“How’s work?” we ask each other. And the answer is often something like, “So busy! And it’s only Tuesday! I can’t wait until the weekend! The boss is a slave-driver! I’m hanging out for a holiday!” We almost say these things without thinking.
We often COMPLAIN about work. And yet, God MADE us to work. And work has lots of benefits. Including EARNING MONEY. And MONEY can be used to DO GOOD. It pays for food, clothing and housing for us and our families. But it can also help the people AROUND us.
That’s our topic today. Work and wealth. And how can we generously USE our wealth.
- God works (Gen 2:2), and made us, in his image, to work.
First thing to say is that God built WORK into the fabric of creation. To begin with, GOD works. At the start of Genesis 2, we read
2 By the seventh day God had FINISHED THE WORK he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his WORK. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
God’s ACT OF CREATING is work. And when he creates PEOPLE in his image. He gives THEM work to do, TOO. Genesis 1:27, God creates people, male and female. And
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and SUBDUE it. RULE over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature”
And then God declares everything VERY GOOD. God’s good design is people WORKING to fill, rule and subdue the earth.
And in chapter 2 God puts Adam in the Garden of Eden, v15, to WORK it and TAKE CARE of it. The word for WORK has the idea of CULTIVATING. Of working so that MORE WILL BE PRODUCED. Being CREATIVE, like God HIMSELF.
And the word for TAKE CARE has the idea of STEWARDSHIP, or KEEPING WATCH OVER. To MAKE THE MOST of what we’ve been given. We’ve got a responsibility to KEEP the world, so it CONTINUES to thrive and produce.
But as well as a RESPONSIBILITY, God also gives PARADISE. The Garden of Eden. Full of wonderful things to enjoy. Beautiful things to look at. Delicious things to EAT. Everything in balance. With enough for everyone. Fullness and abundance from a GENEROUS God.
- Good stewards of God’s generosity
And even though everything changes after the Fall. And work becomes DIFFICULT. God’s world is still GOOD, and his command to be GOOD STEWARDS in our work CONTINUES. And the people we see in the Bible who do that BEST are those who understand God’s GENEROSITY.
For example, King David and the construction of the Temple. David wanted to build the temple. But God told him that it would be his son, Solomon, who’d build it instead. So David decides to spend the last few years of his life getting everything ready.
1 Chronicles 22, he stores up stone and logs and iron for the nails, and so much bronze it couldn’t be weighed. He organises the work men. Then in chapter 28, he summons all the leaders of Israel together, and makes sure they’re on side. And he gives Solomon the pep talk, and hands over the plans, right down to the designs for the lampstands and bowls.
And that’s a great example for US. He didn’t just donate his wealth. He gave his time and energy and wisdom to do all the ORGANISING, as well. And, often, that’s the GREATER cost. For most of us, it’s easy to give money. But sometimes what’s needed is our ATTENTION, our TIME, our SKILLS, our ENERGY. Perhaps a charity or ministry needs your professional advice, or to be on THEIR BOARD, or to BE A VOLUNTEER. Sometimes that’s the best way to MULTIPLY your influence. How willing are you to give up THOSE things for God’s kingdom?
Back to King David, though. In ch 29, he continues his speech, talking about MONEY. V2.
2 With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God-gold for the gold work, silver for the silver, bronze for the bronze, iron for the iron etc… 3 Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my PERSONAL treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple:
Giving not only the wealth of ISRAEL. But his PERSONAL wealth TOO. Which sounds a lot like BOASTING. Except for what he says NEXT. V5. Now, who is willing to consecrate himself today to the LORD?”
In other words, what are YOU LOT willing to contribute? He describes all HE gave as an encouragement for OTHERS to give. And look at what happened.
6 Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly. 7 They gave toward the work on the temple of God five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze etc….
The leaders of Israel follow the example of their king, and give GENEROUSLY. And, v9, that made EVERYONE rejoice. Including DAVID. (From v10)
10 David praised the LORD in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, “Praise be to YOU, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
But look at what David praises God FOR.
for EVERYTHING IN HEAVEN AND EARTH IS YOURS. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 12 WEALTH AND HONOR COME FROM YOU; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. 13 Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. 14 “But WHO AM I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? EVERYTHING COMES FROM YOU, AND WE HAVE GIVEN YOU ONLY WHAT COMES FROM YOUR HAND.
