“First Give Yourself”



          The past two weeks we have been examining some of what the Bible has to say about the giving of money in connection with our distribution of the wonderful little book, “The Treasure Principle.”  Last week, we studied the story of the poor widow and her offering of two copper coins from Mark chapter 12. We saw that Jesus contrasted her offering with the rich people who put in large sums.  The difference was that the rich gave out of their abundance, while the widow gave from her poverty.  We saw that the widow’s gift could be explained only by the presence of God’s grace operating in her heart.  The rich men’s gifts, irrespective of how large they were, or even how large a percentage of their income they represented, did not manifest the grace of God because it was given out of their abundance.  That is, it did nothing to reduce the standard of living they had been enjoying.  They were able to enjoy the same activities, purchase the same things they had before—including many discretionary things. From that we saw that grace giving is not about giving large amounts or large percentages, but is instead measured by questions like, “do I live and give in ways that cause the temporal things of this world to be minimized, while bearing clear testimony that my treasure is in heaven, not this place?” Its questions like that one that reveal whether we are giving in a way that manifests God grace, or if we give like those other rich people in Mark 12.

          We also allowed Second Corinthians eight and the grace giving Paul teaches in that letter to throw more light on that story.  This week, we want to return to this great text on giving from the apostle Paul. You’ll recall that he was making an appeal to the Corinthian church for money to assist the church in Jerusalem which was much in need of assistance.  Paul's approach to fund raising is much different than what we often hear today, however.  He didn't brow beat the Corinthians.  He didn't even go into great detail about the extreme urgency of the need.  He certainly didn't use his apostolic authority to command them to give.  None of that--no manipulation or coercion.  His teaching is thoroughly rooted in grace.

          Let's read Paul's appeal in Second Corinthians chapter eight again.  In verses 1-9, he says,  We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia,  2for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  3For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will,  4begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.  6Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace.  7But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.  9For 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." 

          As we have seen, he begins his treatment by holding up the churches in Macedonia as an example of the grace of God in giving.  But Paul doesn't boast about the people themselves, but in God’s grace manifest among them.  This is consistent for Paul who wrote, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”  This is the grace of God expressing itself in a kind of giving that could in no way be explained apart from God’s work among the Macedonians. This week, we're going to look at two more marks of the grace of God in giving.  Look at verse five again for another mark of God's grace in giving.  Paul continues his description of the giving of these Macedonian churches and says, "and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”

          From this verse we see another mark of God’s grace in giving.  That is--when it is part of the COMPREHENSIVE giving of YOURSELF.  Paul says these Macedonian Christians "gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us."  Their financial commitment to these churches in Jerusalem was an extension of a more comprehensive commitment to the Lord.  The widow in Mark 12 who gave everything she had to live on is explainable only by the fact that it was an expression of her comprehensive giving of herself. The grace of God is seen in your giving if your financial giving flows from the giving of yourself.   To the degree that God has your heart, that’s the degree to which your checkbook and your decisions about how to spend his money will be under his direction. Conversely, if your financial decisions about things like spending and giving are in some way closed off to him or if you are giving him your left-over’s, then that's an indication that you have not only withheld your finances from God, you have withheld your heart.  Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  If you want to discover where your heart is, trace where your treasure--your time, your talents, your energy, your money is going and that will show you where your heart is. 

          The Macedonians model grace for us in that they came to God with the attitude, “God, we belong comprehensively to you—everything we have belongs to you--you are our Lord.  What would you have us do here in this context of need?  They did not, in response to this need, sit down and think, “Hmm, what would be the easiest or most convenient way for us to help here?”  THAT would be giving out of their abundance.  That would have modeled what we spoke of last week with respect to giving only the money what would not cut into our current standard of living.  It takes no grace to do that—anyone can do that.  Paul’s commendation about them implies they approached it from a God-centered perspective.  “Because you own all of us, Lord—not just our checkbooks, but also our calendars and our talents, what would most glorify you here—what would most indicate that YOU are our treasure?”  When they discerned that, they anxiously gave of themselves to the Lord with much sacrifice and with much joy. 

          This is so easy for us to overlook because with many of us today, our time with family or hobbies are more precious than our money.  My assumption is that if we as a church made a push to do some of the capitol improvements that need to be made around here and took an offering; we might collect a respectable sum.  Many people find writing checks to help pay for things like new driveways and ceiling tiles and new bathrooms somewhat rewarding because they get to see what was done with their money.  There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that.  But appeals to come and sacrifice hours of time spent away from families and hobbies working on projects involving mostly unskilled labor one Saturday every month—sacrificing some sweat and time away from loved ones—that has proven to be frustrating around here.

