Well, if you're new-ish, let me explain that, this week and next, we have what we call our Giving Review. And the aim of it is to encourage everyone here who is a Christian and committed to this church to plan how we're going to give money this year to support the ministry here and mission worldwide. So if you're just looking into Christian things, or more a visitor than a committed regular, please don't feel that you're being asked to do that. But I hope it'll be a window for you onto the priorities Jesus wants for us if we follow him.
Now, I'm conscious that we've communicated quite a lot recently about money, because of last year's projected deficit. And I'm also conscious that some of us have lost jobs or are concerned about our jobs – whether because of problems like Carillion, or cuts in the public sector. So I have to say: it doesn't feel like the best time to be speaking about money… which is why I'm relieved that I won't be - because the aim is to let God speak to us about money through that part of his Word we had read from 1 Chronicles 29. So please turn back there in the Bibles. That will get you to 1 Chronicles 29, where we are 1,000 years before Jesus, and David was king of God's Old Testament people, and he was preparing to hand over to his son Solomon – whose big job would be to build a temple for the LORD. So look at verse 1:
"And David the king said to all the assembly [so God's people are together for a kind of 'Giving Review'], "Solomon my son, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced, and the work is great, for the palace [in other words, the temple] will not be for man but for the LORD God."
So my first heading is:
1. The Work
And the work back then was the work of building the temple. And in telling his people to build the temple, God didn't want people to think it somehow contained him ('God in a box') – as if he's not present everywhere. Instead, it was the place where he promised to be especially present, where people could find forgiveness through the sacrifices he'd given them, and where they could access him in prayer. So it was a bit like the router that connects your computer to the internet: the temple connected people to God and gave them access to him. That's why David says:
"…the work [of building it] is great…"
Because it was that significant, spiritually, in people's lives. And the equivalent of the temple today is the local church – because the apostle Paul said to the church in Corinth (and he'd say this to us):
"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?"
(1 Corinthians 3.16)
In other words, today, the place in all the world where God is especially present is every local church. So if someone stops you on your way here next time and says, 'I need God in my life – where can I find him?', just say, 'Come with me, and meet the people whose lives he's already in.' Because the awesome truth is that we who trust in Jesus are now the router to God for the rest of the world – because we have the gospel, and in the gospel you find Jesus, and the ultimate sacrifice that gives us access to God. And there is no other way to God. So we stand between people not knowing God and coming to know God. That is why the Bible would say: the work of building this church – through sharing the gospel and growing up together as Christians – is the greatest thing any of us is involved with. And the point of this passage is that… that needs money.
Now can I say: I'm not jumping from verse 1 saying 'the work is great' to me saying 'JPC is great'. As someone in leadership, I'm well aware of our faults and problems as a church, and the issues and tensions that we've faced this past year – and how that can affect our willingness to give. And some of you have told me that it's affected your willingness to give. So it's important to see that God isn't calling us here to give because our church is great – or to give in proportion to how great we think it is. He's calling us to see that, beyond all our faults and problems, the work is great and is that significant in our lives, and in the lives of our children (in their groups right now and CYFA later on), and in the lives of the people we're reaching with the gospel. And we need to keep our eyes on that – and on the fact that, end of verse 1, our giving is
"for the LORD God."
So it's not for hitting a budget target or avoiding a deficit. It's for the cause of the gospel and the glory of God. So that's the work. Next heading:
2. The Example
Look on to verse 2 where David says,
"So I have provided for the house of my God [in other words, for the temple], so far as I was able, the gold for the things of gold, the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, besides great quantities of onyx and stones for setting, antimony, coloured stones, all sorts of precious stones and marble."
That was from the national treasury, from the spoils of battle over the years. And if David hadn't planned to set it aside for the temple building, I guess, as money does, it would just have spent itself on lesser things. But he did plan. And our Giving Review is to encourage us to follow his example and plan in the next few weeks how we're going to set aside money for gospel ministry and mission this year. And if you're thinking, 'But it was easy for David because he had the Bank of Israel to raid,' or, 'I wish I had a few spoils of war tucked away myself,' then read on in verses 3-5:
"Moreover, in addition to all that I have provided for the holy house, I have a treasure of my own of gold and silver, and because of my devotion to the house of my God I give it to the house of my God: 3,000 talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and 7,000 talents of refined silver, for overlaying the walls of the house, and for all the work to be done by craftsmen, gold for the things of gold and silver for the things of silver."
