by Pastor Keith Graham
Please read the Scripture passage referenced above, then keep your Bible handy. Thank you!
As New Testament prophet Agabus had predicted (cf. Acts 11:28), an extensive famine occured in the days of Claudius, who sat on the imperial throne of the Roman Empire in the days of the apostles of our Divine Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our text is part of the apostle Paul's encouraging instruction to the Corinthian Christians about a gift being planned for the relief of the Christians in famine-stricken Judea.
Previously in this letter, Paul had written, "...but just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also." (2 Corinthians 8:7)
Those words well express the main proposition, that is the burden or core of the message to be shared with you today. It is this:
Paul has told the Corinthians that they are doing well in the areas of faith, utterance, knowledge, and even love. See that you excel in the area of GIVING also, he exhorts them. Abound in it! Let giving be an outlet for your sound faith, your inspired love, and your Divine knowledge.
In our text we find ample reason to affirm with all fervor that "regular, faithful, monetary giving is not optional for the Christian."
The first such reason is because giving is an act of thankful WORSHIP. To worship God, to show forth his magnificent splendor, and ascribe all worthiness to Him, is the reason we exist...it is the purpose for which we are saved: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Again going back a few verses in 2 Corinthians, we find that the primary focus of giving is to be on the Lord, and only in a secondary way on the human beneficiaries of the gift - in this case the Judean saints. In chapter 8, verse 5 Paul appeals to the example set by their neighbors in Macedonia to motivate the Corinthians to abound in giving -
He writes that they (the Macedonian believers) "...FIRST gave themselves to the Lord, and to us by the will of God." In other words, these Macedonians saw what they were doing as an act of worship toward God, and it was according to God's will that they directed their gifts be spent. Again, the focus of their giving was primarily on God, secondarily and by God's will on their human beneficiaries.
Now since worship is the heart of the act of giving, consider HOW, according to God's Word in 2 Corinthians 9, giving is to be done.
Verse 6 - it is to be with an expectant eye upon what will be reaped. There is nothing wrong with a farmer looking earnestly to God to bring forth a harvest from his hard work of sowing seed. Even so, we are exhorted to give with the expectation that God will bless our gifts, and bring forth a spiritual harvest from them.
Therefore, sow as much as you can! Do you want to have a tremendous, valuable harvest? It will never happen if plenty of seed has not been sown.
Verse 7 - giving is to be purposeful, not haphazard. "Let each one do just as he has PURPOSED in his heart", writes the apostle. How do your giving habits compare with this apostolic commandment? Do you "suddenly remember" when your Church's collection is taken, that you should give something? Is your giving a matter of digging in wallet or purse at the last minute to find a little extra cash to spare? Is even that merely to save face before mankind, or is it an act of worship to God?
This verse speaks of making giving the top line on our budgets, not an unexpected, nuisance expense. And so it should be with us. Before we are finished dealing with this passage today, we will address the question of "how much should I purpose to give?" For now, let us simply note that "regular, faithful, monetary giving" is to be with a settled purposefulness, it is not to be a mere afterthought.
Verse 7 - also tells us that we should give cheerfully. I submit to you that no one is a more cheerful giver than one keenly aware of how great a receiver he is. And that applies to the Christian worshiper and disciple more than anyone in the world. In His sermon on the Mount, Jesus said "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." He also said, "if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."
In other words, the Christian is well disposed to forgive because he has learned to have a firm hope in being forgiven for sin through the Gospel. He is well disposed to be merciful, because he is deeply cognizant of how God's mercy has rescued him. The one who is unforgiving and unmerciful probably knows little or nothing of God's forgiveness and mercy. Even so, the cheerful giver is one who has deep resources of liberality, which come out of his recognition of how great a gift he himself has received.
If you cannot give cheerfully as an act of worship toward the God you call your Father, Savior, and Comforter, I submit to you that you need to examine yourself very closely, to see if you be in the faith.
Verse 8 - teaches that one cannot "outgive God". This is the Thanksgiving season. It reminds us of God's bounty. What do we possess that we did not receive from God? Moreover, He supplies abundantly in order that we may be able to give to others! There is no need to worry that giving worshipfully so that others may benefit will impoverish the faithful giver. God will undertake to make sure that a sower looking to Him for the harvest - a purposeful, cheerful giver - will always have sufficient means to be able to continue to give!
