Manifold Wisdom – Generosity
Caleb Campbell

“Generosity” – Sermon by Caleb Campbell

Church, I am so glad to be with you today as we are continuing on in a sermon series called Manifold Wisdom.  We’re looking through this series, specifically at a core text for our church family.  For the last seven years I’ve been honored to serve as your lead pastor, this has been a touchstone, a foundational text for me and for our leadership here, as we think about what our role is as leaders, what our function is in the church, within the church, and what our mission is as a church family.  We’re looking at Ephesians 3 and 4 today through a variety of different lenses.  We’re looking through these different lenses at our core values, things that are essential to our church family.  And so I want to invite you to join me today as we study together portions of Ephesians 3 and 4.

You’re going to have that text available in your handouts if you’re joining us in person.  For those of you all joining us online, if you have a print Bible I encourage you to use that.  Or you can just go to  Again, we’re in Ephesians chapters three and four, and we’ll be using the Christian Standard translation of the Bible today.

The question that we’re going to look at today — or the value we’re going to look at today — is generosity.  And the question that I want to encourage you to consider throughout this time together is this question: What does generosity look like in your life?  What does generosity look like in your life now?

I know what you’re thinking.  “This preacher.  He just wants my money.”  And you’re absolutely right.  I want your money so bad.  On my worst days, I think that if I could, if I could just get you people to give me most if not all of your money, and I had it — if had that in my possession, I would be happier, I would be safer.  I would be somebody.  OK, so you are correct.  On my worst days, I do actually want you to give me all your money now.  I am the product of a capitalistic, individualistic, consumeristic culture.  I’m being told over and over and over again, “You gotta get more to be happy.”  Now, I have a sneaking suspicion as your pastor that you might be hearing these messages, too.  My little Spidey sense tells me that you might also feel like I do sometimes.  If I could just get more money, then I’d finally be able to …. fill in the blank.  OK, so I need this message today, and I think maybe you all do, too.

So let’s look at it together as a group of people trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus in real life or trying to figure out who Jesus is.  And what we’re going to find in today’s text as we look through Ephesians 3 and 4, through this lens of generosity, we will discover that generosity and greed, its counterpart or its antithesis, are matters of the heart.  Deep within our heart, something is going on that begets either greed or generosity.  Greed and generosity are actually just symptoms of something that’s going on much deeper.  And so when I invite you into this conversation around generosity, I invite you to consider your heart.  Generosity is a matter of the heart.

By the way, I want to invite you all.  We’ve restructured our formatting on Sundays to help facilitate our church family getting around tables, or at least in smaller group gatherings.  I know that the best discipleship comes through dialogue, not monologue.  And guess what this is?  A monologue.  This is just me up here talking — which I find valuable.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it.  I love singing together.  I love taking communion together.  I love praying together.  But that’s only half of it, right?  So when we gather in smaller settings, we are in a position to be able to connect with one another more deeply, and to connect our faith within real life.  We can, like, hash it out.  So I’d invite you all to join one of the groups.

We’ve got a bunch of them going on, actually kicking off next week.  Some of our Rooted groups are going to be kicking off, as well as a few more.  You can check out your bulletin for more information on those groups that are meeting now or coming up.  But what I’m hosting at 11:00 o’clock in this room each week is a question and response session.  So you can text in questions or arguments or insults, whatever you want, and you can text it in and I will respond to the best of my ability at that time together.  We’ve been doing this for the last three or four weeks.  I love it.  And I would invite you all.  So we’ll just meet right in here.  When we conclude this time together, you just go on out, grab a coffee, grab a snack, and then come back here at 11 or join one of the other amazing smaller groups and gatherings and studies that are meeting around campus at 11.

But if you want to do the sermon Q&R, you can text the questions to the number on the screen. It’s also available in your handout, right in the middle.  I’d love to respond to your questions, especially on this topic, because there’s so much confusion around what religious tradition says and what our consumeristic culture preaches at us all the time, and so I’d love to have that opportunity with you.  And so you can just text in those questions and then I’ll respond to them at the Q&R.

One of the things that we’re going to discover is that generosity is a matter of the heart.  So in Ephesians chapter 3, the apostle Paul is writing to a church in Ephesus.  It’s a cosmopolitan city.  From what we can tell, it’s the third largest city in the Roman Empire at the time.  So there’s a ton of money.  There’s a lot of industry, and Paul is writing to this group showcasing them how the manifold wisdom of God is made known through the church.  We’re going to look through the lens of generosity.