David’s not PROUD. He doesn’t expect to be praised for his donations. It’s GOD who deserves the praise. Everything comes from his generous hand ANYWAY.
So, in a way, it’s not even DONATING when you give wealth away. It’s hardly even yours to BEGIN with. It’s more like PASSING IT FORWARD. Passing on what God’s generously given YOU.
And Jesus understood that view of God and his world. Flip over to Luke 12. In v22, he teaches, “DON’T WORRY about your life – what you’ll eat or what you’ll wear. Why? V24. Because if God feeds the ravens, then he’ll feed YOU, who are more valuable than ravens. And, v27, if he clothes the grass of the field, then he’ll clothe YOU, who are more valuable that grass. O YOU OF LITTLE FAITH.
In other words, God is generously providing for all his creatures. And to worry, or to fear, is to DOUBT GOD. It doubts his goodness, and his generosity.
It’s like you’ve been invited to an extravagant party at someone’s mansion. There’s food and drink for everyone. It’s piled up on tables. The drink fridges are FULL. The waiters keep coming around with trays of food. And they swap your drink for a full one before you’ve even finished.
But SOME people aren’t convinced. And so, they grab trays of food for themselves. And crates of drinks. And they head off to a corner of the house. And jealously guard what they’ve got. And worry about whether they have enough. That’s what we all do in this world.
But Jesus says, take a look around at the party. Look at what the host has provided. It doesn’t make SENSE to stockpile and accumulate. It’s an insult to the HOST.
Jesus says to CONSIDER the ravens. And CONSIDER how the lilies grow. MEDITATE on God’s world. And see God’s generous fingerprints all over it.
And as you DO that, v31, Jesus says, “Seek God’s kingdom– make GOD your top priority- and he’ll GIVE YOU ALL THESE THINGS. Because he’s GENEROUS. And he’s made his world ABUNDANT and FULL. That’s the way to TRUST him. And not to worry or fear.
And when you seek God’s kingdom. And DON’T seek EARTHLY things, you’ll give them away.V33. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
When you understand God’s generosity, it overflows in generosity to OTHERS. When you make GOD your treasure, then your HEART will be set on him. Your life, your priorities, your purpose, your identity. They’re all about God and his kingdom, rather than clothes or food or money. Or influence or pleasure or reputation or control.
Of course, the GREATEST gift God’s given us is JESUS HIMSELF. John 3:16 – God so loved the world that he GAVE his only Son. Romans 8:32
He who did not spare his own son, but GAVE him up for us all – how will he not also, along with HIM, graciously give us ALL things?
And it’s THE GIFT OF JESUS that motivates US to be generous. He’s the GREATEST gift of all, so CHRISTIANS have the greatest MOTIVATION to be generous.
That’s the logic Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 8-9. He’s encouraging the Corinthian church to give to help the Jewish Christians suffering famine in Jerusalem. He could COMMAND them to give, but instead he reminds them of God’s grace to THEM. 2 Corinthians 8 v8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.
(He’s just told them how the Macedonians have been generous, even though they’re POOR). 9 For you know the GRACE of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
That’s why we’re to be generous, because God was generous to US. He goes on to give practical instructions about HOW to give. But he finishes Ch 9 with these words, reminding them, once again, of God’s generosity to them.
13 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. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of THE SURPASSING GRACE GOD HAS GIVEN YOU. 15 Thanks be to GOD for HIS indescribable gift!
And we find lots of Biblical examples of people who’ve DONE this. People who trusted their generous God, and then generously gave to see his kingdom GROW. Whose OBEDIENCE in GIVING accompanied their confession. Like in Luke 8:1-3. The Twelve are following Jesus around as he proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of God.
