111818 Thanks AND Giving
Thanks and Giving By Res Spears Yesterday, a small group from this church spent a few hours in the parking lot of a church in downtown Suffolk, handing out grocery bags with sweet potatoes in them. It was cold and, for a while at least, uncomfortable, and I think it’s very unlikely that we’ll ever have a visit from a single one of those who were in line for the free food distribution. But we weren’t there as a marketing or church-growth exercise. In fact, I had considered looking for a banner with our church’s name on it to hang from our table. In fact, some churches did just that. But in the end I remembered why we were participating in this food giveaway: We simply were there to serve Jesus Christ by serving some of the people He loves. He has blessed me — He has blessed this church — so extravagantly that we cannot help but share the blessings. We are blessed so that we can bless others, and as we bless others, we are again blessed. This is such a foundational part of the economy of the Kingdom of God that I want to repeat it: We are blessed so that we can bless others, and as we bless others, we are again blessed. The thing is that this goes so completely against what we normally are about as people — and especially against what we normally are about as people operating in a consumer culture. He who dies with the most toys wins. Ever heard that? That saying represents the epitome of our acquisitive culture. We subscribe to Dish-TV, and the other day I checked: There are at least a dozen different shopping channels on that service. We are a people who like to get things; we like to receive. And what’s more — we don’t like to wait long for them. But God says it is better to give than to receive. And today, as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, we’re going to talk about a church that needed a reminder about the blessing of thanks and the blessing of giving. And then we’ll see something that might be a bit surprising about how the two things are connected. Please turn with me to 2 Corinthians, Chapter 9. And while you’re turning there, let’s take a quick look at what’s going on in this letter from Paul. Paul’s relationship to the church in Corinth was, as the kids say today, complicated. He had come to Corinth from Athens at the end of his second missionary journey. Working as a tentmaker with Aquila and Priscilla, he stayed in the city for a year and a half, preaching to both Jews and Gentiles. Paul had stiff opposition from the Jews, who even tried to have him arrested by the Roman governor there, but the church that was planted grew there. Paul finally left Corinth and headed to Ephesus. But he would be back, and we have in Scripture two letters he wrote to the church. There is evidence of at least one more, and some scholars believe there may have been as many as three more from Paul to the church and one from the church to Paul. What we can see very distinctly in the letters that have survived is that Corinth was a church with significant problems, and Paul subjects them to some of his most withering criticism and sarcasm because of the things that had been allowed in the church. But most of this letter — at least the first nine chapters of it — takes a tone of reconciliation. Paul has castigated this wayward church in letters and in person and through a visit from Titus, who had been sent there by Paul. Now, he is seeking to build them back up and remind them of who they are in Christ Jesus. In Chapter 8, he reminds them of a commitment they had made to provide financial support for the poor in the church at Jerusalem. In the rest of that chapter, as well as Chapter 9, he develops his case that they need to follow through on their commitment. And that brings us to our passage today, beginning in Verse 6. READ VERSES 6-15 Paul begins this section of his letter with a reminder about the principle of reaping and sowing. Here in Suffolk, where for the past month or so we have been watching farmers harvesting their cotton, their soybeans and their peanuts, this principle should be readily understood. What you sow, you will reap. You won’t reap peanuts if you’ve sown cotton. You won’t get soybeans if you’ve sown peanuts. And you won’t get a bumper crop of anything if you sow your seeds sparingly. To the church in Galatia, Paul put it this way: Galatians 6:7–9 NASB95 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. We can spend our time sowing seeds of discontent. We can spend our time arguing political points on Facebook. We can plaster our cars with political bumper stickers and leave one little space on the back window for a Christian fish symbol. But what will the harvest be from those seeds? If we sow the wind, we will reap the whirlwind. How much better to plant seeds of love and kindness? And if we’re going to sow seeds of kindness and love, why not do so liberally? The writer of Proverbs puts it this way: Proverbs 11:24–25 NASB95 There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, And he who waters will himself be watered. When we sow generously — when we GIVE generously — we will reap abundantly. And when we withhold blessings from others that we have the ability to give, the result is that we wind up wanting for ourselves. This isn’t a message the world understands. The world tells us to get as much as we can for ourselves, and we’ll be happy. But ask all those lottery winners who are now bankrupt how well the world’s get-it-while-you-can philosophy worked out for them. Paul reminds the Corinthians about all this, and then he recognizes that some of them are likely to hear this message and grudgingly give because he has shamed them into it. So then he reminds them that giving must be done with the right attitude, because God loves a cheerful giver. If you’re tithing or giving your offerings out of a sense of duty — if you write your checks to Liberty Spring Christian Church out of a heart filled with anything but gladness — then you’d be better off not even writing them. God loves — and God will HONOR — a cheerful giver. Look at what Paul says in verses 8 and 9: 2 Corinthians 9:8–9 NASB95 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, “He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness endures forever.” These verses are at the heart of our message today. God blesses us so that we might bless others. He is able to make all grace abound to you so that