We want to be a church that gives God glory in all we do by giving all our lives to his mission and ministry. Part of that means being a generous people with our time, money and skills and gifts. We must acknowledge though that at times our regular weekly giving has only just been sufficient to meet our needs.
1 Chronicles 29:3-14; Ps. 24; Luke 21:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-15
This morning we’re up to the last in our series on Christ’s Church. Over these past six weeks we’ve been looking at six charateristics that we need to continue developing in our lives as God’s people. My earnest desire and prayer, and I hope yours too, is that Christ Church will grow in Echuca and Moama. It’s not that I want to be famous, or want to be able to brag at next year’s Clergy Retreat. We want to see Christ Church grow so that God might be glorified. To remind ourselves of this, we’ve made one of the lines of our mission statement, that we seek to:
We give God glory in all we do
by giving all our lives to his mission and ministry.
But how do we measure our commitment? It’s easy to say I’m giving it my all, but how do we know? As you might have figured from our readings today, one way of measuring this is how we approach our money and giving at church. You might be thinking it’s not OK for the minister to talk about money, as a few people have suggested over the last few weeks. But, the truth is that Jesus spent a great deal of time talking about money. And large parts of the New Testament, including two chapters of 2 Corinthians, a bit of which we’ve had read, are all about financial giving. The reason there’s so much about it in the Bible, is because as Jesus said, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
So it’s just as right for me to talk about money, and for us to think about it, as it is for any other topic. And what I’d like to do this morning is to encourage us from Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, to do everything we can, through our giving, to make an appropriate, and generous response to God’s generosity to us. Our passage can be found in the reading sheet. Please follow along.
This isn’t the first time Paul’s written to the Corinthians about money. In his first letter he called them to commit to giving to support the work of God’s church in Jerusalem. You can read about that in 1 Corinthians 16. Now he devotes the whole of chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians to to encourage them to keep going, and to fulfill their commitment.
Paul holds up the example of the churches in Macedonia, who are a shining example of fulfilling this commitment. Paul shows them that the Macedonians have something to teach the Corinthians, and they have some lessons to teach us here this morning.
Firstly, the Macedonians show us that Christian giving should be a response to God’s generosity, not circumstances. In our first reading today, David called the people of Israel to join him in giving so that the temple might be built. These were good times, times of celebration. But did you notice that David still attributes their giving to the generosity of God.
In contrast Paul explains in 2 Corinthians verse 2, that the Macedonians have found themselves in the most severe trial, and extreme poverty, is how he describes it. They were going through a horrible time of suffering. The church in Macedonia at the time was under attack, they were being persecuted badly. And yet, in the middle of this horrible time of suffering, their overflowing joy and extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
Such was their joy in the Lord, so excited were the Macedonian Christians, they couldn’t help but give to God’s work to help the poor in Jerusalem. There was an unstoppable passion, a joy, that they had to express somehow. And, according to verse 4, they pleaded with Paul and Timothy to allow them to be involved.
4begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints
What on earth could drive them to want to give like this? It’s the exact opposite of how we’d expect them to respond. But the Macedonians saw it as a privilege to give to God’s work, because they were aware of God’s goodness to them. They weren’t worried about what was going on with their own hardships. They knew those weren’t going to last forever and that something far better was in store for them. And so they gave.
The Macedonians had responded gratefully to God’s generosity to them in the saving work of Jesus. God had been good enough to send his only son to die in their place. That was a fact no amount of persecution was going to change, so they were determined to show how grateful they were by supporting God’s work.
So may we too, by God’s grace, strive to give to the work of the church and to mission, out of gratitude for what God has done for us in Jesus. Remembering that our giving should be a response to God’s generosity, not to our circumstances.
And not only should our response to God be from gratitude, but it should also stretch us. Paul holds up the Macedonians as an example, showing how under rotten circumstances they were desperate to be given the chance to contribute to God’s work, even to the point of overextending themselves according to verse 3.
