“The Heart of Giving”
2 Corinthians 8:1-9
November 11, 2001
Giving generously is above all a matter of the heart.
I. The grace of giving generously (2 Corinthians 8:1-4)
II. Comes from a heart given to Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:5-7)
III. Which imitates the grace of Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:8-10)
MessageThere seem to be two kinds of preachers in the world: those who talk a lot about giving, and those who hardly mention it. For the last nine years I have more or less been the second kind of preacher. But the chance to buy the buildings in Friendswood has really got me thinking about giving, and I wanted to take the opportunity to share my understanding of what the real issues are when you get ready to give.
Preaching on giving always evokes strong feelings. C. H. Spurgeon used to preach once a year "for his orphans." Many would come to hear the famous preacher and an offering would be received. After one of these meetings one of his superspiritual listeners accosted him saying, "Why, Mr. Spurgeon, I thought you preached for souls and not for money!" Spurgeon replied gravely Why, Mr. So_and_So, normally I do preach for souls. But my orphans can't eat souls and if they did, brother, it would take at least four the size of yours to give one a square meal!
I assure you that no matter what you do in response to this message, I wont accuse you of having a size-two soul. Nonetheless, I do feel very strongly that giving has little to do with your material contributions or the size of your gift, and everything to do with your soul, everything to do with your heart, and that if your heart is right on this matter your gifts will be also. To show that, Id like to look at 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, which is the beginning of one of the greatest and most extended passages on giving in the New Testament. Paul talks about giving for two chapters, but the heart of what he says is that giving generously is above all a matter of the heart.
Lets read the text and then look at our giving, our hearts, and our Lords example. 2 Corinthians 8:1 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5And 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. 6So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7But just as 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. 8I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
I. The grace of giving generously (2 Corinthians 8:1-4)
Verses 1 to 4 show us that the people of the churches of Macedonia had the gift of giving generously, despite their circumstances. They are an example to the Corinthians. Remember that Corinth was in Achaea, the southern part of what we call Greece, south of Macedonia, where the cities of Philippi and Thessalonica were located. Paul is saying those churches to the north, praise God theyve really excelled at giving. They have given to Pauls fund raising campaign for the famine-stricken churches of Judea. His purpose here is to stimulate the Corinthians to do their part. The example of the Macedonians is a compelling one: we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. You could almost translate it we want you to know the generosity that God has given them.
Their generosity is dramatic: Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. Their circumstances were not positive economically: they were in extreme poverty. Many converts in the early church were slaves and laborers. Not just poor, they were extremely poor - Paul calls it deep poverty, bathos, a word used for the depths of the sea: bathysphere or bathyscaph. They had little to live on, little to give. Further they themselves, according to the verse, were undergoing extreme trials. These may have included economic persecution - taking away their goods - which was common in those days.
Dr. Roy L. Laurin tells about a Christian businessman who had gone to Korea on a visit. As he was traveling about he noticed in a field beside the road a very strange scene. A boy about eighteen years old was pulling a plow, and holding the handles was an older man, evidently the boy's father. This tourist took a snapshot of it and said to his guide, "What a strange thing that is. I suppose they must be very poor people." The guide, who was a Christian, said, "Yes, they are poor. Some months ago, when the church to which these people belong was erecting a new building, all the members were asked to contribute something. This father and his boy wanted to give but they felt they had nothing. Then it dawned upon them that they could give their only ox. So they killed the ox, cut it up, sold the meat in the market and gave all the proceeds of it to the building fund of the church. This spring they have had to pull the plow themselves." The businessman said, "That must have been a most remarkable sacrifice for them." The guide said, "They did not think so. They thought rather that they were fortunate to have an ox to give."
By the standards of Korea, Afghanistan or Russia we Americans, we here at Trinity have much to give: by those standards we well off. Yet by the standards of our culture few of us are affluent. The individual families of this church dont have a lot in the way of assets or savings or investments. Its easy to look around and say this family has these expenses, this family has those unexpected circumstances, this family is just now getting out of debt and to think we dont have what it takes to raise this money. But the example Paul gives us is an encouragement because it says to us even out of extreme poverty it is possible to be richly generous.
