How do you bring up a difficult topic of conversation?
A man was going away on holidays. So he asked his friend, Bill, to house-sit, and to mind pets. The cat and the goldfish. Three days into the holiday, the man got a call from Bill, “Your cat’s . Run over by a car.”
The man was devastated. Speechless. When he got over his shock, he said, “That was a real shock, Bill. You should have broken the news to me GENTLY.”
Oh! Said Bill. How would I do that?
Well. You could start by saying, The cat’s climbed up a tree, and won’t come down. OK said Bill.
Then the next day you could ring, and say, “The cat’s fallen out of the tree, and we’ve taken him to the vet.” Got it said Bill.
The NEXT day you could ring and say The vet operated, did the best job he could, but the cat’s injuries were too severe. And he died. Right, said Bill. I’ll remember that.
The man didn’t think anything more about it, and went back to enjoying his holiday. Until a few days later, Bill phoned up again.
What is it this time? Said the man.
Well, said Bill slowly, … the GOLDFISH has climbed up a tree and won’t come down.
It’s hard to know how to bring up difficult topics.
And I’m feeling a bit like Bill. Because today the topic is MONEY. In particular GIVING AWAY money.
Giving away money isn’t something a lot of people DO these days. A sort of peculiar CHRISTIAN THING in a way. And it’s something that, in the non-Christian world, as they look at THE CHURCH, they’ll tend to say, Steer clear of them. They ONLY WANT YOU FOR YOUR MONEY.
And so if you’re here for the first time today, you’ll be thinking, “YEP, they’re absolutely right. Walk into church and the preacher hits me for money”.
But can I say to you that this is something that happens VERY RARELY. But it just happens to be where we’re up to in 2 Corinthians. Chapters 8 and 9. Where Paul raises the delicate issue of MONEY.
Now before we start, I want to fill in some background. Because there’s something going on, and it helps if you understand it.
Almost everywhere Paul goes, he’s collecting money. But it’s not for himself. It’s a collection for his fellow Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem. They’ve been hit by famine. They’re in dire straits. And so Paul wants the new NON Jewish churches to show their JEWISH Christian brothers and sisters that they want to help.
About a year back, the Corinthians had made some big promises. They’ve pledged their support. They phoned in during the Telethon and SAID THEY’D HELP OUT.
Only trouble is, they’ve never come through with the cash. And to be blunt about it, Paul’s reminding them of their promise. It’s easy to TALK big. But you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is. That’s the point of this part of the letter.
That’s the background. But I want you to notice as Paul’s deals with that specific situation, a lot of very concrete principles come through that have got something to say to us today about OUR GIVING.
1. YOU DON’T HAVE TO GIVE MUCH TO BE GENEROUS v 3
So here’s the first principle. You don’t have to give much to be generous. God’s not so much interested in how much is given, as he is in THE ATTITUDE OF THE GIVER.
You see it FIRST OF ALL in the example of some OTHER Christians. From Macedonia, the top part of Greece.
They’re incredible, these Macedonians, and Paul’s holding them up as an excellent example. For the Corinthians as well as for us. They live just up to the North of Corinth. They’re neighbours.
And the fact is, they’re POOR. They’re in hard times. But it didn’t stop them being GENEROUS.
Now you know this, don’t you. GENEROSITY isn’t something you can measure in dollars. Generosity is something you can’t put a number to. Because generosity is a matter of THE HEART.
The rich man can give a hundred times more than the poor widow, but the poor widow might be a hundred times more GENEROUS.
It’s what the Salvation Army Red Shield appeal finds every year. That those on the lowest incomes are the most GENEROUS – per dollar they earn.
Those who are RICH, barely give anything at all. But it’s the battlers, who know what it’s like to struggle/ who are more likely to dip into their pockets/ to lend a hand.
And that’s the case with the Macedonians. Look at verse 2,
out of the most 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.
They had all the excuses in the world. They were doing it tough. They were eating sausages every night, never steak; they couldn’t afford to go to the movies. And yet instead of begging Paul for money, they were BEGGING PAUL to be allowed to GIVE.
They didn’t just give as much as they COULD. They gave MORE THAN THEY COULD.
