“Look at your hands. When you were just an infant, you came out with your hands closed. And every time somebody put their little finger in yours, you would wrap your hand around it, hold on tight, and not let go. As a toddler, you started grabbing rattles and little toys. When another child came in your direction and wanted to take one away from you, you said, “Mine,” and held on tight.
When you were in junior school, you hung on tightly to bicycle handlebars and pencils and other things. In senior school you hung on to the hand of Sarah Jane, and you were not about to let that go. In college you hung on to a lot of different stuff—maybe some stuff we don’t even want to talk about here—but when you left, you were clutching a certificate with two hands.
When you started a career, you grabbed the lowest rung on the ladder and you hung on. Then you reached for the second one and you hung on, and then the next one. Since then, you have been climbing ladders, clutching rungs. Someday retirement will come and you’ll hang on to golf clubs or gardening tools, pension funds, and social security. When you get near the end of your life, you’ll start hanging on to canes and zimmer frames.
And then do you know what happens to some people in the final moments of their life? They clutch the edge of a hospital bed. They hang on tightly as if to life itself. And then they die and finally, they relax their grip. By nature, you and I are clutchers. We scrape and we claw and we work and we fret, and if we get ahead just a little bit, we hold on. It doesn’t matter who or what tries to convince us to relax our grip. We have a reflexive response to giving up something that’s dear to us – especially when it comes to our money…For most of us, clutching is like breathing. It just comes naturally.” This morning we are going to learn why we need to loosen our grip on money. We are going to consider an example of another church and how they learnt to give with open hands. Where ever the apostle Paul planted a new church, part of their discipleship training included teaching on stewardship. John Stott observes,
“Paul did not see it as a mundane matter. On the contrary, he saw it as relating to the grace of God, the cross of Christ and the unity of the Spirit. In fact, it is very moving to grasp this combination of profound Trinitarian theology and practical common sense.”
As a consequence, the churches in Thessalonica, Berea and especially Philippi were renowned for their generosity, for their grace in giving. Today we are going to see that:
1. Christian giving is an expression of the grace of God
2. Christian giving is inspired by the cross of Christ.
3. Christian giving reflects our unity in the Spirit.
1. Christian giving is an expression of the grace of God
“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.” (2 Corinthians 8:1)
The Message puts it like this: “Now friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia…”
John Stott observes,
“You will notice that the apostle Paul does not begin by referring to the generosity of the churches of Macedonia in Northern Greece. He refers instead to the generosity of God, to ‘the grace which God has given to the Macedonian churches’ (v.1). In other words, behind the generosity of Macedonia, Paul saw the generosity of God. For grace is another word for generosity. Our gracious God is a generous God, and he is at work within his people to make them generous too.”
Four things Paul tells us about the way the Macedonian’s gave.
Joyfully, sacrificially, enthusiastically and unconditionally.
1.1 They Gave Joyfully
“Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy…” (2 Cor. 8:2).
They were joyful because they were grateful. They gave joyfully.
1.2 They Gave Sacrificially
Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” (2 Corinthians 8:2)
Paul is careful to show that it was not because of their prosperity or wealth that the Christians in Macedonia gave so generously. Just the reverse…. Paul says “out of the most severe trial… they gave”. Let me illustrate: There was a Christian businessman who happened to be visiting Korea with a local mission partner. By the side of the road they came across a young man pulling a plough across a field, an old man was guiding the plough through the furrows. The businessman took a photo.
“Must be a pretty poor family” he commented. “Yes” replied the missionary, “those two men happen to be Christians. When their church was being built, they were eager to give something toward it, but they had no money, so they decided to sell their one and only ox and give the proceeds to the church. This spring they are pulling the plough themselves.” The man was silent for some moments, then he said “That must have been a real sacrifice”. “They did not see it that way” the missionary replied, “they thought themselves fortunate that they had an ox to sell.” On his return the man went to his minister with the photo and said, “I want to do some plough work, until know I have never given anything to God that involved real sacrifice.” They gave joyfully and sacrificially.
1.3 They Gave Enthusiastically
“For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” (2 Corinthians 8:3-4)
Paul makes clear that the grace of giving is not so much the result of outward compulsion as a consequence of inward expulsion.
It was of their own free will. They just wanted to say thank you.
