Living Generously: Everything You Thought You Knew About Generosity
November 2, 2014 | Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church | II Corinthians 8:1-9, 9:1-15
Normally, I do not stand in this place and read a very lengthy passage of scripture. Today is an exception. I tried to find a way to make this passage shorter; couldn’t do it. So here is a great big dollop of the Word of God.
“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. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability entirely on their own. They urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And 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. So we urge Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 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. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.
“For 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. There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints for I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give. And your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.
“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.
“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the Gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His Holy Word.
Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest, just give me Jesus. Amen.
Every year at this time, when it becomes my task to preach to you on the subject of the giving of our money to the work of Jesus Christ, I throw myself with particular zeal upon the power of the Holy Spirit. And I know a preacher ought to always to depend upon the Holy Spirit in preaching. It’s like the preacher who one day was writing his sermon, his little girl was watching him in the process, and suddenly she said to him, “Daddy, does God always tell you what to say?” He looked at her, smiled, and said, “Well, yes, dear. Of course. He always does.” And the little girl said, “Well, then, why do you have to erase so much?” Well, here is hoping that I don’t have to erase too much today. Here’s hoping that the power of the Holy Spirit will give me the words I need to say. I will tell you, it is difficult for me, always, to preach on the subject of the giving of our money. Mind you, the difficulty is not created by the lack of material.
The Bible tells us, if we read it carefully, that Jesus spent more time talking about the way we use our financial resources than He did about prayer, or repentance, or the kingdom of heaven. And the difficulty is not created by the belief that generosity is a vague concept which is difficult to put into practical terms. Once again, the Bible is quite clear. The Bible says that God expects His people to bring to Him the tithe. One-tenth of our time, our talent, and our treasure. One-tenth of what we have and who we are. That is perfectly plain, maybe even painfully plain.
No. For me, the difficulty is that whenever you start to preach about money, some people get uncomfortable. Then I always have to remember that the pulpit has a dual purpose. One purpose is to comfort the afflicted, yes. But the other purpose is to afflict the comfortable. That is a task which is difficult for me to perform, and yet there are times when, under God, that duty must be performed. Now is such a time. Next Sunday we shall have Covenant Sunday, when we all bring here to the throne of God’s grace the cards showing our commitment of our financial resources to this church and to the work of Christ for the coming year. Great Sunday. And in preparation for that, today I want to pull your attention toward these words that Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians.
Now, I want to warn you right here at the outset, Paul approaches the subject of our giving with all of the subtlety of a Mack truck. He comes at it like a bulldozer in your flower garden. And furthermore, I want you to understand that what Paul has to say in this passage directly contradicts everything that I have ever preached or taught on the subject of giving. Everything. Let me show you what I mean.
In the first place, Paul says, “Give a lot so that you can outgive others.”
Believe it or not that’s actually what he says. I want you to listen to his words. “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 weld up in rich generosity. 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. “I’m not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. Give a lot so that you can outgive others.” Amazing. I never said that in a sermon before.
I don’t know if this story is true. Supposedly it happened in Atlanta, a Presbyterian elder was on his way to church early one Sunday morning. He wanted to get there early because he was teaching Sunday school, wanted to get his class prepared, wanted to get himself prepared. And he was walking along a side street on the way to the church, suddenly he was confronted by a thief wearing a mask holding a gun. He immediately cried out, “Take my money, not my life!” He proceeded to empty out his pockets. And as he did, a little pocket New Testament fell out. The thief looked at that little Bible and he said, “Are you a preacher?” And the man said, “No. I’m a Presbyterian elder.” And the thief replied, “Oh, shucks. Just keep your money. I’m a Presbyterian too [laughter].” I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I’ll tell you what is true. The Bible says if we do not bring the tithe, we are robbing God. That’s what the Bible says. We are robbing God. And it seems to me that there may well be some Presbyterians who are saying to God, “Take my life but not my money.”
And in the midst of all of that, here comes Paul saying, “Give a lot so that you can outgive others.” Did you catch that in the reading? He was saying to the Christians at Corinth, “Your fellow Christians in Macedonia are rather poor but they are giving so generously to the work of Christ. You, Corinthians, are pretty well off. Are you going to let the Macedonians outdo you in their giving?” I find that to be shocking, and yet that’s what Paul says. And I believe that if Paul was standing right here where I’m standing now, Paul would say to us, “You folks at MDPC, you’re pretty well off. Besides that, you have long declared that generosity is one of the great marks of your church. Surely, then, you are not going to shortchange God. Surely, you are not going to let other Christians outdo you in their giving to the work of Jesus Christ. Give a lot so that you can outgive others.” That’s what Paul says. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, that’s what I want to say too.
But next, Paul says, “Give a lot so that you will get a lot.”
Wait a minute, is that what he said? I never said anything like that in a sermon. Give a lot so that you’ll get a lot. But listen to what he says, “Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. And whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” There it is, runs against everything I’ve ever preached. But Paul says, “Give a lot so that you will get a lot.”
