Principles of Christian Financial Giving (Part 1)
2 Corinthians 8:1-15
We come now to one of the main purposes for which Paul wrote this letter (he devotes almost 20% of his letter to this): to remind them to come through on their commitment to give money for the relief of Jerusalem Christians.
Read 1 Cor. 16: 1-4 for original request. Paul wanted to relieve human suffering and be a witness of Christ’s power to reconcile people divided by racial and ethnic barriers.
The Corinthians evidently made a generous commitment, but started to renege on it as the time drew near to pick it up. Paul writes these two chapters to motivate them to make good on their commitment. In doing so, he reminds them of several key theological principles of Christian financial giving.
This is significant. Paul wants them to come through on their collection, but he knows that their behavior is connected to their convictions about biblical truth. So he focuses primarily on these principles.
As with the Corinthians, this is a trouble-spot for many of us.
Christians: How we handle our money is one of the truest indices of how well we understand God’s Word and how much we trust God’s power and love.
Non-Christians: Church scams and scandals probably make you skittish about this teaching. Let’s look at what God’s Word says about this whole area. I think you’ll find it is very different from what you expect . . .
Giving is a response to God’s grace
Read vs 1-4. Paul obviously sees the Macedonians as an example for the Corinthians and us. What an example of voluntary, sacrificial generosity! What motivated this kind of giving? Paul mentions the secret in vs 1a, and he spells it out in vs 9--the grace of God. All authentic Christian giving (financially and otherwise) is a response to God’s grace.
“Grace” here does not refer to a prayer before Easter dinner or social charm. It is the most important theological term in the New Testament. As Paul says in vs 9, grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace means that because Christ was willing to take on what he did not deserve (the guilt of our sins and God’s judgment on those sins), God is now free to give us what we do not deserve (FORGIVENESS; ADOPTION; ETERNAL LIFE; ROLE IN GOD’S PURPOSE; HOLY SPIRIT; etc.).
How does grace affect our attitude toward financial giving? We can answer this question by contrasting giving under grace to another mentality of financial giving--giving under law. Consider the following contrasts:
UNDER LAW: “I give in order to be accepted.” Of course, this is the way other religions
operate (ISLAM: ALMS AS ONE OF 5 PILLARS).
Many have been taught that Christianity teaches this as well, which is
UNDER GRACE: “I give because I have been accepted.” When it comes home to you what you really deserve versus what God has given you--the result is to say “Thank you” to God by giving freely and sacrificially to others (SCROOGE; Lk. 7:47; Matt. 10:8b)--in all kinds of ways, including financially.
GOSPEL: Maybe you’ve never received God’s grace. This is as good a time as any! This is why, when we take a collection at this meeting, we always make it clear that we are not asking or expecting non-Christians to give. We don't want to reinforce the misconception of salvation by works. Don't get the cart before the horse (moral change & good works before receiving Christ). Come to Christ, receive God’s free gift of forgiveness and eternal life and Holy Spirit--and then you can give because you have been acceped.
CHRISTIANS (if time): We can understand grace, yet still give under law if we are giving primarily to get other people’s acceptance . . .
UNDER LAW: “My giving is a duty that I resent.” This is the natural consequence of a works
mentality. This is the way most of us
give to the IRS--we have to do it, but the whole thing is so impersonal and
legalistic that it takes any joy out of it.
UNDER GRACE: “My giving is a privilege that I enjoy.” See above.
UNDER LAW: “I give the least I can to keep God/others off my
back.” Stinginess always flows from
UNDER GRACE: “I give as much as I can to express my gratitude for God’s love.” Grace promotes generous, voluntary giving like the Macedonians.
QUALIFICATION: Some Christians misinterpret 9:7 to mean that calling on other Christians to make financial giving commitments, or reminding them to fulfill such commitments is putting them under the law.
Paul has already called on them to make a commitment (1 Cor. 16:1,2 - “I direct you”), and he is writing this section to remind them to come through on this commitment (8:11; 9:5). So this can’t be what he means in 9:7.
Some say he means we shouldn’t give if we feel grudging or like we have to give. But my sin-nature frequently generates such feelings--I’d give very little if I only gave when I felt like it.
Paul is simply reminding us that God wants us to choose to give with the right attitude. We should reflect on God’s grace, and choose to give voluntarily and cheerfully on that basis. The feelings sometimes precede, and at other times follow, this informed choice. If I find that I am viewing giving as a distasteful duty, the answer isn’t to stop giving--it is to change my attitude!
Giving is an acknowledgment that we are God’s stewards
Read vs 5. Here is another biblical principle that should inform our thinking about finances and giving. The key point here is that we give our money to advance the cause of Christ because we have first acknowledged God’s rightful ownership of our whole lives. Giving should be an expression of our identity as God’s stewards.
