How We Give, Why We Give

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. 1 Chronicles 29:11

I’m preaching about money today. So here are two assurances up front. One, I will tell you what the Bible says about money, as best I understand it. Two, Jani and I try to obey the Bible ourselves. I wouldn’t ask you to do something I’m not doing. And Jani and I find joy in plowing our money into the cause of Christ. Wouldn’t it be joyful, for all of us together, to give Jesus the first place in everything, including our money?

That’s what 1 Chronicles 29 is about. King David and his friends are pouring out their money for the construction of the temple in Jerusalem. Why did the temple matter? Why support it? The temple mattered because it prefigured Jesus. The sacrifices on that altar represented his death on the cross. The holy of holies brought the presence of God down into this world, the way Jesus did. The temple was where troubled people could find a new beginning with God. In other words, the temple communicated the gospel. That’s why it mattered. That’s why David and the others put their money into it. It was the cause of Christ in the world. There were other temples and other gods, and the worshipers there were pouring out their money too – and their dignity, and their sexuality, and their rationality, and sometimes their very blood. But everyone is worshiping, and everyone is giving to what they worship. We here today are just saying that Jesus is the only one who gives to us as we worship him, so that we end up not defrauded and degraded but lifted up and humanized and oxygenated. Our passage tells us two things about giving to him. Verses 1-9, how we give to the cause of Christ. Verses 10-22, why we give to the cause of Christ.

1. How we give to the cause of Christ (verses 1-9)

Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the Lord? 1 Chronicles 29:5

The key word is the Hebrew verb nadab, which means “to volunteer, to give freely.” It’s about our hearts breaking free from hesitation so that we hurl ourselves into the cause of Christ. This verb nadab appears five times in the passage, first in verse 5: “Who then will offer willingly?” That’s the whole tone of the passage. 1 Chronicles 29 is about our eager giving, because the gospel is about God’s eager giving. In the Bible God says, “It will be a joy to me to do them good, and with all my heart and soul I shall plant them in this land” (Jeremiah 31:42). God is a nuclear-powered personality who knows only one way to love – with all his heart. And that’s how we give to the cause of Christ – willingly, gladly, eagerly, as we see in David and his friends here. We step over the line from holding back, playing it safe, a wait-and-see you-just-never-know guardedness – we step into a definite YES to the cause of Christ. And today is the day for every one of us to step over that line.

How could it be otherwise? The Bible speaks of “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11). That word “blessed” can also be translated “happy, enviable, blissful”: “the gospel of the glory of the happy God.” He is why the gospel is good news. William Tyndale, the pioneer translator of the Bible into English, said that the gospel “signifies good, merry, glad and joyful news, that makes a man’s heart glad and makes him sing, dance and leap for joy.” Human religion isn’t like that. Human religion is all about pressuring people into doing something to relieve their anxieties and to make a grumpy God get off their back and just go away. But God is not what religion says. God is the glorious Father who welcomes the undeserving when they straggle home to him. Think of the parable of the prodigal son. God is bursting with the happiness of being God, so much so that he couldn’t contain his happiness but created the universe, with us at the center, to catch us up into his joy. God is holy and pure, with nothing in him that might defile us. God is sovereign and faithful, with nothing in him that might fail us. God is loving and kind, with nothing in him that might mistreat us. Look at Jesus. That’s God on display. And he longs for us to join him in spreading the word about who he really is. That’s why the temple was there. That’s why Immanuel Church is here – making the real Jesus non-ignorable. We know we’re locking onto him when we become joyfully all-out for him.

God is the reason why gospel giving is generous giving, as with King David so long ago. Look at what it says here:

“So I have provided for the house of my God, so far as I was able” (verse 2). We can’t give as we are unable. But we can give as far as we are able.

“Because of my devotion to the house of my God I give [my treasure] to the house of my God” (verse 3). It could be translated, “Because I take pleasure in the house of my God.” No dreary legalism here. No blasé worldliness here. What we see here is pleasure in the glory of God being displayed in this world at personal cost, because he is dear to us.

“Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord. David the king also rejoiced greatly” (verse 9). Wholehearted giving not only rises up out of emotion; wholehearted giving also increases emotion. The people gave happily, which made them even happier!

What we see here in 1 Chronicles 29 is not a freak accident. This is the tone of the entire Bible, especially at the appearing of Jesus later in the New Testament and in the growth of the early church. Joyous freedom of heart is the impact of the gospel on frightened sinners who’d always thought they were on their own but now they belong to Christ. The Bible says that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) because God is a cheerful giver. Hugh Martin, in his commentary on John’s Revelation, writes:

Jesus loved the enthusiast, the man who knew what side he was on and threw himself wholeheartedly into the struggle. He liked energetic action, as in the men who climbed the roof and broke a way through for their paralyzed friend, or in Zacchaeus who forgot his dignity and swarmed up a tree. He loved the generous giver. It sums up His attitude to life. He praised the man who banged on the door till he got an answer; He wanted men to show that kind of determination in the affairs of religion. He praised the widow who badgered the unjust judge into doing justice. He did not like playing it safe or burying one’s talent. Goodness is a positive active loyalty.

Our exuberant Savior shows us how to give. Verse 5, “Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the Lord?” And that is the question God is asking us here at Immanuel: Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the Lord? For some of us, today can be almost a second conversion. Maybe you love Jesus, but you’ve been holding back on money. This is your day to get free from that drag on your heart. Jesus did not hold back on you. He gave himself wildly, extremely, crazily. That’s how he loves us sinners. Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the Lord?

