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From the Series: A Generous Life
December 7, 2008

“Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

Tim Keller [1] tells a story about a woman who had been brought up in a moralistic, legalistic church. She was quite convinced that God accepts us on the basis of us living a moral and ethical life. She came to church and started to learn about God’s grace in which he freely forgives and accepts us through the work of Jesus Christ.

At one point this lady sat down with Pastor Keller and said, “That’s a scary idea. It’s good scary, but still scary.” Tim was intrigued, so he asked her “What’s so scary about unmerited, free grace?”

She replied “If I was saved by my good works, then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace—at God’s infinite cost—there’s nothing He can’t ask of me.”

I want to help you get this whole matter of giving out of the world of law and into the world of grace where it belongs. When that happens, you won’t be asking “How much do I have to give?” You will begin to discover the joy of a truly generous life.

The starting point is the generosity of God: “Though He was rich yet for our sakes became poor so that we through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). God gives freely and joyfully. Now what would that look like in a church?

Generosity in Giving Money

“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2).

How does God form generosity? Where does it come from? What kind of things would God use to form this in a person’s life?

Rich generosity (RG)

How might you grow in becoming a more generous person? This verse gives us a fascinating insight into how God’s grace shaped these believers who had become a model of generous giving. Rich generosity “welled up”—it exploded out of a convergence of three factors:

Severe trial (ST)

Nobody wants to go through severe trials, but God can use severe trials to make you sensitive to the needs of other people. When you meet generous people you will often find that God has used severe trials in their life to soften their hearts towards the needs of others and to cut the root of selfishness in their life.

Overflowing joy (OJ)

Severe trials alone can make a person bitter and self absorbed. But when you discover God’s grace, then you begin to experience a new joy in Jesus Christ and all that is yours in Him.

Generous people are usually folks who have been softened by severe trials in their own lives and who have found great joy in Jesus Christ. Put these two together and you have the beginnings of a generous life.

Extreme poverty (EP)

It seems that these folks in the Macedonian churches were so poor that Paul didn’t even ask them to participate in his fund raising effort: “Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the poor” (I Corinthians 8:3, 4).

Paul is not saying that you have to be poor to be generous. You will find generous people at every level of income, just as there are mean and tight-fisted people at every level of income. Paul is saying is that the extreme poverty of these folks made their generosity all the more remarkable:

RG = (ST + OJ) EP

The level of their generosity was multiplied when you consider the extreme poverty of their circumstances.

A person who makes $25,000 and gives 10% of their income is far more generous than a person who makes $250,000 and gives 10% of their income. It’s much harder to live on 90% of $25,000 than it is to live on 90% of $250,000.

So, giving 10% of $25,000 is much more generous than giving 10% of $250,000. I think of one very wealthy person who gives 90% of his income. He has what he needs to live and gives the rest away—now that’s generous! You see why you can’t set a rule about generosity.

When you have less, the generosity of your giving is more. This is a wonderful time to grow in generosity. If folks who have lost 30 to 40% of their savings give what they did last year, that’s rich generosity because it came out of less. It is more costly, more sacrificial and more generous. So it reflects the Lord Jesus Christ more clearly.

What the Macedonians did was a rich expression of generosity, but the Corinthians weren’t there. The poorer church was more generous. Corinth was a great metropolis, a bustling city with a thriving commerce. And the Corinthian believers, who were better off, were actually much less generous.

I want you to notice how Paul encourages the more reluctant Corinthians to grow in their generosity. For those of us who may be in the place of saying: “How much do we have to give?” and who feel a fundamental reluctance about the whole thing, how does Paul encourage us to move forward into a more generous life?

Notice what Paul says “Here is my advice to you about what is best for you in this matter” (I Corinthians 8:10). Then Paul gives us three very practical words about this:

Give yourself to the Lord

“They did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (2 Corinthians 8:5).

Paul begins with the example of the Macedonians. He’s telling us that you cannot simply deal with the whole issue of money in isolation.

