28/01/2001 at 9.30am / 11.15am
2 Corinthians 8
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Ian Garrett
This time of year is our 'Giving Review'. We make known our financial plans and needs. And we invite those who are committed to Jesus and this church to respond.
The apostle Paul did a similar 'Giving Review' with the church in Corinth. He'd planned a giving scheme from some of his churches for other churches in poverty back in Judea. And the Corinthians had been keen to give. Half-way through v10:
Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so.Paul's problem was intentions hadn't fully become actions, v11:
Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it...But notice what Paul says in v8:
I am not commanding you…Paul knew that real Christian giving cannot be commanded. It's like when you thumped your brother or sister when you were young and Mum or Dad told you to say sorry. So you said, 'Sorry' - and fresh controversy broke out about whether you really meant it. There are certain things which, if they're to be genuine, cannot be commanded. And real Christian giving is one of them. Paul knew he couldn't command. He could only motivate and advise. So, two headings: first, motivation on why to give and secondly, advice on how to give.
First, MOTIVATION ON WHY TO GIVE (vv1-9)
In a word, the motivation is Jesus. Real Christian giving is not a response to human pressure - to appeals or even to needs - but to Jesus. So Paul kicks off by giving an example of that. Verse 1:
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.'Grace' is the Bible word meaning God's costly, undeserved love for us. But it can also mean the God-type love we show others and that's what Paul had seen in the Macedonian churches - which included the Thessalonians and the Philippians. Verse 2:
Out of the most severe trial, 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 pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will.So, v2, these Christians were suffering persecution. And they were desperately poor. If anyone could legitimately have said, 'Look we really sympathise, but we're not able to help - we're up against it ourselves right now,' it was them. But, v5, 'they did not do as we expected.' Verse 2: 'their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.'
They remind me of the Kenyan Christians in the village where I taught for a year. They lived in single-room mud-huts with corrugated iron roofs. They were well-off to have a few chickens. We were bringing famine relief supplies for them from Nairobi in our vehicle. Yet hardly a day went by without a knock on the door and a gift of food. One day I could hardly believe my eyes that the gift was a sheep. I couldn't believe it a) because of the cost and b) because I knew I was expected to bump it off. Those Kenyan believers were just like v2:
Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.The statistics show that the poorer Christians are, the greater percentage of their wealth they give. Some say it's because they can sympathise better with those in need; some that they sit looser to possessions than rich ones like us. I'm sure there's truth in that. But what did Paul say motivated this supernatural giving?
Well, v2, it was 'their overflowing joy'. When Paul speaks of 'joy' he most often mean the joy of knowing the Lord Jesus. The sense of delight and security that comes from knowing, as Paul says elsewhere, that 'he loved us and gave himself up for us' (Ephesians 5.2). And, v5, that in turn meant that these believers 'gave themselves first to the Lord…' He gave himself for them on the cross. They gave themselves to him. They recognised that Jesus had bought them back - from life without him, life under judgement. So that they, and al they owned, no longer belonged to themselves, but to him.
It's what the 19th century missionary C.T. Studd discovered. He was born well-off, educated at Eton and Cambridge, was England's top all-round cricketer; and he left it all behind to be a missionary to China. He wrote this about the process of making that step:
"I had known about Jesus Christ's dying for me, but I had never understood that if he died for me, then I didn't belong to myself. Redemption means, 'buying back', so that if I belonged to him, either I had to be a thief and keep what wasn't mine, or else I had to give up everything to him."
It may be that you know this morning that you're not yet a real Christian. You can't yet say, like C.T. Studd, 'I know Jesus died for me and my life belongs to him.' In which case, the issue for you is not, 'Will I give some money.' (Giving is just one aspect of having Jesus as Lord of your life.) The issue for you is: will you have him as Lord of your life? Receive his forgiveness for the way you haven't so far; and receive him as the new management from now on?
But for those of us who are Christians, the first question is not, 'What's the giving target?' or 'What's my disposable income?' The first question is: do I believe that Jesus loved me and gave himself for me to buy me back from a life without him? Do I regard myself and all I have as his, anyway? Are those things a reality?
If not, it's more than budgeting we need. We need to rekindle our love for him. Which only comes through re-grasping his love for us. Perhaps we could sit down and dwell on v9 of this passage:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.When I come to write the draft of a sermon I put the same thing at the top of the first page: a 'J' for Jesus, a cross to remind me what he did for us, and a crown to remind me who he is. And I do the same when I sit down to do my own personal giving review on paper. Real Christian giving is a response to Jesus, not to human pressure. But it does need human organising and motivating. Verse 6:
So [ie, given that the Macedonians had done their giving] we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. [Good intentions need channelling by organisation - like a river needs channelling by its banks if it's to run anywhere.]Then v7:
But just as you excel in everything- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us- see that you also excel in this grace of giving.The Corinthians thought they were strong on Christian knowledge and teaching and fellowship. And Paul didn't disagree. But he wants them to be complete, all-round Christians. It's easy to let relative strength in some areas blind us to relative weakness in this area, where the Christian rubber really hits the road. So, back where we began, v8:
I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.He's already given us the Macedonians to compare ourselves with. Now he gives us the supreme example to compare ourselves with. Verse 9:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.Jesus was rich in heaven before he ever became human. Rich in position. Rich in glory. Rich in status. Recognised and worshipped as God the Son by everyone. And then voluntarily he became poor in two gigantic steps down. In one he became a man. He voluntarily lost his position, his glory, his status. He became unrecognisable, vulnerable, rejectable, crucifiable. And in the second step he went voluntarily to the cross and lost the most precious thing he ever had - his unbroken fellowship with God his Father - as he hung under the God-forsakenness that our sins deserves. So that we, through his poverty, might become spiritually rich - forgiven back into fellowship with God which we'd broken.
