Welcome to week 5 in our series on the theme of money. If you missed the first 4, they are all on our website. We have looked at what money is, earning money, spending money, and not having enough money. And today, we come to the theme of giving.
If you’re visiting us today, please do bear with us. We don’t talk about money often. We are far more interested in celebrating what God has given us. The money we give really is not what we’re about.
Many people today think that the church is just after their money. So many churches appear to have endless fundraising campaigns, and the sneaking suspicion is out there that our only interest in people is as potential new sources of funding. Nothing could be further from the truth. But the danger of even one sermon on the theme of giving is that it reinforces that misconception.
But all the same, the money we give is part of our response to what God gives us. Which means that money in general, and giving in particular, are subjects that crop up from time to time. As I say, if you are visiting today, please bear with us. We really don’t want your money. We’re just thrilled that you’re here. Bear with us, but please don’t switch off. We are going to be talking about God’s generosity to us. That is so marvellous, that I would love you to hear all about it.
Let’s start right there. I’ve got three things to say this morning, and God’s generosity to us is the place to begin.
Give motivated by what Jesus gave us
So here’s our first heading: Give motivated by what Jesus gave us. Give motivated by what Jesus gave us.
Please turn to 2 Corinthians chapter 8. It’s on page 1163. Paul is instructing the church in Corinth about how to arrange a collection for the poor Christians in Judea. And here is the motivation for them to give. Verse 9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
The verse starts with Jesus the rich. Rich beyond all splendour. Nobody is wealthier than the eternal Son of God, in heaven for all eternity: the maker, owner and ruler of everything. So what did Jesus the rich do? He became poor. He became a human being. The Living God reduced to the size of a tiny baby. Born into a poor family. No home. No job. A travelling life. Ending in a humiliating death on a Roman cross.
Why did the richest person there has ever been embrace such poverty so willingly? Paul tells us: yet for your sake he became poor. He did it for us.
The question is: how does Jesus’s move to poverty help us? If a wealthy person in Kemsing chooses to become poor, that’s all very touching, but it doesn’t do anything for the rest of us.
It doesn’t, unless they gave all their money away to give it to us. To make us rich. Now look again at verse 9:… Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. That’s exactly what happened.
Jesus is death was not the pointless waste of a young life, or an empty show of sympathy. It was the moment when he took upon himself all the wrong things done by everyone who would trust him. People past, present, and future. The wrong things we do leave us spiritually bankrupt before God. The reason Jesus became so poor – as he came to this earth and then died – was because he took our spiritual bankruptcy upon himself. He paid our debts. So that we, through his poverty, might become rich.
That is what Jesus gave us. And that is the motivation Paul gives the Corinthian Christians to give.
Imagine again that some wealthy person in Kemsing chooses to downsize for your personal benefit. They give you their large house. It’s yours to enjoy, and they rent somewhere in are far less desirable neighbourhood that is little bigger than a squat. Extraordinary kindness. Unbelievable generosity.
And then, one day, they knock on your door. A friend has just come round to see them. Could they possibly borrow two mugs, some milk for some tea, and a packet of biscuits. You wouldn’t even hesitate long enough to think about saying no.
Here is the Lord Jesus. He is given up the riches of heaven, and made himself unbelievably poor, so that we might be rich towards God. And then, one day, the opportunity presents itself to give something to him that he asks from us. If we have truly grasped all he did for us, we wouldn’t even think of saying no.
But who do we give to? To whom do we express our gratitude for all that Jesus did for us?
In Old Testament times, God asks his people to give to support the sacrificial system. They gave animals and grain for the sacrifices. They gave a tenth of all their land produced, to support those whose whole lives were dedicated to keeping that sacrificial system going.
The individual sacrifices are no longer needed. Jesus has offered himself once and for all time. He has replaced the sacrifices. And he has replaced the Levites too, as the one we give our offerings too. It’s in Hebrews 7. The argument there is a bit involved, and we won’t go into it this morning. Have a look later, and ask me if you’re puzzled. In a nutshell, we see the Levites defer to the person of Jesus. Indirectly, they recognise that he is the one who should be receiving the tenth of everything. So we give to Jesus himself.
