I want to begin by giving thanks – giving thanks to God for his continued provision for JPC & St Joseph's and the ministry he's given us; and can I also give thanks to God, as Paul does at the start of 1 Corinthians, for you – because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus – and for your generosity, with millions of pounds given to both JPC and St Joseph's since the start of the St Joseph's project 5-6 years ago, a project which has seen the gospel go out and bear fruit in West Tyneside. And on top of that, you gave thousands of pounds to the Big Sleep Out at JPC. God's grace has indeed abounded in and through you as 2 Corinthians 9 puts it. And Paul wanted the Corinthians and so you and I today to continue to give for the growth of the gospel and the church and to those in need. Yet although the Corinthians were willing, they had some questions and difficulties about this, especially with giving to the poverty-stricken, persecuted Christians in Jerusalem and were in danger of becoming self-absorbed.
But what about us in the coming year? Will we continue to give and grow in our giving or even start to give? You see this is not just about JPC but about our discipleship and God's glory. So, what will determine why and how you and I are going to live and give for Christ in 2019? Will it be willingly all the time or just when there's a crisis? Will it be sacrificially or dependent on how much is left in your bank account at the end of the month? Will it depend on the need or the vision? Will it be about your agenda or God's? Will it be all about you and how you feel, which is the spirit of the age, or will it be all about the Lord and his will? He willingly and sacrificially gave his life for you and this church.
Well, for the Apostle Paul it's fact over feeling, the fact of Christ and his death and resurrection which brings changed lives, a grateful generosity and a changed outlook, and even impacts how we feel. 1 Corinthians 15.20:
"But in fact, Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."
Which means sins can be forgiven, the devil is, and will be, finally defeated, and for those who trust in Christ for forgiveness and victory, there is that wonderful hope of heaven. Jesus has won the victory over death. 1 Corinthians 15.51:
"Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed…(v54) Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
That's the sure and certain hope of every true believer. It's also the background and motivation to everything Paul has to say in chapter 16 about giving money and our lives for Christ. Is it the background to your thinking about living and giving? People need to hear the good news of Christ's death and resurrection. Christ is risen and heaven awaits for those who put their faith in him. And the world needs to be impacted and turned upside down by this truth and hope. So how does Paul say we should respond to all this? Verse 58:
"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord."
Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always abound in the work of the Lord' Why? Verse 58 continues:
"Always abound in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain."
We're not to just drift along in the Christian life, instead we're to always abound or give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord. We're to always live and give in response to all he's done for us, even though it won't always be easy. It won't be in vain because Jesus Christ has won the victory. But we're not just to give ourselves, our lives, our bodies. We're also to give our money, which will not be in vain either. Money that comes from the Lord in the first place. All of which brings us to my first heading and to the first four verses of chapter 16:
The Collection For the Saints (God's People)
Chapter 16 begins with Paul answering a question from the Corinthians. Verse 1: "Now concerning the collection for the saints", for our fellow Christians. They were asking for further instructions about their part in the collection for the Christian poor in Jerusalem, especially how they were to go about it and how it was to get there. We know from Acts 8 and 11 that the Christians in Jerusalem were suffering persecution and famine. Also according to Galatians 2.9-10, Paul was eager to "remember the poor", including the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, as he took the gospel to the Gentiles. So, what can we learn from Paul's concern and about Christian giving in general from his answer in verses 1 to 4?
Are we, like Paul, eager to remember the poor as we take the gospel to this city and around the world? Are we eager to remember the poor and persecuted Christians here and around the world? Are we eager to commit to praying and giving to support them and those ministering to them? Today it's never been easier for us to give to and to know how to pray for those who are poor and persecuted. We can have the latest news from our mission partners sent to our inbox. At St Joseph's and JPC there are people who have had to flee persecution and now have nothing materially. One woman from Mosul in N. Iraq saw all her family taken and killed by ISIS. Another had to run for her life when she suddenly had her Bible snatched out of her hand by the authorities. Others have come to Christ since they arrived in the UK.
We can give to our mission partners who are working with the poor, seeking to bring the gospel and relief, such as the Navajeevana Health Care Centre in Sri Lanka, St Philip's Community Centre, Mburi in Kenya, Revive in Brazil, A.I.D. in South Sudan and there's also our CAP ministry and ministry to refugees on Tyneside, all of which costs money as well as time.
So we have the information and the contacts but how are we to go about giving money? And how much are we to give? Well verses 1 to 4 give us five principles that we as a church and as individuals are to practice, whether we're giving to the work at JPC or to missionary and relief work.
First, be principled and thought through.
Paul says, verse 1:
"Now concerning the collection for the saints [or fellow Christians who are in need]. As I directed the churches of Galatia, so you are also to do."
That's why we have a 'giving scheme' at JPC and have no collections in our services for our own needs.
