife in this family invited Elisha to come to their home for a meal and that became a pattern. 2 Kings 4:8c says, “So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat.”

This woman was gracious with more than just their food. Verses 9-10 of chapter 4 describe how she planned with her husband to make a room on the roof for Elisha to stay in whenever he came to town. There’s more to that story--Elisha asked God to give her a son and, after he did, he died but God raised him back to life through Elisha.

Here in chapter 8 we learned that Elisha told this family to leave when the famine was coming (v. 1) and they listened (v. 2). While they were gone, someone squatted on their home and their land. She went to see the king to ask him to restore the land to her. Wouldn’t you know it, just at that very minute Gehazi, servant of Elisha, was telling the king about the resurrection of her son (v. 5). Timing is everything and, in the providence of God, Gehazi’s story plus her appearance at the end of it caused the king to give her both justice and favor. Justice was the restoration of her home and land; favor was also getting “all the income from her land from the day she left the country until now” (v. 6e).

All of these good things that happened to her began when she showed kindness to God’s servant Elisha. By volunteering to feed him, then welcoming him back again and again to her dinner table, and then building a private room for him, she was aiding the Lord’s work by blessing God’s servant. After those acts of kindness, God blessed her again and again--giving her a son when she was childless, raising that son from the dead when he died prematurely, and restoring her home, land, and income.

The Bible does not guarantee wealth to those who bless God’s work, but it does promise blessings to those who give. Jesus said it this way, “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” (Luke 6:38).

Are you faithful in giving to the Lord’s work? Are you generous with others and look for ways to volunteer and meet the needs of God’s servants?

1 Kings 22, Daniel 4

Today, read 1 Kings 22 and Daniel 4.

This devotional is about Daniel 4.

People who have been highly successful face the temptation of taking too much credit for their success. The assumption for that person is that people pretty much get what they deserve so, since that person is successful he must deserve it. The opposite is often believed, too; namely, the unsuccessful deserve their failures so the successful and powerful should feel no pity toward the “losers” of life, nor should they feel bad if they oppress them. If they weren’t such losers, they’d figure out how to avoid being oppressed, the successful oppressor thinks.

What does the successful person think he has that gives him such a large advantage over others? Often, he believes in the superiority of his own intellect.

Here in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar is warned about becoming proud of his success. His warning came at a time when he was "contented and prosperous” (v. 4b). The good feeling he had about his life faded quickly, however, after he had a disturbing dream that he did not understand (vv. 5-7). God gave Daniel the interpretation (vv. 8-26) and Daniel delivered the Lord’s message that the dream was a warning against Nebuchadnezzar’s sins (v. 27).

A full year later, the fulfillment came and Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and, temporarily, his kingdom (vv. 28-33). This experienced humbled Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 34-35) just as God said (v. 32, 37). The ultimate lesson is that God hates pride and often chooses to humble the proud in order to demonstrate his sovereignty and lordship.

But notice what Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar to do after he received the vision but before it was fulfilled. In verse 27 Daniel told him, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” Did you notice that phrase, “by being kind to the oppressed”? Remember I stated earlier that the successful, the proud, often think they deserve their success because they believe that people get what they.deserve. That feeling of entitlement causes the powerful to oppress the weak. Daniel’s advice, then, was to show true repentance by showing kindness to the oppressed. When one is truly humble, that person treats everyone with dignity. He doesn’t “kiss up and kick down” as the saying goes. Instead, he is kind to everyone, especially those who need kindness the most.

Do you believe that you deserve the life that you have? Is it impossible to believe that you could be homeless, family-less, unloved and living on the streets? I have been told that many people who live that way are mentally ill, just as Nebuchadnezzar was in verse 33. Yet how often do we see people begging and wonder if they really “deserve” our help?

1 Kings 9, Ezekiel 39

Today, read 1 Kings 9 and Ezekiel 39.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 9.

David and Solomon had a good relationship with the kings of Tyre. They seemed to enjoy knowing each other but they certainly enjoyed the prosperity that their trade relationship brought to each of them. David and Solomon benefited greatly from the natural resources that Tyre sold and shipped to them. Verse 10 referenced the “twenty years” that Solomon spent building the magnificent temple of the Lord and the even more magnificent palace where he lived. Now, in verse 11, we read that Solomon gave 20 towns to Hiram king of Tyre. The text doesn’t say, but it is possible that the 20 towns corresponded to the 20 years Solomon spent building--1 town to represent 1 year.

Hiram was probably delighted to be told that these towns would now be part of his kingdom. Delighted, that is, until he took a tour. Verse 12 told us that after his tour, “he was not pleased with them.” Instead of hiding his displeasure, he asked Solomon what was up: “What kind of towns are these you have given me, my brother?” (v. 13a) is a rhetorical question. Hiram’s answer to that question was not very good. At the end of verse 13 “he called them, the Land of Kabul.” “Kabul” according to the footnote in our NIV text “sounds like the Hebrew for good-for-nothing.”

