TEXT: 2 Corinthians 8 - 9
TOPIC: LIVING AND GIVING ABUNDANTLY
Pastor Bobby Earls, First Baptist Church, Center Point, Alabama
November 12, 2006 (Message based upon Rick Warren’s sermon by a similar title)
2 Corinthians. Two chapters -- 2 Corinthians 8 and 2 Corinthians 9.
As we prepare for what we hope will be a Great Day next Sunday, I want to share with you today along this topic: Living and Giving Abundantly.
I think I'm on more mailing lists than anybody in the whole world. I probably get four or five requests every day for financial support. Everybody wants money. I have to admit I've been really reluctant to teach in our church about giving for the fact that I've seen so many people manipulated and pressured and hurt and burned by high powered sales pitches and sob stories and manipulation of your emotions and things like that, that I don't think God wants anything to do with. Today I want to simply look at what the Bible says about giving.
It's a fact of life that the essence of Christianity is giving. The Bible says that God is a giver. The Bible says "God so loved the world that He gave." When God wants us to give, all He wants us to do is become like Himself. God is a giver. He's given to us. He wants us to learn to be givers.
The word "give" is used over 1500 times in the Bible. But when we look at what Jesus has to say and what Paul has to say, we discover that Jesus was much more interested in the motive of giving, not the amount of giving. In other words, He was much more interested in why we give, not how much. He's much more interested in the quality of the giver instead of the quantity of the gift. He's saying attitude in giving is much more important than amount.
Giving is a responsibility. But more than that, it's an opportunity. I want to share with you three reasons why the Bible says we're to give. Then I think you'll see how things like manipulation and pressure and guilt motivation don't really have any place in the concept of Christian stewardship.
The Bible teaches that our giving is to be a response to God three ways:
It's to be a response for what God has done for me in the past.
It's to be a response for what God is doing for me in the present.
It's to be a response for what God will do for me in the future.
That's it. Not for other reasons, not for gain, not for building up my ego, not to get my name on a little plaque, not because I feel guilty if I don't give, but for those reasons.
2 Corinthians 8:7. Paul is talking about giving. He says, "Just as you excel in everything else, 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." God wants us to grow in giving, as much as you grow in faith, in love, in knowledge. He wants us to grow in giving, too.
I. GIVING ALLOWS US TO EXPRESS APPRECIATION FOR PAST BLESSINGS
That's the first reason and it's the greatest reason to give. God says giving is gratitude for yesterday's blessings. It's the highest motive. Thankfulness. 2 Corinthians 9:7 "Each man is to give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion. [He says you shouldn't give because you're pressured to give or because you feel guilty.] For God loves a cheerful giver. ... This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but it's also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God." The number one reason we give is out of gratitude for past blessings.
We know that God is the source of all that we have. He's the source of our life. He's the source of our abilities. He's the source of all the natural resources. He's the source of everything. We give because God first gave to us.
2 Corinthians 8:9 "For through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, though he was rich, yet for your sakes, He became poor so that you through His poverty might become rich." God says we give because God first gave to us. Jesus said "Freely have ye received, now freely give."
This past week, my little girl turned 21. November 7 was her birthday. What did we do to express to her our love and appreciation? We sent her a gift. Why did we do that? Because giving a gift is the most practical way to express our love and appreciation.
When we give to God, we express our appreciation to God. We're saying, "God, I love You. I care about You. I'm grateful for all You've done." In 2 Corinthians 8:8 Paul says, "For I'm not commanding you. But I want you to test the sincerity of your love." God says our giving proves our love. No matter what we say, what we do with our money tells what we really value in life. God says, put your money where your mouth is. The first reason we give is not because we're under pressure but simply because we want to express appreciation for God's goodness to us.
II. GIVING ALLOWS ME TO EXAMINE MY MOTIVATION IN THE PRESENT
Giving allows me to examine my motivation in the present. It helps me to look beyond my own needs, my own self. By nature, man is basically self-centered. We have a tendency to only think, "What's in it for me?"
What giving does is help us examine our motivation. Periodically, I need a values check up. I need to look at my motives and my values and my priorities and see, Am I just living for myself or Is there somebody else that I'm living for, something else. When I sit down and I write out my giving check, that is a reminder to me. It is a reminder to me that, one, God's the source of it all. And two, I'm just a manager of it. It's a constant reminder. Giving helps me express appreciation for my past but more than that, it helps me clarify my priorities and values in the present. It helps me examine my motivations.
The Bible says the second reason we give is to prevent selfishness.
It helps us to keep our priorities in balance. That's what Deuteronomy 14:23 says the purpose of tithing is to teach us to put God first. Matthew 6:33 says "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these other things will be added unto you." Put your priorities in place.
When Penny and I got married, one of the first things we decided was that no matter what else happened, God would get paid first. Because He's number one in our lives.
Some people struggle with the concept of tithing -- tithing is giving the first ten percent of our income back to God. Some people pray to God and they say something like this, “God, are You sure You need this ten percent more than I need it?"
Listen, if you’re one of the people who pray that prayer, let me help you. This is what God would say back to you. "You're missing the whole point. I don't need your money. It's not your money that I want. What I want is what it represents. Your money represents your life. That's what I want."
God does not want your money. What He wants is what it represents. He wants you. He wants your life. He wants you to commit yourself to Him. Then you can give in gratitude.
Notice this is what Paul's talking about. He's bragging on these people and their generous giving. In 2 Corinthians 8:5 he says they did it in the right way. "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." First they gave themselves, their lives, to God. Then they gave their offering to help out other people. That's the priority. God says, "Don't worry about giving Me your money if I don't have your life. I don't need your money." We give not because God needs it but because we need to give. Because of what it does to us. It keeps us from being selfish. It keeps us from being scrooges, from being self-centered and thinking we're our own God and the whole world revolves around us.
