Welcome to this week's ToGather.church Our focus comes from our Verse of the Day, Psalm 112:5:
God will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.
The early church was facing a test of whether the true gospel would be displayed in church practice or if a perversion of this gospel would split Jesus' followers into a Jewish faction and a Gentile faction. Acts 15 gives the details of the Jerusalem Conference from Luke's point of view as a church historian. Galatians 2 lets us overhear this event from Paul's specific point of view as the apostle to the Gentiles. The decision made at the Jerusalem Conference by the apostles, elders, and leaders in Jerusalem, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28), became a huge turning point that opened the way for Gentiles to be considered full brothers and sisters in Christ with Jewish believers (Acts 15:1-31). Paul confirmed this decision and how important it was for the inclusion of Gentiles. Other apostles, in their discussion with Paul about their respective ministries, added a significant insight — see the underlined portion in the Scripture below:
In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do (Galatians 2:9-10 NLT).
"Keep on helping the poor..." was a core commitment that came out of this history-changing moment in Jesus' church! Listening to the unfolding story of the church in Acts and noticing Paul's passion to "keep on helping the poor" should leave us speechless. Why? Because true fellowship involves connecting all sorts of people with each other — young and old, rich and poor, male and female, influential and powerless, Jew and Gentile, politically conservative and liberal — in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-29). This core commitment to "keep on helping the poor" is Paul's reminder of God's heart for the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner among us, and the poor — a vital emphasis in Deuteronomy and the prophets:
Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this(Deuteronomy 24:17-22).
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Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other (Zechariah 7:10).
These verses and their emphasis on fellowship and remembering the poor make God's truth startlingly clear: As followers of Jesus, we must be gracious and generous like our Father in heaven! Gracious generosity must characterize our lifestyle as disciples of Jesus (1 John 3:16-18). We can't claim to love God and have faith in God — whom we have not seen — while neglecting to love all of our brothers and sisters whom we have seen (James 2:14-19; 1 John 4:20). What's more, this love must be demonstrated in tangible ways!
Phil reminds us in his message video that some of our greatest heroes in the Scriptures — folks like Abram (Genesis 12:1-3), later known as Abraham, and Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37) — were generous people. In addition to these two, you may also remember the widow who gave her last two coins to God (Luke 21:1-4) and the widow in Zarephath who shared her scarce supply of oil and flour with Elijah to take care of God's prophet, even though she was not an Israelite (1 Kings 17:7-16). In addition, Paul had one group he felt powerfully displayed gracious generosity, the Macedonian believers:
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord's people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us (2 Corinthians 8:2-5).
These examples of generosity remind us that we are very much like God when we are graciously generous to those in need. Those who are generous realize that God has blessed them, not so that they could have a lot for themselves but so that they could be conduits of God's blessing to others! These graciously generous disciples realized that God wants his blessings to flow through his children to others in need. Generous people are God's plan to change our evil, broken, selfish world by blessing and redeeming it with his grace (Genesis 12:1-3).
This is why the psalmist could say in our Verse of the Day:
God will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice (Psalm 112:5).
Generosity for the disciples of Jesus is taking the things God used to bless them and sharing those blessings with those in need. Generosity shows up in their hospitality, use of time, investment in others, and sharing love with those who cannot pay back their investments of generosity. God's style of gracious generosity involves money, but it also involves the heart and lifestyle of the gracious and generous.
Phil's video message is based on Psalm 112:5 and encourages us to be generous like our Father in heaven.
From our lesson video, remember that as we are graciously generous, God gives us two promises:
First, God will be present through us to bless others, and as we are graciously generous with them, we are actually blessing him (Matthew 25:40). God is present when we are graciously generous!
As Phil reminded us, God will most likely provide us the opportunity to put our lives where we say our hearts are. So, let's always look for the opportunities God gives us to be graciously generous!
The full worship video leads us to open our hearts to God and his love as we pray, sing, share the Lord's Supper, and share a closing blessing. We pray the Holy Spirit fills and empowers you as we worship!