How Can We Miss The Eyes?
II Corinthians 8:1-4, 9:1-15
I read to you selected verses from the eighth and ninth chapters of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. “We want you to know, brethren, about the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of talking part in the relief of the saints. Now, it is superfluous for me to write to you about the offering for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brethren so that our boasting about you may not prove vain in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be, lest if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we be humiliated, to say nothing of you, for being so confident.”
“So, I thought it necessary to urge the brethren to go on to you before me and arrange in advance for this gift you have promised, so that it may be ready, not as an exaction, but as a willing gift. The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything, and may provide in abundance for every good work. As it is written, ‘He scatters abroad. He gives to the poor. His righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which, through us, will produce thanksgiving to God. For the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints, but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God.”
“Under the test of this service, you will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the Gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God, for His inexpressible gift.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Every year, when it comes time for me to preach a stewardship sermon, I throw myself with particular zeal upon the Holy Spirit. Oh, I know we are always to be dependent upon the Holy Spirit in preaching. It’s like the little girl who was watching her daddy while he was writing his sermon, and she said to him, “Daddy, does God always tell you what to say?” And he looked at her, and smiled, and said, “Yes, dear, of course He does.” And she said, “Well, then, why do you erase so much?” Well, I hope I don’t have to erase too much today. And I do depend, this day, upon the wisdom and the word of the Holy Spirit, because, you see, it is always difficult to preach about stewardship.
Now, the difficulty is not created by a lack of material in the Scriptures. As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself spoke more about stewardship, about the use of our financial resources, than He did about prayer, or about the kingdom of heaven, or about repentance. And the difficulty is not created that – in the fact that stewardship is some vague concept that is very difficult to put into hard, concrete, practical terms. No, that’s not the difficulty. As a matter of fact, the Scriptures are quite precise – some may even say, painfully precise – when it comes to the matter of stewardship. God expects from His people the gift of the tithe. He expects one-tenth of all that we possess: one-tenth of our time, our talent, and our treasure. That’s so plain, so unmistakable, that no one can legitimately deny it.
No, the difficulty comes because, well, some people become a touch uncomfortable when you begin to preach about money. And, you know, I always have to remember that this pulpit has a double function: to comfort the afflicted, yes, but also to afflict the comfortable. And I do not know of any minister who enjoys that latter role. I certainly don’t. But there are times when that duty must be performed. And it’s always difficult. But it seems especially difficult for me today. You see, last summer, I took a short course under Dr. Charles Cousar of Columbia Seminary. We were studying II Corinthians. And in the course of that study, Dr. Cousar suggested that the eighth and ninth chapters of II Corinthians contain marvelous material for stewardship. And so, in preparation for this sermon, I plunged into a study of the eighth and ninth chapters of II Corinthians. And I don’t mind telling you I was shocked by what I found. The whole thing unsettled me rather badly. Because the fact of the matter is that Paul comes on here with about as much subtlety as a Mack truck. Paul comes on here rather like a bulldozer in your flower garden. And I didn’t like what I read. As a matter of fact, it seemed to me that everything that Paul says runs contrary to the way I’ve been taught to approach stewardship. And I couldn’t square it all in my mind. And so, not just with zeal this time, but with desperation, I threw myself upon the Holy Spirit. I asked God to help me to find what to say. And this last Monday night, it was one of those middle-of-the-night moments of inspiration, when I wake up, couldn’t go back to sleep, and began to think, and then wound up having to get up and go to the dining room table to work. But it was one of those middle-of-the-night moments of inspiration when, suddenly, God began to make things clear.
And while everything that Paul says here runs contrary to what I know and believe to be true, I’m not so sure but what Paul may be onto something here. And I want you to join me now in taking a look, and let’s see what we find.
First, this. Paul says, and listen, Paul says, “Give a lot so that you can outgive others.”
That’s what he says. He says in II Corinthians 8 that the Macedonian churches have produced an amazing gift, he says. They are very poor. And yet, because they have things right with God in their lives, they have produced a gift that is staggering in its generosity. And then, he says to the Corinthians, “Now, surely, you are an affluent church. You are going to outgive those Macedonians, aren’t you? You’re not going to shortchange God. Look what they’ve done. Are you going to outgive them?” That’s what Paul says. That runs against everything that I’ve ever been taught about the way to approach stewardship. But that’s what he says. And maybe he’s onto something.
