giving

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 14, Ezekiel 44

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Kings 14 and Ezekiel 44.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 44.

Despite the fact that Judah’s exile in Babylon had barely just begun, God continued speaking through Ezekiel about what the future temple and worship in Israel should be like. Remember that this exile would last for 70 years so none of the things Ezekiel talked about in this chapter could or would happen for several decades.

With that in mind, it seems a little absurd to be speaking in so much detail about God’s standards for Israel’s future. It would be like going to prison for 30 years for tax fraud and, while you are there, planning to start a new corporation when you’re released and writing the employee personnel manual for that corporation as if you had 100 employees. Who would do that? It seems like a complete waste of time and energy.

So why would God, of all people, do that? Because his plans for Israel were fixed and his word was certain. There should be no doubt in the mind of any Israelite that their society would be restored and that worshiping God would be at the center of it. Rather than wait for things to develop on their own or for people to make up regulations and laws on the fly, God planned it all out in advance and revealed it to Ezekiel long before any of it would happen.

The last 2/3rds of today’s chapter, Ezekiel 44, talks about how the Levites and priests would minister before the Lord. In verse 28 God said, “‘I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” Levi’s tribe was the only one of Israel’s twelve tribes that did not have a geographic place assigned to it. The men of Levi were to fan out to all the tribes of Israel and live among the cities, towns, and villages of all the people. They could buy their own land and even farm it, but they were not given any land to possess as every other tribe and family was. When it was their turn to minister before the Lord in the Temple, they would come to Jerusalem and live in those rooms that were described in chapter 42 of Ezekiel and alluded to here in Ezekiel 44:19. Yes, the temple had something like a hotel in it where their priests would live temporarily during their duties in Jerusalem. But the rest of the year they lived among the rest of God’s people in cities, villages, and countrysides.

What did they do when they were not on temple duty? Well, many of them ran family farms or had other side businesses, but their main task was to serve God’s people in non-temple ways. Those were discussed in this chapter as well:

First, they were teachers. Verse 23 says, “They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” Second, they were judges. Verse 24 says, “In any dispute, the priests are to serve as judges and decide it according to my ordinances.”

These two duties could keep the priests busy throughout the year depending on how many other priests lived near them and what the population density was around them. Any side businesses they had were to take the backseat to God’s original call on their tribe to be priests.

That brings us to the compensation portion of this chapter. After stating that God would be the inheritance of the priests in verse 28, he spelled out specifically how that would work in verses 29-31: the priests would live off of the offerings God’s people made in worship to Him. Verse 29a says they will eat what the people bring that is edible. Verse 29b says that the priests will own anything that has been devoted to the Lord by his people. And verse 30 commanded the people to bring “the best” and “the first portion” of what they produced.

Pastors like me are not priests but we do many of the functions God gave to priests in verses 23-24. Furthermore, the New Testament drew from the principles in this chapter (and many others) and commanded God’s people to support their church leaders financially. We depend on the tithes, offerings, and gifts that you give to the church for our livelihood. If you and others don’t give, or just give the leftovers, not the first portion as commanded in verse 30, we have to figure out how to do without the things we need to live and do ministry. The point of this devotional, then, is to say that all of us should be giving faithfully to God’s work and that our giving should come first, not after we’ve paid the bank for a house or a car or a boat or whatever. If you give what you can after you’ve paid your obligations, God’s work will have very little because most people don’t save anything at all.

Again, verse 28 says, “I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” It is a great privilege to have the Lord as your portion in life. I once heard John MacArthur say that being a pastor is like being paid to give your full attention to growing in Christ and living the Christian life. I fully agree with him and am so grateful for the opportunity I have to do this. But we pastors are dependent on the financial support of God’s people. Not all churches believe in or practice tithing but all of us depend on the generosity of God’s people. So, I encourage you to make giving to the Lord’s work a priority in your life. God’s work depends on it and this is the way God established to fund his work.

1 Kings 7, Ezekiel 37

Today’s readings are 1 Kings 7 and Ezekiel 37.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 7:1.

The last verse of 1 Kings 6, which we read yesterday, told us that Solomon spent seven years building the temple of the Lord.” The first verse here in chapter 7 says, “It took Solomon thirteen years, however, to complete the construction of his palace.” The chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are not inspired and were long after both the Old and New Testaments were complete. Someone decided to end chapter 6 with the statement that the temple took seven years. The same person decided to start chapter 7 with the contrasting statement that Solomon’s palace took thirteen years to build. That was an unfortunate decision because the original author meant for these two statements to stand back to back as contrasts. He wanted us to know that Solomon spent much more time on his home than he did on the Lord’s house.

