Giving That Requires More Than A Gift
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:7
Giving That Requires More Than A Gift
2 Corinthians 9:7
Sunday, June 20, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
This Sunday brings a conclusion to our four-week study entitled: "The Joy of Giving." My goal was not to present this sensitive topic with an iron fist, but rather to teach you God's clear principles for giving, which further His glory and promote your joy.
First we learned about the grace of God that moved the extremely poor churches in Macedonia to give with liberality and joy. Then we carefully studied the teaching of Jesus Christ and His admonition to further our joy by storing up for ourselves treasures in heaven. And finally, last week we learned how a love of money can steal our joy. If you are serious about God's glory and your joy, you cannot be indifferent to the biblical instruction on the subject of giving.
Before I present the new material, maybe we need to pause for a moment and review our lesson from last week. To what degree has the love of money taken any root in your heart Grace Tabernacle? Permit me to run you through a brief self-examination. Ask yourself beloved:
- Am I constantly afraid that I will lose my material possessions or constantly trusting in God who "will never desert (me), nor will…ever forsake (me)" (Heb. 13:5)?
- Do thoughts about money or thoughts about God consume my day?
- Do I define success based upon what I have or what I have become in Christ?
- Do I neglect my family in the pursuit of wealth or do I love my family in the pursuit of God?
- Do I close my eyes to others to satisfy my wants or am I faithful to help others with genuine needs?
- Is my attitude toward money akin to contemporary American marketing or the clear teaching of God's Word?
Martin Luther said, "There are three conversions, the conversion of the heart, mind and purse."
An old pastor once remarked, "A marriage will never be right until the bedroom and the billfold get right."
In a 1993 edition of "Our Daily Bread," the author commented, "How we handle money reveals much about the depth of our commitment to Christ. That's why Jesus often talked about money. One-sixth of the gospels, including one out of every three parables, touches on stewardship. Jesus wasn't a fundraiser. He dealt with money matters because money matters. For some of us, though, it matters too much" (Our Daily Bread, August 26, 1993).
Jesus knew that our perspective on money can radically affect our joy not to mention our eternal state. This is why we must remember that our use of money reveals that which is most important to our heart. We will always invest in that which we feel is most important. Oftentimes, one look at our checkbook will reveal the true God of our affections. Money will not buy salvation, but how we spend our money, either confirms or denies the reality of our salvation. Author after author that I read over the past four weeks agree; our attitude toward money should be viewed as an effective barometer of our spiritual life. Jesus concurs as well.
As human beings we naturally love money. We depend on money. We seek to find our joy, satisfaction and contentment in money. But once redeemed by Christ, grace moves in heart to make us different than the world. That's why the Apostle John said, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 Jn. 2:15). Once redeemed, grace moves in our heart to no longer get, since we have all our needs met in Christ, but rather to give. Once redeemed, grace moves in our heart to emulate God's character and be generous givers ourselves. Giving delivers us from an idolatrous attitude toward money. Giving proves that our money is not our god. And giving brings us the greatest joy. For it was our Lord Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Ac. 20:35).
For the past three weeks we have considered our joy in giving. Maybe we should conclude this week by asking God what He thinks about joyous givers. In other words what kind of giver does God love?
Please open your Bibles to 2 Corinthians 9:7 as I read what we have listed in our bulletin every Sunday and what some have called the greatest guideline for New Testament giving. "Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
This morning as we examine one verse, we'll consider four principles, two negatives sandwiched by two positives that reveal the heart of a giver who pleases the Lord.
1. GIVING WITH THE PROPER HEART CONVICTION
Let's begin. First of all, Paul said, "Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart" (2 Cor. 9:7a). In other words, our giving must be according to an individual heart conviction. God's grace moves our hearts to give and then God examines the motives of our heart in the giving process. My point is this, giving is an intimate matter between the giver and his or her God.
Though loosely related, let me attempt to answer some of the questions I've received the past few weeks, using this as a guideline.
Does God require me to tithe?
This question seems to come up most often. To tithe means giving 10% of your income to the Lord's work. Please allow me to answer this question from a variety of perspectives.
