William C. Green
Executive for Faith & Giving
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115
For use in Bible study, sermon preparation, stewardship training and theme selection.
God's call of Abraham is a summons to the people of God not to let old ways of living and conventional belief prevent moving into a quality of life far "richer" than heretofore known?promise and blessing meant for others too. "By you [better than ?in you'] all the families of the earth shall bless themselves,"(v. 3) in the helpful alternative rendering of the NRSV. God's people are the means but not the end or sole example of blessing and being blessed.
A prayer from The New Century Hymnal sums up the thrust of these key verses that begin with the "great commandment" (6:4-5; Mark 12:29-30)?to love God above all else with all our heart, soul, and might. "May you love God so much that you love nothing else too much; May you fear God enough that you need fear nothing at all." (#874) This outlook breaks the grip of any possessiveness that inhibits generosity.
The wealth or "abundance"of our lives is a gift, not just a given. That is, no more than with life itself do we have this as something we can earn or deserve. It is not entitlement but blessing in which others are meant to share (see Genesis 12:3 above).
2 Samuel 24:24
Knowing the quality of life made possible by the power of God, David is not about to give less than his best?something possible for all of us, and irrepressible when we know our own blessing. He is not about to make an offering to God that, in effect, costs him nothing.
I Chronicles 29:1-19
About the giving required to build the temple, the house of God. "For all things come from you, [O Lord,] and of your own have we given you." (v. 14b) Leaders must "walk the talk," letting their own generosity be an example and inspiration to others.
The temple or house of God welcomes and celebrates the truth that God's kingdom or "realm" includes the entire earth; God's love embraces all of life. This sovereign love "lifts up" us all, and any denial closes the doors on God's presence and prevents us from sharing in the divine blessing of life. "Be lifted up, O ancient doors!" (vv. 7, 9)
Giving is futile sacrifice, religiously superficial and unacceptable to God, unless directed to enabling others to know the abundance, the quality of life, that is theirs too?which is the purpose of the temple (and the church). "Learn to do good, seek justice." (v. 17)
God's house—in those days, the temple—was the place from which the produce, the abundance, of the land was redistributed. Dereliction in fulfilling one's rightful "tithe" upset the harmony that alone could assure prosperity in the land. Restoration of this commitment will issue in "overflowing blessing" for all. (v. 10) Don't let argument about "tithing"?giving a tenth of annual giving?upstage the main point about giving, its motivation and outcome: generosity comes from an experience of "abundance," the blessing of which is literally lost unless shared with others, and impossible to gain alone.
"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (v. 21) Faith and money are two sides of the same coin. Where the one is, the other is also. We easily pretend otherwise, making faith immaterial or money unspiritual.
Matthew 14:13-21 (see also Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-14)
Jesus feeding the five thousand with "nothing here but five loaves and two fish." (v. 17) Often thinking we don't have enough we fail to see and take seriously what we already have. It is from what we have, not what we don't, that we find what we need...and then some!
Matthew 25:14-30 (see also Luke 19:12-27)
Wanting more, thinking what we have is not enough, we squander opportunity presently ours, "just as I am, without one plea," in the words of the gospel song. In this well-known parable of the talents, as in Luke's of the pounds, the message is use it?or lose it. It is in the use of what we have, not the amount, that we learn and practice, or practice and then learn still more, the abundance already ours. Mark 12:41-44
In this story of the poor widow's generosity, the irony of abundance is made clear. Less is more when what we give exceeds what we withhold. "Complete possession is proved only by giving. All you are unable to give possesses you" (see note 14 to Chapter 1).
Luke 12:13-21, 48
The parable of the rich fool is clear: life's abundance does not consist in possessions. Those who "store up treasures for themselves" (v. 21) become victims of anxiety, always wondering if they have enough. Real security is found?and the true richness of life experienced—not in guarding what we have but in giving what we can. "Abundance" is not a private possession but a shared experience.
Easily confusing, this parable of the shrewd steward is also provocative. It emphasizes the importance of being astute in using possessions so as to gain rather than lose one's future. There is no way to acquire money that is pure and perfect, unsullied by questionable means and motives. That should not become a pious excuse to avoid responsibility for its wise use.
I Corinthians 4:1-2
The word rendered "servants" means, literally, "under-rowers." The figure is that of a ship impelled by oars under the command of a captain. "Stewards" as "servants [or ministers] of Christ" labor under the inspiration of the truth about life?"God's mysteries"?disclosed in Jesus. Their most important quality, given the challenge involved, is fidelity, faithfulness?staying true to the cost and joy of an understanding of life at odds with prevailing sensibility. (See Isaiah 40:29-31 and Matthew 11:29-30.)
II Corinthians 8:1-15
"Abundance" is not a function of good times; a "wealth of generosity" can "overflow" even "during a severe ordeal of affliction" (v.2). It is the "genuineness of love" in response to the joy of life made known in Jesus Christ that makes us eager to give "according to what one has?not according to what one does not have" (v. 12). Also emphasized (see v. 13-14) is the equality between givers and receivers whereby those who "receive" give as generously as those who "give," and neediness proves an illusion next to the actual abundance in which all share.
II Corinthians 9:6-15
God provides "every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work." (v. 8) There is no need to "sow sparingly" and hence "reap sparingly." We can "sow bountifully" and "reap bountifully" (v. 6), "enriched in every way for [our] great generosity." (v. 11)
Galatians 5:22-23a (NRSV)
"Abundance" is the truth about life made known in the spirit or disposition of Jesus, the driving force of the church. So Paul says in these verses that "generosity" is part of the "fruit" of the Spirit. It is impossible to turn on the lights of greater giving when the power is off...or low. Morale, or what the church calls Spirit, is "the power that turns on the lights"?and the number one stewardship challenge! Ephesians 3:1-21
Contrary to what God's people often believed, outsiders ("Gentiles") not just insiders ("Jews") have always been part of the divine plan wherein all are meant to know the good news of abundant life. Paul sees himself as making this "mystery" plain. He prays that the power of God at the heart of life?part of "the boundless riches of Christ" (v. 8)? make us "bold and confident" (v.12) so that we may be "filled with all the fullness of God." (v. 19) which is the fullness of life (John 10:10).
1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19
God "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." (v. 17) God wants us to be happy! To "take hold of the life that really is life" (v. 19) is to experience abundance as a gift to be shared: it is no private possession, and beyond anything we can earn or deserve. Not being rich or money, but "the love of money" is "a root of all kinds of evil" (v. 10). That love fuels insatiable desire, makes for unhappiness, and reduces the blessing of life to something we must gain rather than seek to share.
From Inspiring Generosity, a stewardship resource for the local church, produced by the Stewardship and Church Finances Ministry Team, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ, 2002, and available from United Church of Christ Resources: 800-325-7061.