Audio Library

Graced to Give – 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 (Part 2)

Second Presbyterian Church
George Robertson
November 5, 2017

 

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among 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 generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

 

To review the context of this passage, Paul is raising money for the saints in Jerusalem. There are three Macedonian churches that have become impoverished, however, they are still giving aggressively. On the other hand, the Corinthians have stopped giving due to infighting and dysfunction in their church.

 

Faithfully (10-12)

We’ve seen previously from this passage that the gospel motivates us to give joyfully. What verses 10-12 show us is that the gospel also motivates us to give faithfully. Faithfully means doing what God has called you to do even when it doesn’t make sense. However, you do it knowing that he would never tell you to do it unless he loved you. He tells you to do what you can’t fully appreciate now because he loves you and because he wants life to go well with you.

 

We can be faithful to obey a command when it is given by someone who loves us. Even when it doesn’t make sense, it’s a good thing to do. We will never regret faithfully obeying God’s commands. So what does it look like to give faithfully?

 

Desire (10)

First, faithful giving begins with desire.  That is, long term, consistently generous giving which pleases God is spontaneous, gracious and free.  It is not giving out of guilt by joy.  

 

God doesn’t tell us to give as an act of duty, because he wants to make sure that you know that what you have doesn’t belong to you or because he has bills to pay. God doesn’t need what we have. In reality, he could accomplish much for efficiently without us, but he lovingly includes us. It’s the dignity of causality. It simply means that God includes us by using what we contribute to extend his kingdom, and we enjoy the privilege of participating with him.

 

This, not guilt, is the motivation Paul uses in asking the Corinthians to give. If there was ever a time to preach legalistically or to motivate by guilt, this was it. But instead Paul points to God’s grace as the motive.

 

Another indicator that Paul is motivating out of grace instead of guilt is that he does not give an amount to give. It has become common in Christian churches to advocate “The Law of the Tithe,” or the mandatory ten percent that belongs to God. But Paul never mentions it. In his comments on this verse, John Calvin said, “He nowhere lays it down how much we ought to give, . . .but simply bids us be guided by the rule of love.”[1] That was true in the Old Testament as well as the new.  Look at how the giving for the furnishing of the temple is described in Ex. 35:5, 21, 22, 29:

 

Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD's contribution: gold, silver, and bronze…And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD's contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the LORD… All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the LORD had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the LORD.

 

There was no compulsion to decorate the Temple; only those who were willing did so. In fact, the Old testament model actually doesn’t equal ten percent at all. It’s actually closer to 25-40.

 

This modern conception of the law of the tithe actually stemmed out of the Presbyterian church soon after the Civil War. The southern churches were struggling financially, so they were trying to find a way to encourage their people to give to support the mission of the churches. A. W. Miller, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, North Carolina published a little book called “The Law of the Tithe and of the Freewill Offering.”  It provoked lively debate worldwide.  The General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church put it to a Presbytery vote.  Fifty-one percent of the 68 presbyteries said the tithe is not a biblical mandate for giving.  They said that if pastors wanted to use it as a guide to help people get started, that was okay, but there was nothing in scripture that mandated the ten percent tithe that Miller advocated.

 

The greatest fear of the reformation was that if it succeeded in convincing people that salvation came by grace through faith, Christians would stop trying to live holy lives. But God’s plan for using his people couldn’t be more different. God begins with the gospel, and when people are transformed by it, they are unleashed to live the way God made them to live. This is the same motivation for giving. He doesn’t give an artificial percentage. He urges us through his son who “though he was rich, for our sakes he became poor.” We give in response to grace.

 

Ability (11-12)

Another key ingredient to long-term faithful giving is ability.  One must not give what he does not have, nor give in such a way as to compromise his other financial commitments.  In the Exodus 35 passage we looked at earlier, God commands that the people give from what they have (v.5).  Christians should not give what they cannot afford.  However, my friends, there is no shred of evidence that any Christian, even an evangelical Christian, anywhere in America is in danger of that, nor has there ever been.

 

One thing I love about millennials is that many of them are intentional about giving away their time and their talent. It is encouraging to see them pouring themselves into churches and other organizations aimed at doing good in and around the city. They might be tempted to think that their giving can make little difference since they generally don’t make as much as their parents or because they have higher student debt to pay off. However, let me know you just two examples in Memphis of how small, faithful giving can have a real impact.

 

One example is Binghampton Christian Academy, which seeks to provide quality education to the underserved and impoverished. $26 per day can provide education for one student, education that can help to break the cycle of poverty in their life and launch them towards a bright future. $51 per day provides that same child education, nourishment, and housing.

 

Another example is KnightLife Ministry, which provides transportation, recreation, meals, and Bible Study for a weekly ministry to young men. Around $300 per year pays for the gas for the transportation and that same amount pays for the insurance for the vehicles they use to pick up these young men. Just through $300/year ($25/week or about $6/week) you can help fund a mission that impacts the lives of young men by showing love in practical ways and teaching them the Bible.

 

Every gift put in the hand of the savior who multiplies loaves and fishes becomes great.

 

We will never be motivated to desire to give and to be faithful in our giving out of guilt or fear. The only thing that compels people to love and give is the simple message that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: 2 Corinthians and Titus, Timothy & Philemon, 110.