One of the keys to this is that it sprang from their overflowing joy: despite the trials, despite the poverty, they were filled with joy. The letter to the Philippians, written to one of these giving churches, testifies to the joy and its source: Rejoice in the Lord always! Theyd found Jesus, and had not grown indifferent to their salvation, but continued to find overflowing joy in Him, which overflowed in generosity. You cant see it in the English versions, but their overflowing joy is the same Greek word as their overflowing generosity. The two overflowed from the same source.
What did this generosity look like? Verse 3: For I testify that they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability. We call this sacrificial giving. Here is as much as reason tells me I can give. If Im going to put food on our plates, make the house payment, pay the medical bills, I can only afford this much. But in faith Im going to go beyond that and trust God to supply what in human strength I cant. They gave what they could, and more. They went out on a limb, sawed the limb off behind them and trusted God to hold them up. C.S. Lewis put it well when he said, "I'm afraid biblical charity is more than merely giving away that which we could afford to do without anyway." The Macedonian believers were sold out for Jesus. They gave beyond what they were able, and it wasnt even for their own churches, but to feed the poor of other churches far away.
And they didnt give under pressure. Look at the end of verse 3, it was entirely on their own. New American Standard says they gave of their own accord. This is a key thought that Paul will develop in the next chapter. Giving is to be voluntary not mandatory. Even when sacrificial, giving is to be from the overflow of the heart not as a result of high pressure tactics by me or anybody else, except maybe the Holy Spirit. Chapter 9 says it this way: Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Thats the rule - give only what the Holy Spirit makes you feel good, cheerful about giving. Give not until it hurts, but until it feels good. I can testify that the opportunity to be generous does feel good. When you take what could have been used on yourself and give it to someone else, with the Lords guidance, you reap a reward that cannot be expressed in dollars and cents.
If your heart is not overflowing with joy anymore, maybe you ought to prime the pump with generosity. There is a story about a thirsty hiker who couldnt find water, until he came to an abandoned house. There he found a pump, and proceeded to pump with all his strength, to no avail. Then he saw a small jug with a cork at the top and a note saying that the water in the jug must be poured into the pump to prime it. At first the thirsty man questioned this, but when he followed directions he pumped all he needed. Before going his way, he refilled the jug so the next thirsty person could have some as well. If you prime the pump with generosity you will almost certainly reap the benefit of overflowing joy. Thats why the Macedonians literally begged for the privilege of giving sacrificially to the work of the kingdom.
II. Comes from a heart given to Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:5-7)
Now some of you here today will say to me I dont think so. I dont think it would bring me much joy at all, but only greater headaches to give away what Im using to keep my nose just barely above water. It wouldnt be responsible: it wouldnt be joyful. Maybe youre right - you have to give what you have decided in your own heart. But first you need to examine your heart and see if it is fully given to the Lord. Verses 5-7: 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. 6So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7But just as 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.
There are apparently two types of givers. One gives under compulsion, ungenerously, with an eye fixed on his or her self interest - the circumstances that make it inconvenient to give. Paul apparently expected this kind of giving from these young believers in Macedonia. But thats not what he got. Instead he was surprised and pleased to note that they gave themselves first to the Lord and only then did they give to the cause.
The grace of giving generously comes from a heart given to Jesus. Paul is saying that these were radical, sold-out believers, totally devoted followers of Christ. They had given themselves to the Lord, which is easy to say but hard to do. Jesus said If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Paul I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him.
Giving yourself to the Lord is giving up on yourself and placing your entire faith and trust in his goodness, which you have seen in the sacrifice of Jesus. It is jumping out of the burning building into his arms, knowing that if he doesnt catch you, you will fall. It is finding rescue by making yourself entirely vulnerable to him, entirely dependant on him. It is as if you were driving along a dark, slippery, winding, rain swept road with ditches full of water on either side, and you suddenly decided to take your hands off the wheel and let someone you cant even see drive the car.