“For this reason, I, Paul, prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you ethnon – if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you, that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.  (Ephesians 3:1-3)

So just to start, notice this for this reason, Paul says, “I, Paul the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you ethnon …” I’ve intentionally done this transliteration, which is basically we’re just going to keep the Greek word in there because usually that word gets translated as Gentiles.  Who uses the word Gentile in their normal everyday life?  OK.  The reason I’ve left it there is because this actually sounds like a word that we actually use.  The word is ethnicity.   These are all forms of the word that we would translate as ethnicity. Or it’s put in another way, an identifiable people-group.  It’s just people-groups, right?  So the word that often gets translated as either Gentile or nations is just people.  And usually it’s people who are different from us.  That’s how the word will get used. So it’s a prisoner of Christ for the sake of all you all.  Right, all you, all people groups.

“If indeed you have heard …” Notice of the language here.  What does he say right here?  The stewardship of what?  God’s grace.  OK, so stewardship, that’s kind of an interesting word and let me just give it to you really quickly. The idea of stewardship is this idea that God created everything.  So the food we eat, the money we make, the clothes we wear — at the end of the day, it ultimately belongs to God.  Instead of ownership where I say, “This is mine,”  I say “No, this is God’s gift to me, and I will steward it well.” So the idea of stewardship is recognizing that the things I have — whether, that’s my time, my energy, my resources, power, whatever it might be, it’s a gift to me from God that ultimately is God’s.  Therefore, I’m to steward it.

Let’s put it another way.  How am I using my resources?  Am I using my resources according to the values of the owner or according to the values of the steward?  Because when the values of the steward disconnect from the values of the owner, we’ve got a big problem, don’t we?  God gives us these good gifts and then says, “Ultimately these belong to me, but I’m going to give them to you and I want you to use them according to my values.”  And so Paul here is saying that he is going to be the steward of this message of God’s grace to all the nations.

But I wanted to tease this out, because stewardship is also how we approach any good thing from God.  Including, — you’re never going to guess – your money, honey, right?  Including our money.  At the end of the day, a steward has the mind that ultimately the money is not “mine.”  The good gift is ultimately God’s.  Right.

“By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not make known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit, to be specific, ethne are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  I was made a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power.”  (Ephesians 3:3-7)

In brief, he goes on in verse 5 and 6, to be specific, that all the other people groups, all the nations are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise of Christ Jesus through the gospel. What he’s saying is this is all the people groups are part of God’s family, and we’re all inheritors of God’s good gift.

“To me, the very least of the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the ethnesin the unfathomable riches of Christ and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be shown through the church to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places.”  (Ephesians 3:8-10) 

“ … this grace was given …”  Notice this word.  What’s that word right there?  The gift of God’s grace. Do you know? And just what’s a gift?  You guys ever got one?  Who’s gotten a gift before?  OK, everyone look around and the person who has not?  Let’s make sure.  Get them a gift.  OK, so when you receive a gift, right, the gift is given.  The gift giver wants it for you, for your delight, for your flourishing, right?  It’s a good gift, but it’s different than a transaction.  It’s not a purchase, right?  It’s not a good that I purchased.  It’s a gift that someone gave to me.  And here’s this.  Here, I just want to tie this all together.  Watch this.

Now you know that word, grace.   You all ever heard that word before?  Like we say, like before a meal?   Notice, this the word grace can also be translated as gift.  It’s a gift.  Have you ever heard of like, charisma or charismatic?  Right. This idea of caring. This idea of gift giving. Right. That grace, that God’s grace is, in its very essence, a what?  It’s a gift.  Just notice how frequently the apostle Paul will leverage this language of gift.  He’s putting it in front of you that God’s love – God’s very self, enfleshed in Jesus — is a gift.   So, God’s relationship with us through the personal work of Jesus Christ — is it something we can purchase?  Come with me now.  Is it something that if we do enough good then God will give it to us?  If we thought, “If I just try hard enough, if I’m just generous enough, if I just do enough good things, then God would love me.”  Is that a gift?  No, that’s earning.  Right. That’s a transaction.  But here we see the apostle Paul telling us –like screaming at us- — God’s love for you is freely given.

Let’s pause on this thought that God’s love for you is freely given to you as a what?  Gift.   So just pause with that thought, OK?  If you would please just close your eyes.  Yeah, we’re not going to do anything weird.  I just want to draw our attention to this moment.  What does it look like for you to live, day by day, moment by moment, with God showering you with his love?   With his peace, with his goodness, with his mercy.  As a gift.  Might living day by day, moment by moment, knowing that God showers us with these good gifts — might that have any implication on how we therefore live?  I hope so.  I hope so.