They gave joyfully, sacrificially, enthusiastically, and
1.4 They Gave Unconditionally
“And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2 Corinthians 8:5-7)
There is a kind of giving which is actually unspiritual because it has ulterior motives. It goes something like this. “Our company is happy to support your charity as long as you use our logo prominently on the cover. We call it sponsorship and everybody does it, but Jesus condemned such giving. Jesus said if you want your reward in heaven give in secret. Spiritual giving is secret giving. When the British Government sought to reward General Gordon for his brilliant service in China, he declined all money and titles but accepted a gold medal inscribed with the record of his thirty three engagements. It became his most prized possession. But after his death, a search failed to find the medal. Later it was discovered that he had donated it to an appeal in Manchester during a severe famine in the area, with the instruction that it be melted down and the money used to buy food for the poor. In his diary on the day he sent the medal are written these words. “The last earthly thing I had in this world that I valued I have given to the Lord Jesus Christ”. Maybe there are things we need to melt down for the Lord. They gave joyfully, sacrificially, enthusiastically and unconditionally. Why? Because Christian giving is energized by the grace of God. Secondly,
2. Christian giving is inspired by the cross of Christ
“I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For 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.” (2 Corinthians 8:8-9)
Stott observes, “The Corinthians were not being commanded, still less browbeaten, to give generously. Rather the sincerity of their love was being put to the test by comparison with others and especially (it is implied) by comparison with Christ. For they knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I don’t know if you are old enough to have been a fan of M*A*S*H*?
M*A*S*H all started with a book written by Dr. Richard Hornberger as he sat waiting for patients at his offices in Bremen in Maine. Using the pseudonym Richard Hooker, he wrote a fictional account of his years at the 8055 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea in the 1950s. Hornberger based Hawkeye on himself, and eventually the story of life at the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital became a film and then TV series. The series lasted 11 years with 251 episodes made. It won countless awards and the final show was one of the most watched television programs ever.
In real life, because of the vast number of wounded, they had to colour code the injured. Yellow was good. If you had a yellow card put on you, it meant that your injury was not serious.
You were given an injection for the pain, and could wait for further treatment. Blue was good. If you had a blue card put on you, it meant that your injuries were serious, but if they operated on you right away, they could save you. Red was bad. If you had a red card, it meant that there was nothing they could do. They just put you to sleep with an injection of morphine, and that was it. It was tough business.
The doctor looked at one such hopeless case and told the nurse to red-tag him. The soldier knew what was happening. He grabbed the nurse and told her to say good-bye to his wife and his children and his father and mother. Tears were flowing like sweat, and the nurse couldn’t bear to put a red tag on this young man. She placed a blue tag on him instead. Months later, a general came to inspect the camp. He had some serious questions as he looked over the charts. Why was this soldier given a blue tag instead of a red one? Who switched the tags? No one dared to say anything, until the brave nurse finally spoke up and said she did. Then the general ran over to her and hugged her and cried out, “thank you for what you did, that was my son, and today he is alive because of you.” That is what Jesus did for you.
Our moral and spiritual condition deserves a red tag. But he took our red tags of sin and shame and pride and selfishness and cruelty and uncaring, and guilt and death, and He carried them on His shoulders while He hung and died on a cross. Though our condition was fatal, he took your red tag and gave you his. He gave us blue tags. Tags representing hope, new life, forgiveness and joy. Our red tags had to go somewhere. So he took them on himself. That is how much he loves us. He took your red tag and gave you his own. He became poor so that we could become rich! That is the ultimate reason we give – because we are giving back, we are saying thank you, we want others to be saved too. Imagine the scene in heaven when we meet people who will say, “I’m here today because you introduced me to Jesus –
You helped fund those who came and showed God cares.
You paid to have the Bible translated so that I could hear Jesus speak my language. Look at your hands again. Hybels notes:
“What a difference between our hands and the hands of God. In creation, God lavishly formed and fashioned. He created that which was good very good. And then he opened up his hands. He gave his creation to those he created as a gift to be cared for and enjoyed… When Jesus came and saw the needs of people, he opened his hands. He taught, healed, touched, loved, fed, and freed. And when he was about to be nailed to the cross as a sin payment for all of us, he did not hold on to his life. He did not shake a clenched fist at those nailing him to the cross. He opened his hands…
The open hands of God are merely the outward symbol of an inner reality… God’s generosity. Generosity is that part of God that sincerely enjoys giving to others in a liberal manner, leaving recipients gasping and saying, “What a God. What an outlandishly generous God!” This is the lavishness that so distinguishes his hands from ours. Look at your hands again. Just take a peek. Do you like what you see? Do you wish your hands looked a little bit more like the hands of Christ? Do you? … if God needs to change your hands, he does not usually start there. If he needs to change your hands, he will likely start with your heart…
“Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor”.
