You Make a Difference: Priming The Pump
II Corinthians 9:1-15
Perhaps you have heard the story of the man who was honored by a certain town as the person whom they called their leading citizen. They asked him to share the story of his life, how he became so rich and so famous. So he stood up and told them.
“Friends,” he said, in a voice choked with emotion, “this town has been good to me. When I came here some thirty years ago, I came walking down a dirty and muddy old road. I had my only suit on my back, and everything I owned was tied up in a red bandana at the end of a stick I carried over my shoulder.” He continued, “Yes, friends, this town has really been good to me. Today I am chairman of the board at the bank. I own hotels and apartment buildings and office complexes all over this part of the country. My companies have branches in 39 different cities. I’m a member of all the leading clubs. Yes, sir, this town has really been good to me.”
Well, after the dinner was over, a youngster who was there and who was awed by the man’s story, went up to him at the head table. “Sir,” the little boy said, his eyes wide in admiration, “could you tell me what you had wrapped up in that red bandana?” And the great man replied: “Well yes, son, I can. I had about $500,000.00 in cash and $900,000 in government securities!”
There are a lot of people like that, aren’t there?—people who like to think, and would like for us to think, that they made it on their own—people who like to think that they are beholden to no one and indebted to no one for who and what there are in life. But the fact of the matter is that every single one of us, every single person listening to the sound of my voice is deeply indebted and deeply beholden to a whole lot of folks, especially to the Lord!
That’s what this Scripture passage for today is all about. The Apostle Paul is asking the church at Corinth to give of their money to the work of the Lord. Why? Because, as Paul puts it, “Because of the surpassing grace of God which He has given to you.” So Paul without hesitation, without reservation, without apology asks the Corinthian Christians to give generously and to give joyfully. “God,” Paul writes, “loves a cheerful giver.”
OK. Let’s just go ahead and admit it. You don’t like to hear about money in church and I don’t like to preach about it. And let’s acknowledge the fact that some personalities in the so-called “electronic church” have gone overboard—begging for money—and that hurts us all. But please don’t let the excesses of a few blind, misguided souls blind you to the fact that giving our money to the church is an act of worship. It’s as sacred and holy as receiving the Lord’s Supper. It’s as spiritual and reverent as prayer. It is our grateful response to God’s grace and our joyful participation in Christ’s sacrificial love. That is why our giving to the church should be proportionate giving—giving back to God in proportion to how God has blessed us. No matter how we might wish to think it, we are not self-made women and men. We are indebted and beholden to God. Therefore, we are to give as He has given to us.
That’s the clear message of Scripture. All through the Old Testament, the people of God are urged to tithe, to give to God the first tenth of everything they receive. If you receive ten apples, you give the first one to God. If you receive ten dollars you give the first one to the work of the Lord. It is an important, sacred, time-honored, experience-proven, joy-producing Biblical principle.
I said last week that in our family, it’s simple. We sit down, figure out as best we can what we think we are going to receive as income next year, take ten percent of that, put the number on the card, and sign it. Then we get on with the business of living. Make no mistake, we are impacted by poor economic circumstances, too. We have major expenses with our children, too. I am old enough now to be worried about retirement. We are affected by rising prices and diminished purchasing power just like you are. But, you see, when we sign our names to that tithe, we have faith that God is going to help us learn how to live, and live well, on the remaining 90 percent and He’s been doing that for 25 years now! It’s absolutely amazing! The New Testament sings the same song. It is amazing how much Jesus talked about financial stewardship. One third of our Lord’s parables are about money, with good reason. Jesus knew full well that the way we spend our money says everything there is to know about us and about our priorities in life. Our check stubs reveal what we count to be important in life. Dollars declare all the Lord needs to know about our discipleship to Jesus Christ.
Next Sunday is our Dedication Day. It is the time when we shall bring to the Lord our commitments for 1993. It is the time when we have the joyous opportunity to give back to God in proportion to how He has blessed us. Now to prime the pump of our thinking about this, let me share with you three reasons why we can be cheerful givers.
First, we give cheerfully because of our commitment to the church.
Paul reminded those Corinthian Christians of what an incredible heritage they had in the church—and what an extraordinary heritage we have here at First Presbyterian Orlando. We are so indebted to the great people of faith who were here before us and who for 116 years made possible the remarkable witness of this church. They gave of themselves so generously, so graciously, so sacrificially, and because of that we have had this marvelous church literally handed to us.
Now it’s our turn. It’s our turn to do our part, our turn to take up the torch, our turn to be the church. We must not fail those who have gone before and we must not fail those who will be coming after us either. This is our moment. This is our time. We must rise to the occasion. We must take our place in the signal history of this church. All it takes is commitment to God and His church.
John Ed Matheson, a Methodist minister in Montgomery, Alabama, tells of visiting a fourth grade Sunday School at his church one Sunday morning. As he was waiting his turn to speak, he noticed a small replica of their church. It was made of porcelain and was placed on a table near the door. He picked it up to examine it—and he discovered that it was actually a bank made in the image of the church. The children were in the habit of dropping their Sunday School offering into the top of that little porcelain church as they came into class each week. As Matheson was holding the bank and looking at it, a little girl in the class said: “Be careful, Dr. Matheson, that’s our church you have in your hands!”
