Trinity Baptist Church April 1, 2007
2 Corinthians 9:1-15
(the introduction and part of first segment was borrowed from Jim Cunningham’s message: "Not in Polite Company")
In our culture, there are some things we just don’t discuss with others -- at least not in “polite company“. For instance -- picture yourself with a group of people you don’t know very well. What are some of the “safe” topics of conversation? What comes to your mind? The weather, your kids, classes you’re taking, cars, sports, cooking, decorating, lawn care.
But there are other topics you know you won’t raise. What kinds of things would those be? Most of you would have money on that mental list, unless you‘re more brazen than most!
For example: you get introduced to a perfect stranger and even though you might peg him somewhat in terms of wealth or lack thereof, it’s not very likely you’re going to ask, “so how much do you make?” Or, “I’ve been wondering, what you paid that ring your wife’s wearing!“
When you think about it, for us Christians, money is not a subject we ought to be so shy to discuss. Did you know there are about 2,350 references in the Bible that address money and material possessions -- more than almost any other subject. Sometimes we hear people give that old excuse for not wanting to have anything to do with churches -- they’ll say, “well, all they do is talk about is money.” But, even though that’s by far not the case, when you
think about -- 2,350 references -- about money and stuff, then, we really ought to stop avoiding the topic!!
Jesus certainly wasn’t afraid to raise the subject, even with strangers. He addressed
money and possessions -- our attitude toward them -- more than any other theme; far more than heaven, hell, loving your neighbor, and most others. Some of His best recognized statements are ones about money that even unbelievers know: there’s Matthew 6:21 -- Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Acts 20:35 -- it is more blessed to give than to receive.
The apostle Paul wasn’t embarrassed by the topic either. And, since he had a history with
the churches around Corinth, he wasn’t timid about encouraging them in the sort of generosity Christ demonstrates toward us. If you have a Bible turn to 2 Corinthians 9.
Last week, in the first five verses of chapter 8, I mentioned the situation of the famine in Jerusalem and Judea. The Jewish world and therefore Jewish Christians were suffering deep need. So, these two chapters revolve around the Corinthians having made a promise -- an enthusiastic, generous promise to help their Jewish brothers and sisters.
Now Paul plans to send a delegation to make arrangements to receive their gift. He says, he’s spoken in other churches and he’s mentioned the Corinthians’ generosity and great willingness to give. So now, so to speak, it’s time that these believers make good on their promise.
We’re talking about generosity these two weeks. We looked last week at the totally unexpected giving of those extremely poor people in Macedonia. Their illustration teaches that when God touches us and we grasp His grace in Christ, then God gets hold of us and whatever we have. The foundation for generosity is always God’s bounty toward us.
So, these two chapters don’t revolve around money as much as getting a new heart and attitude. Paul’s never teaches giving from duty, but from devotion.
Someone said, “the more you stare at Jesus, the more of a giver you will be -- and the more generous you are, the more you become like Him.” Paul obviously believed that; in the chapter 8 because after he described the generous Macedonia, that‘s when he described Jesus with the words I gave you in communion from chapter 8:9: you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
What Paul is communicating in chapter 9, to the Corinthians, and to you and me, is we can
get in on Christ-like generosity. We can understand it, we can grow in it, we can be like Christ in this area. Generosity isn’t first about money. It’s a character issue, it’s a transformation of my mind and heart; it’s grasping how wonderful God was and is to us; it’s triggered by grace and so: [definition on screen] "Generosity is being a conduit through which God increasingly pours His resources to meet needs."
And we need to get this as well: if you’re generous, you understand that what goes through your hands isn’t lost, it’s invested and it enriches the whole Kingdom.
Today I want to make 3 observations from chapter 9 which address the whole experience of generosity.
The first comes from in verses 2-5. Paul writes,
I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I have sent the brethren, in order that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case, so that as I was saying, you may be prepared; otherwise if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we -- not to speak of you -- will be put to shame by this confidence.
So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift -- a generous gift -- and not be affected by covetousness.
The first observation: 1. Your generosity triggers generosity in others. (9:1-5)
The point here, as it is in much of the Christian life: models matter. Paul first mentions the fact that he’s held up their promise before other churches as an example. Just like in chapter 8 where he described grace motivating the Macedonians, he’s used the Corinthians’ pledge as he went around visiting other churches.
