A preacher paid a visit to a farmer and asked, “If you had 200 dollars, would you give 100 dollars to the Lord?
“Sure would,” said the farmer.
“If you had two cows, would you give one cow to the Lord?”
“Yeah, I would.”
“If you had two pigs, would you give one of them to the Lord?”
The farmer replied, “That’s not fair. You know I have two pigs.”
(Kent Hughes, Preaching Today Message #205)
This week we are looking at Giving our Resources. There are times when this is easy and money flows from our hands and we are filled with joy that we could help. But there are other times when it is hard but it is all part of a life that is marked by Faith in Jesus.
And so our Key Question for today is this: How do I best use my resources to serve God and others?
Of course this presupposes that we want to use our resources to fulfill God’s purposes. My hope is that if you are following Jesus, that is exactly what you want. Even if it is hard at times…you want to embrace this spiritual call to giving.
Which leads us to the our Key idea: I give my resources to fulfill God’s resources
That said, I know there may be others who are just tipping their toe in the water of the Christianity thing and since we are very protective of our resources in our Canadian context — this can be a threatening idea.
Brent Hudson our teaching pastor shares how this was, interestingly, a threatening idea to the early non-Jewish church as well. Here is how Brent explains it!
The Jewish church had a rich culture of generosity. You gave to the temple, you gave to the priests, you gave to the poor — sharing resources was part and parcel of what it meant to believe in a Creator God who was personal and cared about your life.
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” (Psalm 24:1–2)
How could a person sing that Psalm in the synagogue without a deep sense of all that one had belonged to God. The Jewish Christians got this — but here’s the thing. In the first century there was a food shortage in Palestine and so the very Christians who were notably generous were in that moment the ones in need.
But more than that, the one’s who could help them were people like us — people who were raised to save and invest and work hard but not to give generously. The non-Jewish Christians — often called Gentiles in the Bible — were brought up in a culture where when it came to resources and money: what’s yours was yours. Now Paul was in this place of having to ask the church to help those who were suffering — and did not have the mindset of God’s ownership of all things. They did not have the mindset of being responsible for each other. Simply put, they did not have the mindset of generosity.
In 2 Corinthians 8-9 we get a letter from Paul about the great offering that was being collected among the Gentile Churches to help the Jewish church in great need. These two chapters should be read over and over again by non-Jewish Christians.
We may be 2000 years into the whole Christianity thing, but we are still Gentile Church — in so many many ways we are not unlike the Corinthians of the 1st century. We know the path God wants us to be on — but everything in our culture makes it hard. The Christian mindset of generosity simply does not make any sense to anyone who has not been radically saved by Jesus Christ. And even among the saved — there are struggles.
Let’s look at our main Bible verse today as we develop a mindset that says “I give my resources to fulfill God’s purposes.”
“But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2 Corinthians 8:7)
Excel in the Grace of Giving
Brent takes us down a path where he helps us dig into the connection between grace and giving.
The word ‘grace’ in the New Testament refers to a very diverse set of ideas.
- As protestants, we often learn that grace is “undeserved favour” — and it is. But it is also more than that. The gifts of the Holy Spirit – those “spiritual gifts” that we looked at a few weeks ago, are literally “grace-gifts” because the Greek word for these is based on the word for grace. In Greek, the word grace is χαρις (charis (ch like Bach not cheese) and grace-gifts is χαρισμα (charisma) – which is “something manifested from grace”. Sometimes things get lost in translation — like the connection between spiritual gifts and grace — something the readers of the Greek text would have taken for granted.
- There are other words built on grace, like εὐχαριστέω which means to give thanks. The word ‘grace’ can also be used to mean ‘do something generous’. The New Revised Standard version of the Bible translates ‘grace of giving’ 2Cor 8:7 as “generous undertaking”. Every time the word grace is used, there are hues of generosity in its meanings. The grace/generosity connection is not something we make in English — but for the first readers of the Paul’s letters, the connection was in the word itself.
Connecting the dots between grace and generosity can be one of the most powerful things that can happen to us as we think about how we as people who have received grace from God must live in our life together. Being generous is not confined to financial things — but it certainly must include it. This was the connection Paul was making to the non giving Gentiles and making to us as we interact with his words about giving.
The Giving Path
Our key verse simply is telling us to excel – to stand out – to become proficient at – to become really good at the grace of giving.
Becoming really good at something implies movement…for example as one works at science, at soccer, or at making speeches one can excel as one moves along a path of proficiency.
So let me suggest we all here in this moment need to consider how we can excel in the grace of giving. Let me further suggest that we need to move through three areas on the path of giving.
We decided we would have some fun by calling each area on the giving a name based on a well known song.
“Let it Go”: The Logic of Grace
For those who are beginning on the path of giving we are calling this group
Let it Go! We are telling those who are at the beginning of this path of giving to consider the logic of grace
For those struggling to get started on this journey of generosity — you need to understand the logic of grace.
