A Sermon on 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA, 10/1/95
Last week we began an examination of a biblical view towards money and finances. And I suggested that if God is not in control of your pocketbook and your credit cards, then God is not really your God. That if he is not in control of something that you use so frequently, then he is not really your father, and you are not really his slave. I mentioned 3 myths, 3 stories, 3 falsehoods that the world tries to sell us about money. "Money brings us happiness" -- but it doesn't. Money doesn't bring us happiness -- it never satisfies. We think that if we have a little more money we will be satisfied, but then we get that extra income and then we want a little bit more, and a little bit more. And like all things of this world, if that is what we desire, it is vanity, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says. Second, money never brings us security. We THINK that if we can get that little bit of money stashed away, or if we have enough insurance or a large enough savings account, that then we can feel secure. But what Jesus tells us -- what the Bible tells us throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament -- is that riches, wealth can never be our security -- that treasures on earth are destroyed by moth or rust, that we end up worrying about the disappearance of what we accumulated, and that we can never be secure because of what we amass here. Security comes only from God. The third myth is that our status depends on how much money we have. Who we are -- our self-image -- gets wrapped up in how much money we have, or what kind of a job we have. That's another falsehood. Who we are depends on what God says about us -- that we are his children -- and it does not depend on what our job is or how much money we have. And when we judge ourselves or we judge each other on that basis, then we are falling into sin.
Well, if money is not for any of these reasons, what is money for? Should we just get rid of it, and all become ascetics? Today, I want to answer the question, Why money? I will only briefly mention a couple of reasons, and then spend the bulk of my time talking about giving. God gives us money that we might give it away to others. In that section I will talk about 6 principles of Christian giving. Along the way we will encounter the answers to two very important questions, that many people wonder about frequently -- we will answer these questions at the end of the sermon. First: must Christians tithe? Or a variant of that: If I'm tithing, am I giving enough? And then a second question: if I give money to God, does he guarantee that I am going to get more money back in return. Now, the answer to all three of those questions is NO. So if you fall asleep, at least you know the answers. But if you want to know the justifications for those answers, you had better stay awake.
1: Money is used to provide for the necessities of our family and our relatives
What is money to be used for? Number 1: Money is used to provide for the necessities of our family and our relatives. We read last week in Timothy where Paul writes "If we have food and clothing (or, a better translation, sustenance and coverings) then that should be enough for us," and surely providing for these necessities for ourselves, our family, our relatives should be high on our priority list of what we do with our money. Indeed, elsewhere in 1 Timothy were Paul is talking about the fund set up for widows, he makes the point that if a widow has relatives, those relatives need to be taking care of her; they should not burden the church with her expenses. They need to learn how to show true Christian love, and provide for her. Now there are some important questions here, because sometimes we believe that we can't give money to another cause because our children and family have needs. Sometimes as with ourselves we broaden what we consider the needs of our children to include many things that are not "sustenance and coverings." There are some difficult judgments and choices to be made here. We will return to this topic in the next sermon. But for today, let me conclude this point by asking the question: Do we really trust God to love our children much more than we love them?
2. Money is for our enjoyment
A second use of money: in addition to providing for necessities, God tells us that one of the uses of money is that we might enjoy it. Historically many in the Christian church have missed this point. For a long while there was a view that those people who were most spiritual were those who gave away everything they had and lived with nothing -- in some cases even caused themselves pain on purpose in order to be more spiritual. This is not a biblical view of Christianity. Indeed, it is quite the opposite. The truth is that Christians are the only people who can really enjoy material wealth. We will return to this below, but God wants us to use the money and the riches that he has provided for us for our enjoyment. We read in 1 Timothy 6 last week, Paul writing to Timothy, saying "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for" -- for what? -- he doesn't say "richly provides us with everything only to give it away, or only to get rid of it, but "for our enjoyment" Similarly, the author of Ecclesiastes, who talks about wealth being vanity says in 5:19 " when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-- this is a gift of God." So enjoying what we have is important.