And what’s been the result? Verse 2: They got stirred to action! Those other churches got on board -- the initial response from the Corinthians fired up others -- it got them to act.
Not too much motivates us as powerfully as good examples especially in the Christian life. My professor Howard Hendricks used to say, “most things are better caught than taught.“ The apostle would even use himself as an example. You can read in 1 Corinthians 9 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. And in Philippians 3 it’s, Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.
So how do we get at the practice of modeling when it comes to giving generously? Certainly we need to remember Jesus’ word that we not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing, in other words, that we not “show off” with our giving while we model generosity.
But we still demonstrate generosity with others -- certainly by sharing what we own, with our time, with our emotional and physical energy. And, we certainly can, in a small group, or couple to couple or 1-1 challenge one another not to become materialistic, maybe to put a lid on our lifestyles so our hearts can be free to be generous.
We can model generosity for our kids. And, husbands and wives we ought to not only determine together the level of our giving, we should have the freedom to challenge and stretch each other toward generosity. In most marriages, one person handles the finances, so there’s often little prayer or discussion on decisions of lifestyle or giving. What would happen if every couple would simply sit together for a couple of hours and discuss questions like:
“What kind of lifestyle do we really need? “What is it we’ve been trying to accomplish with our money in the last year or few years?” “Are we trying to impress people? ”Are we trying to find our significance with money or stuff?” And here’s one: “How can we leverage, how can we maximize our income and time and possessions to best advance Christ’s kingdom?”
Someone said this: “No one in American has said, ‘it’s okay to put a lid on our lifestyles’” -- instead our primary thought is, “can I afford it?” or worse, “can I finance it?”
There are other ways in the body we point to models or find models of generosity without showing off or grandstanding.
On occasion I’ve witnessed people giving away things, or amounts of money, which, in human terms, they could not afford. Their first priority wasn’t to their own needs, it was the kingdom, or meeting someone’s need -- and both above their own needs. Then, sometimes, I’ve also witnessed how God provided for them, just like Jesus promised He’d do in Matthew 6:33.
Would you commit today to having some conversations -- with your spouse, or your kids -- with another Christian? Would you pray together and discuss God’s desire for you to give from grace and with generosity -- and see where that leads? Would you ask Him to make you a model of generosity?
There’s a second observation from verse:
2. Your generosity yields a generous harvest. (9:6-11)
Paul begins in verse 6 with a theme that runs through Scripture and through life: he who sows sparingly; will also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (9:6)
He also lays out some principles from the broader harvest concept:
First, this one:
* you reap in proportion to what you sow. (9:6)
If you keep most of your seed, the harvest will tell the story. If you sow with generosity, there will be a greater return. Jesus said, give, and it shall be given to you. Now, our harvest won’t always be money or stuff, but it will always be far more than we gave. In God’s economy, just like in farming or gardening, we reap something very different than what we sow. For instance, you plant pumpkin seeds -- and what do you reap? More pumpkin seeds? Well, yes, but they come
in some very large containers.
You should know, there are very few 1:1 relationships in the Christian life. If you serve, you may not be served. If you’re hospitable you may never be invited into other homes. But Scripture promises, your harvest will come and it will come in proportion to your sowing. The point here is if you sow with a good attitude, God will provide you a harvest in the same measure.
* you reap when you sow with the right motives. (9:7)
Obviously It doesn’t matter what kind of an attitude a farmer has when he goes out and sows his fields, but it does matter when it comes to giving to God. Paul says in verse 7, not grudgingly or under compulsion -- and why? because God loves a cheerful giver.
Paul has already told these folks, you make you own determination about how much you should give. You, as a Christian before God, determine the amount. Each one as he has determined in his own mind -- but then, give that, with the right attitude -- understand your motive and get the right motive.
Wiersbe says about the terms Paul uses in verse 7, there are “sad givers, mad givers, and
glad givers“. Sad givers are the ones who give grudgingly. Paul says generosity and grudging giving just don’t mix. Mad givers are the people who give under compulsion. They respond to respond to guilt or pressure or obligation.
