(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Secret to True Wealth
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
Israel’s Proverbs described how life usually works, rather than promising that God will always force things to happen in a certain way. They closely linked righteousness with generosity, praising those who share generously with people in need and put their trust in God’s values. They included that idea again in their verbal portrayal of an ideal mother and wife, writing that “She reaches out to the needy; she stretches out her hands to the poor.” (Proverbs 31:20).
Genesis 12:1-3, Deuteronomy 26:1-10
God’s first promise to Abram said his mission was to bless “all the families of earth.” Though the people of Israel, being human, often forgot or ignored that message, their worship practices (described in Deuteronomy 26) embedded God’s call to live generously and bless others. They honored God by giving the first portion of each crop to God’s work.
Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22
When we studied the desert sanctuary two weeks ago, we found that, through Moses, God gave detailed directions for the structure. The same was true about ways of being generous. For example, the law told the agricultural Israelites to be generous in the way they harvested their fields. They were not to gather every last bit of grain or grapes for themselves, but to intentionally leave some for the poor and the immigrant to collect
Jesus’ message in today’s passage was clear, and controversial. Israel in Jesus’ day had a small number of extremely rich people and lots of very poor people. Many religious leaders were among the rich. Jesus challenged their values, saying it is impossible to serve God and wealth. Those who saw all their wealth as a sign of God’s blessing sneered. Jesus replied, “What is highly valued by people is deeply offensive to God.”
For Jesus, generosity was not just about giving money. It was an attitude that touched all of life. At first, you might see this passage as advice on a clever way to make yourself look good to others. Read against the backdrop of all Jesus’ teaching, it shows that Jesus taught generosity in relationships as well as finances. He urged people to avoid selfishly pushing for their own recognition and advantage, to leave room for honoring others.
Two key church leaders in Philippi, both of whom Paul counted as friends, were at odds (cf. Philippians 4:2-3). Both loved God, but it seems from the intensity with which Paul addressed the church that each person thought she was right, and wanted to “win.” When he wrote “Don’t do anything for selfish purposes,” that was not abstract “feel-good” counsel. He was asking them to extend Jesus’ spirit of generosity to the other person in the midst of a very real, very painful life issue.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Heavenly Father, may we give to others generously as you have given to us, forsaking our own self-interest. May we love others so that they might live in the warmth and light of your own love. May we be good custodians of the many things you entrust to our care. May we learn to value others as highly as you have valued us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Which people first come to mind when you think of generous people? Why are generous people often honored at lavish dinners? When the people honored are humble, do you think they should feel a responsibility to appear and accept the awards?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Proverbs 11:23-28. Do these words reflect realities that will occur in this world, the next or both? Do you believe that, if we are generous to those in need, we will receive blessings from God? Are God’s values different from our natural, human values? How do we make the leap from the usual human values to God’s? How might we suffer if we are stingy with God’s blessings? Do non-Christians ever notice if we are either stingy or generous? Are they likely to draw any conclusions about whatever they observe? How might those conclusions affect their decisions about faith?
Read Genesis 12:1-3, Deuteronomy 26:1-10. Do these verses apply to us? If so, how? When you read the Bible, do you try to place yourself “in the moment,” as if the words were directed straight at you? Does this cause the words to seem to take on greater meaning? What percentage of our goods do we usually associate with “the first fruits” that belong to God? In considering how we give back to God, what is your usual yardstick for determining what you give? Is money the only area in which to think about giving “first fruits”? What does the phrase “time, talents and treasures” mean to you?
Read Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22. How might these verses apply to you and your life practices? In what small or large ways can we “leave a little behind” for those who have little? How can we share with others in ways other than through donations of money? How can we “leave a little behind” for our family members? For our friends? For our co-workers? Are we being called to sacrifice for others? How do you feel about that?
Read Luke 16:10-15. What kinds of things do most people value? What do they tend to be most thankful for? What kinds of things do we often overlook that we should really be thankful for? Are we generous with our health? How could we do that? Are we generous with our faith? How would we do that? Are we generous with our country and its freedoms? How could we do a better job of that? In what ways might we serve money? How does our commitment to follow Jesus affect the ways we relate to money? How does “serving money” affect our decisions about career, family, homes, cars, etc.?
