2 Corinthians 9:6-15
We continue to talk about giving, and over the last two weeks and this week we are asking people to reconsider our giving: what we give to the church, what we give to other Christian ministries, and what we give to people generally in need.
My apologies to those who have recently joined our churches, or who are visitors. We do mention giving in our preaching here: the bible speaks quite a bit about giving; but we are not usually as full frontal as this.
And we have seen the following principles
1. God is love, and God's nature is to give.
2. This is really simple. If the Spirit of God lives in us then we will desire to give. If the Spirit of God does not live in us then we will not desire to give. The more that we allow the Spirit to work in us, the more that we will desire to give. The work of a pastor in a church where people are filled with the Spirit is not to get them to give, but to stop them from giving recklessly.
3. The greatest act of love is not the act of sacrificing ourselves to save another person from physical death. We are of course to show such acts of love. But the greatest act of love is to sacrifice ourselves to save another person from eternal death. The greatest act of love that you can show another man or woman is to sacrifice yourself to give them the opportunity to learn about and to meet this God who loves them.
Last week we looked at the widow who gave 'everything' she had to the temple. We considered that we are to give not out of our abundance but out of our poverty. And we saw that we were never created to grab for money, to grip on to money but to give.
Today we look at the blessings which come when we give
When we give we are blessed, others are blessed and God is blessed.
1. When we give we are blessed:
'Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully'.
What does that mean?
I do not think that it means that if you give you will become rich.
The story is told of the man who stood up in church and said, 'I only had £10. I gave it all away and the Lord gave me £100. I gave it all away and the Lord gave me £10000. I gave it all away and the Lord gave me £100000. I gave it all away and that is why I now stand in front of you a multi-millionaire.' And a little old lady sitting at the back of the church said, 'Go on. I dare you!'
I would love to be able to say that if wish to become rich then you all you need to do is give to the church or to the work of the gospel. But I can't.
Look at the great men and women of God: the greatest of them had nothing. Jesus Christ; Paul the apostle; Augustine; Maximus the confessor (he ended up without his hand and his tongue); CT Studd - gave up his inheritance and estate in order to become a missionary in China; Mr Teresa (when she died she left 2 saris and a bucket).
Someone said, 'If you give 10% of your income to the work of proclaiming Jesus Christ, I can guarantee you this: you will be 10% poorer.'
What then does this passage mean?
Is not Paul saying that if you give abundantly God will give back to you abundantly.
Well yes and no!
First of all, remember that Paul is talking to the Corinthian church. He is writing to them as a community and not as individuals. If there is a promise of blessing of material abundance, it is a promise to them as a community. Within that community there will be rich and poor - but as we have seen earlier in this passage, if this really is a community in which people have given themselves to Christ, then the rich will desire to share what they have with the poor, so that there is equality. (2 Corinthians 8:14)
Think of the first Christian community: they sold their goods so that those in need were supplied.
But, secondly, in what way - if we give abundantly - will we be given abundantly?
Look at verse 8: "God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times - and this is the key bit - 'you will abound in every good work'.
And in verse 9 he continues. He quotes from Psalm 112 which describes the blessed, the fully happy man or woman. And among other things we discover that he or she
is generous: "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor". But note how it continues, 'his righteousness endures for ever'
And he echoes that in the next verse: 'He will .. multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness'
And going on, 'You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way'
So if you give, what is that God will give to you?
He will give you grace: and grace here is another word for more of the Holy Spirit, more of the love of God and more of the wisdom of God. And he will give you grace so that you will be able to give: more of yourself, more of your money and more of your stuff.
In other words, and this is a profound spiritual principle, if you begin to give of what you have and what you are, then God will indeed bless you and give you the deep desire to become more like him and to give more of what you have and what you are.
You see we come back to what we said last week: we were made to give, and the more we give - of our money, our stuff, our homes, our time, our gifts, our very self - first to him and then to others - the more we become like God and the more we discover what true life, divine life, eternal life is all about.
People say that God is no person's debtor, so if you give he will give back to you. But hang on a minute. What can we give to God? God has already given us all things. I am simplifying it a bit, but it is like the RBS who has been given billions of pounds by the government, giving £1000 back to the government and saying 'You are now indebted to us'.
In the Old Testament people were sacrificing cattle to God, and they are saying, 'God, we have given you this, and you now owe us one.' But God says, 'Hang on a minute. The cattle on a thousand hills are mine. I don't need your cattle. They're my cattle anyway. I don't owe you anything. What I want from you is a sacrifice of thanksgiving, of gratitude'.
We do not give in order to become rich here.