“The gift of God’s grace was given …” What does it mean for you to receive freely the unfathomable, the incalculable riches of Christ.?  Day by day, moment by moment, to be connected to this deep reality that God loves you, that God delights in you.  That God has, out of joy, given himself for you.  That he has — through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus — conquered over Satan, sin and death.  And he delights to call you to be in relationship with him, the unfathomable riches of Christ.

He goes on in verse 10.  We do all this — living this out — so that the manifold or diverse kinds wisdom of God might be made known through the church.  So that all the people — all the ethnons, all the different people groups experiencing the unfathomable riches of Christ — would be brought together in the church.  Then a bunch of misfits who are bound together not by our common affinities, but by the unfathomable riches of Christ, would be bound together through the church.

God puts on display his diverse or manifold or multifaceted wisdom.  Now check this out.  This actually works.  I’m here to tell you.  All this actually works.  I’m going to tell you one story.  One year ago tomorrow, this church family made the front page of the New York Times.  I bought some copies.  We met, and it was for a good thing.  Hey, we were in the paper.  That’s pretty cool.  We were in the front-page New York Times.  Do you know what caused us to be in the front page?  We took an offering.

When the US military was pulling out of Afghanistan, we were hearing that there were going to be some Afghani refugees come in, possibly to Phoenix.  Because in Phoenix, we place a lot of refugees.  And Governor Ducey said we wanted to welcome refugees here, and we knew that there would be a financial need, but we didn’t know what that looked like yet.  So we just, we just, in faith, took an offering for over the four weeks.  I think we mentioned a moment ago that you all raised $25,000 that we were able to invest in caring for refugees as they came.  Now, for me and I think for some of us were thinking, “Well, that’s just what you do.”  For Jesus followers, that’s kind of what we do, but to an onlooking world, it was mind-blowing.  In fact, I remember talking to the journalist Miriam, who was very kind and she’s just a brilliant writer.  And she was like, “OK, hold on, what’s your vested interest in this?”

I said that we were literally just going to give it to a local organization.

“No, no, no, but no.  What do you have to gain?”

And l said, “Could I talk to you about Jesus?”

I’m like, “You’re talking about the heart of the gospel.”

So we made the front page New York Times.  And if I sound a little braggadocious, I am.  I’m so proud of you all.

OK, so Miriam, the journalist, it’s blowing her mind.  And then here’s the shame part.  She’s like, “Wait, are you guys are evangelical?”  And she straight up said, “I thought you all were against stuff like this.”

Ooh, right. And I’m like, “Can I talk to you about Jesus?”  Because listen, I get it, right?  When the church does it wrong, the manifold of wisdom of God is not on display.  But when the church does it right?  We were in the paper.

Then the church got a voicemail.  “Hey, this is so and so I want to talk to someone about what I just read in the paper.”

I said, “Let me take the call.  I’ll figure out what it’s about.”

So I call the person back and they’re like, “Listen, I’m not a church person.  I think I’ve been to one church in my whole life when my aunt dragged me as a kid.  I’m a religious tourist, and I’m just so surprised by what you guys are doing.  I want to send you all a check.”

And I was like, “No, listen, let me just give you the name of the organization.  You send them a check.”

“No, I want to send you a check.”

I was like, “OK.  Great, cool, thanks.”

We had a great chat.  He had one condition.  “When I’m in Phoenix next…” So this person spends half their time in Phoenix, half their time in another state.  “When I’m in Phoenix, next, I want to shake your hand.”

And I was thinking, “A $1000 handshake.  Sure thing.”

As I was driving away that day, I got the text.  “Hey, great talk.  Let’s make it 25, 100.”   Cool. Great.

Some time goes by until I meet this person.  For 15 minutes we talked about caring for refugees.  They’re still trying to get their minds around, like, why would you give all this money to care for people you’ve never met before?  Why would an evangelical church give freely to Afghan refugees?

