Dear Radio Friends,
In times of economic downturn, depressed housing industry, layoffs, flat car-industry, dark shadows economically, we, as children of God take our direction and our comfort from the Word of God. We began this series of messages with the absolute promise of God that He will supply our earthly needs so long as He wills for us, His children, to live on this earth. Our Lord said in Matthew 6: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…and all these things shall be added unto you.” “These things” are a reference to the earthly and material things. Jesus also said in Matthew 6:32, “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.”
Then, in our messages, we turned to the truth that the economic stress that God brings upon our nation is God’s way of awakening us, His church, to the godly view of money and things. We are reminded of our stewardship and of the truth that God owns absolutely everything and He is the One who dispenses all things, even as it pleases Him.
We went on to see that God calls us to be a faithful and wise steward and to use the things that He gives us to His glory and not out of our own carnal desires.
Then, last week, we looked into our calling to work and we saw that work was a privilege. We were created in the image of God and, therefore, as God works, so also we are to work, not being sluggards and lazy but laboring with our hands for the things that are good, so that we might have to give to him that needeth (Eph. 5:28), and so that, with the things that God gives us through the work, we might seek first the kingdom of God and make Him and serving Him our priority.
Today we want to turn to the whole issue of giving: Christian giving.
It is striking, when we turn to the Scriptures, and especially when we turn to the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we learn that the use of our money is the exact indicator of our heart toward God. Jesus said more about money than, perhaps, any other subject in His earthly ministry. “Take heed,” He said, “to yourselves. For man’s life consists not of the abundance of the things that he possesses” (Luke 12:15). He spoke of a rich man, which shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:23). He said, inMatthew 6: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
The Lord’s teaching, as well as all of Scripture, makes a direct correlation between the heart and how we handle money. To put it simply, what your money goes after shows what your heart goes after. What your hands do with money shows what you believe about God and His kingdom. What you do with your money shows where you believe your life, your joy, your love, and your security are to be found—whether it is to be found in God or in the things of this life.
The basic issue, then, in the life of the Christian as he confronts the whole calling to give to support the church, the poor, and the causes of God’s kingdom is not the economy. The basic question is not, “How much do you make?” The question is not: “Well, what stage of your life are you in? Are you able to give or not?” That is not the question. But the question is: “Are you walking with God?” Giving is the joyful and thankful response of the Christian to God’s graciousness and to God’s mercy toward me. And it is the response to His grace as that grace touches my heart. Giving is a grace. It is something that the Holy Spirit works in me as I stand before the foot of the cross. It is not, then, a question of what others give, but it is a question of: Am I aware of what God has done for me and how He has worked in my life and blessed me in my spiritual life? And so, we must look to God and to God’s grace to us. And in our giving, respond cheerfully, bountifully.
You say to me, “Well, that’s very simple.” Yes, it is. And that is exactly what makes it so hard. The teaching of God’s Word is always simple and direct.
The apostle Paul, in II Corinthians 8 and 9, gives instruction to the Corinthian church concerning the grace of giving. And the basic teaching that the apostle brings there is that our giving is regulated by how we view God and the relationship that we have with God. Every time the collection plate is passed in the church service, we are expressing what we think about God—whether we see God as the great Giver or the great Taker. Notice with me, if you have your Bible open to II Corinthians 9, the verses 5-7, that there the apostle Paul refers to two types of giving. And he contrasts those two types. He is seeking to motivate the Corinthians in giving. There was the need for a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. The apostle had already received an offering from the churches in Macedonia, and now he was going to come to Corinth and he is motivating them to get ready for this collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem.
Paul contrasts two ways that they can give. One way (v. 5) is as a matter of bounty or blessing, not covetousness; not to give sparingly but bountifully or generously (v. 6). And in verse 7 he says not to give grudgingly, that is, reluctantly or out of necessity, but cheerfully, that is, freely and happily. Looking at those verses, you have, then, three descriptions of how not to give. Do not give covetously, sparingly, or reluctantly. And then you have three descriptions on how to give: willingly, generously, and cheerfully.