That's the best picture of real Christian giving. It does mean voluntary loss of position and status - owning less, having less, being less cushioned by the comfort of financial excess, letting go of what is precious. Is he asking too much? Well, says Paul:
you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.That's his motivation on why to give. In a word: Jesus.
Then secondly, ADVICE ON HOW TO GIVE (vv10-15)
And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matterAnd there are three pieces of advice. First piece: make sure intentions become actions. 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 completion of it.Either by post, or here at church, you'll have been able to receive our Giving Literature. It explains the budget for the coming year, how to give, and there is a Response Card to return to our Giving Scheme Co-ordinator. (He and our Administrator alone know who gives what. So two people of necessity do; none of the other staff do).
As a concrete example for you to react to, let me say how I see intention into action. I've put 3 hours in the diary to plan my giving this week. I'll take stock of my income for the coming year (thank you for supporting me this past one). I'll decide what percentage of my gross income I'll give away (the Bible tells me to regard taxes as part of my giving, so I take it we should calculate from our incomes before tax). I'll decide how much of that to give to non-JPC things, and how much to/through JPC. And as the Giving Literature suggests, I aim to split my giving 50/50 to needs here (eg Christian Unions and individuals) and needs abroad (eg, missionary work, relief, etc). And I have a rough plan for what proportion goes on direct gospel ministry and what goes on practical/medical/ relief/etc ministry. And I use the Mission at JPC booklet (Welcome Desk) to choose how to establish those proportions by whom I support. The gospel work gets priority because only Christians will pay for that. Non-Christians will join us in paying for famine and medical relief. Only Christians will pay for Bible translation and evangelism and church-planting. Only Christians will finance gospel work.
Having done all that, I fill in the response card, and return it with a letter saying when and in what instalments I will give to JPC. I write those dates in my diary and act on them. That's just an example to help us think concretely about this first piece of advice: make sure intentions become actions.
Second piece of advice: remember that giving is between you and God. Verse 11 again:
Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable [ie, acceptable to God] according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.Whenever giving is mentioned, we naturally ask, 'Well, how much should I give?' To which the Bible says: giving is between you and God. End of v11, it is 'according to your means', ie, your income and/or what's at your disposal. Some of us aren't working; some of us can't; some of us are. Some of us have small incomes - pensions, student loans, low wages. Some of us are raking it in. Some of us have no other mouths to feed; some of us are very stretched by our dependants. The Lord knows all about you and your situation. And he says, v12:
if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not haveThat's why advice can only ever be that: advice. The Giving Literature says 'A suggestion for giving - 5% of our income to the work here at JPC, 5% to World Mission.' For some of us, that's simply not possible. Well, it's just advice. The New Testament just says give a percentage (see 1 Corinthians 16.1f) - 10% is just one suggestion. But for some of us, myself included, we don't even miss 10%, do we? So we can 'keep the advice' without really pleasing God. But advice is just advice. The aim is not keep the advice but to please God with the wealth on loan to us - which is all rightfully his. Some of us wouldn't miss 20%. Our thinking needs to start above that. Some of us wouldn't miss 30%. Our thinking needs to start above that. You and God know how it is with you. That's the second piece of advice: remember that giving is between you and God.
And the third piece of advice: aim for all the needs of all God's people to be met. Verse 13:
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little [quoting Exodus 16.18].'Remember: in the first place, Paul was talking about a collection to relieve poverty in the churches in Judea. His aim is that there would not be need in the world-wide Christian family. That within congregations and between congregations, there will not be those in need and those with too much, with no flow between them. And that principle applies beyond practical resources to spiritual resources - from Bibles to Bible teachers.
So that's the third piece of advice: aim for all the needs of all God's people to be met. Which also helps with the question, 'How much should I give?' We're to keep giving until others' needs are met, and we don't have too much. That may not mean absolute, literal equality, since, for example, a house here costs more than a house in Mburi in Kenya, where we give to a church and community project. But it does mean giving until others' needs are met and we don't have too much. How much is 'not too much'? The answer is: keep finding out what others need; be ruthlessly honest about what we need (need); and keep giving with the aim that all the needs of all God's people might be met.
So, v8, Paul is 'not commanding'. He's motivating (vv1-9) and advising (vv10-15). Motivation on why to give: 'For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ'. And advice on how to give: intentions into actions; it's between you and God; and the aim is for all the needs of all God's people to be met.
For more sermon transcripts visit http://www.church.org.uk