Speaker: Rev Joe Pang
Scriptures: Acts 20:35
The passage chosen today “It is more blessed to give than to receive” portrays a logic that defies the logic of the secular world. Indeed, when we take money out of our wallets, we have less. Surely we get more when we take more! How is it possible that when we give more, we would get more? While this defiles secular logic, it makes perfect sense spiritually.
Let us reflect on this by using an example, such as what we all are doing now, attending a Sunday service.
Offering Transforms Lives: from Dried Duck to Donald Duck
Often times, I hear people complaining that they could not “get” anything from the worship or the sermon on a certain Sunday. What lies underneath this complaint is a “I’m here to take” concept of Sunday service. But the Old Testament tells us that it has always been people bringing something in to the service, such as an ox, a goat, a dove or grain; it is a time of offering. While some may think that Jesus undoes all these and has a more lenient requirement, yet Jesus asks for our whole being, our lives. Following this, the time between 4pm and 6pm on a Sunday here is a time of offering: we do not sing because we like singing and this is a karaoke time, but we make an offering of praise using the lyrics as prayers on our lips, the high and low pitches from our voices, and the clapping and movement of our bodies. When we come with an attitude to contribute, to give, we will be blessed and we will have more.
Now let us be honest with ourselves, how many times we remain unchanged before and after the service? Or do we become a different person — when we come in, we were dry like a dried duck, but after a giving service, we realize we have much to share and quack like a Donald duck?
Living a Life Transformed: Contentment vs. Harmful Desires
Then why do some of us, or sometimes ourselves included, remain unchanged before and after the service? Let us look at 1 Timothy 6:6-10. We see two opposing elements here: contentment (v6) and harmful desires (v10). In v6, it says, “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment”. In other words, even though we may be very godly and attend all services, without contentment, we may fall into the pit of harmful desires.
How does this work? Let us first look at the mental state of someone who falls into the pit of harmful desires: it is a never satisfiable state. There is a Chinese saying, “A man whose heart is never content is like a snake which tries to swallow an elephant.” This points to the pitiful state and its inevitable consequence: it will explode one day. Contrary, those who are content look at what they have, and consider what they have as enough. I very much appreciate the buying ethics of a pair of brothers among us: every time they buy something new for their home, they have to dump an item from their home. After adopting this buying ethics, I realize that many things which I had an impulsive desire for buying, are things which I already own at home. As a result, I buy a lot less and become content with what I have. Some may argue, particularly those who are perfectionist-inclined, that contentment equates a state of non-growth. But this is wrong. Let me illustrate with the following example.
Last week I was invited to join the Amplify2018 conference held in Taiwan, and had the opportunity to hear from Bishop Yvette Flunder from the US. While we all know that “hurt people hurt people” and “healed people heal people”, she added that “freed people free people”. For only those who have been freed, will free other people from chains. Likewise, only those who are content would look beyond what s/he does not have or what others don’t have. We have to understand that pickiness belongs to harmful desires; it is a byproduct of harmful desires. Those who are not satisfiable would amplify the ills and wrongs of others (and oneself) and minimize or ignore the merits. It is only when we become a content person can we manifest an attitude of contentment towards oneself and others: we would be grateful and magnify the merits of what is already here, and minimize the urge of what is “missing”.
The fact is, when we have harmful desires, we would not be in a state to give.
Commitment. Readiness to Share
1 Tim 6 carries on to give us a warning and a rule. In v17, the Bible uses “uncertainty” to describe riches. If we put this together with the teaching of Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”, our hearts would then be “uncertain” if our hearts follow the uncertainty of riches. In the Chinese translation of the second part of v17 pointed out that God provides us with hundred things. I am sure we all have more than a hundred things at home. Now that we are already provided for and have enough, we must learn from v18: to do good and be ready to share. This is not to say that we see the plight of God’s church and we have pity on it. God does not need our pity. What God wants is to share the ministry with us, and to walk with us. Hence, we must adjust our attitude when giving and offering. It is not a matter of numbers, how much we give, but a commitment, a spiritual practice and a testimony. From this year onwards, the first week of November will be the “Dedication Sunday”. Let us all review and be content with the goods we have had before the end of the year, and to review what we have committed in service and in money. Let us all respond God’s grace with a readiness to share and offer ourselves and what we have, as an offering pleasing to God.