Sunday, 13 May 2018

The blessing of giving

2 Corinthians 9.6-15



This is our final week looking at giving. Today we are looking at the blessing of giving.

When you give, there is great blessing

There is blessing for you as an individual
There is blessing for the church
There is blessing to God

There is blessing to you as an individual

9.6: ‘The one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully’.
9.8: ‘And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance’
9.11: ‘You will be enriched in every way for your great generousity’.

The Old Testament comes very close to saying that if you are generous, you will – in this life - receive back more than you give.

Proverbs 11.25: ‘A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.’
Proverbs 22.9: ‘Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.’

Or when God speaks to the people through the prophet Malachi, he accuses them of stealing from him because they are not tithing. And he goes on and says, ‘Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.’ (Malachi 3.10)

And you hear people preaching that today. They urge their congregations: ‘If you want to be become rich and prosperous now then you need to give, and you need to give to this ministry here’.

I would love to be able to say that – both because I’d love you to give to the ministry here and because I’d love you to become rich and prosperous – but I cannot.

What I can say with 100% certainty is that the more you give, the poorer you will become!
If you give away 10% of your income you will be 10% poorer!

Jesus clarifies a bit of what the Old Testament is saying.

He doesn’t contradict it, but he challenges us to think where our values lie. And he doesn’t deny that if you give, you will become richer. He simply says it will not be here or now.  
Jesus was not wealthy. That is an understatement. He was homeless (‘he had nowhere to lay his head’), dependent on the giving of others or on little miracles (like when they caught a fish with a coin in its mouth), and he ended up naked, with the soldiers gambling for his only possession worth anything – his robe.
In fact, Jesus tells us that we are to let go of riches here in order to store up riches in heaven. It is a bit as if he is saying that everything you give away here is being added to your bank balance in heaven.

But the promise of Scripture, both Old and New Testament, is that if you give, you will become richer here. You will become richer as a person.

If we step out in faith and give, and sacrificially give, we will discover that God is able to provide for our needs.
Verse 8 tells us that God is able to provide us with every blessing in abundance, ‘So that, by always having enough of everything, we may share abundantly in every good work’

And v10 speaks of how, if we give, God will increase the harvest of your righteousness


It is when we take small steps of faith that we discover that God is able to provide for us.
Alison reminded me of when we were about to leave Russia in 1995. We had $500 left. It was all we had, although I was probably going to get a job as a vicar back in the UK, and we had immensely supportive parents. And a young woman who we knew from the Orthodox seminary where we lived (she was training to become a choir director) came to us the day before we left in great distress to say that her fiancĂ©e, who was a seminarian, was being threatened because of debts owed in the past. And if he didn’t pay by a certain date, they said that they would kill him. And I don’t know if we were being taken for a ride or not, but it seemed true. So we gave her the $500. We returned to the UK, and discovered a friend had written for us a £1000 cheque.
It may be only a coincidence, but it is the sort of coincidence that makes you put your trust even more in the God who provides for us, and it is the sort of coincidence that can only happen if we are prepared to take the step of faith and give in the first place.

I would love to be able to tell you that we have continued to live our lives like that – but it would be a lie. But what I do know is that when we live our lives like that, we become richer people.

v9 tells us, ‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever’. That is not describing God. It comes from Psalm 112, and it is describing the person who fears God:

Don’t you realise? If we have real life, we will be people who give life to others. The point of having money is to give money. Generousity is not the add on to life. It is written deep into the DNA of life.

That is why greed and corruption destroy.
They destroy a society, because nobody knows who they can really trust.
But more importantly, they destroy the individua: it is about how I can try to get and not to give. And the more I grab and the more I try and keep for myself, the bigger I may become in this world – with a bigger house, and a bigger yacht, and a bigger reputation, but my true self, my soul, shrivels up. ‘What does it do to someone’, says Jesus, ‘to gain the whole world, but to lose their soul’

God gives freely to us, so that we can freely give, and share in every good work.

It does not depend on how much money you have.

Mary Ann, a member of our congregation in Bury St Edmunds, spoke of a visit to some Christians in Uganda. Materially, the people who she visited had hardly anything. Yet she was overwhelmed by how generous they were to her. They opened their lives and their homes. They shared what they did have. And the thing that made the greatest impact on her, and the thing she brought back with her, was the fact, that despite having so little, they had such a strong faith in Jesus and such a joy in him.

