2 Corinthians 8:1-5,10-15
 
The True Purpose of Giving

         Copyright © 2006, J.W. Carter. Scripture quotes from KJV
Sermon, Cedar Rock First Baptist Church.  September 17, 2006


My wife, Ann and I recently had the opportunity to share in the celebration of the second birthday of our grandson, William.1  This bright and precocious blond-haired, blue-eyed boy is currently our only grandchild, and anyone who has shared in this experience is quite familiar with the special kind of joy a grandchild can bring.  William is also the only grandchild of the paternal grandparents, and William's father is an only child.  Needless to say, the family dotes on this beautiful child.  Add to this scenario the fact that William's father is a Baptist pastor.  William's family receives enough support to make "ends meet," but there is no extra money in their budget for non-essentials.  When we combine this background with the social event of a birthday party that includes all of the grandparents and plenty of aunts and uncles, a curious sociological phenomena occurs:  unbridled, joy-filled spontaneous generosity. 

Between those aunts, uncles, and grandparents, this child wants for nothing.  Too young to open the presents, or even understand the context of their opening, mother Jennifer opened each gift, presenting each to him, and identifying the source of the gift.   Each vocal sound made by William would be repeated in chorus by this surrounding group of more than a dozen adults.   Of course, William was most enamored by a red envelope that one of the birthday cards came in until, finally, a small basketball and goal appeared.  From that point on, all William wanted to do was repeatedly reach up and dunk the ball in the hoop.2 

What I noticed the most was the overwhelming joy that everyone expressed while they watched the presents being offered to little William.  I would imagine the joy was, in part, repeated in the likes of the shareholders of Toys-R-Usģ, Wal-Martģ, and other suppliers of the gifts that were given.  Those who gave gifts did so solely out of their love for this little boy, and thoroughly enjoyed both the giving of the gift, and the knowledge that their gift would be used for his benefit.  There is an example here that all of us can observe, an example of a similar opportunity we have to give gifts that support the work of the kingdom of God. 

True giving is simply the natural expression of generosity that real love inspires.  Just as little William's family had the opportunity to provide gifts to help support his needs, Christians have the opportunity to support the work of the Church as it seeks to take the gospel to the lost and to disciple those who love the LORD.  We find a similar biblical example of giving in Paul's second letter to the church in Corinth when he pens a request for a special offering to support the struggling Christian church in Jerusalem.

2 Corinthians 8:1-2.

Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

By the time of Paul's third missionary journey, churches were well-established throughout those countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean sea.  Many of the churches were struggling because of the persecution that its members received at the hands of Jews who shunned them as heretics, and Gentiles who thought them to be unenlightened. 

Paul is about to brag on the Macedonian churches for the gifts they gave to help the struggling church in Jerusalem. Members of the Jerusalem church were persecuted by the rest of the Jewish community. They were disowned by their families and Jewish friends, they were fired from their jobs, and were not allowed to take part in the general economic activity. They were not allowed to own land, buy and sell, etc. This stress placed them in a particular point of need. Furthermore, there was a growing rift taking place between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians within the church, and this act of generosity by Gentile Christians could go a long way to helping to restore the relationships of these Christians to where it should be. The need was great, and God gave the Macedonians an opportunity to help. Paul was particularly impressed by the Macedonian churches' gifts.

The Macedonian churches, those in the area of Northern Greece such as Thessalonica, Berea, and Philippi, were struggling not only in persecution but also in poverty, and when they heard of the need, they gave generously out of that poverty to the Lord's people in Jerusalem. One of the tenets of Jewish law included the mandatory giving of alms to the poor. It had been established that the Gentile Christians were not required to submit themselves to Jewish tradition, and were not obligated to this almsgiving. Consequently, their gifts communicated something that many Jews, even those Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, would have a hard time understanding when the Macedonian gifts were not given from religious obligation, but out of their own poverty and destitution.   They gave what they could, simply because they wanted to be part of meeting a genuine need.

2 Corinthians 8:3-5.

For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 4Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 5And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.

When we look at the response to the members of the Macedonian churches to the need, we find them giving much in the same way that the family showered gifts on the grandchild.  When they heard of the need, they, out of their own poverty desired to help in a spirit more like the spontaneous response of joining with friends in an enjoyable activity than out of an obligation. However, unlike those at the party, the Macedonians had to truly sacrifice in order to give, yet sacrifice they did.

