“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.” 
Giving is a grace—if we are on the receiving end of the giving; but, what about those who give? Do they recognise grace in their giving? The manner in which the offering is received leads me to believe that much of the giving in churches is grudging and that worshippers resent the sense of duty imposed upon them. Certainly, the world has made a caricature of preachers asking for money; and without question too many preachers appear motivated by the love of money. Nevertheless, for all the flaws inherent in the act of giving, the Bible clearly states that giving is a grace. The message today focuses attention on this grace of giving so that we may each participate in this act of worship in a manner pleasing to God.
The message requires digression allowing exploration of areas to be covered in future studies. I seek to free you from compulsion in giving; giving is not mandated under the tenets of the New Testament, but it is encouraged. Under the law the tithe was mandated of worshippers. Moreover, the tithe was not ten percent of earned income as some have erroneously taught; tithing as required under the law was between twenty-two and twenty-three percent. There was a first tithe required of worshippers which was designated for support of the priests and Levites. In DEUTERONOMY 12:8-19 we read of a second tithe which was given by the worshippers as duty; this was given to support a national festival for the benefit of the whole community. In DEUTERONOMY 14:28, 29 we read of a third tithe required every third year and designated as support for the poor of the land. These three tithes were effectively divine taxation for support of the priests, the worshipping community and the needy among the people; the tithes provided for government, community service and welfare. Underscore in your mind these were not giving to God—the tithes were not offerings; these tithes were required of every Jew to provide both divine and civil services. If you insist on tithing, please ensure that you are giving at least twenty-three percent of your income, thus mandating what is prescribed under the Law.
Jews were not finished with giving when they had given their tithes. God set up a sort of divine profit sharing plan in LEVITICUS 19:9, 10 as He made yearly provision for the needy within the nation. Later, Nehemiah instituted a Temple tax to purchase needed supplies for temple worship [NEHEMIAH 10:32, 33], and Moses instituted a scheme in which the people forfeited a year’s income every seventh year as they gave the land a rest. Conservatively speaking, under the law, which is where you place yourself if you choose to tithe, a minimum of twenty-five percent of your income is required, not as an act of studied choice, but as divine requirement.
Under the New Testament economy, giving is instituted, not as a replacement of the tithe but as a singular act of worship. Giving reflects the joy and the love which fills the life of the believer. Giving is not done out of a sense of obligation, but rather like the freewill offerings brought by worshippers under the Old Testament economy we give to God out of a sense of gratitude, out of a sense of love, out of a sense of joy. When we thus give we discover that the act itself is a grace—a means by which we confess that God has blessed us and has enabled us to do what we might otherwise be incapable of doing. It is my goal to instruct you in grace giving so that your joy may be complete and so that you may worship more freely than you have to this point in your Christian walk. It is for this reason that I insist that unbelievers have no part in the act of giving since they cannot worship. Likewise I believe the act of giving ought to remain a part of our service. Giving is an act of worship!
While the specifics of grace giving are not the focus of the message today, those aspects are nevertheless important. Therefore, it is for your benefit that I list the following components of grace giving as outlined in the New Testament. I will address these particular aspects of New Testament grace giving in coming messages planned for delivery on a monthly basis. You may find it beneficial to make a notation of the components of grace giving as outlined in the New Testament. Though you may not yet be thoroughly equipped with full exposition of the various texts, you will at least be equipped with the basic knowledge to guide your giving. Note that Paul speaks of what he is teaching as an “act of grace” [VV. 6, 7].
Grace giving is first of all worship. Above all else, underscore in your mind that the act of giving is an act of worship. This one feature transforms the act of giving from mere duty to a high act of divine worship which should be expected of any mere mortal. Grace giving is the expected outflow of the heart which has been set free by the love of God in Christ and which recognises the loving sacrifice of Jesus our Lord.
Grace giving is voluntary giving, akin to providing a firstfruit offering. Each Christian determines what will be given. If it is done as an act before the Lord, we will prayerfully think of what we should give, rather than merely operating on autopilot. The act of giving is a private issue between the giver and the Lord. Each one bringing a gift is responsible to determine what the gift should be. The size and the form of the gift are determined by the giver alone. This attitude transforms the act from the pedestrian to a holy act of worship.
Similarly, grace giving is anticipatory giving. Before the harvest is complete—before the result of the harvest is known—in faith the one making the offering gives the first portion of the harvest to God as an act of faith. Before we make any payments or before we make any purchase, our giving ought to be set aside for presentation before the Lord. In this manner, we confess that our first responsibility is to respond in love to God who is good and generous.