For most this dependence on Jesus makes it easier to be generous. Having given ourselves to him we give him every possession as well. For some, though, the situation is reversed: we must first set aside every possession and the security that they bring. The classic case is the rich young ruler. One thing you lack, Jesus said. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. Jesus never said this to anyone else, but he saw in this particular persons heart that he could never entirely depend on Jesus if he still had these possessions to depend on. Jesus may, at times, call us to generosity so that he can have the total attention and the total devotion of our hearts.
A generous heart is always a heart given entirely to Jesus. It happened one time after a pastor appealed in church for a worthy cause, that a certain woman came to him and handed him a check for $50, asking if her gift was satisfactory. The pastor quickly replied, "If it represents true faith." There was a moment of soul_searching thought and she asked to have the check returned. She left with it and a day of two later she returned handing the pastor a check for $5,000 and asked the same question, "Is my gift satisfactory?" The pastor gave the same answer as before, "If it represents true faith." After a few moments of hesitation she took back the check and left. Later in the week she came again with a check. This time it was for $50,000. As she placed it in the pastor's hand, she said, "After earnest, prayerful thought, I have come to the conclusion that this gift does represent faith and I am happy to give it."
So the question we need to ask ourselves as we consider giving is: have I first given myself to the Lord? From Gods point of view the giving of our possessions is way secondary to the giving of ourselves. The two greatest commandments identified by Jesus are commands to give ourselves away: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. The standard of the Christian life is selflessness. Have you given yourselves to the Lord? Thats the question Paul asks the Corinthians as he turns the discussion back to them in verses 6 and 7. You told Titus that you would be doing this giving. You voted unanimously to support this project. Now, excel at it. He says just as 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.
The Corinthian church had lots of problems, but it also had a lot going for it. Paul wanted them to build on their strengths, to add another strength, to excel in this grace of giving or abound in this the grace. What Paul means is that like everything else in the Christian life, the freedom and ability to give is itself a gift from God. God has by grace allowed them to be generous, no matter how dire their worldly circumstances, and God has by grace allowed them to give themselves first to him. So the Corinthians are called to exercise Gods gift of generosity with abundance.
But it has to come from a heart first given to the Lord. The heart that is given to the Lord will be on fire for Christ, and that fire will break out into generosity. There is an ancient account in the writings of a Roman historian of a forest in the Pyrenees, the Italian mountains, that experienced a tremendous forest fire. As the heat of this fire penetrated the soil a pure stream of silver gushed forth from the heart of the earth, and thus was revealed for the first time the existence of rich silver lodes that were celebrated throughout Roman history. In the same way if we let the melting influence of the cross be felt, let the fire of the Gospel into our hearts, then the ample stores of riches Christ has given us will flow from their hidden recesses.
III. Which imitates the grace of Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:8-10)
The grace of giving generously comes from a heart given to Jesus which learns to imitate his grace. Look at verses 8 and 9: I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Paul has just given them a command to give, but he softens it by saying that it is not really a command. It is an exhortation to search their own hearts - to test their sincerity by comparing it to the earnestness of others. But the ultimate example of giving is the giving Jesus did. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor. Jesus gave everything for the sake of redemption, for unrepentant sinners, for his church which he loved even before he enabled it to come into being, for his promised kingdom. The hymn says Jesus gave it all, all to him I owe. Thats exactly what Paul is saying as well.
Notice that Jesus giving was an act of grace. The same word that is used of our giving is used of his giving. The difference is that our giving comes as a result of his grace, whereas his giving was his grace in action. We didnt deserve it when he gave himself for us, whereas he deserves it and more when we give ourselves to him. He is the source of grace and giving. Were imitators and recipients and responders.