We need to start where the Macedonians did, by coming before the Lord and saying to Him “You gave everything for me, and now I want to, as best I am able, to tell You that I am yours. I really want You to be the Lord and Savior of my life, and wherever that’s compromised I want to be changed. I’m giving myself to You.” It’s out of this spiritual dynamic that the second step comes:

Give proportionately

“Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (I Corinthians 8:11-12).

You give out of what you have, not out of what you don’t have and not even out of what you hope to have. If you hear a televangelist saying “Give $1,000 now, even if you don’t have it, because if you do, it will be returned to you ten times,” turn off the television and don’t watch the program again.

The principle is very clear, no one should be raising debt over Christian giving. It breaks the principle of giving according to what you have. Look at what you have been given, that’s what you look at, and decide what you will give.

That means deciding on a proportion of what God has given to you. Those who have more will give more, and those who have less will give less. Generosity becomes more and more challenging when you have more.

Decide an amount that you will give. Set a proportion of your income that you think appropriately reflects your response to all that God has given you. Build that into your regular weekly or monthly budget. Give that this year and then look to see if you can increase it next year.

If you’ve never built this into your life, I want to ask you to consider how the lordship of Jesus Christ over your money is being expressed as part of your joyful and free response to all that He is for you, and all that He continues to trust into your hands.

Give purposefully

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality” (2 Corinthians 8:13).

What is Christian giving for? Paul tells us that Christian giving is not about some people making great sacrifices, so that other people who benefit from the giving are living in extraordinary wealth.

In our entrepreneurial culture, it is possible for a man or a woman to start a Christian ministry and become fabulously wealthy as a result. Right here Paul makes it very clear—that is not what Christian giving is for. If you see that happening in a Christian organization, stop giving to that organization because that’s not what giving is for.

New Testament Priorities for Giving

What is Christian giving for? What is its purpose? The New Testament establishes three priorities:

To relieve the needs of the poor

This is why Paul was raising money. The Christians in Jerusalem were facing grinding poverty. You find this theme all throughout the New Testament:

Galatians 2:10: The Apostles asked Paul to “Remember the poor, which was the very thing [he] was eager to do.”

Galatians 6:10: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Romans 15:26: “…pleased to make a contribution to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”

This is a priority—if a brother or sister is in financial need, we have a particular responsibility.

The ministries of those we send

We are trusted with the Gospel, and Christ has told us to take it to all people. So, we must send missionaries, and we must support those whom we send.

Paul is talking about missionaries who are advancing the Gospel:

“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?” (I Corinthians 9:7)

“The Lord has commanded that those who preach the Gospel should receive their living from the Gospel” (v14).

He’s talking about missionaries who are commissioned and sent out by the church.

The ministries of those we call

“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’ (1 Timothy 5:17-18).

John Piper [2] says helpfully that our priorities in giving reflect what we really love. We love the poor and we want to see the poor helped, we love the lost and we want to see the lost saved, and we love the church and we want to see the church built up. If you look at our church budget you will see that it reflects these three biblical priorities.

Integrity in Handling Money

“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”

(I Corinthians 8:20-21).

Paul says “What matters to me is not just that my own conscience is clear with regards to the way money is being handled, what matters is that it is plain to everyone who is watching that money is being handled with integrity and in a way that honors the Lord Jesus Christ.”

A church that reflects the character of God will be marked not only by generosity in giving money, but also by integrity in handling money.

The money that is given to the church is sacred. It has been given by God’s people to be used for God’s work. It must be administered with the highest care and integrity. It must be used very carefully, with wisdom and restraint, always with the purpose for which it was given.

From time to time it comes across our television screen about some ministry being investigated at the highest levels on the basis of allegations of financial impropriety. This is one of the most devastating hindrances to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you have been offended by the misuses of money dedicated to Christian causes, I want you to see that the Apostle Paul would be offended by that. And surely these issues are among the ones that our Lord will address on the final day.

