Deep devotion - 1 Chronicles 29:1-20
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
In the autumn of 1992, Michael Plant, a popular American yachtsman, began a solo crossing of the North Atlantic Ocean, from the USA to France. He was an expert sailor who had circumnavigated the globe alone more than once. The sailing community acknowledged that Plant was one of the best, if not the best. And his mid sized sailing boat, the Coyote, was the best boat around. Plant had the best expertise, the best experience, and the best equipment. Eleven days into the voyage, however, radio contact was lost, and when the Coyote's radio silence persisted for several days, a search was launched. The Coyote was found, floating upside down, by the crew of a freighter 450 miles north west of the Azores islands. Now the most surprising element of this tragedy for the sailing fraternity, was not so much that a man was lost at sea- for everyone knows it's a dangerous sport. Rather it was that the boat was found upside down. For the simple reason that sailing boats are designed to right themselves if they capsize. Underneath the boat there is a huge keel weighing in many cases thousands of pounds. So even in the worst storms, the boat, if turned over, will be able to right itself. And when the Coyote was built a huge 8000 pound lead keel was bolted onto the hull for this very reason. But when the Coyote was found, that keel was missing, and to this very day no-one knows why. That huge 4 tonne weight below the water line that kept the boat stable had gone. And the result was disastrous.
Well this evening we're looking at a passage which examines that part of our Christian lives which is below the water line. Because spiritually speaking the same principle applies as in sailing. If you have no weight below the water line, then you are heading for disaster. So what is the part of the Christian life which is spiritually speaking below the water line? It's the Christian's heart. His own spiritual relationship with God, which no-one else can see. You see we can easily fool others into thinking that we are OK spiritually speaking. We do the right things, we go to church, go to CU; we talk the right language, we talk about our quiet times with God and our love for him, the books we've read; we give the impression that all is well in our hearts. And to the outsider looking in, it seems as if all is well. But what are things really like below the water line? Have we grown cold towards the Lord, are we more attracted to other gods and idols in our lives? We might fool others, but we can't fool God. And where there is no weight below the surface, then we are heading for disaster.
And one of the areas where we need constantly to examine ourselves, is the area of our wealth and possessions. And a thanksgiving day like we're having today is an excellent opportunity to assess ourselves on this matter. For in a culture which is obsessively materialistic and consumer hungry, then this idol, perhaps above all, poses one of the greatest dangers to our ship of faith.
And believe it or not, it was an area of grave difficulty too for the people to whom this book of Chronicles was written. Chronicles, as the name suggests, tells the story of the people of Israel, right from the birth of the nation until the writer's present day, which for the writer was the period after the people had been exiled in Babylon. The people of Israel were carried off into exile by the king of Babylon, and it was all because they had failed to obey the Lord their God. But 70 years later they had returned to Israel, albeit a burnt out shell, but at least they were home. But still the same old problems were there. And the heart of the problem for the people of Israel, was actually their heart. They were not devoted to the Lord as they should be. And one of the areas of struggle for them concerned their wealth and possessions. For God had told them to rebuild the Temple, but the people were failing due to their lack of financial devotion to the work of the Lord. They held their money back, and were treating God like a hobby, a play thing. And the problem was their hearts. There was no weight below the water line. They didn't love God as they should, and it showed in their lack of commitment, financially, to God's work. So in his long book about the history of Israel, the Chronicler reminds the people of God about their glorious history, as well as the mistakes of the past, and urges them not to make the same mistakes. And in particular in our passage, he reminds them what happened when the first Temple was built some 500 years before. For then, all the people of God showed where their hearts really lay by total devotion to the Lord's work led by King David himself as they gave sacrificially so that the huge Temple could be built for God's glory. So what had happened in the past was meant to be a spur to godly living in the present.
So as we come to this passage in our generation, the Chronicler is asking us the same question as he asked his own generation. He asking us: What is your heart like? Are you devoted to the Lord's work or are you more concerned with your own comfort and security? Is there anything below the water line, or are you all show? And like sailing, where there is no weight below the surface, the result is disastrous! So the Chronicler has three things to teach us this evening, which he illustrates from King David's words and actions as he builds the Temple.
1) David's Mindset (Vv 14-19)
2) David's Motivation (Vv 10-13)
3) David's Method (Vv 1-9)
And we're actually going to work through the passage backwards, for reasons that will become clear as we go through.
1) David's Mindset (Vv 14-19)
So first then we discover David's mindset in verses 14-19. And when we reach 1 Chronicles 29, we find David at the end of his life. By the end of the chapter he will be dead. And in these last two chapters he gathers together all the people of Israel and tells them that his son Solomon will be the king and Solomon will build the Temple of the Lord. But David finishes his life by leading by example and giving huge sums of money to the work of building the Temple. So why does he do it? What was his mindset as he embarked on this huge enterprise, something which he knew he would never see the completion of! Well his mindset was one of total dependence on the Lord. Total dependence on the Lord made him see that everything he had been given was a mark of God's grace and all that David and God's people would receive in the future was a mark of God's grace.
a) Past Grace- He was dependant first on past grace. God's grace in the past. Have a look at verse 14: "But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. O LORD our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you." David had a right understanding of his own position before God. He knew that everything he had, his wealth, his possessions, even his life, were all given to him by the hand of God himself. Everything comes from you, he said. And our lives are but shadows on this earth. In the great span of eternity, we're just here today gone tomorrow. We're just travellers passing through. So what use is it then, to place our dependence on our own wealth or selves, when both are so fleeting.