Does this mean that Hiram was ungrateful for Solomon’s gift? Maybe.

But it probably indicated something of Solomon’s stinginess. These last few chapters in 1 Kings have been describing Solomon’s vast income and wealth in detail. Solomon extracted high prices and high taxes from others and became a wealthy man accordingly. But, if his gift of towns means anything, he was stingy. Solomon received extravagantly but he seems to have given very sparingly.

Solomon probably thought he was a gracious, magnanimous giver when he handed over the keys to these towns. The problem is that the receiver of his gift didn’t think so. If you want to make someone feel loved, appreciated, and that you’re spoiling them, you need to give them something that THEY value, not something that you value. To use the idea of “love languages,” you need to find out what communicates love to the other person and express your love in that language.

How are you doing on that? Are you thoughtful and generous in your giving to others or are you stingy and self-centered? When God gave us a gift of love, he gave us his very best--our Lord Jesus who willingly sacrificed himself for us. We should keep his gift in mind and treat others with that kind of love and care which Jesus showed.

Deuteronomy 31, Isaiah 58

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 31 and Isaiah 58.

This devotional is about Isaiah 58.

There is a place for symbolism and ceremony when it comes to following the Lord. In the Deuteronomy 31 chapter that we also read today, God commissioned Joshua (vv. 14-15), a symbolic act where the Lord officially recognized Joshua as Israel’s leader. So, symbolism sometimes is useful.

Here in Isaiah 58, however, God confronted the mere symbolism of fasting. In verse 2 he said, “day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways....” Fasting was the symbol they chose to signal their sincerity and desire to know the Lord. But they were unhappy that their humility in fasting did not give them the answers to prayer they had been seeking (vv. 2b-3d). In response, the Lord called attention to the ways in which they were living disobediently to him while they attempted to show their devotion through fasting.

Fasting was regarded as a way to express humility (v. 3c, 5b). Humility is about unselfishness; it is about acknowledging that God is the Creator and Lord and we belong to and serve him. But the Lord was unimpressed by the pretense of humility symbolized by fasting. Instead, he wanted to see some actual humility, some real unselfishness, expressed in giving your workers some time off to rest (v. 3f), not bickering and arguing with others (v. 4a) or using violence to get your way (v. 4b). If you make your workers work while you take time off, argue with people to get your way, and even beat someone else while you are fasting, you’re not humble or unselfish; just the opposite.

God wanted his people to skip the fasting and be generous in sharing food with the hungry, shelter with homeless, and clothing with those who need it. In these ways you aren’t symbolically depriving yourself but rather depriving yourself in the sense that you give up some of your food, some of your space at home, and some of your clothes to someone who needs them. Generosity for those in need, then, is a greater expression of faith and devotion to God than a religious symbol like fasting.

How does this apply to us today? We don’t have many symbolic or ceremonial practices in our faith because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law for us. But we do sometimes measure our spiritual life by how faithfully we practice things like church attendance, serving in the ministry, or reading the Word. When done from the heart, these change us to live more in line with the image of Christ but they can also be done to reassure us of our spirituality or to signal to other believers how devoted to God we are. We can have perfect Sunday attendance but still be mean and quarrelsome and cranky. We can read the word everyday and not miss one verse in this devotional plan but still selfishly take advantage of others.

We don’t feed the poor or shelter the homeless to earn favor with God. We also don’t read the Word or pray to gain his favor either. All of these things are expressions of a heart that loves God. Verses 13-14a spelled this out in connection to observing the Sabbath: “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord....”

So, do enjoy reading the Word, praying, serving, and worshipping on Sunday because you want to connect with God? Do you show love and generosity toward others because you are grateful for God’s love and desire to share it with others? This is the kind of worship God wants. It is worship that does what he commands but does it from the heart, not to impress God with our consistency.

So, how can you show genuine generosity to someone today?

Deuteronomy 26, Isaiah 53

Today the schedule calls for us to read Deuteronomy 26 and Isaiah 53.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 26 but if you’d rather read about Isaiah 53, one of the greatest passages (poetically and prophetically) in the Old Testament, then you can read my 66in16 devotional about that passage here: https://calvary-bible.org/blog/2016/6/21/deuteronomy-26-psalms-117118-isaiah-53-matthew-1?rq=Isaiah%2053

But, about Deuteronomy 26, yesterday I wrote about Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 25:4 and how it teaches us that God’s word has ongoing relevance to every believer in any age, even if if doesn’t directly apply to you. In other words, you don’t have to own oxen to be obedient to Deuteronomy 25:4.

