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TEXT: II Corinthians 9:7
SUBJECT: Cheerful Givers!
God loves a cheerful giver.
Except for the 23rd Psalm, the Lord's Prayer, and John 3:16, no verse, no words in the Bible are better known or more loved than these. We all admire cheerful givers, but how many of us are cheerful givers?
Most of us are not. We either don't give at all, or what we do give, we give grudgingly or of necessity. We give because we have to; we give because, if we don't, we're going to feel guilty; and if people find out we don't give, we're going to look bad.
THE SIN OF RELUCTANT GIVING
Speaking of 'bad', reluctant giving not only looks bad: it is bad. Nobody was less of a money-grubber than our Lord Jesus, but it was He who said--
It is more blessed to give than to receive.
From this we have to infer that when we don't give, or don't give cheerfully, we lose blessings.
How many blessings we lose, or of what kind, only God knows, but it seems clear to me that 'not doing good' becomes a habit pretty quickly, and--given enough time--it becomes character. Given enough time, 'not giving' makes you a non-giver. It makes you a stingy person--and nobody approves of that!
San Francisco is considered a 'tolerant' city; there's no lifestyle not celebrated there, except for one: the life of a tightwad! You'll never see men marching up Broadway pinching their pennies and singing, 'Bah Humbug!' Even Pagans know generosity is good for you and stinginess is bad. If they don't always live up to their beliefs, we should.
Non-giving or giving without cheer is also bad for our witness. We tell our neighbors to trust Jesus while we trust our money. We tell them Christ will change their lives, but when it comes to money, our lives are unchanged. We tell them to get their priorities right, but if they peeked at our checkbooks, they'd see ours are the same as theirs.
God wants us to preach the Gospel to the lost, but that's not all He wants. He also wants us to adorn the Gospel by living as though it were true. As though the Gospel not only saves you when you die, but it also changes you before you die. Cheerful giving is a powerful argument for the truth of the Gospel.
Reluctant or a lack of giving also hurts the church. I don't have any more access to our records than you do. I have no idea who gives and who doesn't, or what anyone gives. But I do read the financial report, and it doesn't look good.
For twenty-five years, we gave more than we spent, in most years a lot more. I am very proud of this because we did it without any wealthy donors, with no fundraising, no gimmicks, little preaching on the subject--why, we don't even pass the offering plate!
The last three years have been less encouraging. We have spent more than we have given and the discrepancy is getting worse by the month--a lot worse.
What can we do about this? How do we become cheerful givers and support the ministry of our church?
I think I know the answer to this, but before I give it, I need to give and evaluate other answers.
The first of which is also the most popular and easy to understand: tithing. Advocates of tithing say everything belongs to God and to remind us of that He commands us to give ten percent of all we have to the church. If a man makes $2000 a week, he should give $200 a week. If his ten year old daughter makes $15 a week babysitting, she owes $1.50. They can give more than 10%, of course, and some should. But they cannot give less 10%, without incurring guilt.
This is what my father believed and practiced, what he taught me, and when I lived at home, what he insisted I do. I thank the Lord for his disciplined generosity--he often gave way more than a tithe--but I don't think he got his doctrine right. He always told me, 'Tithing was before the Law, in the Law, and after the Law'. Of course he was right.
What he didn't prove to my satisfaction is this: Jesus or His Apostles imposed this rule on the Church. Tithing is in the New Testament, but it is always a Jewish tithe, money to support the Temple, to pay the priests, to buy the sacrifices, and so on. With the coming of the New Covenant and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, there is no Temple, no priests, and no sacrifices.
Has the Lord has commanded us to give? Yes He has, but He has not commanded us to tithe; nowhere does the New Testament specify the amount or the percentage we ought to give.
If tithing is the most common way of financing the church, number two on the list is lying! I suppose you've heard or the Prosperity Gospel. There are many forms of it, some more subtle than others, but they all have two things in common: (1) God wants you to be rich, and (2) if you give to my church or ministry, you will be rich.
