We Don’t Call Them Wise Men for Nothing

The Quest  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Just over two-thousand years ago, some astrologers in Persia noticed a star among the constellations that was unusually bright. It wasn’t distinctive enough to stir the masses into a panic by sparking fears of an alien invasion, but it was bright enough to catch those stargazers’ attention and make them wonder if they were looking at the fulfillment of a prophecy found all the way back in Numbers 24:17. It says “A star will rise from Jacob; a scepter will emerge from Israel.”
Well, God revealed to those men, known to us as the Magi or “Wise Men,” that the star would lead them to the newborn King of Israel. And so they set off on a quest to find and worship him. Without question it is one of the most famous quests in history, one that we commemorate every Christmas season in music, art, and drama.
The interesting thing is that they really were wise men; wise enough to seek Jesus and to grasp a critical truth that escapes many Christians, that worship and giving go hand in hand.
When they knelt before Jesus at the end of their quest, they were bearing expensive gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And it’s a good thing they were because Mary and Joseph would have needed those costly gifts to support themselves as they fled to Egypt in order to escape the blood lust of the maniacal King Herod who was trying to find the baby Jesus and kill him.
Little did they know that by bringing gifts to Jesus, they would be inspiring the whole world to make gift-giving a part of the celebration of Jesus’s birth.
There are a few people who don’t give gifts at Christmas time, and that certainly is their choice. And I think we can all agree that sometimes Christmas gift-giving gets out of control. But giving in general is a good thing, and that’s what I want to talk about today as we continue our quest to achieve financial health that honors God.
Giving is one of the most thrilling, satisfying, and meaningful things we can do. Unfortunately, a lot of people—including a lot of Christians—still haven’t made this discovery, and there some reasons why.
One reason is because they’ve been hoodwinked by a materialistic culture into believing that happiness and success are found in the acquisition of things rather than the giving of them.
Do you realize that current estimates have the average American being exposed to between 6,000 and 10,000 ads per day?
You might be interested to know that there are about 18 minutes of commercials in every hour of television you watch.
You can’t watch a baseball game anymore without seeing ads on the backstop and the outfield fence and company logos on every piece of equipment.
If you watch a NASCAR race, you’ll see the car covered in ads from end to end.
You can’t even open your weather app without seeing an ad right alongside the forecast.
And what do you think those thousands of ads are saying? They’re not saying that you’ll move closer to the happiness you’ve always dreamed of if you become a generous giver.
Oh no. They’re saying that you’ll move closer to the happiness you’ve always dreamed of if you buy what they’re selling. And for good measure, they employ your favorite celebrities and sports stars to show you what kind of cool fraternity you’ll be joining if you buy their product. Thousands of times every day it is pounded into our brains that happiness comes from acquiring, not giving.
A second reason why so many Christians haven’t discovered the joy of giving is because of fear.
We know life is uncertain. We knew it even before 2020 gave us a pandemic that killed millions and wrecked our economy. And it’s this knowledge, this fear of uncertainty that causes a lot of people to cling tightly to their money.
They don’t see it as being stingy, they see it as being wise. They say, “You just never know what might happen. I want to be prepared.” And they’re right, but only to a point. If your financial plan doesn’t include giving, you become like the man in Luke 12 that Jesus called a fool, the selfish man who built bigger barns to hold all of his stuff and never gave a thought to how he might be able to help people with his wealth.
So today I want to go against the grain of what our culture believes and promotes. I want to challenge you to take a hard look at your giving habits and offer some ideas on how you might step up your game, because one thing is certain: Your quest to achieve financial health that honors God will never be completed until you become a giver.
I want to begin by talking about three kinds of givers.
Some people don’t give at all, but of those people who do, there are three different types. I’m going to tell you about each one and I want you to think about which kind best describes you.