Read Luke 14:7-14. Are these verses about where you sit at a banquet, or something more? Why is humility important to our spiritual growth? What dangers are inherent in trying to be a “big cheese” in the eyes of others? Does this mean that we should not seek positions of leadership and authority if we have the right talents for that? Where do our talents and skills come from? Do talents and skills we happened to be born with give us the right to feel superior to others? Most would agree that Abraham Lincoln was a great leader and president. Do you see him as humble or prideful? Does his apparent humility cause you to admire him more or less?
Read Philippians 1:27-2:4. How hard is it to forsake our own interests in favor of others? Take the time to list who, or what groups of people, might you include in “others”? Is this what Jesus meant when he was speaking of generosity? If we give to others, are we giving to God? How do you know? In what ways might we take from others for our own self-interests, ignoring their needs?
From last week: Did you identify one person who has hurt you, and has never apologized to you for doing so? In light of last week’s study, did you begin the process of thinking about what the value would be to you to forgive that person? Did you make it a matter of prayer, perhaps of deeper study, perhaps of working through the situation in-depth with a counselor or pastor? Did you choose someone you trust, tell them what you’re struggling with, and ask them to get together with you for regular updates on your process of forgiveness? What was you experience in doing this?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, May 12, 2013:
Today we’ll talk about three forms of generosity: generosity of spirit, generosity with money and generosity of time and talents.
To have a generosity of spirit means freely practicing kindness towards others, particularly in how you look at and talk about others. It refrains from judging, it believes the best of another. It gives the other the benefit of the doubt. It seeks to see life through another’s eyes and to walk in her or his shoes. It is seeing the good in others, and responding to others with humility.
I have several friends who demonstrate this generosity of spirit. They are always looking to offer encouragement, they put up with you when you blow it, they assume the best of you and each other. They recognize your shortcomings and instead of pointing them out, look past them unless they see a chance to help you overcome them. This generosity of spirit is graciousness.
This generosity of spirit positively affects every relationship you may have. People like working for bosses who exhibit it. Such people have more friends. And marriages marked by generosity are more successful. A 2011 study published out of the University of Virginia on the state of marriages found that couples who scored high in generosity were three times more likely to report that they were “very happy” in their marriage than those who scored low on the generosity scale….
On Mother’s Day, we realize that true wealth often comes in the form of those who were blessed by you, who love you for the way you impacted their lives….
That leads to the second kind of generosity—generosity with our finances. From now to the end of this month, millions of people across America will be graduating from high school, college or graduate school. It is an exciting time. Many have big dreams of what they’ll make of their lives: a nice income, a nice house, a nice car, nice vacations, a nice retirement. But that is only part of the story of what makes for success in life. Success in life has far less to do with how much you make than with how much you give. As Jesus said: “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.”
It is not what you have, but what you give that determines your success and satisfaction—your true wealth in life. Christian Smith and Hillary Davidson at the University of Notre Dame refer to this as the “Generosity Paradox.” They wrote, “Those who give receive back in turn. By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own. In letting go of some of what we own, we better secure our own lives. By giving ourselves away, we ourselves move toward greater flourishing. This is not only a philosophical or religious teaching, it is a sociological fact.” It may be a sociological fact borne out by the research these two have done, but it is also a religious teaching—one of the five most important and fundamental teachings in all the Bible. We were created for generosity. We are, in the words God spoke to Abraham, blessed to be a blessing. This is what Jesus was teaching when he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Smith and Davidson go on to write, “The more generous Americans are, the more happiness, health, and purpose in life they enjoy.”…
We were made for generosity. Our lives are meant to be defined by it. When we figure this out—that we are stewards of the blessings in our lives—we find joy. And your generosity begets more generosity. So long as you are focused on acquiring more, instead of sharing and giving, you’ll never have enough….
