Joy in Giving
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 22:34–22:46
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 22-23, 2011
“Why Give? – Joy in Giving”
My friends, our journey through Why Give? has come to an end. This was the fifth and final week of reading and praying our way through this 40-day devotional book that we’ve been using this fall. I pray that you have been enriched and strengthened in your faith journey as God’s steward through these 40 days. The central theme of this book is how God, the ultimate River of Giving and source of every grace and blessing, now calls us and equips us to be rivers of giving in his Name. As this series comes to a close, I encourage you to continue to use this little book and refer back to it in the days ahead. There is much wisdom in it for our understanding and practice of Christian stewardship. As we close out this series on Why Give?, we do so by focusing on the theme of “Joy in Giving,” the theme for the devotions from Week 5, based on today’s Gospel lesson. May the Lord’s rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
Before there can be joy in giving, there must first be joy. Joy is not the same as happiness, but is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that comes from knowing and serving God (Galatians 5). The title for the devotions this past week was “Biblical Giving Results in Joy,” but I think that is putting the cart before the horse. That could be misinterpreted and misunderstood to imply that if we want that joy, then we must first give. I believe it would be far better to turn this around so it reads: “Biblical Joy Results in Giving.” Any giving of ourselves, our time, or our possessions must first begin in joy – the joy of salvation in Jesus Christ our Savior that transforms our hearts and minds to be rivers of giving. Flowing out of today’s Gospel lesson, I believe this joy can be summed up in an acronym for JOY: J = Jesus, O = Others, and Y = Yourself. This acronym has been around for a long time and you’ve probably heard it before. In order for there to be joy in giving, there must be JOY. Jesus tells us this when asked which was the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38; Deuteronomy 6:5). This is the “J” in JOY. Jesus goes on: “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:39-40; Leviticus 19:18). This is the “O” in JOY. Based on these two teachings of our Lord in both Old and New Testaments, our understanding of joy then moves from the “J” of Jesus, on to the “O” of others, and then to the “Y” of yourself. That is JOY!
What I’ve just shared with you is a God-thing, and it goes against our fallen human nature and the way of the world. This is a spiritual understanding that does not come naturally to us. Deeply ingrained in our fallen human nature and reinforced by the way of the world, we are taught exactly the opposite of JOY. The Biblical understanding of God’s design and plan for JOY is twisted and warped so that instead of JOY, there is YOJ: yourself first, others second, and Jesus last. And according to our sinful human nature which does not want to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind, nor love our neighbor as ourselves, this makes perfect sense. After all, we have to look out for #1; nobody else is going to do this for us. And so the light of God’s design and plan for our life is shut out. Without even realizing it, we begin to separate ourselves from God. We start to live in darkness and the shadow of death because of this inverted, backwards, and sinful understanding of JOY that is spelled YOJ.
What happens to us when we live not by JOY, but by YOJ? John DeVries, author of Why Give?, speaks to this in the devotion for Day 1. He writes: “Charles Dickens captured that idea in his famous ‘A Christmas Carol.’ The central character, Scrooge, has become a synonym for miserliness and misery. Miserly people are miserable people” (Why Give?, p. 20). Prior to reading that devotion, I had never made the connection between those two words – miserly and miserable, but there is a direct connection not only in etymology, but in real life. When our life is all about getting and desperately holding on to what we get, we run the terrible risk of becoming Ebenezer Scrooge. Some might say, “But we live in such difficult economic times right now! We have to be very careful with our resources.” And that is true, of course. But let us learn a lesson from history in this regard. Do you know in what time period American Christians contributed the highest percentage of their income for church work? It was in the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the economy was even worse than it is today. Since that time, when our standard of living has dramatically improved and the average income has risen substantially, our contribution for the work of the Lord has decreased. Have we, without even knowing it, become Ebenezer Scrooge? My friends, God wants so much for us – joy that is spelled not YOJ, but JOY.
Joy begins in Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” The truth is, we do not, and we cannot, love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul and mind. And we do not and we cannot love our neighbor as ourselves. And in truth, we do not and we cannot love ourselves in a right and God-pleasing way. In love and mercy for us, the Lord God has reached down to us. We do not have a God who is far-off and removed from us, but One who has come to us in order to redeem us. That is Jesus, the Son of God, who lived that perfect and sinless life that we cannot, and who died the death we deserve. By his sinless life and through his suffering and death upon the cross, we have been made right with God our Father. In Jesus, that backwards YOJ has been corrected to JOY. In Jesus, we are transformed into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) where we love and honor the Lord Jesus, where we love and care for our neighbor as ourselves, and where we care for ourselves in such a way that we might use all that we are and have for the Lord’s purpose. In Jesus, we are that new Ebenezer Scrooge, who “… by the end of ‘A Christmas Carol,” [Scrooge] is transformed from an attitude of getting to one of giving… Now he is dancing through the village streets, giggling and laughing, as he discovers the joy of giving…” (Why Give?, p. 20). May it be so with us! May the JOY of the Lord so transform our hearts and minds that we become rivers of giving in Jesus’ Name. Amen.