A Wealth of Generosity

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Tonight we continue in our short series entitled The Gift of Generosity by looking at what Paul has to say about giving in 2 Corinthians 8 verses 1-15.

And my headings, after some words of a short introduction, are three questions, first, WHY A GIVING REVIEW? secondly, WHO ARE TO BE CHALLENGED? and thirdly, WHAT SHOULD BE OUR RESPONSE?

By way of introduction what do you need to know about this chapter and the next to make sense of what is going on? Well, very simply this. Paul was trying to raise money for the poorer churches of Judea from the Greek churches of the Roman Provinces of Achaia and Macedonia, which together equal modern Greece. And this collection is referred to in Romans 15 and (as some heard this morning) in 1 Corinthians 16. In 2 Corinthians, however, Paul is explaining the arrangements for the collection at the same time as he challenges the Corinthian Christians about it.

But why was Paul doing that? Here is one commentator's summary – and if you don't remember anything else from tonight, remember this:

"Paul did not see giving as a mundane matter, nor as something on the periphery of church life. On the contrary, he saw the grace of giving as a core part of what it means to be a member of Christ's Church."

So wrote John Stott.

Well, that's enough by way of introduction.

Now - for our first heading and WHY A GIVING REVIEW?

There are many answers you can give from this passage, as to why we should have a Giving Review, as we have each year at this time of year at this church. But the first and fundamental answer and behind those words from John Stott is this, namely, that Jesus is Lord of all. That was the fundamental understanding of the early Church.

In the first Christian sermon ever preached, on the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter said, addressing the Jews: "know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2.36). Then, when Peter preached his first sermon to the Gentiles, he said (Acts 10.36): "he [Jesus] is Lord of all."

So now look at verse 5 where Paul says: "they [the folk in the Macedonian churches] gave themselves first to the Lord." And look at verse 9 where Paul talks about "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." Confessing Jesus as Lord is what it means to be a Christian. For when Paul wanted to give a short answer to what is a "saved" person, he said this (Romans 10.9):

"if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

Confessing "Jesus" (the Saviour) as "Lord" is right at the heart of Christianity. So commitment to Christ is commitment to his divine Lordship. But he is Lord of "all' – of all people and of all things, both in the physical world as well as the spiritual. And that is why the Bible has such a lot to say about the two great human physical preoccupations, sex and money. For Jesus is to be Lord of all in the physical world.

So the Macedonians understood, and acted on, the fact that Jesus Christ has to be Lord of your money, as well as your sex life, if you are a true believer. For they understood that in the same way that you are to steward your bodies for Christ and reserve sex for heterosexual monogamous marriage, so too you are also to steward your money for Christ.

How, then, do you handle the money you have? The Bible is clear. Wherever it comes from, ultimately it is from, and is, the Lord's. So you are simply stewarding what is God's; and you are answerable to him for how you handle it. In the Old Testament, when speaking of his own and his people's giving, King David classically said this of God: "all things come from you, and of your own have we given you" (1 Chron 29.14). So because Jesus is Lord of all, money included, and we are to steward all we have for him, we have this Giving Review.

But, secondly, we also have a Giving Review because of two needs which are to be met by our giving. In 2 Corinthians Paul is wanting the Corinthians to give (verse 4) for "the relief of the saints" – the poor Christians in Judea. For they were particularly poor. So first there is a need is to help poor Christians.

And this was, and is, a strategic move. It not only assured these poor Christians of Judea that they were not being forgotten, and so strengthened the unity between the Gentile and Jewish Churches. But also such giving to build up the Christian churches, as Paul was wanting, was, and still is, effective, yes, in the fight against poverty. Certainly giving today to build up the Church in poorer areas of the world is essential for poverty relief. Indeed, it seems to be more effective than giving to charities or government aid programmes that ignore such church building or don't see it as a priority.

