What Will You Give? How Will You Give It?
At the front entrance of the church manse there is a rose bush. Our rose bush was beginning to grow out of control, and so I was doing some work pruning branches and tying other branches to the trellis. At first, I had some protective gloves on, but I found that I was not as effective working with the rose bush, and so I removed my gloves. Within a few minutes, I was pricked, and bleeding.
As I stood there, on my front lawn bleeding, I thought about the sermon that I would be delivering to you today. Some of you see a sermon title like, ‘What Will You Give?’ and immediately you put protective gloves on. The subject of giving money is indeed a thorny issue, and few of us want to be pricked by it.
The great Reformer, Martin Luther, once wrote that "there are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, the conversion of the mind, and the conversion of the purse." Of these three, it may well be that we find the conversion of the purse to be the most difficult. Charles Spurgeon writes, "With some (Christians) the last part of their nature that ever gets sanctified is their pockets."
Some of you have braced yourselves for a sermon on stewardship; but first, let me say, ‘Well done.’ I recognize that I am speaking to a congregation with a rich history of meeting stewardship demands. We have consistently met the demands of a budget that has grown annually, and we successfully met the $160,000 challenge to pay for a new roof.
As you well know, a new giant stands before us. And yet, this sermon is not intended to motivate you to simply meet our present challenge, but rather, I bring you this text in order to establish, for our continuing application, biblical principles for stewardship.
Because while we have a glowing record for responding to stewardship challenges, I reckon that these challenges would be scarce if we were consistently engaging biblical principles for stewardship in the first place. And so we look to this text today then, not merely for the benefit of our present circumstance, but we look to this text in order that it might shape our ongoing approach to stewardship.
Under girding the principles of stewardship found in 2Corinthians 9 is a foundational principle of stewardship, from which all other principles of stewardship must stem. The testimony of Scripture is that: God is the rightful owner of everything. Psalm 24 declares this: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it”(Ps.24:1). The implication here is that what you possess is not your own—we are merely stewards of what belongs to God.
John Wesley understood this principle; when John Wesley received the news that a fire had destroyed his house, he simply said, ‘The Lord’s house burned down. One less responsibility for me.’
If Wesley’s response rubs us the wrong way, perhaps that is indicative that we have become unduly attached to our possessions. I am hard on my two year-old daughter for this; pick up one of her toys and you will quickly hear her shout, ‘Mine!’ And yet, as I contemplated this, I suddenly became aware of my own tendency to regard certain possessions as ‘Mine’ without ever saying it out loud. I suspect that all of us yell ‘Mine!’ from time to time, but we have learned how to do this in socially acceptable ways. The Bible rebukes this attitude; for God is the only being in this universe who can rightfully say, ‘Mine!’
In the chapter that precedes our text, 2Corinthians 8, the apostle Paul gives a report to the Christians in Corinth regarding the generosity of the Macedonian Churches. This report serves as the backdrop for the stewardship principles that we find in chapter 9, which are: 1) The manner in which we are to give money to church ministry, and 2) The benefits of giving money to church ministry.
Let's have a look at the Macedonian Churches. In the first two verses of chapter 8 we learn that the Macedonian Church is a struggling Church. Paul says that they are "in a great ordeal of affliction" and are experiencing "deep poverty". And then, in the very next breath, we learn that the Macedonians have continued to provide financial support for other churches in need. Verse 3 says that they "gave according to their means, and even beyond their means."
The first thing we learn about giving is that giving is to be proportionate to our means. God does not expect you all to give the same amount of money towards church ministry. He does, however, expect you to give according to your means.
The implication of this is that every individual and every church has the opportunity to be generous. Since generosity has less to do with quantity, and more to do with proportion, even poor churches like the Macedonian Churches can be praised for their generosity. And this is precisely what Paul does.
The Macedonians understood the value, and the necessity, of giving generously, and so they refused to let their humble position keep them from helping others. In Paul's view, they gave "beyond their means"—that is, they gave sacrificially.
