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EXCELLENCE IN GIVING 2 Corinthians 8-9 December 4. 2011 Given by: Pastor Rich Bersett [Index of Past Messages] Introduction It was September 20, 1977. It was the fifth season premiere show of the classic favorite Happy Days. This was the episode when everything changed for the show: Fonzi, the coolest of the cool, the dreamboat mechanic, the chick magnet with the perfectly combed hair, the guy who could do everything and do it with style, went water-skiing dressed in his leather jacket and jumped a shark on skis. It was a defining moment. It was the moment when you knew that your favorite TV show had reached its peak. From that climactic scene forward, you knew the show would never be the same, because nothing could top that episode. That’s the moment when a new idiom was born—an expression that would enter the vocabulary of Americans: “Jumping the Shark.” That expression came to represent any event that marked the shift into a whole new level of excellence. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, answering a series of their questions about theology and practical Christian living, he also had in mind another goal. He wanted to challenge those believers to jump the shark in regard to their Christian growth. His desire, under the leading of the Holy Spirit and in keeping with God’s will, was to see them grow into a new level of spiritual maturity. And he knew that the one issue that would spark that growth among them, the thing that would catapult them to new heights in their walk of love and ministry was finances. God knows that the single most stubborn area of growth for any Christ-follower is the subject of money. It was true of those Corinthian Christians, and it is true yet today. Most of us are willing to stretch ourselves into new growth in almost any area of piety, but when it comes to giving—financial stewardship—we too easily clamp down, get stingy and stop growing. The story is told of the Pentecostal preacher who was waxing powerful one Sunday morning and his congregation was right there with him. At the high point of his sermon he said, “Brothers and sisters, it is the Lord’s will that His church should be obedient and walk in His ways!” At that, the people shouted, “That’s right! Let her walk, preacher!” He went on: “Brothers and sisters, it is the Lord’s will that the church should serve Him in such a way that it will run and not grow weary!” The whole church shouted, “That’s right, preacher, let her run!” Primed for the big one, the preacher said, “Brothers and sisters, it is the Lord’s will that we should give our money generously so the church can fly!” “Let her walk, preacher! Let her walk!” In the eighth and ninth chapters of 2 Corinthians, Paul used the occasion of an offering that was being raised to help the poor believers in Judea to teach some principles of giving. Those principles are magnificent, and when a Christian learns to live in agreement with them, he will grow to dynamic new levels of love and service to Christ and to the people they are called to serve. In 2 Corinthians 8:7 Paul congratulates the Corinthians church because they excel in everything—well, almost everything. 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. Consider Paul’s four principles this morning with me—principles of Excellence in Giving—and let’s grow in this grace. Excellent Giving is Sacrificial The first principle is that excellent giving is SACRIFICIAL giving. In verses 1-5 Paul brags about a church in another state in Greece. As we read these verses, see if you can pick out three marks of sacrificial giving. 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. Rich Generosity - In verse 2 it says these Macedonian Christians gave with rich generosity. I always think of Mr. Feeney in this regard. Charles Feeney made a lot of money owning and operating hundreds of those “duty-free” shops you see in airports.   But he is actually more famous for what he gave away than what he earned. In the late 20th century he gave away over $600 million in a 15-year period. He also spent $3.5 million setting up the charities that would expedite his philanthropy. The records show that in those 15 years he also kept $5 million for himself and his family. You might say he was a “reverse tither,” because inverse to regular tithing, he kept less than 10% for himself and gave away 90%! Like the Macedonians, Feeney gave lavishly, proving that true, sacrificial giving is marked by rich generosity. In Extreme Poverty - But, he was unlike the Macedonians in another respect, because those first century believers were people who lived in abject poverty. It is remarkable that these very poor people were so generous. You know, God has a way of providing more through a generous, poor person than through a stingy rich one? Last year Americans gave a little over 2.5% to their favorite charities. During the great Depression they gave 2.9%. In the current economic downturn Americans gave 3.5% more than in 2009. Poorer Americans give a greater percentage of their incomes to charity. Why? Are they stupid? Or are they generous? Are they idiots, or do they not so greedy? Those who earn within $5,000 a year of the poverty level give twice as much as those earning $100-120,000 incomes. (3.3% vs. 1.6%). Generosity does not run along lines of wealth. The Macedonians proved that, and Paul suggests that they are a good example for giving with rich generosity in spite of low income. In fact, in verse 4 Paul bragged that they even pleaded with him to let them give more! Overflowing Joy – The third mark of sacrificial giving is “overflowing joy,” according to this passage. There is a deep pleasure—an undefinable joy—that comes to those who give sacrificially. It is a thrill that stingier people can never know. The comedian Bob Hope once said: “Laughter is an instant vacation. Giving is a two-week cruise—with pay.” In the famous story, The Gift of the Magi, the poor husband sells his watch so he can give a gift of love to his wife—a set of combs she had wanted but they could not afford. In her love for him, she cut off her hair and sold it in order to buy him, of all things, a new watch. When you love with godly love you do not hesitate