And so we’re talking through all of that.  And then near the end of the conversation over tacos — praise the Lord, over tacos — we were talking about caring for refugees and then this person, this individual said, “Hey, can we shift the conversation?  Can I ask you about Jesus?”         ‘

This person said, “You know, I’ve been watching since we talked a few weeks ago.  I’ve been watching these videos of the sermons and of these talks that you give.  And you brought up something about, like, the Kingdom of God and how that’s different than all the stuff that we see in politics today.  And how what Jesus teaches is what you called an upside-down Kingdom.  We’re always trying to grab for crowns.  Jesus takes the crown of thorns.  And where we’re always grabbing for the sword, Jesus takes on the cross.  Could you talk to me more about that?”

And I’m like, dude, I have to go to a meeting.  We spend an hour, right?  We’re talking, now literally friends.  It’s straight up gospel.  It’s “Let me tell you all about Jesus.  This is why I follow Jesus. “ He’s asking so many good questions like, well, how do you trust the Bible?  And I’m like, well, you know, and how do you think about this crazy thing?   And what do you think about this thing and that?.  And then we get down, and I’m thinking, I’m praying through this whole time “Lord, what’s going to happen next?”

And you know, this person said, “So what does a person do if I want to follow Jesus?”  We started the conversation with an ambiguously defined person, and then we got to “I think I might want to do that,  And I said, “Do you want to come to church on Sunday?  I’ll be doing a talk about Jesus.”  And they did.  And three months later – I’d been on sabbatical — I got an update that this man had been part of one of our Rooted groups and prayed for the first time in the Rooted group.  This person is now part of our church.

So again, when we’re living the grace of God in all aspects of life — with how we talk, with how we act, with how we think, with how we behave, with how we invest our resources — the manifold wisdom of God is on display to the whole world.  So living generously is one expression of putting the manifold wisdom of God on display.

Paul goes on.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.  I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us – to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”  (Ephesians 3:14-21)

*** TV time out.  One of the things that often will get in the way of a life of generosity is a mindset that there won’t be enough, I’ve got to take mine.  I’m not talking about foolishness.  There’s a wisdom in planning and saving.   But the scarcity mindset of a consumeristic, individualistic culture creeps in so easily where we say things like this.  “I’ll be generous when I have enough.”  Let me tell you, there never is enough.  There isn’t ever going to be enough, because the matter the issue does not reside in your pocketbook or your bank account.  ***

The matter of generosity is matter of the heart and a heart that overflows with the love of God. We recognize that the fullness, the unfathomable depth of Christ’s love for us fills up our hearts.  Generosity, therefore, is an expression of that — not a means to earn God’s favor.  Rather, it is an expression, an outward expression of something that’s going on in here. (gestures to heart)

By the way, generosity is not about how many zeros are at the end of the check.  Jesus consistently showed us that it was often those who had very little means who had the most generous hearts.  And you know who he gave caution to the most?  Pastors and people who own vehicles.  Pardon me.  Let me put that another way. The rich, the wealthy, people of means, people who didn’t have to worry about where their next meal was going to come from.

You see, when we define wealth by where I sit in the pecking order of the people I’m looking at, we’re always not wealthy, right?  But if we look at how Jesus defines wealth, we find that for the majority of us, every day we have need and he provides for it.  That every day our needs are met shows that he can provide far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.  And so when we find ourselves in this space of saying, “I will be generous when there’s enough,” I just want to confront that and say there is never going to be enough.

And so, waiting for enough is not the right posture, at least not the most healthy posture.  Rather, turning to Jesus, who is able to do far more abundantly beyond than we can ask of him or think.  There’s this great song.  “All I have needed, thy hand has provided.  Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, and to me.”

Just pause for a moment.  Ask yourself this question:  Has the Lord been faithful to provide for you?  His abundant love is in our hearts, and we’re seeing that he can do all things.  To him be the glory forever and ever, and then we get to down to it.

“And he himself gave some to be  apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.”  (Ephesians 4:11-14)

This is the job of church leadership — equipping the saints.  Guess who that is, folks?  Not the ones in New Orleans. The saints is us as followers of Jesus.  The equipping of the saints for the work of what?  Let’s get right down to it.  Do you see the word? The role of us collectively, putting the manifold wisdom of God on display through the unified group of misfits centered around Jesus — when we no longer posture our hands like this. (Gesture of grasping) but rather like this (gesture of open arms) — we put on this way the manifold wisdom of God through what is sometimes referred to as ministry, which is just another word for service.

Jesus said that if you want to be a leader in the Kingdom of God, you must be a servant to all.  If you want to be the first, then you will take the posture of the last.  The King of Kings knelt and washed his disciples’ feet, taking on the posture of a servant.  So we’re to be equipped for the work, which is at the heart of generosity, for the building up of the body of Christ.