And before you want to go on about how irresponsible that is, before you say, But I’ve got to provide for my retirement and the new DVD player and the kids education, I just want you to notice one thing. They might have gone without some stuff. They might have been crazy. But the thing that delights God is… they were VERY, VERY GENEROUS.
John Piper talks about the idea of WARTIME AUSTERITY. When you’re at WAR, there’s RATIONING. Because you’re all doing your bit for the war effort. And, he says, Christians need to be thinking more like that.
Here’s a quote from his book, “Let the nations be glad: the of God in missions”
Jesus presses us toward a wartime lifestyle that does not value simplicity for simplicity’s sake but values wartime austerity for what it can produce for the cause of world evangelization. He said, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with money bags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does no fail” (Luke 12:33). “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). “Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world see after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you” (Luke 12:29-31).
The point is that an $80,000 or a $180,000 salary does not have to be accompanied by an $80,000 or a $180,000 lifestyle. God is calling us to be CONDUITS of his grace, not CUL-DE-SACS. Our great danger today is thinking that the conduit should be lined with gold. It shouldn’t. Copper will do. No matter how grateful we are, gold will not make the world think that our God is good; it will make people think that our god is GOLD. That is no honor to the of his worth.
Maybe you DO need to do without some things to show your generous attitude. The Macedonians did. But that’s not all. Look what it says a bit further down in v4.
Entirely on their own, they urgently PLEADED with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.”
How long since YOU’VE PLEADED for the privilege of GIVING? Since you’ve BEGGED to be able to give away your money? Paul says they did it because of their overflowing joy. The joy that came from hearing the gospel. God’s kindness to them just flowed out all over the place in generosity. Even when they couldn’t afford it.
That’s the sort of giving God LOVES. Have a look at verse 11, cause he’s saying the same sort of thing. “For if the WILLINGNESS is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one HAS, not according to what one does NOT have.” Doesn’t matter if it’s not much. DOES matter if it’s NOT WILLING.
2. GIVE YOURSELF TO GOD FIRST v 5
Can I take you to the second principle, and it’s there in verse 5. Give yourself to God first. Look at v5.
(2 Cor 8:5 NIV) And they did not do as we expected, but THEY GAVE THEMSELVES FIRST TO THE LORD AND THEN TO us/ in keeping with God’s will.
What does he mean by that?
*If you’re new to this church, you may have wondered why we don’t have a collection plate that’s passed around. Why there’s a letter box up the back instead.
I’ve had quite a few people talk to me about that over the years.
It’s the sort of thing some churches would never THINK of doing.
WHY WON’T YOU TAKE THEIR MONEY? they’ll say, NO WONDER OUR BUDGET’S SO TIGHT!
*(perhaps you noticed what Dave said before the collection plate was passed around. “If you’re a visitor, please pass the plate on. You’re our guest, and giving is a responsibility for the regulars.”)
It’s the sort of comment that could get you into trouble in some churches. WHY WON’T YOU TAKE THEIR MONEY? they’ll say, NO WONDER OUR BUDGET’S SO TIGHT!
And here’s Paul’s answer. From v5. He’s saying the GREAT THING IS, the Macedonians put FIRST THINGS FIRST. That is, they’ve GIVEN THEMSELVES TO THE LORD FIRST. Before they’ve given their money.
Now can I say to you, that’s how it SHOULD BE. The only people we should EXPECT to give to GOD’S WORK are people who HAVE GIVEN THEMSELVES TO GOD FIRST.
And if we’ve got people coming into our church who aren’t believers yet, the LAST THING we want them to do is give their money. God’s not interested in someone giving MONEY, if the REST OF THEIR LIFE hasn’t been handed over to him in repentance and obedience FIRST.
The thing we want people to do is GIVE THEMSELVES TO THE LORD FIRST. That’s the most important thing. Everything else comes as a RESPONSE to that. You’ve got to get it the right way round. Otherwise it’s like trying to walk backwards in thongs. Doesn’t work.
Like I said at the start, in the past the church has got a reputation as an organisation that’s always asking people for their money. And we’ve got to work against that. So that people start to see us as GIVERS. And not takers. And that people realise God’s actually asking for a much BIGGER COMMITMENT than just a few dollars. He wants the WHOLE PERSON.