As I mentioned yesterday, Paul saw the command in Deuteronomy 25:4 not to muzzle the ox as a specific instance of a universal truth: people who work should benefit from their labor. Specifically, he argued in 1 Timothy 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 9:9 that people who benefit from the ministry of apostles, evangelists, pastors, etc. should provide financial support to those church leaders. Today, in Deuteronomy 26, Moses commanded the people entering the promised land to bring 10% (a tithe, v. 12) of what the land produced and dedicate it to the Lord. This initial tithe was a thank-offering; they were to rehearse Israel’s history from Abraham to the present day when they brought it (vv. 5-10). It was an offering to God because it was called “the sacred portion” in verses 13 and 14. But, although it was an offering to God, it was given for the benefit and blessing of specific people. Namely, it was giving to “the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow” (v. 13). The foreigner, the fatherless and the widow were people who unable to provide for themselves so they needed to be provided for by others. This tithe was God’s way of doing that.

The Levites, on the other hand, did not have an allotted portion of land like every other tribe. Instead, they were scattered among the towns and villages of all the tribes in order to teach the Law of God to the people. They were allowed to own and farm land, but their primary responsibility was to teach God’s people his word and to minister at the tabernacle (later, the temple) during assigned times. God’s command was that the tithe would provide financial support to these ministers of his word so that they could serve the spiritual lives and needs of his people.

There are no commands to tithe in the New Testament and some believers are convinced that tithing is not for the New Testament age. In principle, I agree. We are not under the law so Moses’s command to tithe does not have the same force as it did for the people of Israel.

However, as we saw yesterday, all of God’s word is written for us even though it was not written to us. God’s work still needs to be financially supported somehow and the New Testament (like the aforementioned 1 Timothy 5:18 & 1 Corinthians 9:9 but also Galatians 6 and other passages) commands believers to give financially for God’s work. The 10% rule is not commanded but God’s people are encouraged to give generously, to store up treasure in heaven. Think about this: do you think that Paul, who was raised in Judaism and taught to give 10% would think that a few hundred bucks, or 1% or 5% or anything less than 10% would qualify as giving “generously?”

So, God’s word does not require anyone in this age to tithe but it does command God’s people to give to provide for the poor and for the work of God’s ministry. Here at Calvary, our membership covenant requires tithing so, if you’re a member, you agreed to tithe to our church even if you don’t think tithing is for today. But beyond all of this, notice what Moses said would happen when God’s people brought a tithe to the Levites and the poor:

  • Verse 11: “Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
  • Verse 12: “you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

These passages show the human benefit, the personal blessing that giving to God’s work and to the poor will bring. You will rejoice (v. 11) and so will the recipients (v. 11) because they will “eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

Do you tithe to our church? If not, do you think the Lord is pleased by your decision?

Deuteronomy 23, Isaiah 50

Today we’re reading Deuteronomy 23 and Isaiah 50.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 23:24-25.

The foundation of capitalism is the right to private property. The Bible affirms that right in the 8th commandment: “Do not steal” (Ex 20:15). So, any possession you have is yours, provided you acquired by righteous means such as building it, buying it, receiving it as a gift, or swapping it for something else of value.

Ownership and value are destroyed by theft so owners and producers of value have good reasons to defend what they own. But there is a difference between defending against theft and being stingy. A stingy person isn’t someone who defends what they have against theft; a stingy person is someone who hordes things for himself.

In this chapter, God specified some ways in which his people were to show generosity to each other. One of those ways was described in verses 24-25. If you’re hungry or just want a snack as you are walking by the vineyard or field of your neighbor, you may take some of what is growing there and enjoy it. That is neighborly generosity, according to God’s law. It is not stealing.

However, if you “put any in a basket” (v. 24c) or “put a sickle to their standing grain” (v. 25c), that is not allowed. That is stealing because in those cases, you would be helping yourself to a large share of their value without doing any work to plant or cultivate the vineyard or field. That violates another family’s private property, diminishes the value of their work and assets, and materially affects their livelihood.

The Lord’s intent here is to teach us to be generous to our neighbors, to share with them in ways that won’t substantially alter the living you make from your work. Maybe in your context, it means lending tools to someone who needs them. You might make your living with those tools but, in most instances, lending those tools to someone for a few hours to a day would be a generous thing to do. Another example, maybe, is helping a friend or another brother or sister in Christ fix or replace something in their home without charging for it, even if that’s how you make your living. This is particularly generous if the person you help is poor. If they call you every time something breaks and don’t want to pay, that is taking advantage of you and is tantamount to stealing. But, in smaller instances where we can help others, God wants us to be generous.

Are you a person who is stingy? Do you love to give and help others in need or are you always counting the cost? Faith in God should lead us toward generosity to others. This is an act of faith because, in generosity, we trust that God will provide for us and bless us when we are kind and generous to others. What opportunity might you have today to bless someone with generosity, meeting a need in their life that will cost you little to nothing but mean so much to them?

