Reasons We Give (Sermon)
3 John 1-10
Giving is one of those topics that make people feel uncomfortable. There are reasons we’re uncomfortable with this topic. One reason is selfishness—we all struggle with selfishness. You know this—it’s easy to be selfish with our time, energy, and of course, our money. So the topic of giving is one that we know will probably expose some level of selfishness in us. Another reason is because of skepticism about churches and money. There are high-profile stories of churches wasting money on luxuries, pastors living in mansions, and traveling evangelists with their private jets. These abuses have colored the way many people think about money and “religion.”
In the mid-80’s, one of my uncles believed God was calling him and his family to serve as foreign missionaries. They met with a missions organization and shared their desire to go to some small islands in the Pacific to share the Gospel with a people group that had few encounters with Christianity. Due to some unrest in those islands, the missions organization asked them to consider going to serve as missionaries on some different Pacific islands—the Hawaiian islands. You can imagine how some of their conversations went. He told me people would joke with them all the time, “I wish God would call me to Hawaii to serve there.” In spite of being qualified for the role and demonstrating the significant need for Gospel missionaries to go, they were never able to raise the money necessary to serve there. People were skeptical, and their skepticism kept them from giving.
I understand why people are skeptical. In fact, our sensitivity to skepticism kept us from addressing this topic early in the life of Redeemer. We didn’t consciously avoid it, but we certainly didn’t pursue it. But the topic of giving, of using our money for something more than our own needs and wishes, is too important to ignore. Giving is a significant responsibility for every Christian. This morning, I want to show you four reasons every member should give regularly, generously, and cheerfully.
Summary of 3 John
We find these four reasons in the shortest book of the New Testament, 3 John. Before we look at the reasons, let me give a quick summary of this epistle. It’s a letter written by the apostle John that focuses on three individuals.
The first individual, Gaius, is the recipient of the letter. John commends him for this faithfulness, especially in hosting and supporting Christian missionaries, and then encourages him to continue to do so.
The second individual, Diotrephes, is causing problems in a nearby church because he refuses to listen to apostolic teaching. He loves to be in charge, so when missionaries came from the apostles, he refused to receive them, and even threatened anyone who showed them hospitality.
The third individual, Demetrius, is likely the one who brought this letter to Gaius from John. John is assuring Gaius that Demetrius is a faithful brother who can be trusted.
This short letter was written to encourage a Christian to remain faithful in the face of difficulty and opposition. From Gaius’ example and John’s instruction we see four reasons every faithful Christian should give.
Giving Indicates Your Level of Spiritual Health
(3 John 1–4 ESV) The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
John makes two positive statements about Gaius’ spiritual condition: it is going well with his soul (v.2), and he is walking in the truth (v.3). What evidence does he give to back up these statements? Gaius gladly welcomed some Christian brothers into his life and supported them as they ministered (v.5). His willingness to give was an indication of spiritual health.
John called what Gaius did a “faithful thing” (v.5). Generosity is a mark of faithfulness because it not only shows commitment to others, but it reveals confidence in God’s ability to provide for you. Gaius demonstrated faith in God by giving what God had given him to others in order to bless them.
By itself giving does not guarantee a person is spiritually healthy, but a failure to give is a sure indicator of someone’s lack of spiritual health. Is there any reason not to give other than a failure to trust that God will provide for you? Surely giving does not require a person to be rich. Jesus’ most famous example of giving was a widow who gave her last two pennies (Luke 21:1—4). The apostle Paul commended the Christians in Macedonia who in the midst of “extreme poverty” “overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (2 Cor. 8:2). Giving is not limited by your resources, but by your faith.
Faith and giving go hand in hand. This is true in both the Old and New Testaments, in ancient Israel and the modern church. Giving generously is one indication of spiritual health because it demonstrates faith that God will provide for you. Your future is not in your hands. Why were the Israelites commanded to bring the first of their harvest to God? Did God need it? No, it wasn’t for Him, but for them. They learned to trust Him by giving. Giving was both a sign of their faith, and a way to grow in faith.
If you struggle to give because you don’t know if you’ll make it, the most liberating and terrifying thing you can do is give. It’s terrifying because you are placing your future outside of your control, and it’s liberating because your future is out of your control anyway. Now you’re finally admitting it and entrusting yourself to God.
It’s interesting that we don’t find a lot of commands to give in the New Testament. In the place of commands, we find examples and expectations. When Jesus taught on giving, He simply assumed His disciples would give. He said to them, “When you give…” (Mt 6:2). Not only do we find this expectation, but we also find warnings about selfishness. In the midst of a haunting condemnation of those who only use their resources for themselves, James writes:
(James 5:5 ESV) You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
Spending all your money on yourself is like a steer eating extra helpings of feed on the way to the slaughterhouse. It’s not just a warning; it’s also an observation. A sign of spiritual sickness is selfishness.
