Taking Giving Seriously
1 Chronicles 29:14-16 | Matthew 6:1-4
It’s near the end for one of the great figures of Hebrew history. The reign of King David is, in many ways, the highpoint, the time that Jews will look back to, longingly, the time when the people had a Kingdom of their own, and were, at least for many years, at peace, living in prosperity.
David himself, of course, was a deeply ambiguous figure; a man of faith, a shepherd, but also a man of war. An adulterer and murderer, who used his power to manipulate those around him to his own ends, and a poet and writer who penned (at least according to tradition) some of the great psalms of praise.
Perhaps it was this ambiguity on his life that led him, as he moved into the final years of his life, to reflect on how he would be remembered, and that led to his desire to build a great Temple, a centre of praise for God. Perhaps they would name it for him – “David’s Temple” – so he would be remembered through history as a man dedicated to the worship of God.
Of course, that’s not how it all worked out. We speak not of David’s Temple, but of the Temple of Solomon. For, as David tells the people, God said to him “You shall not build a house for my name, for you are a warrior and have shed blood”.
There, I might note, is an interesting facet of how Hebrew writing works at play here. As the story unfolds, David is the warrior king because God commanded him to lead his people in war. And yet God will not allow the Temple to be built by the hands of one who has shed blood. As is often the case in the Old Testament scriptures, the text plays out more like an argument than like a systematic laying out of truth. As if one voice argues that the wars David fought were for the great glory of God and God’s people, but another voice argues that the warrior King is disqualified from glorifying God.
The scriptures do not resolve this argument, they invite us to be part of it. This is part of the reason that, in our reading of the Old Testament especially, it is never wise to take any text as the final word on any subject. We always have to look for the “yes, but we also read…”
So instead of being the one who does the great work and gets the great glory, David becomes the one who makes it possible for another; he does not build the Temple, but out of his great wealth he prepares all of the resources, precious metals, rare woods, gemstones, so that his son, Solomon, would be able to complete the work.
And as we look as David’s great gift for the work of God in building the Temple, there are a couple of things that he gets amazingly right, and at least one that he does spectacularly wrong.
What David clearly understands, and wants all those around to understand, is that all the wealth that he has to give from – and all the wealth of the nation – is only theirs because God has made it available to them. “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you … all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand”
However extravagantly generous we might be, we are only ever giving from what God has given to us.
Of course, that’s not to say that we haven’t, at least in some sense, earned it – studied hard, worked hard, used our talents wisely. But it takes very little introspection to acknowledge that all that we have achieved depends on many factors that have been entirely beyond our control – our God-given talents are just that, God-given; the educations that we had access to because of the families and nations we were born into; the time of relative peace and stability that we have lived in. We may (or may not) have made the best of the opportunities God has given us, but they remain, at heart, opportunities given by God.
David looks back at those who went before him: “we are aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors”; thinking, perhaps, of the generations who lived in slavery in Egypt, who, however hard they worked, would never be more than slaves crushed by a system that was so much bigger than them, reflecting that had he been born in that time and place his life would have been so different. We might reflect similarly today, how our lives would have been so different if we were born in a refugee camp in Kenya or Afghanistan, or into the devastating wars of Syria or South Sudan.
David recognises that all he has, ultimately, comes from God and still belongs to God. Yes, he, David, had played his part. But even that part was the gift of God.
So David gives his great wealth to the work of God in gratitude to the God who made it possible for him to have it in the first place.
This, of course, is the emphasis of our Stewardship here at Roseville – that we call it a Stewardship thanksgiving program, that our giving arises not out of duty or even, in the first instance, because we know that otherwise the Church won’t be able to keep doing all it does – that we give, first and foremost, out of gratitude to God and recognition that all we have comes from God.
But when we compare the giving of David to Jesus’ teaching on giving in the Sermon on the Mount, however, it becomes clear that at least in one respect David’s giving doesn’t quite match the model that Jesus would hold up for us. “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”, Jesus tell us – do not give in a way that others can see, do not give so that others know that you are the one doing the giving.
Of course, that’s not always possible, but the intent is clear: you don’t give for the glory and the work of God in such a way as to focus that glory back on yourself. Sure, David says that all he is giving comes from God, but he also makes it very clear that he is giving it, and just how much it is (he lists all the things he has accumulate to give in the passage from which we read an extract), and that, in case you missed it, he, David, is doing this so that the Temple can be built. And everyone knows it – even thousands of years later, we still know that David generously gave all these things so the Temple would be built.
Such giving, Jesus teaches, is its own reward. When your giving is done in secret; your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
There seems to be a bit of a tradition here in Roseville of people anonymously supporting the work of the Church – I’ve seen a few one off gifts, quietly made, making ministry possible with no fanfare, no expectation or desire for public recognition.
But I don’t want to leave David on a negative note. Because there’s something else that he does which perhaps doesn’t so often get noticed. And again, perhaps it’s made clearer when we reflect on some words of Jesus, from Luke 14:
For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.”
When David set aside these resources for the building of the Temple, he gave to his son, Solomon, the gift of knowing that he had all that he needed to build the Temple. Solomon was able to embark on this great work of celebration of God’s goodness confident that he would be able to complete it.
David’s giving set Solomon free to do what he believed, and David told him, God was calling him to do.
This is why, in our stewardship thanksgiving, we ask people to make pledges; to commit to giving regularly, in a way that the Church can rely on, and can make plans based on. These aren’t formal commitments; of course, circumstances change; but they are a declaration of intent.
So as this stewardship thanksgiving program comes to an end for the year (next week we’re asking for responses to be returned, so if you haven’t had one yet please get one today!) let’s make sure that we keep it in context: that we are challenged to give, proportionately from our income to support the work of the Kingdom of God in thankful response for all that God has done for us, in secret – that is, not seeking the admiration of others – and in the committed way that sets us all free to work together, to share the love and welcome of Jesus Christ in every expanding circles and ever increasing ways.