This can be heard every day on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, but they didn't invent it. When I was a boy, I heard Oral Roberts and Rev. Ike preach the same thing, and a long, long time before that, there were preachers saying, godliness is a means of gain. Paul pulls no punches describing them, I Timothy 6:5 as men of corrupt minds, destitute of the truth.
He doesn't say what these men were raising funds for. If some were lining their own pockets, others might have been building hospitals. But whatever their goals, the ends do not justify the means. There is no way we can bend the Scriptures to raise money. Let us do evil that good may come? God forbid.
A third way of increasing donations is fundraising, and at this point, let me underline innocent, honest, transparent fundraising. Is it wrong to have a church bake sale? To sponsor a bike-a-thon? To get our cute kids to sell 50 cent candy bars for 5 dollars?
Personally, I find all this very distasteful, but our liberty is not bound by my taste. Innocent fundraising is not forbidden in the Bible and its opposite is not commanded, so we're free to do it, if it's done wisely and in the fear of God.
It seems to me, however, that fundraising only works when it's seldom done. Nobody loves candy or kids more than I do, but even I get tired of buying candy bars at ten times their value, no matter how cute the kid is!
Whatever else we can say about church fundraising, one thing is sure: it is not the normal, Bible, way of raising funds for the Lord's work.
A fourth way to get people to give more is the Law. A preacher finds Bible verses than command giving (many do, in both Testaments). He then harps on the verses, making everyone ashamed of himself for not giving more than he does. Don't get me wrong: most of us ought to give more than we do--I ought to give more than I do----but we're never going to get there by commanding and threatening! It may work once or twice or for a few years, even, but...
What does Paul say about the Law? He says it doesn't change us. It shows us our duty and makes us feel guilty when we don't do it, but it does not empower us to do it.
Only the Gospel can do this. Only it secures obedience from the heart. Is the Gospel against the Law? That's how some people read Romans and Galatians, but they've got it wrong. Paul loves the Law and he wants us to keep it, and this is why he preaches the Gospel, and not the Law! Only the Gospel can make us doers of the Law and not hearers only. Because only the Gospel changes us from the inside-out.
Does the Gospel make us cheerful givers? If it remains a mere set of doctrines we've filed away somewhere in the back of our minds, no it doesn't. But when it is firmly believed and meditated on, it does. How? By taking away the things that make us non or reluctant givers. What are they?
THE LOVE OF MONEY
We start with the love of money. Now, I suppose a few people love money itself, would like to roll around in it naked or stare at it all day long. Most of us are not this way. We love money because it promises freedom and security.
Older people love security because we're afraid of the future, of medical bills, of assisted living, of being a burden to our children, of being left to the mercy of the state. Money offers a hedge between us and the indignities of sickness and old age. The problem is: the offer's no good. The billionaire Steve Jobs and my father died of the same pancreatic cancer--and my dad outlived him by more than twenty years! His billions did no more for him than my dad's thousands!
Paul says riches are uncertain. Wealthy people go broke, get sick, lose loved ones, and die. Like the rest of us.
What money cannot do for us, the Gospel can and does do for us. The believer's future is sure, whether he's got ten million dollars in the bank or a ten cents in his pocket!
Why? Because the Gospel says God loves us and will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. How do we know He loves us? The Cross says He does. How do we know He will take care of us in sickness and old age? It's the same Cross, Romans 8:32-
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He know also with Him freely give us all things?
Paul is arguing from the greater to the lesser: If God would give you His Son, He'll give you everything you need. That's what the Gospel says and where our security lies--not in uncertain riches, but in the Living God.
The other reason we love money so much is because it promises freedom. If I've got money, I can tell the boss where to get off. Or even better, I am the boss. But if I'm living from paycheck to paycheck, I've got to stand there and take it.
We all want power, but the only power money gives us is power over other people. What we need is power over ourselves. The Proverb says--He who rules his own spirit is mightier than he who takes a city. Only the Gospel gives us this power, only it enables us to resist temptation, say no to ourselves and to serve God and our neighbor.