First there is the ordinary giver, which is someone who gives safely. He knows there are many needs and he’s happy to make a contribution, but not without checking his bank balance first. He carefully calculates and measures to make sure he doesn’t stretch himself too thin. He may even be a tither, but if he is, he will see the tithe, which is one-tenth of his income, as an obligation to fulfill rather than a place to start.
Next there is the generous giver.The generous giver is less calculating. He has a tender heart and is often moved to outbursts of generosity that go above and beyond what the typical giver would consider wise or safe.
It might be a missionary’s testimony or a natural disaster that touches his heart. He might hear that a coworker has been laid off or that a struggling young family in his church has incurred a lot of medical bills and feel compelled to help.
The interesting thing is that generous givers are not necessarily wealthy. Some of the most generous people I’ve ever met have been people of very modest means, which tells you that it’s not the size of their bank accounts, but the size of their hearts and their faith that makes them generous.
And then there’s the radical giver. This is the person who gives so generously that many people would swear he’s crazy.
In the Bible, Zacchaeus is such a person. You’ll recall that he was a crooked tax collector who became wealthy by overcharging people and keeping the excess for himself. But one day, he had lunch with Jesus and everything changed. We don’t know what Jesus said to him, but it must have touched him deeply because he came out of that meeting a changed man, promising to give half of what he owned to the poor and to pay back everyone he had ripped off four times as much as he extorted.
Let that soak in.
We would be impressed if he just made a commitment to quit overcharging people, wouldn’t we? Even more impressed if he decided to make a nice contribution to the poor. But paying back everyone he had stolen from four times over? Giving half of what he owned? That’s crazy, isn’t it?
No, it’s radical.
And let’s face it, radical givers are in the minority in this world and certainly in the church. I suspect one reason is because so few people have had what we might call a “Zacchaeus moment.” Or an intense encounter with Jesus.
Lots of people go to church every Sunday, sing songs and listen to messages, without ever having a profound encounter with Jesus. They hear a lot about him. They may knowa lot about him. But they have never offered him the throne of their hearts. They’ve never gotten close enough to him to allow for something radical to happen in their hearts.
So think about it. Of these three types—the giver, the generous giver, and the radical giver—which one best describes you?
I challenge you to spend some time reflecting on this because, in my experience, a lot of people think they are more generous than they really are. Some people think they deserve a medal if they give a dollar out their car window to a homeless person on a street corner.
I’m not saying that everybody has to be a radical giver, though I think everybody could be. However, I do believe every Christian ought to at least be a generous giver. The apostle Paul instructed Timothy to teach, not just giving, but generosity to his people. In 1 Timothy 6:18 he said, “Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need.”
Now that we understand the types of givers there are, I want to talk about the importance of all of us being involved.
In sports, there are superstars. You watch them perform on TV, you see them interviewed, you even see them in commercials. People like Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers on the State Farm commercials, for example.
With all the attention they get, you might think they alone are responsible for their teams’ success, but nothing could be further from the truth. Those superstars, more than anyone else, understand that they could not be successful without the contributions of their teammates.
The same is true in the Kingdom of God. A few super Christians with deep pockets will never be able to accomplish as much as multitudes of ordinary Christians who decide to be generous together.
The problem is that multitudes of ordinary Christians barely scratch the surface of their giving potential. They may give very little or very inconsistently, or perhaps not at all. And they have excuses. They say:
“I can barely pay my bills as it is.”
“I haven’t had a raise in two years.”
“My kid is getting braces next month.”
“My car is on its last leg.”
Or how about this classic: “I’m a little over-extended right now, but just you wait and see. When I get out from under some of these bills I’m going to be generous with the church.”
It’s so easy to hear statements like this and nod sympathetically. I mean, who doesn’t have sympathy for people who are struggling financially? Often, it’s not even their fault. Think about a single mom whose husband left her with two or three kids, and now he doesn’t pay his child support. You think she’s going to have a lot of extra money laying around?
