MESSAGE FOR SEPTEMBER 17, 2006 FROM 2 CORINTHIANS 8:1-12

 

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Message on Giving.

MESSAGE FOR SEPTEMBER 17, 2006 FROM 2 CORINTHIANS 8:1-12

 

As we said last week, Lord willing, we will soon begin a series of messages from the book of Daniel.  This week however, I am going to do something that at least one of my seminary professors told me never to do.  That is, to preach on financial stewardship at a time when the church is experiencing a financial shortfall.  There are several reasons he would offer for his prohibition against this.  One reason is--it can alienate those who are visiting the church and might cause them to think that all we ever talk about is money.  Let me speak to that. Though we have preached on financial stewardship in the past and will do so in the future—because it’s very important to our spiritual health, this is the first time in 16 years I have done so in the context of a budget shortfall.  So, if you are visiting today—please take that exceedingly rare context into consideration.  Also, trust that you are not here today by accident.  God’s word never returns void “…but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” [Isa55:11] That means God has something to say to you in this area this morning—even in this admittedly local-church treatment of the subject.   

Another reason why it is considered by some people unwise to preach on stewardship during times of financial need is rooted in a spiritual concern.  Biblical instruction on giving is directed toward our hearts.  The Bible teaches that our financial stewardship is unbreakably connected to our love for God.  Jesus says in Luke 12:34, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  In the context there in Luke, Jesus teaches that our treasures should be in heaven, not on earth and he begs the question, “where is YOUR treasure?”  That is obviously aimed at our hearts.  If we love God Biblically, HE will be our treasure and that implies that we will not be piling up all manner of stuff in this life.  In this life, we will increasingly live with a war-time mentality—regularly stifling our idolatrous, materialist impulses to accrue more and more possessions, and instead give more of God’s money to furthering his kingdom and piling up heavenly rewards.

Because those are heart issues, some believe we should not mix those “spiritual” concerns like “where is your treasure?” with the budgetary needs of the church and there is some truth to that.  People should never give fundamentally to a church or primarily to fund the ministries of a local church.  That reduces the vitally important area of Biblical stewardship into simply keeping the church light bill paid.  In that sense, we must always be careful about confusing our love for God that is reflected in our giving, and the financial needs of the local church. 

I would however disagree with those who say a church should never preach about money when there is a budget crunch for three reasons.  First, because it is quite possible to clarify the difference between our personal spiritual health, and the church’s need for increased revenue to fund ministries.  If we are careful in how it is presented, those lines don’t have to be blurred.  A second reason is--because financial need in a church can be an expression of God’s loving discipline on a church for not giving generously and sacrificially.  We reap what we sow.  Even though you should never give your money to fund the ministry of the church, but to express your love for God, one indicator that some in the church are not loving God as they ought is a church that cannot adequately fund its God-directed ministries.  We know from Malachi chapter three that a baseline, foundational expression of our love for God.  God calls us to give at least ten percent of what we make to the Lord. 

According to the Barna Research Group less than 10% of those Americans claiming to be born again Christians tithe their income.  They also found the more a person earns, the less likely they are to tithe.  If we assume that is even remotely descriptive of our church, that means that if we were all being faithful to obey God’s word in this area, we not only would not be experiencing our present short fall, we would be completely without debt, we would have hired badly needed staff, supported many more missionaries to the unreached and have the funds to do whatever we felt led to do to increase our facility space without any additional debt.  Our current budget, even if it were being met, would be a shadow of what we could afford to spread God’s kingdom if we were a comprehensively tithing church. In that context, there is a link between individual spiritual health and the church’s financial status and so it is appropriate to preach on this now.

Another link between our individual spiritual health and the church’s financial health is that a healthy believer loves the church and will have a burden for the ministry of his/her local church.  If his/her church is unable to carry out the ministries it feels called to due to a lack of funds, a healthy believer will feel that need and will check in with God to see if there is anything more God wants them to do.  Therefore, it is not valid to think our individual spiritual health and the topic of church finances should always be separated.  Having said that, I want to take just a few moments with the Church Board’s permission to give you a snapshot of where we as a church are with respect to our financial status.  I will go over this quickly, but manuscripts of the message are available if you want these figures.

          To set the larger context, in the last five years our budget has doubled with about a 20% yearly average increase.  God has blessed our church and money has simply not been an issue around here.  The last five years have been exceptional, but I don’t ever remember not making the budget in this church during my time here.  This year has been a different story.  Our budget year began in April and as of last week we are about $34,000 behind in budget giving with a projected shortfall for the year of about $50,000.  Because we will not spend more than we take in, the committees met earlier this month and have agreed to voluntarily limit their budget spending.  The combined efforts of the committees have yielded about $45,000 in expenditures that will not be taken from this year’s budget.  That translates into trimming seven percent of the church ministry planned for this budget year.  Assuming the yearly giving projected shortfall of $50,000 is accurate, that still leaves us $5000 short.