And he encourages the Corinthians also to ‘excel in this grace of giving’. Have a look at verse 7, Paul’s effectively saying ‘you’re good at everything else, be excellent givers too.’ He wants them to be even better givers than the Macedonians, or any others. That’s quite confronting, isn’t it. Our culture is one in which we don’t talk about the amount of money we give to causes. It’s a taboo. Yet here, Paul is wanting to compare the sincerity of the Corinthians to others. In other words, he wants to keep them honest. He wants to hold them accountable to their giving commitments, just as he would in other areas of their Christian life. In fact, it seems like he’s ‘egging them on’ with a little friendly competition!
This is because he wants them to be the best givers they can. He’s pushing them that little bit further. He wants to stretch them in this discipline, this grace, of giving.
You might know that this morning I ran in the Sweat vs. Steam race. I left it a bit late preparing and only started running two weeks ago. The first time I set out for a run, after not having run for a long time, I was stiff. I wasn’t striding majestically as I imagined. It was more like fast shuffling. And as you can imagine I pulled up bit sore the next day. That, of course, was because my muscles had been stretched. Stretched in ways they hadn’t been for a little, OK a long, while.
And while it can be a bit painful, this stiffness showed me that my running is doing some good. If my muscles never got sore at all, then maybe I hadn’t pushed myself hard enough. I still want to be able to walk the next day, but at the same time, I don’t want to feel no effects at all.
So it is with giving. Just as the Macedonians did, and the Corinthians were encouraged to do by Paul, we too should seek to give to the degree that it stretches us. That we start to feel it. It’s hardly sacrificial giving if there’s no sacrifice involved! There are times when I think it would be easier, and more comfortable, if Sarah and I didn’t give as much as we do. I worked it out this week and over the time we’ve been married if we hadn’t given, we wouldn’t have to worry about having enough money for a house deposit. But I’m very glad that we’ve stuck to our giving, that we give first thing, and that over the years we’ve even increased our giving.
So, let’s each of us consider, if in fact we’re able to increase our giving to God’s work – both our giving to our local church and to God’s wider work through mission agencies. Let’s take this encouragement to the Corinthians as our encouragement.
Let’s allow ourselves to be stretched. Not in a foolish way, making commitments we can’t keep, but in a way that perhaps does mean we go without that extra serve of coffee and cake High Street each week or whatever luxury it might be.
At this point, I would want to give us a caution. It’s a caution that Paul himself gives in chapter 9 verse 7, a bit beyond our reading. It’s a caution that none of us should make a commitment feeling as if we have had our arms twisted up our backs. Let me read.
God loves a cheerful giver. Paul wants the Corinthians to give out of pure hearts, not as a burden. You should not feel as if God, or I, or anyone else is trying to blackmail you into giving money to the church. (When I was going through the archives I turned over a booklet and was confronted with this! It’s hard not to feel compelled to give if you see a picture like that.) I’m not now, nor ever going to pose for a picture like that. I want you, Paul wants you, God wants you to give only what you are willing to give.
Pray that God would make you more generous, by all means. Pray that God would help you to be more like the widow in Luke 21 who gave a great gift and was called blessed. That’s a great thing to pray. But commit to what you are willing to give. Don’t make a commitment that a few months down the track is going to feel like a burden, or that you’re going to struggle to meet. For God loves a cheerful giver.
That’s exactly the thing Paul warns the Corinthians not to let happen with their giving. Don’t commit to more than you’re able to commit to joyfully. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. For God loves a cheerful giver.
So, to make sure that we’re giving cheerfully, and joyfully, let’s make sure, that as we think about what commitment we’re able to make to Christ Church for the coming year, we remember the glorious gospel, the glorious news for the whole world. That God the father sent his only Son, to die for a humanity who had rebelled against him, so that we didn’t have to, and so that we could enjoy life with him forever. Let’s remind ourselves that Jesus Christ took all our sin, our guilt, our shame, and it was nailed to the cross. And when he had dealt with it, on the third day, he rose again to life, the victorious foretaste of what we will enjoy on the last day. New life in all its fullness. With God, forever.
Surely that gives us reason to be a cheerful givers! Cheerful givers who wants to stretch themselves as we gratefully and generously respond to our generous God. And as we seek to give him the glory in all that we do.
Let me pray for us.