I guess Solomon’s house could have been beset by construction delays but that’s probably not why his house took so much longer to build. If we compare the dimensions that are given in chapters 6 and 7, we will see that Solomon’s house was much larger than the temple. Notice:

1 Kings 6:2 says the temple was 60 cubits by 20 cubits by 30 cubits. 1 Kings 7:2 says the palace was 100 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits.

So the two buildings were the same height but Solomon’s house was much bigger--longer and wider--than the temple he built for worshipping the Lord.

Solomon’s house wasn’t just a residence; it was a government building where he also lived. We can see that in verse 7 where we read about “the throne hall, the Hall of Justice, where he was to judge...” and then verse 8’s statement, “...the palace in which he was to live, set farther back, was similar in design.” But the human author of 1 Kings wanted us to see that Solomon’s palace was much larger and took much longer to build than the temple did. The point is that Solomon did an incredible job building a house for the Lord but he spent even more money building a house for himself. He was self-centered, materialistic, and showed poor priorities in the contrast between these two buildings.

Do our lives reflect the same struggle with priorities or self-centeredness? Do we give our best energy to our career or our hobbies but give leftovers to serving the Lord? Do we spend money lavishly on ourselves while being stingy when it comes to financially supporting the Lord’s work?

2 Samuel 8-9, Ezekiel 16

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Samuel 8-9 and Ezekiel 16.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 8-9.

It was a long, winding road for David from being anointed as king back in 1 Samuel 16 to becoming king of all Israel in 2 Samuel 5. After many days of adversity and danger, David was enjoying some success, finally, in the past few chapters of 2 Samuel. Chapter 8 of our reading today is especially positive. It describes military success (vv. 1-6), increasing wealth (vv. 7-12), and growing fame (v. 13). Verse 14 ends with this apt summary: “The Lord gave David victory wherever he went.”

When someone is highly successful, that person may be tempted to become proud or merely complacent. The possibility of kicking back and enjoying the fruit of success can be high. David, in chapter 9, went the other direction. When he finally obtained success he stared looking for ways to be an unselfish, kind servant. Verse 3 told us, “The king asked, ‘Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?’” The answer was Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, “the lame lad of Lo Debar” (v. 4). David moved him to Jerusalem and Mephibosheth ate at the king’s table as if he were a relative (v. 13). David also provided him with servants who tended to his land (vv. 9-10). This was an incredibly gracious act by king David and it made a significant difference in the life of a man with physical limitations.

Are you in a season of life marked by success and stability? If so, have you looked for a way to serve?

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 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?

Exodus 27, Proverbs 3, Psalm 74-75

(I misread the schedule and had you read Psalm 72 twice. Today’s readings catch you up with the schedule).

Today we’re reading Exodus 27, Proverbs 3, Psalm 74-75.

This devotional is about Proverbs 3:9-10.

In this chapter, Solomon gives some general encouragements to be wise (vv. 1-4, 13-26) and some specific ways in which he should be wise (vv. 5-12, 27-31). Remember that wisdom is simply skillful living but, because God is Creator of life and its rules, one cannot be truly wise unless he knows and submits to God. The specific ways in which Solomon wants his son to be wise are stated first followed by the benefits of that wisdom. For instance, in verse 9 he told his son to “Honor the Lord with your wealth” and in verse 10 he wrote that the benefit would be financial abundance.

Solomon’s command to, “Honor the Lord with your wealth” is explained by the second phrase, “with the firstfruits of all your crops.” This refers to the command to bring the first things harvested to the priests to support their work for the Lord (Deut 18:4-5). Israel was to support the Lord’s work first, then sell or trade the rest of the food they harvested to provide for their families. Living in a farming economy could be a scary thing. A bad harvest or total crop failure could leave people starving. It would take an act of faith, then, to give to God’s work first and then live on what was left over. Solomon taught that the wise way to live was to do what God commanded and give to his work first, then live on the rest. His promise was that “the rest” would be an abundance for the faithful believer: “then [after you honor the Lord] your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”

This advice runs counter to most advice that is given on how to build wealth. Financial advisors will tell you to “pay yourself first” and “give to charity” last if at all. If you learn to save, they will tell you, you will prosper. That’s true--and Solomon will teach that in Proverbs, too--but a more important principle is that if you honor God he will bless your work.

