10/16/2016 Sermon: Loving God through Gifts

Matthew 22:34-40

Have you ever noticed how the greatest commandments – to love God and love neighbor – are really simple… and also really, really complicated?

That’s because love is complicated.  I’ll give you five reasons why.  Actually – Gary Chapman will give you five reasons why:  the five love languages.

Chapman came up with this idea that we all demonstrate and understand love in different ways.  It’s helpful to be aware of these in relationships (especially married ones) because one might “speak” a love language that their spouse doesn’t “hear.”  To test the truth of this, take a look at Chapman’s list and see if there’s one in particular that you prefer to use or receive:

  1. Words of affirmation
  2. Acts of service
  3. Quality time
  4. Physical touch
  5. Receiving gifts

For me, I know I’m all about some quality time.  Love is going on a dayhike, sitting on the back porch and having a good conversation, even just going out and picking up walnuts – as long as we’re doing it together.  When someone takes the time to spend time with me, I feel loved.

That’s not my only love language, though.  I’m a preacher, a word-smith, so take a guess at the one I like to “speak” the most… Yep, words of affirmation.  I like to write notes.  I make mental note of good things I see people do so I can compliment them later.  When I use my words in that way, it’s me trying to tell people that I love them.

Since you’re reading this sermon and expecting a God-related point, you might already be connecting the dots:  Hey, we can communicate our love for God using these same love languages!  And you’d be right – in fact, Chapman has already written a book on that, too.  By going to church or taking the time to read online sermons you’re speaking the love language of quality time to God.  When you take communion you’re speaking the language of physical touch.  When you start your prayers with praise you’re using those words of affirmation.

If the greatest commandment is to love God with all we’ve got, then these five love languages can give us good ideas of the different ways we can express that love.

One of the big points of Chapman’s original book is that relationship can break down if couples are not speaking the same love language.  So if the girl really likes acts of service it doesn’t matter how many times the guy says “I love you”… she’s not going to feel his love for her.  They’re speaking different languages.

Could the same be true of us and God?

As I wonder this, I have my most challenging love language in mind:  gift giving.

Man, I struggle with gift giving.  I have a terrible time figuring out what people want.  I think this Star Wars necktie is cool… but will my dad ever wear it?  Has my brother already printed and framed this cute picture of our kids at the beach?  Who knows!

Sometimes, in a rare moment of inspiration, I find the perfect gift but the cost is preventative.  As Christmas approaches I pay attention when my kids say they want some toy advertised on TV.  I’ll pull up Amazon and search it out, feeling like I’m totally on the parenting ball… only to discover that the Sophia the First Princess Palace costs more than my cell phone!  Another gifting fail.

Gift giving is hard, y’all.  I’d rather just skip it altogether than try to figure out (A) what someone wants and (B) how much I ought to spend.  But clearly gift giving is important.  I would never consider getting my children nothing for Christmas just because I have a hard time with gifts.  I know from experience: a bad gift is better than no gift at all.

This is true for God as well; if we love God, then giving gifts is an important “love language” for us to speak.  But if you think your dad is hard to shop for, how much harder your father in heaven who literally has everything?

Fortunately, God has given us some direction – kind of like a good spouse giving helpful hints about what to get for Christmas.

For starters, we know that God doesn’t just want money.  Jesus char-charred the Pharisees for giving diligently but neglecting “justice and mercy and faith” (Matt 23:23-24).  We can’t get so fixated on giving $$$ to God that we forget the bigger picture of the greatest commandments.  God wants us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.

But monetary gifts are an essential way we express our love to God.  We do put our money where our mouths are, or, as Matthew 6:21 says it, “where your treasure is, there your heart is also.”  From the opening books of the Old Testament there is a tradition of giving to God out of what we’ve been given.  In that agrarian society it came mostly in the form of fruits, grains, and animals that were sacrificed to God.  Today most of us grow money more than we do grain, and giving God some of that money we’ve grown is an important expression of our love.

So, if we know we ought to give to God… then how much?  As with any gift, we’re hoping to give God something appropriate.  We don’t want to be like an incredibly rich woman giving her husband a bag of used range golf balls for his birthday (if you don’t golf:  they’re cheap).  Neither do we want to be like a single parent going into credit card debt for that Sophia the First Princess Palace.  For most of us, that happy middle ground with God is called a “tithe.”

Tithing is the tradition of giving God 10%.  It starts with Abraham in Genesis 14 and reappears throughout the instructions about offerings in the Torah (first five books of the Bible).  For most of us, 10% will feel right.  Alan and I are committed to tithing; every weekend when I pay the bills, the first check I write is to the church for 10% of what we’ve earned that week.  It’s a significant gift… but it’s also a manageable one.  It leaves us 90% to do with as we please.  It feels good.

But tithing is a tradition, a starting point, and it might not be right for you.  Maybe you’re on a negative cash flow and putting two dollars in the offering plate is a leap of faith.  Or maybe you’ve got a pretty positive cash flow and 10% is so easy to give, it doesn’t feel like a real gift.  If you’re in some situation like that, then give your $2 or your 20% or whatever it is that feels like a real gift for you.

Like any good gift, the most important part is not the price tag but the intention behind it.

The greatest commandment – the very first one Jesus named – is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Whether gift giving is your “love language” or not, it’s an important way that we express our love for God.

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