First of all, a requirement to tithe for Christians cannot be found anywhere in the New Testament. Time does not permit an extended study, but suffice it to say that tithing is strictly an Old Covenant principle. As a matter of fact, required giving to God under the Law of Moses included: The "Levite's Tithe" (Num. 18:25-30) given every year at 10%, the "Festival Tithe" (Dt. 12:10-11, 17-18) given every year at 10% and the "Poor Tithe" (Dt. 14:28-29) given every three years at 10%. The quick math tells you that the Jew was required to give not 10%, but 23% of his or her income to the Lord. Once other additional requirements are added (Lev. 19:9-10; Ex. 23:10-11) the Jewish yearly giving up amounted to approximately 25%. This was God's system of taxation. Today, a comparative situation would be the taxes we pay to the government.
Second, since we are no longer under theocracy giving, it is best to see our offerings to God more in line with the "Freewill Offerings" ascribed in both the Old and New Testament. In the Old Testament, "Freewill Offerings" were voluntary, given to God out of an expression of love and appreciation.
The collection for the Tabernacle, for instance, was a "Freewill Offering." In Exodus 35:21 we read, "Everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the Lord's contribution for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments" (Ex. 35:29). Those words sound an awful lot like the New Testament admonition we are considering in 2 Corinthians to "(give) just as he has purposed in his heart" (2 Cor. 9:7).
Third, many people in this flock believe in giving 10% of their income to the Lord's work here at the Grace Tabernacle. Though I cannot say that is a required standard from a biblical mandate, I do by all means respect their conviction and that amount if God has purposed it on their heart.
Fourth, though the tithe is not required, many Christians and I do believe 10% is a good place to start. Allow me to reference some respectable Christian figures. The church fathers Origen, Jerome and Augustine taught that the tithe was the minimum giving requirement for Christians. Gene Getz in "Becoming a Spiritually Mature Leader" said, "In our culture, I personally believe this admonition should mean that we give a minimum of 10% of our gross income. If at all possible, this should be a starting point. If it is not possible, it should be our goal - one that we should ask God to help us reach as soon as possible" (Barna George, Leaders on Leadership, 1997, Regal, p. 102).
According to Randy Alcorn, "It seems fair to ask, 'God, do You really expect less of me - who has your Holy Spirit within and lives in the wealthiest society in human history - than You demanded of the poorest Israelite?…The tithe is God's historical method to get us on the path of giving. In that sense, it can serve as a gateway to the joy of grace giving. It is unhealthy to view tithing as a place to stop, but it can be a good place to start…Tithing isn't the ceiling of giving; it's the floor. It's not the finish line of giving; it's just the starting blocks…True, some would be sacrificing more by giving 5% of their income than others would be by tithing or even giving 50 or 90%. Certainly the affluent should never "check off the box," as if giving 10% automatically fulfills their obligation. The 90% belongs to God, too. He doesn't look at just what we give. He also looks at what we keep…When people tell me they can't afford to tithe, I ask them, 'If your income was reduced by 10% would you die?' They say, 'No.' And I say, 'Then you've admitted that you can afford to tithe. It's just that you don't want to'…I have no problem with people who say 'we're not under the tithe,' just as long as they're not using that as justification for giving less. But in my mind the current giving statistics among Christians clearly indicate most of us need a jump-start. If you find a gateway to giving that's better than the tithe, wonderful. But if not, why not start where God started His First Covenant children" (Alcorn, The Treasure Principle, Multnomah, 2001, p. 61-65)?
One principle from the Scriptures is clear. Those impacted most by God's grace are those who are the most generous givers (2 Cor. 8:1). And these are the ones most blessed (2 Cor. 9:6) and most esteemed by God (2 Cor. 8-9). Listen to the words from Malachi 3: "'Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, 'How have we robbed Thee?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,' says the LORD of hosts, 'if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows'" (Mal. 3:8-10).
How do I determine what to buy?
All spending is a spiritual decision because the money you are spending ultimately belongs to God. Since God directs us to spend by placing burdens and convictions on our heart, we must first ask God how He wants us to use His money. In addition to prayer, it would be prudent to seek wise counsel, first and foremost from your spouse, and then from others who could inform you better about the purchase. Then, if your motives are right and the purchase does not violate your conscience, the Word of God or your budget, buy the item with a pure and grateful heart and use it to glorify God.
Often when we prioritize the kingdom of God, determine the differences between our needs and our wants and practice freedom from materialism, decisions for buying are not very difficult.
May I use God's money for personal enjoyment?
The answer is "yes," providing it is done within the parameters of Scripture. 1 Timothy 6:17 speaks of God "who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy." It is not a sin to treat yourself to a nice dinner provided you are not addicted to that kind of lifestyle. It is not a sin to keep your yard well manicured provided you are not seeking to please men more than God.