Deuteronomy 15, Isaiah 42

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 15 and Isaiah 42.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 15.

Poverty is an evergreen problem. It affects every society from the most affluent to the most socialistic. Here in Deuteronomy 15, Moses taught the people of Israel about dealing with poverty in a godly way. Let’s start with two verses in this singular chapter that appear to be contradictory:

  • verse 4: “there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,”
  • verse 11: “There will always be poor people in the land.”

There is no actual contradiction because verse 4 says, “there need be no poor” not “there will be no poor.” The reason that “there need be no poor” is that God “will richly bless you” [here comes a part I didn’t include above:] “if only you fully obey the Lord you God” (v. 5a). When Moses said in verse 11 that, “There will always be poor people in the land” he was acknowledging that Israel would not fully obey the Lord and, therefore, poverty would be one result.

So, even in the prosperous promised land, poverty would exist. How did God want his people to deal with it?

  • First, notice that debt is allowed and it is one of the solutions to poverty. However, God’s law regulated the use of debt so that it would not be permanently oppressive to poor Israelites. That is what verses 1-6 are about. These verses say that debts can be incurred but they must be canceled every seven years (vv. 1-2). Furthermore, God’s people were to be kind and generous toward the poor even when making loans (vv. 7-10).
  • Second, slavery was allowed but only for seven years if the slave was an Israelite (vv. 12-18).

There is a lot more I would like to say about this chapter, but I’ve already written a lot so let me close with a few observations for your edification.

First, compassion and generosity are commanded toward the poor. See verses 8, 10, 11b, 13, and 14. But, just so that you will see at least one of those verses, allow me to quote verses 7-8: “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” God’s people were commanded to be kind and generous to the poor.

Second, the causes of poverty are not addressed in this chapter. Proverbs talks about what causes poverty so that we can learn to avoid some of the behaviors that lead there. But, in this chapter, there is no pointing of fingers at the poor. God did not say, “Find out if someone is poor because of their own laziness or abuse of alcohol or whatever, and only help those who can’t help it that they are poor.” No. Some people are poor because they had a hardship--their father died when they were little kids or they had a drought or someone robbed them--while others are poor because they made bad decisions or were lazy. God did not teach his people to discriminate against any poor people. If they were poor, God’s people were supposed to be kind and generous toward them.

Third, work is one prescription to end poverty. When verse 12 says, “If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you...” it is describing a particular kind of slavery. The person in verses 12ff sold themselves into slavery because they needed money to live and to pay off debts. This was a limited type of slavery that was only to last a maximum of six years (v. 12b). We don’t practice any kind of slavery any more--a good thing--but the principle of working your way out of poverty is still a valid one. One solution to poverty is a loan with generous terms (vv. 1-11) including cancellation of the loan (v. 2d). Another solution is work (vv. 12-18).

Fourth, there is no command to build a government program to help the poor. The generosity God commands here is the generosity that comes from a willing heart not because federal agents with guns took your prosperity to re-distribute it. Some Christians appeal to passages like this in order to argue for big government programs. That is not what is taught in this passage or in any other passage of scripture.

Caring for the poor has never been easy for me. I was raised in a fundamentalism that said, “Don’t give money to beggars; they’re just going to use it to buy alcohol.” That might not be bad advice but to me it justified doing nothing. My attitude was wicked in the Lord’s sight according to verse 9. Over time, I have learned to be more generous with poor people, due to passages like this and seeing how compassionate people like my wife are toward those in need. This is still a struggle for me, though, I will admit. Don’t be like me. Don’t judge poor people for being poor; treat them with kindness, love, and generosity.

Exodus 35, Proverbs 11, Psalm 83

Today’s scheduled Bible readings are Exodus 35, Proverbs 11, and Psalm 83.

This devotional is about Exodus 35 with a cross-reference to Proverbs 11:24-25.

God’s law was given and God’s promise to lead Israel to victory was secured in the preceding chapters. Those who were unbelieving and worshiped the golden calf had been punished for their sins. Now, here in Exodus 35, it was time for God’s people to do what God had commanded them to do for worship.

The passage began with a reminder of the importance of rest and worship on the Sabbath in verses 1-3. Then, in verses 4-9, God commanded his people to “take an offering for the LORD” (v. 5a). The people were invited to give God the resources that would be needed to create the tabernacle and all its furnishings and equipment. This is how they would have the materials they needed to build a place for worship.

In verses 10-19, a different kind of offering was commanded; it the offering of one’s time and talent. God’s people were commanded to “make everything the LORD has commanded” (v. 10). “Everything” was detailed in verses 11-19. Those who had skills were to help Bezalel do the work (vv. 30-33). They were to learn what they needed to know from Bezalal and Oholiab, both of whom had “the ability to teach others” (v. 34b).