God has given to you salvation by his grace — it is a generous gift. He wants us to be like him. Jesus tells this story to those who were following him:
“…be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48)
That’s obviously a high standard but you don’t abandon a great idea just because it is hard and you may not get 100%. It is a vision to look to and guide our lives. Who cares if you are more generous than the person next you when the objective is to be children of our Father in heaven. To be marked by His generous ways.
We receive grace from God when he forgives us our sins in Jesus Christ. We receive grace from God when he helps us in our struggles. We receive grace from God when we live in Canada not a war-torn reality like Syria. It is a gift. It is a generous flow from God. We are to connect the dots between God showing us generosity and us living a life of generosity — to model our character after God character and change our ways to match his ways. This is the logic of grace — you have freely received, now freely give.
We’ve only just begun: The Cost of Grace
The second group are those who get the logic of grace and who have started on the giving path. This is a great thing really. It is powerful when we understand the ways of God and begin on the path of following Jesus.
Sadly, many people who get on the path don’t travel very far before the realization happens that this could get costly.
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 through his poverty might become rich.
I think that is the reason that people don’t give very much in our Canadian context. StatsCan has a webpage devoted to the charitable trends of Canadians. When I read it, it is a sad reality. Did you know that in New Brunswick, 585,700 people filed taxes in 2015. Of those filed, 113,040 made charitable donations for a total of $148,680,000. The median gift — if you took every donor and lined them up from lowest to highest, at the very middle — the median is a $310 dollar donation. There is a reason why CRA doesn’t give you credit for the first $250 of giving — because most people don’t give that much. The median gift in Quebec is $130 and for the nation is $300.
When it comes to giving money — all Christians should be outliers in our culture. We should be so far off the cultural map that CRA is writing us letters asking for receipts to prove it — and they will send that letter.
Grace was costly is so is giving!
- Mark Dillon, Giving and Getting in the Kingdom (Moody Publishers, 2012 pg. 29; submitted by Kevin Miller, Wheaton, Illinois –
I once heard Warren Buffet say in an interview (I paraphrase here) about his $26 billion gift to the Gates Foundation: “My gift has not changed my lifestyle one bit. I still go to the movies I want to go to and eat at the restaurants I want to dine at. But what about the person who gives a gift that requires they can’t go to the movies or eat out. They are the true givers—the true heroes [of generosity].”
Now, this may offend someone, so let me apologize in advance, that is not my intent. But if you have been forgiven a debt that was so large there was no way you could pay it and defaulting on that debt would actually endanger your very life — wouldn’t you want to express your gratitude with something a bit grander than a $250 gift of appreciation be a bit embarrassing? Would that really express gratitude for a life-saving act of generosity? I think that’s the kind of gift you give if you think you’ll never have have to see that person again but feel obligated to give something. News flash, you’re going to see that person again and actually have to explain why your new TV cost more than your annual giving.
“I can see clearly now”: The Fullness Grace
The fulness is when we see all the aspects of grace coming together in our lives…When we have this clear vision of what grace is — its central role in our lives. Grace as the foundation for forgiveness. Grace as the foundation for judging others. Grace as the foundation for understanding spirituality, Grace as the foundation for our financial giving. It can all be summed up in a word — “generosity”.
7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:7-15, NIV)
- Cuba Offering – $525.00
- Crandall Power Outage – $645.00
- Christmas Eve – $9475.00
- Christmas Offering – $2151.00
- Irene MacLeod Bequest – $50,000
It is all about living our lives with a full understanding of how the giving path is connected to God’s character, my salvation, my experience of the Holy Spirit and what God has given to me to manage during my lifetime.
Giving is one area of life that is easily measurable. The 10% rule is something that we can evaluate every year at tax time. Some people quibble about gross income or net, I think that is a diversion. Our city could be impacted greatly by our church if every family gave 10% of their net income — and you can measure that. In that sense, it is simple and objective.
So many things about following Jesus can be complicated because it involves our hearts and our emotions — but this area — giving — it’s straightforward — we can measure it — in fact CRA requires us to every . single . year. It may be hard to do because of our own hearts — but it is easy to measure if we are getting it right.
As we move along the giving path there are three main steps:
Decide to do it
Do it cheerfully
There are lots of stories in the bible about people on different parts of the giving path that person. The story of the rich fool in Luke’s gospel who was rich with respect to money but poor with respect to God. The story of the unforgiving servant who was give huge debt forgiveness but did not extend that to a fellow servant who owed him money. In both cases the people are considered fools who simply do not understand what is important in the grand scheme of things.
At the other end we have numerous examples of generous giving. We have the woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears and hair and then poured perfume on his feet. Jesus said she had show great love because she had experienced great love. We have the story of Zacchaeus who gave generously and Jesus praised him for his behaviour.
It is between these two bookends that most of us find ourselves on this path of generosity.