Summary: What we give to God and how we give it shows just how much we really love him, and it shows how grateful we are for the love and blessings we receive from him. We are accountable to God for how we use the gifts he has given us.
Let's take a walk down memory lane for a moment. Some of you, especially the older members of this congregation, may remember a famous comedian named Flip Wilson. He had a weekly TV comedy show back in the 70s, and one of his favorite characters was a preacher named Brother Leroy.
In one skit, Brother Leroy was leading services one Sunday morning. It wasn't going very well. People weren't very responsive. It came time to receive the offering and so Brother Leroy passed the collection plates. They came back empty. So he passed them again. Same thing. Empty. Brother Leroy then went before the people and said, "Now, I know that you all want this church to progress. This church must progress." No response from the congregation. Brother Leroy shouted a bit louder: "Now, before this church can progress it has to crawl, this church has got to crawl." And the congregation started getting excited and they yelled back, "Make it crawl, Reverend. Make it crawl!" Brother Leroy continued, "After this church has crawled, it's got to pick itself up and start to walk, this church has got to walk!" And the people yelled back at him, "Make it walk, Reverend. Make it walk!" "And after this church has walked, this church has got to get up and run, this church has got to run." And the people were worked up into a terrible frenzy, and they hollered back: "Make it run, Reverend. Make it run!" And then Brother Leroy said, "Now, brothers and sisters, in order for this church to run, it’s gonna need money, it’s gonna take money for this church to run!" And the people yelled back, "Let it crawl, Reverend. Let it crawl!"
The reading we heard from 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 a few minutes ago does talk about giving. Most ministers have to walk a fine line when talking about this subject, especially if they don’t want to give the impression that they are asking for money for the church. I’m also walking a fine line because even though this is summer and the time of the year when offerings decline because people are away, I don’t want to talk about giving in that sense. I want to talk about the spiritual benefits of giving, so I’m definitely not going to be like one minister who was having trouble with the collections. One Sunday he announced, “Now, before we pass the collection plate, I would like to request that the person who stole the chickens from Brother Martin’s henhouse please refrain from giving any money to the Lord. The Lord doesn’t want money from a thief!”
The collection plate was passed around, and for the first time in months everybody gave.
The church in Jerusalem had fallen on hard times financially. It started off great, with believers sharing everything they had in the belief that Christ would return soon. When he didn’t, things became bleak very quickly. To help the church in Jerusalem, Paul appealed to all of the churches he started to give to a collection he was taking up. At first, the church in Corinth gave generously, but in time the giving slowed to a trickle in part because some people accused Paul of taking the collection for personal gain.
In order to counter this claim and to encourage the believers in Corinth to increase their generosity, Paul used the church in Macedonia as an example of how to give. The people of Macedonia were poor, mainly because the occupying Roman forces took all of the resources for themselves. Nevertheless, the believers in Macedonia were more than willing to give generously to support other believers who were less fortunate.
There are several aspects of grace giving. First, grace giving is systematic. Paul told the Corinthians to abound in this grace. He implied that this is a framework in which they and we can grow in faith as Christians. Giving can be spontaneous, but it can and should be planned. There are several examples in the New Testament of planned giving by the church and by individuals. A commitment to give is the start of the system of giving.
Grace giving is sincere. It reflects a believer’s love for God and a sincere desire to expand the ministry of the church. God does not need our gifts to expand his ministry because he owns everything. He does allow our gifts to be used to expand his ministry.
Grace giving is steadfast. It continues regardless of our circumstances. It doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor. Closely connected to this is the concept that grace giving involves sharing with others. The purpose of giving must be to meet equally the needs of both the world and the church. The one who has much is able to share much, and the one who has little is able to share little. As God’s people share in proportion to what God has entrusted them with, the needs of the whole body of Christ are met.