Have you tried this? I know that we live in the age of grace and that tithing is not commanded in the New Testament. But does that mean that God no longer provides for and blesses those who honor him with their wealth? I don’t think so and there are New Testament passages that teach the opposite (see 2 Cor 9:6-12). While we don’t give to the Lord in this age because the Law demands it, we should want to honor the Lord with everything we have, including our money. If you don’t give to God’s work faithfully and regularly, take a one month challenge. Give 10% of your income to the Lord for one month; then see if you are as well or better off than you would have been. I think you’ll find that God still blesses those who honor him with their earnings.

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.

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.

Philippians 4

Today, read Philippians 4.

When we read Philippians 1, last Thursday, I described to you the giving track record of the church in Philippi. Thanking the Philippians for their financial support was one of the key reasons that Paul wrote this letter. We saw that in verse 10 when we read, “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me.” Later in verse 14 Paul wrote, “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles” then he went on to describe different times that this church had sent him money:

  • “when I set out from Macedonia” (v. 15b)
  • “when I was in Thessalonica... more than once” (v. 16)
  • “now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent” (v. 18c).

The result of this most recent gift was that Paul was “amply supplied” (v. 18b). Their giving allowed him to rent a house in Rome for two years (Acts 28:30a) while he awaited trial there. Although he was under house arrest, Acts 28:30b-31 records that Paul “...welcomed all who came to see him [and that h]e proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” Although Paul used this money to pay for his personal needs, having his personal needs taken care of allowed him to serve the Lord. So Paul could tell the Philippian church here in chapter 4:18b that their gifts were, “...a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

Years ago we brought in someone to do ministry here at Calvary and one of our members at the time asked me if he was being paid. I answered truthfully that, yes, of course he was being paid. The member in question suggested (not subtly) that his work was not really ministry since he was being paid. I’m not often dumbfounded, but I was then. ”I get paid by the church,” I finally managed to tell her. She had no problem with that, but an outsider was somehow not a legitimate servant of God because he was paid for his work. There are plenty of scriptural passages that refute her, including one from my message Sunday, Luke 10:7, “Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages” (emphasis added). Yet even though God’s servants consume what is paid to them or even prosper from it, that does not detract from the fact that their work is done for the Lord. Paul saw the gifts that the Philippians sent him as timely provisions for his needs--yes--but also as acts of worship to God. Remember those words in verse 18: “They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

Do you believe that? Do you believe that giving to God’s church, God’s servants, God’s work, and even the poor, are actually gifts to God himself? Do you believe what verse 19 said, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus”?

If you believe these things, are you giving faithfully to the Lord’s work?

2 Corinthians 9

Today let’s read 2 Corinthians 9.

This chapter continued the subject Paul began in chapter 8. Both chapters are about the collection for the suffering believers in Jerusalem.

Yesterday, I’M SURE YOU RECALL, was about how the men collecting the offering would behave honorably with the money. They would do what is right in God’s sight and in the eyes of men.

Today, here in chapter 9, the subject shifted to the givers of the offering. The Corinthians had already eagerly agreed to give (vv. 1-2) but Paul was sending some of his associates to help the Corinthians to do what they had pledged to do (vv. 3-5). Starting with verse 6, Paul supplied some motivation for the believers in Corinth to give generously. There are two things that should motivate their giving:

  1. The opportunity to reap abundantly (vv. 6-11).
  2. The opportunity to cause other believers to give thanks to God (vv. 12-15).

Verses 6-11 describe the first reason to give generously which is that giving generously is an opportunity to reap abundantly. Although the New Testament never promises wealth and prosperity for believers, this passage tells us that God financially blesses those who give generously. Verse 11 is very clear about this: “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous....” God gives material blessings to those who give generously.

Verses 12-15 talk about the spiritual results of giving generously which is that those who benefit from your giving will give thanks to God. If you have ever received an unexpected gift, especially if it was one that met an immediate need in your life, you understand these verses. Financial problems create stress for people; they cause people to worry and feel anxiety. The Bible commands believers not to worry but to ask God for his help. When God uses the giving of another person to provide that help, the believer who was rescued financially will be awed at the power of God, grateful that he answers prayer, and will naturally return thanks to the Father for his provision.

How is your giving? Have you stopped giving because you’re worried about your finances? Have you made the excuse that you can’t afford to give but you will when your financial picture improves? This passage, and many others in the Old and New Testaments, call on us to give first and trust God to provide. Giving is an act of faith because when we give our money or our time or other resources for the Lord’s use, we lose the benefits of that money, time, or whatever. So we give it up in faith asking the Lord to provide for us in the future. This passage says he will. Are you willing to claim God’s promise on this and give generously to his 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.

