Giving and Receiving
by Jack Wald | November 9th, 2014

various texts

Last Sunday I gave four reasons why we should do social justice. First, our fellow human beings are created in the image of God and therefore deserve to be respected. A second reason for doing social justice is that we who follow Jesus are a community who should model ourselves after the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As the persons of the Trinity care for each other, so are we to care for each other. A third reason for doing social justice is that we are called to take on Jesus’ heart for the world. A fourth reason why we should do social justice is that if we do not have the heart of Jesus for the world and do not have compassion for those he loves, then all our other religious acts are meaningless.

Several people told me this was a helpful sermon and made them think, but this was the easy part. It is easy to say why we should do social justice, but much more difficult to know how to do social justice. How do you know who to help? Should we help every person who asks us? How much should we help?  Since we have a special responsibility to care for the needs of those who are followers of Jesus, can we ever say no to someone in the church who asks us for help?

And then what do we do when we are the one who needs help? What should our attitude be to those in the church who choose not to help us when we are in need?

The American humorist, Will Rogers, was asked what to do about the problem of U-boats (submarines) sinking ships during WWI. He said it was simple. Just boil the water around the submarine and you would force it to rise to the surface. When asked how to do that, he replied, “I’ve given you the grand solution. It is up to you to work out the details.”

The details are where we struggle and so this morning I want to talk about some Biblical truths that will help us navigate through these questions.

The first truth is that it is God who provides us with what we need. The second of the Psalms of Ascent asks this question: (Psalm 121:1–2)
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?

As the Jewish pilgrims made their way up the hill to Jerusalem, they could observe shrines to gods and goddesses atop the hills on the sides of the road who promised help to all who passed by. The psalmist asks where his help comes from and his answer comes in verse 2.
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

As we make our way as pilgrims through this life, heading toward our celestial home, where does our help come from? Do we look to people we think should help us? Or do we look to God to provide for what we need?

For the first ten years as pastor of RIC I supported myself with funds from the sale of my business. But then in 2010 I was told that because of the fall of the stock market in the US and the decline in the value of the dollar, I was using up too much of my funds and would not have money for retirement. So, I was told I needed to come back to the US and get a job or I needed to raise support for my ministry in Morocco.

I began visiting churches and friends in the US, two to three weeks a year, sharing what is happening in Morocco and letting people know of my need for support. The first year I did this, I felt uncomfortable and realized that I was looking at people as potential ATM machines and if I punched in the proper numbers, said the right things, they would dispense cash. I looked at people and decided that they should help me which created anxiety as I spoke with them. My goal was for them to give me money and I worried I would not say the right things or give the proper impression.

When I relaxed and stopped worrying about where my support would come from, speaking and sharing about the ministry in Morocco became a very positive experience for me. I simply shared with no expectation that someone would support my ministry. I told people that God has a heart for all the world and we are only responsible to support that part God puts on our heart. I told people they were under no obligation to support me and could enjoy hearing about what is happening in Morocco. But, if God put it on their heart, then they needed to consider how they would support my ministry.

After fund raising for four years, I have yet to receive a promise of support while I was visiting people and churches. But in the months that have followed my visits, support has come and after four years I am receiving about 80% of what we need.

I was told by people with experience that when I began fund raising, I would be surprised by where my support would come from. I thought about who might support me. Some friends are wealthy and I thought I might receive generous support from them, but what really surprised me is the support I have received from people I did not expect to give. I am humbled by the people who support us.

I was uncomfortable going around, asking for funds, but when I relaxed and trusted God to provide, I was set free to share what is happening in Morocco and then allow people to respond as God led them.

God provides for us. God works through people to accomplish his will, but it is God who provides for our needs.

This leads to the second truth that helps us do social justice well. Put your trust in God, not in people.

Psalm 118:8–9 says:
8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in man.
9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.

Men and princes are sinful humans who will disappoint you, who will fail you.

Psalm 146:3–4 tells us:
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Princes and men will die and rot in the grave. Even if they help you, the help they offer will not last forever.

We are a very diverse community at RIC. We have people with jobs that pay well and people who do not have jobs. So what do you do if you need money for food, rent, medicine, or anything else?

Look to God to provide you with what you need. If you set your eye on a person in the church who you think should help you, you are looking in the wrong direction. It may be that the person you are looking at and expecting to help you will fail to do what God asks him or her to do. We are sinners and we do not always respond obediently to what God asks us to do. People and leaders will fail. If you put your trust and hope in them, you will be disappointed.

Instead, put your trust in God who promises never to leave you or forsake you and who promises to take you to be with him for eternity.

Become a friend of Bill Gates and you may never have to worry about money for the rest of your earthly days. Become a friend of Jesus and you will never have to worry about money or anything else for all of eternity.

A third Biblical truth is that nothing is more important to God than our growing in faith.

God could help every person who has a need, but he does not. God could miraculously supply food as he did for Israel in the wilderness. He gave them manna. He sent them quail. He gave them water. He could do this if he chose to. He is all-powerful.