          Conversely, if you have given yourself comprehensively to the Lord, you will discover how much easier it is to give financially to a ministry, if you first have put some of your blood, sweat and tears into it.  If you invest significant time and prayer into a ministry or a person, then giving them your finances will seem quite natural to you.  Most parents eagerly sacrifice financially to provide their children with enriching extra-curricular activities because its simply consistent with the comprehensive commitment they have been making to that child all his/her life.  If you've changed their diapers and stayed up with them when they are sick and coached their ball teams and taxied them around town and given them three square meals a day, it’s perfectly consistent to pay for a field trip to St. Paul. This is in part because you have already given yourself to them.  The money is simply an extension of your comprehensive giving of yourself to them. 

          One question we must ask to determine whether our giving is manifesting God's grace is, "Is my financial giving an outgrowth of the giving of myself?” Frankly speaking, for many of us it's pretty easy to sit down and write a check--perhaps even a moderately generous one.  The grace of God is seen in our finances when it is a part of the comprehensive giving of YOURSELF.  How much of a connection is there between your financial giving and how much you give yourself?  Paul says—that’s grace. We see this comprehensive grace emphasis again in verse seven.  There Paul says, “But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also.”  Spiritual gifts abounded in Corinth.  God had richly blessed them in that area.  Paul has already affirmed in First Corinthians 1:5-7, “that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 

Paul is saying here in Second Corinthians that just as they excel in spiritual gifts given by God, so too should they excel in the grace of giving.  That raises a question doesn’t it?  Paul holds the Corinthians responsible to excel in the grace of giving.  How can that be?  How can you excel in something (“excel” implies effort) that is a product of God’s grace?  It may initially appear that God’s grace and our efforts to excel are like oil and water.  It may seem like its either grace OR effort, but that is a not division that neither Paul nor the rest of the Bible makes in relation to our sanctification.  We would do well to heed Jesus’ words here, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. “ [Matt 19:6] 

Perhaps the most conspicuous example of this complimentary relationship between our efforts and God’s grace is in Philippians 2:12-13.  There Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  Paul doesn’t see any contradiction between God’s grace working in us and us our working out our salvation.  One reason for that is because he understands that everything we do is from grace.  He says of himself in First Corinthians 15:1, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”  Paul says the fact that he worked harder than the other apostles is not owing to anything in him—its God’s grace working in him.  Paul’s harder work gave him no room to boast, except in the Lord.  This is an important piece of the gospel and its outworking in our lives.

This is pertinent to our financial giving because, like the Corinthians, we must exert effort to abound in the grace of giving.  It’s simply not valid to say, “Yes, I am waiting for God’s grace so I can give financially in ways that will cause me to decrease my discretionary spending so that his supremacy in my life might be seen in how I spend his money. I am praying and waiting for God’s grace to enable me to trust him so that I will be able with joy to give away more of what I would have either saved or purchased something I didn’t need.”  That’s not the life of faith.  Here’s an example of the grace of giving according to Paul.  Sit down and prayerfully devise a way for you to increasingly live on less than you currently live on so that you will by grace be giving money that you are now spending on you and the things of this world.  Make a plan and work to implement it.  At this point, you may say—“But you said this is to be done with joy and that would kill me.” 

The first step in receiving grace is an honest admission of our heart’s condition.  If that describes you, spend time confessing that, though you may have considered yourself a fairly generous person, you are graceless in your giving because you give out of your abundance.  Ask the Holy Spirit to bring brokenness in this area of your life.  Confess it to others in the body and enlist them to pray for you. James tells us that “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:  "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."  As you do that, be sensitive to God’s prompting and when he leads you to give something, in faith do it and know God’s joy in the midst.  There will also be pain if you have cherished an idol(s) in your heart. The cross of Christ will need to be applied to those areas to do its sin-killing work.  This death to self is never easy, but there is also the promise of joy coming from that process.  According to Hebrews chapter 12, Jesus modeled both the pain and the hope for joy in the cross.  And when you have done it you will say, “That was God’s grace.  I would have never done that on my own.”  We should not believe that simply because this kind of sacrificial giving comes from grace that we do not also have to work to excel at it.  That is precisely what Paul tells the Corinthians to do.

          Another mark of the grace of God in your giving is seen in verses eight and nine.   "I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”   Notice, Paul draws their attention NOT to the Macedonians as he has done a few verses earlier.  We expect him to repeat that comparison but he surprises us by defining grace, not by the example of the Macedonians, but by "the GRACE of our Lord Jesus Christ..."  Paul points to the quintessential example of God's grace, the Lord Jesus.  The common denominator between the giving of the Macedonian churches and Christ's giving is God's grace.  A second symptom or mark of God's grace in this area of giving is when it is like CHRIST'S selfless giving.

            Paul says--this is how the grace of God expressed itself in Jesus' life, "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that through His poverty, you might become rich."  While He was on earth, the grace of God operating in Jesus cost him everything he had.  It’s intensely ironic that in the context of the health and wealth gospel that has infected many churches and media ministries God’s grace is touted as something which consistently brings financial BLESSING.  In the case of Jesus, the one Person who PERFECTLY manifested God's grace, the grace of God had exactly the opposite effect--it made the Prince of Peace a pauper.  This trend is not universal, but it is very common for God’s people in church history.  The prosperity gospel says God is blessed by blessing his children financially and we should seek that blessing for his and our good.  There are numerous problems with that. 