I know our family has been personally blessed by many of your "toys." We've slept in your second homes, fished on your boats, jumped on your trampolines, swam in your pools, ate in your campers and climbed on your swing-sets. We've borrowed your power-washers, cookware and rotitillers. I'd be the last one to say the ownership of these possessions is a sin. The purchase of these items is between you and the Lord. You need to seek His approval, not mine. I even have two surfboards myself. Do I really need two surfboards? The way I surf, I'd be better off with none!
My point is this, when we rightly follow God's principles for giving, we have freedom to use the money as He has directed in our individual hearts. And when we start looking down our noses at another's possessions, we fall prey to the sins of judgmentalism, coveting and jealously. And the moment any of us begin to judge another because of what they own in America, is the moment you open yourself to the world's scrutiny of you. In Romans 14 Paul said, "Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls" (Rom. 14:4a). In 1 Corinthians 4, in the context of stewardship he also said, "Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God" (1 Cor. 4:5).
Before I move on, please permit me one additional comment about possessions. Though our possessions can and must be used for the glory of God, our possessions can also add to our burdens, weigh us down, demand our attention and require our loyalty.
In speaking of accumulating possessions, Randy Alcorn said, "It's a matter of basic physics. The greater the mass, the greater the hold that mass exerts. The more things we own- the greater their total mass- the more they grip us, setting us in orbit around them. Finally, like a black hole, they suck us in…Every item we buy is one more thing to think about, talk about, clean, repair, rearrange, fret over, and replace when it goes bad" (Alcorn, The Treasure Principle, 31, 52).
Two weeks ago I mentioned that I once owned a hot tub. At first all I could see were the advantages: Ministry for my discipleship group, relaxation after a long workout, opportunity to entertain friends, etc. However, from day one, reality set in: Hundreds of dollars for the electrical hook-up, continuous purchase of the chemicals, continuous checking of the chemicals (which I could never get right!), continual cleaning and maintenance. My electric bill skyrocketed. We lived on a river and within two years of buying the hot tub we experienced the 500-year flood. The unit was engulfed in water, which required expensive repairs. Eventually the fad of the new toy wore off. I was rarely using the hot tub, which then led to guilt because I felt I wasn't being a good steward of a major investment. Soon I realized that hot tub owned me more than I owned it! I can't tell you the freedom I experienced when I finally got rid of that thing!
Julie and I are forever seeking to downsize. Let me tell you, there is such a freedom when you get rid of "stuff." There's no doubt, it gives you more time to devote yourself to the things that are eternal: people and the Word of God (Mt. 24:35).
Though I have tried to provide some practical guidelines, I want to bring you back to the main point of this point. When we walk in the Spirit, God directs us as to how we are to use His money. And then each of us must give as we have purposed in our own hearts. Our giving is not an option. It is to be done freely as an expression of our continuing trust in God's grace.
2. GIVING WITHOUT REGRET
Second, Paul says we are to give "not grudgingly."
This means we are to give without sorrow, grief, pain, remorse, reluctance or regret. This speaks to the person who gives, maybe very generously, but does so with an attitude of resentment. The money may have passed out of his hands to the Lord, but deep down inside he wishes his money were used to purchase other things more important to his heart.
First of all, reluctant giving does not honor the Lord. God has always demanded a heart that is first devoted to Him. He has always required a joyful attitude when we present to Him our gifts. Anything less brings dishonor and fails to reflect His supremacy in our life. To a lesser degree, dads, would you feel honored if your Father's Day gift were given in a spirit of regret? Your Heavenly Father is no different!
Second, reluctant giving also reveals misplaced values. Throughout this series we have made it abundantly clear that giving to the Lord is the greatest way to use your money for the promotion of God's glory and furtherance of our joy. What earthly possession can replace favor with God and heavenly rewards? Was it not the man in Jesus' parable who sold all that he had with "joy" to buy the field which represented the "kingdom of God" (Mt. 13:44)? Was it not the famous missionary Jim Elliot who said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Was it not Moses in Deuteronomy 15:10 who said, "You shall generously give to Him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to Him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings."
How can we ever give to God remorsefully?
3. GIVING WITHOUT COMPULSION
Our giving should be as we have purposed in our heart. It should be without regret. And third, it should be without compulsion.
As I mentioned earlier, our giving is an act of worship between the Lord and us. I never desire to know what you personally give. And the closest I will ever come to "guidelines" would be my comments about the "tithe." And even then, they only come to you by way of suggestion and consideration.