2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
In the book of Acts, we read about the first Christians, (2:44) 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
Or at the end of ch 4, we read (v34) 34 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 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. 36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
In fact, Luke HIMSELF, who wrote Luke and Acts, was almost certainly financially supported by a patron, Theophilus. Both books begin with a dedication to him, Luke 1:3:
since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Luke’s in Rome, waiting for Paul’s trial. Theophilus is probably a Roman Christian who pays Luke to write the history of how the gospel of Jesus got to Rome. And what an amazing investment in the kingdom Theophilus made! How many MILLIONS of people have come into the kingdom through Luke’s writing?!
Or there’s PAUL himself. In Romans 16, he introduces Phoebe, who’s probably the courier for the letter. 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been A GREAT HELP to many people, including ME.
That word for help is the word for PATRON. She’s been a great PATRON. Not just helping the church in Corinth as a DEACON, but even helping PAUL.
I could talk about plenty more gospel patrons down through history. People who GENEROUSLY supported gospel ministry. People who saw the world the way Jesus did. Generously provided by a good God. And who took Jesus’ command seriously. But I want to finish by looking at ONE IN PARTICULAR. Colonel John Hay Goodlet. Around the end of the 19th century, he was one of Australia’s wealthiest men, and shrewdest businessmen. And he was a member of this church for nearly 30 years. His contributions helped build this building in 1886. And the manse as well. He did the same in 1910 when the hall next door was built – named the Goodlet Sunday School and Institute after he died. Much like King David, he encouraged OTHERS to donate by matching, pound for pound, donations from the congregation. It’s estimated that between 1883 and 1910 he contributed at least 8000 pounds out of a total cost of 14500 pounds for the three buildings. And that’s in addition to his normal Sunday giving.
And ALSO like King David, he didn’t just give his MONEY. He gave his TIME and ENERGY. Robert McGowan, the minister here at the time of his death, said this about him, “The most outstanding feature of his life was the fact he gave himself to Christian work. There are men who subscribe money, but Colonel Goodlet gave his best subscription when he GAVE HIMSELF.”
He became an elder at Ashfield in 1878 and was faithful in attendance and performing his duties until his death in 1914. He was an assembly elder from 1870 until his death – 44 years. And was on lots of its committee, giving valuable business and financial advice.
But it wasn’t just impressive and important affairs. He taught Sunday School and was Sunday School Superintendent from 1876 to 1891. And, although they were childless, in 1876 they unofficially adopted the four children of the Copelands, missionaries in New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) after Elizabeth, their mother died of tuberculosis.
And there are too many other charities to mention that Goodlet, together with his wife Ann, donated to, or were involved in organising. A consumptive home for poor tuberculosis sufferers. Homes for pregnant abandoned single women, Ragged schools that aimed to reform, educate and improve the lot of destitute children. The Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institution, YMCA, Sydney City Mission, Bush Missionary Society, and many more.
The Goodlets were well-known and widely-appreciated by people in Sydney. But that wasn’t what motivated them. Paul Cooper, his biographer, suggests that his generosity flowed from his genuine sympathy and tenderness towards others. And that these were “enhanced, guided and nurtured by his consistent faith. His Christian faith was earnest, humble-minded and consistent for ‘he was as much a Christian in business as in the church and philanthropic work’” (p259)
Here’s what John Goodlet himself said in a speech to a group of Presbyterians. It explains a lot about what motivated his extraordinary life.
“Let them (fellow Christians) never be unmindful that they could only succeed as God blessed their labours. Let one and all have A SINGLE EYE TO HIS GLORY, and then their Lord would honour their Church by using it to ADD LIVING STONES TO HIS TEMPLE. God forbid that they should ever be satisfied with MERE OUTWARD PROSPERITY.” (p260)
He recognised God’s generous hand in the world. And, like Jesus said, he considered the ravens and the grass of the field – how God fed and clothed them. And he PRAISED him for it, like King David. And he was HUMBLED by it.
And, like Jesus said, it led him to seek God’s kingdom, rather than building earthly treasures. And his passion was to see God’s kingdom grow.
And so he gave generously to those who needed it. And, for all his EARTHLY wealth, he built for himself a far more valuable treasure in heaven, where no thief can steal and no moth can destroy. And he’d encourage us to DO THE SAME.