Surely if the tragic events of the last few weeks in Asia have taught us anything it is that life is very fragile. Life is fleeting. It can be snatched away from us at any moment. And how much or how little wealth we have makes not one blind jot of difference in eternity. So how much more should we have David's attitude and remember that everything comes from God. It's as if he gives us life and everything we have on loan. All things come from him, and he expects us to use all his gifts for his glory. And one day, sooner or later, he will ask for them back. So how foolish it is to live our lives thinking that all we have is ours to keep and do what we want with. No, says David, everything comes from God. Everything is a gift of grace, even life itself. Yes enjoy God's good gifts to the full, but never make the mistake of thinking they are ours by rights. It's God's money, God's life, God's wealth, to be used for God's glory. And David sees that great truth with crystal clarity. And he was totally dependant on God for his grace in the past.
b) Future Grace- But it meant too that he was dependant on God for future grace too. That is the grace that God promises to give in the future. Verse 17: "I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, requirements and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided." What guarantee was there that the people of God would continue to love the Lord and keep on being generous to his work and glory? Well only by the grace of God. So that is what David prays for. He prays that God would keep this desire in the hearts of the people and of the future king Solomon. That's the only way the people would keep trusting God, if God himself gave them the grace to do so. David knew that he had to be totally dependant on God's grace and mercy in the future as well!
And it's no different for you and I as NT Christians. In fact, if anything we should understand more that we need to trust God's grace for today and tomorrow. Which is why we need to pause and ask ourselves whether we too have David's mindset when it comes to thinking about our wealth and possessions. Do we truly believe that everything comes from God? And if so, do our lives testify to that truth? Or like a sailing boat with no keel, do we look fine on the outside and talk a good game about trusting God with everything including our wealth, while all along our dependence is in precisely that- our selves, and our earthly treasure. All along we are riddled by worry about whether we will have enough or what we will do next to the house, or what we will get next for ourselves. We forget that we are totally dependant on God today and always for everything we have even life itself. And everything we have comes from him. Well if we forget that, then our little boat is tragically compromised. The keel is nowhere and we're heading for disaster.
What was it Jesus said about wealth? Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also. What you most treasure that is where your heart will be! And it was he who also said: "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul!" Somerset Maugham was a man who did precisely that. Somerset Maugham was one of the most famous ands successful authors of the twentieth century. His writings and plays brought him fame and fortune and he lived for his wealth and pleasure. But at the end of his life, what had it all bought him? In his latter months, his wealth meant nothing to him. One time, Somerset Maugham was reading a Bible that his nephew had given to him. He said to his nephew: "I've been reading that Bible you gave me, and I came across that passage which says: 'What good is it if a man gains the whole world and forfeits his soul.' Of course, it's a load of old bunk, but the thought is interesting all the same." But as the old man began his descend towards death, he became more bitter, empty and terrified of what awaited him. He would cry out in the night: "Go away! I'm not readyI'm not dead yet!' Tragically Somerset Maugham did precisely what Jesus warned. He'd gained the whole world, and yet forfeited his soul.
No says David, the right mindset is one of total dependence on God. Total dependence for God's past grace and total dependence for his future grace. And that's the first step to having a healthy spiritual weight below the water line.
2) David's Motivation (Vv 10-13)
But what was David's motivation for this mindset? Was it simply his own gain, his own prestige? Well not at all. So let's look secondly at David's motivation. For if his mindset was total dependence, then his motivation is total delight. Delight, that is, in God's glory and God's kingdom. Notice what David says in his prayer beginning at verse 10: "Praise be to you, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name." You see here is a man whose heart is totally captivated by love for God. He adores and delights in God. Notice what he praises God for. God is the father, the everlasting one, his is the greatness, the splendour, glory and majesty. And in case there is any doubt as to where David's heart lies, then notice in the first few verses of the chapter that three times he calls God "my God". David has a joyful, loving relationship with God. God is "his God". He is passionately committed to the glory of God and the praise of his name.
And that is why David gives ridiculous amounts to the building of the Temple. It's not the Temple itself that David is committed to. It's not that he loved to pour over blueprints for hours or sit in long meetings about what colour the Temple curtains would be! No, the reason he gave so generously was because it was a place where God would be glorified. The Temple represented the very presence of God with his people, so quite rightly David wanted such a house of God to be lavished with all the riches he could muster. Not for the building itself, but to glorify the name of God.