But how do we give to Jesus? What does he possibly need that we could give him?
The answer to that comes in a 1 Corinthians chapter 9. The Apostle Paul dedicated his life to the work of spreading the good news of Jesus. He wanted as many people as possible to know of the kindness and generosity of Jesus to us. To become rich.
He explains in 1 Corinthians chapter 9 that he is entitled to be supported financially by the Christian church as he does so. He chooses not to use this entitlement. Paul continued to work at the same time as telling others of Jesus. He made tents, as it happened. But that was his choice. If the Christian church wants to free people up to spend their time spreading the good news, then it’s only right that they make it financially possible for those people to do that.
Paul uses an Old Testament illustration to make his point. God forbade his people to muzzle farm animals while they were a working, to stop them eating. If the animals were going to work to produce food for their owners, it was only right that those animals got to eat as well.
That’s how we give back to Jesus. We are those who have enjoyed Jesus’ generosity to us. That should drive us to want as many others to experience this for themselves. But running a church that is organised to spread that good news, and setting aside people’s time to do the work of talking about Jesus, costs money. As we give to support that, we are giving other people the opportunity to hear of Jesus, and there is nothing that he likes more than that.
We give: motivated by what Jesus gave us.
Give according to what God gives us
That’s why we give. But how much do we give? Well that’s our second heading: Give according to what God gives us. Give according to what God gives us.
We have already said that in Old Testament times, the people gave a tithe. One tenth of all they received. That ensured that those who had been blessed by God with a lot, gave a lot. But it also made sure that even those who only have little still had something that they could give.
Not that the people always gave their tithe. The last book to be written in the Old Testament is the book of the prophet Malachi. By his day, the people had virtually stopped paying their tithes altogether. God’s analysis was that this amounted to daylight robbery. He accused the people of robbing him. The tithe was rightfully his, but the people were withholding it from him. They had to be challenged by God to give him what they ought to give.
That was how much the people ought to give in Old Testament times. But what about now? How much should we give? What happens to tithing in the New Testament? Three things happen:
Firstly, our relationship to the law has changed. Romans chapter 6 says that we are not under law, but under grace. The law in the Old Testament was the law for Old Testament Israel. It’s not our law. We are led by God’s Spirit. Which doesn’t mean we can live as we choose. Galatians chapter 5 says that we should use our freedom to serve God. And as we work out how to live to please God, we still need the law. It tells us in some detail what pleases God, and why.
So to come back to the question of giving, how much do we give? The answer is that it up to us. God no longer treats us like children. We can decide for ourselves. But we don’t shut our Bibles as we do that, and the Old Testament law of 10% remains a very useful guide to start with.
It shouldn’t feel like a tax. Income tax: 20%. VAT: 20%. National Insurance: 12%. That’s already over 50%, and now the church wants another 10%. Outrageous. No. It’s not that. It’s more like saving up for something that we are delighted to set money aside for. I won’t have that extra coffee out, because I’m looking forward to our summer holiday. Money we choose to set aside. Where we decide the amounts.
Which brings me to the second thing to say. God’s grace is greater than it ever was.
The people of God in Old Testament times were wonderfully blessed. But the blessings we enjoy as the people of our Lord Jesus Christ leave the blessings of the old era in dust. Forgiven by his sacrifice of himself once for all, the Spirit living in the hearts of each and every one of us to change us from within, membership of the family of God from the greatest of us to the least, and a sure and certain hope that Jesus is coming back to give us all that he has promised. These are blessings that Old Testament people only dreamt of.
Now go back to the Old Testament tithe. It established the principle that our giving should be proportional to the blessings we have received. For them, that meant giving 10% of everything. If God has blessed us so much more richly than them, that might suggest that 10 per cent is really a minimum for us.
