Let’s take a walk down memory lane for a moment. Some of you, especially the older members of this congregation, may remember a famous comedian named Flip Wilson. He had a weekly TV comedy show back in the 70s, and one of his favorite characters was a preacher named Brother Leroy.
In one skit, Brother Leroy was leading services one Sunday morning. It wasn’t going very well. People weren’t very responsive. It came time to receive the offering and so Brother Leroy passed the collection plates. They came back empty. So he passed them again. Same thing. Empty. Brother Leroy then went before the people and said, “Now, I know that you all want this church to progress. This church must progress.” No response from the congregation. Brother Leroy shouted a bit louder: “Now, before this church can progress it has to crawl, this church has got to crawl.” And the congregation started getting excited and they yelled back, “Make it crawl, Reverend. Make it crawl!” Brother Leroy continued, “After this church has crawled, it’s got to pick itself up and start to walk, this church has got to walk!” And the people yelled back at him, “Make it walk, Reverend. Make it walk!” “And after this church has walked, this church has got to get up and run, this church has got to run.” And the people were worked up into a terrible frenzy, and they hollered back: “Make it run, Reverend. Make it run!” And then Brother Leroy said, “Now, brothers and sisters, in order for this church to run, it’s gonna need money, it’s gonna take money for this church to run!” And the people yelled back, “Let it crawl, Reverend. Let it crawl!”
The reading we heard from 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 a few minutes ago does talk about giving. Most ministers have to walk a fine line when talking about this subject, especially if they don’t want to give the impression that they are asking for money for the church. I’m also walking a fine line because even though this is summer and the time of the year when offerings decline because people are away, I don’t want to talk about giving in that sense. I want to talk about the spiritual benefits of giving, so I’m definitely not going to be like one minister who was having trouble with the collections. One Sunday he announced, “Now, before we pass the collection plate, I would like to request that the person who stole the chickens from Brother Martin’s henhouse please refrain from giving any money to the Lord. The Lord doesn’t want money from a thief!”
The collection plate was passed around, and for the first time in months everybody gave.
The church in Jerusalem had fallen on hard times financially. It started off great, with believers sharing everything they had in the belief that Christ would return soon. When he didn’t, things became bleak very quickly. To help the church in Jerusalem, Paul appealed to all of the churches he started to give to a collection he was taking up. At first, the church in Corinth gave generously, but in time the giving slowed to a trickle in part because some people accused Paul of taking the collection for personal gain.
In order to counter this claim and to encourage the believers in Corinth to increase their generosity, Paul used the church in Macedonia as an example of how to give. The people of Macedonia were poor, mainly because the occupying Roman forces took all of the resources for themselves. Nevertheless, the believers in Macedonia were more than willing to give generously to support other believers who were less fortunate.
There are several aspects of grace giving. First, grace giving is systematic. Paul told the Corinthians to abound in this grace. He implied that this is a framework in which they and we can grow in faith as Christians. Giving can be spontaneous, but it can and should be planned. There are several examples in the New Testament of planned giving by the church and by individuals. A commitment to give is the start of the system of giving.
Grace giving is sincere. It reflects a believer’s love for God and a sincere desire to expand the ministry of the church. God does not need our gifts to expand his ministry because he owns everything. He does allow our gifts to be used to expand his ministry.
Grace giving is steadfast. It continues regardless of our circumstances. It doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor. Closely connected to this is the concept that grace giving involves sharing with others. The purpose of giving must be to meet equally the needs of both the world and the church. The one who has much is able to share much, and the one who has little is able to share little. As God’s people share in proportion to what God has entrusted them with, the needs of the whole body of Christ are met.
Giving to God and his work must be voluntary, not compelled. When it is voluntary, it brings much blessing. A good example is Christ. He gave up the riches of heaven to be born into a humble, earthly family. He gave himself humbly to service here on earth, and he humbled himself to death on the cross. He did all of this voluntarily so that he could give us the greatest gift of all-eternal life with God in heaven. What he did for us is an example of what we are to do for others-give of ourselves and serve others with humility.
Not all gifts have to be financial. They can be spiritual as well. In the time that Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, the Gentile believers could contribute financially, while Jewish believers could contribute spiritually and with ministry of the Gospel. We can do the same thing today.
