04/02/2001 at 9.30am / 11.15am
2 Corinthians 8-9
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Jonathan Pryke
There are three things in life that are certain: death, taxes and the JPC Giving Review. Easily the most fun of the three is the Giving Review. We use this two week period to take stock of our giving here at Jesmond Parish Church. One way we're doing that is to think about how the apostle Paul's teaching on giving in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 applies to us.
Last week Ian took us through the first fifteen verses of 2 Corinthians 8. This morning our focus is from 8.16 to 9.5. Then this evening Jonathan will be speaking on the remainder of chapter 9. My three headings are these: first, the right administration of giving; secondly, the right attitude to giving; and thirdly, the right approach to giving.
But what is the big picture here? The apostle Paul has been encouraging the Christians in Corinth to collect money towards a gift that he is organising for the impoverished Christian church in Jerusalem. As he tours the young churches of Asia Minor, he is working hard to encourage each church to make their own contribution to that gift. When the money is in, he is going to send a delegation on the long trek to Jerusalem.
What we do with our money is not a matter of indifference as far as Paul is concerned. It goes to the heart of our understanding of God and of all that he has done for us through Jesus. For two chapters here in 2 Corinthians it is as if Paul wrestles verbally with the Corinthians, struggling to get them to take seriously this link between their wallets and their faith in Christ.
So this is not just a matter of some take it or leave it financial advice. This is not the biblical equivalent of junk mail that most of us can safely bin. What we do with our money shows whether we have understood and responded to the gospel.
That's what's going on. So what about this middle section of chapters 8 and 9? I want to draw out the lessons under my three headings. So:
First, THE RIGHT ADMINISTRATION OF GIVING
From 8.16 Paul is commending to the Corinthians his co-worker Titus and the rest of the team which he is sending to them to make the arrangements for the gift and to carry it to Jerusalem. And his concern for good administration is clear. Speaking of one of the team, he says (verse 19):
What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honour the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.Why does good administration matter? So that the Lord is honoured. If money is being raised in the name of Christ, then maladministration gives people all the excuse they need to rubbish the gospel.
And Paul goes on:
We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. 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.In other words the administration of giving must not only be right, it must be seen to be right.
Here are four marks of right administration.
First, it must be honest. Those who collect the money and those who spend it must be trustworthy, tried and tested people. That's why Paul spells out the credentials of the team that he's sending. Verse 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 honour to Christ.As far as JPC is concerned, I am well aware that those of us who have responsibility for collecting and then for spending the money that is given for the work here must live by the highest standards of probity. If you see anything different, please challenge us about it.
Of course, all of us who give to the work here have the advantage that we live at pretty close quarters with those who administer the funds, and we can see how those funds are being spent. But honesty is fundamental.
Secondly, right administration must be effective. That is to say, Christian giving must be spent on the right things. And that means on gospel-centred ministry. The best way to ensure that is to make sure that those who decide what the priorities are for how the money is spent are themselves gospel-centred people. So Paul says in verse 18:
And we are sending along with [Titus] the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.Thirdly, right administration must be efficient. In other words, it must not only be spent on the right things, it must be collected and spent in the best possible way. It's not just what's done, it's how it's done that matters. And the best way to ensure that, from the giver's point of view, is to ensure that those with responsibility for dealing with the money are suitably gifted and experienced people. Paul's team have a proven track record of gospel ministry.
Fourthly, right administration must be accountable. Verse 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.That's precisely why Paul is spelling out here what the money's for, who's going to be handling it, and what the arrangements are going to be.
There is a range of ways that we seek to be accountable at JPC. Here are some examples.
We don't have collections in services for the work of JPC, because we want giving to be thought through rather than impulsive. We explain how the money given is spent. This Giving Review is part of that process. At the AGM on 19 March there will be a report on our income and expenditure. When we ask for money, we say what it is for. The budget is approved by the PCC and will also be reported on at the AGM. Gift Weeks and other appeals are always for specified projects. Our administrator handles the finances but doesn't sign the cheques. She works closely with our Giving Scheme Co-ordinator and also our Treasurer, both of whom are chartered accountants. Our accounts are professionally audited.
We want all our financial practices to be of the highest standard and we are in the process of reviewing them to make sure that is so. Like Paul, we want to take pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord, but also in the eyes of men. We understand that our administration of giving needs to be honest, effective, efficient and accountable.
And it's not just our administration that needs to be right. These verses also challenge the attitudes of all us who give. And that brings me to my next heading.
Secondly, THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TO GIVING
Giving springs from the heart first and the wallet second. The kind of heart that Paul is commending here, from which generous giving will flow can be summed up, I think, in this way: it will be a worshipping heart, a servant heart, a loving heart, and a passionate heart.
We administer this gift 'in order to honour the Lord', says Paul in verse 19.
When you've been humbled by just a glimpse of the generosity of God to one such as you, then your attitude changes. It is no longer a question of 'What is the minimum that I can get away with giving?' Instead, there is a deep inner desire to give for God's sake. That is the result of a worshipping heart.
And Paul is looking for servant hearts. In 8.18 he commends to them 'the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel'. In 9.1 he describes their giving as 'this service to the saints'.
One young man was motivated by all that God had given him to give a year of his life to work for a local church. The church could not pay him, but he had a paid day job to support himself. He kept what he needed to cover board and lodging, and the rest he gave to the church. That money enabled two other volunteer youth workers to come to the church for a year. His generosity enabled opportunites to be taken for the gospel. That is what the service of giving is all about. That is the impact of a servant heart.
