Categories
Theology

Why Should I Be Generous?

Often during the Christmas season (we have been using the term “Advent” on this blog) people feel a genuine desire to give more. From a secular standpoint, the point of Christmas is to be kinder, gentler, peaceful, and, of course, more generous. In the same way, some Christians reduce Christmas to set of principles and morals to heed.

It is important to give. As Randy Alcorn has said, “The only antidote to materialism is giving.” If you want to avoid the plague of accumulation and the desire for stuff, give. Jesus even said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Christmas, however, is not about giving gifts (as good as that is). It’s about the ultimate Gift hanging on the cross to bring us to God.

But we still give at Christmas, and Christians are called to be generous people everyday. What is the motivation for giving? Is it to be a good example to your kids? Is it so you can be happy rather than a Scrooge? Is it because it is the “Christian thing” to do? Is it so you can get God in your debt?

When Paul wrote to the young, chaotic, pretentious, and selfish urbanites in Corinth, he did appeal to any pragmatic reasons for giving. He did not tell them to give because it will make them happy. He did not tell them to give because when they die they will be left without anything. Ultimately, Paul knew that these motivations were merely moralistic and have no heart-impact. So what did he say? He told them the example of the Macedonians and how he hopes they excel in generosity. Then appealed to the gospel and Jesus’ generosity to us:

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:8-9).

The compelling motivation to give, for Paul, was that Christ, in his great riches, gave to people who did not deserve it. He gave the Corinthians (and us!) salvation and all the benefits that go with it (cf. Eph. 1:3). He gave us blessing in exchange for a devastating death on a cross (cf. 1 Cor. 5:21).

You will never be as generous as you should be. In fact, left to your own, you will probably be a miser if not for the occasional guilt trip from your conscience or loved one or pastor. But when you are changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ–really changed–when you taste and see what he has given to you, what he has accomplished on your behalf, what he has forsaken so that you might partake, you will not be able to keep yourself from worshiping God through generosity.

Categories
Life Theology

Biggest Out of Context Pet Peeve: Matthew 18:20

Out of all my pet peeves when it comes to verses taken out of context, Matthew 18:20 ranks at the top.  The verse says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”

Let me tell you what it does not mean.  It does not mean that Jesus is more present or more gracious when a group gathers for prayer. If you believe that, you 1) have never read the passage, and 2) are wrong.

Here’s what the verse says in its full context, Matthew 18:15-20 in the English Standard Version:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Jesus is teaching his disciples about church discipline. In the context, verse 20 means that when Jesus’ disciples agree on a matter of church discipline concerning an unrepentant church member, Jesus will be divinely present among them as they seek Christ-like unity and wisdom in making  their decision.

That’s what the verse means. Plain and simple.  So the next time the big-haired church lady with a tambourine tries to guilt you into showing up at the 5 am prayer time by quoting Matthew 18:20, you’ll know how to (lovingly) respond.

Categories
Theology

What does it mean to have the peace of God?

J.I. Packer gives the answer in his book Knowing God:

Too often the peace of God is thought of as if it were essentially a feeling of inner tranquility, happy and carefree, springing from knowledge that God will shield one from life’s hardest knocks.  But this is a misrepresentation, for on the one hand, God does not featherbed his children in this way, and anyone who thinks he does is in for a shock, and on the other hand, that which is basic and essential to the real peace of God does not come into this concept at all…

The peace of God is first and foremost peace with God; it is the state of affairs in which God, instead of being against us, is for us. No account of God’s peace which does not start here can do other than mislead. One of the miserable ironies of our time is that whereas liberal and radical theologians believe themselves to be restating the gospel for today, they have for the most part rejected the categories of wrath, guilt, condemnation and the enmity of God, and so have made it impossible for themselves ever to present the gospel at all, for they cannot now state the basic problem which the gospel of peace solves.

This has application for when we pray for people, especially. How many times have you prayed for someone who is not even a Christian, “Lord, give them peace.” I’ll raise my hand on that one. What kind of peace are we praying for? in a situation? with a friend? It’s impossible for them to experience any kind of peace, as Packer points out, unless they have peace with God himself.

The only way for anyone to have that peace is to receive Jesus as their substitute Savior — as the one who took their place on the cross in order to satisfy God’s wrath against sin. When sin, condemnation, and guilt are out of the way, a river of peace will rush in and overwhelm the most weary of souls.