Hardhearted and Tightfisted

generosity

Please read Deuteronomy 15:1-11 in your Bible.

A highly successful businessman was once asked to make a substantial donation toward an urgent charity appeal. The businessman listened to the case presented then said, “I can understand why you approached me. Yes I do have a lot of money, and yours is an important cause. But are you aware that I have a lot of calls upon my money? Did you know my mother needs 24 hour nursing care?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know my sister is struggling to raise a family of eight on her own?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know I have one son in a drug rehab clinic and another doing voluntary work overseas?”

“No we didn’t”

“Well, if I don’t give them a cent, what makes you think I’ll give it to you?!”

CONTEXT = The book of Deuteronomy is Moses reviewing the law with the Israelites prior to their campaign to occupy the Promised Land.  It is a collection of teachings in no obvious order, so context is not as important as it is for other parts of the Bible.  However, this section joins with 14:27-29, which identifies the needy persons requiring support: the Levites (assistants to the priests), aliens, fatherless, and widows.

Prosperity is given to empower & reward generosity.

  1. God attached a promise of prosperity to the 7 year cycle of debt forgiveness.

This command is one aspect of God’s commands to observe a “Sabbath Year” every seventh year.  Other aspects of a Sabbath Year include the release of slaves and allowing the land to rest (planting crops was forbidden; only what grew “volunteer” was to be gleaned for food).

Here in Deuteronomy 15, God commanded debt forgiveness of loans made to fellow Israelites (1-3).  Throughout the Old Testament law, God’s people were to give one another special treatment.  The language is a little ambiguous whether this was a permanent forgiveness of debt or a temporary one, just for the duration of the year.  Either way, it was to be a demonstration of faith in God and generous love to needy countrymen.

God’s gracious gift of prosperity was given to empower their gracious generosity.  Verse four states God gave them the LAND AS AN INHERITANCE.  Combine this with the promise of prosperity in v. 6 and we see their prosperity as a gift from God to be shared, not a personal achievement to be hoarded.

On the surface it appears verse 4 contradict verses seven and eleven. Verse four states, THERE SHOULD BE NO POOR AMONG YOU while in verse seven we read, IF THERE IS A POOR MAN AMONG YOUR BROTHERS and verse eleven says THERE WILL ALWAYS BE POOR AMONG YOU.

The way I see it, verse four is a promise: if this statute is observed, poverty would be eliminated.  It is a conditional statement: this effect would be achieved by a combination of the people’s obedience and generosity and by the Lord’s blessing.

On the other hand, verses seven and eleven are a prediction that the Israelites would NOT observe the statute and so poverty would continue.   Verse four reflects optimism, verses seven and eleven show pessimism or realism.  We see both these perspectives in other statements Moses made, so it is not at all out of character to see both of them here.  It is worth noting that in the Gospels Jesus agreed with the realistic tone of verses seven and eleven when He said, “THE POOR YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE WITH YOU.”  The situation had changed so much that an observance of Sabbath years was impossible and the cure for poverty unavailable.

Had this system been followed, it would have limited the centralization of wealth in the hands of the few.  The cancellation or suspension of debts would have put money back into the economy and eased the oppressive burdens of indebtedness.  As God promised it would work, I have no doubt it would have eventually eliminated poverty from Israel.  To observe the Sabbath Year as it was commanded would have been an act of trust in God and a huge faith-building experience.

Verses five and six develop God’s promise of future prosperity.  This is Moses assuring the people that if they follow these rules even though they appear to have no business sense, they do not need to fear poverty.  They can count on God to reward their faithfulness with fruitfulness.

