In June of 2010 Bill Gates and Warren Buffett inaugurated the Giving Pledge, designed to encourage people of great wealth to either give or pledge the majority of their wealth to charity while alive or at their passing. As of this year, 139 pledges have been added to the list, and the total amount of money pledged is 732 billion dollars.
$732 billion – isn’t that amazing! That’s three-quarters of a trillion dollars! All of us fantasize about coming into money, don’t we? Perhaps we dream of winning the lottery, of finding money buried in our back yard, or discovering you’re a long lost heir to Bill Gates or another wealthy individual. Who doesn’t enjoy thinking about the possibility of coming into sudden and great wealth?
But while we often think about how much we would enjoy coming into money somehow, some day, the real question we should ask is – what will we do with what we have? We might come into money some day, but we might not, so what will we do with what we have at the moment?
We are continuing with the series of messages I began last week, based upon the theme of Building. The theme comes from Matthew 16:18 – on this rock I will build my church.
Last week we began the series with the message Building Grace, and this week’s message is Building Generosity. The topic of generosity, obviously, ties in with Consecration Sunday, when we return our pledges, pledges that are both financial and spiritual. I realize that not everyone is comfortable using a financial pledge card, and that is perfectly understandable. I hope everyone will, however, fill out the portion of the pledge card that relates to talents and abilities, as these are gifts that make such a difference to the life and ministry of our church. We are, like all churches, a volunteer-driven body, depending greatly upon the time, energy, and talents of our members. A large portion of our generosity comes from the giving of our time, talents, and abilities. Without the offering of these gifts we would certainly be greatly impoverished.
The passage that serves as our Scripture text for today comes from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. This is the final letter we have that was written by Paul. At the time of its writing Paul is in prison in Rome, appealing a sentence to Caesar. Ultimately unsuccessful in his appeal, Paul is eventually executed and, at this writing, he is most likely already aware of his coming fate. Writing under such circumstances, Paul is in a very reflective mood.
Philippians 4:10-20 –
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.
15 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;
16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.
17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account.
18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.
19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Here is what I want to say this morning about Building Generosity.
1. Generosity is a total way of life.
When we think of generosity money is most often what comes to mind, but generosity involves much more. We know that generosity includes our time and talents, but it’s still more. Generosity is all encompassing of our lives.
Generosity is reflected in how we think. Can we think in an expansive way, in an open-minded way, in a graceful way, in a compassionate way? All of those adjectives and more reflect a generosity in the way in which we think.
Generosity is reflected in how we relate to and treat others. Do we treat others with love and grace? Do we demonstrate compassion in our dealings with others? Do we speak to others in a way that reflects that we see them as brothers and sisters in Christ, as fellow children of God?
Generosity is reflective even of how we see God, because if we fail to see God as being generous, it is unlikely that we will be generous.
All of these were evidenced, I believe, in the life and ministry of Paul. Reading through not only this morning’s text, but the entire letter of Philippians, a spirit of generosity absolutely flows out of his pen, because it flows out of his heart.
2. Generosity is not transactional.
I heard of a church once that, in planning for their budget, decreed that every ministry and every program had to pay its own way. That is, every ministry and every program has to generate enough money to justify its inclusion in the church budget. I can’t imagine where such thinking came from, as that is a really terrible way in which to build a church budget.
Generosity is not transactional, and what I mean by that statement is this – generosity is not dependent upon or expectant of a corresponding return. That is, if you invest $2,000 in a ministry, if you invest 100 hours of volunteer labor into a ministry, we do not expect it to have an equal return in money and volunteer hours. We don’t give to the Kingdom of God with the expectation that a return on investment will come to us. There is not a relative value to what we do as the people of God. Some things we do cost nothing, some cost just a little, and others might be very expensive, but we don’t consider the value of a ministry based solely on whether or not there is a financial cost, and certainly not upon any idea that it must generate a financial return.
An investor in the stock market will watch the market and will look for and expect a return. They will calculate the worth of the stock by the amount of return it brings. This is not how we operate in the church or in the kingdom of God. Not everything in which we invest has a return that is measurable. Not everything in which we invest has a return that is visible.
Return, in the kingdom of God, is measured in impact upon lives. If we invest $1,000 or $5,000 or $10,000 in something, we might not see any kind of financial return. As much as we need money to operate, financial return is not why we do anything that we do. What is the monetary value of ministering to another person? There isn’t a monetary value to that action.
Paul makes this beautiful statement – 15 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; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough.
Perhaps those churches were thinking in a transactional manner, believing that an investment in Paul would not be a good use of resources. If so, that certainly proved to be a great misjudgment.
3. Generosity is the antidote to false answers.
Even though generosity is more than money, allow me to add this thought about money – money can be a great servant, but is a terrible master. Allow me to repeat that – money can be a great servant, but is a terrible master. Money can do many wonderful things, but it can also be used as a way to deal with our many issues that we have as individuals, and we might see money as an answer to those issues, but it is what I would call a false answer. A false answer is this – it is something to which we turn to fill a need, but it cannot do so. And even though it cannot fill that need, we continue to try and get it to fill that need.
Here is how money is often used as a false example – we spend money in order to feel better, but feeling better after spending money is a very fleeing experience. In fact, spending money in order to feel better can very quickly be replaced by a sense of regret when we look at our bank balance and discover we couldn’t afford to spend that money to make ourselves feel better. The opposite of spending – saving and, perhaps, hoarding – isn’t necessarily better because no amount of money can insulate us from what life might bring to us. I would never be so naïve as to say that money and resources don’t matter; they do matter. Life is very difficult when we do not have the necessary resources and we cannot ignore the reality that many people do not have the resources they need in life.
But those resources are not a final answer. Resources can give us a good life. Resources can even provide us with a certain type of happiness – or, perhaps, satisfaction is a better word – and resources can be used for a great deal of good. But if you listen to Paul when he writes – 11 …I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength…we hear the voice of someone who was not captured by false answers. It’s interesting to me that Paul uses the word secret, not because there is any secret to finding satisfaction in life, but because we can so easily allow that path to satisfaction to be hidden from us.
If you have seen the movie Titanic you may remember the scene where people are piling into the lifeboats. One of the wealthy passengers offers a stack of cash to a crewmember in order to secure a seat on board the lifeboat. The response of the crewmember was disbelief, because he knew the money would do him no good on a sinking ship. There is always a point at which money, or other valuable commodities, will come to an end and be able to go no further. That is when we truly discover the difference between a real answer and a false answer.
Let us build a sense of generosity in our lives. Let us build a sense of generosity in our congregation. And in doing so, know that we are helping to build God’s kingdom.