The Practice of Giving

Original Date: 
Sunday, January 28, 2018

2 Corinthians 8:13-9:6 The Grace of Giving: The Practice of Giving

Lessons from the Vegetable Guy
Leadership Magazine carried a story about 4 young men, Bible College students, who were renting a house together. One Saturday morning someone knocked on their door. When they opened it, there stood this bedraggled-looking old man. His eyes were kind of glazed over, and he had a silvery stub of whiskers on his face. His clothes were ragged and torn. His shoes didn’t match. In fact, they were both for the same foot. And he carried a wicker basket full of unappealing vegetables that he was trying to sell. The boys felt sorry for him and bought some of his vegetables just to help him out. Then he went on his way.

But from that time on, every Saturday he appeared at their door with his basket of vegetables. As the boys got to know him a little bit better, they began inviting him in to visit before he continued on his rounds.

They soon discovered that his eyes looked glazed over not because of drugs or alcohol, but because of cataracts. They learned that he lived just down the street in an old shack. They also found out that he could play the harmonica, that he loved to play Christian hymns, and that he really loved God.

Every Saturday they would invite him in, and he would play his harmonica and they would sing Christian hymns together. They became good friends, and the young men began trying to figure out ways to help him.

One Saturday morning, the story says, right in the middle of all their singing and praising, he suddenly said to them, "God is so good!" And they all agreed, "Yes, God is so good." He went on, "You know why he is so good?" They said, "Why?" He said, "Because yesterday, when I got up and opened my door, there were boxes full of clothes and shoes and coats and gloves. Yes, God is so good!" And the roommates smiled at each other and chimed in, "Yes, God is so good."

He went on, "You know why He is so good?" They answered, "You already told us why. What more?" He said, "Because I found a family who could use those things, and I gave them all away." (Melvin Newland, Sermoncentral.com)

ReCap
This story makes a pretty good introduction to our message today because it illustrates the kind of giving the Apostle Paul has been talking about in 2 Corinthians 8. Paul has been commending the heart of the Macedonian churches--who, though they were in the midst of "severe trial" and "extreme poverty," welled-up in rich generosity.
Let me recap our sermon series. We are doing a series on Christian giving, focusing on Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians for generosity towards the church in Jerusalem from 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.

The first week we focused on why we should give. We saw that our great motivation in giving is not guilt or greed; but the precedent set by Jesus Christ, who though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, so that we, through his poverty, might become rich.

The second week we focused on what giving is. We saw that it is not an impersonal, mechanical obligation placed on every Christian--but instead is a gift of God, produced by joy, in which Christians voluntarily and willingly participate. We see our giving not so much as a duty or a need, but as an opportunity to worship God and grow in our relationship with Him.

Then, last week, Jay talked about our place in giving. He gave us a nuts and bolts look at giving trends here at Hope Church and the budget that guides how your gifts to the church are spent. He also talked about the importance of being good stewards of what God has given to us.

Now, today, I want to get practical. I want to ask the question: How should we give? As we continue in our passage, I have found three pieces of advice on how we should give. Three Biblical suggestion for us to think about in our practice of giving.

The Hard-Pressed
First, we should give where there is need. Give where you are confident your giving is doing good. I see this in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15:

13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

Paul wants to make it clear that he is not trying to bankrupt anybody. The idea here is not that the Christians in Jerusalem get rich while the Corinthians and Macedonians suffer. Rather, what Paul wants is to see relief brought to those in need. Right now, those with the greatest need are the Christians in Jerusalem. Later, it might be the Corinthians. In a word, what Paul wants is "equality."

Now, these verses can be troubling to us as Americans because they can sound slightly socialistic. Does Paul really think that everyone should have equality in possession?

It’s not socialism, however. The Bible does not advocate socialism. The problem with socialism is that it forces its citizenry to hold all possessions in common and the result is that hardly anybody has anything.