Secondly, be regular (not medically or physically! but in giving).
"On the first day of every week each of you is to put something aside and store it up."
So, we're to give regularly. And a help for regular giving today is a standing order with the bank. My bank even incentivises the use of standing orders and direct debits, so if you're not a user of those check it out! That's not to say we should give to get but it must be underlined how helpful regular giving is to a church in terms of planning, provision and vision for the future. Uncertainty helps no-one.
Thirdly, give proportionately.
Verse 2: give "as you may prosper". You say, 'what proportion'? The Old Testament, as we heard from Malachi, spoke about a tithe or giving a tenth for God's work. But you say, 'Is that for now, after Christ, when we have a new covenant?' Answer: 'Yes, but we must listen to Jesus' teaching.' Jesus found religious people tithing, giving a tenth, in a precise legalistic way, yet being fundamentally disobedient to God's word. But Jesus approved their tithing whilst attacking their disobedience - Matthew 23.23:
'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and, mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others."
Paul in effect says, give in keeping with your income. He doesn't say, 'give ten per cent'. Was he weakening Jesus teaching? No. It was Jesus who'd taught that our righteousness must 'exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees' (Matthew 5.20). Jesus commended Zacchaeus who gave not ten per cent but fifty per cent. And he praised the poor widow who amazingly gave one hundred per cent. You see the basic question is not how much of our money we should give to God, but how much of God's money we should keep for ourselves. As we're to steward all our time for the Lord (not just one day in seven), so we're to steward all our money for the Lord (not just ten per cent). And at JPC we suggest half your giving go to the work here and the other half to world mission.
Fourthly, there should be no anxious uncertainty about Christian funding
"Put something aside and store it up, as you may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come."
If there's regular giving, rather than irregular giving, it makes it easier for those who have to administer a church's finances or indeed a world mission gospel/ relief programme. We praise God for the Autumn Appeal but let's continue to pray for more regular giving to meet the needs of the day to day church budget and so the ministry can grow with less reliance on appeals. Yes, giving one-off extra gifts, as thank-offerings over and above our regular giving is good and right as the Bible also teaches, but the central biblical principle is giving regularly, even if that concept is becoming counter-cultural today. It's so easy to rob God if we're not giving regularly.
Fifthly, there should be accountability
"And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem."
Paul was concerned that the donors had confidence that the money was going to where it was meant to go to and not somewhere else. How important, therefore, that money given is properly audited. At JPC the accounts are fully audited and published in March at the time of the AGM. In terms of making sure the money gets to where it is needed, A.I.D. work with Christians and church partners in South Sudan so that it goes directly to those in need. The same is true of our giving to our partners in Mburi, Kenya & Revive in Brazil.
Christian giving is so vital. Now, our giving doesn't save us, we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by works, but our giving does help others to be reached with the good news of Jesus Christ and helped physically. Without Christian giving, there'd be no Jesmond Parish Church, no St Joseph's and no mission work - no Wycliffe Bible Translators, Balkans or N. African ministry, for example. Surely, we don't want a lack of resources to 'oppose', so to speak, God's work? Well that brings us to my second point and to verses 8 and 9:
Opportunities and Opposition
Look at verse 8 and 9. Paul wanted to spend some time with the Corinthians, if the Lord would permit, but he says:
"I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries."
That's still true for us today. God has opened for us in Tyneside a wide door for effective work. But there are many who do and will oppose these opportunities. They opposed Paul and they will oppose us. Recently doors in some educational establishments closed but others opened and reopened.
We're not to be daunted by the opposition but rather we're to pray, act and give.
For to make the most of these opportunities requires stepping out in faith. Including for finance. For it will cost. Colossians 4.2 says:
"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison."
So opportunities and opposition – that was Paul's situation and it's ours. So, verse 13 to 14, which is my final point:
Be Watchful, Stand Firm in the Faith, Act Like Men, Be Strong. Let All That You Do Be Done in Love
Be watchful - be on your guard. Stand firm in the faith. There's a spiritual battle going on. The devil doesn't want you to be living and giving for Christ, 1 Peter 5.8-9:
"Be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith…"
Act like men, be strong [in the Lord]. Some of you are thinking act like men?! Are you sure Paul? Well, note that Paul writes this to both men and women – both had to be encouraged to act like men – godly men, to be strong and courageous in the Lord. Do you know what is true of every Bible-believing church that is growing around the world today? They all have leaders, including lay leaders, who are not afraid to believe God. Yes, there'll be opposition, but God is greater – nothing is too hard for him. Do you believe God? Do you believe God in your workplace? in your neighbourhood? at school? at uni as events week approaches? in your ministry area here at JPC? Nothing is too hard for him. And men and women, brothers and sisters, let all that you do be done in love. Give money in love. Back in 1 Corinthians 13.3 Paul says:
"If I give away all I have to the poor and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."