God could heal every person who is sick or injured. But he does not. God could give us money anytime we needed it. He put a coin in the mouth of a fish that Peter caught so their taxes could be paid. God could do something like this with us. But he does not. When we do not have enough money for a bus, train, or plane, God could transport us to where we are going as he did with Phillip after he shared the gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch. But God does not do these things for us. This leads me to conclude that something is more important to God than these needs.

Jesus fed people who were hungry with bread and fish but the next day they were hungry once again. Jesus healed people but their bodies eventually broke down and they died. Jesus raised people from the dead but these people died once again.

When we die our physical death, we will leave behind our bodies, our wealth, our fame, our achievements, all these things will be left behind and the only thing we will take with us into heaven is the faith that grew over our years of depending on Jesus.

I love this verse from John’s letter. It sums up for me the entire book of Ecclesiastes. (1 John 2:17)
The world and its desires pass away, but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

More important than any earthly need we have is that our faith grows.

A fourth Biblical truth is that giving and receiving, when it comes from God, benefits us because it grows our faith.

During the time of a famine, the prophet Elijah needed food to eat and was told by God to go to Zarephath of Sidon and get food from a widow who lived there. When he arrived he found the widow gathering sticks and asked her to bring him water and bread. She told him she had just a handful of flour and a little oil and was preparing to make a last meal for her son and herself and then they would die.

Elijah needed food, as did the widow and her son, and Elijah told her (1 Kings 17:13–16)
“Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake 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 gives rain on the land.’ ”
15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. 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.

Every morning when they came to the jar of flour and the jar of oil, they found enough to make bread for that day. This was manna from heaven. They were all in need. The widow gave. Elijah received. But God provided and their faith benefitted as a result.

A rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. He told Jesus he had kept the commandments since he was a boy. (Mark 10:21–23)
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

Why did Jesus tell the rich young ruler to give his money to the poor? Was Jesus raising funds for charitable projects? Did Jesus ask the young man to give his money to the poor because Jesus cared for the poor? That is, of course, true. But it was his love for the young man that made him say he should give his wealth to the poor. It was for the benefit of the rich young ruler that Jesus told him to give away his wealth.

It is true that if the young ruler had given his wealth to the poor, they would have benefitted, but Jesus looked at the young man and loved him. Out of his love for the young man he told him to give away his wealth.

Zacchaeus came down from the tree and told Jesus he would give half his wealth to the poor. The poor who received the money benefitted, but to Zacchaeus Jesus said, (Luke 19:9–10)
“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.

Zacchaeus received the better gift.

Let me make some comments about giving and then I will comment on receiving.

It is a difficult task to know how to give. There is a quote from Aristotle that I saw engraved on the wall of a university in the US.
To give away money is an easy matter and in man’s power.
But to decide to whom to give it,
And how large and when,
And for what purpose and how,
Is neither in every man’s power,
Nor an easy matter.
Hence it is that such excellence is rare, praiseworthy and noble.

When you don’t have money it seems pretty simple. “You have money. I don’t. Give it to me.” But giving money can sometimes be destructive and work against the purposes of God.

For example, suppose you had a lot of money – 10,000,000 Euros – and you could help each person who came to you. You could pay rent, buy food, help with a plane ticket, pay for medical bills, schooling costs, and on and on. If anyone asked, you would help. Would this be a good thing to do?

John D. Rockefeller was perhaps the richest man in the world in the late 1800s and early 1900s, making his fortune in oil. He was influenced by a Baptist revival in western New York state and went to church regularly. He would come to church with envelopes containing $100 (That is the equivalent today of about $2,500) and give them out to people he though might need the money. (I would imagine this boosted church attendance.)

If we had someone like Rockefeller in our church, perhaps Bill Gates, and every Sunday he would give money to anyone who needed it, what would be the consequence? First of all, we would have to begin meeting in a stadium because of everyone wanting to benefit from his generosity. But assuming that it was just those of us here this morning, would it be good for us? Would we grow in faith?

When I fund raise in the US my faith grows because I have to trust God to provide for me. If a wealthy friend gave me all that I needed, what they call in the US “one-stop shopping”, I could make one visit a year and get all I needed. I would have the money I need but not the faith I need even more.

Giving to anyone who asks is not wise giving.

Sometimes I do not give because I think the person who is in need is on the wrong path.

In my first three to four years in Morocco, I spent a lot of time working with migrants making their way illegally to Spain. I learned a lot in those years and could tell stories about what I learned for the rest of the morning. But what I learned convinced me that this journey to Spain is a spiritually destructive journey. Women set out with the thought that they will be maids in Spain but then have to prostitute themselves to get across the Sahara Desert. They end up having gangs pay their way to be smuggled into Spain where they end up in brothels. Men are incrementally drawn to illegal activities to support themselves and raise funds they need to pay smugglers.