Now there are potential problems here: Jesus warns us against making money our treasure. And we can spend too much of our time and effort enjoying the gifts that God has given us. There is an opportunity cost to the time we spend in enjoying our money. There might be something better to do -- we need to keep that in mind. But using the money we have to build memories with our families, with our friends, to reach out in friendship to others, and to have enjoyable times together -- there is nothing wrong with that whatsoever. As in many other ways I believe that Jack was an example for us in this way. My last conversation with him was about what we both really enjoyed, about track and field. We talked about his entering the ticket lottery for the Olympics. And that wasn't cheap. But Jack was someone who had his priorities straight. And he knew that going to Atlanta with his family would be building memories that would last them a lifetime, and unite them in an experience that would be unique. So bringing about times when we can share with each other, reach out to non-Christians, share with Christians -- these are proper ways for us to spend our money -- ways that can be quite enjoyable. So money is definitely to be used to provide for our families, and for our enjoyment.
3. Money is to be used to show God's love by giving to others
We want to discuss at greater length a third reason for money: Money allows us to show God's love by giving to others. Now, first of all a basic misconception about giving that many people have: Giving is NOT buying off God. This is a pagan view of our relationship to God. For a pagan, God is capricious, but there are certain things that he likes. If I do these things that he likes, this God is less likely to cause problems for me. So if this God likes the smell of sacrifices, or if this God likes us to put money on a certain altar, then we do that, and we hope that God will then pay us back by being good -- or at least not being cruel -- to us.
That is a pagan view; that is not Christianity. When we give to God, we are not giving him anything that he doesn't already have. As we said last week, everything that we have belongs to God. God makes this point to the Israelites again and again. The Israelites, quite understandably, were confused by this because the people around them were pagans, and they had this false view of what sacrifices and offerings were for. And so God says in Isaiah, and in several of the Psalms, "I don't care about your offerings! I own the cattle on a thousand hills! I don't care about your slaughtering this bull here -- the reason behind that is for you to get in the right relationship with me, to do it out of love for me. Not to do it because you think it is going to do something for me."
Consider my 4 year old son, Thomas. He comes up to me and says, "Daddy, could you give me $5?" And I say, "Well, what do you want to use it for?" And he says, "I want to buy you a present." So I give him the $5 and he goes and buys me a present, and gives it to me. Well, I am sure I would appreciate it, but you would be hard-pressed to argue that I was somehow better off after receiving that present than I was before. I had the money, and I could have bought the present myself -- I would be happy for his desire to give me something, but I don't have any more resources at the end of the game than I had at the beginning. And that's the way it is with us and God. Whatever we give to God is already his. He is not benefiting from it. He doesn't tell us to give because he needs the money. He tells us to give because of what it does for US, because of the privilege it is for us to participate in God's work. That is the idea I want to get off the table right here at the beginning -- that we are not doing anything for God when we give him his resources back.
Well, that is the negative view. What is the positive view? What are these 6 principles of Christian giving? I want to read a rather lengthy passage -- a couple of verses from 1 Corinthians and then many verses in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Here Paul is talking about an offering that he is gathering to send to Christian Jews in Judea, who were in a time of great poverty. This poverty resulted in part from persecution, in part from a famine in the land at that time. And so Paul was involved with raising funds from the churches in Greece and Asia, then sending this to the Christians in Judea. He had already visited the churches and talked about this, and he writes to them in 1 Corinthians 16:
Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
Then sometime later the people of Macedonia gave a large gift for this purpose. Now, Paul had had not asked for money from them, because the people in Macedonia themselves were very poor. The Romans had really done a job in Macedonia, which had been the birthplace after all of Alexander. Paul had not seen fit to ask them for money, as opposed to the Corinthians, who were much wealthier -- but then he had heard that the Macedonians had raised money for the Judean Christians unasked. So he writes in 2 Corinthians in chapter 8 verse 1:
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.
(skipping to verse 7) But just as you excel in everything-- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us--see that you also excel in this grace of giving. 8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
10 And here is my advice 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. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. 13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality.
(skipping to chapter 9 verse 6) 6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written: "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." 10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
This is a lengthy passage and there is much that we could say about it. But I want to narrow our discussion down to six principles. I will only briefly mention the first three.
Principle 1: Giving is Universal
The first principle: Giving is Universal. In 1 Corinthians 16: 2 he says "Each one of you." He does not say "the rich among you." or "the adults among you" or "the men among you" but he says "Each one of you" -- man, woman, child. Each one of you.