Note that the members of the Macedonian church did more than provide a monetary gift.  They "urgently pleaded" with Paul that they would be allowed to be part of the collection itself.  They took an active part in getting the word of the need out to the churches in their region and then took part in the collection itself.  We see an image of a group of Christians who were energized and mobilized by their love for the LORD as they gave even of themselves in the project.  This was far more than Paul had expected or intended.

I am reminded of the way I have been treated while doing missionary work. We go to meet needs of others who are struggling themselves, and so often we find ourselves having to accept spontaneous gifts from them fully knowing the real sacrifice that was required for them to do so. They would feed us the best they had when we knew that they would suffer for it later. What motivates people to sacrifice and give like this? There is such joy in their giving, that to do anything but graciously accept their gifts would cause them to be confused and embarrassed.

Once, after tithing in a large church that was hoarding its money in investments and refusing to spend it on ministry, God called us to a small, struggling church that did not have the money to do the ministries it desired. My wife and I started digging around trying to find ways to get more money to give to this ministry as we poured our lives and our money into it. We gave to the first church out of obligation to Godís call, and with some resentment for the way they used it (or chose not to). We gave to the second church out of the sheer joy of seeing it used for Godís work. At one point the pastor asked us to stop, and after the pastor delivered us a scolding for our one-sided giving, we conspired together to purchase over a hundred chairs for the choir loft and fellowship hall. I was able to show him a greater joy in giving.

Just like these examples, our giving can be done out of the same two motives: out of obligation, or from spontaneous joy and a desire to give. Paul describes this spontaneous generosity demonstrated by the Macedonians as evidence of the grace that God had given the churches there. Godís grace is always at the heart of any act of worship, and giving is no exception.

With such an attitude toward giving, we find that both scripturally and practically, we will find ourselves sharing of that God has given us, both within the church and without.  God can use the generosity of Christians to help those who are in need through many organizations, whether it be through sharing houses, thrift stores, food pantries, medical research trusts, and many more.  When we give within the context of the local church, our giving falls into three categories, each with a well-defined purpose:  Tithes, offerings, and gifts.

Malachi 3:10.

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it..

The local church fellowship with whom the LORD calls us to associate usually has a set of on-going ministries that create on-going expenses.  The Biblical model for the Christian fellowship is that where the members of that fellowship give regularly to meet the budget needs that they as a fellowship choose to commit to.  The Hebrews of the Old Testament were seeking righteousness under the law, and the law clearly prescribed regular tithing, with differing amounts for different types of tithes.   This was a giving that was out of obligation.  The Old Testament tithe was literally a tax that was levied upon the Jews. 

Those who have come to faith in God are not under the Law, and there is no need for a written prescription of the amount of the tithe.  As New Testament believers, we still have the responsibility to meet the financial needs of our church fellowship and the ministries that it engages in.  However, God has put His word in the heart of every believer, and it is to the heart that we look to determine how we support our church.  This gives us both the freedom to give as much as we like, and gives us the opportunity to experience the joy of seeing what God is doing with our gifts.  This is much like the type of giving I witnessed at my grandson's birthday party:  giving out of joy, not out of obligation.

A second category of giving takes the form of offerings.  Unlike the tithe that is expected to be part of regular giving, the offerings given in scripture were given for specific occasions and purposes, and always involved sacrifice.  The King James text offers no less than 113 examples of the linking of offering and sacrifice.  The collection taken by Paul for the church in Jerusalem was such an offering, and there is no question that the Macedonian churches gave at a great sacrifice for this special need.  We may find ourselves taking up an offering any time there is a special need that is outside the purposes of the normal tithe.  Offerings are always given in addition to the tithe, and never in its place.  The regular needs of the fellowship continue, so the giving of an offering is still a special sacrifice.  Often the giving of offerings is like the birthday party in that we know exactly what the offering is to be given for, and we enjoy being a part of the fulfillment of that specific need.  Special offerings may be taken within a church for non-budgeted expenses like repairs and renovations, or for the purchase of large-scale items.  Offerings may be taken to help specific individuals or families who are in need.  Offerings may be taken to support the work of missions and missionaries locally, regionally, or around the globe.

The third category of giving involves gifts.  

Matthew 2:11

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

Gifts are neither tithes, which are intended to support the regular ministry of the church, nor are they offerings that are responses to a published need.  Gifts are simply gifts.  The Magi brought gifts to Jesus:  gold, a gift for a king; incense, a gift for God; and myrrh, a gift for one who is to die.  Though these gifts were prophetic, they were also practical, as the gold would sustain the family while they fled to Egypt to avoid Herod, the incense would be used in their worship, and the myrrh would be kept for use at the appropriate time. 

