Audacious Generosity

Notes below based on sermon preached at One Church Home on October 16, 2022

Last week, we looked at what it means to prosper from a Biblical perspective. To prosper, God must have the proper place in our hearts. And there is only one proper place for God in our hearts. He must be first…before everything else.

It was the first commandment given by God to His people after He had delivered them from slavery in Egypt as He prepared them to enter into a covenant relationship with Him:

Exodus 20:3
“You shall have no other gods before me.”

God gave them the Law so they would know how to live in covenant relationship with Him. And when they failed to keep the Law and broke the covenant, He gave them Himself—His One and only Son to keep the Law and the covenant for them.

And that is our model for this week’s study on giving: God loving us so much that He gave everything to be with us, for us to be with Him.

John 3:16, perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

There are at least three important points we need to understand.

The first is God’s motivation: all that He gave because He loved.

This is agape love—self-sacrificing, grace-filled, free and unconditional, everlasting. It is the covenant love between God and His children. Agape love comes only from God and flows through us back to Him and others. It is an intentional striving for the highest good of another, and it must be demonstrated by action.

I John 4:9-10
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 

And that is the second point from John 3:16. God’s demonstration of His love, the giving of His Only Son, was audacious, extravagant, and sacrificial. This wasn’t just a bold risk. God knew all that would happen. The loving Father who knew all we would ever do chose to create us anyway, knowing that we would break His heart repeatedly, and knowing the ultimate price He would pay.

He continues to love us when we falter in our love for Him, and even when we fail in our love for Him, chasing after those things the world convinces us matter more. We serve an extravagant God who loves lavishly and always watches for our return. And when we do, when we repent and turn back to Him, like the prodigal-loving Father (Luke 15:11-32), He will run to us, shower us with His extravagant love, and bring us home to dwell with us once again. 

And that is the third point: God’s giving is for a purpose and is always about relationship and eternity with Him. “…that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He wants to be in relationship with us, to dwell with us forever.

So with God as our model, let’s talk about our giving. In Leviticus (voted the “most likely Book where Bible reading plans go to die”), it was God who instituted a fairly elaborate system of sacrificial offerings in the Old Testament—the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering—each an offering to God; each serving in its own way to restore the broken relationships between humanity and God and humanity and the world.

  • The burnt offering – to provide atonement for sin, making a relationship with a holy God possible
  • The grain offering – a tribute to the LORD, a pledge of loyalty and commitment, an offering of one’s dedication to generosity and giving
  • The peace offering – a celebratory meal of friendship with the LORD and sometimes with others
  • The sin (or purification) offering – the cleansing of the temple so God can continue to dwell there
  • The guilt or trespass offering – repayment of debt for sins against things sacred to God

From the beginning, offerings have always been about our hearts, about restoring broken relationships with God and one another, about drawing near to God.

Yet, under the Law, a person could only draw so near to God even after making atonement for his sins. Only the Levitical priests could enter the area within the tabernacle or temple called the Holy Place. And among the priests, only one could enter the Holy of Holies where the presence of God dwelt and only once a year.

But Jesus’ death on the cross changed everything. The veil separating the Holy of Holies—estimated to be some 60 feet tall and 4 inches thick—was torn in two from top to bottom (Mathew 27:51), opening the way into the presence of God for all time and for all people who would believe and receive. The offering of Christ was a miraculous provision for us all.

Hebrews 10:19-22
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 

So if offerings were necessary for us to draw near and Christ’s sacrificial offering opened the way for us to do that, why do we have to make offerings?

We don’t. We don’t have to give offerings to God. Deciding not to make offerings over and above the tithe won’t keep us out of heaven. But it will keep us from seeing the miraculous provision that God gives, from knowing Him fully as Jehovah-Jireh, “the LORD will provide.

It may not be how we want or expect, and it’s certainly not a transaction where we give demands or even expect a specific return. But if we look at the Word, we see over and over again how God blesses us when we give.

Let’s look at another audacious offering…audacious because it required a bold risk. The story is found in I Kings chapter 17.

Elijah was a prophet called by God in the Old Testament to challenge a wicked king and his queen and the worship of Baal—the primary pagan god of the people who lived in Canaan.

The land was in the middle of a severe drought, a drought divinely ordered by God and prophesied by Elijah to turn the Israelites back to God. As a result, the crops dried up.

God instructed Elijah to go to Zarephath, where he had “directed” a widow to supply him with food (God had called her to this task of feeding His prophet).

Upon arriving, Elijah found the widow gathering sticks at the town gates and asked her for a drink of water and a piece of bread.

Her response tells us much about her plight.

I Kings 17:12
“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

Why would a God who owns “the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10)” ask an impoverished widow facing her last meal with her son to give some of her meager portion of grain to feed His prophet? Certainly, He could have fed His prophet in other ways. He had done so at the Kerith Ravine, where God had used ravens to bring Elijah “bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook” (I Kings 17:6).