Principle 2: Giving is to be regular
In addition to being universal, Paul says giving is to be REGULAR. In 16:2 he says "on the first day of every week." I think when we look at the entire body of Scripture on giving, I don't believe he is necessarily saying that we need give every Sunday -- indeed in agricultural communities one would not suspect that to be possible. But the point is that we need to be regular -- this is consistent with the Old Testament concept of giving firstfruits. When the harvest comes, when the income comes, we immediately set aside part of that to give to others.
Principle 3: Giving is to be planned
So giving is to be universal, it is to be regular -- third, giving is to be PLANNED. There are two aspects to being planned. First, and interestingly, Paul says the giving is to be completed prior to his arrival. Frequently today we think the way to raise money is to ask some VIP to come, then gather all the people together and ask for money while the person is there. But that is exactly the opposite of what Paul says. Paul is implying, "I have other things to do than raise money while I am there. This is not what I am called to do. You should be giving for other reasons than my being there. Have this all arranged before I come so we don't have to do any of this while I am there." So giving should be planned over a long period of time, and we should not wait until some big person comes and asks us to give. The second aspect of planning is that it is in response to a real need. It can be planned, because it is not the result of an emotional appeal, but is the result of prayer and consideration of the circumstances -- seeing if this is something that God really wants you to be involved in.
Principle 4: Giving is to be motivated by love
So giving is universal, it is regular, it is planned -- fourthly -- and we'll go into this in greater depth -- what is the motivation for giving? First, let's look at this negatively. The motivation is NOT for what we will get in return. The motivation is NOT how we will look when other people know that we are giving. Jesus makes that clear in the Sermon on the Mount. The motivation is not that the person up front makes us feel guilty about not giving. The motivation is NOT that our emotions are aroused. Now listen carefully -- The motivation is NOT EVEN that God commands it. What, then, is the motivation for true, Christian giving? The motivation for Christian giving is love. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, it becomes impossible not to give to the neighbor who is in need.
Now, when we lived in Nairobi we were in a church that had a wide range of income levels. There were some rather poor people in the church, as you can imagine, and a number of expatriates like ourselves who were making international scale incomes and had considerably more money than most others. There were also those in the Kenyan middle class, the bulk of the church, who had a decent income by Kenyan standards, but much less than those making international level salaries. And we did have an offering that was taken up during the service, as most churches do; bags were passed around that people deposited money into. Most of the time we lived in Nairobi we were being paid in dollars and were writing dollar checks to the church when we gave. The church had to pay a fee when cashing every check that we wrote. So it made sense to the church for us to give less frequently -- we were giving every two months or so. I remember Beth and myself facing this issue of what other people think. We could be sitting next to a very poor person, and this offering is passed, and the poor person might put in some money and yet we would pass the offering by. Now what does that person think of us? Should we put in a few shillings every week just so that the people sitting around us won't think we're not giving? Well, such considerations should not be a part of our decision to give or not to give. I don't know the history of why in this church we don't pass an offering plate -- we instead have boxes back by the door where we can deposit our gifts -- but I think this is a good reason not to pass an offering plate. So no one knows even who is giving 50 cents. It is up to us to give when God leads us, and when we are motivated by love to do so.
I think Paul makes this very clear in 8:8-9. He says "I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love." Do you really love your neighbor as yourself? Do you really have the God of love dwelling inside you? And then he compares us to Jesus himself. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." Jesus gave up his splendor, his riches, for us out of love -- and we, motivated by his indwelling spirit, should do the same. My former pastor, Ray Stedman, said in his sermon on this passage, "Christian activity never stems from the imperative of a divine command, but from the felt impulse of an indwelling presence." It is not the command that causes us to do it, but who God is. This applies not only to giving, but to all aspects of Christian activity. If we are only doing it because God tells us to, that is not a Christian action. Christian activity is motivated by love.
Principle 5: Giving is a privilege
This leads us into the fifth reason for giving. Giving is universal, regular, planned, motivated by love; fifth, giving is a privilege. Does God need our money? Remember when Jesus needed some money to pay the temple tax, what did God do? The money came up out of a fish's mouth! God can give us money in amazing ways if he needs to. But he chooses not to act that way, usually. God doesn't need our money -- God doesn't need our witnessing. God doesn't need our preaching; God doesn't need us to visit the sick; God doesn't need us to do anything. However, he gives us the opportunity to be his agents of change in the world. He gives us the privilege of being his children, his ambassadors. He gives us the opportunity, as John says in his first letter, of "completing his love in the world." Now that is amazing -- that God would take someone like myself, or someone like yourself, unworthy as we are, to complete his work in the world. But that is what he does -- that is what he does.