to give lavishly. We, like the Macedonians can know deep joy when we excel in the grace of giving sacrificially. Excellent Giving is Strategic But more than sacrificial, excellent giving is STRATEGIC. Verses 5-6: they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord. The Macedonians’ giving was not knee-jerk reaction to a need that pulled on their heartstrings. They prayed to God about whether they should give to this offering and how much. They didn’t want to give with a wrong motive or attitude. Have you ever received a gift from someone whose heart wasn’t in it, and you could tell? You know, the situation when the person felt obligated to give? You just want to say, “Hey, don’t bother!” If it is obligatory, it’s not really a gift. If you want to give with proper strategy, make sure you give yourself to the Lord first, then give to the need. Paul said, after they had committed themselves to the Lord then they gave to us. Who is “us”? The leaders who were prayerfully conducting the offering. But, weren’t they really giving to the poor in Palestine? Why would Paul say they gave to them? It doesn’t matter what you give to you have to have confidence in those who are handling the funds you give. That’s why it is a good idea to check with BBB or an organization like the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability before you give to a cause. When you give to a church—this church, any church—you should first be certain you trust the leadership of that church. I will say the same thing I have said for years—I am thrilled that from the beginning of this congregation we have had dedicated, prayerful people in leadership who have handled the funds given through MECF with impeccable care, disbursing those funds in ways that please God. I find it easy and gratifying to give to the Lord’s work through this church, because of reliable, godly leadership. And that’s good strategy, because it’s God’s strategy. Excellent giving should always be strategic—giving ourselves first to the Lord, then to the cause. Excellent Giving is Steadfast In verse 7, Paul lists the disciplines in which the Christians are already excelling and he adds, but, you need to excel in this grace also—this grace of giving. In other words, you cannot keep growing as a disciple of the Lord if you don’t improve in your generosity. Christian giving is a discipline, and it is a fundamental building block of your faith. Too often, out of selfishness and greed, believers can talk themselves into thinking, “Well, I’m pretty good in a lot of other areas, but I don’t think I want to give, let alone generously.” Steadfast Giving is disciplined - Discipline is not usually our favorite word, but we know that through discipline we grow. Paul is urging the first century—and twenty-first century—Christ-followers to give in a steadfast manner. Christian giving that is excellent is not impulsive, short-term, once-in-a-while giving, but it is steadfast.   Less mature people like to give when they feel “moved” or enticed by rewards. But steadfast giving is responsible and mature giving, unlike flash-in-the-pan, periodic giving that fizzles and burns out when external motivations fade; it is rather like a steady simmer, marked by longevity, consistency and a long-term commitment. Steadfast Giving is Responsible - No organization—not even the church—can run on fits and starts of income. Erratic income for the church results in erratic ministry. If you give only when you have a little left over, or only when you’re not gone on vacation, or only when there is some sort of stewardship drive, or only when you feel challenged by the preacher, your giving will never approach the excellence that the Bible calls for. Missionaries depend on regular and consistent gifts to fund them and their work. The power and water at this facility, the furnaces and sound equipment don’t stop running when you and I are on vacation. We cannot tell the bank, “We won’t be making our mortgage payment this month. You see, a lot of our folks have just made some significant purchases and they just don’t have any left over for the offerings.” And I can tell you firsthand that those who are salaried by churches rely just as much on their regular paycheck as anyone else. The call of the apostle for steadfast giving comes because God desires those who support His work to be more like the “Ever-Ready Bunny” and less like Freddy the Freeloader. In 1 Corinthians 16:1 Paul reminded the believers: On the first day of every week each one of you should set aside a sum of money, in keeping with his income… I urge you, brothers and sisters to acknowledge your responsibility as part of this congregation’s unified purpose in the Lord to be a steadfast giver. Steadfast Giving is Planned, budgeted giving - Here’s apostolic advice as to how to do that and do it better. See it as a spiritual discipline to set aside funds in your budget, and when you get paid, write your check for the church first. Otherwise, you are just going to wait and see if there is anything left after your other spending, and you are leaving God standing in a welfare line. And I guarantee you, that what you end up giving Him will not be excellent, steadfast giving that honors Him. It will be just a “tip.” When other things come first and we wait to give to God’s work last, there is rarely anything left—at least not anything resembling generosity or sacrifice. Because it is honorable before God, and because it is best for you, give in a steadfast way to the Lord. Let me add this word. Most of us here don’t have fat wallets and exorbitant incomes. Most of the Corinthians didn’t either. And neither did the Macedonians, but they gave out of their poverty, all that they could. And Paul added, they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. What does that mean? It does not mean they gave irresponsibly to the Lord and then didn’t have money for groceries and clothes. It means that when they gave sacrificially the Lord honored them and provided more for them to give. They tapped into the law of sowing and reaping and discovered that when they gave excellently, the Lord increased their provisions. Excellent Giving is Sincere We’re going to wrap this study up with a look at the last