Grace giving is sacrificial giving revealing a heart which is not overly attached to possessions. Our gifts should reveal what is most precious to us. If we value things, then we will possess things; if we esteem God, then we will seek to honour Him through our giving. Our gifts expose what is esteemed in our life and in our family.
Grace giving is always generous. Grace giving reveals a heart in love with Christ because that one bringing his or her gift has received the gracious gift of life. How can one in love with Christ be anything other than generous? Candidly, the elders should set the example of generosity in giving. If we love God, our gifts should set the standard for generosity in others. Without a word, the people will know whether we are generous or whether we are stinting.
Grace giving is giving that is thoughtful and responsive. Christians are to think about the amount to be given, determining how it will be given. We cannot dodge responsibility for the administration of our gifts by those who receive the gift through saying that we give and what is done afterwards is not our business. We are responsible to know that those receiving the money administer the funds wisely and in accordance with the will of God. This is the reason I encourage members to study the budget of the church and to voice their desires and their concerns. The budget is a spiritual document which provides guidance for the direction the congregation shall go in the future. We are also responsible to respond to needs as they develop. It is vital that we not lapse into a haphazard form of church service, but rather than we both anticipate needs and permit the Spirit to direct us as new challenges arise.
Grace giving is to be systematic, proportionate and faithful. Christian giving is to be systematic—we are to give regularly and consistently as often as we receive income and in such a manner that those dependent upon the gifts can know that their needs will be cared for. Furthermore, we are to realise that the more we possess, the greater our responsibility to give; thus, giving is to be proportionate. As God blesses, we are able to respond with greater generosity. I do not expect an individual on a fixed income to give the same percentage as an individual with a growing income. I do not expect an individual with income barely sufficient for daily survival to give the same percentage of one who has more than sufficient income. Assuredly, I do expect all who know Christ and who seek His glory to give! Our giving is to be faithful in that we see this as reflecting our understanding of God who is faithful.
Grace giving reflects spiritual maturation. The spiritually mature understand that the manner in which they handle money speaks volumes about their relationships. We are stewards, administrators over all that God has entrusted into our care and we are responsible to answer to Him for how we administer all that we hold. If we worship the Living God, who is Giver of every good and perfect gift, instead of worshipping the gifts which He gives, we will ensure that our possessions are seen as opportunity to serve God.
Let’s review what has been presented to this point. Grace giving is an act of worship. Grace giving is to be voluntary, anticipatory, sacrificial and generous. Grace giving is designed to be thoughtful, responsive, systematic, proportionate and faithful. Finally, grace giving reflects spiritual maturity. In future messages we will explore these aspects of grace giving and the associated facets so that each of us will be thoroughly instructed in the grace of giving. For the remainder of this message I want to encourage you through instruction focused on the impact of grace giving for us as individual Christians and for us as a congregation. The message is, therefore, an exposition of the first seven verses of the chapter before us.
GRACE GIVING REJECTS SURRENDER TO CARES — “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” These opening verses teach us that grace giving is giving which transcends the moment to refocus our gaze on eternity. The individual giving out of grace refuses to live for the moment, however dark and dreary that moment may appear, in order to cling to the promise that life is so much more than this dark vale we call “now.” Imagine that! The Macedonians were more concerned about God’s glory than their own situation!
I have serious reservations about the counselling movement which has attained such popularity in modern religious life. There is a place for godly counsel; I do not discount the value of wise counsellors nor do I depreciate the assistance rendered to those with genuine needs. However, much of contemporary counselling is unnecessary at best and a disgrace at the worst; since the ones being counselled need to refocus their gaze on eternity, turning away from the transience of this life. Instead of working hard to feel good about themselves, they need to discover that God’s love transcends the fleeting, ephemeral emotion of self-esteem which is sin dressed up in contemporary language to hide its awful features from exposure.
When I focus on the cares of this life I can guarantee that I will soon be depressed. Consequently, I will never feel good about myself if I am walking with the Risen Lord of Glory. In fact I can assure you that the closer I approach the Living God the greater my realisation that I am utterly sinful. Like Peter when confronted with the power of the Son of God I cry out: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” [LUKE 5:8]!
