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Lavishness

LAVISHNESS

Acts 4:32-37 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.

During the past weeks we have been looking at God’s purpose for us, His Church. First, He unleashes Himself upon us with the Holy Spirit. Then He unleashes us upon the world to go and make disciples. We are His Body and each part of His Body has a role to fulfill as we work together to achieve God’s purpose. This calls for us to love one another and be unified in spirit and soul. We cannot be a church, nor develop a holy life in private. Individuals can only represent the Body of Christ when they are dependent on Christ and on one another in the Body.

John 15:5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

We must keep our priorities straight. First, we must be empowered by God, then proclaim the good news about Jesus and His love. Because of His power and love in us, He will minister to the needs of those we come in contact.

When we look closely at the history of the first church in Jerusalem, we see an exciting and growing church. As they grew, they became increasingly concerned about helping each other. Why?

Because they realized God had lavishly given them everything; salvation, life, Himself. Furthermore, they believed His promises to be with them and supply all their needs. Therefore, they did not worry about tomorrow. In addition, the Holy Spirit gave them power to love, which motivated them to give.

God has lavishly given everything to us, too. We talk about the sacrifice of the Son of God and forget that it was the sacrifice of God Himself; “reconciling the world unto Himself.” Why?

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Because He loved so much; therefore, He gave. We cannot out-give God. We are blessed by God to be a blessing. With His Spirit, we are to love like God and give lavishly to others.

Lavishness is not a one-time act. It is a lifestyle. Love lavishly. Communicate God’s love wherever you go and to whomever you meet, but especially love other members of the Church.

Rom 12:9-10  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Lavish love also loves those who don’t expect love. Lavish love loves the unlovely.

Matt 5:43-48  "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This lavish love will attract others to Jesus, because it comes from Him. It is not natural; it is supernatural, the characteristic of God’s Holy Spirit in us. Lavish love also gives unselfishly and generously.

2 Cor 9:6-15 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

The religion of Jesus Christ is a religion of intimacy with God and has nothing to do with possessions. The Christian realizes that his life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses, because what we possess often possesses us—we are possessed by possessions. “This is mine, you must not touch it!” When we become intimate with God, it will show in the way we live and the way we give.

A cartoon pictured two men walking out of church after the sermon was over wearing only their under shorts. One turned to the other & said, "Wow, that’s the most powerful sermon on giving I’ve ever heard!"

I think that’s the attitude the church in Jerusalem had. When they realized what God had done for them, that everything they had came from Him, the Holy Spirit made them unselfish and generous, filled with the love of God.

We struggle with this concept of lavishness. It is unnatural to our thinking. Nowadays, everybody is an economist; consequently, we imagine that God is economical, too.

However, think of God in Creation! Think of the number of trees and blades of grass and flowers, the extravagant wealth of beauty no one ever sees! Think of the sunrises and sunsets we never look at! God is lavish in every degree.

It is possible to be so economical that we venture nothing. We have deified economy by placing insurance, retirement accounts, and bank balances on the throne. Consequently, we do very little on the line of adventure or lavishness.

God is not like that. It is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ that we are saved. Grace is the lavish love of God. Imagine a man who is in love being economical! If love is always calculating the cost, never lavish, it is not true love. For example:

Mark 14:3-6 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly. "Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.

The reason Jesus called Mary’s act “beautiful” was that it was done out of spontaneous, lavish love for Him. It was neither useful nor her duty; it was a lavish act of love for which no one else saw any reason.

Although we highly value common sense and live by it, common sense is not the solid rock of life, because it is tainted by fear. Jesus is the rock upon which we are to build our life.

We cannot lay up for a rainy day, then claim we cannot afford to help our brother, and justify it in the light of Jesus Christ’s teaching. If we do that, we are trusting in ourselves, not God, and finding security in our own wisdom instead of the promises of God’s Word.

Consider at our Scripture text again. There are a couple of things we should notice.

First, the people were giving sacrificial gifts. They didn’t have a bazaar or bingo or a bake sale. They didn’t raffle off a donkey. They just brought their gifts, and it was strictly voluntary. No one was telling them to do it. They were motivated by love from the Holy Spirit, appreciation for what God had done for them, and love for their fellow Christians in need.
 

I Jn 3:16-18 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Secondly, the church didn’t keep the money. The church did not become wealthy, but distributed it among the people as they had need.

It is unhealthy for a church to have large bank balances that are never used. God gives us money to be used in His kingdom, not to create certificates of deposit. God’s supply will not run dry.

I know of a church with hundred of thousands of dollars in bank accounts. They have a sense of financial security, but that church is not growing.