I don’t know if this story is true or not. It supposedly happened in Atlanta. A Presbyterian elder was up early one Sunday morning, on his way to church, and he was teaching Sunday school, and he wanted to be there very early in order to be sure that he was prepared and that the classroom was prepared. And he was walking down a side street toward the church. And suddenly, he was confronted by a thief, wearing a mask and holding the gun. He immediately cried out, “Take my money, not my life.” And he began quickly to empty out his pockets. And as he emptied out his pockets, there fell out of one pocket a little pocket New Testament. The thief looked at that and he said, “Are you a preacher?” And he said, “No, I’m not a preacher. I’m a Presbyterian elder.” And the thief said, “Oh, well. Keep your money. I’m a Presbyterian, too.”
I don’t know if that’s true or not. But what I do know is true is this. There are some Presbyterians who are robbing God. That’s what the Scriptures say, that if we do not bring the tithe, then we are robbing God. I know that there’s some Presbyterians who are – well, my friend John Huffman says that there are many Presbyterians who are quick to say, “Lord, take my life, but not my money.” Yes. And in the midst of that, Paul says, “Quit shortchanging God. Look what these poor Macedonians have done. You can outgive them.”
Now, on the basis of that, if Paul was standing in this pulpit this morning, this is what he would say to you. He would begin to tell you about a Presbyterian church in Korea, a particular church. It has 3,000 members. I know about this church because Dr. Sam Moffett, one of our missionaries there, has told me about it. One particular Presbyterian church, about 3,000 members. The same number we have. And every member in that church in Korea tithes.
And as a result of that kind of giving, that particular Presbyterian church not only supports all of the myriad activities associated with a church this size, but that church owns and operates a retirement home, and a home for troubled and disadvantaged children, and a medical clinic, and two schools, and underwrites totally the support of 41 missionaries to the world. And our church partially supports eight. And if Paul were standing here right now, Paul would say to us, “Those Korean Presbyterians are relatively poor, compared with you Orlando Presbyterians. Are you going to let them outgive you?” That’s what Paul says. And by the power of God’s Spirit, that’s what I say, too.
But then, secondly, Paul says – and this is just as shocking – Paul says, “Give a lot so that you will get a lot.”
II Corinthians 9, he says, “If you sow sparingly, you will reap sparingly. If you sow bountifully, you will reap bountifully.” Give a little, you get a little. Give a lot, and you get a lot. That’s what he says. That runs contrary to everything that I’ve been taught about the approach to stewardship. But that’s what Paul says. And maybe he’s onto something here.
I love the story about the preacher who was vacationing up in the Great North Woods. He was with his family, and a little church nearby knew he was there. They came to him, asking if he would preach for them on the following Sunday. It was a small church, very poor. They needed him, and so, he said, “Yes, I will.” And on that Sunday morning, he got up and he took his little boy with him, and they hiked through the beautiful woods to that little church out in the middle of nowhere there. And as they walked through the door of the church, this preacher noticed there was a white box right beside the door, with a slit in the top. So, he took out 50 cents and he dropped it in the slit. And he walked on in. There were only 14 worshippers there that day. But he conducted the service and he preached a fine, fine sermon. When he finished, one of the members of the congregation came up to him and said, “Preacher, that was marvelous. We are really grateful. But this is a poor congregation, and so, we don’t take the offering here. We just put a little white box by the door and we invite our people to make their contributions there in that little white box. And so, in thanks for your coming today, everything in that box is yours.” The preacher walked over and he picked up the box and turned it over, and one 50-cent piece rolled out. And his son chimed in immediately. “Dad, if you’d put more in, you’d have got more out .”
That’s what Paul is saying. If you put more in, you get more out. Can this be? God, 4,000 years ago, said, “Bring Me your tithe, and see if I will not open up the windows of heaven and pour out upon you a blessing so great, you cannot contain it.” That’s what God says. That’s His promise. Put Him to the test. Let Him prove that promise in your life.
Now, there is no specific promise here that says that He will give you more money as a result, although I have to say to you that many times, that is the way it works out. But there is clearly this promise: the promise of a spiritual blessing, which will fall upon you as an individual, and which will be so great that you will never be able to contain it. Paul says, “Give a little, you get a little You give a lot, you get a lot.” That’s what Paul says. And by the power of God’s Spirit, that’s what I say, too.
But then, there’s this. Paul says, “Give a lot so that you won’t be embarrassed.” That’s what he says.
He says, to these Corinthians, “I’ve been boasting about how much you’re going to give. So, don’t give less than that, because you’re going to embarrass me, and not only that, but that’s going to humiliate and embarrass you.” That’s what he says. That runs against everything I’ve ever been taught about the way to approach stewardship. But maybe Paul is onto something here.