If feeling good about myself (self-esteem) is necessary for effective service, why did every individual in the whole of the Word of God when confronted with the holiness of God abhor himself and ask for mercy? What does feeling have to do with relationship to Christ? What does feeling have to do with His love? What does feeling have to do with my service? We should encourage one another to draw from the inexhaustible supply of grace which is the heritage of every blood bought child of God. Let us learn the importance of the divine accounting system found in ROMANS 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
GRACE GIVING REFLECTS CHRISTIAN JOY — “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” We discourage those who cannot give with joy in their hearts from participating in giving. How can one worship when that one is angry toward God? How can one worship when he or she begrudges the very act in which they are participating? On the other hand, if we truly recognise the goodness of God and truly bask in His grace, we cannot help but rejoice!
As children, you no doubt discovered that the best time to ask your father for a gift or for permission to participate in some activity was when your father was in a good mood. You have perhaps noticed that your own children are more likely to approach you when you are joyful. The reason for approaching your parent when he or she was joyful was simply that he was more likely to respond to your request in a generous fashion. Likewise, your children learn, and your spouse learns, that they are most likely to receive a favourable response when you are in a good mood! Joy is infectious and when possessed of a joyful spirit we are generous.
Grace giving, because it is generous giving, reflects Christian joy—that settled sense of contentment and confidence which is untouched by the cares and woes of this world. The burdened heart is a heart which has succumbed to the pressures of the moment. Like Peter attempting to walk on the sea the burdened soul has turned its spiritual gaze toward the concerns of the moment so that it can no longer see the grace of God and the love of the Saviour. A joyful church is a generous church; and a generous church is a joyful church. We dare not expect that the joyful church is a church without opposition and problems; it is simply that the church is so focused on the grace of God that it cannot be dissuaded from pursuing Him and His presence.
GRACE GIVING REVEALS A GENEROUS SPIRIT — “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.” The point was addressed tangentially under the previous heading, but it is worthy of its own consideration. I said a moment ago that a joyful church is a generous church, and a generous church is a joyful church. The two cannot be separated; they are like soul and spirit which requires the divine surgeon and the skilled scalpel of the Spirit to distinguish. Where joy is encountered among the people of God a generous spirit prevails.
I think it important to remind you that the divine accounting is utterly foreign to our methods of accounting. In the final analysis, the size of the gift is of less importance to God than is the spirit with which a gift is given. A gift given grudgingly is no gift at all. This point is presented in some detail a few verses beyond our text. “If the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have” [2 CORINTHIANS 8:12]. There exists a principle of life which is of paramount importance to our life and service for Christ. Attitude is of greater significance than action. If the attitude is right with God the action will shortly align to His will. Correct actions, on the other hand, are no guarantee of a righteous attitude. We may act correctly out of fear of reprisal or out of some self-serving motive; but a proper attitude must of necessity in time result in righteous action.
Recall the time when Jesus instructed His disciples in this matter of generosity in giving. “[Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” [MARK 12:41-44].
A Christian will always be infected with a high degree of generosity. The greater one’s comprehension of grace received, the greater the tendency toward generosity. Why do Christ’s churches have the reputation for relieving human misery and suffering? Why, if this were not true, do not street people first attend the local mosque to ask for relief? If others are more generous or even equally generous as are Christians shouldn’t the local Sikh Temple be the first choice for seeking help? Why not call on the Canadian Humanist Association when clothing or food is needed? It is precisely because the heart which has experienced great grace can do nothing other than exhibit generosity! Christians are generous people by divine nature and grace giving reveals the generous spirit.
GRACE GIVING REQUESTS OPPORTUNITY TO SERVE — “They gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.” Christians who practise New Testament giving seek opportunity to serve, having discovered the truth revealed in the Saviour’s words recorded in MARK 10:45: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” At no time does the child of God more accurately reflect her divine parentage then when serving others. Likewise, giving which fails to consider that we must first give ourselves is giving which is less than grace giving.
I recall an elderly widow who longed to give a gift for missionary enterprise. I thought her gift beyond her means. I spoke with her concerning the size of her gift, suggesting that she might wish to reconsider and make the gift smaller. She chided me, asking whether I would deprive her of the joy of serving her Master through giving. There was a world of truth in her remonstration; her gift was an expression of love which I knew to have been preceded by total surrender of her life to the use of the Master. It is impossible for me to know how many people were swept into the Kingdom of God through the prayers and service of this one woman.
The story of the little street urchin who attended a service in a great downtown church may be apocryphal; nevertheless, it illustrates this principle. The little lad had never been in a church building before and perhaps it was overwhelming for him to attend the service in such a great and imposing building where so many illustrious people dressed in splendid finery were present. Finding a seat, the child appeared overwhelmed by the structure and by the wealth evidenced in padded pews and carpeted floors. The pastor was a powerful spokesman for Christ, and he presented a great message on the love of God, speaking powerfully of Christ’s sacrifice for sinful man. The gifted orator urged his congregation to respond to this grace, giving generously of themselves.