In verses 20-29, the people responded to God’s commands through Moses. They dug around in their luggage and belongings and found all the stuff that was needed to make the tabernacle and the tools of worship. Notice, however, that nobody forced them to give. Although the Lord had commanded them to give, nobody forced them to do so. In fact, the words of the passage communicate directly that their gifts were voluntary. Verse 22 says, “All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought” these items to give to the Lord. Verse 29 repeated the point twice by saying again, “All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord...” and by calling their gifts “freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do.”

This is how God’s work is provided for--by the willing gifts of his people. Although the things they gave (both their treasures and their time/talents) were used by the priests, what they gave was given to the Lord for his work (v. 29: “for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do”).

Proverbs 11:24-25 discussed the blessings that come through generosity. In verse 24, Solomon observed that generous people give stuff away, but gain more while the stingy get poor: “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.” Verse 25 repeats the prediction when it says, “A generous person will prosper” but then it adds a blessing, “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” These verses commend generosity in every aspect of life, not just for the Lord’s work but the principles taught here in Proverbs 11:24 -25 and modeled for us by Israel in Exodus 35 still apply. God provides for his work through the generous giving of his people. Are you giving generously to the Lord or are you withholding from supporting God’s work?

Some withholding is motivated by materialism; some is motivated by fear. In both cases, faith is needed. Do you believe that God will provide for you and even prosper you if you give generously out of love for him?

1 John 3

Today, read 1 John 3.

This chapter continues describing the differences between those who are children of God and those who are not. Of all the important things described in this passage, I am struck most by verses 17-18: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

Here we are on Thanksgiving day. I hope you’re enjoying some great times with family and friends. I hope you are enjoying a great meal, too. But what is the state of your generosity? Are you quick to help out others who have genuine material needs? That is one of the marks of genuine discipleship. If you happen across someone with a need today or on “Black Friday” tomorrow, use the opportunity to share the love of Christ by giving to meet that need.

Proverbs 22:1-16

For your weekend reading pleasure, read Proverbs 22:1-16 today.

Many people--most of us, probably, at some point in our lives--live under the delusion that more stuff or better stuff will make us happy. We think that nicer clothes, or a new car, or a house in a better neighborhood, or just some more spending money to go out when we want is what we need. We think that money is the antidote to worry because if we had the money, we wouldn’t have to worry if the car breaks down. Or, we think that spending is the cure for boredom because dinner and a movie sounds better than leftovers and reruns.

One symptom of our materialism is stinginess. The person who wants more and better stuff has a hard time giving anything to someone else because each dollar spent on others is one less that could go toward that new iPhone.

Proverbs 22:9 urges us to reconsider. It says, “The generous will themselves be blessed....” Being “blessed” means being “prospered” in the loosest sense of the word “prosper.” Sometimes that blessing is material prosperity. The Bible tells us that the things we have and the money that comes into us is God’s blessing in our lives. Other times, though, being “blessed” in scripture refers to the joy or contentment that only God can give. That joy or contentment is usually distinct from our circumstances. There poor people with joy and wealthy people who are miserable. There are people who are ill or aging or who have experienced many problems in life who live each day happily as a gift from God. Likewise, there are some very bitter, unpleasant people who have only first-world problems. This verse told us that those who are generous will be blessed in some way. Is that blessing the blessing of joy or is it the blessing of material prosperity?

The last half of verse 9 may hold the answer. It says that they generous will be blessed “for they share their food with the poor.” This phrase gives the reason why God blesses them. Because they share with others, God shares blessings with them. But what if sharing “food with the poor” IS the blessing? In other words, what if the blessing God gives to the generous is the joy of helping others? What if God is telling us that there is a blessing built in to generosity because it triggers gratitude in those who have their needs met by your gift? What if God wants us to know that within every poor person there is a potential relationship that your generosity might unlock?

If you have no needs, no threats, no real problems in your life but you lack real joy, it’s time to open up your wallet and start sharing. When you share your time serving others in need and spend your money on those who don’t have it, you might find joy like you’ve never experienced before. Take this truth statement and think about how to apply it in your life; the result might make you happier than you can possibly imagine because it will make a real, meaningful difference in someone else’s life.

Mark 12

Today’s reading is Mark 12.

Last year, a man on the University of Michigan’s board of regents and his wife offered to give $3 million to help build a multicultural center on campus. The university accepted their offer (of course) and offered to name the building after them. Students, however, objected because the building was to be named after another man and it would have been the only building on campus named after a minority--in this case, an African-American. In response to the objections, the university changed their plans and decided to keep the original name. And, the couple who offered to donate the $3 million changed their minds and rescinded the offer. Strangely, however, they claimed publicly that getting their names on the building was not a condition of their offer. They also claimed that they usually give privately to philanthropy. If these things are true, then why not leave the original $3 million pledge in place since it was not, they claim, pledged on the condition of having the building named after them?