          But all of that speaks only to the budget’s general fund.  As of last week, we also owe around $339,000 to pay off this building.  The three year portion of the capital fund drive ends next month and up to this point, 77% of the pledged monies have been paid.  In the fourth year, another 12% of the cost for this building will be paid if everyone pays all they pledged.  That will still leave us with a minimum of $170,000 to be paid for this building and our intention as a church has always been to avoid long term debt. It is true that we have the Decker Road property that is for sale for $700,000.  If that sells, the crunch will be eliminated.  There is an interested potential buyer, but nothing has been signed and no deal made as yet.  Currently, we are renting that facility and the monthly rent payments are enough to pay our existing construction loan which will soon expire.  The Church Board will come to you in the October 22 business meeting and present their recommendation as to how best to manage our remaining building debt.  The bottom line is—if the building sells, we are in good shape.  If it does not sell, we could—worst case scenario, find ourselves with a big monthly payment on a long term mortgage in additional to our other budgeted expenses which we are currently not able to fully fund.

The patently obvious question is: why this shortfall?  I don’t know all the reasons.  One is, as we said our failure to tithe as a church.  Another is that our church growth has leveled off in the past several months.  A third may be that God is forcing us to take a hard look at how we spend and manage his money.  That is a good thing.  Even though there are budget procedures in place to reduce wasteful spending, when you are used to always having enough money, it is easy to become careless.  A budget shortfall can be a very redemptive time to force us as a church to re-examine our spending habits.  One thing we can be sure of and that is--God is very much at the center of this because he is very much in the center of all things.  If he would have earlier opened the door to the sale of our Decker Road property, this would be a very different message.  He is doing something in our church--working to get our attention and we must try to discern what he is saying to us.  The best place to hear from God is from his word so we will now turn there.

Our text is from Second Corinthian chapter eight.  One of Paul’s ongoing ministries was to collect money from the Gentile churches he planted to give to the saints in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was in a state of perennial poverty thanks to a lengthy famine that plagued that area at this time and the saints there were in deep financial need.  Paul mentions the Corinthians collection for the saints in Jerusalem in First Corinthians chapter 16.  Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do.  2On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” 

Paul is almost certainly responding to a question from the Corinthians about what is the best procedure for collecting money for these Jewish believers.  In Second Corinthians we see that though the believers in Corinth had begun a collection, the effort had at some point stalled.  The church had not followed through with their financial commitment and Paul here speaks to that issue.  Beginning with 8:1 we read, “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.  10And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it.  11So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.  12For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” 

          Rather than begin with a plea for money or rebuke these believers for not following through with their earlier commitment, he instead with great tact holds up the Macedonians—those believers in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea as an example for them to emulate.  As we saw so frequently in First Corinthians, notice Paul’s light touch here.  He could have dressed down this church for their financial failures.  They had clearly dropped the ball.  It had been at least a year since he had written them to collect the money.  Though they had made a good start, they had faltered and the collection for these destitute saints in Judea had languished as they had failed to weekly gather the funds in the systematic way Paul had earlier prescribed.  Instead of rebuking them, Paul chooses to give them grace. 

As he treats this issue, notice three lessons Paul teaches us about giving in a God-honoring way.  First, Giving in a God honoring way is an expression of the grace of God.  Paul labors to communicate that the exemplary giving of the Macedonians—which not only the Corinthians, but we too should strive to emulate, was a display of God’s grace.  In verse one; before he even mentions the collection, he couches the issue by saying, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia.”  Paul sets the Macedonian gift not primarily in the context of money, but the context of God’s grace.  The Macedonians’ giving pattern was not due to anything native in them.  This was the supernatural work of God in them.  It wasn’t produced by brow beating or heavy handed manipulation as we too often see in some ministry appeals.  No master fund raiser gets the credit for the outstanding Macedonian financial contribution.  This was GOD thing.  It was his work and He gets all the glory.

In verse six, Paul continues this grace theme as he discusses the Corinthian’s collection.  Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace.”  Whatever the Corinthians would do for the needy saints, Paul calls an “act of grace.”  This is only appropriate.  God is only honored by that which requires his participation.  Things done in our own strength—in dependence upon our own fallen resources do not bless God.  Only what bears his fingerprints receives his blessing and Paul makes it clear that this kind of grace giving is what God expects.  In verse seven he again makes this his theme.  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.  Don’t miss the paradox of grace here.  By that I mean this—we know that grace is God’s gift to us—it comes from him and points to him.  Yet Paul calls these Corinthians to “excel in acts of grace.”  Do you see the paradox? 