quality of excellent giving by looking again at verse 8, where Paul says he wants to test the SINCERITY of the Corinthians love through their giving. I think it is a good idea for us to test ourselves as well in terms of the sincerity of our giving. Sincere Giving is Voluntary Giving – Do you ever give into God’s work or give to God’s people only because you feel commanded to give, or worse yet, coerced into giving? If you do, you need to take a couple steps back and assess where you are spiritually. Verse 12 says, For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable. Pastor are you saying that my giving is unacceptable? No, God is saying it. In the 7th verse of the next chapter you can read these words about voluntary giving: Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. The Greek word used there for “cheerful” is HILARION from which we derive our word “hilarious.” If the joy, the hilarity, has drained out of your giving, it’s time for an attitude adjustment, which is the same as saying a faith adjustment. Paul says that the Lord loves a cheerful giver. (That’s not to say He won’t accept gifts from a sourpuss.) But seriously, giving is the most pleasant thing we can ever do. If your giving is marked by a feeling of coercion, and you check your attitude and feel that it is healthy, then maybe you’re being pushed in an unhealthy way toward giving. Ask the Lord about those who are teaching you. If there is any suspicion at all that your spiritual leaders are compelling or coercing you beyond the truth of scripture, you need to find a different church. The Word of God has some stern things to say about Christian teachers who inordinately pressure people to give, through manipulation or guilt. Avoid such teachers. That’s not to say that I as your pastor will not be exhorting you to bold and sacrificial giving. I will. I must. It is the Word of God. But it is my responsibility to make sure that when you feel convicted about giving, it’s coming from God and not from me. I want you to know that your leaders here take that responsibility very seriously. So I do as I should and direct you to the truths of God’s Word. When you give, it does not honor God if it is not voluntary. In his book Run With the Horses, Eugene Peterson tells how he saw a family of birds teaching their young to fly. Three young swallows were perched on a dead branch that stretched out over a lake. “One adult swallow got alongside the chicks and started shoving them out toward the end of the branch—pushing, pushing, pushing. The end one fell off. Somewhere between the branch and the water four feet below, the wings stated working, and the fledgling was off on his own. Then the second one. The third was not to be bulled. At the last possible moment his grip on the branch loosened just enough so that he swung downward, and he tightened again, tenaciously hanging on, upside down. The parent was without sentiment. He pecked at the claws of the desperately clinging talons until it was more painful for the poor chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying. The grip was released, and the inexperienced wings began pumping. The mature swallow knew what the chick did not—that it would fly—that there was no danger in making it do what it was perfectly designed to do. Birds have feet and they can walk. Birds have talons and can grasp a branch securely. The can walk; they can cling. But flying is their characteristic action, and not until they fly are they living at their best, gracefully and beautifully. Giving is what we human beings do best. It is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth. Some of us try desperately to hold on to ourselves, to live for ourselves. We look so bedraggled and pathetic doing it, hanging on to the dead branch of a back account for dear life, afraid to risk ourselves on the untried wings of giving. We don’t think we can live generously because we have never tried living generously. But the sooner we start, the better, for we are going to have to give up our lives finally, and the longer we wait, the less time we have for the soaring and swooping life of grace. Sincere giving is voluntary, but it is also important.” Sincere Giving is Important – Verses 10-11: 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. I want to pose two questions to every believer who identifies with this church: first, if every Christian here gave as you do, percentage-wise, would we keep the doors open and continue to serve in Jesus’ name? Each of us should really strive to give back to the Lord at least 10% of what the Lord gives you. Not because it is a law, or some kind of a church rule, but because the “tithe” is the only figure God ever used in His Word when discussing giving. Ten out of every ten people I know who tithe testify that they are blessed awesomely by God. They also happen to be happy, joyous and contented Christians. The second question I suggest you ask yourself is: Have I been faithful to follow through on the commitments I have already made to the Lord in terms of giving. Paul said, …finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it. Sincere giving is voluntary, it is important to God and to you, not to mention to your church family and our ministries. I am glad that in the matter of giving we are each free and responsible to follow the voice and leading of God’s Spirit and His Word. I am glad there are no rules, no minimum payment required. I am glad that God calls not for equal amounts from everyone, but equal sacrifice. Sincere giving is abundant giving—by that I mean giving that stretches you into deeper levels of maturity. God is glorified when His children stretch themselves in obedience to Him. If you are tithing, ask God if He is calling you further. If you are not giving at the level of 10%, try it. If your heart is right, or as Paul put it, if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable. In any case, God promises to bless those who obey Him with sacrificial, strategic, steadfast and sincere giving. 2 Cor. 9:6-8 says, Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. Take the leap. Jump the shark. Start excellent giving! PRAYER       [ Back to Top]          
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