Unexpected: Generosity

This morning, we’re continuing our series entitled, “Unexpected” where we are going to recall the truly unexpected ways in which God worked in the past and some of the unexpected places and times where He showed up. 

These reminders of God’s faithfulness and miraculous power and authority will serve to encourage us in our present and give us hope toward our future.

We’re going to dive into the topic of God’s unexpected generosity.  However, we’re going to barely scratch the surface of this unexpected way in which God works!  Honestly, generous isn’t even a generous enough word to begin understanding how generous the generosity of God truly is!

Generosity is one of God’s attributes that is most in contrast to those of our own.  He is selfless and we are so selfish.  It is one of the greatest tests of our character and of our faith and of our trust in God.  Do we really believe that:

Psalm 24:1

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it

Or is it maybe that we believe this to be true, but don’t trust in His ability to steward it well enough or to faithfully provide for our needs?

This morning, we’re not starting where I was originally going to start.  I’ll explain later, but I never connected this encounter with Jesus to the parable that He shares afterwards. 

Matthew 19:16-30

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

He knew in his heart that he was missing something, lacking something, or he wouldn’t have pressed Jesus in this way.

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished

In their mindset, worldly wealth was an indication of blessing and therefore of a right standing with God.  This simply isn’t true, though!

They asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

OK, this verse is a whole life motto, decade-long sermon series, correct-your-thinking kind of a simple statement!

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

So, I read this and I get so excited that whatever we leave behind in this lifetime as we commit to following Jesus will be rewarded 100x over!  Then, it’s like a big ‘ole alley-oop.  It’s way up with “you’re going to get rewarded 100x”, then way down with “but the first will be last and the last will be first.”

It’s verses like this one that always stumped me:

Matthew 11:11

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

It puts me in the offended frame-of-mind just like this whole everyone-gets-an-award culture.  The one who works hard and sacrifices much should absolutely get rewarded more so than the one who puts in no effort and rarely even shows up, right?  If you work hard and sacrifice much, you deserve more, right?

Then, I pause to let the Holy Spirit speak over top of my fleshy, American mind and understand the reality that what I deserve is hell.  Aren’t you as glad as I am that we don’t get what we deserve from God?  However, I’ve been thinking about this topic and these verses in the wrong way.

Let’s continue on because there is no break here when this all happened.  This encounter and the following parable are about the exact same topic; the unexpected generosity of God! 

As this young man sadly walks away and the disciples are left in shock and wonder of how impossible it must be to be saved, Jesus brings all of the chaos back into order with a parable ending with this exact same statement.

Matthew 20:1-16

1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

In my flesh, I was always so offended in my mind at the phrase “the last will be first and the first will be last” that I missed the point of the entire parable.  Like the ones who went out and started working early in the morning, my mind screams, “So totally unfair!” 

I missed the entire point of this phrase that Jesus proclaimed to explain this “unfairness.”  God says,

“I am generous.”

“I am generous.”

After all, we receive everything from God not by works, but by faith in His promise.  Our righteousness and justification before God does not come from ourselves, but from Christ.  It is the free gift of God generously given by His grace and received by us through our faith.

Romans 4:2-5

2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

When we work and receive a paycheck, that check is not a gift; it is an obligation.  Payroll is measured out to each one differently based on different criteria.  Usually it is by skillset, by hours works, and by the duration of employment with that owner.

God is not an employer and we are not His employees.  God does not divvy out wages to us according to how long we have been a Christian, how much work we have done for the Kingdom lately, and what our spiritual gifts are.  No!

God is a generous Father and we are His children.  We receive everything from God by faith alone and not by our works!  We joyfully work hard out of gratitude for the free gift of our salvation and all of the unexpected blessings that accompany it.  Our work reveals our faith.  We DO NOT work to EARN anything from God!  Everything given to us by God is a gift received by faith.

Romans 4:16

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

When our Father God opens the Heavens and pours out His blessing, well, as the Bible puts it, our cup overflows!

Each of the workers in Jesus’ parable went out and worked by faith in the owner’s words that at the end of the day, they would be paid for their labor.  At the end of the day, they all received the same promise of the owner, a denarius.  They received it by their faith in His word and not by the quantity, the quality, or even the duration of their work.

In fact, only the workers that went out early in the morning were told the amount that they were getting paid.  The others were simply told that they would be paid whatever wage is right.  The workers obediently did what the owner told them to do by faith and they all received the same reward.

God is unexpectedly a generous God and it offends our flesh which selfishly values fairness over generosity.

I am so glad that God is unfair!  He doesn’t give me what I deserve, He gives me what I don’t deserve.  I deserve hell and He instead gives me Heaven.  He could have poured out His wrath on me, but He took it upon Himself and instead pours out His blessing!

I love this quote of Max Lucado, “The difference between mercy and grace? Mercy gave the prodigal son a second chance. Grace gave him a feast.”

God’s generous grace poured out into our lives like a rushing flood cleanses us and redefines who we are.  The old is gone and the new has come; we are who God says that we are.  When we hand our lives over into His hands, He doesn’t just give us a second chance to prove ourselves by works, He celebrates us and adopts us as His child.  He is totally committed to us!

God is a generous God and His unexpected generosity makes life unfair in the absolute best kind of way! 

So, shake off the pressure and the need to perform.  The last will be first and the first will be last simply because God generously gives to all, so rid yourselves of that offense and envy. 

Realize that you are a child of God and you receive everything from Him as a gift generously poured out and not earned by works.  Have fun on a life-long adventure of exploring the Kingdom that your Heavenly Father has generously given to you!

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