New Testament giving is never to be done out of necessity through a spirit of pressure or coercion. God is pleased with voluntary giving, which demonstrates true faith in each individual and not an obligation to some human standard.
Someone once defined three stages of giving: You have to (which is law). You ought to (which is obligation). You want to (which is grace). Regardless of where we live on the timeline of biblical revelation, God is always most pleased with graceful giving.
By way of negative example, the Lord has provided for us Ananias and Sapphire. You're familiar with their story recorded in Acts 5. Out of compulsion, they sold a piece of property, kept some of the money for themselves and then deceived others that they were giving the whole amount. "But Peter said, 'Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God'" (Ac. 5:3-4). Peter made it clear, Ananias and Sapphire were free to do as the Lord directed their hearts to give, but motivated out of compulsion and a concern for human applause the couple gave with deceit and such an action resulted in God taking both of their lives (Ac. 5:1-11).
On the positive side we have Barnabas. Luke tells us he "owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet" (Ac. 4:37) as a freewill offering to the Lord's work not under compulsion.
4. GIVING CHEERFULLY
Finally we end in the fourth point with another positive admonition. What kind of giver pleases the Lord? In closing verse 7, Paul could not speak any clearer. "For God loves a cheerful giver." Cheerful giving in many ways can be defined as the culmination of all we have studied thus far. In other words, a cheerful giver gives freely without regret or obligation.
"God loves a cheerful giver." One Commentator said, "Of course, God loves all His children…The point is that giving willingly from the heart pleases Him, and this should encourage every Christian to give with cheerfulness, not with misgivings or second thoughts" (Kent, Homer. Studies in Second Corinthians, Baker, 1982, p. 142). When we speak of God loving a cheerful giver, what we're talking about here is divine approval!
"God loves a cheerful giver." God is pleased when His people act cheerfully, when they exhibit cheer that overflows from the grace of God. Such givers show that they trust God and not their money to make themselves happy. They show they take great joy in freely giving to God. They show the world the reality of their true treasure. The world cheerfully receives, the church cheerfully gives.
"God loves a cheerful giver." John Piper said, "I take this to mean God is not pleased when people act benevolently but don't do it gladly. When people don't find pleasure (Paul's word is "cheer"!) in their acts of service, God doesn't find pleasure in them. He loves cheerful givers, cheerful servants. What sort of cheer? Surely the safest way to answer that question is to remember what sort of cheer moved the Macedonians to be generous. It was the overflow of joy in the grace of God. Therefore, the giver God loves is the one whose joy in Him overflows "cheerfully" in generosity to others…If we are indifferent to whether we do a good deed cheerfully, we are indifferent to what pleases God…If love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of other people, and if God loves such joyful givers, then this joy in giving is a Christian duty, and the effort not to pursue it is sin" (Piper, Desiring God, Multnomah, 1996, p. 104).
"God loves a cheerful giver." Really we could say if you implement all you have learned the past three weeks (in our series "Giving with Joy") you should be a cheerful giver. And if you are a cheerful giver, you are bringing great honor to the Lord through your ministry. As I have said repeatedly, this series was about furthering God's glory and promoting your joy. The two as we have now learned this morning are not mutually exclusive. When you glorify God with your money, God gives you joy. And when you give with a joyful heart, you give God glory (see 2 Corinthians 8-9 and 1 Chronicles 29:1-17).
"God loves a cheerful giver." This past week Julie and I celebrated our 8-year wedding anniversary. As a token of my love, I presented her with a bouquet of flowers. Now there are two ways I could have offered the gift.
The first one goes like this: "Wow, Randy, what a beautiful bouquet of flowers!" "Well, you know Julie, it is our anniversary and if I don't get you something, you'll be offended and others will think less of me. I've been really busy, but I managed to inconvenience myself enough to forsake the final two innings of the Cubs game to purchase these flowers. There are many other things I would have preferred to do with the money, but as your husband, it is my obligation and duty to get you a present. Happy Anniversary!"
The second presentation goes like this: "Wow, Randy, what a beautiful bouquet of flowers!" "Honey I have been looking forward to giving you this gift for some time. I looked all around the store for just the right flowers. I wanted to make you happy. I wanted to express to you that the past 8 years have been the greatest 8 years of my life. Nothing makes me more cheerful than giving you this gift. Happy Anniversary!"
"God loves a cheerful giver." I trust you see the application…