Giving is part of being spiritually healthy. Growing in giving is part of becoming a more mature follower of Jesus. Paul encourages believers to “excel in everything”—in faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, love, and giving (2 Cor. 8:7). It is possible to be spiritually weak, even spiritually dead, and still give. Famously Ananias and Sapphira gave a large gift and ended up dead due to deceitful hearts (Acts 5). So giving does not guarantee spiritual health, but it is one indication of it.
We want you to be spiritually healthy. One of the reasons we will encourage you as a member of Redeemer to give is because we want you to grow in faith. We want to be able to say about you that your soul “is doing well,” “that you are walking in the truth,” and “that you are filled with faith.” This will not be possible if you view and use money selfishly, if you never grow into a generous, sacrificial, and consistent giver.
Giving Clarifies What You Love
(3 John 5–6a ESV) Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church.
Why did Gaius open his home, heart, and wallet to these traveling preachers? It wasn’t because they were friends of his. He didn’t even know them. They were strangers (v.5). The reason was love. Gaius loved God and God’s people more than he loved his own money.
What do you love? These other Christians testified to his love because they had seen him spend his money to help them. What testimony would be given about your love? The way we spend or save our money is a sure sign of what we love. Jesus made this clear when He said:
(Matthew 6:21 ESV) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Your heart and your wallet are best friends. What you spend money on reveals what you really love.
When Paul encouraged the Christians in Corinth to give generously to help another church in need, he said their giving would “prove that their love was genuine” (2 Cor. 8:8). Saying they loved them and saying they would pray for them would not prove their love. Sending them some hard-earned cash would demonstrate beyond any doubt that they did indeed love them.
Because giving is so closely tied to what we love, it has always been a part of the worship gathering of God’s people. We worship what we love and live for, so when we gather with God’s people to worship Him we are saying we love and live for God. One of the ways we say this is by giving as part of our worship.
This was evident when Israelites came to the temple to worship. They would come bearing sacrifices, both crops and lifestock. They didn’t show up to worship God empty-handed. These gifts were not attempts to earn God’s blessing, but an expression of worship to God. It was a way of showing that God was more important and more loved than anyone or anything else. They gave God their best from a heart of love as an act of worship.
When the church gathered in the New Testament, they gave as part of their worship. They gave to help those in need (Acts 2:45), they pooled money to send to other churches (1 Cor. 16:1—2), and they supported gospel work (Phil. 4:15) and gospel workers (1 Tim. 5:17—18). Even here, the context is a man involved in a local church, giving to help the spread of the gospel, and the report of his giving is shared with a local church. Three times the church is mentioned in this short letter (v.6, 9, 10).
I want you to think about what we do each Sunday. We gather together to worship. We get up, get dressed, and gather because we love God. We display our love for God by taking the time to meet together. We also do it by caring for each other before, during, and after the service. We sing about our love for God, and listen to what He says in His Word. If we do all of this, but we never mention money, we never mention giving, what would that say about our love for Him? Could it legitimately be called into question?
Imagine an extended family gathering for Christmas, and one of the nieces brings a boyfriend with her. You start talking to the two of them and they say they are so in love. They hold hands and give each other the silly, in-love looks. He tells her how beautiful she is, and everyone “oohs and ahs.” They talk about marriage and how much they mean to each other. When it comes time to give gifts, she hands him a beautifully wrapped Christmas present and inside is the perfect gift. It’s not only expensive, but it’s extremely thoughtful. Now it’s his turn. He just sort of shrugs and says, “I didn’t get her anything.” What would you think? He said he loved her. He told her she looked beautiful. He held her hand and looked at her like he was in love. Wouldn’t that be enough? I don’t think so. If he loved her, he would demonstrate that love by giving her something he valued. Is it so different with us and God? What we spend our money on clarifies what we love.
We see a negative example of this in Diotrephes, who loves himself (v.9). Is it any surprise that he is unwilling to be hospitable, unwilling to receive other Christians, unwilling to support those who are ministering the gospel (v.10)? What you spend money on reveals what you love. Do you love Jesus? Do you love His people? Do you love the Gospel? Do you want it to spread?
Giving Reveals Your Understanding of God’s Grace
John commends Gaius for giving to support these messengers and encourages him to do it again. Apparently some others were coming and John wanted Gaius to once again house them and support them as they continued on their way. He uses a fascinating phrase to describe the manner in which Gaius should support them.
(3 John 6b ESV) You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.
