Generosity Part II
- 13 June 2021
- Stuart Robinson
Last time we met, I spoke about God’s open-handed generosity to us, so wonderfully articulated by St. Paul thus:
‘For, you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich’ – II Corinthians 8:9.
God’s grace to us – where he spares not even his Son to restore us to fellowship with himself, informs what we now come to in the reading from II Corinthians 8, where Paul lays out three giving principles for his friends in Corinth (and us).
Their immediate context is their pledged support for the ‘mother church’ in Jerusalem. This morning I want us to ‘cover off’ on three areas:
- Give consistently
- Give willingly
- Give intelligently
Paul writes, (vv. 10-11). “Here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work….”
Like athletes who start out so well in a marathon, but stumble and fail to complete the race, these Corinthians had started out enthusiastically and willingly in their commitment to funding mission.
But they were inconsistent.
They had run out of steam.
And it was not for lack of good coaching or a good strategy.
In his first letter to the Christians in Corinth Paul was crystal clear as to how they should conduct themselves.
He said (in I Corinthians 16:2), “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of the week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with her or his income, saving it up, so that when I come no [additional] collections will have to be made. Then when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.”
What is the principle?
And he suggests setting aside a pre-determined sum to be given at regular intervals for the work of the Kingdom.
I am sure that if direct debiting (or electronic giving) existed in 55AD Paul would have been an advocate!!
Pre-determined giving – at regular intervals makes it possible for a church to plan activities and support ministries because the giving base is consistent and stable.
That is Paul’s point.
Dr Joseph Stowell (an American author and preacher), reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice and a Christian’s attitude to giving made the following observation,
“I have come to realise that giving is symptomatic. A heart that loves God and his Kingdom work will [like Jesus], gladly give. I am convinced that God loves a cheerful giver because a gift given cheerfully, is the outward expression of a heart that loves him”.
Paul (in v.11) speaks about an “eager willingness to give” and concludes (in v 12), “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.”
We are talking about attitude here.
Later Paul said in II Corinthians 9:7 that “God loves a cheerful giver” not one who gives “grudgingly or under compulsion”.
The emphasis is not on the amount so much as it is on our attitude to giving.
As Jesus willingly went to the cross and to death for us (he became “poor” that we might become “rich” – II Cor. 8:9) so ought we be eagerly willing – indeed intentionally seeking out opportunities, to apply our resources to the work of the Kingdom.
Jim L. Wilson and Rodger Russell illustrate willing, cheerful giving: As people began to struggle with the downturn in the economy in 2009, Cross Timbers Community Church in Argyle, Texas attempted to help. The pastor told the people, “When the offering plate comes by, if you need money, you just take it from the plate.”
And people did.
The church gave away $500,000 in just two months.
They assisted single mothers, widows, a local mission, and some families who were way behind on their utility bills.
The day they announced the ‘take-from-the plate’ offer, they also received their largest offering – ever.
Listen again to the text of II Corinthians 8:12-15
12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”
Paul underscores the notion of responsibility again in these verses.
We are responsible, under God, for the stability and financial health of the church – both locally and further afield.
And his prime concern is that the Corinthian church take seriously their responsibility for the struggling ‘mother church’ in Jerusalem, “your plenty will supply their need” v.14.
Please note that Paul wants his readers to be sensible about this.
He wants them to give intelligently.
He does not want the church in Jerusalem to thrive while the Corinthians are hard pressed (v.13) rather he wants the Corinthians to take stock of what they have, and then make a decision as to what they will give.
That is the thrust of v.12, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have”.
Implicit in this comment is the need to accurately and regularly take stock of what one does indeed have.
That is, carefully work out your income and make decisions concerning out-goings accordingly.
Let me give you an oft quoted example of this and with I will close
There was a time when the 18th century evangelist and social activist John Wesley quite possibly had the highest earned income in England.
In 1771 Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he would have money to give to the poor.
He records that his annual income was 30 pounds and his living expenses 28 pounds; he had 2 pounds to give away.
The next year his income doubled, but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he had 32 pounds to give to the poor.
In the third year his income jumped to 90 pounds. Instead of letting his expenses rise with his income, he kept them to 28 pounds and gave away 62 pounds.
In the fourth year he received 120 pounds. As before his expenses were 28 pounds so his giving rose to 92 pounds.
Wesley believed that with increased income, what should rise is not the Christians standard of living but their standard of giving.
This practice, begun at Oxford, continued throughout his life. Even when his income rose into the thousands of pounds sterling, he lived simply and gave away the surplus.
Those three principles again:
Our great God and Heavenly Father, give us a heart for mission and ministry. May we use your resources for your honour and glory. May our giving be intelligent, willing, and consistent.