People with a superficial understanding of God’s enabling grace might say to Paul, “How can you tell us WE are to exert ourselves to excel in something that GOD must do in us?  If its God’s grace, how can you ask us to excel in it?”  You see this kind of paradox all the time in Paul’s writings.  The best known example is in Philippians chapter two.  There he says beginning in verse 12, “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.”   On the one hand, we are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling but Paul roots OUR work in our salvation in GOD’S ongoing work of enabling grace, which causes us not only to DO the work but also to desire to do the work.  There is a deep intertwining of God’s grace and our work or our “excelling” that make it perfectly legitimate for Paul to call us to “excel in acts of grace.”  We must work to excel, but it is God who works that in us and produces in us acts of grace, not simply our effort.

Paul not only points to God’s grace in the Macedonians as an example for us to follow, but in verse nine he cites the quintessential example of sacrificial giving and he connects it to the Macedonian example with the word “grace.”  He says, “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.” Jesus utterly embodied the grace of God.  He set the supreme example, giving the ultimate sacrifice and according to Hebrews 12 he did it “for the joy set before him.”  Because giving Biblically is an expression of God’s grace and Christ is the ultimate expression of grace, we should be asking the following kinds of questions about our church.  First, although there are doubtless many individual exceptions, are we, as a church displaying God’s grace.  The mark of grace in giving is sacrifice.  Are we sacrificial in our giving and if so, what sacrifices come immediately to our mind?  Have we as a church, not withstanding the many individual exceptions, stockpiled more treasure on earth (that will either rust, burn or be stolen) than we have in heaven?

A second lesson Paul teaches on God-honoring giving and the reason Biblically faithful giving requires the grace of God is: Giving in a God-honoring way involves joyful sacrifice. Verses two through four practically preach themselves.  Paul says of the Macedonians, “for 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.”  Paul lists a set of dynamics present in these Macedonians that simply would never be seen grouped together apart from God’s grace.  This is a group of people who were experiencing “a severe test of affliction” that brought them “extreme poverty.”  These people were broke—they barely had two pennies to rub together. Any professional fund raiser would look at them and say—“don’t bother asking them for anything—this is not a good time for them.  Yet together with those circumstances was also, a “wealth of generosity” so that they gave of their “free will” beyond what they could afford, “begging us for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.”

I don’t know about you, but when I am tapped out, the last thing I would naturally do is to beg someone for the favor of giving money I do not have.  There are people here this morning who for three years have cut back very deeply to give to OME—our ministry expansion capital campaign.  They could speak of the joy of the sacrifice involved in fulfilling pledges they weren’t sure how they would be able to honor.  Paul holds up THAT kind of giving as an example.  If we tithe, that’s a good start, but that is not necessarily what the Bible calls exemplary.  THIS is exemplary—what the Macedonians were doing—what the widow with her two mites did.  For most of us in North America, the tithe is not exemplary and this text is a challenge to tithers. 

In light of this example, I would encourage all who gave to the capital campaign and whose pledge is ending soon, to seriously seek God’s will about whether he wants you to continue to give the amount of your capital pledge to Him in some other way.  It may not be to the church, but I think all who pledged need to seek God to see if he is calling us to continue that level of sacrificial giving indefinitely. For some this isn’t plausible—for others, the capital campaign was simply a time to truly begin the joy of sacrificial giving.  One question this lesson begs us as a church is: are we as a church missing out on the joy of trusting and obeying God in the area of our finances?

A final lesson in God honoring giving is found in verse five.  There Paul says, “and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”  The lesson here is: Giving your money in a God honoring way is an outgrowth of giving your self to God.  The point here is--the Macedonian’s rationale for giving this way was not solely because a need had been brought to their attention.  Nor did they give on the strength of any inspirational appeal Paul gave to them.  No.  They gave because, having given themselves—all of themselves to God—it was therefore no real chore to give their money to help God’s people.  Let’s face it, if God has YOU, he will de-facto have your bank account, which is filled with his money anyway.

One way of knowing how much ownership we have given God of our lives is seen in how much ownership he has of our checkbooks because “where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.”  If God owns our hearts, giving him our treasure will be no huge trial.  That’s one reason Jesus talked so much about money.  He knew that perhaps the best way to tell where a person’s heart is, is to see how tied they are to their money.  The apostles loved him and therefore left everything—except for Judas, who not coincidentally stole from the treasury.  God didn’t have his heart and that was reflected in how he related to money. Likewise, the rich young ruler did not love Jesus and so when challenged about his fortune, he walked.  If you struggle with giving sacrificially, know that says something very serious about your love for God.  Come to him and by his grace—like the Macedonians consecrate yourSELF to him and your money will not be a problem.  The question for us as a church is—have we, as his body, given ourselves to Christ?  The current shortage is an important indicator.  May God give us as a church his GRACE to give ourselves wholly to God and may that increasingly be reflected in our financial health.

Page last modified on 9/17/2006

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