But Paul isn’t trying to force anything here. As we’ve seen, the emphasis is on voluntary giving. What Paul is saying here is completely consistent with everything else the Bible teaches about love. As Christians, Paul wants us to choose to love others as we love ourselves (cf. Matt. 22:39). He wants us to choose to lay down our lives for our brothers (cf. 1 John 3:16-17) As Christians, whenever we see a person with a need greater than our own, our first reaction should be to meet that need (cf. Luke 10:25-37). That's the response of Christian love. That's what the vegetable guy did in the story I told at the beginning.

And so, I say that we should give where there is need.

How do you define need? Generally speaking, there are two kinds of needs that Christians should seek to address: material and spiritual.

Material needs are people who do not have the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, health care, education. It was material needs that Paul was primarily trying to address with this fund-raising project for Jerusalem. It is material needs that you are addressing whenever you give to a food bank, or a health clinic or a fundraiser for a family facing a health crisis. Material needs are a big part of our mission trips to Haiti and the work that Many Hands does with nutrition clinics and UCI does with their schools.

But we should also give to meet spiritual needs. As Christians, we believe it is good for people to be in a relationship with Jesus. We want people to know the good news that Jesus saves us from our sins and that living in relationship with Him gives life meaning and purpose and joy. And so, we support missionaries who are helping people to know Jesus, and we partner with new churches and college campus ministries that are introducing people to Jesus, and one of the goals of our mission team going to Haiti is to share the story of Jesus and to give out Bibles.

And, of course, most of the programming here at Hope Church is meant to meet spiritual needs. The purpose of our building and our staff is to help people take steps in their journey with Jesus—whether that is people meeting Him for the first time or people who have been walking with Him for decades. We are here to help people grow in their relationship with Him.

And let me note, also, that when I say that we should give where there is need I do not necessarily mean that we should only give to organizations that are experiencing financial shortfalls. I don’t mean that we should only give where there is financial need. Rather, what I mean, and what I believe Paul means in the passage, is that we should make sure our giving goes to meet genuine human need.

So, for example, one of the largest Christian organizations in the world is World Vision. They have an enormous budget with child sponsorship programs and crisis relief and economic development and so on. And you might look at them and say: “Well, they already have a lot of money coming in, they don’t need my donation.” But that’s looking at it the wrong way. The question is: Are they effective in meeting needs? Maybe the reason they are one of the largest Christian organizations in the world is because they are really good at taking people’s donations and using them to meet real material and spiritual needs. And if that is the case, then maybe they are one of the best places you could give your money.

Or, take it closer to home. Maybe you were here last week and you heard Jay talk about the incredible financial faithfulness of this church. He showed a chart for the last 10 years that showed that every year Hope Church had more giving than it had expenses. And maybe your conclusion from that is that Hope Church doesn’t really need your money. But that would be looking at it the wrong way.

The question is whether Hope Church is effective in carrying out its mission. That is to say: our vision is to bring joy to Jesus and help people experience joy in Him. The question for you to ask, as you consider whether to include Hope Church in your giving plan is whether that is a vision you feel is important. Do you believe that helping people experience joy in Jesus meets a vital need in their lives? And then, second, do you believe that Hope Church is living that vision out?

Because if you believe it is important, and you believe Hope Church is living that vision out, then your giving to Hope Church can help to meet an important spiritual need. But, of course, if it isn't happening, then it also makes sense to stop giving to the church. If it isn't happening, then we need to re-examine why we are here and get our purpose as a church back in line with Scripture.

The point, our first piece of advice on how to give, is to give where there is need.

Taking Pains to do What is Right
Now, second: make sure the people in charge of the money are reliable. You should give where you trust the people receiving the money. We’re now going to read quite few verses to make a pretty simple point. Verses 16 through 24:

16 Thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. 17 For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. 18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. 19 What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. 20 We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. 21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.