He is supposed to support them “in a manner worthy of God”—support them in a way that fits the character of God. Give how God gives. How would Gauis know how God gives?
Because he’s experienced it. He is a recipient of God’s grace, and his understanding of God’s grace will shape how he gives to others. “Give in a manner worthy of God” demands you understand how God gives. We know from Scripture that God gives sacrificially—He offered Himself for us. He gives abundantly—it is His desire to pour the riches of grace on us for all eternity. He gives cheerfully—this is obvious in both His creative work and the promise of a new, greater creation. The way we gives reveals how we think about the way God gives. What does your giving say about the way God gives? Or better, what does your giving say about the way you understand how God gives?
Giving and the gospel go hand-in-hand. The lengthiest section we have on giving in the New Testament is found in 2 Corinthians 8—9. The apostle Paul is encouraging a church to give generously to assist other churches whose members are suffering due to persecution and drought. The way he encourages them is to remind them of the Gospel, what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. The heart of his encouragement is found in:
(2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV) For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
This really should be all the encouragement we need to give generously. Jesus, who was rich (what an understatement), became poor (another understatement), so that we who are poor might become rich. You got that? Now give like that.
I sent my parents and my brothers a video last week, along with this message: “I dare you to watch this without crying.” And as expected, my dad and two of my brothers wrote back to let me know that they had indeed cried watching it. One of them said, “Ya, should have watched that in a more private place.” I knew these two brothers would cry because they are just like their father. They resemble their father in the way they respond to touching, heart-warming stories.
Christian, your goal in giving should be to resemble your Father in the way you give. Give just like He gives. Give so often and so much like Him that someone could predict, like I did with my brothers, how you will respond. They’ll see your generosity and think, “He is just like his Father. She is just like her Father.”
Giving Engages You In the Mission of God
(3 John 7–8 ESV) For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
Gauis became a fellow worker with these missionaries by giving to support the mission. The mission was to spread the glory of Jesus to people both at home and abroad. Their motive to go was for the Name—the reputation of Jesus Christ. There are Christians spreading the glory of Jesus locally and around the world, and we partner with them by giving. God has chosen to fund the spread of the Gospel through the giving of Christians. He could do it another way, but He has chosen this way. God’s people support God’s work through giving back what God has given to them.
This instruction is given to the church.
(1 Timothy 5:17–18 ESV) Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
Financially support those who are laboring for the spread of the gospel both in your local church and around the globe.
Brothers and sisters, this is our responsibility. We “ought” to support gospel workers and gospel work (v.8). The verb “ought” carries the sense of obligation. It’s in the present tense which means it is our continual obligation to partner financially in gospel work. Supporting the spread of the gospel with your gifts is not a preference, but a responsibility.
If we don’t do it, who will? We cannot expect non-Christians to pay for the gospel. These gospel workers would not accept money from the Gentiles, or non-Christians. We shouldn’t appeal to non-Christians to pay for the Gospel because it undermines the message of free grace. If they paid for it, they might think their payment earned them the right to be saved. It would confuse them about what it means to be entirely underserving of grace and still receive it because of God’s overwhelming love.
God funds His mission with your gifts. Don’t think that makes Him dependent on us, as if He needs our help. He desires our participation in His work, and this is one of the ways we participate. God asking for our help is like grandma asking you to bring a side dish to Thanksgiving dinner. She doesn’t need it. She can do it better, but she wants you to be a part of it. God doesn’t need us, but He invites us to be a part of what He’s doing.
The way the Gospel moves forward is by Christians giving regularly, generously, and cheerfully. I made these two commitments when I became a member of Redeemer, and so did you if you’re a member. They are part of our membership covenant: “We will support the ministry of the church through our time, effort, and money. We will support through prayer and giving those whom the church sends to proclaim the Gospel beyond our locale.”
We promise to support Gospel work both in our community and beyond with our money. We promise to engage in the mission of God. That’s what you’re doing when you give each week. You are funding the spread of the Gospel. This is how we need to view our giving—not as a mere obligation, as a checkbox, as a duty, but as an investment in people’s lives and a propellant for Gospel advancement. As one writer said, “To put our money where our mouth is shows the world our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[i]
Sometimes this is easier to see when give to foreign missions than when we give to our own church. The connection between the spread of the gospel and our giving is clear when we look at a couple who is living and working in a foreign country. Though it may not be quite as clear, all of your giving to the church goes to gospel advancement.
Let me give an example: think about the rent we pay to use this building. It’s a lot of money. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on evangelism, discipleship, missions? It is being spent on evangelism, discipleship, and missions. Think about what has and what will happen this morning in this building because we paid to rent it.