Acts 18

Today we’re scheduled to read Acts 18.

In this chapter Paul met a couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who would become friends and ministry associates. Verse 3 tells us that, in addition to having Christ in common, they also made a living by making tents just as Paul did when he needed money. This work allowed Paul to travel and give the gospel anywhere without asking anyone for money. However, earning a living this way meant spending less time preaching the gospel.

In verse 5, Luke dropped this into the story: “When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching....” Why would he do this? Why would he work part time with Priscilla and Aquila until Silas and Timothy showed up and then, with two other mouths to feed, stop making tents and start preaching the gospel exclusively? The answer is found in Philippians 4:15-16 which says, “Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.” Second Corinthians 11:9 conveys the same information. So here in Acts 18:5 Luke alludes to the financial support the Philippian church sent by saying that “Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching....” Their financial contributions made it possible for Paul and his team to concentrate on giving the gospel instead of splitting time between giving the gospel and earning a living.

Because of this passage, missionaries who work on the mission field are called “tentmakers.” There are some good reasons to do tentmaking, but in most cases the gospel advances better when God’s servants can give it our full attention. That happens when God’s people give faithfully and generously to his work.

So, let me close this meditation by saying thank you to everyone who tithes to Calvary! Your faithful giving allows me to make a living for my family and funds our other staff members and expenses. If you are not giving--or giving very little--please understand how important financial support is to our church and to our missionaries and consider re-prioritizing your finances to support God’s work.

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.

Acts 5

Today’s reading is Acts 5.

The growing church we’ve been tracking since Acts 1 felt the weight of persecution here in Acts 5, but that was nothing new for them. What is new as that the church encountered internal problems for the first time. This happened when Ananias and Sapphira wanted both to make money and get credit for generosity (vv. 1-11).

Sometimes people misunderstand the issue in this passage. The problem was not that Ananias and Sapphira wanted to keep some of the money. In verse 4 Peter said, “And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” This question affirmed that this couple had every right to do what they wanted to do with their property and with the money they gained from selling it. The problem was not that they kept some of the money or wanted to keep any of the money.

No, the issue in Acts 5 was that they “lied to the Holy Spirit” in verse 3. By lying to the Holy Spirit they had “not lied just to human beings but to God” (v. 4d). The lie they told was regarding the price of the land. Verse 2 told us that Ananias “kept back part of the money for himself” but “with his wife’s full knowledge” (v. 2) they told the church it was sold at a lower price (v. 8) and that they were giving all the money to the church, just as Joseph had in 4:36-37. By doing this, they were taking credit for more generosity than they were truly giving. That’s why they were judged for “lying” not for being stingy.

Think about the generous givers in our society. Bill Gates amassed the largest fortune in U.S. history and is now giving it away through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There is some talk that his foundation may eradicate malaria and other diseases. This is a great thing for humanity and no one required them to do it. Other wealthy people have funded schools, educational buildings and libraries, parks and concert halls, and other civic institutions. Usually, though, the giver puts his name on the gift so that everyone will know who funded that project. And by getting credit for it, Jesus would say “they have their reward in full” (Matt 6:2).

Whenever we give money or do any kind of ministry to get the praise and admiration of others, we are trading financial income for praise income. Although it is not always possible to do ministry without being noticed for it, the heart of a believer is to give to God so that He is glorified and we are not. May God purify our hearts and motives so that we give to his work and his people for His glory not to enhance our own reputations. But, in God’s amazing grace, he promises to reward us eternally anyway when we give with a servant’s heart.

Luke 12

Today’s passage for Bible reading is Luke 12.

This chapter is really about the future from beginning to end. It starts with a command against hypocrisy (v. 1) but Jesus commanded against hypocrisy because secrets will be known at the judgment (vv. 2-3) so people should live in light of God’s judgment not the judgment rendered by people (vv. 4-12).

In the middle of this teaching, some guy in the crowd interrupted Jesus and asked Jesus to step in and help him settle his estate with his brother (v. 13). Jesus turned even this interruption back to his topic about the future when he rebuked the man for his greed (vv. 14-20) because he was thinking only about his life on this earth and not on eternity (v. 21). Then, returning to his subject, Jesus told the disciples not to worry about how their daily needs will be met but to trust God to meet those needs (vv. 22-30) while they work for his kingdom (vv. 31-34) and prepare for its arrival (vv. 35-59).

