Giving ourselves first to the Lord. 2 Corinthians 8.1-7

2 Corinthians 8:1-7

Today we start a series of three talks on giving

The heart of giving
The reason for giving
The blessing of giving

They are based on 2 chapters in 2 Corinthians, a letter sent by Paul to the Christians in the city of Corinth in which he talks about a collection that the church in Corinth planned to make to support the Christians in Jerusalem and Judaea, because they were facing a famine.

And in our reading today, Paul urges the Corinthian Christians to complete what they said they would do.

That is important. It is easy to make a promise, especially if it is about money, and then – if not deliberately break our promise – forget our promise.

I wonder how many of us have done that!

Well, Paul encourages them not forget their promise and to do what they said that they would do.

And in these verses, he tells them about the Macedonian Churches (Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea). He says that, although they were extremely poor, and even though they had suffered dreadfully for their faith, they were full of joy in their faith, and that their joy ‘welled up in rich generousity’.

They gave generously (‘beyond their ability’) and they gave eagerly (Paul says, they were ‘begging us earnestly’ for the privilege of having the opportunity to share in the service to the people of God in Jerusalem.

And this is the key: “they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us,” (2 Corinthians 8:6)

Real giving, generous giving, eager giving, begins when we give ourselves to God

This is very important.

God does not want your stuff. God wants you

The bandit may have stood on the road with his gun pointed at you and gives you a choice, ‘Your money or your life’, but Jesus hangs on the cross and gives us no choice. It is not your money or your life, but your life and your money. He demands everything.

Zinzendorf, who was the founder of the Moravian church speaks of how, as a young man who had given up on his Christian faith, he visited an art gallery. And he was captured by a painting of Jesus hanging on the cross. Underneath were the words, ‘All this I have done for you. What will you do for me?’

That was the moment when he recommitted his life to following Jesus. He ‘gave himself’ first to the Lord.

It is very easy to use financial giving to avoid the demands of God.

I worked for one vicar who on principal would never pass the plate around.

He said it was too easy for people to put their money into the plate and think that they had done their duty to God.

And most of us are even more foolish: we think that because we have given something to God, God owes us something back. Because I tithe, God will make life go well for me. Because I’ve bought a large candle God will answer my prayer as I want.

But if we think like that we have got it all the wrong way round.

God has given us everything. He has given us life, our family, our place of birth and our position in society, interests, gifts and abilities, the people we come into contact with and all the opportunities that we have.

So, if we give anything to God, we are only giving to God what he has already given to us. How can we possibly say that God owes us anything?

If someone gives me 10k rubles as a gift, and I then give them back 100 rubles, how can I claim that they owe me anything?

King David in the Old Testament made an appeal. He wanted to build a temple for God. And people gave – generously – gold and silver.
And David prays a prayer of thanksgiving. He thanks God that God has made people willing to give and has given them wealth that they can give. And then he adds, ‘All things come from you, O God, and of your own have we given you’.

And God has not only given us everything – everything that we have and we are.

He has also given us himself – in his son Jesus on the cross.

And he gave us Jesus to give us a second chance, so that we could live as we were created to live; to give us an opportunity to turn from our rebellion against him and to become friends of God, intimate with God. He gives us Jesus to save us from sin and death.

God is not some petty tyrant who demands that you give him yourself because he needs servants.
God created you and has given you everything because he loves you.
And God demands that you give him yourself because he loves you.

He looks at us and sees that because we have rejected him, because we are blind to him, deaf to him, because we are living without him, we are not complete. We are like a lost jigsaw piece that slipped behind the radiator. We are lost, not particularly pretty, useless and dirty.
But he searches everywhere for us, and when he finds us, he lovingly cleans us and – this is where the illustration breaks down – if we permit him to do so, if we give ourselves to him, he will put us in the right place, the right way round in the jigsaw.

So before we give any money, we need to recognize that God has given us everything, and as a response give ourselves to the Lord.

That is what Psalm 40 says. God does not want our offerings. He wants our response, he wants our obedience, he wants us to have ‘an open ear’.

Romans 12:1 ‘Therefore in view of the mercies of God offer your money to God’ – NO! ‘offer your bodies as a living sacrifice to God’

We give him our love, desires, wills, minds, relationships, future, past, successes and failures, our possessions, our time, our bodies

I read that Archbishop Bill Burnett would go into his chapel – when you are an Archbishop you have a chapel – and would dedicate his body to God. He would start with his toes and feet and ankle and work up his body to his head and his hair, dedicating each part to the service of God.

We first give ourselves to the Lord – and then we give our stuff.

This is where Cain went wrong.

Abel had given himself to the Lord, Cain had not.

That is why God, in our reading from Genesis, accepts Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s sacrifice. It is not because Abel offered an animal sacrifice and Cain offered a sacrifice of the fruits of the earth. Both were equally acceptable to God.

God accepts Abel’s sacrifice because Abel offers him the firstlings – the first fruits of his flock.

When we give ourselves to the Lord, when we respond to his generousity and love with our love, then we will– like the Macedonian Christians – be eager to give and generous in our giving.

If we first give ourselves to the Lord then the very first thing that we will do when we get stuff, when we get our ‘harvest’ is to recognize that it all comes from him, and in recognition of our dependence on him, we thank him and as a token of our love we give him back the first of what we earn.

So when we get some money, the first thing that the person who has given themselves to God will do, is to put aside some of it to give to the Lord.

The guideline in the Old Testament was that people were to put aside 10% of their income to give to the Lord.
It is a guideline that we also find in the New Testament (Matthew 23.23)
And it is a guideline that many people follow today.
But it is a guideline, not a law.

Some of us here should not be giving 10%. There is one dear brother who I know has very little to live on. He should not be giving anything. Probably we, the church, should be supporting him (more about that next week). Yet I know he does give, 10 or 20 rubles a week – and for him that is a significant sacrifice. That is like the widow we read about in the temple.

The widow's mite. Mosaic from Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

But some of us here, if we have given ourselves first to the Lord, should be giving, will be giving far more than 10%.

When a person becomes a Bishop, they receive a larger salary than if they are a usual vicar or minister. I remember one person who on being appointed a bishop, publicly pledged that he would now give 20% of his income.

It is not so much the amount we give, but the amount we are left with after we give.
John Wesley founded the Methodist movement. He worked out what he needed to support his family and to do the ministry. Anything above that he gave. At first he gave little, but then as his income grew from the books he published, he gave more.

If when we have given ourselves first to the Lord, we will realise that everything that we have, 100% of all that we have, belongs to the Lord.

- the money we give to the work of the gospel/church, belongs to the Lord
- the money we give for good works, belongs to the Lord
- the money we spend on those we love, belongs to the Lord
- the money we save, belongs to the Lord
- the money we spend on ourselves, and all that we possess, belongs to the Lord

It is when we give ourselves first to the Lord that we will be changed and begin to want to give – eagerly and generously.

The story is told about an old Iranian church. At the end of the service it was the custom of the minister to hold a large plate and people would come up and place their offerings on that plate. A small barefooted boy came forward. He came from a devout but very poor family. He stood there and said to the minister, ‘Lower’. The minister lowered the plate thinking it was too high for the boy to put his offering on. But the boy continued to say ‘Lower’, until the plate rested on the floor. Then the boy stepped on it.

‘First they gave themselves to the Lord’


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