Why Do We Give?

As church leaders we are charged with the responsibility of teaching our people good Biblical stewardship.  In other words, we have to talk to them about how they use their time, talent, treasure and temple to glorify God.  One of the hardest areas that we have to deal with is the issue of giving.  This always a sensitive subject, however, I believe that our focus needs to be more on teaching people “why” they give than “how much they give.”  The truth of the matter is that someone can give a large sum of money but if they give it for the wrong reason it is all for naught.  The reason that we give is far more important to God than the amount that we give.  Turn in your Bible to 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 and let me show you three principle that should guide our attitude in giving.

1.  Our Giving Should Reflect Our Understanding of the Grace of God (v. 1-7)

Paul uses the churches in Macedonia as an example for the Corinthians of how they should give, but notice that the emphasis is immediately on the grace of God.  In the first verse of this passage, Paul says, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia…”  He then goes on to describe how, even though they were experiencing a time of extreme poverty and a test of affliction, they still had given more generously than anyone would have expected.  This was clear evidence of the grace of God at work in the Macedonians, but also reflects their understanding of His grace.  They gave beyond their means because of their experience of grace.

In verse 2 Paul lays out a rather unusual and unexpected formula for wealth.  We tend to think of wealth only in terms of material blessings and abundance.  But Paul says that  Joy + Sever Affliction + Poverty = Wealth.  This is contrary to everything that we are taught by the world, but it is a fundamental Christian truth.  The Macedonians were poor by the world’s standards but rich in God’s economy.

Understanding the grace of God produces a sense of gratitude and humility in our hearts.  It reminds us that everything that we have has been given to us by God.  We own nothing, it has all been placed on loan to us by God and we are responsible for using everything for His glory.  The deeper we understand the grace of God, the more generous we will become.  As ministers, therefore, our teaching on stewardship needs to begin by thoroughly teaching our people about and celebrating the truth of God’s grace.

2. Our giving must be motivated by the Gospel (v.8-11)

I often say to our church that “Paul never encountered a problem that he didn’t solve through the Gospel.”  The gospel is the primary reference point for Paul’s worldview, therefore, when he was dealing with marriage problems in Corinth he settled them through the gospel.  When he was dealing the relationship between a runaway slave and his owner in Philemon, he fixed the problem by applying the gospel.  It should be no surprise then that when Paul deals with giving that he focuses our attention on the gospel.

In verse 8 he tells the Corinthians that he is not commanding them to give but then in v.9 he immediately turns to the Gospel, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” There is no better example of giving in the history of the world than Jesus giving His life on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin.  Throughout the history of the church those who have understood the gospel the best were also those who were most willing to sacrifice and give all they had to give for His cause.

Honestly, I am afraid that far too often in the church we resort to a worldly, materialistic motivation for giving.  I hear preachers all of stripes and theological persuasions attempt to motivate church members to give so that they will receive back from God.  Recently, I heard a preacher actually quantify the amounts, he would say things like, “God will restore to you 30 times what you give, so if you give $1,000 He will return your gift thirty-fold.”  He then when on to ask, “How many of you could use $30,000?”  As the hands went up all around he then said, “So come and give your seed gift of $1,000 and God will return your investment thirty-fold.”  This kind of plea misses the point of New Testament giving completely.  We don’t give to receive, we give because Jesus gave His life to save us, therefore, everything we have belongs to Him! When we give we are supposed to reflect the gospel, not the basest forms of human greed.

3. Our Giving Should Reflect Our Participation in the Body of Christ (v.12-15)

In these verses, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are participants in the body of Christ.  He then cites Exodus 16:18 to show that in the wilderness God provided the needs of the children of Israel by sending manna and quail.  It is important to go back and read all of Exodus 16 to really capture the context of this verse.  When you do, you will see that Paul is really saying two things by citing this verse.

First, he is pointing out that God always provides for the needs of His people.  One of the most amazing things about the manna and quail is that every Israelite family has exactly what they needed. Those who gathered much had exactly what they needed and those who gathered just a little had exactly what they needed.  In other words, God made sure to cover their need.

Second, he is making the point that since Corinth had an abundance of material resources while others had less, they needed to give out of their abundance to help those in need.  Furthermore, there would be a day when these rolls were reversed and Corinth would be on the receiving end of Christian generosity.

As we give we need to remember that every member of the body of Christ is called to participate in the life of the church.  Not only does this apply to the local church but also to the church universal.  In the recent years our church here in Illinois has been involved in helping a church in Blanquette, Haitit.  While our church has been able to send large amounts of material aid to the church there, I feel sure that we have received more blessings than we have given.  The dear people of Haiti have done more to teach our people about the gospel and about what it means to live out the gospel than they can possibly imagine.

Conclusion

Christian giving is a reflection of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a basic part of the Christian life.  As Pastors and church leaders we have a responsibility for teaching our people good stewardship.  But as we do, we need to make sure that we teach them as much about “why” they give as “how much” they should give.

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The Fiscal Cliff, Materialism and Idolatry

FYI- This post is not about politics, so read it all the way through.

fiscal cliffOver the last several weeks we have all heard a great deal about the so-called “Fiscal Cliff.”  It is no secret that our government has a serious spending problem and that decisive steps will need to be taken in order to avert an even more serious financial disaster in the future.  But it occurred to me the other day that the Federal government is really just a reflection of what is happening in the general population. In a government “of the people, for the people, by people” we should not be surprised that the Federal government reflects the same irresponsible spending habits as its citizens.

According to a report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, non-real estate household debt jumped 2.3 percent to $2.7 trillion dollars in the last quarter of 2012.  A spokesmen for the New York Fed stated, “The increase in mortgage originations, auto loans and credit card balances suggests that consumers are slowly gaining confidence in their financial position.”  I would like to suggest these statistics indicate something more disturbing— rather than regaining confidence, we are simply returning to the same patterns got us into this mess.  If we want the Federal Government to take fiscal responsibility, it must begin with getting our own households in order.  But this issue goes deeper than just learning better money management techniques.  I want to suggest that at its core, America’s financial woes are primarily the result of a deep-rooted spiritual problem

In the church we hear about the way materialism has caused much of our current financial problems.  While I agree that materialism is a problem, I think the issue goes deeper.  Materialism is a symptom of a much deeper problem— idolatry.  When we look for ultimate fulfillment in anything besides Christ, it can become an idol.  Therefore, family can be an idol, sex can be an idol, and even church when it is divorced from the gospel can be an idol.  But I would submit that in America our favorite idol is material and monetary wealth.  The Scripture gives us stern warnings about making wealth and money the main object of our life.  In Matthew 6:24, for instance, Jesus says “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.”

 

As followers of Christ we need to ask ourselves a tough question, “Whom are we really serving?” In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The last phrase is the key to keeping material goods and money in their proper place.  If the thing you treasure the most are here on earth, that is where your heart is going to be.  You are going to be dragged down by the weight and cares of this world.  But if what you treasure the most is in heaven, your heart will be lifted above the temporal cares of this world and be captured by things of eternal weight and glory.