That leads me to one last picture of generosity in the Bible: the generosity of giving your time, your heart, and your gifts to bless others. It is what we see in Jesus as he is regularly interrupted to stop and heal another. It is what the Good Samaritan did when he put the man, beaten and half dead, on his own donkey and provided food, clothing and medical care as he was recovering.
This kind of giving is what we do with those we love—family or close friends—when we sacrifice and give of our time for them. You show up to mow the yard, or clean the house, or do things you hate doing at your own home, but you do them for someone else who’s just home from the hospital and you find that your love and friendship towards them actually grows because of your generosity towards them….This week we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Matthew’s Ministry in our church. There are over 150 special needs children, youth and adults who you’ve welcomed to your congregation. Each has brought their own gifts and graces and enriched our church family….Today there are hundreds of you who volunteer in this ministry. I’m so proud of you, and grateful. What would prompt a person to give up their Saturday night to work with Special Needs children, youth and adults in order to give parents a night out? What kind of people give of their time to serve children in our partner schools, or to teach someone else’s children in Sunday School, or volunteer to visit the hospitals, or help in any of the hundreds of ministries we have at the church, for no compensation? People who understand that it is more blessed to give than to receive. People who have glad and generous hearts. And what happens to these people? They find great joy in giving themselves….
Something that struck me about all of the attributes we’ve studied so far in this sermon series, including generosity, is that they are all attributes of God. When we practice these things we are most like God. We’re meant to set these as goals, to practice them, and to invite the Holy Spirit to form our hearts and lives so that we regularly practice generosity—in spirit, with our resources, with our time. When we give, we take hold of the life that really is life. This is one of the five most important teachings in all of the Bible—it is what we were created for.
A Counselor Reflects on Generosity and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity. This must often be recognized as a temptation. Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help (p. 86-7).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
It is easy to think of the obstacle to generosity as the absence of thinking of others. We like to think of it this way because it makes our lack of generosity seem more innocent. We become like the child who knew he was to clean his room or complete his homework and is called on it. We reply, “I forgot,” hoping this will somehow make our neglect seem more neutral.
But absence is a non-entity and, therefore, cannot be an obstacle. By definition an obstacle must be a thing; not a non-thing. Lewis points out that there are two “things” that impede our lack of generosity: fear (namely insecurity) or pride.
The first part of becoming generous is to have the courage (if we are fearful) or humility (if we are prideful) to ask the question, “Which am I?” The same character deficiency which impedes our generosity will also impede our willingness to acknowledge our lack of generosity. This is why honestly asking good questions is vital to the change process.
Usually the lack of generosity rooted in fear does see the needs of others and is concerned about those needs. However, shortly after feeling compelled to be generous, they begin to consider the cost. “If I give [blank] to them, then I would not be able to handle it if something happened to me.”
The insecure person lives in a world where it is assumed that everyone else shares the same insecurity. Generosity is not assumed (believed to be available for their time of need “if” it were to arise) because fear reigns.
The lack of generosity rooted in pride either does not see the need because of its self-centeredness or condemns the needy person for not having prepared like they did. Self-centered blindness obviously prevents generosity. Condemning makes generosity seem like a reward for laziness. The prideful person lives in a world where it is assumed that everyone else should share the same approach to life they have. Generosity is not assumed (a natural response to the ability and opportunity to help) because they are the standard and they do not practice it.
We see in this reflection that generosity is about more than giving something away. Generosity transforms our experience of community. This is consistent with the book of Acts. The early Christians were generous so / because they were experiencing a new form of community.
Our goal in being generous is not to win more points with God, but to allow the Gospel to penetrate our assumptions about life in a new way. God is not punishing us or taxing us with his call to generosity. Rather, He is continuing the work He began when we first experienced the Gospel – freeing us from ourselves. The bars of that self-bondage may be fear or pride.
This week, identify a different person (or group) each day to whom you can offer some small measure of unexpected generosity. Pray that you will do this in Christ’s name and that he, rather than you, is glorified. Accept their thanks, if offered, with humility. Next week, share with the group whatever you experienced in doing this—and God bless you for making this special effort.