Fundraiser and Chief Development Officer is probably not our primary picture of the Apostle Paul. Frankly, it isn’t the primary picture we most likely have of ourselves, either, is it?
When we answered the call to the ministry, money was not top of mind; otherwise, we would have probably chosen an entirely different profession. But, money matters, the way we make it, spend it, save it, and give it away.
Just like Jesus, preachers are called to talk about stewardship of resources: time, treasure, and talent and primarily what it means to, “lay up treasures in heaven where moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19, ESV.
(For a great discussion about depositing earthly treasure for heavenly benefit, check out Randy Alcorn’s book The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving. Alcorn lays out six helpful biblical keys to put Jesus’ admonition into play. You might even consider using his short book to help your congregation think about their own stewardship of God’s resources.)
In 2 Corinthians 9, we get a snapshot of Paul’s campaign to garner financial relief for impoverished Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and Judea who were hit hard by a famine in the mid-1st century.
His appeal is instructive for us on giving and specifically how to convey its importance to our community. Below is an excellent summary of Paul’s master class on giving, adapted from a message by my friend, Gabe Fung.
In 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Paul provides us with four crucial lessons on Christian giving: 1) How we give; 2) What we give; 3) What happens when we give; and 4) Why we give.
HOW WE GIVE (THE MANNER OF CHRISTIAN GIVING, vv. 6-7)
Like wine to steak, four adverbs should couple with how we give: generously, thoughtfully, freely, and cheerfully.
Generously: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (v. 6)
Paul applies an agricultural truth. In farming, there is a direct relationship between input and output and the same holds for giving. When we hold back resources from identified needs, we receive much of the same in return–nothing.
Thoughtfully: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give…” (v. 7a)
Giving should have forethought, be deliberate and intentional, particularly in the determination of how much we give.
There is no harm in strategically considering how, when, and to whom or what one gives. In fact, it is probably truer to say that there may be some harm in giving thoughtlessly than thoughtfully.
Carefully determining need, value, and long-term impact should inform our giving.
Freely: “…not reluctantly or under compulsion,…” (v. 7b)
There is a story about an old church building that needed remodeling. During his Sunday sermon the pastor made an impassioned appeal and looked directly at the richest man in town. At the end of the sermon, the rich man stood up and said, “Pastor, I will give $1,000.” Then he sat down.
Just then, plaster fell from the ceiling and hit the rich man on his shoulder. He promptly stood back up and said, “Pastor, I will increase my giving to $5,000.”
Before he could sit back down, more plaster fell on him. He said, “Ok, I’ll double that pledge.” He sat down again, and this time a large chunk of plaster fell on his head.
He stood up one more time, exasperated he yelled, “Pastor, I will give $20,000!” Just then an elder at the back yelled out, “Hit him again, Lord! Hit him again!” (Adapted from PreachingNow e-newsletter, 8/21/07)
Not so with giving. Our decision to give and our appeal to others to do so should not be induced by guilt, coercion, pressure, or manipulation of any kind, but from freedom.
Cheerfully: “…for God loves a cheerful giver,” (v. 7c)
Paul uses a word that describes the emotional state of our giving. It is to be a joyful, glad, and happy exchange and not a miserly, grasping, dour, and painful process like writing a check to the IRS or the County Assessor’s office.
Conversely, because it is good, right, and what God calls us to, we often discover the joy of giving in the process.
WHAT WE GIVE (SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN GIVING, vv. 8-11)
Whose Bank Account? “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work,” (vv. 8-11)
We have this false idea that what we have stored away in our bank account, our IRA, investment portfolio, and dungeons of gold is ours. Like the dragon, Smaug, in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, we greedily sleep on the heaped wealth, on what we believe is ours, with one eye open to make sure no one robs us of our hard-earned bounty.
We are mere stewards of what God has given us. God alone is the source of our provision. He possesses the key to the vault and access to all the passwords.
We give out of God’s abundance given to us to be a blessing to others.
A Special Note on Giving as a Theological Statement
When we give, we don’t only say something about our priorities and values, we actually make a theological statement. We say something specifically about God, more precisely about how we view God, whether or not we trust him to be a faithful and abundant provider.
Let’s be honest, not only do we tend to accept the false idea that we are the owners, but we also accept the idea of scarcity. Scarcity is the barrier that keeps us from giving away what we tend to think is ours.
What do we mean by scarcity? No matter how much I have, a little or a lot, if I give some of it away, I’ll have less or maybe “not enough.” That is logically true. If I have $100 and give away $25, I will have less. I will have $75. But, when I then say, “I may not have enough for my needs,” scarcity rules and becomes a barrier to my generosity. Again, we make a theological statement about God when we let the fear of scarcity overrule our generosity.
