25FEB2018 AM | Generosity Is A Given | 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Our theme for the month of February is Thrive and for the past three weeks I have been playing the Casting Crowns song that says, “It's time for us to more than just survive; We were made to thrive”.
And so far, we have looked at three areas that are essential for Christians and Churches to get out from the rut of surviving to thriving. Three weeks ago, we looked at the first one. It is all about having the right foundation. For we Christians and for our church, we will thrive when we place our roots on the solid foundation of Jesus – not on materialism, not on nice philosophy, not on some good church growth principles. None of these. We will thrive when we place our roots on the solid foundation of nothing else but Jesus Christ – but even more specifically – the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This means that we trust Him as our God and have Him reign in our lives. We are to trust with our money, our priorities, our hearts, our dreams, our struggles – every area must come under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Two weeks ago, looked that if we want to thrive rather than just survive, we have to love. We looked at the greatest commandments in Matthew 22 of loving God and loving others. Out of all the 613 commandments, we are told the most important in loving God and loving others.
Last week we looked at how responsibility is essential for the church of Jesus Christ to thrive. You see, all thriving churches have a few things in common. One is that they have a clear expectation that its members are to serve. And so last week we looked at stewardship and that being a good steward means that God has entrusted me with things down here on earth and it is my responsibility to do something good with them. Spiritual Gifts are entrusted to us to show our love for one another through serving.
This week we are looking at our offerings to God’s Work and how, if Christians gave generously, they themselves and church would certainly thrive.
I want to start with a disclaimer – this is particularly for our new people and visitors today. At Reedy, we don’t do long drawn out offering talks each week. And we don’t have regular preaching spots about giving money. IN fact, the last time we spoke directly about money was two years.
Upon saying this, as a preacher I make no apologies for teaching about money and our offerings as it is such a biblical topic. Throughout the bible, God talks about offerings – some say more than even prayer. I think one of the reasons why God speaks a lot about money and possessions is that He knows just how much reliant we are by them and how often people are destroyed by them. God wants us to learn a powerful lesson on trust with the very thing we find hard to give over. But more than this, God’s original plan, as always, if practiced would see such incredible transformation of people, villages, and cities around the world.
In some areas, the church at Corinth had its challenging issues. But in other ways it was a thriving church. In Paul’s two letters to this church, he asked for their offerings. In fact, he devoted three whole chapters to offerings.
There was a situation that arose with the church in Jerusalem. Many within the church were quite poor. Knowing this, the Corinthian Christians promised to help financially the poor Christians back in Jerusalem. Paul wrote back in 1 Corinthians 16 saying, “yep, you can simply by putting aside each week a sum of money in proportion to what you earn”. Well it appears that their enthusiasm had waned. And so in Paul’s second letter, about a year later (see 2 Corinthians 9:2), he told them that he was organising some people to come to them to make sure that what they promised a year earlier is ready (2 Corinthians 9:5). And then with one more encouragement Paul gave them this teaching: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 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” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 NIV).
From the time of making their pledge to about a year later (9:2) their commitment had lapsed. And it can easily happen with bills to pay, food to buy, school fees commitments.
Paul told the Corinthians that they were strong in their faith, had gifted speakers, and had apparently picked up their love for others. But he was saying that if they really wanted to help the church in Jerusalem care for others then they need to be committed generous givers.
From this passage, we learn some Biblical principles about giving offerings. First, the act of giving comes after the decision. We are to decide first, and then we are to give. It is not haphazard or circumstantial. It is not dependent upon whether I am in church or even what I have in my account this week. It is based on a prior commitment that I have made after a serious time of prayer and reflection. It ought to be a part of your budget, and not what is leftover.
The New Testament gives us four guides to giving: We are to give freely, we are to give generously, we are to give regularly, and we are to give cheerfully. I like how God does this. To give cheerfully is extremely helpful. On a practical level, it helps me gauge where my faith is at. How much can I give and still be grinning? Then it pushes you and causes you to consider if you can be happy giving more. Can you trust him at a level to give a little bit more? This standard meets me where I am and what I can give at this point in my life. It also challenges me to go one step farther and to trust God for this.