Let’s keep going.

“Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.  But speaking truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head – Christ.  From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.”  (Ephesians 4: 14-16)

So notice this.  As a result of this being equipped to do the work of service, we will no longer be what?  Children tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, the trickery of men by craftiness and deceitful scheming.

You don’t have to answer me out loud, but what goes on in here when things are not good out there?  What goes on in here when things are not good out there? What goes on in here when the stock market’s not good?  What goes on in here when my 401K is on the low end?  What goes on in here when the “check engine” light comes on and I don’t know how I’m going to pay the repairs — what goes on in here?  When leaders out there tell you that the world is falling apart?  What goes on in here when people create anxiety and rage by their words in the community?  What goes on in here when things are not good out there?

If we are not anchored in Jesus and his unfathomable love for us, we will be carried away by every wave, every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, and by craftiness and deceitful scheming.  We will be knocked back and forth by these figures or talking heads or certain media.   We will be knocked around by people who tell us that there’s never going to be enough.  We’ll be knocked around by people who tell us that we have each other to fear.  We’ll be knocked around constantly by people scheming for our almighty dollar.  Do you know that I have lived in the time where this country went to war and our leader told me that the best thing I could do is buy stuff?  That if we could just get out there now.  I’m not an economist.  So it’s in the water, and so it’s so easy to be knocked around by every wave and wind of deceitful scheming.  But if we’re truly rooted and anchored in love, specifically Christ’s love for us, we will no longer be … Follow me now.

I’ve heard people describe themselves as “a mature Christian.”  That means, “I’m exactly like Jesus.”  Which makes me concerned when people say, “I’m a mature Christian,” and I look at their Facebook.  Now we can get close to fullness of Christ.  We can get closer and closer, but we never arrive.  But we can become solid, rooted and grounded.  So we don’t live with the futility of our mind becoming callous and unkind – hard-hearted towards the needs of our neighbor.

A heart full of the love of Christ is a heart full of love for his creation.  One of the greatest cautions for me is to just begin to notice when I feel my heart hardening towards an image-bearer of God.  That is not coming from a heart that’s overflowing with the fullness of Christ.  We give ourselves over to sensuality, apart from Jesus, for a price.  You know, if I want it, I get it.  I’ve got this itch.  Let me buy that thing so I can scratch it for the practice of every kind of impurity.

We lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lust of deceit.  It’s so easy to be deceived.  And we will be renewed in the spirit of our mind and put on the new self.  So. am I looking more like Jesus, being created in the righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Watch this.  Paul gets to application.

“Let the thief no longer steal.  Instead, he is to do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.  No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need so that it gives grace to those who hear.”  (Ephesians 4:  28-29)

He who steals should do what?  Does this mean deceiving the IRS on my tax filings?  Did he say that out loud?  But, rather, they must labor, performing with their own hands what is good.  And as industrial people we say that’s right, everyone should work.  Ah, to what end?  So they will have something to share.  With whom?  You see this in the earliest expressions of Jesus followers.  They would gather in homes, not big buildings like this.  They would gather in homes, and they would each bring a gift of food item or a teaching or a prayer or a blessing.  And at that table all different types of people would sit — wealthy, poor, slave, free Greek Jew, barbarian.  All insiders and outsiders were all at this unified table, and as part of this great feast they made sure that no one went hungry.  They made sure that everyone had according to their need.  You know what else they would do when there was a large need that arose in the community?  Somebody would voluntarily say, “Hey, I worked really hard for this table.  I think I’m going to sell this table so I can give to our brother and sister who are in need.”

Now, how we do that as a church family?  Oh, my goodness, this needs wisdom and long-suffering and grace and compassion.  But let’s just go back to it.  A generous heart is rooted in the unfathomable love of Jesus.  At that early church, they were sharing — not saying, “Hey, there might be a famine tomorrow, so I’m going to keep and hoard.”  They were sharing, recognizing “All I have needed his hand is provided.”  Jesus has been so good to me, and he will continue to be good to me, and so I’m going to live like that.

And there’s a hint of it today.  That feast, over time and in different cultures, began to be expressed as what we now call Communion, or Lord’s table.  When we take of the bread, and we take of the fruit of the vine, we are connecting to an ancient feast in which Jesus is at the center.  And when we take of that bread, and we take of that fruit of the vine, we’re experiencing part of this feast, this meal at the table Jesus has set.  And at the table that Jesus sets, all are welcome. ### (Communion follows.)