In the auditorium, people will gather to worship Jesus and listen to His Word.
In classrooms, children will be taught the gospel.
In the hallways, Christians will encourage each other to faithfulness.
In classes, students and adults will be equipped to live out their faith.
The gospel ministry being done this morning and the resulting ministry done throughout this week and this decade all happens because we pay the rent. If we really step back and look, I bet we can picture some foreign missionaries serving on the field 40 years from now who trusted Christ in this building one Sunday morning because you gave to pay the rent.
Brothers and sisters, giving changes us, and it changes the world. We give so the gospel can be offered to others free of charge.
If you want to grow in giving let me offer you two practical steps.
Make giving your first financial priority
In the Old Testament, giving was primarily done in a tithe, which was the first 10%. It was also done by offering the first fruits of a harvest. Giving was made the top priority. Giving is much easier when you do it first, then figure out your other priorities afterward. If you do it last, you’ll often just give God your leftovers, if there are any.
Give every week
Paul encouraged a group of Christians to do this. “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper…” (1 Cor. 16:2a ESV). This is a simple way to make it a priority. Since it is part of your worship of God, connect it to your weekly worship.
Do it first, and do it each week. These two simple steps will help you grow in faithfulness.
This sermon could have been shorter. I could have stood up this morning, and said, “Give because God commands it. Now, let’s take an offering and leave.” Obedience should be reason enough to give. But God gives us other reasons. He shows us why we give. We give because giving is one of the ways we learn to trust Him. We give because it helps us love what really matters. We give because we look most like our gracious Father, and we give because He has invited us to be part of what He is doing around the world.
One of the most powerful witnesses to the truth of the Gospel is a giving Christian. Lee Strobel, author of A Case for Christ, described the powerful impact one Christian’s giving had on him before he was a Christian.
"The Chicago Tribune newsroom was eerily quiet one day before Christmas. As I sat at my desk with little to do, my mind kept wandering back to a family I had encountered a month earlier while I was working on a series of articles about Chicago’s neediest people.
The Delgados—sixty-year-old Perfecta and her granddaughters Lydia and Jenny—had been burned out of their roach-infested tenement and were now living in a tiny two-room apartment on the West Side. As I walked in, I couldn’t believe how empty it was. There was no furniture, no rugs, nothing on the walls—only a small kitchen table and one handful of rice. That’s it. They were virtually devoid of possessions.
But despite their poverty and the painful arthritis that kept Perfecta from working, she still talked confidently about her faith in Jesus. She was convinced he had not abandoned them. I never sensed despair or self-pity in her home; instead, there was a gentle feeling of hope and peace.
I wrote an article about the Delgados and then quickly moved on to more exciting assignments. But as I sat at my desk on Christmas Eve, I continued to wrestle with the irony of the situation: here was a family that had nothing but faith and yet seemed happy, while I had everything I needed materially but lacked faith—and inside I felt as empty and barren as their apartment. …I decided to drive over to West Homer Street and see how the Delgados were doing.
When Jenny opened the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Tribune readers had responded to my article by showering the Delgados with a treasure trove of gifts—roomfuls of furniture, appliances, and rugs; a lavish Christmas tree with piles of wrapped presents underneath; carton upon bulging carton of food; and a dazzling selection of clothing, including dozens of warm winter coats, scarves, and gloves. On top of that, they donated thousands of dollars in cash.
But as surprised as I was by this outpouring, I was even more astonished by what my visit was interrupting: Perfecta and her granddaughters were getting ready to give away much of their newfound wealth. When I asked Perfecta why, she replied in halting English: “Our neighbors are still in need. We cannot have plenty while they have nothing. This is what Jesus would want us to do.”
That blew me away! If I had been in their position at that time in my life, I would have been hoarding everything. I asked Perfecta what she thought about the generosity of the people who had sent all of these goodies, and again her response amazed me.
“This is wonderful; this is very good,” she said, gesturing toward the largess. “We did nothing to deserve this—it’s a gift from God. But,” she added, “it is not his greatest gift. No, we celebrate that tomorrow. That is Jesus.”
To her, this child in the manger was the undeserved gift that meant everything—more than material possessions, more than comfort, more than security. And at that moment, something inside of me wanted desperately to know this Jesus—because, in a sense, I saw him in Perfecta and her granddaughters."[ii]
We give because Jesus gave everything for us. We give because Jesus is enough. And we give so that the good news of Jesus might be seen by those who don’t know Him.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2018.
[i] Karen H. Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 306.
[ii] Lee Strobel, “What a Poor Chicago Family Taught Me One Christmas Eve” Investigating Faith with Lee Strobel email newsletter, 11/10/18.