I am quick this week, I only preached this message an hour or two ago. I hope this is a blessing to you. It was a blessing to prepare, but it was also a challenge. Giving is always a challenging topic and whenever I think about it I always have to check how I’m with it.
The Scripture passage for this sermon is: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, 9:7-8 I encourage you to read it. This sermon will make a whole lot more sense if you do.
The passage of scripture we are looking at today is all about giving, and not just any kind of giving, it deals with the generous kind. Now if your anything like me the topic of giving puts you into a guilt ridden stupor.
It’s strange whenever I have a conversation with Sam about giving financially, or about giving our time or services to someone that is not me, I almost always switch off. I do my best to dodge talking about giving, and I try my best to avoid actual giving like the plague.
Is that a feeling shared by anyone else? If it is I want to let you know you are not alone. Giving generously can be one of the hardest things to do; giving costs. In my experience giving is difficult because of how we understand it.
In our minds giving is something that we have to do, it’s an obligation. And if we don’t give then a thunder bolt will zap us right where we stand. We also think of giving in legalistic terms, at least when we put money into the church offering.
We can often look at our income and make sure we give the obligatory 10% tithe; but is that before or after tax and other deductions? The funny thing with this kind of giving is that, if we’re super spiritual, we make sure we give the 10% before tax and other deductions, but in the same breath we tend not to give anything more. It’s a bit like, “Well I’ve done my bit.” and that is it.
Another reason giving can be tough is because of the culture we live in. Australians are self made people. We earn our own wealth, if we do good it’s because we did it. And if we see someone struggle well it’s their own fault, so why should we give to them if they’re just going to spend it on grog?
Giving has landed on tough times, but hey take comfort, finding it hard to give is not a new problem. The Corinthian church, that church that reminds us so much of the church today, found giving hard. They lacked the motivation, they felt obliged to give, giving wasn’t an enjoyable task, and they didn’t want to do it, and what they did give was given begrudgingly.
Fortunately Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians gave them some inspiration when it came to generous giving. My prayer for us today is that this will provide some inspiration for us, so that we may give generously.
Paul and the Corinthians
In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul is wanting to take up a collection from the gentile churches that he has planted. The collection is for the Jewish churches in Judea who have fallen on tough times. You can read about the Collection in Acts 11:27-30, 1Corinthians 16:1-4, Romans 15:26, 30-31.
The Collection is almost complete but unfortunately the Corinthians have dropped the ball. They haven’t come through with their gifts. And so Paul writes to ecourage the Corinthians to finish what they started.
And he does this by telling them what has been happening with the Churches in Macedonia, mainly the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica. In verse 1, Paul begins by telling about the “grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.”
Really where else can we start but with God’s grace? What other motivator is there for us to give than the Grace of God. Paul writes to the Corinthians telling them that the Macedonians get it. They understand the grace of God, and more importantly they are experiencing it.
How do we know that they are experiencing it? Well it is quite simple. You can’t experience the grace of God and sit on your hands. The grace of God causes us to give, it has to.
The apostles in their letters to the Churches all knew this. Whenever they asked people to do something God’s grace was always sighted as the main motivator.
In 1 John 4:11 John says, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Paul in Colossians 3:12–13 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
As Jesus sent his disciples out in Matthew 10:8 he said, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
Paul writing to the Romans says in Romans 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
And in Ephesians 4:32–5:2 Paul says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
The Macedonians understood the implications of God’s grace, and as a result in verses 2-5 Paul says this,
“In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.”
Paul writes in these verses that the grace of God, in the midst of severe trials and extreme poverty, welled up and overflowed in the Macedonians to produce Joyful generosity.
The Macedonians were able to give above and beyond what was expected of them, like a cup overflowing, because God had given above and beyond in his generosity to them beginning with the cross.
In fact in the verses we just read, the Macedonians pleaded with Paul to have the privilege of giving to the Church in Judea. As I read this I have to ask myself a fairly confronting question; Have I ever pleaded with someone for the privilege of giving?
Once Paul explains how the Macedonians have received God’s grace he then turns to the Corinthians.