Then there’s the last group. Glad givers respond with joy -- the Greek word is one most of you know if you‘ve grown up in church: hilarious. It’s joyful willingness and nothing less. We saw last week what the source of that is. There‘s only one source. It never comes from some preacher drumming on you with a tirade about money, it comes when we open our hearts to God -- when we ask Him to give us a clear vision of His glorious grace in Christ, it comes when we ask Him to give us more grace.
That’s because grace-giving, the kind that produces generosity means God’s hand is all over us and our understanding and our gifts -- and He’s blessing both what we give and He’s blessing us as givers and then we as givers becomes a blessing to others.
The third principle is:
*you reap while you are sowing. (9:8-11)
Farmers don’t put seeds in the ground and expect the harvest the next day. It’s different for grace-givers. Verse 8 says God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.
All grace, always, all sufficiency, every good work. Again, there’s no promise that God will make you rich if you get in line with giving generously. The promise is this. If you practice grace giving, you’ll always have what you need when you need it.
And there’s a spiritual component you don’t want to miss there. That word sufficiency means adequate resources within. Paul is saying, God will grow you, while He’s growing a harvest through you.
Fourth, there’s a hidden principle here too:
*you reap so you can sow more!
Paul says, you will be enriched in everything for (for the purpose of) all liberality. Part of the harvest God wants to produce is the harvest of generosity. God provides us more, so we can give. When you keep on learning grace-giving and generosity, you will be enriched so that you can give even more.
I’ve said it before: God doesn’t need your money! He doesn’t need anything that you can give. Not our money, our service to others, anything at all. God, Who spoke the world into creation, can provide for the needs of His people just fine. But He chooses to use you and use me as conduits -- as the means for providing so the gospel gets out and for the needs of people.
Let me urge you -- get engaged with this quiet but compelling law of the harvest. He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, but he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
A third observation:
3. Your generosity honors God. (9:12-15)
How does grace-giving -- how does Christ-like generosity honor the Father?
The first way again has to do the way we give.
Look again at verse 12. In verse 12, Paul introduces a word he’s never used before for the practice of giving. It’s the word for service, or ministry.
In Greek that term meant priestly service. What Paul is doing is lifting the grace-giving up to the highest level possible of the sort of act Christians can be involved with.
He’s saying we honor God -- why? because we’re not just offering money to a cause
or people -- we’re giving a spiritual sacrifice to God when we give from the right motive.
There’s another way generosity honors God. Verse 12 states the obvious: God uses you to meet needs. Generosity will regularly involves us in making sure that both ministry needs and people’s physical needs are met.
He goes on. The folks out in Judea who are suffering, who will get help from the Greeks’ gifts he says, will praise God because of the gifts! Did you ever consider that when you’re generous, when you liberally give your time, talent of treasure, that becomes a direct pathway by which people will offer praise God? Notice Paul does not say, the people will praise the Corinthians, he says they will praise God.
Then in verse 13 he tells them the recipients will glorify God because of the Corinthians’ and others‘ giving. There’s an element there too that the unity of Christ’s Body is celebrated.
Finally, in verse 14 Paul says, those Christians in Judea will pray for the Greek-speaking believers.
Steps I will take
Are you generous? The question is never, do you have a lot to give, or do you have nothing to give, the question is, before a generous Savior, are you like Him?
Have you learned to celebrate His grace and benefits toward you by moving in that direction in your character? When the need is clear, to serve, to help, to give, how do you react?
Time -- are you ready to give it to people in need, or to the ministry?
Talent -- are you responding, offering freely what God has given you to reach out, to serve, to give to the Body and to people?
Treasure -- do you understand grace when it comes to money? Do you “get it” that it doesn’t matter how much you have, that it’s all His to begin with? Do you keep seeking ways to support, and supply, and serve with God’s resources?
I’m convinced that God’s objective is generosity. Will you take it on? Spend some time discussing it with someone? Pray over the issues? Let God move you from where you are now to Christ-likeness.
The ushers are going to come now, not to ask you for something, but to give you something. One of the books I was given a few weeks ago was one by Andy Stanley called Fields of Gold, and I’d like to just give one to each of you, as a couple or family, or single person. It’s small so it’s not for your coffee table, it’s to read, so I’d ask you to do that. Read it as a couple or a family. But let it take particularly the issues of sowing and reaping and plant them deeply into your heart and life.