What does it cost to follow Jesus?  Another way of wording that would be what does it cost to give away the precious gifts we have freely received?  Jesus gave his life freely for us so we could have new life in Him.  Christian giving and service is not a price we pay for that new life, but a gift we give out of gratitude to God.  As Jesus himself said, “Freely give because you have freely received” (Matt 10:8).  So while the grace of God is free to all who believe, our service and giving to God includes an aspect of costly sacrifice.

David’s Costly Gift
David the ancient King of Israel knew the importance of sacrifice.  He was not willing to offer anything to God that did not cost him.  At one time, he purchased a piece of land in ancient Jerusalem so he could worship and make sacrifices to God.  That land eventually became the site of the Jewish temple.  The owner initially offered the land to David for free.  But David made the challenging statement “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24).  David wanted his sacrifice to reflect the value he placed on his relationship with God. That is a principle we can learn from and apply today.

The Cost of Following Jesus
Ultimately the animal sacrifices of David on that temple site points towards the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for our sins.  We are saved by the free gift of grace we receive through Jesus sacrifice. However, the principle of sacrifice in our giving and service to God is not annulled by God’s free gift in Jesus.  There remains a sacrificial cost to following Him.  Jesus himself taught his disciples to take up their cross and follow him (Mark 8:34).  Some followers of Jesus in different places around the world today pay a very high cost for their beliefs and commitments.  Even for us living in relative prosperity and freedom in Australia, serving and giving our life to God has a cost. 
 
God’s Incomparable Gifts
How do we reconcile the apparent contradiction between God’s free gifts of life and salvation and the cost of following Jesus?  The place to start is to consider the incomparable nature of God’s gifts to us.  As we grow in our understanding of all that God has done for us, we realise more and more that our giving is only a response to something already given.  Here then are some aspects of God incomparable gifts that we can all explore further.

God gives before we do.  God is the originator of everything we are and everything we have.  Before we ever responded to him or gave him anything, God gave us life.  It is our own sin and missteps which separated us from his goodness and favour.  But even then God himself was the one who made a way to bring us back to him and restore our relationships with the ultimate giver of life. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

God gives far more than we can.  God has given us far more than we can every give back.  He gives us breath, he gives us life, he gives us love, friends, family.  Some people doubt God’s existence because of all the pain and tragedy in this world.  But if there is no God, why is there also so much good in the world?  Recently I when walking through a wetlands area I saw a beautiful white heron standing motionless in water like mirrored glass.   The beauty of that scene took my breath away.  It cost me nothing and it was far more beautiful than anything I could every paint, describe or manufacture.  It reminded me how much God has given us in this life, and how much more he will give us in the life to come. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9:15).

God gives to everyone.  God’s gifts are available to everyone.  He causes the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45).  He has no favourites (Rom 2:11).  Anyone can call on the name of the Lord and be saved (Rom 10:13). Whether we are young or old, rich or poor, male or female, or whatever our racial or social background—Jesus gave his life for all of us (Gal 3:28).  His gifts are available to all, all it requires is our response.

God gives without prior conditions.  God’s gifts come without prior conditions.  Air doesn’t cost us anything.  How much more does the breath of the Holy Spirit come to us freely when we ask (Luke 11:13)?  Water is a free gift from God, we don’t have to manufacture it.  How much more does the water of life that comes from the Spirit of God come without any prior demand to manufacture, earn or pay a price for it (John 7:37).

God’s gifts are powerful and effective. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of God’s gifts is that they have within them the capacity to be reproduced and multiplied.  God doesn’t just give us something to hold on to ourselves.  The love God pours into our lives is an unquenched supply we can continually draw on to minister to others (Rom 5:5; 2 Kgs 4:2-7).

Our Grateful Response
When we open our hearts and minds to comprehend the immensity of God’s gift to us, it helps put our own sacrificial giving and service in perspective.  It inspires gratitude for all He has done, and that should be the primary motivation behind our own giving and service.

Christian giving and service is a response to all we have received. This doesn’t mean we are paying God back, because that is impossible. It does mean our giving and serving begins in gratitude.

Giving with a grateful heart changes the way we look at cost and sacrifice.  It takes our focus away from notions of price and commercial exchange; and it instead centers our perspective on the importance of relationships.  The difference between commercial transactions and gift giving, whether financial or through acts of service, comes down to relational dynamics. In commerce, there does not need to be any relational bond between the parties involved. In gift giving relationships are primary.  We can see this when we consider the purpose, content and manner of meaningful gift giving.

THE PURPOSE OF A GIFT – To express value in a relationship.  The purpose of giving and serving is to expresses value in a relationship.  It says, “I value you, I think you have intrinsic worth, I think you are worth of my time and effort.”  Think about gifts you have been given that were very meaningful.  I can remember many—a beautiful painting that had special meaning, a book that gave profound insights into the history of my forebears, a piece of technology that had was unexpectedly helpful, a hug and kind words when my parents died.  What do you remember?  And what was the quality that made those gifts meaningful?  Wasn’t it the value the person expressed in who you are to them?  It was the knowledge that someone spent time, thought and effort finding or doing something that was important to us.  The gift or action demonstrated the value they placed in our relationship.

THE CONTENT OF A GIFT: Something that costs the giver.  Expressing value in a person has a cost, but the cost is not just the price tag.  The sacrificial content of the gift is important.  It is our effort, diligence, thought and care that also imparts relational value to the gift we give and the acts of kindness with which we serve.  My wife discovers value in my birthday gifts when she realises I put some effort into thinking through what might be meaningful and important to her.  That is equally true in our relationships with God as it is with people.  When we sacrifice, when we incur a cost for worship given back to God, we communicate to him how much we value our relationship, just as we would to a spouse, a child or a friend.  Sacrificing time, money, energy and thought to pray and worship God, or to give to the things which are dear to his heart, expresses value in our relationship with him. However, it is a response of gratitude because we love Him, not a price we pay to him for a favour.

THE MANNER OF A GIFT: Giving and Serving Cheerfully.  The manner in which we give and serve is also deeply important.  The relational value of giving and serving is destroyed when it is carried out begrudgingly or with anger or even malice.  A gift thrown on the table with a grumpy “there you are, just be glad I thought of you” expresses no value in a relationship. It is not a gift at all, but a bitter attempt to keep an obligation.   That is why the Bible encourages us to give cheerfully.  It is why God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7)—not because he needs our cheery words, but because the true value of our gift comes from the heart with which it is given.

So what does it cost to give away something we have freely received? In one sense it costs us nothing.  When we realize our whole life is God’s, any sacrifice we make is simply giving something back to God that he already owns.  However, in another sense the cost of following Jesus is everything we have. When we give him our worship, our service, our talents and our finances we are really offering him our lives just as he gave his life for us.  Yet it is not a price we pay, but a gift of gratitude that expresses our love for him and our love for those he loved first. If you would like to know more about the many ways we can give and serve through CityLife Church please see www.citylife.church/serve or www.citylifechurch/give.

Discussion Questions
1. Share about some of the most memorable gifts and acts of kindness you have received.
2. Why were those gifts and acts of kindness so meaningful to you?
3. In what ways can we be tempted to “commercialize” our giving and serving rather than focus on the value of relationship? 
4. In what ways can avoid “commercialising” our relationship with God?
5. What are some of the things you are most thankful to God for?
6. How can we express our thanks to God in more meaningful ways?
7. How can we better serve God, his church and our community through giving our time, talents and finances?

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