One may observe that there is a need for some capital item in the church and simply decide to obtain that item and give it to the church as a gift.  Some may give cash gifts to the LORD's work following some financial event in their lives.  Like offerings, gifts are made in addition to the tithe, and they come out of the desire of the heart when one desires to give something special.  Gifts are given spontaneously to meet a specific need that is on the heart of the giver.  The giving of gifts to the LORD is most like the giving of gifts to your young child on his/her birthday.  Not only is the need met by the gift, but the giver receives the special joy and blessing of being a significant part, if not the only part, of meeting that specific need.  Though we give neither tithes or offerings out of obligation, we tend to sometimes do so.  Gifts are never given from any mixture of obligation.

So, the final question remains:  how much of what God has given us is an appropriate amount to return to Him in tithes, offerings, and gifts?  The Old Testament Law prescribed a tax that grew and grew until it became burdensome, and under the early kings of Israel, pushed many of their people into destitution and slavery. 

2 Corinthians 8:10-15.

And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. 11Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have. 12For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. 13For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: 14But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: 15As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.

Jesus and the writers of the New Testament never set down a specific amount that is appropriate for an individual to give.  We should be reminded that those who love the LORD are not under the law, but under grace.  God has put his Word in the heart of every believer, and the Holy Spirit is empowered in that heart to reveal what is right and appropriate in every facet of Christian living, and this includes giving.  When you look at what you give to the LORD's work, both within the church and without, the question is not "how much should I give?"  The question is, "Am I honoring God in my giving?  A related question is, "Am I experiencing joy when I give, or am I giving out of some form of obligation?" 

We do not give to the LORD out of obligation.  Only the unholy spirit can breathe such words into your ears in an attempt to discourage you and to dissuade you from giving to the LORD's work.  When we submit to that spirit, we give begrudgingly and we give selfishly.  When we listen to the unholy one, we withhold from God what He has given to us so that His work can be accomplished.  When this happens, it is only the unholy one who is pleased.  We do not know joy when we keep for ourselves that which God would have us give.  We probably have no clearer example of this contrast than that of the gifts of Abel and Cain as recorded in the fourth chapter of the book of Genesis.

Gen. 4:3-5.  And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. 4And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.

The difference in the gifts was revealed in their attitude, particular in that of Cain.  The LORD knew Cain's heart, and when Cain's offering was not respected by the LORD, Cain became angry instead of repentant.  The value of a gift to the LORD is not measured in its monetary amount, but rather in the attitude of the giver.  Because of this, the widow's mite has more value than the proud Pharisee's riches.  In Paul's complimentary commentary on the Macedonian churches he makes no reference to the grand monetary value of their gift.  Paul is impressed by the love they have for the LORD, the sincerity that they demonstrated in their desire to give, and in their giving of themselves to the project as well as the giving of their means. 

To return to the birthday analogy, what would be the circumstances whereby we would bring no gift for the child?  We would come without a gift only because we do not love the child enough to bring one.  When we do not love the child, we will not feel that joy in watching the opening of the gifts.  If we do not love the child, but we bring a gift anyway, it is a gift of obligation and is given without love.

As we make a profession of faith in the LORD, and state that we love Him is our profession faith backed up by our expression in action?  Like the members of the Macedonian churches, are we motivated by our love of the LORD to truly give ourselves to Him?  Jesus stated that the greatest commandment is to love the LORD with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind.  If the LORD is truly LORD, all that I am and all that I have is His anyway, and to withhold any part of my being from Him is to reject His Lordship over me.  That is an easy truth to understand, but sometimes becomes a hard truth to practice.

Our practice of giving of ourselves is a clear indicator of our true Love for the LORD.  This practice exposed Abel's joy and Cain's rebellion.  We are privileged to be invited by God to be a partner with Him in His work.  When we come to know of a need in the kingdom of God, let us always be as excited about our opportunity to join with God in the meeting of that need as we are about those needs that God meets in our own lives.  When that happens, we will never again find ourselves giving of ourselves to the LORD out of any form of obligation, but rather, like the gifts given to the grandchild, we will want to give what we can with a deep joy and a deep satisfaction of knowing that we could be a part of God's kingdom work.   


1 Picture of William, 2nd birthday.

2 Picture of William playing basketball.