A former pastor at my former church used to announce when his money sermon would be—to give people an opportunity to take a vacation. I’m sure he mentioned that kiddingly (he had that nature about him), but he was merely expressing the truth that so many have.
Money is important in our culture. Presidential elections are decided more and more based upon how they deal with economic issues than any other issue that is on the table, even more than morality or having a firm grasp on the Constitution. Money is important to everyone of us.
Money is important to Christ as well. He spoke on money a lot—more than on heaven and hell combined. In fact, 11 of the 39 parables Jesus taught dealt with money! In fact, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
In your bulletin, you see that we have a time where we offer an offertory prayer and ‘pass the plate’ as we take up an offering. While those of you who are guests with us this morning have been asked to put a Welcome Card in the plate should you choose, those who are members at ARBC—and by members, I mean those who have surrendered their all to Jesus Christ and have voluntarily joined this local church to help us advance the gospel—to give to the Lord’s work as unto the Lord. Why?
When this is brought up, usually the charge also comes along that the only thing we preachers and churches are concerned about is padding our coffers. There have been enough scandals in the churches that are money-related to make us understand why the culture levies this charge.
I aim to tell you that I am not about that—and neither is this church. Personally, I am able to have a church credit card to use for church-related items. I have chosen not to use it or carry it. Why? I wish, as Paul warns us, to “avoid all appearances of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). If I don’t have it, then I cannot misuse it nor even be accused of misusing it. Money (especially using God’s money) scares me—I do not want to misuse what God has provided.
But we must realize that God’s money is not simply that which is in an ARBC account. It’s the money that’s in your account and in your wallet and in your portfolio and in the cushions of your couches! When Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,” (v. 1) he means that every molecule, every atom, every electron and subparticle belongs to Him.
It is in this context that 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 is found:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 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. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor[b] of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
So we see here that the grace of God was demonstrated amongst the Macedonian churches. They were struggling economically, an Empire-wide famine was taking place (which defines the “severe test of affliction”), the abundance of their joy and their extreme poverty have come together in a generosity beyond measure and their means. In face, in verse 4, they begged them for the privilege and the ‘favor’ to give! Verse 5, it is that they were giving themselves first to the Lord!! This is such an important issue that Paul spends two chapters discussing the matter with these Corinthians!
1. Give generously (2 Corinthians 9:6).
6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
There’s the story of a family that sat down to dinner following church one Sunday. “The sermon was boring today,” the teenage son said. “Yeah, could you believe how the pastor stumbled over the reading of Scripture?” his sister chimed in. “I’ve got to admit it was an uninspiring day,” said Mother. “The choir was terrible.” It was time for the father to exert his spiritual authority and leadership. He said, “Hush, you guys. Quit complaining! What do you expect for a quarter?”
· In this passage, Paul gives the entire point of chapters 8-9.
John Calvin said in his commentary:
“For in sowing, the seed is cast forth by the hand, is scattered upon the ground on this side and on that, is harrowed, and at length rots; and thus it seems as good as lost. The case is similar as to alms-giving. What goes from you to some other quarter seems as if it were a diminishing of what you have, but the season of harvest will come, when the fruit will be gathered. For as the Lord reckons every things that is laid out upon the poor as given to himself so he afterwards requites it with large interest.”
Isn’t this a marvelous truth? For so many, money is hard to come by. And what money we do have, goes to children, bills, education, the government, etc. When you give in these areas, you see an immediate or semi-immediate return. You pay the electric bill, you keep your lights and heat. You pay your tuition, you get the return of staying in school. You pay your taxes, your return is that you stay out of jail. But giving to the Lord? Giving to the poor?
This is where we trust God’s promises that we will reap bountifully! Maybe not immediately, but one day! Trust the promises more than the perceived immediacy of the return!
2. Give gladly (2 Corinthians 9:7)
7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
A mom was trying to show her son the importance of giving to the Lord’s work. She said, “I’m giving you a dollar and a quarter. I will let you decided which is better to give to the Lord.” As the plate passes by, the young man places the quarter in the plate. Later, the mother asked why he didn’t put the dollar. The son replied, “I’ve heard the preacher say that God loves a cheerful giver—and I was much more cheerful giving the quarter than the dollar.”
I love what Paul says here: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion.” At this point, I find it interesting what he does not say. He does not say, “Each one must give a tenth—a tithe.” Do you see this? No, you do not—nor will you see this anywhere in the NT. You will see plenty on how we are to give (Matthew 6:1-4; Acts 20:35), but nowhere to tithe.
How do we reconcile this with Malachi 3:10 to “bring the tithe into the storehouse?” The tithe is translated ‘tenth’ and was mandated in Leviticus to help support the ministry of Levites (the priests in the Temple) along with almsgiving to help support the poor in the land. The prophets would rail against those who would tithe, yet ignore the social issues in the land, such as being generous to the poor and helping make a visible difference in the land for the name of Christ.
We see this in Matthew 23:23 where Jesus rails against the Pharisees and Sadducees:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
So Jesus is making the point of saying that if we spend our time counting out the nickels and pennies to the very penny, but ignore, as D.A. Carson says, “the fundamental issues of justice, integrity, and mercy,” we have erred. He says we should do both—even more generously!
So in going back to Malachi, the principle remains: there was a famine in the land due to disobedience, so God calls them to bring what precious items they have a value into the storehouse to show their ultimate trust—and then he will rain down blessings! Christ is the ultimate treasure, not your earthly treasure. Do you trust him in wealth and in want? So back in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2—even in their extreme poverty, their treasure was Christ’s riches! The joy they had in Christ meant more than the joy they had in their stuff—and they wanted their stuff that belonged to Christ to bring joy to others.
John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XX (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, reprinted 2003), 308-09.