23 January, 2009

A Proper Attitude Toward Giving

In recent weeks I have said some things about giving at church that have caused some to ask questions of me about giving. By the way, that's a good thing folks. When we are asking questions, it means we are searching for the truth, right? This morning I was thinking about this and decided to write a bit about it and see if I can maybe help some folks out.

Paul addressed giving in several places, but I want to look just at one passage right now, found in 2 Corinthians the 8th chapter.

(2Co 8:1) And, brothers, we make known to you the grace of God which has been given among the churches of Macedonia
that in much testing of trouble, the overflowing of their joy, and the depth of their poverty, abounded to the riches of their generosity. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability; they gave willingly; with much beseeching, begging us that they might receive of us the grace and the fellowship of the ministry to the saints And not as we hoped, but first they gave themselves to the Lord, and to us through the will of God, for us to call on Titus, that even as he began before, so he would also complete this grace to you also. But even as you abound in everything, in faith, and in word, and in knowledge, and in all earnestness, and in your love to us; you should abound in this grace also. I do not speak according to command, but through the eagerness of others, and testing the trueness of your love. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, for your sakes He became poor, in order that you might be made rich through His poverty.

In this passage, Paul focuses in on the offerings, or collection for the Jerusalem church. The purpose of this offering was to give aid to the poverty-stricken saints back in Jerusalem. One thing that I believe is important to point out is that among the Churches in Macedonia which Paul was writing to was the church of Philippi, which we know from what is written in Acts and Philippians was going through a real time of trouble and was very poor. Make note, that even while they where themselves hurting, struggling and poor, they still were generous in sending gifts to Paul and in supporting the collection for others.

In verse 7 Paul tells the Corinthians (KJV) “see that you also excel in the grace of giving” and in the NKJV "But even as you abound in everything, in faith, and in in word, and in knowledge, and in all earnestness, and in your love to us; you should abound in this grace also."

One thing I often hear from people is that they cannot afford to give and that I should not expect them to give, and that they don't believe God expects them to give. Well, this passage clearly refutes that thinking. In fact, Paul challenges them to give, using the example of the givers in Macedonia. Paul gives a report of their surprisingly generous ways in which God has been working in those churches. In the passage above he reports how that the people in these churches have been facing fierce trials that pushed them to their limits, and how these trial exposed their true colors. No, his report is not about their failure, their wallowing in self-pity, but rather he reports the they were exceedingly happy even though they were very poor.

Say what? It seems that the pressure they were under triggered something unexpected... an outpouring of generosity and giving. He says that he was there and witnessed it with his own eyes as they gave whatever they could, even far more than what they could afford. He even says they asked for more opportunities to give so that they could help others. Wow! What would happen if this same spirit of giving was discovered and unlocked in the hearts of believers in our local churches?

I want to briefly share what I see in these verses:

First, they gave themselves to the Lord. You see before you can total give yourself to someone or something, you have to "buy into" and believe in them (or it) completely. I've heard it said this way... "before a farmer ever plants a seed in the ground, he has to believe in reaping." You see, if Jesus is not first in a person's life, resentment will come in and take over everything they do. That is why Jesus said "Seek first the Kingdom of God... and all these things shall be added unto you." When we put Jesus, his ways, his Word, and obey him FIRST, he will give us everything we need.

Second; these people understood that everything that they possessed was through God's grace... and God's grace alone. A farmer has to believe that as he sows, he will reap (or receive) even more. Why plant if there is not going to be a bigger return? Paul says that the way that he KNEW the people of Macedonia had totally given themselves to the Lord was that they actually begged him for the offering plate! Can you imagine?

The third thing I see in this passage is that their giving was not motivated by what they would receive, but rather they were motivated by what Christ had done for them. Some people only give for what they can give. With this wrong motive, we short-circuit the blessings that are ours!

The fourth thing is, they gave their best. Paul says that they gave more than they can afford. Most people will only give the leftovers... after they have carefully calculated what they might want (not need, but want) to buy, to eat, to live more comfortably. A farmer will take the best of his crop to use for seed for the next planting season. This insures another abundant crop. If they ate or sold the best, and put the leftover to seed, their harvest would continue to get worse each season, ensuring their own doom. See the parallel?

My last observation will sound like a repeat of the third, but it really is not. The people Paul is referring to were not "giving to get." Today, there are those who entice people to give more by using gimmicks, guilt and/or begging. The Bible tells us that we are blessed to be a blessing, not that we might reap and hoard more in our storehouse. We take in or receive that we might give out. That is the Biblical way. Once we get that issue settled, true giving simply falls in place for us. Continuing on in chapter 8 of 2 Corinthians, verses 10 and 11 in the Message reads:
"Here is my advice: it would be good for you to finish what you started a year ago. Last year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin doing it. Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have."

Have you ever noticed that everything that God created was meant to give? The sun gives light. The trees give oxygen and wood. The flowers give beauty and fragrance. Even God himself is a giver... he gave his only begotten Son! Let me finish today by saying that our giving is not to be determined by our debt to income ratio, nor by the stock market, the economy, or even our tax bracket. Our giving should be motivated by the grace which we have received from God.

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