A second reason to firmly maintain that "regular, faithful, monetary giving is not optional for the Christian" is this: God uses means. We can illustrate this truth by the account of the conversion of Cornelius and his household, recorded in Acts 10.
Cornelius the military commander was a God-fearing Gentile and a patron of the ancient Jewish people. God sent an angel to Cornelius with a message. The angel, one of God's mighty spirit servants who excel in power and knowledge, told Cornelius to send for Peter, a man with a fallen human nature such as Cornelius himself had. The angel's task was to direct Cornelius to send for a mere man. It was the man, Christ's appointed apostle, who would proclaim the Gospel to Cornelius and his household.
Consider this! Could not God have commanded the angel to announce the Gospel message? Would not our human wisdom even tell us that this would have been more effective? A glorious, supernatural being, sent from heaven - who would not embrace his message? Yet, God had appointed the means of human preaching for the Gospel message to go forth.
God COULD have given the Gospel to Cornelius by the angel or by any means He chose. God DID choose and appoint certain means by which Cornelius would receive it. It was by His apostle. Today it is by the Church, which is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and which is the abiding herald of the same good news they preached, that the Kingdom's inexorable march goes on...not by angels, not by private revelations, even though Almighty God COULD use those means if He so chose.
Even so, the gifts of God's people are His chosen means for the building up His kingdom, which kingdom we are to seek, in which kingdom we are workers. Our human wisdom might tell us to run Christ's Church like a business. What great "success" we could have! But God has appointed that the financial giving of His people be the means for the provision of the earthly needs of His heavenly kingdom.
Our text show us that those gifts are the means for both the spiritual and physical building up of the Kingdom.
Verses 11- 14 Paul presents three spiritual fruits that are produced:
1. Thankfulness: the Corinthians' liberality is "producing thanksgiving to God". This ministry (of giving) is "overflowing through many thanksgivings to God". Regular, faithful, monetary giving actually produces a priceless result: thankful hearts!
2. It is furthering the glory to God. The recipients of the gift, the Judean saints, will glorify God for the Corinthians' obedience and liberality. Regular, faithful, monetary giving sets forth the glory of the good God!
3. It is even generating prayer, that mighty weapon against evil and singular tool of faith! The Judean believers, writes Paul in verse 14, will offer prayer on behalf of the Corinthians because of "the surpassing grace of God" in them. Regular, faithful, monetary giving brings about effectual intercession...it brings Almighty power to bear upon those for whom prayer is offered!
In the second place, this God-appointed means of giving provides the physical maintenance necessary for the ministry of the Word. We will consider some other portions of Scripture to establish this. Hear God's holy Word from Numbers 18:26 as the LORD speaks to Moses:
"...you shall speak to the Levites and say to them, 'when you take from the sons of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe."
At least two things are immediately apparent here, and stand established elsewhere in Scripture. One, the priestly tribe of Levi had an inheritance from the LORD unlike the other tribes of Israel. The other tribes received a portion of the land of Canaan, but the Levites' inheritance was the LORD Himself (see a few verses back, at Numbers 18:20) and the tithes (tenths) of the people. Two, the Levites themselves were to give one tenth to the LORD; that is a tithe of the people's tithe.
Comparing this text with 1 Corinthians 9:13,14, we find that the pattern remains the same under the New Covenant:
"Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the Gospel to get their living from the Gospel."
In other words, the Christian ministry, "those who proclaim the Gospel", are to be supported in this New Covenant age, as the Levites were supported under the Old Covenant.
Some who are hearing or reading these words may be feeling a little uncomfortable at this point. Is it being asserted by this minister that God requires that we give to the Church one tenth of what we earn?
The answer is YES! All Christians, including ministers themselves (like the Levites), are to give a tenth of what they receive (i.e. income) to the LORD! Now we are going to answer the question introduced earlier, "how much should I purpose to give?" Herein the regular, faithful, monetary giving required of us in God's Word is set forth very practical terms.