Dena Freeman, an anthropologist at University College, London, in her recent book, Pentecostalism and Development (a secular study), has shown that giving for "the relief of the saints" (to use Paul's phrase) and if used for church strengthening, is the way to lasting development. Writing about African Pentecostal churches, she comes to …

"… a perhaps somewhat surprising conclusion: that Pentecostal churches are often rather more effective change agents than are development NGOs. This is because they focus on some key aspects of change that secular NGOs continue to ignore – they are exceptionally effective at bringing about personal transformation and empowerment, they provide the moral legitimacy for a set of behaviour changes that would otherwise clash with local values, and they radically reconstruct families and communities to support these new values and new behaviours. Without these types of social change, I argue, it is difficult for economic change and development to take place."

So making men and women Christian should be a primary aim of development agencies! That is a reason why we at AID (Anglican International Development) are working to strengthen the poverty stricken Church in South Sudan especially by helping to support theological training of pastors as well the medical training of clinical officers and other development initiatives. So one need is giving for Christians going through hard times.

But, of course, it is not only poor Christians that need our giving, but also Church workers and staff in richer areas. Note again, therefore, verse 5 of 2 Corinthians 8. It says that the Macedonian Christians "gave themselves [first to the Lord and then] by the will of God to us [to Paul and his missionary band]." They were giving their all – their time and undoubtedly their money - to help this ministry of Paul's fundraising. For we know from the letter to the Philippians how these Macedonian Christians were already helping Paul financially because he himself needed financial support.

True, to stop negative rumours about him being in Church-work for the money, he sometimes did part-time tent or sail-making. But Paul wrote to his co-worker Timothy about the ideal of paying Church-workers so they had time for their gospel work (I quote):

"Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain', and, 'The labourer deserves his wages'" (1 Timothy 5.17 -18).

We may assume, therefore, that the Macedonians giving themselves to Paul and company, as well as to the Lord, included their giving money as well as time. And so we have a giving review also to encourage giving for Church needs in richer situations that have to be met, as at this church.

But, thirdly, we have a Giving Review because giving is a test of the genuineness of your faith and love. Look at verse 8:

"I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine."

Paul (verse 7) is wanting the Corinthians to "to excel in this act of grace" – in their giving to prove that their faith was not all talk. It was Jesus who said: "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me" (John 14.21). No! You are not saved by good works. But good works (and generosity is a good work) are evidence of saving faith. So, is your giving evidence of your faith in, and love for, Christ? Would someone who knew all about your financial situation say it was?

We have, then, a giving review because giving is a test of the genuineness of your faith and love. It acts something like a spiritual health check you have to do on yourself; and a very simple but good spiritual health check it is.

We must move on, secondly, to WHO ARE TO BE CHALLENGED by a giving review?

There are two answers to this question.

First, it is for those with a lot of resources – the richer folk. And there were such at Corinth. Yes, in 1 Corinthians 1, verse 26, Paul said of the Corinthians "not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth". But famously, the great 'power broker' at the time of the 18th century Evangelical Revival, Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, thanked God for the letter "m" in "many". She noted it did not say, not "any", only not "many". We know of one very rich Christian in Corinth – the City Treasurer. His name was Erastus; and we read about him in Romans 16.23 and elsewhere.

Corinth was of one of the biggest cities in the ancient Roman world and one of the richest. It was a global trading centre. So there would have been quite a number of rich people in the Corinthian church. That is probably why Paul was disappointed at the way the Corinthians were behind in giving compared with the much poorer Christians in Macedonia. And Paul knew the wealthy are tempted not to give.

Jesus had dealt with these temptations along with other problems in his parable of the Sower, where he spoke of the seed (his word or his teaching) that is sown on various soils that represent various types of hearers. And one type of soil was good soil but with thorns growing all over it. And Jesus says,

"they are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful" (Mark 4.18-19).

And this is a word especially for all those who have money and wealth – and relative to the majority in the world, that includes the majority of you here tonight. For such people's problems are subtle and come in the form of one or more of those three things (according to Jesus): the cares of the world; the deceitfulness of riches; and, the desires for other things.

