2 Corinthians 9:6-11
I’ve been here seven and a half years now, and I’ve never preached a sermon on giving. I’ve mentioned it in other contexts, but never devoted a sermon to it. Not because I don’t think it’s important or that we don’t need to hear it. And this sermon is not in response to poor giving or a low contribution. It’s that we need to be reminded from time to time that our giving is a reflection of our relationship with God and that he wants our giving to bring us joy.
Certainly, Jesus spoke about giving and possessions more than any other single subject. One out of every six verses in the Gospels deals with how we handle possessions and wealth.
The place where Jesus starts is by teaching us to be generous with what we have. Parable after parable, encounter after encounter – from the parable of the rich fool to his meeting with Zacchaeus, Jesus hammers this home: The antidote to selfishness and greed is generosity.
You hear it in Paul’s words:
People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Tim 6:9-10)
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Tim 6:17-19)
If you are rich (and everyone of us here this morning is), Paul commands us to be generous and ready to share.
And so this morning, I want to share some thoughts on giving. And I, unapologetically, want you to consider your own giving and how it reflects the relationship you have with the Lord.
In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul reminds us that God loves a cheerful giver. God wants us to enjoy giving. To some of us that sounds like a strange thing to say. Enjoy giving? But Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver!” So, this morning, if giving isn’t something you enjoy – if it leaves you with a twinge of guilt or resentment, then maybe you need to rethink, not just how much you give, but why you give.
There are some folks who give lots of money to worthy causes, but have never experienced a moment of joy out of it. They felt resentment and regret and selfishness, but no joy. And the reason is that they have never figured out how in the world a person can be joyful giving something away. Every dollar they give is a dollar they could have spent on themselves. And that never makes sense.
Outside of the Gospels, very few actual words of Jesus are recorded. Jesus isn’t often quoted. But these actual words of Jesus are recorded in Acts 20:35 – “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
I used to think that’s one of those noble things you said, but didn’t really mean. Kind of like “make yourself at home” – when you tell a guest to make themselves at home you don’t really mean it – when you’re at home you feel free to rearrange the furniture and lick the bottom of your ice cream bowl and put your feet up on the coffee table (and we certainly don’t mean that.)
But Jesus really meant it – it IS “more blessed to give than to receive.” I used to love getting presents (it’s still pretty nice), but it doesn’t even compare with the enjoyment I get from giving gifts. And when it comes to giving, I just love to be in a position to give money to someone or some cause that really needs it. Any blessing they might receive is more than doubled by how I get to feel from giving it.
That’s what Jesus wants us to experience, because that is the joy the Father experiences from giving to his children.
I imagine that’s the kind of joy the widow experienced when she dropped her two copper coins into the treasury. You remember the story don’t you?
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mk 12:41-44)
Why would someone give their last two cents when that’s all they have to live on. You see, that doesn’t make any sense. I have a couple other widow stories that have challenged my attitude toward giving as well:
Story of Booker T. Washington – Tuskegee Institute
When Booker T. Washington was raising $500 to buy a farm on which the Tuskegee Institute now stands, an aged black woman hobbled into the room where Washington sat. She was leaning on a can. She was clothed in rags, and she said, “Mr. Washington, God knows I spend the best days of my life in slavery, God knows I am dirt poor, but I know you are trying to make better men and women. I don’t have money, but I want you to take these six eggs I’ve been saving and put them into the education of these boys and girls. Booker T. Washington later said, “Since the work at Tuskegee started, I have received many gifts for the Institute, but never have any touched me so deeply as the sacrificial gift of that noble woman.”
Story of Oseola McCarty
Most of Oseola McCarty’s life had been spent working 12-hour days doing other people’s laundry. That’s why people were amazed when she generously donated $150,000 to establish a scholarship fund at the University of Southern Mississippi. What even more amazing is that this gift represented only 60 percent of her total life savings of $250,000. When asked how she did it, she simply said that she lived modestly, saved regularly and gave generously.
Some people do their giving after they die. They write people and institutions into their will so their money will continue to bless after they are gone. And it’s great to give through your will after you’ve died, but wouldn’t it be great to get to experience the joy of getting to see for yourself what a blessing your money is by giving it away while you’re alive?
We can use our money to acquire stuff, and clutter our lives with all kinds of things that don’t really give us that much pleasure. And it’s not just in our individual lives. It happens to us as a church. We don’t just stuff our garages and closets full of stuff; we are a consumer mentality church as well. A recent study of American churches reveals that the majority of American Christian givers are more earthly than givers of the past. The results of the study showed that in return for a dollar in the collection plate, church goers expect a new chapel, day care for their children, and remodeled bathrooms. Instead of being generous and giving because they love God or are thankful, they give to get a nursery school program or to fix the building – it’s a consumer mentality. And it’s not that it’s wrong to give to fund projects and programs, but at the heart of our giving needs to be that joy in giving generously to God.
Imagine the joy Oseola McCarty experienced when she gave away that substantial sum of money to a cause she really believed in. Let’s go for the joy of generosity.
God loves a cheerful giver. He wants us to have joy in our hearts, a smile on our face, delight in our eyes when we give.
