1 Chronicles 29:10-20 (NIV) 10 David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, “Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. 11 Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, 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. 15 We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. 16 Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. 17 I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. 18 Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. 19 And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.” 20 Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise the Lord your God.” So they all praised the Lord, the God of their fathers; they bowed down, prostrating themselves before the Lord and the king.
My dear friends in Christ,
It’s easy to be generous when it costs us nothing. Have you ever dreamed about winning the lottery and thinking what you would do with all that money? I must confess that I have, even though I don’t buy tickets. In those fantasies, I dream about what fun it would be to start a new mission or give an endowment fund to Salem or to St. Croix Lutheran Academy or to Martin Luther College. I must confess those daydreams kind of make me feel good about myself. But is it joyful generosity if it isn’t real, or if it costs us nothing?
In 2 Samuel 24, we catch a glimpse of David’s attitude toward giving to the Lord. God had sent a plague among his people because of a foolish thing David had done. To stop the plague, God ordered David to build an altar and make a sacrifice on the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite. That piece of ground would later become the site of the temple. When David asked to buy the piece of ground, Araunah offered to give it to him for free. David answered, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24) How could it be a sacrifice if it cost David nothing? Where was the joy in that?
Did you catch how much David gave for the building of God’s temple? He would never see it built, but he gave three thousand talents of gold and ten thousand talents of silver. That was 110 tons of gold and 260 tons of silver. Today that gift would be worth around $5 billion. Some scholars believe that was his entire personal fortune. What motivated David and his people to be so generous?
We hear the motivation in David’s beautiful prayer. First, David admitted that he wasn’t giving something to the Lord. He was only giving something back. Everything he had belonged to God. God made him king. God made him a billionaire and told him, “Go out and have some fun.” David did. Giving all his wealth to build God’s house was more fun for him than building another palace, or a mansion by the sea, or taking the vacation of a lifetime.
How could David have so much fun giving? Because his heart responded to God’s grace. “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. We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. O Lord our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you” (1 Chronicles 29:14-16).
“Who am I?” David asked. Who would David be without the grace of God? He would still be the youngest son, a shepherd just tending the flocks. Who would David be without the grace of God? He would still be the adulterer who stole Bathsheba from his faithful soldier and friend. David would still be the murderer who put his friend on the front lines to be killed. Who would David be if God had not sent the prophet Nathan to bring him to repentance? David’s own words tell us: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4) David would have lived his life in despair, without hope of heaven. He would have had nothing and he would have been nothing but for the grace of God in his life.
We can ask ourselves the same question. Who would we be without the grace of God in our lives? We would look and sound and act like the millions of people around us. We would be living without any real purpose in life at all. We would be trying to be someone by making a name for ourselves. We would be checking our Facebook pages every ten minutes to see if someone likes us. We would be looking back on all the mistakes in our lives, all the sins we’ve committed, and have no relief for a guilty conscience. We would come to the end of our lives, terrified in our souls, because we wouldn’t know what was coming next. And if we did know, we would be even more terrified. Where would we be without God’s grace in our lives?
God has poured out his grace in our lives! He called us to faith in Jesus and gave us hope we never deserved. David had it all, didn’t he? We do too! Jesus once said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Jesus has made us to be kings and priests in his kingdom. He has taken away our guilt and despair. He gives us the joy of being God’s children. He has redeemed us and made us his own. He withholds nothing from us. He has even filled our accounts with gold and silver and says, “Go out and have some fun!”
Do you remember what Jesus said next? He said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Luke 12:33). For people like David and people like us, giving to help others is more fun than spending money on ourselves. Just ask our teens how much fun it is to gather food for the food shelf! Some of our members can tell you how much fun it is to give for tuition assistance and watch students go to Salem school might not have been able to before. It’s fun to hear how our gifts make it possible for missionaries to go to China. Why? Because the generosity of God’s grace opens a well of joyful generosity in our hearts that will never run dry. Joyful generosity responds to the generosity of God’s grace. “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.”
Our giving is joyful and generous because God has given it all to us in the first place. So, where do we focus our giving? On ourselves? On someone in need? On a favorite charity? David helps us set our priorities in the next part of his prayer. “I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. O Lord, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you” (1 Chronicles 29:17-18). Notice that David didn’t talk about how much the people gave, but why they gave. They gave with integrity—single-minded devotion to the gospel. David thanked God for that. He prayed that God would always keep this desire in their hearts.
David didn’t want that temple built for his own purposes. Centuries later, another king, King Herod built a magnificent temple that was one of the wonders of the world. He didn’t build it to give glory and thanks to God. King Herod was a selfish man who only thought about himself and HIS kingdom (not God’s kingdom). He built the temple because he was an Edomite, a distant cousin of the Jews, and he wanted to gain the favor of the Jewish people. There was not an ounce of integrity in his heart and his “generosity” was not pleasing to God at all.
David’s gifts for the temple along with the gifts of God’s people were given willingly and with honest intent. They were given with joy and not for personal gain. In fact, David would never reap the benefits of his generosity in his lifetime. He would never walk into this wonderful new temple, this house of God, and gaze upon its beauty. Yet he wrote a psalm for its dedication (Psalm 33). He even must have imagined what it would be like just to see this wonderful temple when he wrote these words: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4).
If David was not going to get anything out of giving for this temple, then why did he give it? David was providing for the future of his people. David knew that God’s house would be a place where the truth of the gospel would be proclaimed for future generations. He wanted this for his son, Solomon, and prayed that God would keep Solomon devoted to God’s purposes and God’s mission. He wanted a place where people would come from distant lands to learn about the only true and living God. He wanted future generations to come to this temple and gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. He wanted them to come and to find comfort in the promise of a Savior.
Isn’t that why we give to the Lord’s work? We see a purpose for our lives and the wealth that God has given us. That purpose drives us to focus outside our families and ourselves. Our gifts to our congregation have a kingdom focus. Our gifts support the pastors that visit people when they are dying and comfort them with the gospel. Our gifts support outreach to our community. Our gifts support our school and Sunday school, where children learn about Jesus and study his Word so they can be strong in their faith. We support the mission efforts of our synod. Did you know that there are over 300 people in different countries around the world who are asking our synod to train them to be pastors?
What can we accomplish together for God’s kingdom when this spirit of joyful generosity saturates our hearts? We see it happen in so many different ways here at Salem. Where do all the flowers and decorations come from on Sunday mornings? Some of our ladies faithfully work to make sure that God's house looks beautiful every week. We have members whose jobs take them out into the community to serve the people around us in many special ways. And giving? We are so blessed here at Salem. All we have to do is take a look at the offering numbers in the bulletin. God has blessed us and gives us the ability to be both joyful and generous!
We don’t need to imagine winning the lottery. We already have! God has given us the best of everything, including a Savior who loved us enough to take away our sins. Our response? We are joyful and generous. That kind of giving is gospel driven. It responds to the generosity of God’s grace and it puts God’s kingdom first! Pray that God would give us that kind of heart! Amen.
Sermon edited from WELS Ministry of Christian Giving materials, “Joyful Generosity,” 2017