          One problem is--it is much more rooted in an Old Covenant understanding of blessing where there is almost no emphasis placed on the afterlife.  The glories of heaven as the inheritance of God’s people is simply not an idea developed to any real extent within the Old Covenant.  The New Testament is written from a thoroughly eschatological perspective where we are consistently seen as heading for a better place by far than this temporal world.  If you study the blessings promised under the Old Covenant in Deuteronomy 28, they are all connected to the land and to life in this world—material blessings.  When God finally brought the curses of the covenant to bear on the Israelites after their centuries of rebellion, most of those curses were temporal and material.  In Lamentation 5:2 the author reflects on what God has done in his judgment upon Israel and says, “Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners.”  He is clearly talking about the land of Israel that the Assyrians and Babylonians had taken.  They predominantly saw their inheritance in material terms related to the land.  Stephen in Acts 13:19 says of God’s relationship to Israel, “And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance.”         

In the New Testament, the inheritance of God’s people is always expressed in spiritual terms, not material.  We see this in texts like Hebrews 9:15 where the author says of Christ,Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant”   We have an inheritance but it is in Christ and it is spiritual and eternal, not material.  The same truth is in 1 Peter 1:3-4.  He says, 3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,”   The parallel seems to be—in the Old Testament, God predominantly blessed his people with the Promised Land.  In the New Testament, God has greatly blessed his people with the ultimate Promised Land--the glories of knowing God personally and the promise of eternal bliss in heaven, having accomplished this through the self-imposed poverty of his Son.  Paul brings this out when he says, “Yet for your sakes he became poor, so that through his poverty, you might become rich.”  Clearly he’s not talking about material wealth. What he is saying is that Jesus left the glories of heaven that so befitted him and came to this earth that was so inconsistent with his glory, so that he could take us rebels who belong in hell, but who by his grace will live with him in the glories of heaven.  If the blessings of the New Covenant in Christ are material ones native to this life, then why does Jesus command us to “"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal?  Our treasure is in Christ, not in what he gives us.  The treasures of heaven, as we said two weeks ago, will be the pervasive presence and glory of God.

          In the Old Testament God was glorified by providing land and material blessing for his people.  In the New Testament, God’s people have the spiritual fulfillment of those material riches—a righteousness that is not from the law, adoption as individual sons of God and all the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ including the hope of eternal glory.  To be able to know God through Christ—that’s the predominant blessing of the New Covenant.  We have been given material wealth largely to provide for our needs, for blessing others and for using in ways that communicate this truth: “I have found the treasure of all treasures and all earthly treasure means nothing to me by comparison—I count them all loss for the sake of Christ—I use them by God’s grace to magnify the truth that my treasure is in heaven, Christ.”  This doesn’t mean that we cannot enjoy the things of this life. But we must always remember that the reason God saved us wasn’t so we could enjoy the blessings of this life.  It was so that we could “glorify God and enjoy HIM forever.”

          The truth is—the gospel often makes people significantly poorer by material standards—that’s what it did to Christ and his apostles.  If Christ is our example of grace and we are called to emulate him, the gospel had an inconceivably large impact on his heavenly standard of living.  Why would we think it unusual for the gospel to do that to us and why should that matter very much if our treasure is truly in heaven, anyway? 

          So, how are you doing?  Does your giving express the grace of God?  This can become very legalistic if you do this in your own strength.  God doesn't want you painstakingly scrutinizing every purchase in the light of other people's need.  What God DOES want is for us is for our bank accounts and all our possessions to be at HIS disposal and for us to live in a manner consistent with the truth that our treasure, our inheritance is not here, but is in heaven.

          The proper response to these truths is to ask yourself, "If giving that reflects God's grace is comprehensive and sacrificially selfless like Christ's, then is my giving manifesting God's grace or is it merely an expression of my giving-out-of-abundance attempts at generosity?"  And if you are coming up with a negative answer, confess that to God.  Ask him to grant you repentance.  Ask him to do a miracle of His grace in you so that you might live as Christ lived--for others and not primarily for yourself and what you want.  For those of us in a materialistic society, this area of giving—perhaps more than any other--will show us where we really are in our walk with God.  The good news is that if we come to God in brokenness and admit our sin, confess our selfishness and cry out to Him for His grace, he will send His Spirit in a powerful way and do a miraculous work in our hearts.  Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled." Does that describe you, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, or are you comfortable where you are now?  May God give grant that we might know where we are with Him, be broken by the truth about ourselves if necessary and receive His grace to be more like Christ.


Page last modified on 8/19/2007

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