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Giving From a Generous Heart
Sunday school lesson for the week of May 6, 2018
By Dr. Hal Brady
Spring Quarter: Acknowledging God
Unit 3: Give Praise to God
Lesson Scripture: Exodus 35:20-29; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8
- Recall how the Israelites demonstrated generosity in funding the tabernacle’s construction.
- Compare and contrast the Old and New Testament texts in today’s study with regard to giving.
The writer of this lesson introduces it by talking about Charles Francis “Chuck” Feeney, the Irish-American businessman and philanthropist. In 2012, Chuck Feeney made a remarkable and highly publicized announcement: he had decided to stop giving. That marked the end of a 30-year campaign to give away the large majority of his considerable fortune. The son of Irish-American immigrants, Feeney was born during the Great Depression and served as a radio operator in the US Air Force during the Korean conflict (1950-1953). To make extra money, he started a small side business selling duty-free alcohol to American soldiers; by 1960, at the beginning of the travel boom, Feeney had begun to build an international empire of duty-free shops.
But in 1984, Feeney changed course, deciding to give rather than receive. After selling his share in his company, he established a foundation to promote global education, public health, care for the elderly, and peace efforts. Feeney’s foundation closed in 2016 after fulfilling its objective of distributing $8 billion (US currency).
As the writer reminders us, this low-key approach reflects the biblical perspective. Feeney’s foundation used the slogan “Giving While Living” to summarize his view that people should not simply amass wealth to leave to their heirs. Rather, they should use what they have to do good while they are alive and well. God’s consistent call to us is to give while we live and see our assets (wealth or otherwise) as resources for God’s purpose.
To understand the background of today’s Old Testament lesson, we need to recall that the nation of Israel began with the Exodus from Egypt and the receiving of the law at Sinai. Since the Israelites had lived in Egypt for generations, undoubtedly they had become quite familiar with the religious views of their Egyptian overlords. The writer suggests that perhaps this is the reason for the first two commandments that God’s people were not to be like the Egyptians with their worship of many gods and their making of idols (Exodus 20:1-6).
Then another way God sought to religiously reeducate his people was by his command to Moses to construct a sanctuary, a national center of worship.
It was that national worship center of semi-portable tent-complex that became known as the “tabernacle” (Exodus 25:8,9; 26:1). And very notably, God did not provide the materials for the construction of the tabernacle. Instead, God called for an offering “from everyone whose heart prompts them to give” (Exodus 25:2). This brings us to the heart of our Old Testament text.
Old Covenant Giving (Exodus 35:20-29)
Before us is a marvelous picture of how God’s people should respond to God’s call. Moses is addressing the whole assembly of Israelites at Mount Sinai. He has just finished detailing God’s blueprint for the construction of the tabernacle in terms of materials, furnishings and even the nature of the garments to be worn by the priests.
Verses 20-22a are the key verses to our understanding of this lesson, and they set the tone for the rest of the passage. Here the writer makes two rather significant points. First, all those who give do so willingly, as they are moved in their hearts. The word “willingly” is specifically mentioned four times in the lesson and emphasizes both the personal commitment of individuals and the national unity that develops around the project (35:22,29). Second the people’s response addresses all areas of God’s instructions concerning the tabernacle.
Still, another pervading thought of this lesson is that the contributors are not limited to a select group, since both men and women willingly give to the effort (compare 1 Chronicles 29:1-9). The truth is that no individual or group can contribute all that is needed. And equally, it is important to realize here that it is impossible for any one individual or group to provide all that is needed for the building up of God’s church. God’s call goes out to everyone. The people of the lesson respond willingly with their time and talent, as their hearts prompt them.
Verses 22-28 refer to the valuable gifts the Israelites give for the construction of the tabernacle, as God has instructed them. Note that the word “all” is used to describe their participation. Everyone gives at their point of personal strength and gifts, those who have materials and those who have skills. The word “all” represents a picture of community excited, alive, and energized to act well beyond itself and well beyond the dictates of ordinary practice.
Without doubt, these Israelites realized they were involved in something much greater than themselves. The point of this lesson is that these Israelites were “willingly” giving, as their hearts motivated them.
So, rather than dealing with the specific meanings of the various materials, gifts, and skills necessary for the construction of the tabernacle (35:22-28), I will focus on the possibilities of why these Israelites were so willingly generous. This approval might be more beneficial in the motivation of our own generosity today. An additional edifying note here is that the people had responded with such overwhelming generosity that Moses had to give them a command to cease giving to the sanctuary. This is pointed out in the next chapter (36:6,7).
The writers of “The New Interpreter’s Bible” (volume 1) serves as our guide to the four possible reference points for the Israelites uncalculating generosity. And, of course, this is aside from the grounding of the act in God’s own stirring of their hearts.
