GIVING AND OUR STRUGGLING ECONOMY
Obviously, the news about our economy is not very encouraging. It used to be funny to make light of it by saying, “My 401(k) is now a 201(k).” Unfortunately, it is not funny anymore because now it is a 101, and has even lost the “k”. It does not appear to be getting any better.
This uncertainty has been going on long enough that it is beginning to affect how people live. One major effect is that people are making smaller and even fewer contributions to non-profit organizations. That does include churches as well. As I network with other pastors, it is evident that this financial situation is beginning to hit churches hard.
But my question is why? Why should this affect Christians giving? Should we make decisions out of fear? Should we be worried about making our mortgage payments because we “overbought” our homes or have too large a lease payment on an SUV? How should we respond as believers in this crisis.
Turn with me this morning in your bibles to 2 Corinthians 8 and I want to show how Paul challenged the churches in Corinth to give during times of financial uncertainty. Before launching into the chapter, let me show you the key to this chapter. Read verse 9. Here Paul reminds them of the gospel that came from the sacrifice of Jesus. Paul reminds them that Jesus “became poor” for their sakes so that they could receive the riches ‘of an inheritance undefiled.” (See I Peter 1). This central truth to our lives provides the key to unlocking the biblical perspective that Paul teaches to us as believers.
Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-12. Here Paul teaches several biblical facts about giving.
1. Giving is about mission not mindset.
As Christians, we need to remember that we are on a mission – the mission of the Gospel. Paul chooses to discuss a financial gift from each church by describing their gift as a “grace from God.” See verses 1, 7. He also uses this same phrase in verse 9 to describe salvation through Jesus. He intentionally connects the dots for them to remind them that we are ambassadors of the gospel. Paul is not afraid to talk about money. He does it on many occasions. Here he chooses these specific words under the anointing of the Holy Spirit to explain that this is about furthering the gospel.
Next Paul uses the example of the believers in Macedonia. Remember that Paul planted churches in cities in Macedonia such as Philippi and Thessalonica. Apparently, the churches there were facing some difficult times. He refers to their “great trial of affliction” and their “deep poverty.” He sets the stage for describing their offering as coming during a very difficult time. This is important because it must be a difficult time in Corinth as well. From verse 10 we learn that they had promised a gift, but now were considering not following through on their gift. Clearly, Paul is addressing this situation in a way that will be very instructive to us during these times that we face.
Paul uses the financial gift from Macedonia as an example to the Corinthian church. But even more importantly he describes their heart in giving the gift. He says that they “committed themselves to God first.” They understood that the grace and salvation from Jesus means that you have committed Himself to Him completely. When you receive Jesus as your savior, then you are His. You give Him all of your life to receive His life in return. It is now not your life any longer. This means that you are committed totally to Him. This is reflected in every area of life.
This gives you a mission in life. We are on the mission of furthering the “grace of God” or the Gospel. Commitment to God means we are motivated by this mission. It is the defining motive of our lives. Because they were on mission committed to God, then the churches in Macedonia gave beyond their ability. This means they are on mission! In fact, Paul notes that he must have asked them to refrain because of their seriousness of their circumstances. But they begged him in verse 5 to take their gift. They gave out of the abundance of their joy in Jesus. (see verse 2).
We simply do not have this kind of faith in our modern day American church. We give according to the mindset we have at the moment. If we feel good or excited, then we give. If our mindset is poor, then we refrain or back off in our giving. Where is the Jesus in this thought process? Giving to the work of the gospel should be a mission that arises out of our total commitment to Jesus Christ.
We have more Christians in the modern day church who have been to Disneyworld than on a mission trip. Now I love Disney. In fact, it is one of my favorite places still today. I have taken my children there. My daughter has been twice, but she has been on 2 mission trips as well. My son has been. But he has been to Israel on a spiritual learning trip and will take his first mission trip this summer. We have kept our tithing the same because we have oriented our lives to be able continue to give regardless of what state the economy may be during any given cycle. We are defined by our sense of mission and not by the mindset of the day.
In a hurting world, folks will actually turn to the church more often. People who are hurting will look for answers. If we are not defined by mission, then we will retreat in the face of growing opportunities to do ministry and further the gospel. Giving is about being on mission, not mindset.
2. Giving is about eternity not expenses.
What is our mission? Again, Paul connects the dots for us by using the word grace. It is about salvation. He reminds them that Jesus gave and became poor for us so we could inherit eternal life. Therefore, giving is about eternity not expenses. When we pull back and quit doing ministry because folks quit giving due to their mindset, then what do we stop doing? What is the area we will forgo? Will we cut children’s ministry? What is a child’s eternal life worth? What is the value of salvation in Jesus Christ? When you compare the riches of heaven with what we might gain by saving our money and keeping it from the eternal work of God, it is embarrassing and shameful that we function by mindset rather than as a people on mission.
3. Giving is about a decision not desires.
Everyone desires to give. Paul reminds them that they desired to make an offering and therefore made some commitment a year or so earlier to give. The desire had apparently faded because of some intervening circumstances. We are the same way in our world today. When I preach on evangelism, it is always a good Sunday. Folks say amen and the spirit is always positive. That may not always be the same however when I preach on giving. It is not the same when I challenge the church to give to upgrade our student facilities or children’s building. Why? There is a difference between desire and actually making a choice to accomplish something.
Paul acknowledges their desire, but also warns them to move from desire to decision. This is a key for most folks. How are we able to give during these times? It is because our family made a specific choice years ago that we would always tithe. We also made a choice when we bought our house to limit what we would pay in order to protect our ability to give to missions and take our children on mission trips as a part of their formative years. We went from feeling good in a service in church, to making real, concrete decisions that resulted in placing us on mission.
Do you have a desire to go on mission or have you made a decision to do it for real?
4. Giving is about faith not finances.
How can you maintain a mission to give and support ministry even when life seems to be intent on stopping you from it? I mean this economy is truly scary. Well, Paul does not beat up this church or challenge them to do something dangerous. He is positive and encouraging, but challenging at the same time. He does this by reminding them that this is a matter of faith. He tells them that Macedonia church gave of what God had given them. If you read slightly ahead to 2 Corinthians 9:9-15, Paul specifically reminds them that all that we have comes from God. When you give, you are simply giving what God has given you to give. You can give as much as God calls you to give because He is going to give you what you have to give in the first place.
This is a matter of faith. It is in trusting God to provide what HE has promised to provide. Most people do not develop this kind of faith because they only give out of their abundance and not out of God’s abundance. If you have never actually tithed, but only given $20 at a time, then you have never had to trust in God to provide. There are not the lessons that can only be learned by stepping out in faith. Our family has made the choice to tithe and we have learned time and again that God provides for our every need and does so from His abundance.
5. Giving is about commitment not circumstances.
The culmination of these lessons is clear. Giving in times when it is difficult occurs because a person has made a commitment to do so. As believers who say we are surrendered to Christ as our Lord and who claim to live by faith trusting in God as our providing Heavenly Father, should not hesitate to structure their lives as givers to the mission of the gospel. The failure to give now means we are basing choices on the existence of our circumstances. It certainly is not evidence of living by a faith commitment. The mission of the gospel, the reality of eternity, the understanding of God’s provision – these can only produce one response. We must commit our all just as Jesus committed His all for us at Calvary, meaning “He became poor.” Giving you all is just that. We do not have the right to withhold our lives from God’s mission. That is what Paul states clearly in verse 7. We are to abound, not withhold, in every area of our Christian life. Commitment is revealed in times like this. Are you committed? Are you making choices based on a mindset that simply shifts as circumstances shift? Are you on mission?