Freely We Have Received
In 1560, before most of us were born, a Bible was printed that differed from all that went before and likewise established the future of bible publications. It is called the Geneva Bible. It featured chapter and verse divisions as we have them today, plus notes, and woodcuts, and references. It was the first study Bible, we might say, and was the Bible used by Shakespeare, John Doone, and the Dissenters who boarded the Mayflower and sailed to the New World.
I tell you this to introduce this 19th chapter, we call it today, of the Gospel of Matthew. When Matthew wrote his gospel, there were no chapters and verses. The history of these things is long and complicated, stretching back to Jewish scribes and leading up to the Geneva Bible. But here we have it today, one chapter of 42 verses: 735 words in the Greek text—counting is easy, reading is hard!
Much in these verses I do not understand. For instance, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” Or this: “Jesus gave them authority to heal every disease.” Or this: “Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.”
These words describe a world I do not know. It is a strange world, somewhere else. But here is one verse, at least, that I understand: “Freely you have received, freely give.” Verse 8.
Here is the longer quote: Jesus sent out his twelve disciples with these instructions, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
You have received much, without charge; now give freely, without charge!
I want to speak today on this command of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be generous people! That is the way I summarize these words. Practice generosity.
Is there a more divine quality in a person that this disposition of generosity?
Do you want to be a generous person?
I stopped yesterday and spoke to our neighbor, Casey Silver. He just graduated from Eastern Kentucky State University in Richmond, Kentucky. He teaches at the Community College here in town: fire prevention and fire investigation.
He has his house on the market. Perhaps you have seen the sign. I asked about his realtor, a woman named Aimee Brown. She lives in Waynesville. Why choose a realtor who lives more than an hour away? He told this story: “Twenty-three years ago, my mother died. I was a teenager. I had no money to pay for her funeral and burial. This woman, Aimee Brown, stepped in and took care of the expense. Later, she became a realtor, and when I decided to sell my house, I thought, this is my opportunity to return good for good.”
Perhaps you have a story of generosity.
Perhaps somebody gave you something of great value just when you needed it.
Here is my story.
I was 18 years old. That makes it 55 years ago. I entered the classroom of a first-year professor named Joe Lewis. He passed out a book he had written. It was designed to teach us classical Hebrew. For two years, I studied Hebrew under Joe Lewis. We translated the book of Amos, then waded into the great 8th century Hebrew prophets including Micah.
I grew up with religion focused on loving Jesus, getting to heaven, and avoiding four or five specific sins. But Dr. Lewis led me into the whole counsel of God, especially Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Twelve. I first became acquainted with the words we pasted across the back wall of this sanctuary, “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” All of that changed my life, my imagination, and my religion.
Those studies prepared me for my own sojourn in Israel. I studied modern Hebrew in a Jerusalem Ulpan, and traveled every inch of the land on my Vespa motor cycle. In 1978, my dad and I spent a month in Israel. We worshipped, as I had before, at the West Jerusalem Baptist Church on Narkis street in Jerusalem. Every Sunday, as they passed the offering baskets, they sang the song we are going to sing in a few moments, “Freely, freely, you have received, freely, freely give.”
I meditated upon all this when I read the news this week that Dr. Joe Lewis has died. I remembered his kindness to me, his love for language, and his talk he gave in chapel in February of 1970. The great Asbury Revival of 1970 had impacted our campus at Georgetown College, just 30 miles to the north. Students were saved, lives were changed, the campus was alive. Dr. Lewis gave this talk. He used the image of re-entry. Less than a year earlier, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong had landed the lunar module on the surface of the moon. “They came back to earth,” Dr. Lewis said. “We also, after this exhilarating experience of true religion, must face reentry.”
Earlier this year, he wrote to me from California. “I remember the revival days at Georgetown. I remember preaching on ‘re-entry’ to the students…. Re-entry was necessary for students as well as for astronauts. But I wish in retrospect I could have helped spread the revival and not just contributed to its close.” Then he added: “It was helpful for me to worship with your folks this morning [meaning Providence]. Thanks for making the video available.”
Do you have a story of generosity of spirit, generosity of gifts, generosity of wisdom, generosity of love?
Jesus was a generous man. He practiced what he preached. Freely he had received from God the Father and freely he shared with all of us. He gave his healing power to all who came to him. He did not sell it. He gave his wisdom to all who gathered to learn. He did not sell it. He gave life for the salvation of all people. He did not sell it.
Freely, he received from the God of the Universe; freely he gave to all of us. He was not a wealthy man; he was not a poor man. He went about doing good, Simon Peter said later. He sent his disciples out with these words: “Heal the sick. Raise the dead. Cleanse the lepers. Drive out demons.” He said in another place: “Preach the gospel. Baptize the believers. Teach everyone.”
To the man who asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he told the story we call The Good Samaritan, perhaps the most famous and influential of all stories. It concludes with these words, “You go and do the same.”
In other words, you be a generous person!
Generosity is the first and foremost of all the human virtues. What you have received—life, love, or learning—pass it along to others, gladly and freely.
Sometimes, we in the religion business, the church enterprise, get sidetracked by religious rituals: baptism and communion, choirs and anthems, doctrines and denominations. These are all secondary. They are intended to cultivate the virtues of grace: generosity and service.
Paul the great apostle, later wrote his list of these spiritual gifts: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…. We live by the spirit, let us walk by the spirit.
I was reminded of this as I watched you, good people of Providence, respond to the sudden death of Steve Hansel. You hurried to the home; you sat by the grieving widow; you baked food and delivered it; you cleaned the church; you rearranged your schedule; you parked the cars; you served the cookies; you lifted your voice as we sang that great old gospel song, “I heard an old, old story of a savior sent from glory, how he gave is life on calvary to save a wretch like me.”
This was a case study in generosity: generosity of time and money, generosity of tenderness and compassion, generosity of service and silence, the generosity of Jesus.
This week, I watched a video of a preacher named Jesse Duplantis. He was preaching to his very large audience and said: “I live in the biggest house in the state of Louisiana. I have the biggest house of any preacher in America. I have a name for my house, ‘House of Dreams.’ I paid cash for the home. … It is 40,000 square feet.”
I don’t know how to file this story. Certainly not under “generosity”. Now, true, Rev. Duplantis may give away a lot of money and he may have helped a lot of people along his way. But I don’t think Jesus will ever invoke the name of the Rev. Jesse Duplantis when he talks to you and me about what it means to follow Jesus, about what it means to embrace the virtue of generosity.
The story of Jesus is not about what he accumulated but what he gave.
The story of Jesus is not about the house he built but the life he lived and the death he died.
The story of Jesus is not about 40,000 square feet of luxury but a dozen dirty feet of men and women whom he sent to proclaim the message, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleansed the diseased, and free from demons.
The story of Jesus is about the life of the son of God crucified upon a Roman cross and buried in a borrowed grave.
The story of Jesus is about God sending his only son to live for you and die for you that you might believe in him and have eternal life, abundant life.
The story of Jesus is about God raising Jesus from the dead on the third day, infusing new powers of generosity and joy into that once dead body.
The story of Jesus is about God calling you to be a generous person, to give of your time, talent, and affection to the people around you.
The story of Jesus is about you, freely receiving life and salvation and resources in abundance, and about you, giving freely to those around you.
The story of Jesus is about all of us, living into a generosity of life that makes us truly human, truly blessed, truly Christian, truly like Jesus.
copyright@2023 Dwight A. Moody