Which is a MUCH TOUGHER ASK.
3. MODEL YOUR GIVING ON CHRIST v 9
Well, that brings us to principle number 3. And that is, MODEL YOUR GIVING ON JESUS. You’ll see it in verse 9. I mean, the Macedonians were ONE example of generous giving. They didn’t have much, and they were happy to give it. They started off poor. They finished up poor. But here’s the ULTIMATE example. That goes from one extreme to the other. The example of JESUS, who Paul says here in verse 9 was rich. And became POOR for us.
He gave up the throne room of the universe and got born in a cowshed. And then let himself be nailed up on a cross under the curse of God. Taking our sin. So that we could become CHILDREN OF GOD. Which is the BEST sort of riches.
Friends, Paul says/ that sort of SELF GIVING is the MODEL for OUR giving. That sort of GRACE, that sort of GENEROSITY that gives without asking anything in return, that gives when it’s not deserved – be like THAT.
And yet often we’re NOT like that. Especially when it comes to our MONEY.
A $2 coin and a $50 note were talking one day. ‘Where’ve you been?’ the coin asked the note, ‘I haven’t seen you in a while.’ ‘Oh’, said the $50 note, ‘I’ve been hanging out at the Bingo, done the lottery a few times, had a Chinese take-away, gone to a of football matches, a bit of shopping, a weekend away. That kind of stuff. How about you?’ The $2 coin sighed, ‘Oh you know, it said, same old stuff—church, church, church.’
Are we modeling our giving on Jesus? Who gave WITHOUT LIMIT? Are we giving in response to the giving of Jesus? Who was made poor, so we could become rich.
4. GENEROUS, NOT GRUDGING 9:1-5
Well, I want to jump straight on to chapter 9, and we’re looking at the last two points.
Like I said before, Paul’s putting on the crews. He’s putting the pressure on the Corinthians to put their money where their mouth is. They were eager to give/ a YEAR back, they were full of promises while the Telethon was on. And Paul’s been telling people about their enthusiasm.
So now it’s time to DELIVER. He wants them to give what they promised they would. And he’s sending some guys to pick up the money.
But there’s more to it than that. The fact is, he’s writing ahead to give them some WARNING. But it’s not so they can work on getting the right MONEY. It’s so they can work on getting the right ATTITUDE.
Read the end of verse 5, because that’s his goal. He says “Then it will be ready as a GENEROUS gift – not as one GRUDGINGLY given.”
See, it’s the same thing again, isn’t it. ATTITUDE. If you’re going to give grudgingly, if you can’t give generously and gladly, then don’t give at all.
If you’re going to drop the money into the box with a deep sigh, and then watch wistfully and longingly as it heads away. Then DON’T BOTHER. Because God looks at your heart.
So between when the LETTER arrives, and when the COURIERS get there. Work on getting your ATTITUDE right. Says Paul. Joyful, not grudging. Cheerful, not cursing.
And Paul says it again down in v7.
(2 Cor 9:7 NIV) Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a CHEERFUL giver.
5. REAPING THE REWARD
And there’s another principle in this final section. Verses 6 to 15 It’s a little lesson in farming. If you SOW generously, then you’ll REAP generously.
It’s a principle that’s SORT OF the basis for Brian Houston’s ideas on money. From Hillsong. The title and sub-title of his book sum it up pretty well. “You need more money: Discovering God’s amazing financial plan for your life.”
He preaches a PROSPERITY GOSPEL. He says if you’re a faithful Christian, God rewards you FINANCIALLY. He reckons if you claim the promises of God with enough faith, your business will prosper, your bank account will blossom, you’ll never have another money worry in your life.
He encourages us (on p13) to “become comfortable around money” by “putting on your best clothes and ordering coffee in a fancy restaurant or hotel lobby. Even though you could make the coffee for half the price at home, the total experience may enlarge your thinking. You may even feel better about yourself and life”.
He says the MONEY YOU GIVE is like SEED. That grows MORE. Give it away, and God gives it back WITH INTEREST.