Verse five conveys in two phrases the condition that predicated the fulfillment.  Firstly, IF ONLY YOU FULLY OBEY. In the Hebrew language, this is an “infinitive absolute construction indicating intensity” which is a fancy way of saying the original language stresses the condition of obedience more than we can in English.  Secondly, IF ONLY YOU…ARE CAREFUL TO FOLLOW ALL THESE COMMANDS, especially the Sabbath year laws of this section.  The Old Testament  law teaches us that God blesses complete obedience, not grudging obedience or faked obedience or partial obedience.  In order to do right by God we must obey completely, which includes body and soul.

Verse six is a promise of prosperity and security = THE LORD WILL BLESS YOU AS HE PROMISED.  Prosperity is promised in this phrase: YOU WILL LEND TO MANY NATIONS BUT WILL BORROW FROM NONE.  National prosperity would be one of the means God would use to end poverty in Israel.  Security is promised in the words, YOU WILL RULE OVER MANY NATIONS BUT NONE WILL RULE OVER YOU.  Economic prosperity would certainly be part of how this promise would be realized, but that does not exclude military or political means.

These promises came to their greatest fulfillment during the reign of King Solomon.  Israel enjoyed fantastic wealth and held the preeminent place among the nations of the world. However, as they did not keep this command and observe the Sabbath years, the wealth stayed in the hands of the minority and poverty remained.  We know from history that God clearly kept His part of the covenant but Israel did not keep her part.  As a consequence, Solomon’s sons divided the kingdom and the fortunes of both nations fell over several generations, ending in both nations being conquered by foreigners.

  1. God commanded generosity to the poor.

God condemned having a bad attitude toward the poor.  Verse seven forbade being HARDHEARTED and TIGHTFISTED.  Note this is a condemnation of both attitude and action that results in a person who could help refusing to help.

Verse nine goes a bit further, condemning WICKED THOUGHTS about abusing the Law and the poor.  After all, a businessman might, in year six, decide that he does not want to wait twelve months or more for repayment to start, and refuse to make a loan.  God appealed to the spiritual side of His people and condemned this selfish attitude as a sin.  There is a word of deterrent here in verse nine; help the poor lest they appeal in prayer and God declares the miser guilty of sin.  This is the only place a warning of this type is found in the Bible.  In the Old Testament, a miser is depicted as a sad and lonely figure while a generous person is shown as happy and social.

God commended generosity.  Verses eight and eleven command being OPENHANDED in order to meet needs.  Righteous and happy people are generous people.  While they exercise caution and give in an orderly fashion, they are nonetheless gracious in their giving.  Be aware of God’s grace and generosity to you and then follow His example.

In verse ten, Moses commanded the people to GIVE GENEROUSLY…AND WITHOUT A GRUDGING HEART.  Thoughtful and careful use of one’s resources is a part of wisdom, but that is not an endorsement of miserliness.  Hoarding and withholding from the needy is condemned as a sin.  A generous heart is indicated by the habit of thinking of the needs of others ahead of your own.

Prosperity is given to empower & reward generosity.

          I suppose economists would look on this regulation with horror.  So much of our economy is based on credit and loans earning interest, debt forgiveness would seem to them like rewarding slackers and creating poverty.

It’s possible the ancient Israelites shared this perspective on the Sabbath year laws.  We have no evidence these laws were ever observed.  Sadly, people with money and power are unwilling to release it and apparently their will triumphed.  Which is too bad for a host of reasons not least among them is that it would have been wonderful to see this economic system demonstrated and an actual end to poverty achieved.

In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson declared “war” on poverty.  His methods of war predictably involved expanding the federal bureaucracy.  The four pillars of this effort included an expansion of Social Security, food stamps, job agencies, and educational programs. We’ve been at this war for just over 55 years.  Are any closer to winning?  What’s really needed is what God’s law decreed in Deuteronomy 15; a heart of generosity and grace toward persons less fortunate than one’s self.

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (#3), Earl S. Kalland.

The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Deuteronomy), Peter C. Craigie.

https://storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/generosity/

 

Love Does It

(Please read Romans 13:8-10 in your favorite Bible. I use the NIV in my study.)

