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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:Give out of the grace that has been given to you
Text:2 Corinthians 8:9 (View)
Occasion:Thanksgiving
Topic:Tithing
 
Preached:2015-02-15
Added:2015-04-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise

Bible translation: NKJV

Psalm 100:1,2,3,4

Psalm 65:5,6

Psalm 136:1,2,3,4,13

Hymn 85:1,2,3

Hymn 83:1,2

 

Read:  2 Corinthians 8&9.

Text:  2 Corinthians 8:9

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It only takes a few minutes each Church service.  An announcement is made, the deacons stand up, a bag is passed around and the collection is taken.  The collection is a regular part of our worship services, but we do not give it a lot of prominence.  Nor do we give a lot of prominence to our regular offerings for the church.  We don’t normally collect for the church in the regular services – this Sunday is an exception to the rule – but there is a box in the church foyer where you are asked to give your offerings for the ministry of the gospel.  Or, as most many of us do nowadays, we give our contributions to the church online or we even set up a “direct deposit” plan where once a week, once a fortnight or once a month we give our gifts to the church.

We do not talk about these things very much and I preach about them even less.  And there are reasons for this, some good reasons and some of them not so good.  One reason is that we consider our finances to be something that is private.  What I earn, what I spend my money on and also how much I give to the church and to charity is my business, not yours.  Another reason that makes me reluctant to speak much about what we call “our tithes and offerings” is because of how much this topic is abused is many Christian circles.  It is abused both in the manipulation applied to cajole people to be separated from their money and it is abused by giving the false promise that the more you give the more God will bless you with material wealth. 

But the Bible is not silent about the topic of giving and so nor should we.  The Bible teaches us that the giving of our thank offerings to the Lord is a fitting and a natural response to the blessings that are ours in Jesus Christ.  And so on this Thanksgiving Service I preach to you the Word of the Lord under the following theme:

Give out of the grace that has been given to you.

  1. The right motive for giving.
  2. The right practice of giving.

 

1. The right motive for giving.

The question that many of us want answered and the question that some of you would like some guidance on in this sermon is “how much should we give?”  How much of our income should we give to the Lord?  Does Old Testament figure of 10% still apply?  And if so, 10% of what?  Ten percent of my basic wage or 10% of everything I earn?

But although this might be the most pressing question for us, the Bible is concerned in the first place about something else.  In the New Testament the Bible does not place the emphasis on how much to give, but rather on how you give.  It is not the Old Testament tithe that should rule us, but hearts that are changed by the gospel of grace.  As the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:7 –

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”

So we do not give because we are forced to, nor do we give because we have to, but we give because we want to.

But do you want to give?  Are you a cheerful giver?  What is your motive for giving?

When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, it had become necessary for him to raise the subject of giving, in this case giving to supply the needs of the saints who were in Jerusalem.  In the city of Jerusalem there were many Christians struggling in extreme poverty.  Many had lost their homes and their livelihoods for the sake of the gospel, and now a severe famine had gripped the city and the surrounding countryside.  People were destitute and many were hungry.  And so, as an expression of their full unity in Christ, the apostle Paul and those with him began to collect funds from the churches throughout the Roman empire.  And so Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 16:1-3,

 “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.  And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem.”

But things had not gone as planned.  The Corinthians had been ready and willing to provide for the saints, the Christians of Jerusalem but things got in the way and the collections were not being taken.  And so Paul felt the need to write to them further.  2 Corinthians 9:1-5,

Now concerning the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you; for I know your willingness, about which I boast of you to the Macedonians, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal has stirred up the majority. Yet I have sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this respect, that, as I said, you may be ready; lest if some Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we (not to mention you!) should be ashamed of this confident boasting. Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation.

Paul had been boasting – in a good way – to the Macedonians about how the Corinthians, the people from Achaia, had been more than willing to hold a series of collections for the poor living in Jerusalem.  They had not done what they had pledged to do and so now Paul appeals to them once more.  But notice what how he wants the money to be raised: not as a grudging obligation but as a matter of generosity.  And that was something new.  For the Jews also collected money for Jerusalem.  The Jews levied a Temple tax for all the Jewish people living in the dispersion.  This tax was collected every year and sent to Jerusalem.  But the collection that the apostle Paul was arranging for the Christian poor living in Jerusalem was not like that.  There was no levy and this was no tax:  the Christians of Corinth were simply being invited to join in with a free-will offering for their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.