Writing over 400 years ago, John Calvin said:

“There is nothing which is more apt to lay one open to sinister imputations than the handling of public money.” [3]

It’s a real sensitive issue. That was true in his day and it’s still true today. It’s always true. So, financial accountability is essential to the health and testimony of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice what we can learn from Paul’s example of accountability:

Accountability that honors Christ

“The offering which we administer in order to honor the Lord Himself” (v19).

Paul did not handle the money himself. Since he received money from the churches that supported his ministry, it was important that he did not handle it himself and that this was trusted to others.

How wonderful an example is Dr. Billy Graham for us. In his declining to handle his organization’s finances, for accepting a fixed salary, for refusing all “love offerings,” and for ensuring that audited accounts were published after every crusade.” [4] That is a model of integrity.

The church elected a person to oversee the money: “He was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering” (v19). And the money was administered by a team, not by any one individual:

In v17, Paul tells them that Titus is coming. Titus was someone who was already known by the church [5] and trusted.

And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel” (v18).

“In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous” (v22).

The principle of plurality is important in the home as well as in the church. Couples handle money in different ways. But when a husband has money that is secret from his wife, or a wife uses money in ways that are hidden from her husband, they are on a dangerous path.

The team was made up of people with known character and integrity:

“the brother praised in all the churches” (v17).

“the brother chosen by the churches” (v19).

“the brother who has proved in many ways that he is zealous” (v22).

The handling of the money is entrusted to those who were known and who proved trustworthy over time. These Scriptures have caused me to thank God in a fresh way for the ministry of all those who serve the Lord by making sure that the offerings given and received in this church are administered in a way that honors the Lord.

I’m thinking of those who count the money, oversee the accounts, serve on our finance committee, our business administrator, our financial secretary, our treasurer, our church board and our external auditors, who serve the congregation so that “the offering of God’s people is administered in a way that honors the Lord” (v19). If you see someone involved in one of these ministries, thank them for the trust they keep.

One Who Really Cares in a World of Self-Interest

Here’s why integrity and generosity matter: Generosity matters because God is kind. Integrity matters because God can be trusted.

A church that is marked by hardness and is known for shady ways of handling money cannot reflect the generosity and integrity of God. These are critical to the witness of His grace to the next generation and to the world.

We live in a world of self interest, and betrayed trust in relation to money. It has exasperated the citizens of this country. Leaders have been given a trust, and it has been broken. Living in a world of self-interest, where do you look for hope

For many of us it’s more personal than that. There was a person in your life: You thought they cared about you, but then you discovered that they only cared about themselves. Maybe you put your trust in someone and that trust was abused. Living in this world of self interest and betrayed trust, it’s easy to become tired, jaded, even cynical.

In a world of self interest, there is One who truly, completely, and wholly loves you: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). There is not a scrap of self-interest in Jesus Christ.

In a world of betrayed trust there is One who will never disappoint you; He will never let you down. You can trust Jesus Christ with your life, and with your death and for all eternity. Paul says, “Those who trust in Him will never be put to shame” (Romans 10:11).

At the end of his life, the Apostle Paul wrote these words: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).

When you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He is your Savior and Lord, His grace will be increasingly shaping your life, making you more like Him. You are becoming someone who is increasingly generous and someone who can be increasingly trusted.

 

© Colin S. Smith

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Please include this statement on every copy distributed:

By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org

 

[1] Tim Keller is the Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. This story is from his book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of Christian Faith, p. 121, Dutton Press, 2008

http://www.amazon.com/Prodigal-God-Recovering-Heart-Christian/dp/0525950796/

[2]www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByScripture/20/786_Enough_for_Us/

[3] Cited in 2 Corinthians by P. Hughes, p.317

[4] www.generousgiving.org/articles/display.asp?id=49

[5] 2 Corinthians 7:13



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