How are we not to give? Well, those three descriptions that I just mentioned speak of a heart that wants to hold back. There is a giving; something is put in the plate. Maybe not much. The heart is holding back from God. The word “sparingly” really captures it in verse 6. If I say, “Spare my life,” I mean, “Don’t take it from me.” When God’s Word says in Romans 8:32 that He spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, it means that God did not hold back His own Son, but He freely gave His Son to die for our sins. To give sparingly, then, is not a reference first to the amount of money that is given, but is a reference to the heart—that, when it gives, it wants to hold back. To give sparingly is what you feel when you open your wallet as the collection plate is circulating, and there is a twenty and there is a five-dollar bill. Which one? Or both? You give because there is external pressure that you have to put something in. But the deciding factor is our heart and how much we can hold back, how much I can keep. That is what we are questioning. What can I keep for myself? That is to give sparingly.
Then the Word of God was speaking there of how we should give. The word was bountifully. That is based on the consideration of how the Lord has blessed me in my life. Our giving, then, would rest on the great truth of how bountifully God has dealt with me and, in turn, the desire to show that bounty unto others and thus to give cheerfully. It is a heart that finds joy in expressing how God has blessed. Something, then, you see, has happened in the heart. There has been a profound and marvelous change by the grace of God from the covetous, sinful, carnal me in which everything is looked at as mine and for me; and now the magnet of covetousness that pulls possessions unto self, that magnet has been reversed. And now we desire, out of the bounty of God’s grace to give liberally, to show forth in our giving exactly what the Lord has done for me.
If we look at verse 4 of II Corinthians 8, we see there that Paul is referring to the collection that he had already received from the Macedonian churches who were in great poverty. They were poor. And Paul says that they prayed with much entreaty that he would receive the generous gift that they were giving. It is as if the apostle’s eyebrow had gone up and he had said, “Boy, you Christians cannot really afford to give this much.” And they said, “No, Paul, take it. We want you to take it.” They gave out of a bountiful heart.
The difference, then, between those two types of giving—the giving of the sparing heart and the giving of the bountiful heart—is to be found in their relationship to God. The question is: How do you view God? Yes, you are in church. Yes, you give. Both of these, the sparing heart and the bountiful heart, both give. But the difference is a profound difference. It is a difference in the heart. The difference is not the amount of money they are making. The difference is the heart. The sparing heart is feeling and viewing God as the great Taker, not as the Giver. He looks at these things and says, “My life is being drained away by God. He is so demanding. Here comes another drive for the school. Here comes another collection for this cause. With that money I could have more things that make me happy. I could have a Blackberry, new shoes, a boat, more CDs. But I see God with a demanding finger who keeps says, Give, give. He’s always taking away from me.” The heart, then, feels that God is draining, ever draining. He is the great Taker. He is depleting my life.
But the other heart, the bountiful heart, is standing in a different relationship to God. This is the person who is looking up and sees God not as the great Taker but as the great Giver. He looks up to God and does not feel that his life is being drained out of him by God, but feels that his life is constantly being replenished by God. His giving, then, is based upon God’s blessing of him. He stands consciously before the grace that is in Jesus Christ, the grace of the cross. He sees the Son of God die upon the cross, merely of grace for him, a wretched sinner. He sees God as the One who giveth, and giveth, and giveth again, out of the infinite riches that are in Jesus. And he responds, not reluctantly, but cheerfully, joyfully.
It is like this: A little kindergarten boy in his school has, with all of the other children, made a gift for Mother’s Day: a little clay mold of his hands, praying hands. The teacher has helped him inscribe this mold with these words: “I made these hands the size of mine, and make a promise too. Would you please take them as a sign that I will pray for you?” He has wrapped it up. And he has it ready for his mother. And here it is on Mother’s Day. And she is opening up all the different gifts from husband and all the other married children. And here is the little boy sitting next to his Mommy and he says, “Open this one, Mommy. Open this one first. Open this.” He wants to give this to her. He wants to.
This is the basic issue in giving. It is how we see God. When we look up to God, do we see the One who has so abundantly blessed, the One who faithfully cares? Or do we look up to God and one of the causes of the church and say, “Well, all of this is draining me. My life is being sucked out of me by a demanding church, a demanding cause here and there, the Christian school, a demanding God. Everybody’s taking from me!” Or do you feel, by God’s grace as you look up to Him, that He has so blessed you, and now, out of His blessings you want to give freely? How do you and I give? Do we have the grace of giving? Do we ask the question: How much can we keep? Or do we ask the question: How much can we give?
