I don't know if anyone caught the programme about the Queen's coronation that was on the BBC the other week. It was a fascinating programme with some great personal insights from Her Majesty the Queen herself. One of the things that came across very clearly was that her coronation – an event designed to be as grand and lavish and as positive a spectacle as possible – was in fact conducted against the backdrop, in 1953, of a country still very much feeling the effects of the Second World War. Rationing was still a reality. Many buildings in the capital still hadn't been rebuilt. It was an austere, grey time into which the organisers hoped to inject a shot of colour and pageantry and joy to lift the spirits of the nation. And what a great job they did.
So why do I mention this? Well the contrast between good and not so good times is part of the context of this morning's passage. By the time whoever wrote Chronicles does so, he is looking back - probably from a period of obscurity and comparative austerity – and he's looking back to the high point of David's reign. A time of hard work. A time of incredible selfless giving by the people. But also a time of much blessing and joy and national celebration as the actual task of building the temple is passed from Father to Son. And part of what the Chronicler wants his readers to see and understand, is that whatever their current situation (for them probably exile) and indeed whatever our current situation (whether a time of blessing or austerity), this joyful experience of giving need not be an occasional thing, nor indeed simply a thing of the past. So… what do we learn? Firstly, David put:
1. First Things First: God!
And for him… that's God. Verse 10:
"Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly..."
If you were here last week, you'll remember what David is reacting to. Cast your eyes back one verse and there you'll see that the people had given willingly and wholeheartedly. So, David is overwhelmed by what's happened and his first and instinctive reaction is to bless the Lord. Verse 10:
"…Blessed are you, O Lord…"
We might say 'praise the Lord' or 'give thanks to the Lord' – that's what bless in this context means. But 'praise God' or 'thank him' or 'bless him' for what? First things first: who he is and what he does for us. And there's so much in verses 10-12 to help us know and to remember the incredible nature of God. Verse 10:
"…Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, for ever and ever."
So, God is our heavenly Father – all that the best example of an earthly Father could be… and then some – because his loving care for us is eternal! Verse 11:
"Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory…"
God is almighty which means that ultimately, we are safe in his care – nothing can overpower him and therefore nothing, if we're trusting in him, will ultimately overpower us. Verse 11 continues:
"…for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours."
Does this not remind us that he is the Creator? Which means that as our Creator he knows us even better than we know ourselves and he knows what is best for us. He is also the ultimate and supreme ruler – there is no one on earth or in the heavens with more authority than he has. Verse 11 continues:
"…Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all."
Not some. All! And He is sovereign and in complete control too. Verse 12:
"…you rule over all. In your hand are power and might"
Do you see how rich these verses are? And as if all this is not enough he is also a gracious provider. First part of verse 12:
"both riches and honour come from you"
And in his hand is the...
"power and might… to make great and to give strength to all"
Friends, if you know this God, if you are being warmed by the reminder of his great and awe-inspiring nature. Then, as with everything in the Christian life – giving included, remember, this is where it all starts. First things first: a love for and an appreciation of this incredible God.
Of course, I realise that some of you may be sitting in here this morning and you're thinking that you don't know this God I'm talking about. And if this is your first time with us, one of the things you need to know is that those of us who come here regularly do so because we love this God who is described in these verses and we're trying to follow, somewhat imperfectly, where he leads. Today, part of what we're thinking about is how this affects how we use our wealth and our money. But before you even consider that – you need to consider this God. First things first for you, too.
You see even if you don't know this God, I'm sure you'd agree that there are a thousand and one things wrong on this planet. And if you're honest you'll be aware of a few things that are wrong in your own life too. This is what David means when in verse 15 he says that "we are strangers" before God. It's an acknowledgement that not all is right between us and God. The Bible calls this problem sin and it's basically our selfish desire to ignore this incredible Creator God I have just been describing and live our lives our own way without any reference to him. That's the problem; that's why we're strangers before God. And ultimately, if we don't respond to him in this life, then we will be 'strangers before God' for eternity, in the worst place that you could ever possibly imagine. But this loving and merciful and patient God keeps reaching out to save us from this eternal hell. He doesn't want you to be a stranger to him. So please, if you want to know more about that, please keep coming back. Please talk to any one of us in this church. We'd love to help you get to know him better.
Well, after ensuring that God is at the forefront of our hearts – what does David target next? Answer? The mind. We need to allow these truths of who God is to affect our minds and give us the right perspective on living – especially when it comes to giving. This is our second point this morning:
2. The Right Perspective on Giving: Nothing I Have is Truly Mine
And the right perspective is best summed up in verse 14:
"For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you"
And verse 16:
"all this abundance… comes from your hand and is all your own."