We all say, if we had money, we'd help other people. David Bowie called himself a Millionaire Communist. But if he sympathizes with the working man and wants to make his lot better, why doesn't he live on Social Security and give his money away? He and John Lennon and others of their ilk could support a whole lot of poor people on what they have. Why don't they do it? It's easy to say, 'Because they're hypocrites' and there's probably some truth to that, but the real reason is, they want the power and freedom money offers--as we all do--until we find power and freedom are in the Sign of the Cross not in the Dollar Sign!
The Gospel frees us from the love of money by giving us the power to live well and the security to die well. Once we get that into our heads, we become cheerful givers.
THE LOVE OF THINGS
If some people are really into money, others are more into the things money buys, little things like gourmet coffee or big things like new cars, swimming pools, or expensive vacations. These people are not stingy, but they still don't give (or give much) to the Lord because they never have any money.
Why do so many people spend more than they make and, so, never have anything to put in the offering box? One reason is because they have to prove themselves. Owning a home means you're a man! Expensive furniture means you have good taste. Cool clothes means you're not a loser.
There's a theological word for this: justification. We try to justify ourselves by the nice things we have, to prove we belong, that we're right, and so on.
The Gospel says you don't need to justify yourself, because God has already justified you! In Christ, you're accepted, you're in the right, you're somebody to God. Once you realize this, you don't have to prove yourself by the things you own. And because you're satisfied living within your means, you can become a cheerful giver.
A third reason we don't give or give much is thoughtlessness. We're not against giving, and somewhere in the back of our minds we know the church has financial needs, but it stays in the back of our minds. Giving doesn't occur to us. We think about taxes, the mortgage, the water bill and the car payment, but seldom or never about the church.
The Gospel makes us thoughtful by taking our minds off ourselves and onto God and His cause in the world. When the Gospel becomes important to us men who preach the Gospel become important to us. The church becomes important to us; keeping up the church building becomes important to us; missions and charitable agencies become important to us.
Hectoring people about giving will raise funds for a week or a month or maybe a year or two, but only the Gospel will make people give their whole live and give with a smile on their faces, thankful for the privilege of contributing to the Mission of God in the world.
A fourth reason we don't give with good cheer is bad habits. We're not used to giving; even if we've been in church our whole lives, we've never gotten into the routine of giving. This goes double for people who come into the church later in life.
You likely agree with today's sermon and you're committing to do something about it. The problem is, by next Sunday, you'll slide back into the rut of what you've always done.
The Gospel breaks the power of bad habits. Bad habits define who we were in Adam. But the Gospel takes us out of Adam and puts us into Christ. This means, the habits we picked up from our parents or on our own or from our society can no longer define and control us. Jesus said--
If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
This is what He does by His Gospel. He redeems us from our old ways and to a New Life in Christ.
The Number One cause for little or no giving is worry. Not everyone hoards his money or squanders it on prodigal living. But nearly all of us worry about our money, whether we'll be able to make the rent this week, whether we'll have anything to fall back on if the plant closes down. These are real possibilities.
We're not the first people to face them. Jesus lived in a time and place much poorer than ours. In His day, people were not worried about sending their kids to college or having enough to live on when they retire. They were worried about things like food and drink and clothing--real necessities, the things you can't live without.
What did He say to the hungry people with holes in their shoes? He said, Trust God! This sound rather insensitive to our ears--and this is not all He said, of course--but He said it and He meant it.
Why should they trust God if they don't know where their next meal is coming from? He tells them why: Look at the birds and flowers. If your Father cares about sparrows and dresses up the flowers more beautifully than Solomon's finest, He cares about you and He'll give you what you need when you need it.
The promise was true to them as well as to us, but we have more to go on than they did. They had to see God's love for them in nature. We have that, too, but we also have something better, surer than pretty flowers and birds. We have the Cross--
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
If God really loves us as the Bible says He does, as the flowers and birds say He does, as the Cross says He does, we can support the church generously, and sleep at night as well. But God does love us and His love dissolves our worry and frees us to become what Christ was and is--a cheerful giver.
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