The Corinthian Grace
In verse 6 Paul explains how that he has sent Titus to finish the work that as started. Titus is going to collect the rest of the offering from the Corinthians for the Jewish believers in Jerusalem.
Then in verse seven we have a climatic use of words,
“But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you —see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”
Here Paul uses the same Greek word that he used to describe the grace that was given to the Macedonians to describe God’s grace given to the Corinthians. My Bible translates the Greek word perisseuoœ, as welled up in verse 2 but translates the same greek word as excel in verse 7.
Just as God’s grace has be poured out to the Macedonians, that same grace has been poured out to the Corinthians. The Macedonians experienced God’s grace and then poured out that grace in the form of Joyous giving.
The Corinthians experienced the same grace and poured out that grace in the form of strong faith, speech, knowledge, and in complete earnestness and love. Once he has reminded them that they have been blessed with overflowing grace in these areas Paul encourages the Corinthains to then overflow with the grace of giving.
Again God’s loving grace poured out on us isn’t meant to be met with contempt. In 1 John 3:16-18 John writes,
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
God’s grace poured out for us is meant to be reciprocated, as it comes to us it then goes out from us.
The first motivation for giving always has to come back to God’s grace. Skipping ahead to verse nine Paul concludes this augment. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
Once Paul reminds the Corinthian Church of the primary motivation for giving, which will motivate them to give, he then moves on to the particulars of how to go about actually giving.
How to give
In verses ten to twelve Paul suggests what’s best for the Corinthians,
“And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.”
“Finish what you started.” is basically what Paul is saying. And may your willingness to give in the first place be matched, or proven, by your willingness to come through with it. One commentator on this passage writes, “No matter how strong the intentions or desires, they are fruitless unless they are expressed in action.”
But what is an acceptable gift? In verse 12 Paul says that a gift’s acceptability is based on what the giver has, not what the giver doesn’t have. In verse 13 and 14 Paul clarifies this by saying that we should’t give so that we become destitute while those we’ve give to lap it up in Luxury.
As Paul says, the goal is equality. In verse 14 Paul explains how this equality works, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.” Now I think here we need to take stock.
Remember earlier I said that we as Australians buy into the myth that we are self made people? Totally reliant on our selves? Our own security? Well the reality is we aren’t.
What I’m about to say is strong, but needs to be said. Don’t think for a second that your destiny is set in concrete. Plenty of people have made it to the top only to fall to the bottom of the pile.
I remember someone telling me about the soup kitchens in the City. A large number of the homeless in that queue once were big business execs, who made some wrong decisions in their lives. Now they find themselves homeless and destitute at the mercy of others generosity.
We aren’t to buy into the lie, that it will never happen to me. We aren’t to kid ourselves that we are going to make all the right decisions in our life. We aren’t to kid ourselves that we control the weather, or the international grain markets, or the big banks, or our employers.
We’re to give when we can because the harsh reality is we can’t guarantee that one day it won’t be us. That is what Paul says when the goal is equality.
Let’s quickly look at the flip-side. If we do fall on hard times we should accept the generosity given to us. Again Paul’s view of equality suggests that hard times are more a season of life; they may be entered into but also risen out of.
Paul suggests then that we accept people’s generosity in the hard times because when we move out of them we may need to be generous to someone who has just entered into that valley. And finally if we jump over to 9:7-8 we read this:
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
Firstly giving should not be a spare of a moment thing. As that offering bag goes around there shouldn’t be a sense of compulsion or pressure to quickly run for the wallet and pull out what you have and chuck it in. Giving requires prayer and thought. God loves a cheerful gives.
Secondly giving should not be done reluctantly. If you don’t want to give, or you give begrudgingly then it’s better that you don’t give. As we saw with the Macedonians, give joyfully because of the grace that has been given to you. Again God loves a cheerful giver.
In closing let me paraphrase verse 8; God has blessed us abundantly. In all circumstances, whether highflying or just scraping by, God has poured out his grace lavishly on us; giving us all that we need, why? So that we can pour out that grace lavishly on others.