We were not made to keep, but to give.
Where it really matters, your life will not be rated by how much you got, but by how much you kept back for yourself.

I am preaching this as much to you as to myself.

We do tithe. I hope most of you do, too, as Christian believers. That is the easy bit, once you have decided to do it. But it is about what I do with the remaining 90% that matters. This is the challenge to me. I’m very cautious with money. And yes we need to be wise; we need to invest for the future; we need to think about what will happen when we grow older.
But our money is a gift from God. It is to be used – and not just to make my own little nest more comfortable. It is to be used to bless people. And it is to be given.

And the more we give the bigger we become

There is blessing to the Church

We’ve already seen this principal at work. The Corinthian church have been collecting money for the church in Jerusalem that is suffering from famine. They meet ‘the needs of the saints’, and in turn the saints, the believers in Jerusalem, ‘long for you and pray for you’ (v14)

Of course, as believers we need to give to ‘every good work’.
But just as you have a special responsibility for members of your own family, so as members of the Church we have a special responsibility for members of the family of the Church
That is why it is good that we can give to Syrian and Coptic Christians in need. We can be a blessing to them, and they can be a blessing to us by praying for us.

But there is also blessing to the Church because giving enables the Church to proclaim the gospel, the good news of Jesus.

Paul speaks here of their obedience ‘to the confession of the gospel of Christ’ (v13)
And that is why it is vital that we do regularly and sacrificially give to the work of the church. Without that, the work of proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ, will become so much more difficult. We are seeing that in the UK. Churches are closing because people are not paying for the ministers or the ministry of the church.
It is not just in the UK. I heard last week that one of our nearby European chaplaincies is possibly going to lose its full-time minister, because it cannot be afforded.
And we’re there yet. Don is constantly having to struggle with the figures.

So when the people of God give – then the ministry can flourish, and the good news of the love of Jesus, of his victory over death, of the gift of his Holy Spirit, of friendship with God, of the hope of heaven can be proclaimed. The church can develop new ways of reaching out to people, and new ways of helping people grow in their faith. And we can develop new works of mercy.

When God’s people give, the Church of God is blessed.

There is blessing to God
Paul speaks of how the generousity of the Corinthians will bring ‘thanksgiving to God through us’ (v11), and that their gift will not only supply the needs of the saints, but also overflow with many thanksgivings to God (v12). And Paul finishes the chapter by declaring, ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift’ (v15).

There are, in fact, multiple thanksgivings

We thank God for his provision.
There is thanksgiving when we receive a gift, whether someone has given R100, R1000 or R10000.

We thank God for his work in you that you have chosen to give.
We know what is important to a person by what they give to.
If you want a simple way to measure your spiritual temperature, think about what you have put in the offering bag today. Because what we usually put in the bag (not the amount, but what it really costs us -Jesus saw a poor woman put a R50 note in the collection, and he said she had given more than the people who put in many R1000 notes because she had given everything she had), but what we normally put in the bag is one of the indicators of what God means to us.
I remember challenging one of our members in Bury St Edmunds who was quite well off. He rather proudly told me that he was putting in 50p each week. I said, ‘Thank you. That is great. I am assuming that you are also telling me that God means less to you than half of the one of the newspapers that you read each day’.
So when people do sacrificially give, we do give thanks, because it means that God is working in their life, and that he is becoming more important to them.

We thank God because we have begun to realise that everything we have is gift

So I invite you to take a step of faith when it comes to giving.

The story is told of the man who stood up in church to share his testimony. He said, ‘I came to this country with £10, and the Lord told me to give it all away. So I gave it away, and he gave me £100. The Lord told me to give it all away, so I gave it away, and he gave me £10000. The Lord told me to give it all away, so I gave it away, and that is why I am standing in front of you today as a multi-millionaire.’ And a little old lady at the back of the church stood up and said, ‘Go on. I dare you’.

I dare you – and me – to take a step of faith when it comes to giving.
I dare you to give that it might be a blessing to you, so that you will become a richer person, a more generous person, a person who discovers that God provides.
I dare you to give to bless the church, the people of God, and to enable us all in the work of declaring the good news of Jesus.
And I dare you to give so that people will turn to God and give him thanksgiving – for you, for the reality of your faith, for all that he has given us, and for Jesus.

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