But here’s the thing that fascinates me about 1 Chronicles 29. David never saw the temple built. His son Solomon built the temple after David’s death. So David is giving his life savings toward a project that will outlast him. What a great way to live.

Recently someone tweeted a good question: “What are you doing today that will outlast you?” What are we doing now that will still matter in the future, that will benefit people we will never meet in this world but who will need, out there in the future, what we can do today, those people in the future who are part of the reason God put us into history at this time – because those people are coming and God has something for us to do now that will help them then?

As Jani and I think about the future, here’s how we pray for our family. We’re praying out to the tenth generation, that God will set our family apart to himself, so that every single person flowing out of Jani and me, to the tenth generation, will love Jesus and believe the Bible and advance the gospel. We do not pray they will have easy lives. We do pray that God’s unmistakable blessing on our family will make Jesus non-ignorable. We don’t know what that will look like. But here is what we can foresee. Jani and I got married in 1971. Then we blinked, 43 years had flown by, and the two of us are now a family of 20 people, only three generations in – Jani and I, our four children plus four children-in-law, plus our ten grandchildren. And let’s say our ten grandchildren get married and continue to have babies at the rate of 2.5 per generation, which is our children’s rate of increase thus far. Where is all this going? Well, these rabbits known as Ortlunds, by the tenth generation, will amount to 12,207.03125 human beings. And they are coming. We couldn’t stop it if we tried. The first twenty are already here. Unless Jesus returns first, 12,000 people are right now moving toward Jani and me in the flow of history. So here’s the question. What are we doing to prepare for all those future human beings for whom we have a personal responsibility? We will not see most of them in this world. But what can we do now that will benefit them then? We don’t have all the answers. But we’re asking.

Moreover, here’s how we pray for Immanuel Church. We do not believe this is just a nice little inconsequential church where we have our comfy tribal gathering at the gospel watering hole every Sunday, and that’s it and it all stops with us. No way. This church has a destiny in the purposes of God. Jani and I are praying, and we are asking you to join us in this prayer, that God will set this church apart to himself to the tenth generation. Here’s what that means. For ten generations, around 200 years, no loser pastors, no church splits, no false doctrine, but instead, the presence of the Lord, the power of the gospel, the beauty of gospel culture, and courage for gospel advance. Right now our city can ignore Immanuel Church, if they want to. But a church that stays in a zone of divine power to the tenth generation cannot be ignored forever. It will get through. There will come a day when the heart of our exhausted city cracks open, and people admit their need, and the power of heaven through this church brings thousands to Jesus, and other churches and other cities could catch the fire, and it could touch the world. That’s how Jani and I pray for this church. That’s how we ask you to pray. We might not see it in our lifetime. But that’s okay. Let’s live in such a way that people 200 years from now will look back and bless God for what we did for him that will still be helping them in their time. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” the Bible says (Isaiah 40:3).

What I’m saying is not crazy, and I can prove it. I pastored the historic First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, Georgia. We celebrated our 200th anniversary during my ministry there. Here’s what the first generation of that church did. A young church of 46 members built a sanctuary to seat 1100 people. And 200 years later, people were filling it up twice every Sunday morning to hear the gospel. And we were thanking God for those people of faith who advanced the cause of Christ for ten generations plus.

Today it’s our turn. So who will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the Lord?

2. Why we give to the cause of Christ (verses 10-22)

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. 1 Chronicles 29:11

Most of my time is gone. So I’ll just say this. It’s obvious in these verses why we don’t give to the cause of Christ. We don’t give because he needs our money. Jesus isn’t down on his knees, begging us for money because he’s about to go broke. Verse 12: “Both riches and honor come from you.” Which is why they say in verse 13, “And now we thank you.” They give to God, and then they thank God. Why? Because what we give to God comes from God. Our giving to him is his giving to us a privilege from above. He is saving us from wasting our lives in self-absorption and fear and tightfistedness.

Why then do we give to God? Because he wants us to participate in his generosity. He wants us to enter into the joy of his giving. In fact, glad giving is so important to God, so deep inside God himself, that he doesn’t locate generosity in the category “optional extra”; he locates generosity in the category “integrity.” Verse 17: “I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things.” Freedom of heart to give big is not what he needs; it’s the integrity we need. It’s one of the primary ways we experience God in his greatness and power and glory and victory and majesty. How can we experience the real Jesus if we diminish him in our thoughts because we’ve magnified every fearful reason to clutch at our money? The truth is, without his grandeur freeing us to live for him, we die inside. That’s not playing it safe. Dostoevsky wisely wrote,

The one essential condition of human existence is that man should always be able to bow down before something infinitely great. If men are deprived of the infinitely great, they will not go on living and will die of despair. The Infinite and the Eternal are as essential for man as the little planet on which he dwells.

Jesus came to give himself to the undeserving, and we are the undeserving. But “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). When we received Jesus, did we receive him in his fullness, grace upon grace? If the way you received Jesus still allows you to cling to your money, you did not receive Jesus. You were barricading yourself against him at a deep level, even as you were accepting him at a surface level. You need to go back and receive him again, this time all of you in your need receiving all of him in his grace, in his greatness and power and glory and victory and majesty so full that he sweeps you away and you give him complete control even of your money, no holding back because he didn’t hold back.

Today is the day. You might be poor. You might be rich. But if the Lord of glory is yours, then surely your money is his. Isn’t it?