And at first glance that sounds a bit like what Paul says in chapter 9 verse 6, doesn’t it? “Remember this. Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
But has he got it RIGHT? Because if sowing is GIVING, is he saying that if you GIVE MORE MONEY AWAY, you’ll actually end up getting MORE MONEY IN RETURN? I mean, you sow a handful of seed, you get a crop. So does it work the same way with dollar coins? And hundred dollar notes? I guess you sort of hope so, don’t you?
But if you look at it carefully, that’s not quite what he’s saying.
Keep reading. Cause you’ll see what he means. First of all, the sowing. Verse 7. GOD LOVES A CHEERFUL GIVER. God looks at your attitude. At your heart. At your generosity.
That’s the sowing. Now what do you REAP? He says if you sow generously, you reap generously. And so keep reading. God, he says in verse 8, is able to make all GRACE ABOUND TO YOU, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, YOU WILL ABOUND in EVERY GOOD WORK.
You know the harvest you’re going to grow? Sow generously, and God’s going to grow GOOD DEEDS in you. Read verse 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.”
Now can you see what he’s saying? See, what happens when you plant seed? It grows more seed. What happens when you plant GENEROSITY? It grows more of the same. What happens when you plant RIGHTEOUSNESS? You’ll harvest more of it.
In other words, if you’ve got the problem that you’re tight and tight-hearted, here’s how you fix it. Sow some generosity. Let the moths out of your wallet. And God promises you’ll grow MORE OF IT. And your giving muscles will get stronger.
And you’ll get more and more generous.
Now can I ask you, are you disappointed by that? Would you rather be harvesting $100 notes? Think about it for a minute. What would you REALLY prefer? I mean, don’t you LOVE seeing generosity? Don’t you ADMIRE generous people? Don’t you ever see someone do something generous, and think, boy, I wish I was like that?
Well, I tell you, sow sparingly, and you reap sparingly. But throw some generosity around, and you’ll grow some more. Just like that.
And people are going to praise God for it. Paul says to the Corinthians in verse 11, your generosity will result in praise to GOD. The service you provide, verse 12, it’s not only supplying the needs of God’s people, but it’s also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” He says people are going to praise God for the obedience that goes along with your confession of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.
Not so long ago, someone at Western Blacktown asked me to be the middle man for an envelope. To pass it onto a third party who was in some financial difficulty. I found out later the envelope had $1000 in it. This person had heard of a need, and he generously met it.
Why am I telling you this? To embarrass the giver? No. To make you all feel guilty about YOUR giving? No.
So that you might PRAISE GOD for the obedience that his people are manifesting out of their trust in God.
God’s not interested in how much you give. So much as how GENEROUSLY you give. You might only give a little. But given your circumstances, it might be incredibly generous. Or you might give what on paper seems like a lot. And yet it’s only a fraction of what you could give. And it’s not generous at all.
Friends, can I ask you to seriously re-evaluate your giving. And ask one simple question. Am I being GENEROUS?
If you ARE being generous, ask another question. Am I being CHEERFUL?
But if you’re not a Christian yet, let me say again, you’re very welcome to GIVE NOTHING. Until you’ve come to the point where you’re prepared to GIVE YOURSELF… to the Lord.
But if you’ve done that, if you’ve come to that point of committing your whole life to Jesus – then it should be a small thing to hand over your wallet, shouldn’t it? And to learn to be generous.
Funny thing, they reckon the last two parts of a bloke to be converted are his HIP POCKET. And his right foot when he’s driving.
How is it with you? When’s the last time you gave til it hurt a little? When’s the last time you can remember doing something for someone else that was out and out GENEROUS? When’s the last time you actually compared the amount you’re putting in the plate at church with the cost of a magazine? Or a family meal at McDonalds? Or a night at the movies?
When’s the last time you decided to increase your giving BEFORE someone got up in church and said there was a money crisis? And GAVE THANKS for the opportunity to GROW IN GENEROSITY?
Generosity has a liberating effect, doesn’t it? Nobody’s saying how much you should give. Just give what you’ve decided in your own heart. Nobody else needs to even know about it. Just make sure it’s from a GENEROUS heart. And a CHEERFUL heart. And a heart that learns FROM THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS.