Savalas asked me to speak tonight on giving. I joked with him about it. I asked him if he wanted me to come in here and try and soak you guys. I could do the whole tele-evangelist thing and get you to dig down deep and fork over whatever you got. Unfortunately I don’t have the hair or teeth for such a thing.
I would like you to turn to Ephesians 4:28. Here in this text we find what I call God’s way to prosperity. And I want you to notice, as we go through it, that the way to prosperity is the way of giving. Prosperity comes through giving. Read with me…
Now when you look at this passage, what you find is that there are three things said here about giving. As matter of fact, it mentions three ways of giving. You know, when we think about giving usually we only think about the financial side of things. We only think about giving money. But there is so much more to giving, as this passage shows.
As you look at this passage, I want you to notice that one thing God wants us to give is simple respect.
I. We must give simple respect
This passage starts off by saying, “Let the thief no longer steal.” Now, all of you know exactly what that means. You are not allowed to take things that do not belong to you.
But you know, we can turn that around and state it more positively. Instead of saying, “do not steal.” We could say, “You need to respect your neighbor’s personal property.”
As a matter of fact, that is the sum and substance of the 8th commandment. The 8th commandment reminds us of the sanctity of one’s property. God has created wealth and has seen fit to entrust it to certain individuals. And since God has committed those things to his care, we are not to overstep that boundary by stealing it.
So I want you to understand that giving begins right here. This is the most basic form of giving. When we think about giving we have to remember that the most fundamental form of giving is the respect we show for another person and the things that God has given them.
And this is very important for us to stress. We have to go back to baby steps here because I do not doubt that a good number of you have been involved in some form of robbery. Some of you might be here because you were guilty of larceny or theft. Maybe you hopped in a car that wasn’t yours and you took a little joy ride. Or maybe you are here because you robbed a convenience store or cheated someone out of some money.
Others of you were thieves, but you just didn’t get caught. That wasn’t part of your sentence. You might have been caught for drugs, and you might be serving time for the drugs, but they didn’t catch you for the money you were pilfering from your mother’s purse or from your family. Because of the addiction you had you were going after any money you could get your hands on.
And even right now, you still don’t get it. There might be guys here who don’t understand this concept of respect when it comes to your dealings with other people and the things that are theirs. You don’t mind swiping your bunkie’s candy when he’s not looking. Or if you borrow something, you are not careful to return it.
It doesn’t seem like much to you—it’s not like you are swiping the guy’s wallet or anything, and you justify it by using that kind of rational: “Its small, and he’s not going to miss it.”
You have to understand that that’s wrong. You are disrespecting him at that point. What’s more, you are disrespecting God.
God calls you to seek the welfare of the people in this place. God has determined to bless that person and if you put your fingers on their stuff or you hinder their prosperity in any way, then you are violating the most rudimentary principle of giving.
So the first and most basic form of giving is the restraint we show in not taking our neighbors stuff. We give by way of simple respect. But our text goes on to say that we give by way of honest labor.
II. We must give honest labor
It says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands.”
This is talking about being productive. It’s talking about having an occupation. The Apostle Paul says, “You need to go out and get a job. You need to work for a living and do something productive with your life. No longer are you allowed to engage in this destructive lifestyle, but you need to do make an honest living and contribute to the general welfare of society.”
I know that work is typically thought of as a 4 letter word. And some of you might be thinking, “did he just say the ‘l’ word?” Labor!
I know that we don’t typically have a good view of work. Work is usually thought of something that you should avoid at all costs. We view it as an evil thing, or, at the very least, we view it as a necessary evil. It is something we have to do in order to eat and get by in life.”
But that is not a Biblical view of work. The Bible tells us that we are to view work as a form of giving!
I know, that sounds odd to us. Work is not giving, we say. Work is selling people things. Work involves getting paid and exchanging goods and toil and pain and all round not too much fun.
But think about it. When you have a job, what you are really doing is serving people. You are giving people your help; you are providing a service for them; and you are contributing to the welfare of society because you are giving them something they want or something need.
As a matter of fact, they want what you have so much they are willing to pay you for it!
Work is a form of giving. Actually, work allows you to give in three ways. When you work you 1) give God glory. That’s the greatest form of giving. When you pick up a paintbrush and you slap some paint on a fence or a house or a wall, you are honoring God with your time and your effort. You are making something beautiful and as you do so, you are pleasing God with the energy you use.
God created us to work. When he created Adam, God put him in a garden and said, “Go to it man!” And every time you involve yourself in good old fashioned work, you make God extremely happy.
2) Work is also a means of giving to others. You are not just giving praise to God, but you are giving someone something they want. They come to you because they have a need and you are able to fill that need. Maybe they need a ditch dug and you can dig that ditch for them. So you are giving them your time and effort to get that ditch dug. What happens is that when you are done they are happy. They are just so pleased that they got their ditch that they give you money for it.