Passages like this one call us to reconsider where we put our time and money. If you knew that Jesus would return tomorrow or before the end of this year or that your death was immanent, would you worry about making every last dollar? Would you care about buying a fancy new car or house if you had your basic needs for shelter and transportation cared for? Most of these disciples of Jesus lived many decades beyond this time and, unless the Lord does come soon, most of you reading this devotional have many decades left in your life as well.

But compared to infinite time--what we call “eternity” how much does six or seven or even ten decades matter? On one hand, it matters a great deal because your eternity is settled during the time you spend on this earth. But that’s in God’s hands; he’s the one who redeems and calls. If he’s called and redeemed you, does it matter if you die with a million dollars in the bank or if you have only the one dollar in your pocket to show for your life?

I believe in living wisely and planning for the future but are we doing that to control our materialistic impulses and to be wise managers of what God has provided to us or are we doing it out of fear that there may not be enough for us in the future.

And what about God’s work--are we using retirement planning as an excuse to avoid funding God’s work through the local church, church planting and missions? If so, we are living by short-sighted standards because God tells us that investments made in this life pay dividends in eternity: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (vv. 33-34).

Luke 8

Today we’re reading Luke 8.

It’s been surprisingly tough to write these devotionals on Luke because I’ve been preaching through these chapters. I’ve already said a lot about all these sections in my messages so I’m struggling not to feel like I’m repeating myself while simultaneously feeling like I’m not saying very much about paragraphs I’ve studied in a lot of detail.

Anyway, that’s my problem, not yours; fortunately, my problem ends tomorrow in Luke 9 when we catch up to and pass the section I’m preaching from currently. For now, though, Luke 8 presents us with one of Jesus’ best known parables (vv. 4-15), some lesser known teachings of Jesus (vv. 16-21) and several miracles (vv. 22-56). The chapter began, though, by listing Jesus’ key financial contributors, some women who traveled with Jesus and the disciples who “were helping to support them out of their own means.” As I indicated in my message on this series, this paragraph gives us insight into how Jesus and the disciples were able to live while devoting themselves full-time to the ministry and it sets a precedent for how ministry is funded that the rest of the New Testament developed for us.

Luke doesn’t say much about what these women did. Verse 2 indicates that they were with him and the Twelve as they traveled “from one town and village to another” and verse 3 says that they “were helping to support them out of their own means.” That last phrase obviously means that they were spending their own money to pay for food and lodging and anything else Jesus and the Twelve needed money for. But why would these women need to travel with Jesus and the disciples? Couldn’t they just send the money by messenger whenever it was needed?

I think they could have sent the money, but I also think they traveled with Jesus and the Twelve to hear Jesus teach just like everyone else who followed him around. I wonder, though, if they also didn’t handle some of the logistics--going ahead of the men to find enough places for them to sleep, buying food and preparing meals as needed. Again the text does not say this, but it makes sense that they would do at least some of this planning and preparation work so as to give Jesus the maximum amount of time to do ministry and to do so without distractions.

This is a small nit to pick in a chapter that has some great material in it but, again, I’ve already sliced all that bread so I’m looking for some crumbs that got away. If you’ve served somewhere behind the scenes--doing sound or lighting or projection or as a Calvary Class helper or preparing meals for families that just had a baby or helping with the Sunday coffee and donuts or giving rides to people to church on Sunday or making copies of material or helping out with office work or cleaning the floors on Saturday night or serving in the chair ministry or making and serving funeral meals or serving in the food pantry or in the prison ministry or doing any other number of tasks, your ministry is important! It may seem unnoticed or feel unimportant but the truth is that it is very important. Servants like you make every ministry possible so if you’ve served in one of these lower-profile places, thank you!

If you could serve in one of these ways but haven’t volunteered yet, would you volunteer this week? Everything we do as a church takes dedicated volunteers so the more volunteers we have, the more ministry we can do. Jesus said that a cup of water given in his name would be rewarded so there are eternal dividends to be reaped if you sow into His work now, even in ways that seem insignificant and small. So, if you’re not serving somewhere yet, one way to put the truth in this chapter into practice is to find your place to serve. It is the Lord’s work so he’s the one you’re serving, just as these women served him in their unseen but important role.

2 Chronicles 35, Revelation 21, Malachi 3, John 20

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Chronicles 35, Revelation 21, Malachi 3, John 20. 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 Malachi 3.

