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Giving

2 Cor. 8:1-15 (NASB) 

 

"Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, [2] that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. [3] For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, [4] begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints,"

For the past two weeks we've been talking a lot about the importance of all the members of our church being faithful to give their tithes. Of course, the obvious reason is it is the way the church finances its ministries. But when we give, we do more than pay the light bill or mortgage; we are giving to the Lord and His work. And because of that we receive a blessing. God promises us that the blessings we receive will be "poured out from heaven's windows" upon us. Those blessings have an intangible nature to them. Sometimes, the blessings are material, but sometimes they are spiritual or emotional. Last week, our discussion revolved around "the other blessing"-that blessing that comes from being a part of a local church and knowing that we are doing "our part" to help fulfill the mission God gave the church. We emphasized that we are all in the same boat, and that everyone needs to be facing the same direction and rowing together. One aspect of that level of cooperation is everybody's willingness to contribute financially to the mission of the church.

Tithing has always been second nature to me, and my family has always given at least a tithe to the churches we've attended. Many of you have the same testimony, yet, according to the Barna Research Group, only 8% of American households tithed in 2001, and only 3% tithed in 2002. The percentage isn't much better for those claiming to be born-again Christians. In 2001 14% claimed to tithe while only 6% made the same claim in 2002. The only explanation the research group gave for the decline was the priest scandals, terrorist attacks and the soft economy. (LE, Fall 2003, p. 7)

Those explanations ring hollow to me, because I don't necessarily see the correlation between prosperity and faithfulness. For instance, look at this passage of scripture, why do you think the Macedonian's gave the way they did? If you think it was because they were rolling in the dough, you are wrong. Verse 2 indicates that they had a "great ordeal of affliction," and "deep poverty." Verse 3 says they gave "beyond their ability." These were not wealthy people, at least not in the material sense. Their wealth was in their "abundance of joy," (vs 2) and their "liberality" (vs 2). These were self-starters. Paul didn't have to "guilt" them into giving or even motivate them to give. Verse 3 makes it clear that they did this "of their own accord." Verse 4 goes further than saying they were willing to give; it says they were begging Paul to be able to give.

So why were these people so motivated to give and the average person today isn't?

Perhaps it is because of our feverish pursuit of happiness and deep down inside we think money can our buy happiness. A new study in Britain has found a surprising answer to an old question, "How much is enough?" Yahoo Personal Finance in Britain surveyed 2,500 people of working age, and asked them to make a series of choices based on having all the money they needed. The results suggest that according to the respondents, money, if you have enough, can buy a measure of happiness. 

Based on the respondent's answers, the cost of happiness is around 2.66 million British pounds. That is a little over 3 million US dollars. The cost of contentment was calculated from the average value of the choices concerning which food, cars, vacations, etc, that people would "choose if money were no object." 

The study found that women generally said they needed slightly more money than men to keep them happy. Unfortunately, the study also found it would take the average worker at an average pay rate, 94 years to accumulate the needed financial resources to achieve financial happiness. (Reuters, January 8, 2004, Money can buy happiness, Submitted by Jim Sandell.)

Ninety-four years is a long time, way longer than people will have as productive work years within their life spans. In other words, even if money could buy happiness, you don't have enough years to earn enough money to make you happy. Philippians 4: 12-13 says, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (NIV)

Paul ties his contentment into his relationship to the Lord, not the amount of money he has. Which closely corresponds to the reason these New Testament Christians were so generous. I think the key to understanding their amazing response is verse 5, which says, "and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God."

People who have given themselves to the Lord will have no problem giving of their money or of their time to His service. They had given themselves completely to God, and after that matter was settled, everything else fell into place.

And maybe that answers the question. Maybe the reason most Americans, or most Christians don't tithe is because they haven't fully given themselves to God. Instead of a full surrender to His Lordship, they've approached their relationship to Him with a "what's in it for me" attitude.

What about you? Have you made a commitment to tithe? Have you made a commitment to serve? Have you "given yourself to the Lord?"

The commitment these people had wasn't just good intentions. Look at verses 6 - 8: "Consequently we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. [7] But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. [8] I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also." 

Paul wasn't impressed with statements of intent. He wanted to know if Titus was following through. Then in the following verses, he held Christ up as the example of one who gave of Himself fully. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. [10] And I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it."

This verse begs the question, have you given your life to Christ like He gave His life to you? This passage closes by underscoring the fact again that it takes more than good intentions-it takes follow through, and that God will supply the needs of those who are committed to Him.

"But now finish doing it also; that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability. [12] For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have. [13] For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality-- [14] at this present time your abundance being a supply for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality; [15] as it is written, 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.'" 

So today, it is time to make a decision. Will we be committed to tithe? Will you be committed to serve? Can your church count on you? More importantly, can your God count on you?

If we are all in the same boat, facing the same direction and rowing together, we will get where we want to go. If we don't, we won't. The choice is ours. The choice is yours. 

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