Generosity: The Cost of Service

generosity-3One day, a rich dad took his son on a trip to a village. He wanted to show him how poor somebody could be. They spent the day on the farm of a poor family. At the end of the day, the dad asked, “Did you see how poor they are? What did you learn?”  The son replied, “We have a dog, they have four. We have a swimming pool, they have a river. We have lanterns at night, they have stars. We buy our food, they grow theirs. We have mobile phones, they have friends. We have computers, they have the Bible. As they headed back, the son said, “Thanks, dad, for showing me how poor we actually are.” In our sermon series on serving our theme is generosity. From 2 Corinthians 8, we are going to see that:

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)
Christian giving reflects our unity in the Spirit (2 Cor. 8:10-15)

  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)

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.

  • 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.

  • 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”. 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 the result of outward compulsion but of their 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.  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. They gave joyfully, sacrificially, enthusiastically and unconditionally. Why? Because Christian giving is energized by the grace of God.

  1. 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)

The sincerity of their love was put to the test not so much by comparison with others but ultimately by comparison with Christ. “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)

  1. 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. 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. God blesses 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. 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.  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.

Just the 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.” Lets Pray.

 

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

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