Stewardship was one of Jesus’ favorite characters in his parables. A steward was a manager--someone who managed the owner’s farm or business. Good stewards faithfully used their master’s resources to advance his concerns and increase his wealth; bad stewards misused his resources for personal gain or squandered them out of laziness.
God is the Owner of all that we have (Ps. 24:1; 1 Cor. 6:19,20). We are his stewards, entrusted with the privilege and responsibility to manage his resources to advance his purposes. God gives us freedom to use his resources the way we decide (and no church or Christian should take this freedom away from one another), but with this freedom comes real accountability. One day we will give an account to him for how we did this (Matt. 25)--not for salvation, but for reward.
Here we collide directly with the view of our own culture. Most Americans regard themselves as sovereign owners and their money as exclsuively their own personal property to be used to advance their own interests.
What difference does it make whether we view ourselves as owners or stewards? All the difference in the world! How we view this issue, like grace, shapes our attitude about this whole area. This is far more important than simply ascertaining a bootom-line “How much should I give?” Consider these perspective differences:
OWNERS ask “How much of my money will I give to God?” STEWARDS ask “How much of God’s money will I keep for myself?”
It is appropriate for stewards to have enough to live on, provide for our families, make realistic provision for recreation, etc. But we should never live luxuriously while the owner’s affairs are being neglected.
Yet statistics reveal that as most American Christians’ income goes up, their percentage of giving goes down! Something is wrong with this picture!!! Many of us are at an expensive period of our lives (children; education; etc.), but we should still give significantly, and consider the GRADUATED TITHE as our income increases and some of our costs begin to decrease.
OWNERS ask “Do I want this?” and (sometimes) “Can I afford it?” STEWARDS ask “How will this affect my ability to advance God’s purposes?”
Certainly, being able to afford something shouldbe a necessary condition for purchasing it. With easy credit, we are propagandized to not ask this question--buy now because you want it and pay later (or increase your credit limit). Many of us know from cruel experience the financial slavery this mentality leads to.
But just because I can afford something does not mean that I should buy it. This may be responsible OWNERSHIP, but it is irresponsible STEWARDSHIP! There are the needs of other Christians to consider, for example, both locally and extra-locally (8:13-15). And there are the needs of the lost who are dear to God’s heart. STEWARDS are caught up with God’s passion to reach the lost, and look for creative ways to subsidize this great purpose (LOCAL CHURCH GIVING; Christian MINISTRIES; MISSIONS WORK).
OWNERS say “My finances and giving are my private business.” Boy, is this ever an American attitude! They tend to resent questions or challenges from others in this area as intrusive. But STEWARDS say “I will seek wise counsel so I can be faithful with God’s resources.”
Instead of viewing our finances and giving as our private business, we consult God’s will through prayer, his Word, and counsel from other more mature Christians who understand money matters. Since we will answer to God, we must make the final decision and not let others make it for us. But we will approach such decisions with this kind of sobriety.
PLUG PERSONAL FINANCE MINISTRY TEAM: They are mature Christians who understand finances. They receive no personal remuneration for their services.
Giving is an essential component of Christian spirituality
The Corinthian Christians had a lot going for them spiritually, but their deficiency in this area kept Paul from calling them models of Christian living. He calls on them to complete the profile of spiritual health/maturity by filling in this component (read vs 7).
Most of us would (rightfully) reject the notion that someone is spiritual even though they rarely pray, share their faith, learn the Word, fellowship with other Christians, stay faithful to their spouse, etc. But for some reason, many in Corinth (and Xenos) thought they could be spiritual without transformation is this area.
HERBERT KANE: “The last part of the person to convert is his wallet.” God says money is a symbol of our time and effort. How we spend it is a key indicator of our true priorities (Lk.. 12:34).
This is why we unapologetically require a record of significant giving to be a deacon or elder in our church (1 Tim. 3:3,8 >> EXPLAIN Servant Team & Fiscal Support Team). We have biblical knowledge requirements, ministry requirements, character requirements, fellowship requirements, etc.--and we have this requirement.
NEW CHRISTIANS: Get started early in this area! The longer you wait, the harder it gets . . .
We can give significantly whether we are financially rich or poor
Read vs 12. Refer to Mark 12:41-44.
"This is . . . the new mathematics, the arithmetic of heaven. God estimates our gifts not so much by their financial value, as by the sacrifice involved, the love that accompanies it, and the amount that is left. The supreme value of the widow's gift lay in the fact that she `out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on' - while the others gave `out of their surplus' (Mk. 12:44). Here is a searching test of our giving, but that incident should greatly encourage those who have only a little to give, but give it gladly."
"I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving way too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them."
Therefore, we can give significantly whether we have a lot or a little!
STUDENTS & DEBTORS: “I can’t give very much, so I’ll wait until I get out of school/debt and then I’ll start to give.” You’re missing this point, and you probably won’t give then either.
NEXT WEEK: We’ll cover more principles . . .