It is like a story I heard about one church that struck oil on its property. Instantly the elders called a congregational meeting and adopted 3 resolutions. #1. They decided they would pump as much oil as they possibly could. #2. They would distribute the oil money equally among the members. #3. They would not accept any new members.

As the church grows and people give generously, we have a responsibility to make sure those funds are used wisely to fulfill the purpose of the church, which is to go and make disciples. One result in the first church was that there weren’t any needy people among them. This was an attraction, because it is upside down from the world.

When we are taking care of our own, that is something the world can see. It’s one thing to sit around and talk about what a great faith we have, and all the things we’re going to do. But when we part with our possessions and do something, the world sits up and takes notice and sees that it is not just talk. It’s a way to express our faith. And when we do, many will notice and be attracted to Jesus.

 Giving lavishly out of love for God is the motive. God has given so much to us because He loves us so much. When His love is in us and among us, it is out of love we share with one another. As a result, God blesses the whole Body, the giver as well as the receiver.

Acts 20:35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

The level of our joy is in relationship to our giving. How much we have to give is irrelevant to our lavishness. It is a heart matter of loving and trusting God. When the widow gave two pennies, Jesus commended her because she gave all she had.
 

Look at Zacchaeus when Jesus went to his house and had dinner with him. Zacchaeus said, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor." (Luke 19:8)

It’s interesting to note what Jesus didn’t say. He did not say to Zacchaeus, "That’s too much. You only have to give 10%." Nor did He say, "That’s not enough. You’re still richer than most of the others." He didn’t say either of those things. Jesus simply said, "Today, salvation has come to this house." (Luke 19:9) What was the evidence of his salvation? The Spirit of God was alive in Zacchaeus, motivating him to repent and give.
 

There are exceptions to lavish giving. Wives are not to give beyond what their husbands agree to give. Unless a wife has an independent bank account, giving is a family matter and the husband is responsible for the decision to give. If she feels more should be given, she should pray. God will work on her husband’s heart and God doesn’t need the wife to nag her husband about it. Husbands have to answer to God about this, not the wife. If the wife disobeys her husband, then she will have to answer to God because her giving is an act of disobedience. Read on in the next chapter in Acts (ch. 5) and see God’s response to wrongful giving. It is recorded as a lesson to all of us.

Now, a few more passages are relevant to this subject of lavishness.

II Th 3:6-13 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.

That is a church family principle in scripture that we should not violate. If a person is physically able to work, and if the opportunity is there, and he or she refuses to work, we should not give them anything until they repent. Their idleness puts them out of fellowship with the Body. Every member of the Body has a responsibility to walk by the Spirit and contribute to the Body.

2 Cor 10:5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

We never get credit spiritually for impulsive giving. We get credit for giving that is governed by the Holy Spirit. Much of our giving is simply an impulse to keep us from feeling guilty. The Spirit of God alters all that.

As Christians, our attitude towards giving is that we give for Jesus Christ’s sake, and from no other motive. We give in His Name to causes in which He has an interest. Furthermore, we make it clear Jesus is making the gift, because He has told us to give this amount. We are servants of Christ and He holds us responsible for the way we use His gifts. All our giving is to be out of obedience to His Spirit, not out of an impulse.

Again, Galatians 6:10 says, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."

Now that teaches that we ought to be concerned about everybody, but especially those who are a part of the church. The Church is a family, and our first priority is to minister to each other.
 
Matt 25:37-40 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Again, Jesus is saying we are ministering to Him when we give to anyone in His family, His brothers. This is what the first church was doing—giving to those in the church.

Giving to those outside the family of God is an outreach, done under the direction of the Holy Spirit, as a means of sharing the Gospel with those who do not know Jesus. This is not to be confused with meeting the needs of Christ’s Body.

We should never give to unbelievers without sharing the Gospel, without telling them about Jesus, who is the giver. The Church is not a philanthropy. It is the Body and Bride of Jesus Christ, unleashed upon the world to turn it upside down; to turn people to Jesus; to make disciples of Christ. Giving to unbelievers must have that purpose—to cause them turn to Jesus and become His disciple.

Giving is something we DO. We have not done anything if we just listen to a message about giving and mentally agree, nor if we just preach about it and don’t live it. There is a promise for those who give lavishly.

Matt 19:29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

We won’t experience God’s lavishness until we give everything to God. Give your life to Jesus. Confess your sinfulness and need for a Savior, repent, and die to yourself in  baptism. Then you will experience His abundant life and God’s lavish love. You will receive power and grace to give lavishly to others as God has given to you.