Strength in Weakness : When We Think About Money
2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 15
last month’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, monetary experts traded
insults over the causes for the deficits and wild currency fluctuations. Pascal
Blanque, chief economist at the French Bank Credit Agricole claimed the US economy
was on steroids. Laura A’Andrea Tyson, Dean of the London School of Economics and formerly chair
of economic advisors under Bill Clinton, retorted then “the European economy is on tranqulizers.”
The face off between Blanque and Tyson highlights the sharp divergence between
US and European perspectives on how to manage the world economy.
here in the UK, Michael Howard opened the Conservative Spring Conference
today promising to lower taxes if the Tories win the next election. The Labour
Party are hardly likely to raise them significantly in next month’s budget but
we wait to see. You can tell a great deal about a person by how they spend
their income. Money is the litmus test of our true character. (illustration
from Mark 14 and the alabaster jar).
Money is the litmus test of our true character. The idea of giving in the Bible is a lofty one. Jesus has more to say about money than just about every other subject including faith. Just check out how many of his parables have to do with money. That’s because materialism can never fill the God shaped vacuum in our hearts even though its the most popular substitute in all history. That’s why giving is such a vital evidence of our spiritual life. It is actually a sign of our thankfulness, of our generosity and trust in God. Where ever the apostle Paul planted a new church, part of their discipleship training included teaching on stewardship.
As a consequence the churches in Macedonia, such as Thessalonica, Berea and especially Philippi were renowned for their generosity, for their grace in giving.
In the passage before us tonight we are going to look at:
1. The Enthusiasm of Sanctified Giving (2 Cor. 8:1-7)
2. The Example of Diving Giving (2 Cor. 8:8-9)
3. The Ethics of Pledged Giving (2 Cor. 8:10-15)
1. The Enthusiasm of Sanctified Giving (2 Cor. 8:1-7)
“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 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. 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 8:1-7)
The Message puts it like this: "Now friends, I want to report on the surprising an d generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia…” Three things Paul tells us about the way the Macedonian's gave.
1.1 They Gave Sacrificially (8:1-2)
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 businessman 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." Sacrificial giving.
1.2 They Gave Spontaneously (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. It was sacrificial giving 8:1-2; It was spontaneous giving 8:3-4
1.3 They gave spiritually (8:5)
There is a kind of giving which is actually unspiritual because it has ulterior motives. It goes something like this. "Of course our company will donate a minibus for your charity as long as you paint on the side, "provided by the generosity of......." We call it sponsorship and everybody does it, but Jesus condemned such giving in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said if you want your reward in heaven give in secret and don't even let your right hand know what your left hand is giving. 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". Perhaps there are things we need to melt down for the Lord. The enthusiasm of sanctified giving. Sacrificial, spontaneous and spiritual. Then in verses 8-9 we have,
2. The Example of Divine Giving (2 Cor. 8:8-9)
“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)
"Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor".
is the ultimate Grace of Giving. The unmerited, unwarranted, undeserved
sacrifice. I spent the last week in the State of North Carolina.
Everyone asked where I came from and when I explained Virginia Water was so
named by the last Governor of the State of Virginia before he gave away
that beautiful State to those people who rebelled against the English monarch.
During that War of Independence, in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, there was a Baptist pastor called Peter Miller. He was a friend of General George Washington. There was another man named Michael Whitman in that town. He was an evil minded man who did all he could to abuse and oppose the pastor. One day Whitman was arrested on charges of treason and was found guilty and sentenced to death. The old preacher heard about it and immediately started out on foot and walked the 70 miles to Philadelphia to plead for the man's life. He was admitted into Washington's presence and at once begged for the life of the traitor. "No Peter" said Washington, "I cannot spare the life of your friend." "My friend!" exclaimed the pastor, "he is the bitterest enemy I have." "What?" cried Washington, "You have walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I will grant the pardon." And he did. Peter Millar took Michael Whitman from the very shadow of death, back to his own home in Ephrata - but no longer as an enemy but as a friend. This is what Jesus did for you and for me. While we were still sinner Christ died for us.
Having warmed the hearts of the Corinthians with the enthusiasm of sanctified giving, and the example of Divine giving, Paul proceeds to deal with,
3. The Ethics of Pledged Giving 2 Cor. 8:10-15)
“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. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. 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.’”
I want you to notice three things about the ethics of giving.
3.1 Integrity in Giving (8:10-11)
consummate tact, the apostle offers his advice to a church that had failed to
keep a promise and reneged on a timetable in their giving. They had asked for
but mislaid their covenant forms. They had raised their hands and pledged to
give but weeks had gone by and they had forgotten about it. How easy for delay
to endanger the integrity of 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. During my years of ministry, I have endured many offering appeals. I have listened to pathetic tales about unbelievable needs. I have forced myself to laugh at old jokes that were supposed to make it easier for me to part with my money. I have been scolded, shamed, and almost threatened, and I must confess that none of these approaches has ever really stirred me to give more than I planned to give. In fact, if anything they have made me less inclined to give. I watched a video recently of one well known evangelist giving out prayer envelopes at his crusades.
He promised that if people returned them with a gift offering he would pray for their loved ones to be healed. The film shows the audience placing their offering in the prayer envelopes and writing their prayer requests on the outside. It sounds so spiritual until you see the tele-evangelist him on the video praying a general prayer with arms stretched out over a giant mound of empty envelopes in the middle of his dressing room floor. His staff are busy not in prayer but with money counting machines. If not stopping services to take up an offering at Christ Church helps us avoid worldiness then its worth it.
Paul teaches us that integrity before God in our giving as much as in our asking 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 it is also a serious thing to make a promise and not keep it.
It demonstrates a failure to trust God and finds excuses in changing circumstances. You might therefore say "I cannot make a promise to give because I don't know what my future circumstances will be". But surely that is not only a lack of faith but also a lack of discipline. 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, a restaurant meal or a taxi ride, and 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, integrity in giving.
3.2 Ability in Giving (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 rather than set a figure. What came into your mind when I used that word “tithe” (illustration of tithing from John Ortberg) Integrity in giving, Ability in giving, and lastly,
3.3 Equality in Giving (8:13-15)
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 proportionate responsibility.
To illustrate his point, the apostle Paul cites the incident of the collection of Manna in the
The people who were overcome with greed who hoarded the manna 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. So God levels out all His people to the point of equal rights in His presence.
If we fail to give in prosperity God will curse what we hold back. And in the same way, if we fail to receive in adversity God will judge us for the pride that hinders us from recognising His providential hand.
The ethics of giving: Integrity. Ability. Equality.
To follow these principles is to please God and to experience His blessing. To ignore them is to break the heart of God, to miss His best for us. God expects nothing less than integrity, ability and equality in our giving. 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.