I’m afraid that until we experience that kind of joy in our giving we will not truly be free from the grip of affluence in our lives. There will always be a hesitancy that robs us of what God really wants us to experience when we give. And the fact is, I can tell you all day long how wonderful it feels to give generously and sacrificially, but until you actually do it, my words won’t really mean much to you. It’s the folks who are already doing it, who have personally experienced that joy that are nodding their heads and thinking “that’s right.”
Dave Wannstedt, the former head coach of the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins talked about the priorities he tried to instill in his children. He said, “If my kids have heard me say this once, they have heard me say it a thousand times: I was one of six kids in a three bedroom house with one car. I try to plant the seed with my kids that all this stuff is nice, but it’s really not what makes you happy. And if tomorrow all this was gone and we had to go live in an apartment and I had to coach high school football, we’d be just as happy. When I die, if I could say I gave my kids one thing, hopefully it would be their faith in God. If they have that, they’ll have happiness, and they’ll have peace I will be as happy as I could possibly be.”
I just love it when I hear about and meet people who have high paying jobs, who are materially successful, but who are not slaves to it – who have a clear perspective on where their source of life is and who it is who is in control.
I love it even more when I meet someone who struggles financially, who knows what it is to be in want, but who still gets great joy out of giving. They understand the widow who gave it all; they have the heart of the Macedonians who, out of their own severe poverty, begged Paul for the opportunity to give to their impoverished brothers in Judea.
Generous giving walks hand in hand with spiritual growth and maturity. Giving isn’t a substitute for a deeper spiritual life, but one cannot have a deep spiritual life without giving generously. And when we excuse ourselves from giving because we don’t have enough or our finances are too tight, it is really a reflection on the condition of our relationship with God.
You can give without loving God, but you cannot love God without giving generously. We do not give because we have money, we give because we have faith.
Giving to the Lord helps keep our hearts sensitive to God’s priorities. Face it, when you start investing yourself heavily in something you have a vested interest in its success. That’s what Jesus said about storing up your treasure, not on earth but in heaven, because “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Let me share some priorities in our own giving. And I tell you these things not to impress you or say look at me, but to say I believe this is important.
I believe it’s important to make the local congregation the focus of our giving priorities. This is the front line of service. This is where our week in week out spiritual lives are lived out. And so, you will find 52 checkbook entries that say Glenwood Church of Christ. We give regularly, we give generously. I wouldn’t ask you to do something that I personally don’t believe in and do myself. This is our church – we have invested our lives here. And it’s not a sense of duty or obligation out of which we give, but a sense of belonging – that we are all in this together. And so, when we give, and you give – together we are able to do some wonderful things in God’s kingdom.
But there are important works that we need to support and give to above and beyond our regular contributions. Diana and I take special pleasure in supporting Youth for Christ, the Pregnancy Resource Center, Mountain States Children’s Home, special missions contributions.
When couples here at church get married or have a baby, or a senior graduates, or kids are raising money for special projects, we make sure that we have extra money for the things and people that really matter to us.
We love to give and be generous with what God has blessed us with. And I want to encourage you to give, not out of duty, but out of joy and thanksgiving.
Let’s make sure we understand giving in the larger context of stewardship. God has made us stewards over everything we have – and that includes our time and talents and energy, as well as our possessions and our money. We need to be good stewards of all of it. But giving one doesn’t exempt us from giving the others. I will have people tell me, “I don’t need to give money to the Lord because I’m generous with my time.” Or “I don’t have that much money, so I know the Lord will be just as happy if I use my talents for him.” Everything we have belongs to the Lord and we need to acknowledge that by returning to the Lord from all of those stewardships with which he has entrusted us.
Let’s finish this sermon by looking at Paul’s words to the Corinthian church about giving: Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Cor 9:6-11)
Paul reminds us here in 2 Corinthians 9 that thanksgiving is the ultimate and intended result of our generosity. Thanksgiving among those who receive the blessing of our giving – but even more so, thanksgiving within our own hearts for the joy of being used by God to bless others.
One thing that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church is very striking: 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. (2 Cor. 8:7) He didn’t want them to just muddle along, tossing their leftovers in the plate, he wanted them to excel – to keep growing in their giving – growing in generosity, growing in selfless sacrifice. That’s when you begin to grow in joy.
I didn’t preach this sermon to increase the size of our church budget; not even necessarily to convince you to give more, but because, if you’re not experiencing the joy of giving, you’re missing out on one of the greatest feelings God can give a person. Because when we experience joy in our giving, we get a little glimpse into what God experiences when he gives.
Several years ago I came to know a man who had come here to go to school so he could go back to his native country of Uganda to preach the gospel. His name was Brother George. Brother George told of a man back in Uganda who had become a new Christian. And he was so thrilled in his new life in Christ and so thankful to God for his salvation that when he heard a sermon on giving and tithing he immediately acted on it. He came to the preacher the next morning with a fish and said that he wanted to give it to the Lord as a tithe of his catch that day. The preacher asked, “where are the rest of the fish?” The fisherman smiled and said, “I haven’t caught them yet!”
Joyful, generous giving frees us to experience God’s generosity in ways we might never have thought possible.