A man and his wife were driving home from church one Sunday morning.  After a few moments of comfortable silence, the woman said, “Cindy is sure putting on weight.  Do you think she’s pregnant?”

“I didn’t notice, dear,” the man replied.

“Well, did you see how short Diane’s skirt was?  And at her age!”

“I’m sorry, dear.  I didn’t notice.”

“Surely you noticed the way the Smiths let their kids crawl all over everything during fellowship?”

“No, I didn’t see that either.”

“Honestly!” the woman said, disgusted.  “I don’t even know why you go to church anymore!”

Why ARE you here?

Let me suggest the best reason of all: to give and receive love.  Church is where we learn about love; it is like a rehearsal and pep rally where we are reminded about the essential importance of love and given a chance to practice it before we return to the world and put it to work.

Love is what we have received from God.  It is the reason we celebrate in worship and the object of our prayers.

Love motivates us to keep God’s commands.

  1. Love is a DEBT in the sense that we “owe” it to one another.

The first part of v. 8 is good financial advice.  V. 8 relates back to v. 7, which is about keeping our monetary obligations, mentioning TAXES and REVENUE.  The Gk word for OWE in v. 7 comes from the same root as the word DEBT in v. 8.  This is a chain of thought in Paul’s mind.

LET NO DEBT REMAIN OUTSTANDING takes v. 7 and generalizes it into a principle which can guide many of our daily decisions.  Financial counselors will tell you to avoid debt wherever possible.  Debt has a way of crushing our finances and straining our relationships.  It’s a kind of stress that should be avoided.  When debt is unavoidable, the next best thing is to pay it off as soon as possible, to not let it REMAIN OUTSTANDING.

On the other hand, Jesus taught “Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” in Matthew 5:42.  Money should be the same as ministry in the eyes of a believer.

Church Father Origen wrote, “The debt of love is permanent, and we never get out of it; for we pay it daily and yet always own it.”

God has commanded us to love, that’s why we owe it to one another. In the Old Testament we find the command to love evident in the following passages.

– Love God = Deuteronomy 6:5 = LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.

– Love your neighbor = Leviticus 19:18 = DO NOT SEEK REVENGE OR BEAR A GRUDGE AGAINST ONE OF YOUR PEOPLE, BUT LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.  I AM THE LORD.

In the New Testament the command to love is affirmed by Jesus and the apostles.

– In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus said, “LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.  THIS IS THE FIRST AND GREATEST COMMANDMENT.  AND THE SECOND IS LIKE IT: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.  ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS HANG ON THESE TWO COMMANDMENTS.”

– Peter wrote, ABOVE ALL LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY, BECAUSE LOVE COVERS OVER A MULTITUDE OF SINS. (1 Peter 4:8)

  1. Love is the fulfillment of every point of God’s Law.

Paul sets forth the principle in vs. 8+10: LOVE IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW.  This is true because LOVE is the highest, best, and most reliable motive for keeping the LAW.

One way we know whether or not any word or deed is loving is to subject it to the standard set forth in v. 10: LOVE DOES NO HARM TO A NEIGHBOR.  Love is distinguished by always wanting more for the other person than for self.  Love motivates us to avoid doing anything harmful.  Of course this means causing physical, mental, or reputational pain – harm of any kind.  Love takes a positive approach every time.

The literal meaning of NEIGHBOR is “one who is near.”  This means that the application of this command is universal – all the people we meet.

Paul offers four specific examples of how we’re to treat our NEIGHBOR in verse nine.

First, everyone who truly loves will not be guilty of committing ADULTERY.  Our English word ADULTERY translates the Greek word porneia.

It is the Bible’s base word for all kinds of sexual sin.  Whether a person is married or single, this one term covers all forms of this kind of sin.

ADULTERY is not restricted to the physical acts of disobedience, but encompasses all the attitudes of the heart that put satisfaction of self ahead of devotion to God.  For example, in Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus condemned

LUST as an act that makes a person as guilty of ADULTERY as the physical relationship.