And it was in this context that the apostle Paul told them about the Macedonian churches.  The Macedonian churches were the churches of Philippi, Thessalonica and perhaps Berea.  It is worth noting that whereas Corinth was a relatively wealthy city, with two ports and many trading ships going through there, the region of Macedonia was not.  Two hundred years before Paul came to Macedonia, there were gold mines that brought them wealth, but, as we all know, with every mining boom there comes a bust and after the gold petered out Macedonia went through some hard times.  Wars, barbarian invasions, Roman settlement and a restructuring of the province had brought the province to its knees and Macedonia was in a state of great poverty.  And we can assume that this is why Paul wrote about the “deep poverty” of the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8:2.  The Macedonians did not have much to give, but give they did, willingly and cheerfully.

But it was not money that the Macedonians gave in the first place.  Rather, it was themselves.  2 Corinthians 8:5 says,

“And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.”

For the Macedonians, Christianity was a matter of all or nothing.  Because they belonged to God in Jesus Christ, they gave up their whole life to the Lord and His service.  It was not a matter of saying, “Here Lord, here’s my 10% - but the rest of my life I keep to myself.”  Nor did they see their service to God as some sort of Christian obligation.  Rather, when they became Christians, the Macedonians stopped living for themselves and started living for God.  And then because they gave themselves to God, they also gave themselves to the apostle Paul and to all those of the Christian church.  And then the giving of money, money that they had so little of, was a natural thing to do.  They did not have our Western sense of personal belongings.  They did not see their lives, nor their money as something that is “all mine, to be handed out if and when I think it is in my best interests.”  Rather, they first gave themselves to God, and then they gave themselves to others.  You see, if you put yourself in the collection bag, so to speak, then to give freely and cheerfully of your money is a natural thing to do.

And so it says in 2 Corinthians 8:3,

“For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing.”

The Macedonian Christians did not take a measured approach to their giving.  They did not count their coins, ask what was the minimum required and grudgingly give that.  Rather, they gave what they could – and even more.  Now this does not mean that we are to go into debt in order to give to God.  To use your credit card to give to the church when you don’t have an income to pay for what you are giving is not what is required of you.  And there may be times in your life when you are in the position to give much to the Lord and to His service, and other times when you give little.  That’s why Paul added in 2 Corinthians 8:12,

12 For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.

So we do not give what we do not have.  But when it says that the Macedonians gave beyond their ability, it means that they gave to their hurt.  An example of this can be found in the writings of a man called Aristides who wrote in about 150 AD that Christians were those who . . .

“If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof … [and] if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed … all of them provide for his needs … and if there is among them a man who is poor and needy … they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with the necessary food.”  (Apology 15.1-10)

The Christians would fast, they would go without food for up to three days to give food to those who had none at all!  That is how they gave beyond their ability.  Because they gave themselves first to God, they were also ready to give their all to their brothers and sisters.

But why did they do this?  What would motivate anybody to give to such an extent?  For this is not 10% giving:  this is giving everything!  And what about us then?  What is our motivation for giving?

Simply put, the right motive for giving – both for the Macedonians and also for us – is grace.  2 Corinthians 8:1,

“Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia.”

And verse 9,

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

Our giving, therefore, does not start with our bank balance, nor with the needs that we are confronted with.  Our giving starts with the grace of God in Christ Jesus!  We give out of what God has first given us.  And what God has given us is His only begotten Son.  When we were dead in sin, slaves to unrighteousness and burdened with a debt that could never be paid, God gave us His Son.  And though He was rich, Jesus Christ became poor for our sakes.  He gave up all that was His in the throne room of heaven.  He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond servant, and coming in the likeness of man.  He gave Himself, yes, He gave His life, so that we might have all things in Him.  And it is this gift of God’s grace that caused the apostle Paul to exclaim in 2 Corinthians 9:15,

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ! 

And that is the right motive, yes, the only motive for giving.  We do not give out of compulsion, nor out of duty.  But we give because Christ has first given to us.  We give because of the grace of God that lives in us.

 

2. The right practice of giving.

Since God has given us all things in Christ Jesus and since it is the grace of God that motivates us to live for Him and to give to Him, the 10% tithing rule of the Old Testament no longer applies in the same way.  It is, it must be said, still a good guide for us to follow.  It is right to budget and as you budget it is good to set aside your first fruits to the Lord and to work on a model of 10% is a good place to start.  But the 10% tithe is no longer the point!  The point is that all that we have belongs to God in Christ!  He gave up the glories of heaven, yes, He gave up His life for us.   And now, since we belong to Him, Jesus Christ is both our motive as well as our standard for giving.  Since we have received the grace of God in Christ, let us also abound in what 2 Corinthians 8 calls “the grace of giving.”

But now let’s get practical.  Let’s see how this might look in our day to day living.  What is the right practice of giving?

