June 25, 2017
I have a little booklet in my hand that comes from Angie and my home church. In this booklet are listed all the church members and what they gave in the year 1969. Every one received a copy of this booklet and you could compare your giving with the giving of all the other members.
I don’t know of any church that does this today, although it probably happens somewhere. I once heard about a pastor who got up on Sunday morning and announced that the offering plate had too many buffaloes in it. So they were going to pass the plate again so that the people could put in some green stuff to feed the buffaloes. I guess you know what we are thinking about this morning. As we look at 2Cor.9 we learn that when it comes to giving, Christians reap what they sow.
I. GIVE THOUGHTFULLY. 2Cor.9:7a
I suppose one could think that giving to the church is no different from giving to the National Cancer Society or National Public Television. A person could give to all three of these organizations seeking to do some good. But I am inclined to think that there is a difference and the difference lies in the fact that the church and church associated organizations are connected with the work of Jesus Christ in this world. It is this connection with Jesus that makes all the difference to my mind.
In the specific context, Paul is collecting money from the churches in the largely Gentile provinces of Macedonia and Achaia to help the believers in Judea who were experiencing hardship because of famine and perhaps persecution. The believers in Judea were in great need and Paul saw this as an opportunity for the Gentile congregations to show their unity and fellowship with the believers in Judea.
Now before we go further I want to make a few observations about the weekly offering. When we look in the New Testament we do not see evidence of a weekly offering being given to the local church. I’m sure many of you are thinking of 1Cor.16:2 where Paul writes, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” Paul is again referring to the collection for the poor believers in Judea. What I am trying to say is that as far as I can tell money was not regularly given to the church. Instead money was given through the church.
In Acts we see early on that the believers generously gave money to help other believers who were in need. It is also true that in 1Cor.9:14 Paul says that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But there is no reference to weekly offerings being taken in the church.
And while I’m on it, do you realize that churches in Colonial America were supported through public taxes and fees rather than voluntary offerings. It wasn’t until 1833 when every state in the Union was officially disestablished. Massachusetts was the last state to stop funding churches through public taxes. In order to raise money, many congregations sold or rented pews to church members. Baptists and Methodists often used a subscription book. They would pass the book around and church members would record how much they pledged to give that year. By 1900 most churches in the U.S. were taking up weekly offerings.
As far as I can tell there is nothing wrong or unbiblical with having weekly offerings. It’s just how things developed over time. Today congregations have pastors to support and buildings to maintain. Somehow congregations need to receive sufficient funds.
What Paul tells us here is that our giving must be done thoughtfully. For one thing as Christians we are thoughtful about this principle in v.6. “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” In other words generous giving to the Lord and his work brings God’s blessing. That is something we need to keep in mind. It has been said more than once, “You cannot out give God.” If we give to the church in the same way that we give to various charities or organizations we are minimizing the Lord and his work. We are saying that the Lord’s work is on the same level as any other secular organization.
And then we must be thoughtful about what we give, how much we give. How do you determine what you will give to the church? What is the thinking process that you go through? Some people see that in the Old Testament the people of God were commanded to give 10% of their income to the Lord. And they decide that they will do the same. “If 10% was good enough for the people of God in the Old Testament then it is good enough for me.” If everyone in the church gave 10% of their income to the church that would be wonderful.
I don’t think tithing is a law for Christians, but I do think it is a good starting point for Christian giving. But for those who do not give 10%, how do you decide what to give? Do you pray about it? Do you determine an amount that you will give each month? Do you wait to decide when the offering is being taken each Sunday. Are you thoughtful and intentional in your giving. Let me throw one more idea into the mix. Are you living in accordance with your means? If you are living above your means it will be difficult to give generously to the Lord because you are already spending more than you bring in. That is something to think about. How do you plan your giving to the Lord?
I believe Paul is encouraging us to give careful thought and prayer about our giving and then we should give it without hesitation. I believe we should give as if the Lord Jesus were holding the collection plate before us. You can be sure that he would not hold it before us in a coercive way. He would hold it in a gracious and welcoming way. Would that change the way you think about what you give? Men and women, we are to do all things to the glory of God. That includes our giving.
II. GIVE CHEERFULLY. 2Cor.9:7b
I don’t know about you, but when I pay bills I’m not necessarily cheerful. The same is true for taxes. Angie and I make quarterly income tax payments and we pay our social security as well. We do not experience a greater sense of cheerfulness when we make those payments. We are compelled by the government to make these payments. It’s not that we are reluctant but we are compelled.
When Paul thinks about Christian giving he says we are to give cheerfully. I was asking myself. When am I the most cheerful about letting go of money? Well, it is when I am going to buy a gift for Angie or one of our sons. When I find something that I think they will like I have joy in spending the money. I have joy because I think the gift will bring joy to them. Sometimes I am even excited about spending the money. Sometimes I will even take hockey money to buy that gift! There is no reluctance or compulsion. I spend the money freely.