We give in order to become rich in the things of God: righteousness, generosity, self-giving love. We give in order to become rich there. As Jesus said, 'Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven'.
2. When we give others are blessed
a) The people who hear about the gift are blessed and encouraged.
The churches in Macedonia are encouraged by the gift of the churches in Achaia (Corinth), and vice versa. They are not encouraged by the size of the gift, but by the willingness, the desire to give.
Why does that encourage people?
Because it means that the grace of God, the Spirit of God is active.
But there is a flip side to this. When people in churches do not desire to give, it is profoundly discouraging. It means that either the Spirit of God is absent or, and this is more likely, we have allowed other things to come in and crush the Spirit.
So in 2 Corinthians 9:1-5 Paul is not above calling the believers in Corinth to account. He says 'You said you would do a collection, and I've boasted about how keen you were to do this collection - and I don't want you to be humiliated, and I don't wish to be humiliated'. In other words, he is saying, 'Don't let me down; don't let yourselves down; don't discourage the other churches by being people who say we desire to give, but then not giving'.
And we do need the courage and the encouragement to carry through those good resolutions that we make.
The problem we face is this: You have given yourself to Jesus and the Spirit of God is living in you. You desire to give. You decide that tithing would make a good principal for your giving. So this is my income: 10 bananas, and I put aside 1 as my tithe. This is my giving pot.
But this is also the easiest pot to take things from. [Take bites from that banana as you mention different things]. There is an amazing offer on a new outfit or sofa or larger TV or a holiday. The toilet springs a leak and has got to be mended. The price of filling up the car goes from £70 to £80. And at the end of the week, month or year - all that is left is [hold up a banana skin!]
If you desire to give, treat that which you have decided to give as literally sacred. Put it aside at the very beginning. Treat it the way that the government treat your PAYE tax, or the way you treat your rent or mortgage. Do it. Obviously if things get difficult, you will need to rethink what you can afford to give the following week, month or year.
Do whatever you can to help you plan. Sit down, try and work out a budget. If people go to CAP, when they are in debt, that is the first thing that they will help you do. Ask yourself, 'What do I need?'. And if you wish to give make that the first claim on your money and not the last. That is why the money goes out of our account by standing order at the beginning of the month. It is no longer there, so I can't buy the latest gadget even if it is amazing and will help my life so much and is on special offer!
And let us encourage each other. Not by the amount we give, but by the fact that we want to give, we desire to give - and that we actually do what we say we will do.
b) The people who receive the gift are blessed.
In the case of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, it is the believers in Jerusalem. v12, 'For the ministry of this service is .. supplying the needs of the saints'. And Paul goes on to talk about how the people receiving the gift give thanks to God for the givers and pray for them.
In our case, we are asking people in our churches to give so that the people of Bury St Edmunds are blessed, and so that the people of the wider church, here in Suffolk and beyond, are blessed.
A few figures from last year
3. When we give, God is blessed
God is blessed
a) because the gospel, the good news of Jesus is proclaimed.
I've been very struck this time reading through 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 at how the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the message of Jesus Christ, is linked in with this theme of giving.
The giving of money and the proclaiming of the good news of Jesus go hand in hand.
So when Paul sends Titus to the Corinthians to help them with the collection he sends with Titus (2 Corinthians 8:18), 'the brother .. who is famous for his preaching of the gospel'. In other words, he sends with him a well known evangelist. And I assume that someone famous for his preaching of the gospel, does exactly that when he comes: preach the gospel.
Even here, in what could be seen as a purely humanitarian cause, the message of Jesus is proclaimed.
Why? Because when people receive Jesus, they receive the Spirit of God and they begin to desire to give.
And that is made clear in 2 Corinthians 9:13. The reason that the Corinthians gave was because of their 'submission flowing from [their] confession of the gospel of Christ'.
b) Because when we give, people turn to him in thanksgiving (v12).
Alison and myself give great thanks to God for those who have given so that we were able to work in Russia with CMS, and so that I can be released to be a full time minister in the Church of England. We thank God for you.
And I hope that you have had the experience also of being on the receiving end of unexpected and yet needed gifts.
The problem is that most of us play it so safe financially that we do not know the dependence on God, or the joy that his provision can bring. The prayer that he taught us to pray daily does include the line, 'Give us today our daily bread'. For many believers that has been a genuine prayer. And when God answers it, there is great joy and sincere thanksgiving.
But when we give, praise is also given to God (v13): praise for the way that he transforms sinful men and women. They will praise him, because through Jesus, he has changed our lives. They will praise him because he has turned us from people who naturally want to grab onto money and grip onto money, into people who are learning to love, who are learning to live and who are learning to give.
'Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift'