Grace Giving: Part I
Motivation for Giving
2 Corinthians 8:1-15
For the next couple of weeks, we will be talking about giving…Never before have I been a part of a church where the people have said, “we not only want to hear about the church’s finances, but we want to hear about what the Bible says about our own finances and our financial responsibility from the pulpit”.
The truth is that in most churches, people do not want to hear about giving; they do not want to have a “guilt trip” laid on them.
But there’s the rub—we are not to give to the Lord’s work out of guilt. No, there is a greater motivation to give and we will talk about that this morning.
God opened my eyes to “grace giving” a very long time ago and it has made a great difference in my life. No longer under the Law as manifested by the “tithe”, grace giving is freeing, it is joyous, it allows us to really be generous. I know this view may be new for a number of you—but don’t call me a heretic until you’ve heard me out.
While 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 addresses giving to relieve the needs of the Jerusalem church, it is also the most extensive treatment of giving to the Lord’s work in the NT. It is not being ripped from it’s context this morning, but provides us with the guidance we need from God when it comes to giving to the Lord’s work. Before we dive in there, we need to lay a little foundational background…
Now, we often hear the word “stewardship” used in church—it does not mean “giving” or “tithing”. The word stewardship conveys the idea that we are responsible for the proper use of what God has given to us. After all, it all belongs to him—time, treasure and talent. None of it—no matter how much we try to convince ourselves of it—belongs to us. Psalm 24:1 tells us, “1 The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…” That includes you and me! Paul echoed the same sentiment in 1 Corinthians 10:26.
So what we have belongs to God, who we are belongs to God—he lets us use the things we have, and we have the responsibility to manage those resources, to manage our very lives for his glory. Get this: despite the fact that so many people tie their identity to what material possessions they have, our money is not ours, and our money is not us! It does not define us!
In reality, we do not “have” anything—God owns it all and it all is his. If you and I have anything, it is by God’s grace that he has entrusted it to us. We are not the owners. We are the managers. Our relationship with him is what is important.
Not only that, but our money is not “us”. If our identity is tied up in what we “own”, then we are driven to accumulate more so that we can feel good about ourselves and so that others will think well of us so that the possessions have the desired effect—to feed our own ego. That’s nuts!
Instead, our identity is in Jesus Christ! Who we are has everything to do with Jesus and what he has done on our behalf, and nothing to do with what we have or what we do! That means that if we lose all of our earthly possessions—while not what we want—it will not change the fact that you and I are the adopted sons and daughters of God by the finished work of Jesus Christ, and that is what matters.
In discussing this subject matter, what we need to remember is that it is God who will cause a change of heart in us—he will reorder our thinking and our priorities. Paul told us, “13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13 ESV)
Get that! We do not effect the change in ourselves! It is God who works in us, it is God who works out his will in our lives.
There are three things I’d like to address related to giving this morning:
· False Teachers
· The Tithe
· Grace Giving
I can tell you I will not exhaust all of what Scripture says with respect to giving, nor will I fully expound on the various things I bring to your attention from the Word. Hopefully, though, we will look at enough of the Word to result in your digging further and having a deeper understanding of what his Word says. And remember, when you do dig further, Scripture will not, cannot, and does not contradict itself!
2 Corinthians 8:1-15
As we read, notice that in the first five verses, Paul is talking to the Corinthian church about the churches in Macedonia, and in the remaining verses, he is focused on the Corinthian church…
1We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—5and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
6Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-15 ESV)
Instead of preaching the gospel, too many preachers are preaching behavior modification, advocating that we make changes in our lives, as if our performance means anything when it comes to earning or maintaining God’s favor. Too many are preaching Law instead of the gospel, burdening the people with rules and regulations of the “good Christian”. In Luke 11:46, Jesus takes on the Jewish lawyers, saying they “…load people with burdens hard to bear…” Those same kinds of people are in the church today. They want to load people down with cumbersome burdens—rules and regulations to be kept legalistically—for the “good Christian”.
Not only that, but today, we face false gospels and false teachers that are not necessarily as intrusive or offensive as the Judaizers—who required Gentile believers to be circumcised, to become Jews, in order to really be saved. They say things that are not consistent with Scripture. There is false teaching that is out there relating to giving. There are false teachers on TV, on the radio, and on the Internet propagating their false brand of giving. Think about the underlying motivation of the things the false teachers tell people, such as:
· “God spoke to us to give this offering, and we are going to pray over it. I just want you to know that God is going to bless us in return”
· “God wants to bless you and prosper you in your finances and in all areas of your life, but you must first give to him”
· “Sow seeds (again, your money—do something) to receive God’s blessings”
· “Pay your tithes and trust God’s word—he will open up the windows of heaven and pour out blessings—you won’t have room enough to receive all he will give you”
· “You can have your best life now”, and other such nonsense. I mean, as if our best life is in the present instead of in glory!