Those who love keep their eyes and heart devoted to their beloved, so they are never guilty of ADULTERY in an emotional or spiritual sense or a physical one.  Marriage is the one relationship where sexuality is approved.

Second, everyone who truly loves will not commit MURDER.  This word does not refer to capital punishment or acts of violence in defense of self or the innocent.  Some Christians believe this command forbids all forms of violence, but that is not what the text says.

Of course, there are other kinds of violence.  Jesus taught that whoever condemns his brother is in as much danger of hell as whoever commits murder (see Matthew 5:21-22).  Once again, unloving attitudes are as much sin as unloving acts.

Third, everyone who truly loves will not STEAL.  Stealing is an offense to God for many reasons, but at its base it is a refusal to respect others and their rights to private property.  The idea of DOMINION or ownership goes back to Genesis 1+2.  Those who steal disrespect the dominion God has given others over their property.

Of course, people routinely steal things other than property and are thereby as guilty of stealing as someone who pinches physical goods.  For example, the sins of gossip, lying, backbiting, and slander are sins because they steal from another person’s reputation.

Fourth, everyone who truly loves will not be guilty of coveting.  To COVET is to be so materialistic that you desire things you do not own.  It may be a prelude to stealing.  It is a sin because it is a selfish irritation and dissatisfaction with what God has provided.  It betrays a lack of faith & trust in God.

The truly loving person will not COVET because they will care more about the owner than the item.  They will recognize that the owner and their treatment of him will continue into eternity, but the thing in question will not.

All of these examples are problems that would be solved if we loved our neighbor as ourselves, if we kept the Golden Rule.  Notice how Jesus expressed this in Matthew 7:12: “IN EVERYTHING, DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU, FOR THIS SUMS UP THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS.”  Does that sound familiar?  That’s exactly what Paul wrote!  Imagine what kind of a home, church, community and world we would have if everyone abided by this foundational ethical principle.  It is simple, portable, and it works.

Love motivates us to keep God’s commands.

“Almost a century ago, two young medical school graduates, along with their doctor father, tried an important experiment. They built a small sanitarium on a farm outside Topeka, Kansas (USA). Oftentimes patients were sent to impersonal institutions where they might remain their entire lives.
“The doctors were Charles Menninger and his sons Karl and William. The Menningers had a different idea. Their sanitarium would not be impersonal. They were determined to create a loving, family atmosphere among their patients and staff. Their vision was to grow a community of doctors, nurses and support staff that would cooperate to heal patients.
“To this end, nurses were given special training and were told, ‘Let each person know how much you value them. Shower these people with love.’ Many of the patients received more love and kindness at the Menninger Sanitarium than they had ever experienced before.
“The treatment worked – spectacularly.  [At the end of the first six months, the time people spent in the institution was cut in half.] The experiment was a resounding success and the Menninger’s revolutionary approach to healing and their radical (for that time) methods became world famous.
“Karl Menninger later wrote numerous books and became a leading figure in American psychiatry. ‘Love cures people,’ Menninger wrote, ‘both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.’ His work demonstrated just how true that statement is.”

<Retrieved from http://stevegoodier.blogspot.com/2014/12/a-conspiracy-of-love.html on 1/20/17.>

“Love cures people,” that’s a quote worth remembering, isn’t it?  We’ve learned today that love helps us keep God’s commands: indeed, it is His greatest commandment.  Love is the most important thing.

The flipside of love is holiness.  To be genuine, you can’t have one without the other.  Holiness is the practice of love in our relationships, the things we do that are in keeping with God’s commands.

One of the chief places where love shows up or is conspicuously absent is in our conversations.  The words we say and the way in which we say them goes a long way in revealing whether we are truly in Christ or not and that’s why the NT spends so much time on them.

(If you’d like to see the video version of this message,