Malachi 3 began with the promise of the coming of Messiah (v. 1), then described the day of his coming in terms of cleansing (vv. 2-4) and judgment (v. 5). Many Old Testament prophecies predict in the same paragraph events that are fulfilled many years apart. Scholars compare this to looking at mountains through a telescope. From a distance, through a telescope, the mountain peaks appear to be very close together, but in reality there are miles between them. Here’s a YouTube video that explains it pretty well. So Malachi here in verse 1 predicted the coming of Messiah which was fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming, then in verses 2-5 he prophesied about what Messiah would do which will be fulfilled in Christ’s second coming.

Verse 6 reminded Israel of God’s covenant with her and that it remains valid because of God’s unchanging nature. Then, in verse 7, God called his people to repent and return to him in obedience. Specifically, he wanted them to return by tithing (v. 8). To paraphrase Jesus, “Your heart is where your money goes,” so by depriving the Lord’s work of the tithe, God’s people were showing their distance from him through financial disobedience. Verse 9 informed the people that the whole nation was under a curse for their refusal to tithe. Verse 10 commands them to bring “the whole tithe” to the temple so that his work would be provided for: “that there may be food in my house.” Then, amazingly, God commanded his people to test him (v. 10b), promising to bless them financially (v. 10c) and protect them financially, too, if they do what he has commanded.

New Testament believers question whether or not tithing is for today or whether it is part of the Old Testament civil & ceremonial law that was fulfilled in Christ. It is true that there are no New Testament commands to tithe. But the New Testament calls us to generous giving (2 Cor 9:6-15), promises eternal abundant rewards to those who give generously (Lu 6:38), and some degree of prosperity in this life so that we can continue to give (see 2 Cor 9:10-11). I believe that tithing is an excellent financial discipline for a Christian and I have seen God bless in my life and others who give generously to his work. So while there is no legalistic demand to tithe in the New Testament, the Christian who does not tithe should consider where his heart is (see Matt 6:19-21) and review the blessings God promises in the Old and New Testaments to those who worship him through financial support. It is truly a blessing to support God’s work financially. Don’t miss out on it!

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.

Deuteronomy 1, Psalms 81–82, Isaiah 29, 3 John

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 1, Psalms 81–82, Isaiah 29, 3 John. 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 3 John.

One aspect of early Christianity that is often overlooked today is how early Christians welcomed and provided for those who were spreading the gospel around the world. This letter we know as 3 John gives us some insight into this practice. 

Christ commanded the apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) but as they obeyed this command, the apostles needed a way to provide for their daily needs. Paul, the apostle, went to new areas with the gospel and either worked to provide for himself (Acts 18:1-3) or received funds from other churches he had started and established in the past (Acts 18:5, Phil 4:14-19). As the churches matured, they became more reliable in providing funds for those traveling to spread the gospel. Here in 3 John 5, John is commending the recipients of this letter for doing that. As verse 5 put it, “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you.” Verse 7 clarifies this when it says, “It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans.” God’s servants “went out” to spread word about “the name” of Jesus; they did not charge the people they were seeking to win to Christ (v. 7b: “receiving no help from the pagans”). Instead, they relied on the faithful giving of other believers and churches (v. 5: “you are faithful in what you are doing…even though they are strangers to you”). 

John urges Gaius and the other believers with him (v. 14c) in 3 John to keep supporting anyone who comes through his area while traveling to spread the gospel. Verse 6b says this when John wrote, “Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God.” Sending them “on their way” meant giving them the funds they needed to travel and survive. “In a manner that honors God” suggests that Gaius and his brothers fund the missionaries well. Verse 8 concludes this section by telling us that this is a principle that believers should follow: “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.” Those who provide financially for others who travel to spread the gospel are “work[ing] together for the truth;” in other words, their financial support is an act of partnership in the gospel. Even in the next section that sanctions Diotrephes for his selfish behavior, John includes his stinginess toward those traveling for the spread of the gospel as part of his criticism: “…he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” 

This section challenges us to consider our commitment to the spread of the gospel through missionaries. John’s statement that “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth” invites us to be part of what God is doing in the world by supporting his servants who give the gospel full time. The expression, “Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God” encourages us to be generous in how we give; God’s servants deserve more than token amounts; they deserve generosity because of whom they serve. Finally, the phrase “you are faithful” reminds us that those who work for the spread of the gospel need an ongoing, steady supply of cash so that they can serve without distraction. If you’re giving faithfully, generously to the Lord’s work through missions (either through our church or in addition to your giving to our church), keep it up! Your giving means that you are working “together for the truth” with those involved in church planting and missions. If you’re not giving to God’s work, consider the impact that your faithful support could have for the spread of the gospel to the glory of God. 

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.