• Steven Marsh

Giving With Gratitude Because of The Unconditional Love of The Triune God – Pharisee, Tax Collector

Self-righteousness, legalism or gratitude? Which guides your pattern of loving and giving from your life wallet?

Friday, I returned from a three-day trip to Belize, a small country in Central America. I was on a fact-finding expedition of a possible mission partner for Geneva. The government in Belize stops providing free education at age 12. 40% of Belizeans live in poverty. 23% of Belizeans over the age of 15 cannot read or write. PathLight International states its mission this way: “PathLight inspires hope by partnering with schools, churches, and residents of under resourced and overlooked communities so that young people become steadfast followers of Christ, receive a quality education, and pursue pathways that lead to a meaningful vocation.”

The texts in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, Joel 2:23-32 and Luke 18:9-14 ask us to determine whether we approach loving and giving from our life wallet with a perspective of self-righteousness, legalism or gratitude. What guides your generosity? Do you ever find yourself thinking look how godly I am, look how I adhere to the rules or, out of gratitude for God’s unconditional love for me, I can do no other?

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 leads us to discover that a life lived that is worthy of the gospel is one that does all that it can to promote the love and justice of God. 2 Timothy 4:7 reads, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Reflecting on his life and ministry, Paul wants to encourage those who come after him. Paul lived his life in gratitude.

Joel 2:23-32 leads us to discover that obedience to God’s ways and will is always preferable. The people of Judah experienced drought, a plague of locusts and the invasion of the Babylonian Empire. Yes, the drought, plague of locusts and invasion of a foreign army stripped away the people’s identity. But God promises to “repay” them with wholeness and restoration. Joel 2:25 reads, “I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. The Hebrew word for “repay” comes from the same word group as shalom. Shalom means wholeness and restoration. Joel’s prophecy was rooted in gratitude for all that God had done for the people prior to judgment, what God would do in the judgment and what was instore following the judgment of exile in Babylon.

Luke 18:9-14 leads us to discover the human tendency to behave like a pharisee and a tax collector as opposed to a Jesus follower. Pharisees would boast how they kept the law and insist on others doing the same. On the other hand, tax collectors demanded tax payments far exceeding that which Rome charged. They were greedy. And Jesus calls his followers to be in the world but not of it. Luke 18:14b reads, “…for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus teaches that in humility one will experience gratitude.[1]

The Bible’s message is simple. Until you respond to God’s electing choice of you in Jesus Christ, you will continue to make a mess of your life, other’s lives, and the world God’s created. The good news of God, as we know it in and through Jesus Christ, is that we can love others as God loves us. But loving others is not without conflicts and challenges. Thom Rainer says this about churches which use the means of self-righteousness and legalism to evaluate success of their pastor and overall ministry when he writes,

It is self-evident that pastors and their leadership are vital to churches. The problem is that many good leaders are leaving churches before they reach their prime leadership years at a church…pastors came and went at a pace of every two to three years, especially in the two decades leading to the deaths of the churches. The cycle was predictable. The church was declining. The church would call a new pastor with the hope that the pastor could lead the church back to health. The pastor comes to the church and leads in a few changes. The members don’t like the changes and resist. The pastor becomes discouraged and leaves. In some cases, the pastor was fired. Repeat cycle.”[2]

As your pastor, I have begun years six through ten. This is the time for fruit and harvest. Remember, year one is the honeymoon. Years two and three are filled with changes and conflict. Years four and five are the crossroads. Years six to ten are fruit and harvest.[3] How you continue to give out of your life wallet, as a Jesus follower not in self-righteousness or legalism (Pharisee or Tax Collector), will demonstrate a time of fruit and harvest.

I pray that you…recognize the slow erosion in your experience of Christian community, let go of the past as hero for it does not fix anything, build Geneva Presbyterian Church into a community of faith that looks like the community, focus the church’s generosity outwardly for the sake of others, practice the Great Commission, note that being motivated and guided by preferences hastens a congregation’s death and value a long tenure for a pastor who leads. Socially and ethically, we must not judge ourselves or Geneva successful by net worth, material gains or worldly favor. Drought is a universal predicament, both literal and metaphorical. We need God’s mercy.

How might we better partner with God in God’s mission of salvation? Resist self-righteousness. Resist legalism. Embrace gratitude. God calls us to participate. You participate by giving the tithe of your cognitive, affective, physical, spiritual and financial resources from your life wallet. Partnering with others in their marginalization, brokenness and suffering, like PathLight is doing with hundreds of children and their families in Belize, is loving and giving from one’s life wallet in gratitude for all that God has done for you. Living into legacy, the legacy of being known as a Jesus follower, is a life worth living.

[1]In all three sections of textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of David W. Johnson, Cleophus J. Larue, Tim Meadowcroft, Fairfax F. Fair, Vanthanh Nguyen and Stephen I. Wright in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 417-418, 419-421, 408-410, 410-412, 422-423 and 424-425.

[2]Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 55-56.

[3]Adapted from Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, 58-59.

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