This sermon summary is from Ted Johnston, Equipper editor. It addresses the theme of this issue of Equipper—cultivating generosity.
One of my favorite songs in the late 80s was Don’t Worry Be Happy in which Bobby McFerrin sings, “In every life we have some trouble… but when you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy” (to watch a music video and sing along, click here).
Wouldn’t you like to have life free of worry, care, anxiety… just happy? Jesus seems to get at this issue as he talks with a group of his disciples. Hear the word of the Lord:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Fathers knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 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. (Luke 12:22-34)
The occasion of these words is a conversation Jesus had with a member of a large crowd: Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me (Luke 12:13). Notice Jesus’ reply: Who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you? (Luke 12:14). Then Jesus seems to address the whole crowd: Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15). Jesus knows the human heart and a core part of fallen nature: greed. To illustrate, Jesus (in Luke 12: 16-21) tells a parable of a rich farmer who harvested a bumper crop—way more than he could store in his barns—so he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones, and sit back and enjoy life—living off what he had stored up.
God’ reply was this; You fool—this very night you’ll loose your life. Then what will all you have stored profit you? (Luke 12:20). Then Jesus concludes with this lesson: This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God (Luke 12:21).
Then Jesus pulls his inner circle of disciples aside and says this:
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. (Luke 12:22-23)
I think Jesus’ point is that greed and worry often go together, no matter how much one has… Do you agree? Greed and the worry that goes with it is terrible bondage. [Give a personal illustration here.]
Jesus invites his followers to rid themselves of greed and stop worrying about their lives. Is this “pie in the sky” thinking? No—it’s reality—a new, liberating freedom grounded on two great truths:
Truth #1: God is generous
In Luke 12:24, 27 Jesus invites us to consider both the ravens and the lilies. Consider what? God’s concern and provision for birds (food) and flowers (clothing). The lesson here? God is both able and generous.
And why? Because the birds and flowers deserve it? Earn it?
No, it’s all of GRACE! God’s unearned/undeserved generosity.
How does this grace apply to you? Hear the words of Jesus:
How much more valuable you are than birds! (Luke 12:24b)
If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith. (Luke 12:28)
Knowing and relying on God’s superabundant generosity—his grace—comes by FAITH. In this we see the truth of the GOSPEL—the GOOD NEWS that God loves us completely and provides for us fully and abundantly because he loves us and because of what Jesus has done for us.
With these words, Jesus is confronting us with two competing realities:
- That all we have in this world is temporary and seemingly insufficient and we need more of it.
- That God cares for us and has all we need and will provide it for us.
Paul invites us to embrace the second reality—the ultimate reality—when he writes this:
We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.(Romans 5:1-2)
We tend toward greed and worry in this life because we are not secure in our standing. But the reality is that by grace, we stand with God—by grace he receives us, unconditionally as his children. And in grace he says to us: “I care for you—don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.”
So truth #1 is that God is generous. Do you believe that? Really?
Truth #2: Through faith in God we are free to live a generous life
Worry (anxious care) that flows out of greed is a problem for two reasons:
- It’s a big waste of time and energy.
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Luke 12:25)
- Worry fills up your life, keeping you from God’s best.
Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:29-32)
The kingdom involves the concept of a reign. And Jesus’ question is this: What reigns in your life? In Romans 5, Paul presents two possibilities: The reign of Adam in death, and the reign of Christ (the second Adam) in life.
We entered Adam’s reign at birth, and have spent our lives there scurrying around trying to make a “dead man walking” look good. When the way of Adam holds sway in your life, you live out of a “scarcity mentality”—where there is never enough, and we scrape and claw to get more and to hold onto it. And we worry.
But by God’s grace, we can enter Jesus’ reign—Jesus’ kingdom—and when we do, we share in his life and the superabundance of his grace and generosity. We can, that is, if we live according to the reality that Jesus truly is Lord of all.
So let me ask: Is Jesus your Lord? If so, you are now the recipient of his kingdom on earth, now reigning. And you are invited now to share his reign, through grace, with all its benefits.
And one of the biggest benefits, according to Jesus, is freedom from worry—freedom from a scarcity mentality where our vision and passion are limited by what we perceive through our physical senses.
Here’s the deal: Jesus’ reign in our life, both frees us from… and then frees us to…
- What does it free us from? [worry, fear, striving]
- What does it free us to? Notice what Jesus mentions:
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:33-34)
This is ultimate freedom—to rule over our possessions rather than being ruled by them. One of the word’s greatest slave masters is materialism. People are in slavery to consumer debt, to more automobiles, to bigger homes, more toys. Why? Because they find their significance and purpose in the acquisition of things.
But, if my significance and purpose (my identity) are in Christ—if I am reigning in life with him through the superabundant provision of his grace, then I am truly free: Free to be generous with all I possess. And in this generosity is ultimate happiness. We should change Bobby McFerrin’s lyrics: “Don’t worry, be generous!” Or, as coach John Wooden was fond of saying, “Happiness begins where selfishness ends.”
In Jesus, I know the Triune God of grace who has all resources and is generous to me personally in the granting of those resources. As I focus on that God and his generosity, you know what I can do? I can be a free, open, generous conduit of God’s provision for others:
- I am free to sell what I don’t need and give it away.
- I can use wisdom to make appropriate provision for my family’s future, but I don’t have to hoard resources, worrying about future scarcity. Why? I reign in life with Christ.
God has given me the kingdom. And so I’m free to stop worrying, to stop competing with the Joneses—free to stop hoarding and start giving—generously, freely, lavishly. We serve a generous God and now, by his grace, we are set free to live a generous life.
Generous God—generous life! Amen.