Let me ask you this question, “What slogan is on the United States currency?” You know it, “In God We Trust.” Except, lots of people, including maybe even us, functionally trust the money itself more than they trust in the God whom the slogan professes. We tend to arrange our lives around money, pour our energy into money, and live for money. It is a temptation we all face.
Pastor and author James Bryan Smith points out how money in some ways is almost godlike. Money outlives us. It has almost an eternal quality. Money has a wide circle of influence. Everyone respects it. Money pretends to offer things like security, comfort, and happiness (things, ironically, that only God can give, Source: James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 160-161.)
Of course, wisdom and experience teach us that money does not satisfy the deepest longings of the soul.
John D. Rockefeller, at the time the richest man in the world, once told a reporter he was not really happy. The reporter asked him how much money it would take to make him happy. Rockefeller said, “Just a little bit more.”
When we give away money and wealth, we make a theological statement. Money is not my god, my security, or identity. It is not what I trust!
Only God is my identity, security, and joy. I might “technically” have less when I give, but I trust God will provide and keep on providing for everything that I need and when I need it.
Can’t Outgive God: “you will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” (v. 11).
R.G. LeTourneau, a Christian industrialist and businessman of the 20th c. designed and developed earthmoving machinery. From quite humble origins he became hugely successful. God blessed him financially and over time he increased his giving to the point of giving 90% of his income to God’s work.
He said this of God’s abundance, “I shovel out the money, and God shovels it back – but God has a bigger shovel.” (Cf. Alcorn’s Treasure Principle Key #5 (“Giving is the only antidote to materialism”) and Key #6 (“God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving”).
God is the source of Christian giving. It all comes from him. Whether we are in a season where we have an abundance or a want of wealth, we give out of what God gives us. Whatever we give, we can never outgive God.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE GIVE (RESULTS OF CHRISTIAN GIVING, vv. 12-14)
Others Benefit: “…needs [met]” (v. 12)
In Paul’s fundraising efforts, Corinthian Christians and other Gentile churches became the benefactors for the needs of the poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Rather than be seen as a paternalistic act, it is a shared act of solidarity with the church suffering from the results of a natural disaster. It is a holy distribution of the abundance of one community to another whose supplies ran thin.
While not explicitly stated, Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians to give fulfills the call to be the Church. When one member rejoices, we all rejoice and when one member suffers, we suffer with them. We carry their burden together as the Church body ought to do.
God is Glorified: “your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God; many expressions of thanks to God; [and] others will praise God…for your generosity” (vv. 11b-13).
When we practice Christian. giving, we have privilege and opportunity to let others tangibly experience God’s goodness and grace. Ultimately, we want our giving to lead people to not simply thank us, but give God the credit and praise for the provision of need.
There is a sort of circle of Christian giving. God pours out his grace upon us with abundance. We pour out that abundance on others to help them with their needs. They in turn give to God from their abundance, give him thanks and praise. God is glorified and the “Hero” in the entire circle.
WHY WE GIVE (MODEL OF CHRISTIAN GIVING, v. 15)
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (v. 15)
Why give? Not just because it is good, right, and God calls us to it, but because God has given us the greatest gift in his Son, Jesus. He is the “indescribable gift.” But, Jesus is not just God’s gift to us. He is the ultimate giver.
In 2 Corinthians 8:9 Paul already made this point, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Chist, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus is the ultimate giver not simply because he gave up the glories and comfort of his heavenly home when he came into our world, but he gave himself, his life, his everything for us.
On the cross, Jesus took our place and died “our” death in order to save us from spiritual poverty, sin and death. When he rose on the third day, he vanquished once for all the powers of Satan, sin, and death and he did that for us, for you and me.
Now as we trust in Jesus, God lavishes his riches upon us:
- He adopts us into his family.
- He calls us sons and daughters.
- He welcomes us into his kingdom.
- He fills us with his Spirit, presence, and power.
- He promises an eternal and spiritual inheritance that will never fade.
- He gives us a new life with him, a life characterized by things like love, joy, peace, hope, strength, purpose, and by GENEROSITY
Gabe Fung serves as lead pastor of Spectrum Church Irvine [spectrumchurchirvine.org] in Irvine, Calif.
Gabe was born in England and grew up in Hong Kong. He previously served as a missionary in Australia with Youth With A Mission, and as a pastor with churches in Westminster and Irvine, Calif. He has a BA from Seattle Pacific University, and MDiv and DMin degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary. His central focus in ministry is helping people trust and follow Jesus in all of life and equipping them to help others do the same. Gabe is married to Maribeth and they have two children, Matthew and Amy.
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