Then in 8.24 Paul describes the completion of the Corinthians' giving project as 'the proof of your love'. We give for the needs of others when we love them. We love others when we love Christ. We love Christ when we grasp how he has loved us. So giving is a practical sign of love.
That was the testimony of one couple, speaking about their own giving: 'People ask us, "Why do you do it?" We just say, "It's because God's been good to us, so we want to give back."'
Is that how you feel about giving? If it is, then rejoice and make the most of the privilege you have. But if that isn't how you feel, then begin by asking God to make more plain to you how desperate your plight is without Jesus. And ask him to show you how great are his love and generosity in coming to save you. Then when he shows you, respond first by giving yourself in commitment to Christ. Then you too can show your love for Christ by freely giving money away with rich generosity.
I remember an occasion some years ago when our daughter Katy, who was only four at the time, was overwhelmed with gratitude to me that I had actually spent some time playing board games with her, just the two of us. What is more, she had won them all. The next day when I came home I was greeted with the news that Katy had a gift for me that she had saved up since lunchtime. Two crisps. Katy was partial to crisps back then, so I knew just how much this meant to her. I was deeply moved. She presented them to me on a plate. Then she looked at the crisps and looked at me, and said, 'Could I have one of them?' Her love for me couldn't quite overcome her love for crisps.
Paul wants to see loving hearts in action. He is also looking for hearts that are passionate passionate about the gospel. In 8.18 he speaks of the 'enthusiasm' of Titus; in 22 of how 'zealous' his co-worker is. Then in 9.2 he is looking to stir up the 'eagerness' and 'enthusiasm' of the Corinthians.
One man whose passion for the gospel overflowed in zealous service and giving was George Muller, who was a preacher in the 19th Century. Early in his ministry something Jesus said had a profound impact on him. It was this, from Luke 6.38:
'Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.'Muller decided that he should trust God for his daily needs. He began to give away everything he received except what was needed for his basic subsistence. God honoured his trust, and over his lifetime Muller founded 5 orphanages which were home to 10,000 children; he established 7 day schools that educated 80,000 children; he set up 12 Sunday Schools that taught over 30,000 children; he distributed 2 million Bibles and 3 million tracts; and he gave £26,000 to overseas mission. Over the 60 years of his ministry he gave away £1.5 million at a time when you could buy a house for a few pounds. George Muller knew that being a Christian was a way of life, not a hobby. We used to live in Bristol a stone's throw from one of his orphanages, which by then had become a school. The sight of those buildings was a constant reminder to me of what the Lord can do with a life full of zeal for his Kingdom.
What is the right attitude to giving? It is the attitude of a worshipping, loving, passionate servant heart.
There's not much point in talking about the mechanics of giving to someone who is really an unreformed Scrooge - who under a well cultivated caring exterior is inwardly clinging on for dear life to every last pound coin they possess. But those whose hearts have undergone God's wonderful "rich generosity transplant" will be concerned to give in the best way. And for such people, what Paul says here is full of practical wisdom.
And that brings us to my third and final heading:
Thirdly, THE RIGHT APPROACH TO GIVING
Here are five guidelines for giving in line with what Paul is urging the Corinthians to do.
One: consider the needs. The Jerusalem church needed help. Paul drew that to their attention.
Two: pool your resources. That's what Paul was asking them to do, and it makes good sense. Our giving is much more effective if it's done along with many others to achieve a common goal.
Three: be generous. 8.20: 'this liberal gift'; 9.5: 'the generous gift'. In other words, give a substantial proportion of your income, and give it gladly not a small proportion, given reluctantly.
When you are deciding what to give, compare your gift with your own resources, and give a decent chunk of them away, in recognition that it's all God's anyhow it's all a gift of his grace. Do not compare your gift with the size of someone else's bank balance. They may be able to give a far bigger gift than you and hardly feel it financially. That is irrelevant. What counts here is not the noughts on the cheque. It is the richness of the generosity. Be generous.
Four: make promises. 9.2:
Pledges enable planned ministry, rather than haphazard work as a result of haphazard income. Pledges also motivate others.
Five: carry through your commitments. Broken promises are worse than no promises. As far as is within your power, stick to what you've said you will do. 9.5:
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.The fact is that committed, consistent, regular giving brings us spiritual benefit. That's what Paul urges back in 1 Corinthians 16.2:
On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.It's rather like fitness training. Sudden splurges of activity after long periods as a couch potato are better than nothing but far from ideal. You may even find yourself incapable of doing what you intended. Regular giving helps spiritual fitness. It constantly reminds us of God's priority in our whole lives. It equips us for larger, urgent giving of whatever sort the Lord might call us to. John Wesley, the great eighteenth century evangelist, urged people to " gain what you can, by rightful means and hard work without harming others; to save all you can, by avoiding extravagance and needless expense. Having first gained all you can, and secondly saved all you can then give all you can."
We must be sure to carry through our good intentions. Far too much genuine rich generosity is simply clogged up somewhere in a pile of papers on the desk, or on the kitchen worktop, or in the letter rack. The work of the gospel is not carried forward by good intentions. It is carried forward by money, and all the time, energy and resources that money represents.
To be sure, money is not sufficient. More, much more is needed. But money is necessary. In this context, it is not the thought that counts. It is the standing order, or the cheque.
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