Luke 16:11 "And if you are not faithful with money, God will not entrust to you true riches." Stewardship and spirituality are absolutely linked together. He's saying one influences the other.
I've talked to a lot of Christians who don't understand why they're not growing, why they never have any answered prayers, why they don't see any fantastic changes in their life and victory over habits. Maybe it's because they've never dealt with this vital area -- Who owns me? That's what stewardship is all about. Stewardship is simply lordship. It's saying, "Jesus Christ, be Lord of everything -- time, money, possessions, everything."
So we give to express appreciation. We give to examine our motivation.
III. WE GIVE BECAUSE IT ALLOWS US TO ENLARGE OUR EXPECTATIONS OF THE FUTURE
Giving is also a demonstration of faith into the future. We express our expectations of what God wants to do in the future.
2 Corinthians 9:6 Paul says, "Remember this, whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. And whoever sows generously will also reap generously." He's using the analogy of a farmer. Just like a farmer goes out and scatters a whole bunch of seeds, he's going to get a big crop. If you go out and throw one little corn seed in the field, what will you get? Not much. You sow bountifully, you reap bountifully. This is a principle taught all through scriptures. It says in Galatians, "You reap what you sow." Here it says, you reap in proportion to what you give. If you sow sparingly, you reap sparingly.
God says giving is like planting seeds. It's like a deposit. No deposit, no return. It's planting seeds. Giving means making an investment for the future and trusting God for the return.
The Bible teaches that we are not to just store up treasures here on earth. Lay up treasures in heaven. Invest for the future. How do you invest for the future?
Every time you give cheerfully you're investing for the future. God says every time I give, I'm investing in the future.
God says, "I see your giving not just as gratitude for the past and not just as helping you maintain your balance in the presence. But I see it as an investment for the future." The Bible says everything will be rewarded. Even if you give a cup of cold water in His name, it will be rewarded. That's how you lay up treasures in heaven. And no bank pays better interest. You cannot out give God. He is a much bigger giver than you are. The more you give to Him, God makes sure His balance sheet is always on His side and He always gives back to you more. You cannot out give God. The more we give the more we get back. The more we're blessed.
Malachi 3 talks about tithing, "Bring the whole tithe [the ten percent] into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the Lord [God says, I dare you! He's laying down a challenge. I dare you to try it] and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have enough room for it." Do you believe that verse? If we don't, we might as well cut it out of the Bible. God says, "I dare you! I dare you to try and see if you can out give Me. The more you give back, the more I bless your life. I will bless you in return."
All of this is saying, Whoever sows sparingly reaps sparingly. Whoever sows generously will reap generously. Now listen to me church. Our giving as a church family says a lot about what we believe about God. Our giving should be an evidence of our faith and expectation to what we believe God is going to do in the future. God says we reap what we sow. Our giving determines what He does in our lives as individuals but also in our church as a whole.
What are you expecting God to do in our church, in your life? How much do you want God to bless our church, or your life? How much are you expecting God to act? How much are you believing Him for this year? If you want the answer to that question, if you want to know how much God is able to do in our church or in your life this next year, just look at your giving. The Bible says we reap what we sow.
Abundant living begins with abundant giving. God says you don't give because somebody manipulates your emotions. You don't give because you feel guilty. You don't give because you're under pressure. You give as an act of gratitude, as an act of keeping your priorities in order, and as a statement of faith saying, "I believe that God is going to bless me this year, so I will give to Him." God says You prime the pump. It's a statement of faith. He says, "You cannot out give Me."
There are two kinds of giving, the Bible says. There's giving by reason and there's giving by revelation. There's a very big difference. Giving by reason is when you go home, get out all your books and figure out how much you've got and you say, "This is how much I can afford to give." Giving by revelation is when you go home and say, "How much does God want me to give? I'm going to give that much and then expect Him to provide to make it possible." Giving by faith. That's the highest form.
People say, "But I'm in debt. I can't afford to give." There's times I've said that. "I can't afford to give, God. I'm in debt!" God says, "Bobby, can you afford not to give? You need My help to make it this next year. You need My blessing upon your life."
Jesus told the story of the widow. He sat watching the people put their offerings in at the temple. All these rich guys came in and tossed in a whole bunch. This lady came in and she put in two pennies. He said, "That lady is a greater saint than everybody else. She gave all she had." She was giving by faith.
Let me summarize what I'm saying. Living and Giving Abundantly means we give first, to express our appreciation to God for the past. We say, "God, You have blessed me. Here is a portion back to You. I realize it all came from You in the first place." We give out of appreciation.
Second, we give to examine our motivations and our present priority. It reminds us to put God first. It prevents us from becoming so self centered we can't see anybody or anything else. When we write out a check for giving, it reminds us there are things that are more important in life than just money. It reminds us that we're just managers of what God has given to us.
The third thing I’ve tried to say is that there's a future element to it. It allows us to enlarge our expectations. What are you expecting God to do? The most practical way you can demonstrate faith is in your giving, in your finances. Giving is an act of faith. It's an investment for the future. It's laying up treasures in heaven. It's sowing and then reaping.
I'm going to ask you to take the next seven days and consider, How much do I believe God? How much am I grateful to God for? Where are my priorities? Then I am going to ask you to come back next Sunday and give in such a way that demonstrates your understanding and acceptance of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over your life. Come next Sunday expecting a Great Day because each of us are believing God for great things in the days to come.
For some of you that may mean start tithing. For others it might mean go beyond that. I don't know. It's your decision. God doesn’t want your money, what He wants is what it represents. He wants you.