Notice, second, that he was rich, well-to-do. How was Jesus rich? He was Gods agent in creation, and so he owns everything by right of having made it, as a painter owns the paintings he creates. Second, he was rich in glory. Just before his crucifixion he prayed that his followers would see that glory. John 17:24 Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you gave me before the creation of the world because you loved me. He was rich in creation, in glory, and as God he was also rich in majesty and honor and praise.
But, Paul says, for our sake he became poor. He gave it all up, not just the glory and honor and wealth that was intrinsically his, but his very life. We read Philippians earlier: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be held on to, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross! Jesus gladly gave it all - even his purity.
And it was nonsense giving. It made no sense for the pure and spotless lamb to offer himself as a sacrifice for polluted and defiled sinners who didnt even want to be rescued, confirmed rebels who would rather die than submit to God. I mean, wouldnt you think it nonsense if George W. Bush volunteered to go to Afghanistan and be killed by a laser guided bomb so that Osama bin Laden could live and become a great world leader. You would think that was nonsense, wouldnt you?
But where is the difference? That is what Jesus did. No wonder Paul says that the crucifixion is a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Gentiles. Gods wisdom in giving his only Son is foolish giving by any standards but his own.
Some of you, in talking among yourselves, may have come up with some nonsense ways of giving. Lets sell our house and give the proceeds. Lets cash in our 401(k). Lets give what we would have spent on Christmas. Nonsense. But maybe not. God is the champion at nonsense giving. Remember that these two chapters dont instruct you to give what you have decided in your mind, but in your heart - the Greek makes that distinction. You give what your heart can give without grudging, not what your reason tells you is the right amount.
Youll say to me - the situation with Jesus was different. Jesus knew he was going to rise again. And he has it all back now - glory and honor and majesty and riches. His giving wasnt permanent. When I give it away its going to have a long term impact on me and my family. Well, yea. But is it really different? In the really long run havent we been promised the same glory, the same eternity that he has? In fact, in eternity he is the only one who is going to have scars from his self-giving.
Even in the short run almost all the giving passages have specific promises of Gods care. Luke 6:38 says Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. Philippians 4:19 says My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Later in Corinthians Paul promises that He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion. Whether we think of time or of eternity we have tremendous promises that what we sacrifice now will be generously paid back.
Now Im not saying that all Christians who give will get earthly prosperity. You know I dont believe that. What I am saying is that all Christians who give get joy now, daily care from their Father, and the promise of eternal reward - eternal life spent together with God. For me the reward I want is his well done. Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master. Isnt that what you want too? How faithful are you being with the few things he has put you in charge of?
The grace of giving generously comes from a heart given to Jesus which imitates the generosity of Jesus, who gave everything for us. Its in the glaring light of this truth that you and I are called to prayerfully consider what we will give toward the purchase of the Friendswood buildings.
First, we have to ask ourselves do I know at a heart level what a wonderful thing Jesus has done for me? And if the answer to that is anything like yes then we need to ask have I given myself first to him? Is my life not my own but his? Paul says I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord Are you sold out, radical, fully devoted to Jesus? Only after the answer to that question is yes or boy, I sure want to be can you responsibly consider the question of what overflowing generosity looks like for you.
Giving generously is above all a matter of the heart. You may only be able to give the widows two pennies. But if you decide that, in the context of a heart wholly given to Jesus, then that is generous giving. You might be able to pay for this whole building from petty cash - though I really dont think anybody here could do that - but if you could, and did it without having a heart wholly devoted to Jesus, it would be meaningless, like the giving of the Pharisees.
A missionary returned home, where he announced a collection for foreign missions. A good friend said to him, "Very well, Andrew, seeing it is you who ask, I'll give five hundred dollars." "No," said the missionary, "I cannot take the money since you give it seeing it is me." His friend saw the point and said, "You are right, Andrew. Here is a thousand dollars, seeing it is the Lord Jesus who asks."
Id like to give you a few moments to think and pray about all this. Lets bow in prayer, and Im going to guide it by simply asking these three questions, and giving you a minute to consider each of them.