I heard about a father who was with his son. The boy was preparing to go off to college. And the father sat the boy down, and he taught him how to make and to use a budget. And then, at the end of the first semester, the boy was home, and the father wanted to check up to see how things were going. So, he asked to see the boy’s records. The boy produced all of the records, and the father reviewed them, and he noticed that there was one account that was labeled, “TLOK.” And as the father looked at the record, he began to realize that more than one-third of the total expenditures were in that one account, TLOK. So, he said to his son, he said, “Son, you’re spending a whale of a lot of money on TLOK. What is TLOK?” And the son began to stammer around a little bit, and he said, “Oh, gee, Dad, you know, the money comes and it goes so quickly, and I– well, sometimes I just can’t really remember what it is that I spent for it. Well, and so, I always put that in TLOK.” Well, the father was beginning to be a little exasperated at this point. And he said, “Son, what is TLOK?” And the boy said, “The Lord only knows.”
Well, who but the Lord does know how you spend your money? How you use your time? How you utilize your God-given talents? But God does know. He does know how you use what He’s given you. And what Paul is saying here is simply this. When you give to the work of Jesus Christ in the world, can you look at what you give and say, “I need not be ashamed”? That’s what Paul says. And by the power of God’s Spirit, that’s what I say, too.
But then, Paul brings it all together with one great affirmation. He says, “Give a lot, so that you will make a difference in the world.”
That’s what we all need, is it not? To feel that we are making a difference in this world of ours? I mean, life doesn’t have much meaning apart from that. And that’s what Paul says here, in 2 Corinthians 9. He says, “God’s going to give you everything, so that then you, in abundance, can meet every need.”
I think every single one of us here can identify with that elderly lady in Tennessee, who listened to a sermon on the mission of the church, and then afterwards filled out a pledge card, and she wrote down on that pledge card $500. She was very, very poor, but she wrote down $500 and turned it in. That night, the stewardship chairman together with the committee were gathered about the table, and they were recording all of the pledges of the day. And when they came to her card, the chairman of the stewardship committee said, “I know that lady. She’s very, very poor. She cannot possibly meet that pledge.” So, he took out his own checkbook, and he wrote a check for $500 and he put it on the table, and he said, “Mark her pledge paid in full.”
Several months later, that little lady came to her pastor, and she told him how she had been working hard to save her money so that she could meet that pledge, and she’d managed to put together half of it, and she wanted to pay that now. And she was going to keep on working, so that she could complete that pledge. And the pastor told her what had occurred, how the chairman of the committee had written his own check, and had placed it there, and had marked her pledge paid in full. And she started to weep. She began to cry. And he was astonished. And the preacher said to her, “Why are you crying?” And she said, through her tears, “Because the gospel of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed, and people are being helped and healed and saved, and I have no part in it.”
Oh, it’s a sad thing, to have that kind of thing going on in the world, and to have no part in it. I want to try to express it to you like this. A friend of mine was talking with a young man who had been a medic in Vietnam. And he asked this young ex-medic what kinds of things he had had to do in that capacity. And the young medic said to him, “Well, there were a lot of things, but I think the hardest thing was that, after the fighting had stopped, we would have to go to the scene of a battle, and there we would have to check each one of the casualties. And when we could come to someone who was fatally wounded, well, we would have to write out a tag and identify that person, but then leave that person and go on to those who could be saved.” And my friend said to him, “In the name of God, how could you turn away from a dying American soldier?” And the young medic said, “They taught us in medic school never to look into the eyes of a dying man. That makes it easier to leave.”
I guess my problem is that I’ve looked into too many eyes. I’ve looked into the eyes of little children, and seen the hurt there, the hurt that comes from living in homes where Christ is not only not honored but dishonored. I’ve looked into the tired eyes of men and women whose marriages have become nothing more than a hell on earth. I’ve looked into the glazed eyes of those who have given themselves the vain pursuit of sensual pleasure and self-satisfaction. I’ve looked into the angry eyes of those who’ve been made hostile and embittered by racial hatred and by economic deprivation. I’ve looked into the glassy eyes of suicides and held their hands while they died. I’ve looked into the pain-filled eyes of people who’ve known physical suffering that reaps beyond modern medicine. I’ve looked into the tear-filled eyes of people who’ve lost loved ones without the hope of Heaven. How can we miss the eyes?
God, in His providence, has set you and me in the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, in a time when there is more divorce and more crime and more injustice and more alcoholism and more sexual perversion and more drug addiction and more hunger and more international tension and more stress and more strain and more sickness than ever before. How can we miss the eyes? And seeing the eyes, how, in the name of God, could we ever turn away?
Paul says, “You will glorify God by obeying the Gospel, and by generously contributing for them and for all others.” That’s what Paul says. And by the power of God’s Spirit, that’s what I say, too. Because, you see, God wants us to give, not because of what we give, but because we follow what we give. We give ourselves. And when we give ourselves, God, by His power, can use the likes of us to change this world.
Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, teach us so to give that we may experience the joy of being the church of Jesus Christ in the midst of this world. Amen.