All of that completely goes against what Paul wrote—not only to the Ephesians in Chapter One where he talked about the blessings that are ours in Christ, but also in Galatians, and to the Corinthians as well. When Dan preached through Galatians, we saw over and over again that there is nothing we can do to either earn or to maintain God’s favor! Salvation and sanctification are all of grace!
[Let’s talk about ] The Tithe as a Guideline for Giving
The tithe as it is understood today—giving 10% of one’s income to God—is an Old Testament requirement. It is Law. Of course, the Law is important—it reveals our sin to us. It shows us we are train wrecks. It shines a light on our behavior. It is God’s expectation of perfection to which none of us can attain. Paul said it was our guardian, our guide, until Jesus came—why? “…in order that we might be justified by faith” [Galatians 3:24 ESV].
· In Romans 6, Paul argues that believers are not under the Law, but under grace.
· In 1 Corinthians 9, he says he is not under the Old Testament Law, but under the Law of Christ.
· In Galatians 3, he declares those who rely on the works of the law are under a curse and that before faith came, we were held captive under the law, we were imprisoned.
· In Galatians 5, he said if we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the Law.
To be clear, Paul was not arguing in favor of the “live as you want to”, “do as you want”, “lawless” mindset, what theologians call antinomianism, and neither am I. GK Beale, in A New Testament Biblical Theology, points out that The Westminster Confession (Article XIX, “Of the Law of God”) contends “…only the purely moral part of the Law, represented by the Ten Commandments, carries over to the church because the ceremonial laws (the Mosaic Law) were typologically fulfilled in Christ, and Israel’s civil laws ceased when the commonwealth of Israel ceased in AD 70”.
So, the absence of a revocation of the Mosaic command to tithe is not definitive. What we do see though, is that nowhere in the New Testament do Jesus or any of the New Testament writers command or even encourage the tithe when talking about giving. Nowhere in the New Testament is the tithe identified as the guideline or the standard for giving for New Testament believers. Assuming the tithe to be the standard in New Testament churches today is a tradition—carried over from being under the Law. And we are not under the Law.
The word tithe does show up in the New Testament—but only in four instances:
· In Matthew 23 and Luke 11, when Jesus was chewing out the Pharisees for the way they meticulously tithed their “dill, mint and cumin”…telling them they neglected the weightier matters of THE LAW—…because they were under the law.
o People have argued that Jesus was affirming the tithe here for the New Testament church, but that does not make sense given the context—he was chastising the Pharisees for neglecting the more important matters of the Law. He was addressing people still living under the Law. We are not living under the Law but under grace!
o Jesus nowhere instructs his disciples that the tithe is to be the practice of the church.
· In Luke 18 where the self-righteous man—living under the Law—talking about “paying tithes of all I get”
· In Hebrews 7, where the writer is not talking about giving, but addressing the superiority of Christ
In warning against pride when it comes to our giving, D.A. Carson wrote:
“To suppose that God demands 10 percent—and nothing more—can itself foster a remarkably independent and idolatrous attitude: ‘This bit is for God, and the rest is mine by right.’ Likewise, if you choose to give more than 10 percent, you may become inebriated from the contemplation of your own generosity.”
For some time now, we’ve been focusing on the gospel of grace…preaching through Galatians, discussions in our Life Groups, and so on…why would we detour from that focus when it comes to our finances and our giving?
Through the Apostle Paul, God provided practical guidelines for Christian giving—here in 2 Corinthians 8 and what we will look at next week in 2 Corinthians 9. These guidelines can be helpful to believers, but just how helpful is dependent upon how tied a church is to the traditional idea of the “tithe”, how tied the people are to the idea of the “tithe”.
Giving is an act of grace. Giving is a function of God’s grace in our lives. Paul draws the attention of his Corinthian readers to the churches in Macedonia to the north, including those in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. He is quick to point out that the generous giving of these churches was an act of divine grace. Talking about their giving, he said, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia” (8:1). It is only as God first blesses and enables us to give that we are able to give in the first place. As a result of the fall, we are not generous by nature. No, we are selfish. Generosity only exhibits itself in our lives as a result of God’s grace in our lives.