22 In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. 24 Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.

We’ve reached a part of this letter where we are reminded that this was a real letter written to real people. Paul is talking about people that we don’t know, but the Corinthians did. So he mentions Titus and the two men with him (the "brother praised by all the churches" in verse 18 and the brother "who proved to us in many ways" his zealousness in verse 22). These are the three men carrying this letter to Corinth and they are the ones who are going to carry the offering to Jerusalem.

The point is that Paul wants to reassure the Corinthians that the men who will be handling their gift are entirely trustworthy. In his own words, verse 20 and 21:

20 We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. 21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.

The bit of advice I draw out of this for our own situation, then, is that when we give as a church, we must be sure that the people in charge of the money are reliable. We want to be sure that the handling of our money is directed by Godly leadership.

This relates directly to the process we go through when choosing church leaders. The selection of elders and deacons is not a popularity contest, nor is it an opportunity to get someone more involved in the life of the church. When we choose our leaders we want to prayerfully and carefully select those people in whom we see God-given gifts for leadership.

Consider some of the characteristics Paul uses to describe the three men who went to Corinth: In verse 17 we learn that Titus went with "much enthusiasm and on his own initiative." In other words, he volunteered. He didn't need to be talked into it. We want leaders who are eager and enthusiastic about the job.

Or, again, the brother of verse 18 is described as one "who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel." That is to say, he is well respected, both within his own church and in others. We want leaders who have a good reputation.

Verse 19: "What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering." This man was the kind of guy that people trusted with their money. We want leaders who have earned the trust of their peers.

And then, verse 23, all three of these men have demonstrated that they are "an honor to Christ." This is the most important qualification when choosing people to lead the church. We want leaders who are zealous for and committed to the Lord. We want leaders whose first priority is to honor God.

And so, we want to make sure that those who handle the offerings are reliable.

This is one of the reasons Jay shared an overview of the budget last week. We want to be transparent about what happens with your offerings. It’s also one of the reasons he had our six deacons help with the message. We want you to know who is handling your gifts. We want you to be able to ask questions and get answers.

We also want you to know that the money is handled here at Hope Church with integrity. The deacons always count the offering in pairs and sign off on the total together. Not because we don’t trust each other, but because we want to avoid any hint of impropriety.

When you choose to give your money somewhere, you should be confident that the people in charge of the money are reliable.

That You May Be Ready
The third and final piece of advice, then, is probably the most practical. It is, simply, this: Have a plan. Know WHAT you are going to give, WHEN, and WHERE. I draw this out of chapter 9, verse 1-5:

There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people. 2 For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. 3 But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.

Remember the context. Paul is raising money to help the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem. He’s been talking about this project for a year. Now, he’s in Macedonia but he is sending Titus and the others ahead to Corinth (in Achaia) to make sure that the Corinthians’ initial enthusiasm hasn’t cooled off.

Basically, he’s been boasting about how eager the Corinthians are to help, and now he wants to make sure he doesn’t appear foolish.

And his advice is that they "be ready", that they have a plan. He doesn't want the collection to be a spur of the moment thing because he knows the offering won't be as high, and then all of his boasting will "prove hollow."

And so, I see here some advice to us as well. When it comes to giving here at the church--or indeed, any of your giving--it is best to be prepared. It is best to have a plan for how you are going to handle your charitable giving.

As I see it, any giving plan should answer three questions: what, when, and where.

a) What?
The first question to be answered is what should we give? Or, to put it another way: how much should we give? It is a good idea to have an idea of how much you will give before you ever start giving.

I talked about tithing a couple of weeks ago. A lot of Christians talk about 10% as the standard amount we should give. But we saw that tithing is not commanded in the New Testament, and that in the Old Testament the tithe actually added up to quite a bit more than 10%. The point I have been trying to make through this series is that our giving should be voluntary and “each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give.” (2 Cor. 9:7) But it is still helpful to have an amount, a plan. And a percentage as a benchmark of your giving is a good place to start.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Beth and I begin our giving plan with 10% of my paycheck. That dates back to our second year of marriage, when we were in seminary. Prior to that, we didn’t really have a plan for our giving. We gave haphazardly. When the offering plate would come by we would put in some of whatever was in our wallet that particular day. Sometimes it would be a 20, sometimes a 10 or a 5. We were poor students, we thought we were being pretty generous.