And for us NT Christians, the Temple of God is no longer a place but a people. The presence of God is with his people. God is building a new Temple, you and I, his church. And as the gospel goes out, so God builds his church. So by giving to the work of the gospel, we too can glorify the Name of the Lord in the same way that David did. So why is it that a man like John Laing, a multi millionaire builder in the twentieth century, lived in the same small house for forty years and died with only to his name. Because he delighted to give millions to the work of the gospel because he loved his God passionately and wanted to glorify his name. And why is it that a young student called C T Studd at the end of the 19th century gave up his entire family fortune worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, and a glittering career in Test cricket and politics to go a country the other side of the world and face almost certain death. Because he loved his God and was passionately committed to the gospel and the glory of God's name.
And that, friends, is the heart of the matter on a day like today, on a day when we think prayerfully about our commitment financially to the work of the gospel. Because the issue ultimately is not so much about the facts and figures, important though they are. It's not even about how much or little you or I give or earn, important though that it is. It's really about your heart. For we are asked by the Chronicler to examine our hearts. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be. And if like David the Lord is your treasure, then your heart and your wallet will follow. When the Lord is your total delight and true satisfaction, then you will have weight below the water line and it will be seen in the way you commit yourself wholeheartedly to God's work financially, as in every other way.
Listen to these words of the writer John Benton: "In an age in which the whole direction of people's lives is dominated by climbing the career ladder, acquisition of material goods and never being satisfied, for a Christian to be able honestly to say 'I am fine as I am, I don't need anything', is a tremendous and glorious shock to the non Christian's system. It is cutting edge. To be known as an able colleague and yet to have no greater ambition than to be content in God is so astonishing it makes people sit up." I wonder if you and I could say that of ourselves, that we are so delighted with our God, so gripped by his love, that we are content with what we have, with no desire for anything else. That was what David could say. For his motivation was total delight in his God.
3) David's Method (Vv 1-9)
So David's mindset was total dependence. His motivation, total delight. And that leads us thirdly to see what this meant in practice for David's method. And in verses 1-9 we see that David's method was total devotion. Have a look at verse 1: "Then King David said to the whole assembly: 'My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the LORD God. With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God.'" These resources that David mentions here are most likely his resources of office, the king's official purse. But notice how he goes on in verse 3: "Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple." Not only is David willing to give out of his official purse, but he's also willing to give personally to the work of God. And these are massive sums. He gave about 400 tonnes of his personal fortune of gold and silver. David was a man who put his wallet where his mouth was. In other words, he was a man whose private devotion to the Lord was seen in public acts of sacrifice. And such devoted willing and joyful generosity gives David the right to issue his challenge in verse 5: "Now, who is willing to consecrate himself today to the LORD ?" David wasn't one of those leaders who told everyone else to do something, and then didn't do it himself. No, he was a man who could say: "Do as I say and do as I do." And this word "consecrate" reveals what David truly thought about his giving. Because it's a religious word which is used of priests in the OT as they carried out their worship in the Temple. So David is saying that this act of giving to God's work is an act of worship. It is a part of what it means to worship God. So who will join me, asks David? And it's no surprise when all the other leaders follow suit. And so we read in verse 9: "The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD . David the king also rejoiced greatly." It's a response of total devotion on the part of David and the leaders. A devotion that was free, wholehearted and joyful. They didn't feel guilty, having had their arms twisted by their manipulative king. No they gave sacrificially, willingly and joyfully.
And that is the question the Chronicler leaves with us this evening. "Now, who is willing to consecrate himself today to the LORD ?" Giving is an act of our daily worship to the Lord, an act of devotion to him. But of course it must be free and willing. For guilt induced giving does nothing except harm the soul. Just by way of illustration, I read the true story recently of an evangelist, who in order to soften up his audience, would do amusing acts. He was a huge man with great big muscles. Well one time the evangelist squeezed some oranges so tightly that they appeared (in close up) as dry shrivelled pieces of rind with not a drop of juice left- such was the power of his grip. To make the point, he asked if any in the audience wanted to try to get any more juice out of what was left - by more squeezing. To everyone's amazement, a rather small and weak looking man volunteered. He went forward and picked up the dry orange remains, braced himself and squeezed. And there, magnified on the big TV screen, a drip was seen beginning to form and then another. 'How did you develop such power as to squeeze out those last drops?' the man asked the volunteer. 'Oh! nothing to it,' was the reply, 'I am the local church treasurer.'
Sadly, for many people in churches that is not just a story. It represents the truth. For them, getting money which is needed for God's work is all about extracting it from unwilling givers by all sorts of tricks. But that is not the Bible's way. Rather here we are presented with a challenge which asks serious questions of our hearts. Are we willing, joyfully and wholeheartedly to devote ourselves to the Lord in this way? Because it is in the end a matter of the heart. It's what counts below the water line that is all important. And that God centred-heart is seen in joyful devotion to the Lord and his work. And as the Chronicler challenged his own generation by the devotion of David, so he challenges us. For David's mindset was one of total dependence on God. David's motivation was one of total delight in God. And David's method was total devotion to God. May such joyful, sacrificial love for God be seen in us as well.
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