Now, the Macedonians understood this. In this amazing verse, chapter 8 verse 4, the Macedonians come to Paul and they "urgently pleaded with us for this privilege of sharing with the saints." This is a verse one could spend a whole sermon on -- there are four important theological words in this verse. "Urgently pleaded with us for the privilege" -- the word "privilege" is literally "grace" -- "of sharing" -- this is "koinonia," -- in this service to the saints. They understood that this was God's work, and they wanted to have a part in it. They knew that taking the opportunity to be engaged in God's work was something vital and they didn't want to miss it. They demanded the opportunity to give.
Well, what happens if we don't ? If we don't take up that opportunity to give, what happens? God will find someone else to do his work, or he will do it himself. While temporary setbacks may result, God's eternal kingdom isn't going to suffer because you and I don't do our parts -- what's going to happen is that you and I will miss out on that opportunity to be involved, that chance that God gives us to be a part of his kingdom. And that is why Paul says, "God loves a cheerful giver." Because if you really understand what giving is all about, you are going to enter into it with joy, to know that you are taking part in something that is great -- that you are taking part in the process of moving God's kingdom forward. If you're giving grudgingly or unhappily, if you're giving only because you feel like you have to, then you don't understand the true nature of giving. Furthermore, if you are giving grudgingly, you should stop. God doesn't need your money, and we don't want it. God will provide all the needs of this church from people who are giving cheerfully. And they will then have the joy of participating in God's work. So don't give out of sense of: "Oh, I really don't want to but I guess I should. " Don't give like that. Give out of the joy of participating in God's work. It's a privilege, it's a privilege.
Principle 6: True Christian giving yields a return
Sixth. We said that the motivation for giving is not because of what you get back, right? But there is an interesting sidelight to this, which is our sixth principle: True Christian giving does yield a return. Now, be careful, because this can never be our motivation for giving. In fact, if we give in order to get something back, we are missing out on the whole purpose, and won't get the return. It is the same as in marriage. If I do something for Beth because I'm calculating "If I do this then she will do something back for me," it may work for a little while, but that is not the way you are going to build your marriage. And the marriage will fall apart completely if one of you gets into a situation where you can no longer give back to the other. But in fact there are returns to giving lovingly to your wife or your husband, and there are returns to giving your money to God. In chapter 9 verse 6 Paul says, "If you sow generously, if you plant generously, you are going to reap generously." In verses 8 to 14 there are phrases like this: that when you give, God's grace will abound to you, you will have all that you need, he will increase your store of seed, he will enlarge the harvest of -- listen carefully -- the harvest of your righteousness. He says you will be made rich in every way; your giving will lead to thanksgiving to God for the gift, and your giving will lead to thanksgiving to God because of seeing the way his love is manifested in his children. Your giving will lead to prayers for you, and the hearts of the people who receive your gift will go out to you. Their hearts will go out to you in love.
Now, some people focus on a couple of these verses and some other passages and say, "Aha! If you sow money, then you are going to reap money. So if you give, God is going to give more money back to you." But Paul here is not talking about reaping money. What did we say is the motivation here, what are they sowing? They are not sowing money -- they are sowing LOVE. They are planting seeds of love in what they are giving, and what they are reaping is LOVE in return -- this is a currency that is much more valuable than money. They are reaping love for themselves, they are reaping love and thanksgiving for God because of what they have done. And this is a universal Christian truth -- that when you give of yourself in love, you will be paid back a thousand times over in love. Jim Elliott put it this way: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." If God paid us back in money, we can and would lose it eventually. But the love with which we are repaid will be enjoyed eternally. Matthew Henry says in his commentary on this passage, "Can a man lose by doing that with which God is pleased?"
Must we tithe?
Well those are the six principles, now let's go back to the two questions. I think the tithing question is pretty clear now, once we've looked at what Paul and Jesus say about giving. The word "tithing" is never used in the New Testament. There is no command to tithe that we as Christians need to live up to. On the other hand, Christianity is all about giving God's love to those around us, and that clearly includes our resources. There is a tremendous privilege in giving, and when we are motivated by love we will give. Now, giving is going to go up with our income -- as God gives us more resources we are better able to give more to others, and so one does suspect that giving will be at least proportionate to the income we have. Since we can meet our needs for covering and sustenance with a smaller proportion of our income, giving will probably increase as a percentage of income as our income increases. But we can never say "I'm giving 10% so that's all God wants me to give." Or "I'm giving 15%" or "I'm giving 50%, so that's all God wants me to give." What we give needs to be the result of prayer and concern about what God would have us to do.
