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The Generosity Journey: Turning Point

By Michael Roop

This is the third blog in a five-part series. To catch up on previous blogs, you can click here.

Israel was in the middle of one of her most significant moments of spiritual renewal. They were back in the land after years of exile. The walls and temple were being rebuilt. Their way of life was being restored. And they found themselves getting “back to the basics” of their faith, their covenant relationship with God. Oddly enough, right at the center of this moment was a reinvigorated focus on generosity. Here’s a excerpt from Nehemiah’s account:

We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the LORD; also to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God, the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and of our flocks; and to bring the first of our dough, and our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the wine and the oil, to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and to bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor. - Nehemiah 10:35-37

Two observations from this passage help us understand when Christian generosity passes from adolescence into adulthood. Which is to say, when giving becomes distinctly Christian.

First, notice the repetition of the word “first.” Four times in these three verses, Nehemiah instructs Israel to give of their first and best. No leftovers welcome at the temple. Why? Because God gave His first and best to us in creation (how much more in Jesus!), and because God owns it all anyway, and because God is worthy of our first and best. This was always the design of Christian generosity, right back to Genesis 4. There we read that God had regard for Abel’s offering because he “brought in the firstborn of his flock…” (4:4).

Christian generosity reaches adulthood when it stops being just about meeting needs, and just about leaving some left to give away. Mature generosity is found in the proactive discipline of giving God our first and best. Of determining a percentage of our income that is the first money out, given as an act of worshipful obedience to God.

Second, we can see that Israel's renewed commitment to generosity prioritized God’s house. Three times in these verses, the house of God is mentioned as the destination of Israel’s firstfruits giving. The offerings were given to the priests, who would in turn distribute them as they saw fit. This section of Nehemiah’s teaching ends with the succinct and emphatic statement: “We will not neglect the house of our God” (10:39).

There are many worthy recipients of your generosity, from the poor, to outreach and missions organizations, parachurch ministries and missionaries. Ask me, and I’ll point you to some here in Gainesville. But there is a clear priority in God’s plan for the local church (Matt. 16:13-20), and mature Christian generosity gives in a way that acknowledges and submits to that priority. In all the many ways we might give, we refuse to neglect God’s house.

Sure, Mike, but that’s Old Testament. Shouldn’t we live in the freedom of the New Testament?

Be careful what you wish for. As we turn the pages of Scripture to the teaching of the New Testament, we find not a diminished standard of generosity, but one that is greatly intensified. To that we turn next week.

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