In the Image of Generosity

As we look at the contemporary world, it is often remarked that the people who show the most generosity are those who have the least to give. It is humbling in poorer parts of the world just how generous people who have virtually nothing are, exhibiting great hospitality even when they have barely have enough to survive on. In contrast to this, people in the rich western world increasingly becomes less generous in proportion to our material wealth. One well documented measure of this is the continuous reduction in the giving of time and money to voluntary organizations.

However as we look at the Bible, one of the main things that we note about God is that He is a giving God, a generous God. This most supremely being demonstrated by His giving of His Son to deal with our sin on the Cross. It is important to note that basic to the Bible’s teaching is that ‘True’ Christians are in the process of being recreated in the ‘Image’ of a generous God, becoming more like the Christ who gave Himself for us (Romans 12:2). Indeed the image of God in us, distorted by our sinfulness, is being restored under the influence of the Holy Spirit. For this reason we should see developing in us the “giving-ness” characteristic of God, and so quite obviously Christians should stand out from our culture’s reluctance to give. For us not to do so would mean that we are (sinfully) damaging the very image of God that the Spirit is seeking to restore in us. God’s expectation is that the Christian life is about giving not getting. This raises the question of why the church exists.

The New Testament speaks of Christians, the church, as primarily existing for the purpose of bringing Glory to God. As the Apostle Paul writes “So whether you eat or drink or what ever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The essence of the reborn Christian life involves a putting to death of the self-centred self, and a giving of all we have to God, as an instrument for His kingdom (Romans 6:13).

Further, Jesus stated the Christian purpose when he said “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that lasts” – i.e. kingdom fruit. (John 15:16). This change, from a life seeking to produce benefits for self to a life seeking the benefit of God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33), is an essential characteristic of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. Thus the primary focus of church life must be to promote the glory of God through works which point to Him-i.e. achieving results for God’s Kingdom, not for the congregation.

As a famous commentator Jurgan Moltmann puts it, the ministries in the church

“are to SERVE THE KINGDOM OF GOD and not the interests of the existing church …” (my emphasis)

This opposes the “I belong to get” mentality, not uncommon amongst contemporary church members, who believe that the church exists for their benefit.

Of course it is certainly true that members of the church do receive benefits from the activities and ministries of the church such as pastoral care, teaching and being members of a supportive community and so on, and most of all they already have the benefit of the guarantee of the not-yet “Glory to come” i.e. heaven (Romans 8:18). However, providing benefits now is not the primary purpose the church. Indeed, being a faithful member of a Christian community in many parts of the world results in rejection, persecution, alienation, torture, exclusion from employment etc. Hardly ‘Benefits’!

The Christian growing in maturity increasingly understands that the church does not exist primarily for their benefit and they will increasingly reflect the nature of the God who gives. This will be demonstrated in many ways, for example-

* By not being a church shopper who seeks the church that they believe will most suit them (church consumerism), but rather seeks the congregation that God wants them to serve in.

* By sacrificially giving their time (actually God’s time) for Kingdom building activities, at the expense of other activities they would prefer. (see last week’s sermon)

* By generously using their home for hospitality, especially to those who are unlikely to return the favour. (Luke 6:27-36; 1 Peter 4:9)

* By sacrificially giving their money (actually God’s money) so that the congregation can bear fruit. Jesus made it clear there is considerable cost in being a Christian, and people should count it before joining up (Luke 14:25-33).

As all those who are truly ‘in Christ’, we at CrossRoads Christian Community should stand out quite dramatically from our self-centred, selfish, western culture. One major way in which this should be so is by being a people who are amazingly and noticeably generous in a range of ways, all for the glory of God, who so generously gave his Son for us.

Some reading this might ask the question ‘Why should I be sacrificially generous?’ It is a good question. The answer is-

If I am truly ‘born again’ as a child of God, then the Holy Spirit will be reshaping me in the ‘Image’ of generosity-aka the ‘Image of God’ and so-

I WON’T BE ABLE TO HELP IT!

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