When we see generosity acted out in another person, it is easier for us to understand it, identify with it, and follow their example. Giving is more a matter of the heart than of circumstances. Paul used the example of the church in Macedonia which I mentioned a few minutes ago. Poverty does not automatically create unselfishness, nor does persecution automatically produce giving. Those who claim that they were much happier when they had less must remember that it isn’t what we have or don’t have that promotes happiness or generosity. What does matter is the grace of God within us. That grace creates an open and generous heart.
Giving becomes a joy when it comes out of sacrifice, and a good example of sacrificial giving is mentioned in the story of the widow’s offering, which is found in Mark 12:38-44. Jesus and the disciples were sitting in the area of the temple treasury. The treasury contained thirteen trumpet-shaped chests where people could deposit their gifts and the temple tax. Jesus could see how much money people gave. He could see the large sums of money that the scribes and the wealthy gave, and he could also see how much the widow gave. He used a comparison of the gifts to illustrate their significance.
The wealthy gave out of their abundance. That is, they gave out of what they had left after they paid their bills and purchased the necessities of life, including food. In contrast, the poor widow gave all that she had. By putting all of her money into the temple treasury, the widow probably had to go without food for at least one meal. In Jesus’ eyes, she gave more than all the rich people simply because she gave everything to God. Whatever a person has is the resource out of which he/she should give. That’s why there are no references to tithes of any set amounts or percentages for giving stated anywhere in the New Testament.
Setting an example of humility is a way of loving others. Being humble means making sacrifices, but when we remember that all good things are gifts from God, we are free to give them up for the good of others.
When people give generously out of love for God and his church and they grow and mature in their faith, they don’t count the cost. Joy and Christian growth come to those who do the Lord’s work gladly. Joyful giving flows from the gift of self. When we give from the heart we give one of the greatest gifts we can give. God is most concerned with the heart of the giver, and not the amount he/she gives.
Our giving reflects our attitude toward money. Money can control us or hurt us or we can control money and bless others. Giving to our church shows our love for God. Giving also shows that we want to help the less fortunate and that we want to share the costs of having church. Giving can be fun, especially if we treat it as a competition to out-give God. We must remember though that this is a competition that we can’t win, because no matter how much we give, we can’t out-give God. We can still be winners though just for giving from the heart.
The blood of Christ unites all of us, so we can’t ignore the needs of our Christian brothers and sisters, just like we can’t ignore the needs of our biological family members. If we have been made rich by Christ and his poverty, how can we not be generous toward the needs of others? Giving is not a one-way street, because the poor have an abundance to share-an abundance that includes hospitality, family values, hard work, self-sacrifice and faith in God. The grace of giving is an equalizing force in the body of Christ. Everyone has something to give, and everyone has some need to be met. For example, Acts 4:34 talks about the early church and reads, “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked.”
Giving sacrificially now for the sake of a future goal is a mark of spiritual maturity. An even better mark of spiritual maturity is the willingness to put off earthly reward for the sake of eternal reward. If we want to follow Jesus closely, we must come to terms with self-denial, and this self-denial must be practiced daily.
If we hold back our commitment to give, especially our commitment to give to the church, it means that we trust more in ourselves than we trust in God. When we give to God, he will use our gift and return it to us many times over.
Faith means that God will provide for us in unexpected ways and through unexpected sources. God promises spiritual blessings, but he does not promise material blessings. This is contrary to what the prosperity gospel teaches. God will provide material blessings if it is his will and if it is part of his plan for our lives, so it is no good to go to him and say (in the words of an old song), “O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz.”
What we give to God and how we give it shows just how much we really love him, and it shows how grateful we are for the love and blessings we receive from him. We are accountable to God for how we use the gifts he has given us, and that accountability is illustrated in the Parable of the Talents, which is found in Matthew 25:14-30. We need to use those gifts for God’s work and glory so that when we reach the end of our earthly lives, we can hear God tell us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
- Jeremiah, Dr. David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2013)
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
- Chafin, K.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 30: 1,2 Corinthians (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Pastor David McGee, “The Giving Gauge.” Retrieved from www.crossthebridge.com
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 13th Sunday (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Bill Whittaker, “The Grace of Giving.” Retrieved from www.Preaching.com
- Dr. Gary Chapman, “For the Good of Others.” Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com
- Edward Inabinet, “Great Reasons for Great Giving.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
- King Duncan, “Excellence in Giving.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
- Fr. John Boll, O.P., “Volume 2, 13th Sunday (B), June 28, 2015”. Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org