GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
August 12, 2020
DON’T OVER-ESTIMATE YOUR VALUE. DON’T UNDER-ESTIMATE IT EITHER.
I suppose nearly every preacher has found chapter 12, verse 2 of Paul’s letter to the Romans to be an ideal sermon text — its admonitory nature and value for edification are self-evident. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. I particularly like the paraphrase of J. B. Phillips. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remold your minds from within. I heard someone say it this way: “Let God reshape you from the inside out.”
Taken in its own context it is an easy practical sermon, isn’t it? Verse 1 suggests that, if or since or because you have experienced and appreciate the mercy, goodness, and grace of the giving God you should give back in service to Him whatever you have and whatever you are. Verse 2 urges that you allow God to work in you, with you, and through you so that what you give and do will always be according to His will.
Verse 3 caps the lesson by urging that you make a reasonable estimate of yourself and what you are and what you have in order to serve Him honorably and acceptably. Giving yourself as a sacrifice does not mean killing yourself for Him. The proper understanding of becoming sanctified or sacred (sacrifice) is to transfer ownership by gift. What you give becomes the property of the receiver, for the personal use of the receiver – it is no longer the property of the giver. Verse 3 also serves as a bridge to the effort to find your proper place of service in the body of diverse members among who you seek to fit. God adds you into the body (1 Cor. 12:18) but you must find your proper place and function there.
I think something in verse 3 does not often get the emphasis it deserves and, because of that, a key understanding of the passage is lost. Think soberly (about yourself) according to the faith which God has given with which to measure yourself and all other things). Paul seems to emphasize a very common tendency to think more highly of oneself than is proper. Self-importance may not be prominent in one’s mind but self-gratification, self-promotion, and other forms of self-centered selfishness are always present. Thinking too little of oneself is also a problem.
Sober and sensible self-evaluation is essential in determining how to serve God. Exaggeration may lead to a commitment one is not able to fulfill – like building a tower and running out of the necessary resources for completing it. Embarrassment ensues. But underestimating or understating one’s ability and resources can lead to embarrassment of the receiver – in the case we are discussing here the receiver may be an individual or a church, but the ultimate recipient is the Lord God Himself. Your giving should honor Him.
GOD CAN USE WHATEVER YOU GIVE HIM
It is often easy to convince ourselves that we have nothing worthwhile to give God, nothing that He really needs, nothing that somebody else is not already giving. After all, we are very limited in both ability and possessions. We would like to give some great amount, something worthy of God’s greatness and majesty. But we have limited income and few resources, and our debts and expenses and other demands against us are heavy – we simply aren’t able to give what God deserves. Our lives and abilities are just ordinary. We may say to ourselves that we would like to go out and do something great, something daring, something spectacular and remarkable that would bring honor and praise to God. We would like to be able to accomplish great things, wonderful things for God. But the great things seem to stay just out of our reach, and nothing wonderful ever seems possible for us. It is lamentable and regrettable, but we have to accept it since it seems impossible for us to change. Surely God understands. Of course the really sad thing about such an attitude is that it can keep us from giving or doing anything at all for God. Because we cannot be great we will be nothing. Because we cannot make a spectacular contribution, we will give nothing. And we feel unjustifiably justified – it is what it is, and it is not our fault.
We plan and purpose our giving according to our prosperity, just as God says we should (1 Cor. 16:2). But what is our prosperity, and how should we measure it? Before I give a simple statement of what your prosperity is and how to measure it let me mention a few things it is not. Your prosperity is not your income, whether from job or profession, social security, welfare, subsidies, government “stimulus” checks, or gifts and allowances. It includes all these things and cannot exclude your bank and savings and retirement accounts; even the amounts owed to you by others are part of it. To put it very simply, your prosperity is whatever you have or have access to at any time. You can give what you have, any part or all of it. Your prosperity is also what you have left after you give. God knows your prosperity even if you refuse to acknowledge it. He expects you to give gladly and generously from what you have, not what you don’t have (2 Cor. 8:12, 9:6-7). God is not impressed by the amount or size of the gift, but He is impressed by how it relates to what He knows you have and your attitude toward it. Remember the widow Jesus commended for her gift of two mites which amount to a farthing – we might say a penny (Mark 12:42-44). Her gift of a penny was more in the Lord’s sight than the larger offerings made by others who had abundant funds and resources. Not the amount but the relative amount – she gave everything she had. She had nothing left after the gift. Don’t talk about “giving the widow’s mite.” Try giving with the widow’s might – find a way to give or devote to God all that you have and all that you are. Be a living sacrifice to the Lord (Rom. 12:1).
We tend to forget that God can use whatever we have, and will use it if we give it to Him. God can use us in many ways. Our abilities, no matter how small, can be used by the Lord to produce something that is worthwhile to Him. And God will make it happen, just as soon as we agree to let Him. Do you remember the boy whose lunch Jesus divided among more than 5,000 people (John 6:5-13)? Did the boy set out that day thinking he was going to have a part in a great miracle? No. He was there with his ordinary things on an ordinary day. But he was willing to share what he had, and it turned out to be a blessing for a multitude. Here is the question for you? Did they take the boy’s food away from him, or did he give it of his own free will? It was late in the day when the need appeared (Matt. 14:15). Jesus said, “Find out how much food there is among the people in this crowd” (Mark 6:38). Apparently the only food found was a scant meal for a boy – “There is a boy here with five loaves of bread (five crackers or pieces of bread) and two fish” (John 6:9). Jesus replied that these could be used, so, “Bring them, and have the people get ready to eat” (Matthew 14:18). Jesus never allowed his disciples to take anything by force, so it is safe to assume that the boy gave of his own free will. He surely didn’t expect to feed everybody. That would have seemed impossible! But that did not keep him from giving what he had, for whatever it might be worth and whatever good it might do. Did the boy become a great hero of the faith? He is not remembered and mentioned somewhere as ‘the boy who fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish.’ No, it was Jesus who performed the miracle. All that can really be said of the boy is that he was willing to give what he had to Christ and let Christ decide how it would be used. Come to think of it, though, what better thing than that could be said of anybody? Maybe the woman who poured expensive ointment on the head of Jesus, though his disciples complained about it (Mark 14:3-9)? Jesus said, “Let her alone…she has done what she could … to anoint my body for burying” (they seemed not to comprehend this mention of his impending death). “What she has done will spoken of everywhere as a memorial to her.” In some ways that is the greatest compliment that could be paid to anyone: She has done what she could with what she had. Could that be said of you at any time? Would it not be a great epitaph if your life were to be was summed up, by others but especially by the Lord, as one who did what you could with what you had, always? Would it not be wonderful if you could say that about yourself? “I have done what I could, and I believe and trust that the Lord is pleased with me. I am content with that.” <>