So, our giving is to be “grace giving”. What do I mean by that? Our giving is a result of our being blessed, not the other way around. We do not give in order to be blessed! As believers, we have already been blessed by God—by his grace, through his salvation, through his gospel. Our giving is the fruit of those blessings! I was talking with a Pastor friend of mine, and he told me that he has told a man in his church that if he wanted to be blessed, he needed to give more! Yikes!! Nothing could be further from the truth!
It is specifically because of what Jesus has done for us that we are able to give! What did he do? He took our sin upon himself, and paid the price God required for our disobedience, suffering the full wrath of God, and abandonment by his Father—for us. As we come to grips with that truth, we can’t help but give to the Lord’s work, just as we can’t help but serve, evangelize, or do any other good thing. Remember, just as we do not memorize Scripture, have a quiet time, or study the Word in order to earn or maintain favor with God, we do not give to earn or maintain favor with God! Our identity as believers is not tied up in any of those things, including our giving!
There are four aspects to grace giving:
· So How Do We Give? What is Our Motivation?
· Not a Command
· What is the Guideline?
So How Do We Give? What is Our Motivation?
Paul then focuses our attention on just what the people in the Macedonian churches were experiencing when and how they gave—he said, “2for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed (an abundance) in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—5and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”
The people Paul is talking about were undergoing a significant time of persecution. We do not know the exact nature of the persecution, but we do know it had to do with their commitment to Jesus. In his letters to the Philippians and to the Thessalonians, Paul makes that clear. Not only that, but the result of this persecution was that they were not rich by any means, but they gave gladly. The Macedonians were not unlike the widow Jesus pointed out to the disciples—1Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4 ESV)
The believers in Macedonia experienced “extreme poverty”, Paul says, and still gave joyfully. Poverty did not diminish their ability to be generous (Bruce). Poverty welled up in rich generosity. Their giving was generous, simple and sincere. This generosity Paul refers to has to do with having an unreserved attitude toward one’s possessions—that they are not one’s own, but that they belong to God.
How did they give? We see the answer in v. 3-5:
They gave “according to their means…and beyond their means”. They gave according to their ability, and beyond their ability. They figured out what they could give comfortably, and then gave beyond that—intentionally. Understand, it is not the dollar amount or percentage that matters—it is the willingness to give and following though on that willingness. It is taking the desire of the heart and living it out…later in our passage, Paul wrote, 11So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it [the desire of your heart] may be matched by your completing it out of what you have [living out that desire].
Because of God’s grace and their joyful attitude, they also gave “of their own accord”—that is, not because they “had to”, but voluntarily, of their own initiative, because they “got to”—and not under any kind of pressure. What they did was thought out in advance by their free choice.
I’m sure we all have our own experiences that we could share about the pressure we have heard from the pulpit when it comes to giving…I even experienced a situation 13 or 14 years ago where the people of the church we were a part of—during a capital campaign—were told to march up to the front of the church and drop their “pledge card” on a table to the strains of “I Surrender All”; and that was done in front of everyone in each service! Really? Really. It was expected. Talk about pressure…
You will never hear any pressure to give from this pulpit because the Bible teaches us that giving is to be voluntary. To do otherwise would be to engage in legalism; to tell people just how much they are to give is legalism, which Paul explicitly condemned in his letter to the churches of Galatia. The Elders of this church are in agreement: our giving is to be grace giving.
These folks in Macedonia appealed to Paul to participate in the gift of grace—the word “begging” in v. 4 tells us that they really, really wanted to do this. They literally chased after Paul to beg him to allow them to give. Wow…I mean, does that characterize our attitude when it comes to giving to the Lord’s work? I don’t say that in a moralistic sense, but just to get us to think about and to talk to the Lord about our management of his money. Again, it is God who is at work in you—not me or any other preacher. It is God who will form or re-form your motivation in this regard.
These folks were in extreme poverty, and still gave liberally. Why were they able to do that? Why were they able to beg Paul to participate? The answer is in v.5—they gave themselves first to the Lord—the owner, the ruler, the Master! They offered themselves to the Lord, they entrusted themselves to him, they yielded themselves to him. They recognized, again, the fact that the Lord owned it all! These folks wanted to serve Jesus. These folks wanted to demonstrate their love—for Jesus and for his church. That is our motivation for giving to the Lord’s work! LOVE! In fact, they were so committed to serving the Lord that they refused to allow their economics to keep them from participating in the Lord’s work. Involvement in this way in the Lord’s work was a service, just as giving is a service today.
Understand this—their view was not that this was a financial obligation. NO! They saw it as a ministry opportunity! People today talk about “paying their tithe” as if it was just another bill to pay. I would challenge those who think that way to consider seeing the act of giving as an act of worship and not as just another obligation—I mean, we give to the Lord’s work during our corporate worship together. Just as singing, prayer, the Lord’s table and the exposition of the Word are all part of worship, so too, is our giving.