So I do not, and the church does not, support this illegal migration. We have helped people return to their home country, but not to get to Spain.

If someone asks for help I pray. But if I believe the person is on the wrong path, I cannot support their need.

When we consider giving, responding to a need, it is important to remember that we are not God. Unlike God, we are limited. We have limited finances and limited time. We cannot do all that God can do. So we have to consider who to help, when to help, in what way to help, and how much to help. There is no formula. Giving is not easy. There are no simple rules.

We need to be compassionate as Jesus was compassionate. We need to treat each other with respect. This means we have to seriously consider requests for help and ask if God wants to use us to provide for the person in need.

But we can say no to a request. We need to say no with respect and compassion, but we are not God and are not meant to help every person who asks for help.

There is far more to say about giving than I can say in one sermon but it is worth taking the time to read the books and articles that talk about this. The money we have is a tool that God can use to do great things. We need to learn how to use this gift well.

Now to receiving.

What do you do when you have a need and someone in church who could help you does not? The person you think could help you drives away and you stand there wondering how you will pay rent and buy food for the week. John says in 1 John 3:17–18
17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

What should your attitude be to that person? You can be angry. You can be disappointed. You can judge that person for not being a good Christian. But you need to know that the person you asked for help is your brother or sister in Christ. You need to extend mercy and grace. It may be that the person should have helped you but was not obedient to God’s leading. God may have wanted to use that person to help you with your need, but God is the provider and he is not limited in the way he can help you in your need. If it is God’s intention to provide for you, it will happen in another way, through another person.

Someone who is in the position to give needs to pray and consider how to respond to a request for help. Someone who has a need for help should also pray and consider how to ask for help. With what attitude do you ask for help? Are you asking as if the person is an ATM machine who will give you cash if you ask properly? Those who ask for help need to be respected but they also need to respect those they ask. Let your need be known and then trust God to provide for you. Help will often come in unexpected ways.

Don’t be too quick to judge someone who does not offer help for your need. You do not know their story. You do not know all they do.

Jesus encouraged us (Matthew 6:3–4)
3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

My father told me about a time when he was in charge of raising funds for a charity and he asked other businessmen in town for donations. One man politely said no and my father was critical of him for not helping. But then my grandfather told him that this man paid for the tuition and living expenses for someone going to university that year. He did this each year so was continually paying for four students a year. He did not publicize this. My father learned from that incident not to make judgments about people he asked for money for a charitable project.

This church has many people who are very generous and we don’t know all the details of how they share what they have with others.

Don’t be too quick to judge someone who does not help you when you have a need.

A couple people asked me this week how those who need to be helped can have value added to them. Power comes along with money and those without money can feel they have little worth. Even when it is only because the world’s resources are so unfairly distributed, the voice of those with limited opportunity is not listened to.

The world does not listen very well to the voice of the poor. That is true. But those who do not have the world’s riches can let that define themselves or they can allow who they are in Jesus define who they are. When my identity is that I am a child of God, heading to his eternal home, this allows me to suffer the indignities of this world. The world cannot add to the value I have as a daughter or son of God. I am rich, even if I am poor in the world’s eyes. This allows me to move through life with dignity.

It is easy to see how the rich can help the poor, but how can the poor help the rich? What do the poor have to offer the rich?

Jesus told a parable about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus who sat at his gate. The rich man shared nothing with Lazarus. He came in and out of his gate and barely noticed Lazarus sitting there. Lazarus might as well have been a stone or a bush. He was ignored.

They both died and the angels carried Lazarus to Abraham’s side. The rich man descended to hell where he was in great pain. He begged Abraham to allow Lazarus to help him but Abraham told him there was a chasm making it impossible to cross over into hell. The rich man begged Abraham that Lazarus be sent to his home so his brothers could hear a warning and not end up where he had ended up.

While they were living on earth, the rich man had many things Lazarus needed. But Lazarus also had something the rich man needed. The truth is that Lazarus was the one who was rich and the rich man was the one who was poor.

As wealth increases, church attendance decreases. The rich live with the illusion that they can take care of every problem with their bank accounts. The poor have an advantage over the rich because they see more clearly that this world disappoints and that our hope lies in heaven.

In the past fifteen years I have been encouraged and blessed by the example of people in this church who didn’t have much money but who taught me what it is like to have faith and to trust in God. I learned by their example. I have helped with the needs of people but people with needs have also helped me. We need each other.

God provides for what we need, so put your trust in God, not in men and women. Remember when you give or receive, that what God wants to do through your giving and receiving is to grow your faith, to make you more dependent on him.

Treat each other with respect. We are people, not bushes or stones to be ignored. We are people, not ATM machines. We are sons and daughters of God, on our way to our eternal home. We need to help each other as we make our way through this life. We are not perfect. We need to be patient and loving toward each other. We are all givers and we are all receivers. May we extend mercy and grace to each other as we seek to be obedient to God’s leading.