Another principle of giving we see at work here is that giving is to be done eagerly. In verse 4 we read that the Macedonians were literally "begging" Paul to let them participate in his ministry with financial contributions. Can you imagine this? Can you imagine someone pleading with Ken Thomson, or Don Taylor, "Please, allow me to give more money!" Surely, this kind of eagerness to give is most commendable.
Paul also takes up the issue of the manner in which we give, in verse 6, "he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully."
In Paul's example we see that not all kinds of giving are equally commendable. As John Calvin writes, "liberality is estimated by God, not so much from the sum, as from the disposition."
If the right way to give is to give eagerly, the wrong way to give is to give sparingly. Look at the word "sparingly"; for example, if I say, "Spare no effort!", I mean, hold back no effort. Give all the effort you possibly can! When the Bible says that, "God did not spare His only Son", it means that God did not hold Him back. God did not keep His Son in heaven for Himself, but He shared Him.
So then, to give sparingly is to give from a heart that, deep inside, wants to hold back (John Piper). Instead of assessing how much we can possibly give, we often begin our thinking with how much we can keep, how much we can hold back. This is not how the Christian is supposed to give.
Closely connected to the idea of giving eagerly is the exhortation to give cheerfully. This is what Paul writes, "Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly, or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
We should not begrudge the call to give as if giving were a bad thing. And, we must not be reluctant, giving money as if wishing we could avoid it. Giving, Paul insists, must be done cheerfully.
A qualifying statement is necessary: It is likely that there are some who give cheerfully because they have given so little that it has been no sacrifice to them. And there are others who give cheerfully because they fully understand that their giving is an act of worship to the God they love. The Macedonian Churches gave according to the latter example. It was no easy thing for them to give out of their "deep poverty", and yet they literally "begged" Paul to let them support the other churches financially.
What do you think motivated these Macedonian Christians? Paul points to their motivation in chapter 8, verse 5, when he writes, "they first gave themselves to the Lord".
This is a critical point. It may be the critical point. The Lord does not ultimately want your chequebook; He wants you. As desperately as St. Giles Kingsway may need your financial resources at the moment, these resources must not be given as a replacement for physical service. Just as we give a portion of our financial resources for the benefit of Christian ministry, so too must we give of ourselves—we must give of our time and talents for the furthering of God’s purposes in this place.
Someone who understood this principle was a young Norwegian named Peter Torjesen. Peter Torjesen was so stirred by a challenge to missionary giving that, when the offering plate was passed to him, it is reported that he opened his wallet and poured all of his money onto the plate. Peter also included a note, on which he had scribbled the words, ‘And my life too.’
After explaining to the Corinthians the manner in which they are to give, Paul goes on to explain the benefits of giving to church ministry. We see, as early as chapter 9, verse 6, that the one who sows, also reaps. Giving to church ministry is like sowing seed, and so Paul promises us a harvest. Paul reminds us in verse 8, "God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work." The same sentiment is given in verse 10, "He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness."
The benefit of giving to God's ministry is that God repays you. And, not only does God repay you with enough for your own sustenance, but He gives you enough to offer relief to others.
We see this principle elsewhere in Scripture--Proverbs 11:25 says, "The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered." And Proverbs 19:17, "He who is gracious to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord will repay him for his good deed."
Friends, do you believe this? Our giving patterns will reveal the extent to which we do believe this. Those who give generously, in proportion to their means, demonstrate a conviction that God will look after their future needs. By contrast, those who hold back demonstrate a lack of faith—or, at best, a faint belief—that God will adequately provide for future needs.
I hope that does not come across as unkind; my point is, simply that the testimony of Scripture should promote, in us, faith in God as the Supreme Giver. It is a delightful partnership that God has ordained: as we advance in our generosity, God promises to multiply our benefits. Consequently, we find that the benefits of giving greatly outweigh the sacrifice of giving.
Let us, therefore, resolve to give eagerly and cheerfully to the work of God's kingdom. And may we be ready to relinquish more than just financial resources because, as the great hymn puts it: Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. Amen.