I love the story about the prominent preacher who was vacationing up in the great northwest woods with his family. And not far from where they were staying, there was a struggling little church. They had heard about this preacher and they heard that he was in the neighborhood. And so they approached him and asked him if he would be willing to preach for them on the following Sunday. Small struggling church, and he understood that and so he said yes, he would be there on the following Sunday. That next Sunday, he got up, he took his little boy with him, and they hiked through the beautiful woods and they came to this lovely little church. And as they walked in the front door, the preacher noticed there was a large white box by the door that had a slit on the top. And almost instinctively, he just pulled out his wallet and dropped a dollar into that slot and then they went on in. And he preached a magnificent sermon. There were just 14 people there but he gave them the whole load. It was wonderful. And afterwards, the people crowded around him. They said, “Preacher, that was absolutely magnificent. We never heard anything like it. We are so grateful. Now, you need to understand that we’re just a poor congregation so we don’t actually take up an offering. We just encourage people to drop their contributions into that white box by the front door. In gratitude for being here today, everything in that box is yours.” He went over and picked up the box, turned it over, a dollar bill fell out. His little boy said, “Daddy, if you put more in, you would’ve gotten more out.”
Oh, yes. If you put more in, you would’ve gotten more out. Give a lot so that you will get a lot. My word. Can that be true? Well, in the Book of Malachi, God says, “Bring me the tithe. See if I will not open up for you the windows of heaven and pour out upon you a blessing so great that you cannot contain it.” Now, let me quickly say here that there is no specific promise in that Word of God that guarantees that if we give more, God will give us more money. No. Although, I must tell you, sometimes that’s the way it works out. We just heard that on the screen. But the real promise that God is making here is this: if we bring the tithe, He is going to open the windows of heaven and He is going to pour out upon us individually a spiritual blessing so great that we will never be able to contain it. Give a little; you got a little. Give a lot; you get a lot. That’s what Paul says. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, that’s what I want to say too.
And then, something else Paul says, “Give a lot so that you will not be embarrassed.”
My word. Is that really what he said? Well, you just listen. “I’m sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed. Give a lot so that you will not be embarrassed.” Let me tell you, I have never before had those words in any sermon. Give a lot so that you will not be embarrassed.”
I heard about a young man who was going off to college. His father sat him down and wanted to show him how to make and use a budget. At the end of the first quarter, the son was back home for a brief break, and the father wanted to see how things were going. So he asked his son if he could see his records. The young man produced the records and the father began to review them, and he noticed that there was one particular account called TLOK. And, furthermore, he noticed that more than one-third of the expenditures had been logged to that particular account. He said to his son, “Son, you’re spending a lot of money on TLOK. What in the world is TLOK?” And the young man said, “Gee, dad, you know money comes and goes so quickly. Sometimes I can’t even remember what I spend it on. And in that case, I always just put that under TLOK.” The father, his exasperation growing, immediately said, “Son, what is TLOK?” The young man said, “The Lord Only Knows.”
Well, let me ask you, who but the Lord the knows how we spend our money, how we use our time, how we use our God-given talents. But make no mistake about it, God does know. God knows how we use what he has given to us. And therefore, Paul is saying, “Can you look at what you give to the work of the Lord and then look God in the eye and say, ‘I am not ashamed’?” Give a lot so that you will not be embarrassed. One thing more, Paul says, “Give a lot so that you can make a difference in the world.” Once again, his words are so poignant and powerful. “You will be made rich so that you can be generous on every occasion. And through us, your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Give a lot so that you can make a difference for Christ in the lives of the people in the world around you.”
I keep thinking today of an elderly woman in Tennessee. She was at church on Mission Sunday. She listened to the sermon. And then, afterwards, she filled out a pledge card. She handed it in. She had written down on the pledge card $500. Now, she was really rather poor, but she had written down $500 and she had handed it in. Immediately after the service, the members of the finance committee met together to record the pledges. When they came to this woman’s card, the chairman of the finance committee said, “I know that lady. She’s really poor. She will never be able to fulfill that pledge.” So he took out his own checkbook and he wrote a check for $500 and he said, “Mark her card Paid In Full.” Some time later, this woman appeared to her pastor and she came saying to him, “I’ve been working really hard and I’ve saved enough money now to make half of my pledge. I want to give that to you, and I promise I’m going to keep working hard and I’ll bring the other half later.” The pastor said, “You don’t understand. There’s no need for you to do that. The chairman of the finance committee already paid the $500.”
The woman began to cry. The tears rolling down her face. The pastor was stunned at her reaction, he said, “Why are you crying?” And she said, “Because Jesus Christ is being proclaimed, and there are people being helped and healed and saved and I have no part in it. It’s a terrible thing to have that going on and to have no part in it.” She understood what Paul was saying. Give a lot so that you can make a difference for Jesus Christ in this world. That’s what Paul said. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, that’s what I want to say too. I don’t know what else to say except to pray that God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will allow these simple thoughts drawn from the pages of the Bible to find a home in your heart.
Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.