God asked the rich young ruler to give up everything. Why? Because for him, money was his treasure, and he needed to acknowledge that, and get rid of that distraction so he could follow Jesus. For us, 10% is not a bad place to start. But we can never feel justified because we are giving a certain percentage, or guilty because we are not. We need to ask ourselves, "Are we motivated by love to respond to the needs that we see around us?"
When we give money to God, does he guarantee that we will get more back?
The second question was, "When we give money to God, does he guarantee that we will get more back?" Well, there are single verses that by themselves can give that impression. But when we look at all that Scripture says about money and giving, and when we think about what money is, we find that the answer to that question is NO. God does act that way at times -- particularly for individuals who are stepping out in faith for the first time. But look at individuals who have given money: Paul gave up all his money; did he get money in return? Barnabas evidently was a wealthy man, who sold his possessions and shared them with the early church. Did he get more money in return? In the last century we can look at Adoniram Judson, or David Livingstone: brilliant men who gave up the opportunity to earn great wealth in their own countries to serve the lost in distant lands; did they end up with more monetary assets in consequence? And what of Jesus himself? Never rich, he nevertheless gave up his profession, and all the assets he had; did he, in this life, get back in return more worldly wealth?
No, no, no. In all these cases, great men of God gave up monetary assets and did not in return get more monetary assets. They, instead, clearly reaped love in return. But there are some passages that seem to say we reap even more than love. We can understand this better by looking at one of the passages sometimes used by those who preach a health, wealth, and prosperity gospel: Mark 10:29-30. Jesus is speaking with his disciples after the rich young ruler has walked away sad, because he was unwilling to give away all that he had:
I tell you the truth, Jesus replied, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields -- and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
Note that Jesus is promising returns in this present age, not only in the age to come. What are these returns? In context, Jesus could not possibly be talking about money; had he promised the rich young ruler that giving up all that he had today would have been a good investment, the rich young ruler might well have stayed to follow Jesus. Jesus could have appealed to his greed. No. What Jesus is saying here is completely consistent with what we read earlier from Ecclesiastes, and with Paul's writings about contentment: Jesus is not saying that when we give away money we will get 100 times more money; instead, he is saying that when we give our material possessions for him and for the gospel, the material possessions we retain will give us 100 times more pleasure than all that we owned before. We may well have less after giving money away, but the joy our possessions give us will be far greater than the joy we would have received from much greater wealth that we had hoarded.
We never lose by following Jesus Christ fully. Paul, Barnabas, Adoniram Judson, and David Livingstone would all agree.
So what about you? Are you holding back from giving because of fear of not having enough? Are you giving, but doing so grudgingly? Are you legalistically giving a tithe (or 11%, or 15%, or 50% of your income) and in consequence feeling good about yourself? Or are you giving cheerfully, storing up for yourselves treasures in heaven?
I challenge you this morning: focus on sowing love, and I promise that you will reap much more love in return. You can sow love with money: by supporting our missionaries, by giving to families nearby who are in need, by allowing your heart and resources to go out to poor Christians in far away countries (as did the Corinthians). You can sow love with your time and energy by participating in our nursing home services; by sending notes of encouragement both to those in our local body and those who serve in distant lands; by relieving a single Mom of housekeeping or childcare responsibilities.
The opportunities are there. Will you respond?
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, our Sustainer, our Redeemer. You are our faithful God, and you have promised that you will allow us to enjoy our material resources even more when we do not hoard but freely give. You our Father give us good gifts so that we can enjoy them with our families, with others in your body. You give us everything that we need to fulfill your purposes for us in the world. Thank you for your goodness; thank you for your love. Forgive us for our great lack of trust, for our continual return to legalistic giving. Help us to discover the wonders you have in store for those of us who trust you completely. In Jesus' name, Amen.
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 10/1/95. This sermon draws even more than usual on the wisdom of Ray Stedman; see his sermons on 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 at thePBC web site.
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