But before I give the impression that the amount we are to give is going up and up and up, and before our hearts start to sink, there is a third thing we need to say. We are to give only as much as we can give gladly.
This comes from 2 Corinthians chapter 9, just over the page from where we were a moment ago. Verse 7: “each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Each of us needs to make the decision for ourselves. We are not under law. So we must not feel under compulsion to give more than we want to. We must not end up in a position where we are giving reluctantly, somehow wishing we didn’t have to give what we do. Instead, we ask: How much can I give up and still enjoy the fact that I’m doing it? My giving is part of my grateful, joyful response to all that Jesus has given to me. How much can I give, without losing the joy and the gratitude in doing so?
I wouldn’t want to overstate this, but the Greek word for cheerful sounds just like our English word hilarious. God loves a hilarious giver. Give only as much as you can that you do it hilariously. With a smile on your face. With a belly-laugh as you write the cheque. And stop before it becomes something you resent.
So how much do we give? In Old Testament times, it was a fixed 10%. We’re not under that law. But we still need it as a guide as we live to please God in the power of the Spirit. If anything we are more blessed, and should be giving more. But only to the degree that we can do so cheerfully.
And obviously, if you’re married, the amount you give has to be a joint decision. If that limits the amount you can give, then that’s the way it is. Nothing we are saying here is designed to undermine the command that we love our husbands and wives.
Give according to what God gives us.
Plan to give
Why do we give? We are motivated by what Jesus gave us. How much do we give? According to what God gives us.
Lastly, how do we give? By planning to do so. Plan to give.
Please turn back a few pages in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians chapter 16. Page 1157. We had this read a few moments ago. The church in Corinth was going to give money to alleviate poverty in Judea, where there had been a famine. But here’s how they were to do it. Verse 2: “on the first day of every week, each one. If you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up.”
The first day of the week is Sunday. This collection was part of their worship of God. The money would not be sent to Jerusalem for some time yet. But each of them was to give a sum of money every week, setting it aside as part of their worship gathering. That way, when Paul arrived to take the money, there wouldn’t be the embarrassment that it wasn’t ready.
Not only do we have the principle that our giving is part of our worship. We also have the principle that our giving needs to be planned and regular. It won’t happen by accident.
My suggestion is that we each sit down once a year, the same time as you plan your other budgets and finances, and decide what you wish to give. Having said which, if you’ve not thought about this in the past 12 months, then a review is probably overdue. We’ve been thinking about this subject in church for a few weeks, and so the next two or three weeks would be a good time to plan your own giving.
This is no different from planning for a holiday or a wedding. You know when the date is: its next August. That’s 18 months away, and you’ve got £5000 to raise by then. If you don’t, it won’t happen, so you set aside £300 each month. What you don’t do, is wait until the end of the month to see if there’s anything left. And if there is, you wait a further month just in case next month proves to be a bit more expensive. And if there’s still anything left you put it aside. If you do don’t like that, it would never happen. So instead, you put your 300 pounds into a different savings account, where you can touch it, and you do it as soon after payday as possible.
It’s how we save up for weddings, for holidays, for other expensive things that we look forward to. We know what we have to do to make sure the money doesn’t get spent on other things. And Paul is telling the Corinthian Christians that this is the way they should do their church giving. Set it aside, as early as possible after payday, week by week, to make sure it happens.
This is why a number of people in the church choose to do their giving by monthly standing order. It make sure that the money they intend to give actually goes. But whichever way you do it, unless we plan to give it won’t happen.
Jesus has given so much to us. Which drives us to give back to him. That others may share in his kindness. Some of us can give a lot, some of us can only give a little. But we all need to plan.
We must finish where we began. The Christian faith is the message of the generosity, the goodness, the kindness of God. Where Christian churches have given the impression that our primary interest is in what people might give to us, we must repent. God’s kindness far exceeds any of our imaginations. And when we give, it is as a response to that, us giving that others may know this good news, this good God.