It is doubtful that any of the parishioners present on that particular day understood the import of the preacher’s plea better than did that young lad. The reason I can make this statement is what was observed as the tellers counted the offering. When the offering plates had been passed and the gifts received there on the plate together with the multiplied gifts in numbered envelopes was a pew envelope with these words painfully printed in a childish scrawl: “I got nothing to give, so I give myself to Jesus.” That little lad, impoverished and incapable of any great financial gift, understood that he must first give himself. He first gave himself to the Lord. Is any other gift worthy of the Master? Do we actually believe that God is indebted to us? Our first obligation is to Him for His grace; we honour Him when we respond by giving ourselves to Him and to His cause.
What does money matter if the giver has no heart for what the Lord is doing? Do you believe the Lord? Do you take God’s promises seriously? First give yourself to the Lord, and then your gift will have real meaning. God is gracious; you no doubt recall that He has promised, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” [LUKE 6:38]. You cannot out give God; the more you give of yourself the more you receive of His Person. The more richly you will be blessed the more you determine to serve Him.
It is in this same letter that the Apostle has written of the divine response to our giving. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” [2 CORINTHIANS 9:8]. Underscore the importance of the multiplied promises of the Lord God. Through the Apostle God has promised His child abounding grace—love and goodness beyond anything His child should ever imagine. God has pledged sufficiency—His child shall have all that may be required in daily life. God has promised that the Christian will be equipped to abound in every good work. Surely there is sufficient encouragement for even the most jaded believer to practise grace giving. The issue before us is not a matter of our desires; it is an issue of sufficiency. In the midst of our deepest trial, God will supply our every need. In the day of our greatest trauma, God will stand with His child to supply strength. In our greatest extremity God will meet the demand.
Perhaps God will bless us, we reason, but is that sufficient reason to serve through giving? We wonder what sort of blessing we will get if we give and if we serve God through giving. We can be so calculating and careful in our giving. Too many of us are like Pharisees weighing what we will get against our giving. “Ah,” we complain, “if I give like you suggest I may be blessed by God, my ministry may grow and people may be saved and the church may prosper, but I can’t feed my family on spiritual blessings. I will have to buy a used vehicle instead of a new pickup; I can’t pay my bills on spiritual blessings.” May I say that it is precisely because we are so bereft of spiritual blessing that we despise such rich gifts? It is because we have traded true riches for trinkets that we disdain true wealth.
As an aside of some considerable interest you should know that the word translated “relief” in our text—“begging us earnestly for the favour of taking part in the relief of the saints”—is from the same root word from which we obtain our word “deacon.” These Macedonians pleaded to be servants, sharing in relief for the saints in Jerusalem. When we understand the significance of giving ourselves to God and to His people we are taking the first step toward grace giving. Until you have surrendered yourself to Him who loved you and gave Himself for you, and until you have surrendered control of your own life so that you may be a servant to the people of God, you cannot know grace giving and there will always be a hint of reluctance in your giving. I pray that we will each begin to practise grace giving.
GRACE GIVING REPRESENTS GOD AT WORK IN US — The Macedonians did not do as the missionaries expected, “but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.” Those practising grace giving seek above all else to honour Christ Jesus; they desire above all else that the will of God be done in their lives. Grace givers realise that they do not own their possessions; they are administrators of the grace of God. Our moneys are His and we disburse what He has entrusted in order to glorify Him. We reveal His grace in how we treat the possessions entrusted to us.
Generous individuals, having surrendered themselves to the Lord, seek out those gifted men whom He has designated to guide and direct the flock. As they listen to the message of grace they carefully scrutinise the teaching presented so that they will not be deceived by charlatans. When they discover that the message is true to the Master, when they discern the Master’s voice ringing through the message, they gladly embrace that teaching and rejoice in the opportunity to fulfil the will of God even in the grace of giving. This is a vital point that must be stressed: Generous individuals, having given themselves to the Lord, seek out God’s preacher so that they may commit themselves to supporting that service to the glory of God who appoints.