you can have sufficient resources to do the good deeds He has arranged for you. Now, that doesn’t always mean that if you give $20, you will get back $40. Sometimes the financial blessings you sow will come back to you in a harvest of righteousness from God. Frankly, that’s better than money, anyway. But I can tell you from my own family’s experience in this matter that every time we have increased our giving — every time we have sacrificed our finances to do the good deeds that God has called us to do, we have been blessed with the ability to do even more. Jesus had something to say about this: Luke 6:38 NASB95 “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” In the last days of the prophets of Israel, before God went silent with His people, those people had become selfish with their tithes and offerings. They had become cold to the suffering of the poor, and to the plight of widows and orphans within their nation. And through the prophet Malachi, He rebuked them for it. Malachi 3:8–9 NASB95 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! But then He challenged them to test Him on the matter. Malachi 3:10 NASB95 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. I tell you now, that I have tested God in this, and I have found Him to be true to His Word. But understand this: He does not give me the added blessings so I can have a better standard of living. He does it so I can bless others even more. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the blessings God gives us. But there’s no greater enjoyment to be had than we get when we bless others. And this is what Paul is trying to convey to the church in Corinth. They had promised to participate in helping the starving Christians in Jerusalem, but after a year, perhaps their promises had lost conviction. It was time to put actions to their words. You’ll notice something familiar in the next verses. 2 Corinthians 9:10–11 NASB95 Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. This is the verse from which the Surbers’ Haiti ministry got its name, Supply and Multiply. Here, Paul connects the two principles he has already laid out. God will provide the resources for us to use to do His good works; He does so by blessing us. And He blesses us so that we might bless others. And that brings us to the third principle we should understand from this passage: All of this — our blessings and the blessings we then bestow upon others — all of it results in thanksgiving to God. God is glorified in our giving. And God is glorified in our thanksgiving. And God’s glory is what we are supposed to be all about. Many of you are already preparing for Thanksgiving on Thursday. If you’re like me, you’ve set aside the recipes you’ll use, you’ve bought the groceries and you’ve cleaned up the kitchen so everything will be ready. Maybe you’ve already started cooking. OK, I haven’t done any of that. My preparation has been more along the lines of dreaming about extra helpings of dressing. But I know that the ladies in my family have done some of these things, and I know that many of you sitting here today have done so, as well. Let me ask you this: Will God be glorified in your Thanksgiving celebration? Will He get the credit for the bounty that appears on your table? Will He be glorified by your generosity to others this holiday season? That’s what Paul was telling the Corinthians would happen as they honored their commitment to help the church in Jerusalem. 2 Corinthians 9:12 NASB95 For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. The people of the church in Jerusalem would have their needs supplied, and this ministry would result in “many thanksgivings to God.” 2 Corinthians 9:13–14 NASB95 Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. By being obedient to the call of their faith, the people of the church in Corinth would be proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. And in the liberality of their contributions, they would, in turn, be blessed by the prayers offered on their behalf by the church in Jerusalem. Seeing the grace of God demonstrated in their contributions, Paul says, the people in Jerusalem would “yearn” for them. They would long for them. The context here is among believers, but the application is the same as we do God’s work among the unbelieving, too. When they see God’s grace in our actions on their behalf, even unbelievers will be drawn to us — and more importantly to Jesus Christ, the “indescribable gift” Paul mentions in the next verse. This gift of Jesus Christ, the gift God gave to mankind on that first Christmas more than 2,000 years ago, is the greatest blessing we can ever receive. We were lost in our sins. Our sins separated us from a holy and righteous God, and the price of our ransom was beyond our ability to pay. Only Jesus, God’s perfect Son, could pay that price, and He did so on a cross, where he bore our sins and took the punishment for them. In His boundless mercy, Jesus paid the price for our sins by his sacrifice on that cross. But that was only part of the gift. God then lavished us with His infinite grace by choosing to adopt us as His children, giving those who believe in Jesus and repent from their sins and make him their Lord and Savior a place with the resurrected Christ in Heaven. 2 Corinthians 9:15 NASB95 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! Thanks, indeed, be to God for His indescribable gift! But if we accept that gift — that blessing — without experiencing some brokenness over those who are still lost, then we have missed the entire point of this passage. We are blessed so that we might bless others. Even — perhaps especially — our salvation is a blessing that should be shared. We who have followed Jesus Christ are not saved so we can sit back and be satisfied that we’ve got a ticket into heaven. We are saved so that we might point others to the only One who can save them. We are saved so that we can point others to Jesus. We are saved so the Holy Spirit can plant seeds of faith through our witness to others. We are saved so that the harvest of righteousness may be increased. Our part is to scatter the seeds, and to do so with all liberality. We who have been given so much must give much. If we are truly thankful for what we have been given — for this indescribable gift — then we must share it. And in doing so, we will see this ministry overflow with many new thanksgivings to God.