First is the promise and expectation that the offering will provide a tabernacle in which the very presence of God will dwell. That in itself is sufficient reason for generosity.
Second, Israel has now come face to face with God’s incredible graciousness and willingness to begin again with this stiff-necked people. This current offering contrasts the terrible offering given to Aaron in making the “calf idol” in chapter 32 (read verses 1-2). Israel now has a chance to amend that unfortunate deed of disobedience.
Third, the writer continues by pointing out that this offering is a response to the wonder of liberation. These Israelites, who in their desperate destitute condition had to seize silver and gold from the Egyptians (3:21-22; 11:2-3; 12:35-36), are now able to give from their abundance. They realize that “the plundering of the Egyptians” was not for their personal benefit, but for the good of the people as a whole. In this new situation, Israel understands that it’s more blessed to give than receive.
And fourth, the opportunity to construct a home for the holy means that Israel has a chance to put behind it the terrible season of absence called “exile.” These writers state that in the post-exilic period when this text was put into its final form, Israel is indeed beginning again, after “the absence,” with the glorious God who has now promised to be present. Thus, Israel’s new beginning is an act of profound generosity by the God who has been so generous in liberation, covenant making and forgiveness.
Verse 29 reads, “all the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do.” In reality, this verse summarizes the persistent theme of the entire passage. It emphasizes the involvement of all the Israelite men and women in this project. People at every social level work together to ensure that God’s house is completed as proposed.
Another important facet here is that the master plan for this tabernacle is not of human origin design. It has been commanded by God with Moses as the foreman or supervisor. And Moses will eventually inspect the finished effort and give his blessing upon the Israelites for having done as the Lord commanded (Exodus 39:43).
New Covenant Giving (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)
The writer of the lesson points out that about 15 centuries pass as we reach the New Testament passage of today’s lesson. The apostle Paul is on his third missionary journey as he takes time out to write to his beloved Corinthians. Upon reporting on the generous financial gifts that the churches of Macedonia have sent to help with the needs of the suffering Christians in Judea/Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:16-9:5), Paul now encourages these Macedonians to finish the task of their extending help. And Paul adds that he plans to send several of his associates to collect the contributions to this worthy effort.
Verse 6 states, “Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Paul uses agriculture to point out this spiritual truth. The person who sows few seeds will get little yield, whereas those who invest more aggressively will gain a larger and more profitable harvest. The point of this verse is that one should give as freely as possible, knowing that “the return” will be of like kind. However, we need to be careful here. This verse is not promising that those who give to others will receive a financial bonus, but it is promising that our giving will be rewarded. The “payback,” however, is not material, but the prayers of God’s people and the enjoyment of God’s glory (9:12-15).
For sure, sowing involves risk, but so does the failure to sow. We see that clearly in Jesus’ “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25:14-30.
Next, the writer informs us that Paul’s counsel to potential givers echoes the attitude of the actual givers who supported the construction of the Tabernacle. That giving was from those whose hearts were “willing” (Exodus 35:22). Paul insists that true giving must always come from the heart. And this giving is the opposite of giving reluctantly or under compulsion.
Now, when Paul describes a “cheerful” giver, the Greek word he uses, “kilaron,”
is related to our English word “hilarious.” Hilarious is a great big belly laugh that causes the entire body to shake. Hilarious is more than a chuckle; it actually has people rolling in the aisles in merriment.
Hilarious giving! Are you kidding? Most of us have been involved in too many financial campaigns, and yet Paul still emphatically says, “God loves a hilarious giver.” The bottom line is that God is not really impressed with “duty” or “timid” or “grudge giving.”
In verse 8, Paul addresses the often unspoken concerns of givers related to their giving and possible future needs. “What happens after I have given if I have a need sometime in the future?” Paul intimates that the question is out of order. Paul makes clear that God owns it all, everything, and abundantly blesses those who follow him. This being true, we can be confident that God will supply all our need. As Paul states it elsewhere, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
According to the writer of the lesson, the challenges of Moses to the Israelites and of Paul to the Corinthians were for different reasons. The Israelites were challenged to give to construct a place of worship by which they, the givers, would benefit. The end result could be seen and touched as a physical reminder of God’s presence. On the other hand, the Corinthians were challenged to give to meet the needs of people they had never seen and might never see.
The common factor, however, and the key to both instances is a “willingness” to give. So when we are confronted with an important and valid opportunity to give, the place to begin is with our attitude, not our bank account (2 Corinthians 8:12). And the best example for us to give is the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul states it in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “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.”
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).
- Have class members discuss how these two passages impact them.
- How can we make sure that our attitudes about giving honor the Lord?
- What concrete steps can we take to remind ourselves that all good things come from God?