Take what might be called the Romans 12:1ff perspective on this. In that passage, we find that God claims ALL we are and ALL we have as His own! Living in that way is nothing but our REASONABLE service to God! Not just one tenth, but ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of our money is God's! You are looking at things backwards if you conceive of God as taking one tenth of YOUR money. The wonderful reality is this: God allows us liberty to use 90 per cent of HIS money for His glory and our benefit! How gracious God is, to only require that one tenth of HIS goods be used in a specific way! Over the other nine tenths of HIS goods we have authority, to use and enjoy them according to more general precepts of Christian living.
We should think of tithing (giving one tenth of our income) as a "minimum requirement". It's like first day of the week, the Lord's day. The God Who "made the Sabbath for man, and not man for the Sabbath", directs us to remember His Sabbath, setting it apart to Him in a special way. Yet we are more blessed as we offer our routine weekdays to God as well. And those accustomed to beginning each of those days by giving God the first hour or so, know how blessed a thing this is...to start each day with the Lord. God is to be given the best, the prime, the first part in everything. A verse like Leviticus 23:10 shows that the people were to give God the firstfruits. Surely, living in the day of the new and better Covenant in Jesus' blood, the very LEAST we can do is give God one tenth!
Every word spoken by the Son of God is binding on the loving conscience of every Christian. Looking at Luke 11:42 in this light, we must conclude that Jesus commanded tithing:
"...woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe on mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these things you should have done without neglecting the others."
Without a doubt, Jesus' focus here is on the Pharisees' gross error and hypocrisy. They made sure their tithes comprehended the smallest elements of their increase, but they ignored far greater matters. Yet, Christ does say that BOTH things should have been done! This establishes that the Lord Jesus, who said that the Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John the Baptizer, but the Kingdom of God thereafter (Luke 16:16) expected tithing to continue on in the Kingdom age. Otherwise, He Who is the truth itself, Who is perfectly wise in His speech, would not have spoken thus.
Why do many Churches of today sell raffle tickets, hold bazaars, and go in for all sorts of "fund raising" enterprises? It is because they have abandoned God's appointed means for the physical support of the Church, tithes and offerings!
Suppose there were a small church, consisting of twelve households with an average household income of $50,000 (fifty thousand dollars per year). Such a congregation, if each household were merely tithing faithfully, could provide a living for a minister of the Gospel comparable to their own average standard of living, and have ten thousand dollars remaining for other physical needs! If that same Church went just a little beyond the "minimum requirement", it is not difficult to see that it could enjoy great freedom from financial distress, and be well positioned to give even more.
"I couldn't possibly TITHE!", you say? At Malachi 3:8-12, God actually commands us to test Him in this matter:
"Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, 'how have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you!
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and TEST Me now in this", says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.
Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it may not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes, says the LORD of hosts.
And all the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land," says the LORD of hosts.
While you say that your needs and your bills are simply to great for you to consider actually giving away one tenth of what you receive, God Almighty tells you to put Him to the test, that you may see His power at work for your benefit! Instead of being regarded as a robber by Him, you will see Him open the windows of heaven, pouring out blessings for you which you never thought you would receive! The devourer of which He speaks in Malachi are those seemingly incomprehensible disappearances of your money, with nothing to show for it...where did it go? God says He will rebuke that devourer.
Our text concludes at verse 15, where Paul writes, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift." To what could the apostle be referring here other than to God's great gift of His unique Son? For God so loved the world that He gave Him, that whoever believes on Him might not perish, but have everlasting life. God set the example with His own gift. Seeing a world of lost sinners, desperately in need of a Savior, God GAVE.
The humilation of the Son of God, His sufferings, and His cruel death COST God! God delivered His precious, only-begotten Son over to a painful life and a horrible death, not for His own sake, but only because of His great love for His elect. They were condemned. They could not save themselves. Only His Son could redeem them by paying the penalty for their sins in His own body on the cross. Only an infinitely valuable and perfect sacrifce could appease Divine wrath, only in the Son's perfect righteousness could they stand before Divine justice. Only Jesus could accomplish salvation and rise from the dead after conquering death itself, and sin, and hell.
So God GAVE His Son. Will you purpose to practise regular, faithful giving?
Back in 2 Corinthians 8:9, we have one of many Bible verses wherein we see the example of Christ Himself; His total, self-expending giving:
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich."
Will you imitate your Lord and Savior?
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