Our Best and All
John 6: 1-13
We’re headed into week 2 of our stewardship sermon series called In God We Trust, and today we’re going to talk about giving our best and all. There’s a great story from the Bible that illustrates how one little boy helps us understand what it means to give God our very best. And my hope is that this little boy’s story will inspire us to take our next right step of faith. Would you read with me?
I’ve never met anyone in the church who didn’t think helping out here and there was a good idea. Outside the church is another story. But we’re not talking about conversations that go on outside the church; we’re talking about people who have chosen to follow Jesus and are now his disciples. And to my knowledge, I’ve never met a disciple who didn’t contribute financially to the work of God and his kingdom. How much one should give, however, has always been up for debate. If you want to put the brakes on a really good conversation, start talking about how much one should give. I can pretty much guarantee that will be the most uncomfortable conversation you’ll ever have.
There was a young man who once had just that type of uncomfortable conversation and left feeling very disappointed. He was really interested in Jesus, really intrigued by what he was learning, and was just about ready to make the jump into a full faith commitment. He was a young man full of promise and full of resources…the type of person you’d want to come to your church. If he had been asked to come to Bible study, to volunteer at the next event or to simply follow the rules, maybe the conversation would’ve gone differently. But then he heard these words that made him turn around and go home: “Go and sell all you have and give to the poor, then come and follow me.”
The challenge with giving our best and all is just that: it includes the words best and all. And those are words we usually reserve for things like our career (I’ll give you my best), our family (I’ll love you with all my heart) and our favorite football teams (They better give 100% or I’m never watching them again). But when we choose to follow Jesus, we’re invited to make God one of the recipients of our best and all. And here’s the thing: it’s expected. God expects our best and all, and God expects nothing less than our best and all, because we’ve been created to reflect his character in the world. This is one of the reasons God was so upset with His people in our reading from Malachi. They weren’t giving their best. They offered to God out of obligation, and what they offered was a second-rate offering. But that’s not the type of God we serve. We don’t serve a second-rate God who sends us his leftovers. We don’t serve a God who keeps the best and gives us the rest. We serve a God who gives out of his first pocket because he’s driven by love. True generosity is ALWAYS driven by love.
Out of a deep love and commitment to us, God chose to give his best (His Son) and his all (His one and only Son) so that the riches of the Kingdom could be ours. And as people created in God’s image, we have been set apart to be his “icons,” to be portraits of God wherever the Spirit takes us. Which is why the story of the little boy is so important to our spiritual growth.
The first sermon I ever preached was on this story. I was a young youth pastor at a small church in my hometown, and a miracle story seemed to be a good selection for that day. We had a bit of a negative “disciple complex” in that small church. Do you know what that is? We talked a lot about faith, but we weren’t quite sure it all worked out the way the Bible portrays. And I mean that not as a criticism, but as a picture of our reality. We truly didn’t know what do with Scriptures like Psalm 24: 1, which says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Our hardworking congregation struggled with that. Now, there were a few precious saints who “held the fort,” but for the bulk of the congregation, we looked eerily similar to the disciples who saw a big crowd with a big problem and had absolutely no idea what to do about it. We needed a little boy with five loaves of bread and two small fish to show us the way. We needed to know what it meant to give our best and our all.
Giving your best and your all to God doesn’t mean you literally have to sell everything you have and give to the poor. In the case of the rich young man, he was so attached to his stuff that devoting his life to Jesus was not going to happen until he made some radical changes. But Jesus doesn’t command every person who wants to be a disciple to sell off everything he or she owns. Jesus does, however, invite each one of us into a new way of living and giving, where faith and not sight is our primary framework. So here are three ways one little boy teaches us to give our best and our all.
First, giving our best and our all means that we give in a manner that changes us. I don’t know what happens to this little boy over the remainder of his life, but if I had to guess, my guess is that this story impacted the way he lived. When you give generously, something comes alive inside of you. And it only happens through generosity. Let me give you an example. Think of a time you bought a gift for a loved one and the joy you experienced when they opened your gift. That joy is contagious! If we could find a way to bottle that joy, we’d be the wealthiest people on the planet. But here’s the secret: we’ve already discovered it. Generosity is the pathway to a joy-filled life. When we give, we’re changed. When we give, we become like the One from whom all blessings flows. But we have to give in order to change. Sometimes I’ll hear people say they’ll give generously once their lives change, but it usually doesn’t work that way. The truth is that if we wait for life to change, we could be waiting for a really long time. What if things never get better? Or the promotion never comes? Or we’re never presented the big opportunity? What if we don’t place our loves and fishes in Jesus’ hands when we have the chance? We might never become the people we want to become. If John Wesley were alive today, he would probably tell us to give until we’re generous people, and then give because we’re generous. (Tell Wesley’s story )
The second lesson we learn from the little boy is to give until it changes others. Early in the Book of Acts, these same disciples who we read about earlier have gathered for church and it’s interesting how their church is described. The Word says that each one shared for the common good and they sold possessions and property and gave to anyone who had need. You ever stop to think where they learned this? I have a theory. Obviously they learned it from Jesus, but I wonder if that little boy impressed something wonderful in them. I think they were changed the moment they saw one little boy push through the crowd and offer up his dinner. That single act of faith must have been a gut check moment, a “come to Jesus” moment for all those on the hillside that day. One little boy taught every person there that impossible challenges are no match for Jesus. One little boy gave all he had -which didn’t look like much- and 5,000 people ate that day. That’s the kind of generosity that changes people. That’s the kind of generosity that inspires hope in a broken world. To give your best and all, give until it changes others.
Finally, the last lesson we learn from the little boy is to give until the “wow” happens. In other words, our goal should be to give in a way that allows God to show off a little. (Tell CCR Baptism story) God isn’t impressed with how much the little boy gives; he’s impressed by something that compels the boy to place his offerings in the hands of Jesus. To be honest, I don’t know what that “something” was for the little boy, but whatever “it” was, it led to a miracle. Whatever “it” was, it became a means of grace so that 5,000 people could experience the love and power of Jesus Christ. That’s what really lies at the heart of giving, and that’s why this story is so important. It’s not just about an act of tremendous faith, which it is; and it’s not just a tremendous demonstration of God’s power, which it is. This story is about an act of giving that opens the door for God to move in a grace-filled way. It starts with a small gift and ends with a bang. But in between is a testimony of a little boy who helps others begin to see the presence of God in their midst. And when our giving is connected to our faith, when our giving is a witness to the hope we’ve placed in Jesus Christ, God’s grace will be multiplied in ways we cannot even begin to fathom.
You see, giving your best and all isn’t really about what you have. It’s about you. And it’s about the manner in which you trust God with your life. Because when you trust God with your life, the conversations about “how much” aren’t quite as significant anymore. With God, there will always be enough. With God, there will always be a way. Are you inspired by the faith of this little boy? I am. Because that’s how I want my life to shape out. I want the sermon of my life to tell the story of extravagant generosity formed out of grace-sized hope. And that can happen, and will happen, when I give the best of me and all of me to Him. And it can happen for you as well. Let’s give Jesus our best today. And let’s give Jesus our all. Amen.