Real Giving - 2 Corinthians 8:1 - 9:5

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the morning service on 4th November 2007.

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, once sent a telegram to the 12 most respectable people in London as a joke. The telegram simply read: “Flee – all is revealed.” Within 24 hours, 6 of the 12 had left the country.

All sorts of areas in our own lives that we would hate people to talk about. All sorts of subjects that we would love to avoid at all costs.

I don’t know what they are for you but I suspect that a conversation about money with your local vicar, that is how much we give away, would not be on the top 10 most enjoyable things to do at the weekend.

Try and imagine the scene. You’ve come along to church. Welcomed, given a service sheet, found a pew, sung a few songs, listened to the sermon, given a few pence from your pocket and sung the last hymn.  – everything seems to be going according to plan. Then as you leave the minister stops you and says, “Tell me how much of your money to you give away to God’s work…You don’t know. Well, don’t worry, why don’t you come round for dinner next week, bring your bank statement and we’ll look at it together?”

This would be a nightmare for many Christians. Almost the basis of an 18 rated horror movie. Can you imagine chatting through with your church leader how much you give in comparison with how much you earn?

Why is this the case? In a society that is so talkative about money why are Christians frequently so defensive about their bank balance and direct debits?

Much confusion about Christian giving, much guilt and misunderstanding – who should give, how much, when, what, why? -  and so today I feel very privileged to provide you with 3 tips from 2 Corinthians 8-9 on getting your giving right.
See them on your handout. How do we get our giving right? 3 tips.

1. See it as a privilege (8:1-7)
2. Be motivated by the giving of Jesus (8:8-9)
3. Make sure it happens (8:10-9:5)

First of all, see it as a privilege. Listen to what Paul says in verse 1 of chapter 8.

“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trail, 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. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleased with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.”

Situation is this. Paul was preparing to deliver a collection of money to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Poor for a number of reasons. They had become Christians. Lost privileges, friends and business. They had used much money in the early days supporting the poor. And were still suffering the effects of a famine about 10 years earlier.

Paul wanted to collect money from the richer Gentiles and take it back to Jerusalem. Various reasons. Show unity, and love. Gentiles had been blessed spiritually and now were to share material blessings with their fellow believers.

About a year before 2 Cor was written the church in Corinth had pledged their financial support. Initially started well, saving on a regular basis. But things had gone wrong, not saving as regularly and doubts whether the money would be available for collection.

Paul writes back to make sure they keep their pledges. Not just the warm fuzzies but the real cash would be placed on the table.

In the meantime another group of Christians had been inspired by the initial generosity of the Corinthians. Based in Macedonian – Northern Greece. Churches like Thessalonica, Berea and Philippi. This is the group Paul writes about in these opening verses of ch 8.

I love what he says about them. Verse 2 – tough life. Having a tough time. They were also very short on cash. Yet this situation still resulted in rich generosity. Very generous. Even beyond what they could afford. They really pushed the boat out. 

It was also on their own initiative. No pressure from Paul. Didn’t lock them in a room until they had signed his direct debit forms. They made the first move.

Reason is in verse 4, “they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.”

Saved from the wrath of God. Not simply saved from something but saved for something. Not just a life of personal transformation but of personal giving. The very God they had offended and angered was now including them in his plans to change the world.

Work for an IT company. Everyday you come in. You work hard but you are using all the companies resources to run your own business. Eventually your activities are discovered. What do you expect to happen? Instant dismissal. Get out. The security guards march you out and throw you on the street. What happens instead? Second chance, promoted and put in charge of the Research and Development department where you have access to all the latest ideas and have the responsibility of taking the company forward.

As Christians we have been saved, pardoned, shown mercy and then included in God’s great mission. Various ways: how we live, what we say, who we bring to hear the good news about Jesus but also how we spend our money. Or better – how we spend God’s money that he has graciously given to us.

How are gospel ministers funded? What do churches need to function? How are resources purchased? How are expenses paid? Money is required. Who has it? It’s all in the pockets of Christians.

Why? Some to live and enjoy the pleasures of this world but also it’s there so we can share in the privilege of giving.
Mentioned this before. All those strange conversations that will take place in heaven. Nice to see you? Have we met? No but because you gave I heard the gospel and came to follow Jesus.

Privilege of giving. What the Macedonians realised and why they were so eager to give.

For Paul this was a priority. Many things a church should be known for. Paul mentions a few of these in verse 7. Faith, in speech, in knowledge, love for others.

We know those churches. Excel in preaching and are loving communities. Good things to excel at. But according to the end of verse 7 we should also excel in this grace of giving.

It’s called the grace of giving. We don’t deserve this but God has wonderfully given us the privilege of giving money so that the Kingdom of God will spread throughout the world.

First thing we need to know as we consider how much we give from our bank accounts. Christian giving is not a tax, it is a privilege.

Obvious question. How much should we give? Can’t all give the same. We need to be motivated by the giving of Jesus. When we forget what Jesus has done for us when our giving to his work becomes embarrassing.