I dunno; but its seems strange, doesn’t it?

Regardless of how they came to their decision, you and I both know that wealthy people like to get their names on stuff when they give a lot of money. So many buildings on U of M’s campus are named after wealthy people who donated money to the university. Some of the amounts given by these people is extraordinary. That’s why the university wants to honor them by putting their name on something.

Here in Mark 12, however, Jesus was not impressed by the people who paid a lot to the temple (vv. 41-42). Instead of being impressed with the “large amounts” (v. 41b), Jesus was impressed by the small amount given by the widow (vv. 42-44). Although her amount was small in absolute terms, in relative terms her gift was incredibly generous because it was “everything--all she had to live on” (v. 44). It was generosity that made an impression on Jesus, not the absolute dollar amount.

Why is that? Because it takes a lot of faith to give all the cash you have in the world to the Lord’s work. Though others may have given huge amounts, their amounts were much smaller when compared to the percentage of their overall income. It was a genuine sacrifice for this woman to give as much as she did; for everyone else, it didn’t hurt at all.

Have you ever given extravagantly like this woman did--not in the total dollar amount you gave but in the percentage of your income you gave? If not, learn the lesson from today’s passage. God doesn’t need your help or mine to care and provide for his work; instead, he invites us by faith to be part of it so that he can reward us for our faith in him. So trust him with your money and invest in God’s work.

2 Corinthians 8

And, today read 2 Corinthians 8.

Way back on May 11 we read Acts 19, then broke off our reading of Acts to read the two letters to the Corinthians. It seems clear that Paul wrote both of these letters during the two years (Acts 19:10) that Paul was in Ephesus. In the middle of Acts 19, verse 21 says, “After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia.” Corinth is in Achaia which is the southern peninsula of Greece. Paul’s purpose for going to Jerusalem by way of Macedonia and Achaia was to collect an offering from the churches in Greece to help the believers in Jerusalem who were suffering under a famine. Today’s reading, 2 Corinthians 8, discussed that offering for the believers in Jerusalem.

First Paul described the generosity of the Macedonian churches (vv. 1-5). Macedonia is the northern part of Greece and the churches there were the Philippians, the Thessalonians, and others. These churches were facing trials of their own (v. 2a) but were generous in their giving (vv. 2b-5). Paul used their example to encourage the Corinthians to give excellently (v. 7a) as well, which they had already promised to do (vv. 10-15). This chapter closed with a description about how Titus and someone else were coming to collect the offering from the Corinthians (vv. 16-24). In the middle of that section, verses 19-21 discussed the level of accountability that they used in carrying this gift. Paul said in verse 21, “For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.”

In Paul’s world, people paid traveling speakers for their wisdom and even for religious instructions. That gave dishonest, unscrupulous people an opportunity to take advantage of people by asking for money “for a good cause” but keeping much, if not all, of it for themselves. Paul wanted to guard against the temptation to take that money (“to do what is right... in the eyes of the Lord,” v. 21) and against any appearance or accusation of stealing it (v. 21b: “but also in the eyes of man”). Accordingly, each church sent a representative with Paul to accompany this offering to Jerusalem. That way, there were plenty of witnesses that every dime collected was given to the Lord’s people.

Having good financial controls and accountability do not lift one’s spirit to worship. However, the Bible says repeatedly that someone’s attitude about money reflects that person’s walk with God. The Bible warns us again and again about false teachers who are looking for financial gain and for others who will use the Lord’s work as a means to wealth. Many ministries have been victims of embezzlement; others have enriched the ministers in ways that were perfectly legal but not righteous. These fiscal missteps are both sins because they take what was given to the Lord’s work for personal enrichment. I believe the Bible teaches us to give generously to the Lord’s work; I also believe that it requires us to handle the money given to the Lord’s work appropriately.

Ministries are not the only places where money can be embezzled or mishandled. If you are given the opportunity to handle an organization’s money, be someone who welcome’s good supervision and financial controls. They will protect you from false accusations as well as temptation.

Proverbs 11:19-31

Today read Proverbs 11:19-31.

Generosity is a key theme in today’s readings. We see it in verses 24-26 with three separate proverbs on the subject.

  • Verse 24 talks about people who gain more and more even though they give a lot of what they have away. Those people are contrasted with those who cheat others what they owe them and yet become poor.
  • Verse 25 states that the generous will proper and be cared for when they have cared for others.
  • Verse 26 talks about how other people view the generous. People call down curses on hoarders but ask God to bless those who sell the products that they have.