And those temptations were around in Old Testament times as well as in New Testament times and today. Listen to Moses' warning the Hebrew people centuries ago, before they settled in the Promised land, in Deuteronomy 8:

"Take care … lest, … when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, … you forget the Lord your God … Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth."

That is an ancient but ever relevant challenge about becoming too busy for God and too busy to read the Giving Literature and so to busy to give. Who, tonight, is being tempted in one of those three areas - the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things? Be warned.

But, secondly, our Giving Review and Paul's writing to Corinth was also challenging people less well off – those many not "powerful" or not "of noble birth". For all were expected to give something. We are told about an earlier collection for the faithful believers in Palestine at a time of famine. Acts 11.29 says of the Church in Antioch:

"So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea."

It was every one, but each "according to his ability".

Of course, the most famous giver in the Bible, apart from Jesus, is the poor widow, who gave 100% - probably her day's wage – and she had then nothing left. Jesus saw her giving (we read in Luke 21.2-4) …

"… two small copper coins. And he said, 'Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them [the rich people]. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'"

This woman certainly showed up the rich business people even though giving very little. For the fundamental issue in giving is not how much you give but how much you keep. So the Giving Review is for all – rich and poor alike.

And that brings us thirdly, to the question WHAT SHOULD BE OUR RESPONSE to our Giving Review and this passage?

The blunt and simple answer is – "giving" – giving to support JPC and St Joseph's this year and giving for mission causes. And, yes, as 1 Corinthians 16 shows, giving is commanded. But Paul does not want to major on the command to give. Look at verse 8: "I say this not as a command." For Christian giving is all about motivation. Church treasurers are not like the tax man who can fine you or, in some circumstances, put you in prison for not paying tax.

So, how can such giving be motivated? Well, examples of giving can help, such as that set by the poor Macedonian Christians, who, verse 2 …

"in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part."

And the example of modern benefactors like the Christian builder Sir John Laing similarly helps motivate, who, having given millions to Christian causes, at his death left an estate valued at just £371. However, those examples are not enough. The real secret is in verse 9 where Paul says:

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich."

Paul sees the example of Christ as fundamental. For he was willing to sacrifice the glory of heaven and come down to earth. So his coming, not only to live, but to be, utterly cruelly, crucified for stupid, sinful and decadent men and women like us, so that you and I can gain heaven, should generate gratitude. And then as you give yourself to Christ, like the Macedonians did, and his Holy Spirit works in you, that gratitude becomes the supreme motive for Christian generosity and giving.

But who tonight has never yet committed themselves to Christ as Lord of all and Saviour? Who has never yet thanked him for leaving heaven to come and die for their sin, and to rise again to give them his Holy Spirit so they can experience the great hope of heaven and then this joy of giving? What better occasion to do so than when thinking about the Macedonians who 2000 years ago "gave themselves first to the Lord"?

So our response to the Giving Review should be to commit or recommit ourselves, or underline our commitment, to the Lord and then thankfully and joyfully prove our faith and love by our giving.

But practically how should we give?

In conclusion very briefly let me say just two things.

First, about how much we should give. The Macedonians gave (verse 3) proportionally "according to their means". John Wesley once answered this question by saying: "get all you can, save all you can, give all you can." However, he then added: "it is certainly Christian to ask 'how much?' rather than 'how little?'"

The Bible speaks of a tithe – giving 10% - which can help with our thinking and of which it has been said that someone starting to tithe will have six surprises – surprise: one, at the amount of money they have for the Lord's work; two, at the deepening of their spiritual life in paying the tithe; three, at their ease in meeting their own obligations with the nine-tenths, four, at the ease with which they are able to go on from one-tenth to larger giving, five, at the increased sense of stewardship over the nine-tenths that remain, and six, at themselves for not adopting the plan sooner!

So, how much should we give? It should be proportionate/according to our means whether large or small.

Secondly, it should be systematic giving, and so disciplined, regular, thought through and on time. And standing orders are a helpful way of being systematic today. Being irregular was a major problem with the Corinthians, as 1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 show.

Yes, some of us can give a lot, but some only a little. However, we can all be systematic, thought through, prayerful and on time.

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