Obviously, the issue and question of what is considered generous is often raised, and I hope we all think about this.
The idea of giving to the Lord’s work was first set out by God via The Law to help the Hebrews live a peaceful life in the Promise Land.
The Law established a concept of tithing, which, at first, seems simple. Leviticus 27:30-33 says that a “tithe of everything from the land” was to be set aside for use as God might command. Often this was called the First Fruits. Other passages expand this initial instruction. According to Numbers 18:21-32 tithes were to be used for the support of those dedicated to serve God. According to Deuteronomy 12:5-14 and 14:22-26, 10 percent was to be brought to a central sanctuary, later established by David at Jerusalem, for distribution.
In Old Testament times this giving posed no threat to the believer, and Scripture does not see it as a burden. God is able to make the land produce abundantly, so His people will have all they need and more. Giving is a way of worship; a way to express confidence in God.
In addition to the tithes, which the Israelite owed to God, the Law established a principle of voluntary contributions. These contributions, called “freewill offerings,” were given spontaneously, out of love. They were not a duty, and they were not considered “bribes” to buy divine favour.
In the New Testament we read about setting aside a sum of money in keeping with our income for the work of the church (1 Corinthians 16:2), and that we should set aside this money on the first day of the week. Also, it must be noted that Jesus spoke about tithing as if it was a continuing principle to follow (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42NIV).
For me, it’s not about a percentage, but about trusting God with a spirit of generosity. Paul fought against legalism, but he also spoke about generosity and reaping what we sow.
It’s tough departing with money – particularly generously. Times are challenging. There is no dispute that we have become dependent on money. God’s know how dependent we are on money. We have bills to pay, mortgages to meet, food to buy, holidays to go on. We are dependent on money.
God has put out a challenge to us: We are to trust Him with our money. But giving in portion to our income doesn’t make good economic sense. To secular accountants, tithing and offerings is madness. But God says in Malachi 3:10: “Test me in this” (Malachi 3:10). He knows how dependent we are on money - more often than not - we are more dependent on money than God and He challenges us to test Him by changing this emphasis.
When Paul says, “see that you also excel in this grace of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7 NIV) he uses that challenging word “excel”. In the original language this word means “superabound” and “over and above”. Paul was challenging the Corinthian Church to superabound by giving over and above their usual offerings.
In verses 8 to 10 of our reading Paul writes: “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. As it is written: "They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever." 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” (2 Corinthians 9:8-10 NIV). This is a beautiful passage of hope and promise that sadly has been misused to form a false doctrine called Prosperity Gospel. The abuse of money and the abuse of sex has done so much damage to people and the church.
Paul is telling us that when we give generously, we will not be robbed as we will still have all we need but because of our generosity and righteousness, God will enlarge the harvest – the very things that we as a church pray about.
This leads us to the Paul’s next statement in verse 12, “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (2 Corinthians 9:12 NIV). Paul is saying that their generous offerings will go a long way in supplying the needs of those in need and because of this, many will notice that will result in an overflowing thanks to God.
At the beginning of this series, you might remember, I spoke about the verse from Proverbs 11:10, “When the righteous thrive, a city rejoices…” (Proverbs 11:10 HCSB). And when we do some research, we find that this is so true. Some of us have watched in utter amazement back in the 1990s and early 2000s the Transformation Videos. They were powerful stories of towns and cities around the world who saw that when God began to transform the church and people repenting of their sins and following Jesus as Lord, gradually significant change in their towns and cities began to happen. Crime rates, murders, and rape were all down. Food crops were bountiful. Marriages restored. I mean, when the righteous thrive, a city rejoices . Some of us have read stories of revivals last century in Wales, Papua New Guinea, America and we hear of stories of mass conversions and incredible affect that this has in villages, towns and cities - “when the righteous thrive, a city rejoices”. When Billy Graham conducted the Southern Cross Crusades in Australia and New Zealand in 1959, where he preached to pack stadiums at the MCG, the SCG with people next door at the Show Grounds, and in towns across the country via the old land line, thousands came forward, repenting of their sinful living, asking Jesus to be their Lord and Saviour. And our history books actually record that for 2-years after these crowds, not only were church attendances everywhere up, but crime rates were down, attendances at the pubs were down, and other social affects - “when the righteous thrive, a city rejoices”.