How are you doing on issue of generosity? You know that I believe every Christian should tithe and give to God’s word above that. But are you quick to help others in need when you see that need? Do you enjoy giving to others with no expectation of return?

I can tell you from my own life that helping someone through giving brings more joy than buying more stuff. These proverbs, however, teach that giving actually enables prosperity. Not only should we be generous, then, because of the joy of generosity and because it pleases God; we should be generous because God blesses generous people with financial blessings. Take some time to consider how generous you are or aren’t. Consider whether you are trusting God by faith or hoarding things in fear? Then step out and become a more generous person. When you do, watch to see how your life is enhanced because of your obedience in generosity.

Hebrews 13

Today we finish reading the book of Hebrews by reading Hebrews 13. Congratulations! You’ve read two books of the New Testament already; only 25 more to go.

The author of Hebrews wrapped up his message by giving believers some ways to put our faith into action. It starts with love (v. 1) which shows itself in how we act toward other believers (again, v. 1), how we receive and care for outsiders (v. 2), and how we pray for and care for those who are suffering under persecution for Christ (v. 3).

Living for Christ in this age means honoring marriage with purity (v. 4), living without greed and materialism (vv. 5-6), acting properly toward the leaders of our church (vv. 7-17), and praying for all those who are serving the Lord (vv. 18-19). Finally, the author of Hebrews prayed a beautiful benediction over the original readers of this book (vv. 20-21) and closed (vv. 22-25).

For today’s devotional thoughts I’d like to focus on verses 15-16: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” These verses follow verses 11-14 where the author of Hebrews made one final reference to Jesus as our priest. Just like the body of a sin offering is offered outside the camp, Jesus was sacrificed outside the city of Jerusalem (v. 12). Going to him for salvation is, metaphorically, like leaving the “city” of Judaism. All who follow Christ are now outsiders but that’s OK because we’re looking for an eternal city anyway (v. 14).

But just as there were thank offerings and free will offerings in the Old Testament whereby a worshipper could bring a sacrifice just because he loved God, now the author of Hebrews says that we Christians bring a thank offering in our words. He tells us to offer this offering “continually;” that is, many times throughout our lives. And the content of this offering is “the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” This is evangelism. One of our acts of worship as Christians is to claim Jesus openly and tell others about our faith in him.

The second type of Christian sacrifice is described in verse 16: “ And do not forget to do good and to share with others....” This consists of being generous to others. It may be others who have a need or simply others whom we choose to bless by giving. So we do not bring a sacrifice for our sins, to appease God’s wrath for what we have done. Jesus paid the penalty for this himself and his blood makes “the people holy” (v. 12). Like an Old Testament worshipper who brings freewill offerings just out of love for God, we bring sacrifices of worship to God when we openly identify with Christ and share his eternally life-changing message and when we are generous to others around us.

Here’s an opportunity, then, for us to look at serving God this week. Are there lost people around you who don’t even know that you are a Christian? Look for an open door to speak to that person about Christ. Are there others around you who have needs or who just would be blessed by your generosity? Reach out to bless them with what you have--a financial gift, a meal, whatever. God loves these kinds of Christian sacrifices because they show our love and devotion to Jesus. Yes, the Lord loves our worship and praise in singing and prayer, but he also is delighted in our actions through evangelism and showing kindness to others.

Matthew 25

Today we’re reading Matthew 25.

Christ continued to prepare the disciples for the future here in Matthew 25 by describing his coming kingdom using three parables:

  • The Parable of the Ten Virgins calls us to be prepared, watching and waiting for Christ’s return (vv. 1-13).
  • The Parable of the Talents teaches us to be productive with what God has given us, not just be happy to preserve his gifts to us (vv. 14-30).
  • The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats instructs us to help the needy around us as if we were giving assistance to Jesus himself (vv. 31-46).

Let’s focus on that last one and notice that those who are stingy toward the poor and homeless will be sent to hell (vv. 41-46).

[Pause, and let that sink in.]

I don’t know about you, but I find Christ’s words there to be very sobering. I was raised to tithe and have never had any struggle with obedience in that area, but that doesn’t mean that generosity in other areas is easy for me. It is easy for me to give to people in our church who have needs. I know them, so I am naturally inclined to help. But, when it comes to complete strangers who have needs, it is much harder for me to give. Behind my stinginess there are a lot of excuses--what if they use the money I give them to buy drugs or booze? What if they are begging to avoid working and also collecting welfare, too? If I let them stay at my house, will they steal from me or hurt my family? Some of these are legitimate questions and we should try to help people responsibly--not enabling them or putting ourselves at risk of being exploited. But I’m much more likely to turn away from a legitimate need than to be so generous that someone might exploit me. My instincts are selfish but Jesus says that his followers will be generous. That’s the takeaway from this passage: Do we want to hoard cash and stuff for ourselves or, since we are merely managers of God’s stuff (vv. 14-3), are we learning and desiring to assist others in need because we love Christ and see generosity as a pathway for serving him?