And of course, I must admit that there are times when I buy something for myself and while I may be a bit conflicted about it, if the purchase is something I am looking forward to, I am cheerful in letting go of the dough.
Well, how is it when we give our money to the Lord’s work of the church? Paul says that we are not to give reluctantly. We are not to give with a pained expression. “Oh it pains me to give this amount of money to the church.” We are not to give under compulsion as if someone, like the government, is forcing us to give. No one is forcing anyone to give money to the Lord and his church. In fact rarely do we say anything about money in our church. We don’t give offering appeals. We don’t ask for pledges. I remember hearing about a pastor who told the congregation that they had better give generously because God was going to get it one way or another. That is not God’s way. You don’t see Jesus passing a basket telling his disciples to cough it up or else.
The point is that God is a giving God. Because God is love he gives. And so the idea is that those of us who have received from God give like God gives. The love of God has been poured out into our hearts. In fact, Paul says that God loves a cheerful giver.
So how can we be cheerful givers when it comes to giving to the church? One way of being a cheerful giver is to give with gratitude in our hearts. We are grateful to God for his indescribable gift of Jesus Christ. Now if you don’t have Jesus Christ as your Savior, Lord and King, then you won’t have this sense of gratitude because you don’t have Jesus. For those who have Jesus, every day is a new opportunity to do life with Jesus. He is the One who empowers us for living a life that is pleasing to God.
And then we give with gratitude for what God is doing in the world through his church. That’s you and me together. The church is the light of the world. The church is the household of God. It is the pillar and buttress of the truth. It is through the church that the manifold wisdom of God is being made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. What is that wisdom of God? Well it is seen in the preaching of the gospel. It is seen in the ethnic diversity of God’s people in fellowship together. It is seen in our corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. In other words, the church is the showpiece of God’s goodness and grace in Jesus Christ. We get to be a part of this work of God and because we are part of this marvelous work we support it joyfully with our time, service, and money. It is the Lord’s work and we are the Lord’s people.
If Jesus were holding the offering plate, would you give with a smile on your face because you realize that you are giving to the Lord himself? Let us give cheerfully.
III. GIVE CONFIDENTLY. 2Cor.9:8-11
This is sort of where the rubber meets the road when it comes to giving because in these verses Paul is putting his finger on the importance of faith. Generous, cheerful giving is ultimately grounded in our trust in the Lord. How well do we trust in the Lord? I think this is one of the most challenging lessons for believers to learn. We probably place far more trust in our money and savings than we realize. Paul tells us that that the Lord will make all grace abound to us if we are generous in giving to his work.
Imagine that you are Ryan Hart of Osceola, IA. On February 26, 2016 the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol pulled up at your house with a big check for $5,000 a week, “Forever!” That is $260,000 a year! Well, if you knew that you had $260,000 coming in every year would that make a difference in your giving? Let’s suppose that you decided to tithe. Each year you gave $26,000 to the church. Well why not? You are guaranteed $260,000 every year, “Forever!” Of course God does not make that kind of financial guarantee. If you want to get financially rich God is not your best bet. No doubt most of us would like to try our hand at having $260,000 every year, but truth be told, it is likely that we couldn’t be trusted to handle that kind of money.
Instead we read in v.8 that God is able to make all grace abound to you. In v.10 we see that God will supply and multiply seed for sowing. In v.11 we see that we will be enriched in every way. And what is the result? Paul writes in v.8 that we will have all sufficiency in all things, at all times that we may abound in every good work. In v.10 we see that he will increase the harvest of our righteousness. And in v.11 we will be enabled to continue to be generous in every way. In other words, we will not lack. God will faithfully provide for our needs. In fact we will have enough to be able to continue to bear much fruit because as a result of our generous giving God will give what is needed for us to continue to serve him in his church.
You say, “Well pastor, I don’t have a job right now. How can I continue giving generously?” By all means seek the Lord on this. Rethink your spending and giving so that it is in keeping with your income, but continue to give what you can, cheerfully, trusting the Lord to provide. He will. The temptation is to say, “I can’t give to the Lord’s work.” I think Paul would have us continue to give thoughtfully with confidence in the Lord. We are confident of God’s provision. We don’t have the guarantee of getting so much money every week. We have the guarantee of God himself to provide for our needs. Do you trust God or not? Is your trust reflected in your generous giving?
As I have said before, I have no idea what anyone gives to the church. And while I know where the records are kept, I can tell you that I have no desire to look at that information. I am not even tempted to look at it. What I am interested in is our spiritual maturity. Giving to the Lord’s work is one of those areas that is challenging because we can do so many things with money. And the more we have of it, the more we want to do with it. But money provides us with an opportunity to grow as disciples of Jesus. When it comes to giving, Christians reap what they sow. So let us give thoughtfully, cheerfully, and with confidence. Amen