Giving is from God
The biblical fact of the matter is that, ultimately speaking, God has no need of us. I know this cuts deeply into our sense of self-importance, but look closely at what the apostle Paul said to the Athenian philosophers: "He is not served by human hands as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:25). In another text Paul extols God precisely because "all things are from him and through him and to him" (Rom. 11:36). If God already owns everything and is in himself perfectly complete, what do we think we could possibly add to his already immeasurably sufficient being? The truth is that the God of the Bible is the kind of God whose greatest delight comes not from making demands but from meeting needs (Piper).
Yet, tragically, many Christians exhaust themselves in trying to shore up what they think are deficiencies in God. Their approach to the Christian life is to give God what they evidently think he lacks. But God is most honored not when we strive to bolster what we mistakenly think is his diminishing supply, but when we come to him humbly to receive from his mercy and goodness what only he can provide. Contrary to what some have said about Christian Hedonism, that in all its talk of seeking pleasure and happiness it is man-centered, it is profoundly theocentric. Here’s how.
Consider the description of the spiritual dynamics involved when David undertook what may have been the largest building program in history. In 1 Chronicles 29:6-20 we read of the wealth that was raised for the construction of the temple. From a purely human perspective it would appear that David and the Israelites are to be congratulated for giving so generously to the work of the Lord. But we must look beyond what can be seen and discern the hand of God at work.
It's truly a remarkable story. "With all my ability" (29:2) and "in all my delight" (29:3), says David, "I have provided for the house of my God." The people likewise "offered willingly" (29:6) and "with a whole heart" (29:9) to supply the resources necessary for this massive undertaking. Again, "in the uprightness" of his heart David "willingly" (29:17) offered all these things. No one gave under compulsion or out of fear or guilt. They rejoiced in the freedom and opportunity to participate.
But there is more to this story than meets the eye. In order that we might "see" what the naked eye cannot see, the Holy Spirit has inscripturated for us David's prayer. Behind the scenes of glad, willing, happy human endeavor is the hand of an all-sufficient God who overflows in abundance to his people.
We first see it in the fact that David immediately blesses God (v. 10). His response to this tremendous influx of earthly wealth and riches is to bless God, not men or women! This blessing takes the form of a dozen affirmations concerning who God is and what he does, all of which are revealed in the willingness of his people to give so much to the building of the temple.
Let me skip down through the list to the sixth of the twelve declarations concerning God. In v. 11 David states that "all that is in the heavens and the earth" belongs to God. This is why giving is all about God: He already owns everything! He owns your clothes and your car and your bank account and your body and your house and your books and your jewelry and your television set(s) . . . He owns it all. He owns your mind and your emotions and your spirit and your eyes and your ears and your hair and your blood and your toenails. He has graciously and freely given us these things to use and enjoy for his glory, and he may take them back anytime he wishes. We are trustees or stewards of what God possesses. He also owns every dime (or sheckel) that we might willingly and joyfully choose to give to him.
The ninth of these twelve declarations is no less stunning in its ramifications. In v. 12 David says of God that "both riches and honor come from You." God is no usurper of things that are not rightfully his. From a purely human point of view, the money and wealth given for the building of the temple seem to come from the work and energy and savings and investments of the people. Perhaps some of them had profited from shrewd business transactions. Perhaps a few had turned an incredible profit on the sale of some land. But no matter, David says that all riches come from God! Whatever anyone worked for, earned, invested, sold and then gave, they first got it from God.
Again in v. 12, David asserts that it lies in God's hand "to make great and to give strength to all." Whatever energy or accomplishments may be traceable to the people that accounted for what and why they gave, all of it ultimately came from God. Power, influence, ingenuity, success, commitment, whatever it might be, are the result of the gracious and kind operation of a benevolent and giving God working in and through His people for their welfare and his own glory.
The eleventh thing David says comes in the form of a question: "But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this?" This is David's way of saying that God is the one who enables us to do what we do not deserve help to do. Who are we, asks David, that we should receive the help of God that would mobilize us to produce this wealth and then stir our hearts to give it away? We are sinners. We deserve nothing but judgment.
Perhaps the most instructive thing David says comes next in v. 14. "For all things come from you, and of your own we have given you” (NASB, “from Thy hand we have given Thee"). He doesn't say "To Thy hand," as if it originated with us and ended with You. Rather, it is "from Thy hand." In other words, whatever they gave they first received. He says much the same thing in v. 16. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided to build Thee a house for Thy holy name, “comes from your hand and is all your own.” We do not offer to God what he lacks. In giving we do not add to his resources or increase the balance of his bank account. How can you increase the wealth of someone who already owns it all? Our giving is but a reflex of God's giving.
Twelfth, and finally, David prays that God would "keep (or preserve) this forever in the intentions of the heart of Thy people, and direct their hearts toward you, and give to my son Solomon a whole heart to keep your commandments" (v. 18). God's enabling in this matter is not simply that he makes it possible for us to work hard, not simply that he bestows riches on whomever he pleases, but that he actually gives us the willingness to give! Yes, the people did the giving (v. 9). They gave willingly, of their own accord, and with joy. It was genuine giving, freely chosen, joyfully engaged. They made decisions. Real decisions. Sacrificial decisions. Decisions that make a difference. Decisions without which the temple would not have been built. But mysteriously, in ways that you and I will never fully understand, beneath and behind these choices was the gracious, enabling work of God.
What all this means is that our God is a God of infinite, immeasurable wealth. He owns everything that is. He does not stand in need of gifts or offerings or contributions as if he were poor and helpless and dependent. We are the poor, the helpless, the dependent ones. God is always the giver. We are always the getters! We simply must understand this if we are to progress in growth in our Christian lives and in our pursuit of holiness.
(Adapted from my book, Pleasures Evermore [NavPress], 61-64)