3) The third way you give is through that money that you just received. Now that you have money in your pocket, what are you going to do with it? You are going to buy something! And you end up giving that money to somebody else. You are going to go down to the McDonald’s and buy your little lady a hamburger. They are so happy that you give them that money, that they give you a hamburger back! You just made their day! Because you were so giving and bought a hamburger.
Or, maybe you decide to save it, and you put it in the bank. The bank is so happy you did that that they are going to give you this thing called interest. You actually make money from saving it! Woo-whooo!
You see how everyone benefits? When you work, there’s this funny little thing that happens: It is called “prosperity.”
Prosperity is the direct result of work. When you give by means of your labor you give this little gift called prosperity to the economy. And God loves that, just as much as you do.
Now, let’s bring this home. I don’t want you to think that work is something that is waiting for you on the outside. Work is something you can do right here in the prison.
I don’t know exactly how that may look. But you can work. You can do what Paul says here: You can labor, doing honest work with your hands. Now I know that there are probably going to be a lot of hindrances. There are a lot of things you can’t do. Your resources are limited. But you can be creative and you can do things for others around you to some degree.
Some of you can get involved in the work program. If you can’t do that, ask yourself how else you can serve the Lord? If you have the ability to write, sit down and start pumping out a book. Write a devotional and circulate it around to the brothers.
There is a famous pastor named John Bunyan. He was sent to prison for preaching the gospel for 12 years. You know what he did during those twelve years? He wrote books and made shoe strings. In order to support his family, he took scraps of leather and made shoestrings. His family would bring him the leather and he would fashion the shoestrings. Then he would give them back to his family who would then go out and sell them at the marketplace. That’s the way he supported his family while in prison.
He also wrote a number of books. The most popular is a book called Pilgrim’s Progress, which you need to read at some point. It is one of the most famous Christian books of all time.
But understand that work is a way to give.
And now that you understand that work and personal respect are forms of giving, you are ready to think about giving in the normal sense of the word. The last thing Paul says in this verse is that giving also comes by way of heartfelt charity.
III. We must give heartfelt charity
In this verse he says you need to get a job, “So that you can have something to share with anyone in need.”
I hope you see that this completes the circle. You are no longer taking, but you are working, so that you can give to someone in need. You’ve gone from being a burglar to a benefactor.
Of course, the only way you can do that is if you are working. When you are gaining wealth, you are now in a position where you can help others.
Now what kinds of people are we to give to? Well, this obviously includes people who are poor and destitute. There are some people who do not have the means to provide for themselves. For some reason, they are providencially hindered and unable to make a living. Perhaps they have been injured; maybe they’ve lost their job. Maybe they’ve had some sort of trama and now are stuck with a huge medical bill.
You can think of widows and orphans too. A number of years ago there was a single mother in our church. Her husband had left her and now she was faced with a problem. If she went out and got a job, she would end up neglecting her kid. Her kid would then be without a father or a mother! You know what our church did? The church took her in and allotted a sum of money to them so that she could stay home with her kid and raise him the way she was supposed to.
Now that her boy is grown, she has a job of her own. He’s out working and she is too. All that was possible though because there were people in the congregation who were giving regularly to the church. They were being blessed by God and then giving back to the Lord a portion of that blessing.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the moms off welfare?
Now think of this: there is another way to give. It is giving to the ministry of the gospel. Kingdom work requires money. I know that God can do all things, but he has chosen to allow ministers of the gospel the opportunity to eat. They typically do a better job when they have food and shelter and clothing. Kingdom work requires us to give. Missionaries will be sent out to the ends of the earth only when our churches can afford to support them.
Listen to this: I heard of one instance where missionaries are being asked by Muslim leaders to come to their areas and teach people about free market capitalism. That’s just biblical economics. They want to learn the principles of economics so that their countries will begin to prosper and grow a solid economy. That’s great! We’ll teach them the principles of economics; while we are at it we’ll teach them the gospel too!
We have countries where missionaries are actually being invited to come and speak. But that means we need to fund those missionaries.
The same thing is going on right here in this place. Through your contributions and your dues, gospel work is being carried out. Guys are able to hear the gospel. I’ve heard that the FCA dues may need to be raised. I know that’s not something you want to hear, but at least it means that the Lord is doing something in this place. There is kingdom work going on, and that is a good thing. And by giving to this you have an opportunity to have a hand in supporting all that the Lord is doing here.
So just think how far your giving can go. As you give financially, the Lord is able to take that and make it abound further than you initially imagined.
This is what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 9. In that passage he’s talking about the generosity of the Corinthians. And he says that their contributions are not only supplying the needs of the saints, but in fact this help is causing an overflow of thanks to God. In other words, by helping the needy saints, more people were coming to know the Lord! The initial generosity of meeting those needs are being multiplied so that there was even greater impact evangelistically around the world!
My friends, these are the Scriptures guides to giving. And I hope you take them to heart. Remember how God has called you to give; through personal respect, honest labor, and heartfelt charity. God’s way to prosperity is a glorious thing, and it begins when we give.
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
[This message was designed for the Christian men at Richland Correctional Institute]
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.