So listen again to what Paul says in verse 8, “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.”

Why should the Corinthians be full of love for God and keen to contribute to his work? Verse 9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he become poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

In one verse here is a summary of the entire Christian message.

Never take for granted that people know what this is. I have a test question. How do you know you’ve got it? What do you think about when you hear the word Christianity? If it’s not good news about who Jesus is and what he has done then you’ve not understood the truth. May think it’s all bad news about religious rules or boring news about religious rituals. Actually good news about the identity and mission of Jesus.

That although he was rich, yet for the sake of his people he become poor so that all his followers might become rich.

What does this mean? Implies something about the identity of Jesus. Implies he was fully divine. Although he was rich. Eternally existed and had a place of glory with his Father and the Holy Spirit. Worshipped and adored by the angels.

Yet he decided to leave the security of heaven to be born of a virgin. Why? Although he was rich yet for the sake of his people he decided to become poor so that that through his poverty his people might become rich.

Paul is using a financial picture to describe the mission of Jesus. Jesus himself talked about the Kingdom of God. A new community. His instructions. Forgiveness. Went to the cross to pay the price for his peoples’ rebellion.

Paul speaks in language of poverty and riches. Jesus become poor – ie became a man, so that his people might become rich. They might live forever with God. 

This is to be the motivation for giving.

Many reasons why people give to churches.

o To secure eternity. Buy indulgences.
o The done thing. You’re in church, the plate comes round and you should give. Don’t want to be embarrassed.

Here the motivation is the giving of Jesus. He gave everything for his people, he gave everything for me, so why do I grudge giving money to further the work of Christ in this world? I shouldn’t. Instead I should be motivated by the giving of Christ.

This should effect the amount I give. OT it was 10%. Good base line. NT never gives a limit. It keeps on reminding us of what Christ gave us and asks us to fill out our giving forms with this information at our finger tips.

Let me say something controversial. If you are here today and not a Christian then please don’t give anything as the plate comes round. It will be your temptation. It’s the done thing. You might think we’re after your money. We’re not. In fact, we want much more than your money. We want you. Or to put it more accurately, God wants you! Forget the offering plate for a moment. Let’s think about you and me. Consider what I’m offering. Forgiveness, freedom, a family and a future. All because Jesus has died on a cross.

Don’t get distracted by the plate, make sure you contemplate what Jesus can do for you. Take a booklet.

And for the many of us who have responded let’s be motivated in our giving by the giving of Christ.

Finally, let’s make sure it happens.

Difference between desires and actions. Between noble intentions and delivery of the goods.

I know this personally. When I arrived at St Johns I knew what I should give, I had worked it out. But it took me 6 months to get the Direct Debit filled in. I had good intentions but I never got around to delivering on my promises. Distracted by the busyness of life.

I’m not the only one. Many Christians like this in churches throughout the country. Want to give, can give but they don’t give regularly because they do not make sure it happens.

Situation for the Corinthians. A year early they had promised but so much can change over 12 months.

So listen to what Paul says to them in verse 10, “Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your competition of it, according to your means.”
Good intentions but they were in danger of breaking their promises of financial contribution.

And that’s why Paul sent the boys round. Verse 16, “I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you.  17 For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative.  18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.  19 What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.  20 We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift.  21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.

22 In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you.  23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ.  24 Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.

Boys are being sent. Why?

9:1 There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints.  2 For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. 

3 But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be.  4 For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we — not to say anything about you — would be ashamed of having been so confident.  5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.

Put it simply – the boys are being sent round so that the giving gets done.

What is the 21st century equivalent of a visit from Titus? Relived to know I don’t think it is a visit from Melvin.

Ways to give that make sure it happens regularly.

o One of the ways not to give if you can help it is by putting loose change on the collection plate.
o What a sight. The plate slows down as someone fiddles in their pocket.
ß It may be spontaneous but it’s not planned.
o Cannot gift aid it.
o Yes by all means give one off donations if you feel inspired but do gift aid them.
o Better is the envelope scheme.
o Even better is to set up a direct debit.
o Plan your giving and you can also give additional amounts away when you need to.
o If you pay your bills by direct debit then you have no excuse.
o Many already do – why so lots pass it on.
o Sign up and make sure it happens.

Say as I finish. Wonderful privilege to be working in a church where giving has been increasing steadily over many years. I want to affirm you on this. Shows many see it as a privilege, are motivated by the giving of Christ and make sure it gets done.

Do want to ask if there are some who haven’t got it sorted yet. Various reasons…

o New Christian who didn’t know.
o New Christian who hasn’t got round to it.
o Long standing Christian who hasn’t got round to it either.

If that’s you then sort it out. Don’t be always fumbling for loose change in your pockets but make sure you plan your giving for the next year.

One way of doing this is to read the Newland Christian Trust leaflets we gave out a couple of weeks ago. Need funding to support workers. Go to the welcome desk and find out more information. So if you haven’t got it sorted yet then why not go home, pray and plan what you will give and then give it to the Newland Christian Trust.

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