But then, one day, the pastor preached on giving, and we realized that we didn’t have a plan. All of our weekly 20s and 10s didn’t add up to even a small percentage of our minimal income. So, we decided that day that the first 10% of our main paycheck (which at the time was Beth’s teaching job) would go to our church. And we’ve tithed like that ever since, and we’ve never had problems paying a bill.

Of course, we strive to do more giving than that. Over the years we have committed to support missionaries and students and sponsor a child, as well as capital campaigns and other things. Our overall percentage of giving is higher than 10%, but we always start our giving plan each year with that tithe.

So, what about you? Do you have an amount that you are planning to give this year? Do you know what percentage of your income that is? Are you happy with that percentage? Do you feel like that is an accurate reflection of how generous you want to be?

Know what you plan to give. Set an amount and work to meet it.

b) When?
The second question to be answered in your giving plan is: When do we give? Or, to put it another way: How often should we give? This is closely connected to the question of how much. Beth and I have found that knowing what we plan to give makes it much easier to know when we will give it.

Let me ask you a question: How many of you feel guilty whenever a charity calls on the phone or some kid knocks on your door looking to raise money for a field trip? One of the reasons the Fireman’s association and Boy Scouts do that is because they know how hard it is for us to say “No.” But I have found that having a plan for my giving makes it easier for me to turn down some of those unwanted fundraising pitches. I don’t need to feel guilty because I know what my giving is going to and when I am going to give.

And so, this is my advice to you: Set a regular pattern of giving. Don't content yourself to just drop whatever you have in your pockets into the plate whenever it comes by, but know how much and how often you are going to give. For some of you that might mean weekly offerings, for others biweekly, and still others monthly. If you give under a regular pattern you don't need to feel like you have to give to every fundraising project or offering plate that comes by.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you can't break the pattern once and a while. Sometimes special offerings are going to come up that you want to be a part of, like a neighbor that is sick or a particularly devastating disaster like Hurricane Harvey in Houston. There should still be room for spontaneous giving.

But don’t be content to only give spontaneously. Have a plan.

c) Where?
Then, third: Where should we give? That is, to whom should we be giving our offerings?

I do believe that a good case can be made that for Christians, the first and primary recipient of our giving should be our local church. One of the commitments we make when we become members is to financially support the expenses and ministries of our church. The Bible talks making sure that pastors and others who work full-time for the ministry of the Word are financially supported (i.e. 1 Timothy 5:17-18). For Beth and I the bulk of our giving, the 10 percent, goes to the church.

But that doesn't keep us from giving to other causes. Like I sai,d we support missionaries and some local ministries and sponsor a child. Plus, we have some money which we give to special causes when they come up.

My point in all of this is that it is good to have a plan when it comes to your giving. In order for our giving to be meaningful--that is, in order for it to be a true act of worship--it is important that it is intentional. Know how much you are giving. Know when you are giving it. And know where it is going.

Paul's advice to the Corinthians is to be prepared. Then the offering is ready "as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given."

Conclusion
This whole matter of Christian giving is a very practical one. It is a discipline. Something we do intentionally, not haphazardly. Pay attention to your own practice of giving, make sure you've thought it through.

The point of our giving is to meet needs. We give to help those who have material and spiritual needs. Make sure your offerings are making a difference then.

What's more, we want those who handle our gifts to be reliable. Make sure that those you appoint to make decisions about your gifts are trustworthy. And, once you've chosen them, make sure that you give them your trust.

And finally, make sure that you approach your giving with a plan. Don't just give on a hit and miss pattern, but be careful and thoughtful in the way you participate in this service to the Lord.