By sending Elijah to Zarephath and calling the widow to meet a felt need, God gave her the opportunity to bless and be blessed. But the blessing, the miraculous provision, came after she had first given her offering.

I Kings 17:13-14
13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.'”

First would come the widow’s challenge of faith…would she obey the call of God to give? Would she give audaciously, generously, risking that there might not be enough even for the last meal with her son if she offered? As a parent, we could understand her refusal to give the last of her food to a stranger, knowing she may not be able to feed her son and herself.

But when she took that audacious leap of faith, giving the little she had left to answer God’s call; the LORD blessed her in ways she could never have imagined.

Her first blessing was continuous provision. 

Note that it does not say that she became wealthy and lived a life of luxury. It says that:

I Kings 17:15-16
15 …So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.

As she provided for the prophet in his need, the LORD continued to provide for the widow’s and her son’s needs.

Her second blessing would come years later in her son’s miraculous healing and resurrection after he became sick and died (I Kings 17:17-23). By this time, she had given even more generously, offering Elijah a place to lodge in her home. It was to his own bed in his own room that he carried the child’s lifeless body when he died, stretching himself out upon the child three times as he prayed that God would let the child’s life come into him again.

There are only a couple of handfuls of accounts of resurrections in the entirety of the Bible and only three in the Old Testament. This account was the first and was history-making, life-giving—literally.

Let’s be clear. God and God alone healed the widow’s son in response to the desperate pleadings of His prophet Elijah.

I Kings 17:22
The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.

But if the widow had not provided a room for Elijah in her home, if she had not obediently and generously offered first her grain to feed God’s prophet and then her home as a place for Elijah to lodge, Elijah would not have been there when the boy died to pray for his resurrection.

Jesus himself said in Luke 4:26-26
25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.

And finally and most importantly, the LORD blessed her in being a part of the great work God would do through Elijah during his lifetime. Elijah would go on to call down fire from heaven and defeat the 450 prophets of Baal, leading a great revival of God’s people in the land, the end of Baal worship (I Kings 18:17-40). He was one of only two prophets with Jesus at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13). The widow was not there. But her generous offerings had helped to provide for the needs of one who was.

In the Book of II Kings chapter 4, there would be another prophet—Elijah’s protégé Elisha and another broken-hearted mother who had lost her son. This woman had fed the prophet and had prompted her husband to provide a furnished room for Elisha in their home when he passed through.

This woman had a husband, and the means; the Bible says she was “well-to-do.” What she did not have was a son…until after offering her home to the prophet as a place to stay. It was then that Elisha, in seeking to find out what could be done for her, learned that her husband was old and she did not have a son. He promised that she would have a son in a year, and she did.

Years later, when that son died, it was the same prophet Elisha that would stretch himself out on top of the boy’s lifeless body, “mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands” until “the boy’s body grew warm;” and again until “[t]he boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.”

Little did she know when she gave generously to the prophet, she would receive a much greater blessing. She would be given new life in the birth of a son, and then God, through Elisha, would miraculously return her son’s life to her again.

In each case, an offering preceded miraculous provision.

Yes, these are stories, but they are so much more. Sacrifice and giving is a pattern or theme that runs from the beginning to the end of the Bible. And when we study it, we discover more about what God has revealed to us about Himself, His purposes, His plans, and His promises.

We love God and others because He first loved us. And we give to God and others because He has given so much to us.

This is about more than our financial resources and material possessions (although it includes those things). Our time. Our talents. And above all, our hearts.

While we must be careful not to lead people astray with the false prosperity gospel, we must also be careful not to shy away from the Truths of God’s Word in the proper context.

II Corinthians 9:6-15

Generosity Encouraged

6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 

As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.”

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 

God wants us to be cheerful and generous sowers of seed for His work.

He is able to bless us abundantly so that we have the resources to sow generously (for His purposes).

We are responsible only for the sowing, even scattering. It is God who will bring the harvest—guaranteed eternal results. (Not guaranteed personal monetary return.)

And when we give generously to the LORD:

His people will be blessed,
His name will be praised,
He will be first in our hearts,
and we will prosper.

Note: all scripture references are from the New International Version. (2011)

Questions for reflection or discussion: 

Does God have first place in your heart? Does the way you spend your time, talent, and money reflect that God is truly first?

How does God’s model of giving change how you think about giving? 

Have you ever thought about offerings as a way to draw near? Can you see how giving generously to God will help you draw near to Him?

Can you think of another example in the Bible where an offering preceded miraculous provision? Can you think of an example in your own life?

As you continue to learn more about a Biblical perspective of what it means to prosper, how is it changing your view of financial stewardship, including tithing and giving? How is it changing your heart?

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