What gives you true joy? Now, when I refer to these things, I am not saying that they are wrong or sinful in themselves. Of course not. But look into your heart. What gives you true joy—a spending spree at the mall, or bringing a meal for helping hands? What gives you true joy—a new fishing pole, or giving up your Saturday afternoon to help a brother shingle his roof? What gives you true joy—a new pair of shoes, a new car, a bigger home, more clothes, or “Lord, I offer myself , by Thy grace, to Thee”? How do you view the call of the church and the call of the deacons in the collections? How do you view the budget of your church? How do you view benevolence offerings for the poor? How do you view offerings for missions in the spread of the gospel; for Christian schools and the causes of the kingdom? Better cut back—the economy is looking bad. What can I spare? It all comes down to how you view God. Is He the Taker, or is He the Giver?
The apostle Paul gives a striking example that I referred to in II Corinthians 8:1-5 when he speaks of the poverty-stricken Macedonian churches. On the basis of those verses, if you study them carefully, you would say that what you would expect among God’s people when there is an economic downturn, is that the giving in the church will go…up. Yes, you heard me right. Up. On the basis of those words you come to this conclusion, that very often in the midst of prosperity we, as Christians, become very sparing givers. The more the Lord gives, the more we squander or keep for ourselves. We become tight-fisted, according to our sinful nature.
But the churches in Macedonia were in deep poverty. They were in an economic downturn for sure. The Roman armies had been marching through their land for two hundred years. They were under the rule of Augustus Caesar who had brought a depression upon them. They were persecuted. They had hardly anything to their name. And you would say, if you were doing a drive and you were calculating the different areas of the church, you would say, “Well, we can’t look for much from the churches of Macedonia. Not in that section of our supporters. It will have to come from different areas.” But Paul says to the Corinthians, “Look what God’s grace did. They gave an abundant offering out of liberality. Grace operated in their hearts. They were not manipulated, they were not under constraint. But it was grace.” And grace in the most unlikely situation—which, by the way, is where grace is always to be found, where men do not look for it. If you were to look over the churches in Paul’s day, you would say, “There’s a dire need for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Where is the money going to come from? Probably out of rich Ephesus or out of the prosperity in Antioch. But certainly not those struggling Christians in Macedonia!” And yet, those struggling Christians in Macedonia had responded abundantly.
Has a downturned economic situation affected your heart and soul toward giving? In the world it certainly has. They are saying, “Don’t extend yourself. You had better not put too much at risk. You better pull back. You better hoard up for yourself. There had better be less spending and more keeping.”
What about in the church? The church is always the opposite of the world. The true church of Jesus Christ does not fit in the mold of the world. In the true church of Jesus Christ there is not going to be a holding back from the causes of the kingdom and from the poor. But in an economic downturn, you will find God’s people, who know God’s grace, rallying together, rallying around the causes of the kingdom, rallying around the causes of the church and the poor. And they will give sacrificially.
Beware then, says the apostle, that we do not sow sparingly. II Corinthians 9:6, “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” In this economic downturn, when things are getting tight, let us not be the ones who sow sparingly to the giving of the church.
Think of a farmer. All winter long he has looked at that grain, that seed corn in his possession and he had gotten attached to it. And now he sees that there is not much seed corn available. So what does he do? He says, “Well, I’m attached to that seed corn. So instead of putting it all in my bag, I’m just going to put a handful.” And when he goes forth to sow he picks out a few grains of corn and throws a few here, throws a few there—just a few. Instead of putting his hand down into the bag and getting a full handful and liberally scattering abroad, the farmer says, “Well, there’s not much grain, so I’d better sow sparingly.” What is he going to get? He is going to reap sparingly.
You say, “Oh, it’s not time for another drive for the Christian school. It’s not the time for the increased budget for missions and spreading forth the Word of God. We all took a hit in the stock market. We’d better wait and see, we’d better sow sparingly.” If we sow sparingly, we will reap sparingly in the kingdom of God.
Sow bountifully in the kingdom. Sow in such a way that the preaching may be central. Sow in such a way that the cause of missions and the spreading of God’s Word is central. Sow in such a way that our children and their needs and the needs of their education are central to us. Here is Reformed economics: Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.
That bit of economic truth came from the Lord who holds the sea and the earth and all its gold and silver in His hands.
How shall we give? Let us give bountifully, willingly, and cheerfully, trying somehow to show how the Lord has given to us.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word and we pray for its blessing upon our souls. In Jesus’ name do we pray, Amen.