Transformed Heart: Generous Giving to Meet Others’ Physical and Eternal Needs
Transformation doesn’t happen when the thief stops stealing; transformation happens when the thief becomes generous. There are many people with the same greed as anyone in the Lake County Jail, but they try to satisfy it legally. Rather than being greedy thieves they are greedy watchmakers, shoemakers, and clockmakers. They don’t go to jail and they may prosper greatly. Yet is that what God is looking to do in us? Make us rich? For what? So that we can be non-stealing hard working materialists? No. Remember that God’s goal is to conform us to the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:29 ESV). The Spirit’s goal is to break us from our love of this world and our desire to find meaning in the accumulation of things (materialism) and to transform us into generous givers like Jesus.
Since preaching is one of the means by which God changes us, faithful preachers must talk about the motives behind our materialism or they are not faithful preachers.
“When people ask us what the difference is, we simply respond that Christians give. I think many times what happens is that we teach stinginess by default. We are so afraid to talk about money and touch on issues of giving that we’ve taught people they can be deeply spiritual and not be generous. In many ways we have communicated that how we deal with money is irrelevant to our spiritual lives.” (Erwin McManus, Unstoppable Force, p. 220.)
McManus is touching on something is plainly true. Our perspective and practice with money and possessions shows the true spiritual condition of our hearts. This can be positively displayed in our personal freedom to give what we have to God and others, or negatively as our stinginess reveals a spiritual emptiness and someone who really doesn’t get the gospel. Either way, money reveals character.
Paul is not saying, “Thieves, quit stealing, give to others, and go to heaven.” The thief on the cross didn’t do any of those, yet is in heaven. Salvation is by faith alone. This is the flaw in the famous Les Miserables. Jean Valjean seeks redemption for his past life as a thief by showing kindness to the orphaned daughter of a former employee. The musical implies that this saves you, but to be saved you have to sing all your words. My wife loves it so I’ll stop further critique.
There will be many honest businessmen who gave philanthropically who end up in hell. The rich young ruler in Mark 10 is an example of an apparently honest rich dude who was very moral but unsaved. True gospel transformation of the thief or materialist is when he works for what he has and gives generously for Jesus’ sake. It is gospel motivated. It’s not giving to change public policy or lobby congress or get my name on the building. It is motivated by love and a wonder for all that God has given me freely in Jesus.
A positive example of this would be Zacchaeus. He was an example of someone making a fortune legally but unethically. He was the senior executive for the Roman IRS. It was within his right to overcharge or extort; the Romans didn’t care as long as they got their taxes. Tax collectors were so famously corrupt that to be a tax collector was viewed as being the worst sinner in town. Zacchaeus was very rich and very short. If you know the story, he met Jesus. Jesus went to his house. The effect of Jesus’ teaching and presence on Zacchaeus was so radical that he says,
“Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8-10)
Tax collectors were takers; perhaps the most notorious takers in history. Zacchaeus went from an unethical taker to a generous giver. You could read this very wrongly. He paid restitution, therefore he is saved. No. The whole Bible insists that salvation cannot be earned, bought, or merited by anything we do. Yet what occurred in Zacchaeus’ heart? The presence of Jesus changed his heart and with that change of heart came generosity of spirit and money.
That is what Paul is emphasizing. Thieves and materialists can be saved by Jesus. He changes their hearts, and with that heart change comes another change. They orient away from taking from others and turn toward giving to others.
“Three attitudes we can take toward possessions. The first says, What’s yours is mine; I’ll take it. That is the attitude of the thief. The second says, What’s mine is mine; I’ll keep it.” Since we are selfish by nature, this is the attitude that most people have most of the time. The third attitude – the godly attitude says, What’s mine is God’s; I’ll share it.”(Jerry Bridges as quoted by Philip Graham Ryken, Written in Stone, p. 176)
Take a moment and think of the most generous Christian you know. I’ll guess you don’t know much about their money or how they handle it, but you do see something special in them. There is a magnanimous spirit about them. They welcome you into their lives. They are hospitable with their attention. You sense they care about you. They listen. They ask about your life, hurts, and challenges. They are likely this way because they don’t view their things or time as ultimately theirs. These are gifts from God for them to steward. If you were to look behind the scenes of their finances, you would find quiet but faithful, generous giving to God and to others. They are likely hard workers and great employees. They are wise with what God provides to them. They don’t waste much. They can’t. They don’t view it as theirs in the first place. This allows them to feel free to give away to meet other peoples’ temporal needs. Their greatest joy is to use and give what they have to address peoples’ eternal needs.
Have you ever had a close-up on someone like this? I have. Fifteen years ago I was blessed to begin a friendship with Dr. Wilbur Williams. For over 45 years he has been Professor of Old Testament at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is an archaeologist and has led over 150 tours of Israel. I have done five or so of them with him myself. Wilbur is in his 80s. He has taught over 17,000 students and continues a full teaching load to this day. He has taken a salary each year from IWU of $1. He takes no salary for the Israel trips and has personally paid for legions of students to tour Israel. He has won professor of the year at IWU so many times they might as well just permanently mount the trophy in his office.
These are all things that you can read online. I have been blessed to know him personally. I don’t know why he likes me but for some reason he does. In my single years, I would write him a question and he would answer at length with godly advice about dating and women and marriage. He has 500 students a year and yet he would write to this lonely, single pastor. Here’s an example of his generosity: a few years ago we put together a “Steps of Paul” trip. We advertised it but there were some issues with the trip. I don’t remember all the details. But the short of it is, he led the tour for us without compensation, he personally paid for his wife to go, and told me the only reason he did this two-week tour was because he loved me.
When Jennifer and I got married, he spoke at our wedding and then jumped into a car and drove eight hours to a banquet held in his honor. He had this crazy day because he didn’t want to miss our wedding. I could go on and on. One I have to mention is his kindness to his wife Ardelia. Ardelia suffers from Alzheimer’s. I have watched the incredible patience of Dr. Williams caring for her. He has told me, “I never want her to feel bad about forgetting anything.” That’s something a new husband can learn from.
Few, if any in my life, have more modeled generosity to me than Dr. Williams. But if you were to ask him about it, he would deflect praise. He would talk about the Lord’s goodness. Thousands of students and pastors and an entire university hold him in the highest regard. He has lived the generous life. I would trust him with every penny I have. He is not a taker. He is a giver and he is blessed. As Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
I used to talk and joke publicly about being Dutch and lightheartedly embrace the stereotype of Dutch stinginess. A few years ago I purposed not to do that anymore. I don’t want to be known by perception or reality as being cheap. I want my life to be generous. Generous like Dr. Williams. And even more, generous like my Savior Jesus…
“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself bybecoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)
This gospel that we love and treasure is generosity toward us, and working through us, that gospel will be generous toward others.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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