I can’t leave this devotional behind without saying something else: a lot of people apply passages like this one by calling on the government to help the needy. Their interpretation is that obedience demands that we pay more in taxes so that more government programs can be set up and funded for the poor. There are practical reasons why I think that’s a terrible application of this passage. So much money earmarked by the government for the poor inevitably goes to pay government employees to design and manage programs. But beyond the usual complaints of “waste, fraud, and abuse” which I think are legitimate, Jesus’ parable talks about person-to-person giving, not indirect giving through the government. Furthermore, he wants us to give willingly, from the heart, not because federal agents with guns threaten us with fines and jail time if we don’t pay up. So, I reject the argument that this passage demands a government application.

Still, let’s not allow the political stuff to let us off the hook. Jesus clearly taught that a sign that you are a genuine follower of his is that you are genuinely generous when you get the chance to help others. I’m asking God to help me grow in this area and to be ready today if a need presents itself to me. Hope you’ll do the same or at least consider how to apply this parable in your life as a Christian.

Leviticus 19, Psalms 23–24, Ecclesiastes 2, 1 Timothy 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 19, Psalms 23–24, Ecclesiastes 2, 1 Timothy 4. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Leviticus 19.

Leviticus 19 contains a large number of commands on various topics. The passage begins with a call for God’s people to emulate his character: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”’” Every command in this chapter flows from the holiness of God. Those who desire to know God must also desire to become holy; this chapter gives some specific ways in which holiness works out in the life of a believer. Being “holy” simply means “set apart.” God is set apart from humanity in two ways: First, he is Creator and we are the created. There is a distinction between the Creator and creature that we can never cross. As Creator, God has certain qualities that we can’t understand, much less emulate. These are things like knowing all things, having all power, being everywhere present in the fullness of his being, and others. These are qualities that only God can have; they are one way in which God is holy.

Usually, though, when we talk about God’s holiness, we are talking about his moral perfection. God is set apart from people in the sense that he is perfect morally. He has no sinful desires or actions. God did intend us to emulate this quality. Adam and Eve began with a perfect moral nature; if they had refused the temptation offered to them in the garden, humanity would have existed in moral holiness just as God did. Since we chose to sin, however, we are unholy. In Christ we are declared to be holy and God’s Holy Spirit is working us over morally so that we become more holy like Jesus was, but it is an ongoing process that does not reach completion until we see Christ. 

When God commanded Israel to be holy (v. 2), he was commanding them to set themselves apart from the nations around them. This required faith that living according to God’s commands would be better than living according to their natural moral instincts, the ways that were common to the other nations around them. Many of the commands here in Leviticus 19 are easily understood as categories of holiness—either moral holiness, such as “no idols” in verse 4 or cultural holiness, such as “do not mate two different kinds of animals” in verse 19. But what do you make of the command, “do not reap to the very edges of your field… leave them for the poor and the foreigner”? In what way does this command flow from the holiness of God?

The answer is this: God affirmed the righteousness of private property rights in verse 11a: “Do not steal.” This command tells us that people have a right to private ownership and that it is morally wrong to take, either by force or by deception, any property that justly belongs to someone else. Our capitalist system is built on private property rights. Not only do you have the right to own productive assets (land, flocks, tools, trucks, factories, whatever), you have the right to use those assets in ways that are productive. And, you have the right, morally speaking, to keep the product of that production. That’s why people were allowed to own land, farm land, and harvest what they have planted. 

However, God wanted his people to show generosity to the poor. Unlike other nations where the poor had to beg, borrow, or steal to live, God affirmed the right of his people to private property and to the cultivation of wealth but he also wanted them to be different from the nations around them by generously providing for the poor. Leaving food in the fields for poor people to reap on their own without fear of being killed or prosecuted for trespassing showed love and compassion for the poor. Instead of selfishly gathering every bit of profit, God commanded his people to be productive but also to provide a means for those who were poor to live. This kind of love for one’s poor neighbor would set apart his people from the nations around them. It should also mark us, his people by faith, today. We should be generous to the poor—regardless of why they are poor-because we want to live a holy life that emulates God. That doesn’t mean that we have to support every (or any) government program. After all, the people were commanded to leave the grain out there, not to hand over 40% of what they reaped to the central government. But it does mean that we should do what we can personally to help anyone within our reach to meet their daily needs for survival. This goes against our instincts to watch out for ourselves alone; that is an expression of holiness because it sets us apart from people who despise the poor and even take advantage of them. This is why we as a church have a food pantry and why we leave money in our budget for benevolence. Being holy, like God is, means loving and showing kindness and help to the poor people nearby us.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.