So, some other research has been conducted that again reveals the truth of this verse: “when the righteous thrive, a city rejoices”. The Amercican Research Company, The Barna Group have revealed that 6 out of every 1000 Americans tithe to God’s Work. He then says this: “If every Christian tithed his or her income and invested it wisely in God’s work, all of God’s work on earth would be done. In addition to new churches being established, the starving would be fed, the cold would be dressed warmly, the oppressed would be cared for, the homeless would be sheltered, orphans would be nurtured, and every person on earth would be presented with the gospel”. “when the righteous thrive, a city rejoices”.
Here's the challenge. Are we keeping too much for ourselves or do we need to trust God and watch Him make a big difference?
Tony Campolo tells of being invited to speak at a ladies meeting. There were 300 women there. Before he spoke the president of the organization read a letter from a missionary. It was a very moving letter. In the letter the missionary expressed a need for $2,000 to take care of an emergency that had cropped up. So, the president of the organization said they need to pray that God will provide the resources to meet the need of this missionary. And she then asked Tony Campolo would he please pray for them? Tony Campolo, who is a bit outspoken said no. Everybody was startled. He then clarified why he said no. He told them he believes that God has already provided the resources and that all they need to do is give. Then he told them what he was going to do. Tony was going to step up to the table just near him give every bit of cash he had in his wallet. And then he said that if all of those who had gathered will do the same thing, he believed God had already provided the resources. The president of the organization chuckled a little bit and said that Tony was trying to teach them that they all need to give sacrificially. Tony said no, that this was not what he was trying to teach them. Tony was trying to teach the conference that God has already provided for this missionary. All they need to do is give it and he was going to start by putting down all of his money he has with him (Tony wrote in his book that he only had $15 in his wallet, so he wasn’t too worried about that). So, he put down his $15 and then looked at the president of the organization. Reluctantly, she opened her purse & took out all of her money, which was about $40, and put it on the table. One by one the rest of the ladies filed by & put their money on the table, too. When the money was counted they had collected far more than $2,000. Tony Campolo said, "Now, here’s the lesson. God always supplies for our needs, and he supplied for this missionary, too. The only problem was we were keeping it for ourselves. Now let’s pray and thank God for His provision.
Perhaps for some of us, it’s time that we trust God and be generous with our offerings. I know, there are a lot of reasons why you are thinking why you can’t. I don’t need to know your circumstances. I believe it’s between you and God. I just ask that you prayerfully consider this biblical principle of generosity and just maybe God
I want to close with this challenge. A man named Moses started his life with every advantage, a royal upbringing, a good education, access to wealth. This prince of Egypt, who had been miraculously rescued from the waters by an Egyptian princess who raised him as her own son, was full of himself and ended up committing murder in a fit of rage when he saw a fellow Israelite being mistreated by a slave master. He became a fugitive and somehow ended up far from the culture, wealth, and power of Egypt. He lived for 40 years in the desert, eventually marrying a local girl, and becoming a shepherd for her father’s sheep.
One day, he saw a curious sight, a bush on fire, but without being consumed. Drawn in by curiosity, he found himself in the presence of God, engaged in a conversation.
“Moses,” God said, “I still have plans for you. It’s time for my people to become a nation and to return to the Promised Land of their ancestor, Abraham. Moses offered all kinds of excuses why he was incapable of obedience! "I stutter. I’m a nobody. They’ll think I just made all this stuff up."
The Lord asked Moses a question that I want to leave with you today. "What is that in your hand?"
Moses was holding an ordinary shepherd’s staff, a stick of wood! But, God used that stick to shake up the court of Pharaoh, and even to part the Red Sea! But, when all was said and done, Moses had to give what he had before God could use it to change the world. What is in your hand? What resources do you have?