And in verse 3, where it says, "I have a treasure of my own", the original word was used by kings back then for their personal contingency fund in case of political disaster. And David gave from that, as well, to set his people a personal example.
Now the New Testament calls us, if we're Christians, to give a percentage of our regular income for gospel ministry and mission. So, as another personal example, when Tess and I got married, we found we were both giving 15%. And more recently we agreed to up that by 1% a year to see how that works out. The Giving Review literature suggests 10% as a baseline to start from.
But the striking thing here is that David doesn't see his personal savings as sacrosanct. Some of us may have too little saved. But some of us may have plenty saved – and maybe in God's eyes too much. So can I encourage us to review that, and whether we should give from our savings, periodically, as well? Because it's easy to regard something like an ISA as not just beyond the reach of the taxman but also beyond the Lord's reach, as well – which can't be right. Then heading 3:
3. The Appeal
Look down again to the end of verse 5:
"Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the LORD?"
Now being upfront, once more, some people tell me that they like the Giving Review because it's upfront about money and gives Biblical guidance and structure for giving. Whereas others tell me they don't like it because they find it pressurising. So can I say: pressure is never the intention. And I think the sense of pressure comes when we treat it as just a horizontal exercise – where we're just thinking, 'Here's the leadership trying to extract money from us again.' Whereas the Bible always treats it as a vertical exercise, where the question is not, 'What do they want me to do?', but, 'What does he want me to do with the money that he's entrusted to me?' And that's the point of that question at the end of verse 5 – and this, if you like, is THE Giving Review question:
"Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself [or herself] today to the LORD?"
And today we'd say, '… to the Lord Jesus.' And if Jesus is our Lord, the New Testament says that he does want us to give for gospel ministry and mission. And that's not just an advanced thing for older Christians. It's basic discipleship – and something to get started on even if you only came to faith in Jesus last week.
So there's no intention of creating any pressure. The intention is to create the opportunity for all of us who know the Lord to bring ourselves and our money to him and say, 'What do you want me to do with it?' And lastly, heading 4:
4. The Response
"Then the leaders of fathers' houses made their freewill offerings, as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and the officers over the king's work. They gave for the service of the house of God 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of bronze and 100,000 talents of iron. And whoever had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the LORD, in the care of Jehiel the Gershonite."
Now I take it that, in verse 6, the leaders were bringing not just their gifts, but the gifts of all the people they represented. Because the rest of the chapter talks about what all the people had given. And if you read the Chronicles story of the building of the temple, from planning to finish, it really emphasises the way they all pulled unitedly together, without which it couldn't have been done. And that principle applies to the giving needed for our ministry here. It can only be done as we all pull unitedly together, with our very different capacities to give. But as we bring those different capacities – different incomes, different savings, different circumstances – to the Lord and each ask, 'What do you want me to do?', the Lord can oversee it so that it adds up to what's needed.
Now obviously, our finances also have to be overseen by human leaders. So can I say that only the finance staff know who gives what – that's kept confidential from the rest of us. But the finance staff supply total figures for our Trustees and church council to plan from. And they could really do with many more of us responding quickly to the Giving Review on the Response form in the literature (or you can find and return it online through the website). And, if possible, they could really do with more of us giving by regular monthly standing order. But let's not end on an administrative note. Look at verse 9 for the note the passage actually ends on:
"Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly."
I was preaching at St Joseph's recently, and talking to a family who've come along from the very start, thanks to a flyer through their door. One of the children has come to faith and the parents are getting 'warmer' to Christain things. And the Dad said to me, 'I'm so grateful you began this church because, looking back, I can see it was just what we were waiting for.' And doesn't that make your heart lift? I certainly found myself rejoicing at the thought of what Tess and I, along with many of you, had been able to give for St Joseph's, and what that was now doing in people's lives. And I rejoice in the people coming to faith among us here, and in the Christian growth I see among us here.
And, going back to where we started, all of that is a great work. There's nothing greater to be doing with our money than investing in it. So let's take our money to the Lord, and then let's give – to bless others, and to be blessed ourselves in the giving.