That is the ultimate Grace of Giving. The unmerited, unwarranted, undeserved sacrifice, of the Lord Jesus in our place. Christian giving is an expression of the grace of God (2 Cor. 8:1-7)
Christian giving is inspired by the cross of Christ. (2 Cor. 8:8-9)
3. Christian giving reflects our unity in the Spirit
“And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so.” (2 Corinthians 8:10)
3.1 God Honours Integrity in Giving
“Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.” (8:10-11)
With great tact, the apostle offers his advice to a church that had failed to keep a promise. They had made a pledge and reneged. They had asked for but mislaid their bankers order forms. They had raised their hands and pledged to give, but weeks had gone by and they had forgotten about it. How easy it is for delay to endanger the integrity in giving. There is a great difference between promise and performance. The Corinthians had boasted to Titus a year before that they would share in the special collection (2 Cor. 8:6), but they did not keep their promise. Paul emphasizes here the need for integrity. Grace giving must come from a willing heart; it cannot be coerced or forced.
Paul teaches us that integrity before God is imperative. It is right to make promises to God. It is proper to make pledges to the Lord’s work because by so doing we not only show our trust in God, but we also enable the Church to plan ahead. That is why we encourage you to give by bankers order regularly and consistently. Making a pledge is very significant because it is as much an act of the will as a signature on the page.
If you are tempted to think “I cannot make a promise to give because I don’t know what my future circumstances will be”. Then remember that we live on the principle of pledging every day of our lives. We use electricity on the basis of a pledge to pay up after three months. We do the same with gas, the telephone, eating a restaurant meal or taking a taxi ride, and we think nothing of it. Then why not plan our giving in the same way, and trust God with the unforeseen sickness, or the circumstances outside our control. So, God honours integrity in giving.
3.2 God Honours Ability in Giving (8:12)
“For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Corinthians 8:12)
God holds us accountable according to our ability. The test of generosity therefore is not so much our wealth but our willingness, not the amount but our attitude. That is why it is good to tithe on the basis of our income. It took me years to learn this principle and trust God with my tithe at the beginning of the month rather than give some of what I had left at the end of the month. All I can say is that when I began to tithe, my financial worries disappeared and I learnt to live comfortably on what was left. God honours integrity in giving. God honours ability in giving, and lastly,
3.3 God Honours Equality in Giving (8:13-15)
“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.’” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)
Today we may have the privilege of giving, tomorrow we may have the equal privilege of receiving.
Equality in giving teaches that the rich are not expected to bear all the load, and the poor are not excused from responsibility.
To illustrate his point, the apostle Paul cites the incident of the collection of Manna in the wilderness. The people who were overcome with greed hoarded the manna and found it turned into a foul smelling mess the next morning. On the other hand, those who didn’t collect their full share still had enough to eat.
Julius Nyerere, ex-President of Tanzania, said once that he wanted to build a nation in which ‘no man is ashamed of his poverty in the light of another’s affluence, and no man has to be ashamed of his affluence in the light of another’s poverty.’
Isn’t that what God is doing in and through his church?
God honours us when we give with integrity, when we give according to ability, when we give longing to bring equality, for this reflects our unity in the Spirit. To follow these principles is to please God and to experience His blessing. To ignore them is to break God’s heart and hinder his purposes. Look at your hands one more time. Are they closed or open? Hybels reminds us:
God’s generous expressions of love confront you everywhere you turn. The question is: Do you see them? Do you take the time to notice? Do you ever sit back in your chair and let the message of all his divine Post-it notes soak in?
Look at your hands one last time. What is the truth about them? One thing is certain. If you live deeply enough with a sense of God’s generosity, your hands will start looking more like his. They really will. They will start opening up more frequently. They will start opening up to a wider range of needs. They will start staying open for longer periods of time. And you will learn perhaps the most surprising thing of all. In the opening of your hands”
… you become a visible expression of God’s hands, you become hands God uses to do his will. Charles Wesley wrote 9000 poems, or which 6500 were used as hymns, but he once said that he would gladly have exchanged them all for the privilege of writing just one hymn that sums up this passage, which was actually written by Isaac Watts in 1707 when he was just 31,
“When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride. Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
I am deeply grateful to several other pastors for inspiration, ideas and quotes used in this sermon. These include Greg Nance, Daryn Bahn, Bill Hybels and John Stott. For useful resources on giving and financial management visit http://generousgiving.org
 Bill Hybels. Adapted from a message entitled “The Open Hands of God in Giving: unlocking the heart of good stewardship (Zondervan)
 John Stott, The Grace of Giving (IFES)
 An illustration taken from a sermon by Daryn Bahn entitled “It is a gift to give”