Not a Command
In v. 7, Paul encourages the Corinthians to excel in this act of grace, but at the same time, in v. 8, he makes it clear that what he is encouraging the Corinthians to do is not a command, but a demonstration of love. What he does is in v. 9, he points to Jesus, who is the ultimate example of generosity. How so? “[T]hough he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich”. Think Philippians 2…
6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV)
Why? What was his motivation? Love.
His existence in heaven v. his existence on earth—by comparison, he emptied (ekenōsen) himself, he made himself nothing…” Why? “…so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV) The riches Paul refers to has to be the salvation that God offers. That is Paul’s hope for the Corinthians and for us—that we too, might empty ourselves for others—again, demonstrating our love for one another.
The aim of these giving guidelines in this particular case is not an exchange of financial burdens. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, Paul says (8:13). Thlipsis ("hard pressed", “burdened”) is used of pressure of one kind or another, while anesis ("relieved", “eased”) denotes a relief or relaxation of such pressure. Paul does seek the Judeans' relief from the pressure of being in dire economic straits, but not to the extent that someone else is financially strapped in the process. God does not want our giving to cause us to be financially strapped, without enough to care for our family!
The objective is, rather, that there may be fairness (v. 13). But what does he mean by fairness? Is Paul putting forward a kind of biblical socialism, a “redistribution of the wealth”, a leveling of rich and poor? Some have erroneously understood him to be advocating just that. Yet what Paul suggests as appropriate is equity of basic needs being met, not equality of supply. Isotes ("fairness"), found only here and in Colossians 4:1 in the New Testament, denotes what is "equitable" and "fair." So it is equity and not equality that is at issue here. It is important to recognize and consider that ten percent of an annual income of $35,000 can have a different impact on the giver than 10% of an annual income of $150,000.
Nor is Paul saying that possession of a surplus of material goods is wrong for a Christian. Commenting on this, John Piper wrote, “‘Thou shalt not steal,’ actually endorses private property (ownership). But all human ownership begins with God’s long-term loan of the earth.”
So What is the Guideline?
The guideline Paul offers could actually be more that what would be required by the traditional tithe.
Let’s be honest—hanging on to the concept of the tithe is safe—if we hold on to the tithe with a death grip, it means we don’t have to give more if we don’t want to.
But think about this... What if you were freed up to give more than ten percent? How about 12 or 14 or even more? That freedom in Christ—to give more than 10%--has always been there. But if we can get past the tradition of only giving 10%, if we can get past the “duty” to give 10%, and see giving as an act of grace that God effects in our lives, who knows what he might have us do?
Look at the other side of the coin. Now, this is not guilt-tripping—hear me well—but I read about a study recently that said only 9% of born again believers regularly give on a Sunday morning to the Lord’s work. I personally believe that can, in part, be attributed to the tradition of the tithe. What do I mean? I mean I believe—and I know this because I’ve talked to people when they have come to me about this very thing in the past—I believe many people do not give because they believe the tradition of the tithe is sacrosanct—sacred, holy and untouchable. In other words, they think they must give 10%. At the same time, they don’t think they can afford to give 10%, so they don’t give at all.
What if these folks adopted grace giving instead? It wouldn’t be about 10%...they could start out at 1% or 4% or a specific dollar amount. They would see that, in fact, they did have enough to get through the week until the next paycheck. How do we know that? We know that because our God is faithful. He tells us in 2 Corinthians 9:8, 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency [the state of contentment] in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (ESV) He will supply all of our needs so that we can, with Paul, say, I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content [how we live] (Philippians 4:11b ESV)
If people adopted grace giving as their guideline, they would see God’s grace at work in their lives—just like Paul described how God’s grace was at work in the lives of the folks in Macedonia. They would then be more inclined to consider giving not only according to their ability, but also beyond their ability: “according to their means…and beyond their means”.
What exactly is Paul talking about when he says that? Giving according to one’s means has to do with giving “out of that which one has”. We are not called to give what we do not have—no! Giving is to be in proportion to what we earn: 12For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have (v.12). It is not about a percentage, but a relative proportion that is important.
Finally, I want to point out that looking at our giving as grace giving is not an escape hatch. We must not use it as a way to justify giving less saying, “Oh, so I don’t have to give 10%? Cool. I’ll just give 6%”. No.
Grace giving is, like I said earlier, something that God works out in our hearts. We will know if we are bugging out—his Spirit will tell us. Adopting grace giving as our guide could very well result in our giving “beyond our ability” in the furtherance of the kingdom.