I think most of us have sympathy for people who are struggling financially. But we also know that, in the Bible, there’s no exemption given to anybody when it comes to giving…even people who are struggling.
Jesus made this clear in Luke 21:1-4 when he told the story about a poor widow who put everything she had into the Temple treasury. If ever a woman could have made an excuse, she could have. If ever a woman could have won the sympathy of the people around her, she could have.
But she didn’t make an excuse and she didn’t ask for sympathy. She made up her mind that she was going to be a giver. And not just a giver, but a radical giver. Jesus said she had two small copper coins, that’s it. And she put them both into the Temple offering.
Be honest. Have you been an excuse-maker when it comes to giving? Have you let the fact that money is tight keep you from even trying to be generous? If so, it’s time to face the truth. There is no excuse for not giving generously.
To wrap up this message, let me give you some practical suggestions that will help you increase your giving.
I. Number one, make giving a matter of faith.
Most people think of giving as a financial issue, which is why they hold back. They want to make sure they don’t over commit and put themselves in a bind. It’s when you stop making giving a financial issue and start making it a spiritual issue that you are able to break free from those impulses that are holding you back.
In the new International Version, Malachi 3:10 says:
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. “Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
Do you see it? God is challenging his people, not to obsess over their bank balances when it comes time to give, but to step out on faith. “Test me,” he says.
And when we test him by being generous, even when we feel a little uneasy about it, and he comes through with blessings, then our faith grows and the church becomes stronger.
You will be a much better giver and find yourself growing as a Christian if you make giving a faith issue rather than a financial issue.
II. Here’s another suggestion: Strive for consistency.
In every area of life, consistency is a key to success.
Couples that are divorcing will tell you that they get along okay sometimes, they just don’t get along consistently.
People who fight their weight will tell you that they eat healthy food sometimes, they just don’t eat it consistently.
And on and on it goes. It’s the haphazard, hit-and-miss, up-and-down approach to any lifestyle choice that keeps us mired in mediocrity.
When it comes to giving, you’ll do much better if you’re consistent. The key to consistent giving is making a once-and-for-all decision to give and then sticking with it rather than having to decide all over again every week.
If you have to make the decision to give all over again every seven days you will become a slave to whatever crisis happens to be brewing at the moment or whatever storm cloud is looming on the horizon.
“I better hold off on my giving this week because that big insurance payment is coming up.”
“I had to buy new tires this week, so I’m going to take a week off from giving to the church.”
“This is our week to buy school clothes for the kids, so I’m going to wait until next week to give to the church.”
Trust me, there will always be a reason not to give. Satan will see to it.
Be consistent.
III. And finally, one more suggestion: Be creative.
For example, if you’re a little short on money, think in terms of assets other than money that you might be able to give. You may not have a lot of cash flow, but you could have possessions that have value.
Second homes
antique cars
empty lots
baseball card collections
even time and talent have been converted into money that has helped the Kingdom.
And nothing is more biblical! Acts 4 says that in the early days of the church people routinely sold personal possessions and brought the money they made to the apostles.
Or maybe you own some stock. Did you know that when you give appreciated assets like stock to a charity you never have to pay any taxes on the gains, which means you can give more?
The key here is to be creative, to think strategically. Don’t just give robotically. Put your thinking cap on. Ask God to show you ways to maximize your giving.
To conclude, it’s my belief that giving is often the last point of struggle people face when it comes to surrendering to the Lord.
You’ve heard the old joke about the guy who held his wallet up out of the water so it wouldn’t get wet when he was baptized. He didn’t mind giving everything else to God, but he wanted to retain control of his money.
Are you one of those people who loves Jesus and worships and serves, but has never become a generous giver?
Have you been a willing recipient of God’s blessings for years, soaking them up and raking them in without ever once challenging yourself to generously give back?
If everybody in this church practiced the same level of generosity that you do, would we have to scale back our ministry? Would we have to close our doors?
If your honest, your answers to these questions will tell you what you need to do.
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