C. T. Studd was a world champion cricket player from England when he came to Christ in the 1800s. At the death of his father, C. T. Studd inherited £29,000, a sizeable fortune in those days. Studd said, “I do not want to clutter up my life. I think the best way to use this inheritance is to invest it with God.” He sent £5,000 each to Hudson Taylor, William Booth and D. L. Moody, and other gifts to various servants of God until he had but £3,400 left, which he gave to his wife on their wedding day. She said, “The rich young ruler was asked to give all,” so they sent all remaining funds anonymously to General Booth. All of it! At that point C. T. Studd said, “Now we’re in the proud position to say, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’”
The Studds invested every pence with God and went to Africa as missionaries. The investment of this couple, their generosity of spirit, is still bearing dividends today. This godly couple saw the truth of MATTHEW 6:19-21: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
As we learn to hold the accoutrements of this life loosely we are releasing our grip on the tawdry baubles of the moment so that we might more firmly grasp the true wealth of the world to come. Thus our treasures are displayed for the entire world to see. For the Studd’s, service to Christ was their treasure and the souls of the redeemed were valued above all else.
What I value most is revealed through where I invest the most time, what I most concern myself with and what I most think of when I am free to think as I wish is my treasure. Any of us can determine what our treasure is by asking ourselves several probing questions.
1. What do I think of when I am free to think without restriction?
2. What would I most hate to surrender in this life?
3. What consumes the most of my time and occupies my thoughts?
The answer to these questions will reveal to where our treasures lie. Our treasures may be tangible, but subject to corruption. Our treasures may be noble, but unworthy of eternal investment. Do not tell me you value God and His work if your giving speaks of valuing the things of this life. If your investments in an uncertain future exceed your investments in eternity you are speaking two divergent languages. Grace giving speaks of God at work in us.
I’m not suggesting that you must give away every earthly possession, but I do suggest that you must be willing to surrender every claim to that which God has entrusted to your oversight if you will discover the grace of giving. The surrender of which I speak begins with surrender to every claim on your life.
Years ago when I was new in the Faith, I would visit in homes with a man named Ben. Ben would speak of Christ and should a person indicate that they were willing to receive Christ as Master over life, Ben would test that individual by asking: “If Jesus is Master you must be willing to do as He says. Should Christ ask, would you give up everything and go to Africa as a missionary?” Some would hesitate as they weighed the question. Almost inevitably they would eventually nod their head gravely and say, “Yes, I would give up everything for Him. I would go to Africa if that is what He wants.” God does not ask many of us to go to Africa, but He does ask each of us to be willing to do His bidding. Are you willing?
A story from the American South clearly illustrates this issue. During the days of slavery, a slave owner observed that one of the slaves was always joyful in spite of his situation in life. The master often asked the old slave, “Mose, what do you have that I don’t have?” and Mose would answer, “Marse’, I got Jesus in my life. Cain’t help but ‘joice wid’ Jesus.”
“I want what you have,” the master would say. “How can I get it?”
“Come down to the pigpen wid’ me,” the old slave would say.
“Oh, no,” the white master would say, “I could never do that.”
And so the days passed, the master asking for the peace witnessed in the life of old Mose and the aged slave inviting his master to join him in the pigpen. Finally the white master could stand it no longer and he again asked, “Mose, what do you have that I don’t have?”
“Marse’, done tol’ you, got Jesus in my life.”
“I want what you have,” pleaded the master. “I must have your joy and the peace you have. How can I get it?”
“Come down to the pigpen wid’ me and you’ll find it,” said the old slave.
“I’m coming with you,” said the dignified slave owner dressed in his finery.
The old slave, realising that the master was serious, said, “You don’ haf to go wid’ me, Marse. You can have what I have wid’out going down to the pigpen.”
“But,” protested the white man, “what has changed?”
“You don’ need to go down to the pigpen to fin’ Jesus; you jest need to be willin’ to go down to the pigpen.”
Likewise, you don’t need to give away all you have to be a Christian, but you do need to be willing to give all away should the Master ask. You don’t need to give all away in order to discover the grace of giving, but you must be willing to surrender every claim should the Master ask you to do so.
Above all else I am pleading with Christians to insure that their priorities set God first in their lives. I am challenging each Christian to review his or her portfolio to insure that it demonstrates the presence of God prominently and first. I am pleading with each outsider to receive the grace of God in Christ that they might discover that life which is true life and seize treasures which are true treasures.
Hear again the words of the Master as He offers us His richest gift of life eternal. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” [JOHN 5:24]. This is the Word which you must hear and believe. If you agree with God, saying it right out loud, “Jesus is Master,” believing with all your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be set free. It is with your heart that you believe and are set right with God, and it is with your mouth that you agree with God and are set free. Then, quoting the Prophet Joel, Paul emphasises for each of us, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Master will be set free” [see ROMANS 10:9, 10, 13]. Amen.
 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, 2001. Used by permission. All rights reserved.