Once again, there is only one place to start, and that is with the grace of God and with what God has given us in Jesus Christ.  Our God is a God who has given us the greatest Gift of all – our Lord Jesus Christ – and so whatever we now give must be in the context of what He has first given to us.  Our giving, therefore, is thanksgiving.  And the thanks we are giving is not in the first place for the physical blessings He has given to us – although it is that as well – but it is thanks for all that is ours in Jesus Christ.  And when we give out of the grace of God that is ours in Christ Jesus, then our giving will never be a grudging one out of a sense of obligation, nor will it be a giving that is stingy.  Rather, it will be a giving that overflows out of a heart of thankfulness to God.

And this, then, will also determine the extent of our giving.  We will give according to the pattern set down by our Lord Jesus Christ.  That is the meaning of verse 9:

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

The Bible uses the grace of God to teach us not just why we must give, but also how we must give.  For us the rule is not “Give 10% to the LORD and keep the other 90% for yourself.”  Rather, the rule for us to follow is, “Give in the same manner as Christ has given Himself for you.”  See to it that you first give yourselves to God.  And that includes everything.  All your money, all your goods, all your time and all your gifts and talents. 

  And then be prepared to give, even to give outside of your comfort zone.  Be willing and ready to give even when it hurts.  Allow me to give a few practical examples.

  1. First of all, with respect to your giving to the church.  It is true that the tithe no longer applies to us in the same way that it applied to the people of Israel in the Old Testament.  It no longer applies because we live not under law but under grace.  But what that means is that since we live under grace, our giving is no longer one of obligation but of delight.  We will willingly and cheerfully give to the Lord the first fruits of what He has given us.  And so I ask you: do you give to the Lord, to His Church and to His people out of gratitude for what is yours in Christ?  Does the amount that you give clearly reflect that?
  2. Second, have a careful look at what you are spending your money on.  Review your budget, check your bank statements, have a look at your wardrobes, your kitchen pantries, your wine racks, your cars, your houses, your boats, your caravans, your holidays and so forth.  What do these things say about you?  What is your heart set on, and where does your treasure lie?  Are you being self-centered with the gifts that God has given you, or do you seek to be God-centered and kingdom-centered?  Are you setting yourselves up and living for this life, or for the life to come?
  3. When you experience an increase in wealth, do you see this first of all as a reason to increase your standard of living, or to increase your standard of giving?  We must be good stewards, also how we give our money for the use in God’s Kingdom.  But as our wealth grows, does our giving grow even more?
  4. We live in age of consumerism and we live at time where we are encouraged always to strive for more.  But let’s stop and think.  Instead of asking “Can I afford that house or that car” or whatever it is that is on offer, ask if you really need it.  For if you can go with something less and something cheaper, you would have more to give to God and to give to others.  Let me give you two very practical suggestions here.  Suggestion #1.  Think about something that you might legitimately like to have but are able to give up so that you might use that money for God’s service.  This could be a holiday, some form of beauty treatment, a new set of clothes or an evening out.  Go for a cheaper option, or go without altogether and give what you saved for the ministry of the gospel or for those in need.  Suggestion #2.  Whatever you go out to buy, it seems that the person selling you something always wants you to upgrade to something more.  A new house?  Upgrade to stone bench tops, to a bigger home theatre room, to a state of the art lighting system.  A new car?  Upgrade to a bigger model, to leather seats, to a better tires.  A new phone?  Upgrade to a better phone and a bigger phone plan.  Anyone for McDonalds?  Upgrade to a large fries, a large drink, and double the number of chicken nuggets.  Now there are times when an upgrade is valuable, when it is worthwhile, and when it is fine to do it.  But how much do we really need?  So here’s my suggestion.  Next time you are tempted to upgrade, ask yourself if you really need it and if this is being a good steward of what God has given you.  And then even if you can afford it, willingly give that upgrade up – and the money you save, give that to God for use in His Kingdom.  You can do this with big things such as a car or a house upgrade, and you can do it with small things such as a meal upgrade, or buying a large coffee instead of a regular one.  Do it for a month or even a year, if you are up to it, keep a record of all that you save and give it to God.

And so in these sorts of ways give out of the grace that God has given you.  Neither I, nor your elders, nor anyone else can demand that you give your thank offerings to the Lord.  We can not demand this because as soon as we do, your gifts will be given grudgingly or merely out of a sense of duty.  But what the Bible does do, is it points us to all that is ours in Jesus Christ.  The Bible shows us Jesus, the One who though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor.  The Bible reveals to us the grace of God that has been given to us.  And in this way the Bible teaches us a new way of living and a new way of giving.  And so in our thanksgiving to God let us give out of the grace that has been given to us.  Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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