I have not been to Washington D.C. since I was a senior in high school. This was so long ago, I can tell you that I was in Washington the day we tried to rescue the hostages in Iran. So I have not yet seen the Vietnam memorial. You know which memorial I am talking about here, right? It was originally a point of controversy, because it’s so stark—a long, low wall of black granite with almost nothing on it but names, lots and lots of names. But it’s that stark, black simplicity that makes it so memorable. The point to its design is that all of those names are Americans who died in combat in the Vietnam War, who served our country to the fullest. As you walk past the long granite wall inscribed with those names, you are made aware that these are women and men, daughters and sons, husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, who made what we call the “ultimate sacrifice.”
I think most of us would agree that there is no greater patriotic love than to lay down your life for your country. The freedoms and privileges that are enjoyed in this nation come at a great price.
Now, think about the words of John 3:16. Does it move you as much as you consider our text which reads: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son”? When you consider the cross of Jesus Christ, does it seem reasonable to you that Jesus’ death is an intentional, ultimate act of love and generosity—even greater than that by the heroes of our country’s history?
I want to suggest this simple idea: You Can Give without Loving,
but You Cannot Love without Giving.
Think about the connection between loving and giving. It is my impression that when most people today think about giving, love is not the first thought that follows. Money is the first thought. “How much?” is the first question. As a starting point, that thought and that question typically create an uneasy tension. It is the internal tension of “I’ve got it, you want it, but I don’t want to give it to you.”
I want to say clearly, first and foremost, that generous giving is not just about money. John 3:16 tells me that giving expresses the very nature of God. John 3:16 tells me that giving is the way God shows us His love and generosity, and that that love and generosity has no boundaries. God loved and God gave. Note who God is. Note what God does because of who God is. Generous giver, generous giving.
Martin Luther knew this. That is why he said that three conversions were necessary: the conversion of the heart, the conversion of the mind, and the conversion of the wallet.
Now after we have talked a little here, do you see what I mean? You Can Give without Loving, but You Cannot Love without Giving.
Please do not reduce this thought to some sort of proposition about successful living. Please do not confuse the heart of the Gospel with the laws of performance. I am not going to say here in this sermon, that if you give 15% that God is going to make you the next Powerball winner. Some pastors preach that. The Bible does not teach that. On the other hand, when giving leads me to God and His generous, gracious gift of love and life through the sacrifice and death of His Son, Jesus Christ, I will know gratitude, I will know humility, and I will have hope for eternal life.
When I examine my own life and my understanding of sacrificial love and generous giving, I am reminded that by sin my default position as a human being is to put myself at the center. The default position for all of us is to be selfish. When someone speaks about extraordinary love, my default position is to love me first. When someone speaks about sacrificial giving, my default position is to keep my resources to benefit me first. Left to my own devices, I am a sinner who handles the matters of life sinfully. Anybody here any different? I am guessing no.
Isn’t that what the Bible describes when St. Paul says in Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23)? Sinners. We all are sinners. That is who we are and why we need a Savior. We are, left alone, inescapably selfish, desperately needing conversion. Essentially, we are people who, no matter how hard we try to measure up or how much we give to show our generosity, we come up short.
Conversion is required. The conversion that only God initiates. The conversion that is a radical, biblical, re-centering of heart, mind, and wallet around Jesus Christ here and forever. Speaking of Jesus, Paul writes: “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15). Not condemned. Saved. This is the new reality I receive from a loving, giving God whose Son is my Savior. Jesus died and rose for me. This is who God is for me. In Him and through Him is forgiveness of sins, power for meaningful living, and the hope for eternal life in heaven. God loved sacrificially, and God gave with boundless, unparalleled generosity.
You see, You Can Give without Loving, but You Cannot Love without Giving.
Now I have a question for you: Would those who know you well ever question the conversion of your heart, mind, or wallet? God’s gift of His only Son is extraordinary, unparalleled generosity. Because this is true, then our generosity is a response to His generosity. The shift from self-centered to Savior-centered is a conversion. And it most certainly does include heart, mind, and wallet—all three. Everybody out there should look at everybody in here and know that we know what Jesus did for us. As Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
It is so easy to look for the less demanding, really more selfish way. The scenarios are too well known. We are asked to bring a dish to the potluck supper, and we ask ourselves, “What is the easiest thing to bring that will cost me little in time or money?” I wonder what would happen if someone were to bring to the next potluck, say, crab legs or prime rib? When we are asked to give toward a special offering for those in a disaster, do we think and ask ourselves what amount will not cost us too much? Every year there are special toy drives for some hurting families, and if you do this do you go looking for the most inexpensive toy? I wonder what it would be like if someone rolled in a new bicycle or offered a new Playstation?
Jesus has given us a mission. It is a mission that is rooted in a sacrifice that cost Him everything. He held nothing back. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
It is in those moments, encountering needs, that we have the opportunity to give generously in ways that may cost us but in the end bring witness to Him. I have seen the power of this kind of generosity in some videos people have shot giving tips to restaurant servers in the amount of 200 bucks. Do you think if we were that generous, waiters in restaurants would remember us? Generosity like this is not to impress people but because the generosity of Christ flows through us. We are called to leave the impression, wherever we go, that each one of us is a child of God who is generous with the gifts we have been entrusted with in life.
Generous giving is intentional. It is not a casual afterthought. It is not going through the motions which is condemned in the Old Testament reading today. Generous giving is intentionally choosing to love and give in a way that expresses who God is and who He is to us. Therefore, our generosity has purpose. Our generosity involves more than our money. Our generosity includes our investment in the needs that we see, the hurts that others feel, and our determination to make an impact on this world for Jesus Christ. Generous giving includes God having first place in our finances because He has first place in our lives.
Will you be a generous giver? You see, You Can Give without Loving, but You Cannot Love without Giving.