How true. Every Sunday when I see our children come crowding up to the chancel steps for their special time in worship, I think to myself, “It’s their church we have in our hands.” Do you feel the same way? If so, then we can do great things … or better put, God can do great things through us and through our commitment to this church. Good reason, don’t you think, to be a generous and joyful giver. God loves a cheerful giver!
And we give cheerfully because of our love for others.
Paul asked the Corinthians to give out of love for others so that their needs might be met and their dreams might be fulfilled. Reminds me of Dr. Robert Cade. Do you know that name? He is a research physician at the University of Florida. In 1965, he began some research on why football players lose so much weight during extended practices and games. That research led Dr. Cade to develop a drink designed to replenish the fluids lost during heavy exercise. He named the new drink after the nickname of the Florida football team—Gatorade.
Obviously, as the popularity of Gatorade grew, Dr. Cade’s royalties increased. Yet, he still lives in the same house in Gainesville. He uses his money to help others. He has supported refugees who have come to America seeking freedom. He has paid the medical bills for many needy patients. He has funded research to find cures for the illnesses that plague us. He has supported the church with extraordinary generosity. He currently underwrites completely the education of 16 medical students. When asked about his giving, this is how he replied: “God has blessed me in all kinds of ways, including a big income. In the Book of Deuteronomy, God tells His people that they should give as they are blessed. I think I am duty bound to do as God suggests.”
Dr. Robert Cade is a man who is truly rich because he understands the great spiritual principles that Jesus taught again and again—that the best way for us to express our love for God our Father is to love His children. That’s why in this church we give so much time, effort, energy, hands-on work and money to help others in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ. We give, and give cheerfully, because of our love for others. God loves a cheerful giver!
And then we give cheerfully because of our thanksgiving to God.
Paul asked the Corinthians to give as an expression of the gratitude to God. Of course, that’s the highest motivation and the best reason of all to give—to thank God for what He has done for us in Jesus Christ. In others words, all Christian giving is thanksgiving.
D. T. Niles, the great Christian evangelist from India was confronted one day by a Hindu lawyer. The lawyer asked: “Mr. Niles, who is greater—you or Mahatma Gandhi?” Niles answered: “Gandhi, of course.” Then the lawyer said: “Who is spiritually greater—you or Gandhi?” Niles replied: “Why Gandhi, of course.” Then the lawyer pressed home: “Mr. Niles, suppose you were to be in front of Gandhi, as a Christian evangelist, what would you say to him?” D. T. Niles answered: “I would ask him what I would ask of any man or woman, ‘What have you done for what God has done for you in Jesus Christ?’” That’s the question all of us must answer. What have you done for what God has done for you in Jesus Christ? We answer the question by the way we give.
I love the story about the minister who walked up to his church organist one day and said: “I’m going to preach on tithing this Sunday and I want to end the sermon in a special way. At the end of the sermon, I am going to give a different kind of invitation. I want you to play something special on the organ and I am going to ask everyone who will commit to becoming a tither to please stand up while the music is playing.” Then the minister said to the organist: “What do you think would be the most appropriate music to play at that moment?” To which the organist replied: “How about ‘The Star Spangled Banner’?”
Well, I’m not going to ask Ray Peebles, our organist, to play “The Star Spangled Banner,” and I am not going to ask you to stand. But I do want to ask you to do something. Will you seriously consider giving back to God one-tenth of what He has given to you? That is the Biblical standard, but that is also the way to experience in your life the greatest joy and power you will ever know. But if you feel that you cannot make the big leap to the tithe right now, will you try to step up to 5% and then step it up 1% a year for the next five years. I can tell you you have no idea what a difference that will make in your life, and you have no idea what a difference you will make for Jesus Christ in the world. I’m not going to ask you to stand, but will you think about making that kind of commitment to your Lord and your Saviour, Jesus Christ? God loves a cheerful giver!
Now let me conclude with this.
I think today of a German composer who was living in Great Britain. He was a rather inept man socially and as a result he had very few friends. He was bitter and cynical and selfish. Because of the stress under which he lived, he eventually had a stroke which left him partially paralyzed. In discouragement, he returned to his room one night to find that an acquaintance of his had dropped off a libretto for him to study. He brushed it to one side. But as he did so, he happened to notice the first line of the text of that libretto which was: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people”—the words of God from Isaiah 40. The words struck his soul, so he sat down and he read that libretto from beginning to end. As he did so, his thoughts were turned away from himself and his own desires and difficulties. He began to focus instead on the glories of God. Suddenly the sounds of magnificent music began to echo in his soul. He picked up his pen and began to compose. For the next 22 straight days, he sat at that desk and worked. His servant would find him asleep at the desk. He was constantly stabbing notes onto that paper. Occasionally he would get up and hobble up and down the length of his room singing his choruses and waving his arms. His name, of course, was George Frideric Handel and the piece of music that he wrote was “The Messiah.”
Now if you ever listen seriously to “The Messiah” you will find your soul touched. Why? Handel said that in the process of writing that piece of music, he forgot all about his body. He forgot all about his own needs. Instead, he put his soul in touch with the power of God. So, you see, Handel’s soul and the spirit of God went into that music and that is the reason it touches the souls and spirits of those who listen to it even now. The same thing can happen in your life and mine. Paul puts it this way: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”
In other words, my friends, if you put your life in touch with the power of God, then you will touch the lives of others with that same power.
And that’s the Gospel!