In other words, nothing that we have is truly ours – everything, and I mean everything (be it much or little) is a gift from the Lord. That's the perspective we need. Too often we Christians can fall into the trap of looking at our income and thinking 'how am I going to spend my money?' Whereas what we actually should be thinking is 'how does God want me to use what he has entrusted to me?' Do you see the difference? One has 'me' first and foremost. 'It's my money. They're my needs. It's my decision.' The other has 'God' first: 'It's his money. He's blessed me with it for now. How does he want me to use it?' So let's keep looking at David's example to see how we can respond rightly to this perspective. This is our final heading this morning.
3. The Right Response: Our Giving Back to the Lord Needs to be Done…
And I think we see five things here that inform the way we should give back to God. Firstly, our giving back to the Lord needs to be done…
Have a look at verse 13:
"And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name."
In other words, our giving is an expression of our gratitude to just how great the Lord is. Of course, ultimately, our expressed thanks can be never more than a token. It's not like we're trying to pay God back or anything! You know my brother-in-law is pretty great. He's a sparky and as very kind gift he came and did the electrics for us in our new extension. Our small gift back to him was just a token of our heartfelt gratitude for what he'd done. Likewise, there's no way we can repay all that the Lord has done for us in loving and saving us from that eternal hell – but what we can do is thankfully accept such grace through the giving we can do. Next we learn that our giving back to the Lord should be done…
If anyone could say that they had worked hard it was David. He had organised and managed the collection of so much basic and precious material required to build the temple. In the world's eyes he was in charge and the fruits of his labour belonged to him. In verse 14, he says:
"But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you."
Humility in giving is so closely linked to having the right perspective. David knew his place in the grand scheme of things. His giving was not going to be done with an ego or worse an attempt to bribe or manipulate God. Do you find yourself doing that sometimes? 'Lord, you know I gave humbly last year, that was a good year of giving wasn't it Lord – maybe this year is the year you pay me back for that and I get that … (insert blank) … that I went without last year.' Not a hint of that here with David - he gave, humbly knowing that nothing he had was truly his. And he also gave…
In verse 16 David talks of "all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house". If we claim to follow this generous God, if we claim to want to be more like him – how can we be anything but generous in return?
At this time of year – when we review our giving, I never cease to be amazed at your generosity. So, let me say thank you to you for that. On behalf of all us of here: thank you! But let's not forget, that generosity is not about the amount we give, it is about the heart with which we give. You know it is possible to be generous with next to nothing and tight with an awful lot. That's why we need to be thankful and humble in our giving as well.
The other thing to say about generosity is that it is not reckless. Generous giving is not reckless giving. Yes, it can be done in faith, yes it can be done sacrificially – but it is so important that we don't neglect either ourselves or those we have responsibility for. And I think that avoiding debt, as far as it is possible, is a good practical principle of that. Of course, I'm not naïve enough to think that everyone who loves the Lord isn't in debt and if this an area you struggle with then I would commend to you the CAP Centre that is run through this church. There is a helpful Money Management Course that anyone can attend for free and if your debt feels unmanageable or overwhelming, then please make an appointment to speak to our CAP counsellor. It's well worth it. It can really make a difference. Back to our principles. Next up we see David leading by example and giving back to God…
d) …Willingly and Not Under Pressure
"I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you."
(1 Chronicles 29.17)
Giving is happening freely and not under pressure! I think this is where we always tread a fine line with a giving review – that fine line between passing on essential financial information and pressure being applied to give in response to that information. Some of you may feel that we don't always get that right, and if we don't we're sorry for that. But please understand, that at its heart the giving review is a chance to share the need – the response (between you and God) needs to be a willing one and not under any human pressure. Because, as with everything else, our giving forms part of our complete devotion to the Lord.
e) …With Complete Devotion
"Then David said to all the assembly, "Bless the Lord your God." And all the assembly blessed the Lord, the God of their fathers, and bowed their heads and paid homage to the Lord and to the king."
(1 Chronicles 29.20)
How much do we see our giving as an act of worship? One of the downsides of not taking a regular offering is that we have no corporate opportunity to bless the Lord and bow our heads in thanks and homage to him. You see it's possible to give thankfully, humbly, generously and willingly, but also in this day and age, forgetfully! Especially when we give by a weekly or monthly Standing Order – which we are encouraged to do because it makes the budgeting task and cash flow situation so much easier to handle for our small part-time team. But when we do that, the money leaves our accounts and we get used to that and often then we don't even realise it's gone. And with it has gone our chance to see our giving as a regular act of complete devotion. So we must be creative and work hard at alternate strategies. One way I do that is to have Bible verses written out in my bank statement folder so that when I'm reviewing finances (normally monthly) I get a chance to praise and thank God then. And I try to change those verses every so often.
But this is just a tool to help us ask the question we should all be asking whenever and however we give: Is our giving (in response to who the Lord is and what he has done) thankful, humble, generous, willing and done with complete devotion to the Lord?