(available by kind permission of Major Cliff Allchin)
2 Corinthians 8, 9 (various verses)
It’s amazing what you can find online. I thought I would put into the search engine just the words ’Top ten’ and I came up with this article on the top ten conspiracy theories, which are:
10. Barack Obama was born in Kenya
9. The plane that disappeared and the plane shot down in the Ukraine were the same plane.
8. The CIA ran a mind-control programme from 1950 to 1973.
7. Reptilian humans live amongst us and will overthrow the human race.
6. Elvis Presley faked his own death.
5. Aliens landed in the USA in 1947
4. 9/11 was an insurance scam by the buildings’ owners
3. The moon landings in 1969 were a scam by NASA
2. Lee Harvey Oswald was not the real assassin of JFK
1. An interlocking hierarchy of conspiracies holds that all these were the mastermind of an evil genius.
Top tens are great, but what has it to do with this ‘Giving with Grace’? The great Christian scholar and writer, John Stott, has written a small pamphlet entitled ‘The Grace of Giving’. He looks at this with a study of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 and pulls out 10 pointers to how we can ‘Give with Grace’. Now we are not going to look at all ten today but I thought it would do us good to look at the three most important points that John Stott gives as we begin to consider our giving to God.
1. Christian giving is an expression of the grace of God – 2 Corinthians 8:1-6
First and foremost is this grace of God that stamps its hallmark upon us as being genuine followers of Christ. That is just as true in the matter of giving as it is in any other aspect of our faith as ‘God’s grace is the foundation of our giving. We are to give because we receive.’
When we give we are reflecting the generosity of God. Paul talks about ‘the grace which God has given to the Macedonian churches’ (v.1). In other words, behind the generosity of Macedonia, Paul saw the generosity of God. For grace is another word for generosity. Our gracious God is a generous God…
Just think of all he has given to us, you’ll find it is amazing! Such as… (give examples)
And he is at work within his people to enable us to have His generous nature, too, because to give is alien to our nature. We have to be taught to give… (give examples/stories)
Jesus had a lot to say about the way in which we use and abuse the gift of the money that he has given to us. He has as much to say about riches as he has to say about prayer, about the Scriptures and about love. In fact I discovered that of the 33 parables of Jesus, 25 of them are about either money or possessions. He recognised that our lives are governed as much by our attitudes towards our worldly wealth as they are by any other influence upon our lives. He saw that people were worried about where their next pay was coming from; he saw that people wanted more and more wealth; he saw that their riches were like a straight-jacket preventing them from the true freedom that comes from the Kingdom of Heaven. And his antidote to a clutching, grasping, selfish society was to encourage them to open their hands, to loosen the drawstrings of their purses and to give, and to give generously, liberally, lavishly – just, in fact, in the way that he knew was a reflection of the generosity and kindness of his father in Heaven. Perhaps that is why Jesus said ‘When you give, give without measure…’
2. Christian giving resembles a harvest – 2 Corinthians 9:6-11a
Don’t you just love harvest time? The Jews had three harvests each year, not just the one that we celebrate. But the principle was the same for each of them – thanksgiving to God for what he had provided, or as the Psalmist wrote, words turned poetically into a harvest song: ‘We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.’ When we give in our offering – and we use that term not a collection – we are rejoicing that once again God has provided for us and we are returning to him his portion of that provision.
‘Our giving is not about amounts but attitudes, the motive matters more than the money and the gift is a reflection of our relationship with God.’
There are two basic harvest principles applied to Christian giving. First, we reap what we sow. ‘Whoever sows sparingly reaps sparingly, and whoever sows generously reaps generously (v.6)’.
‘Sowing’ is an obvious picture of giving. What then can we expect to ‘reap’?
Should we interpret Paul’s point with excessive literalism, as if he were saying that the more we give the more we will get? That our income will keep pace with our expenditure? John Stott thinks not. And if we are saying that that should be our motive for giving then he is right. We should not be giving our tithe to God just so that we will be blessed. If we do that then what Jesus has to say about praying and fasting and giving alms to the poor without the right attitude also applies here: ‘… you have your reward already.’ Rather it is about the attitude that we should have when we give. Each of us should give ‘what he has decided in his heart to give’. We should give neither reluctantly, nor
under compulsion, nor for that matter calculating what we will receive in return (Luke 6:34, 35), but rather ungrudgingly, because ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (v.7). Again, when we give, we should give lavishly, generously, thoughtfully and cheerfully.
The second harvest principle is that what we reap has a double purpose. It is both for eating and for further sowing. For the God of the harvest is concerned not only to alleviate our present hunger, but also to make provision for the future. So he supplies both ‘bread for food’ (immediate consumption) and ‘seed to the sower’ (to plant when the next season comes round). One TV evangelist called it a gathering and a sharing. Plenty coming in, plenty going out. In the same way God will ‘supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness’ (v.10).
3. Christian giving is inspired by the cross of Christ – 2 Corinthians 8:8, 9
Grace Generated Giving will be the response of all who, with an open mind and heart, look to the example of Christ’s own giving.
All other religions call on their followers to give a proportion of their income to their faith. Many of them expect their followers to be generous. Some call on their followers to give the tenth part of their income. And they do it. But none of them have the inspiration of the example of the expansive giving that saw Jesus die upon the cross for us.
In these verses in 2 Corinthians 8 there are two references to the poverty of Jesus and two to his wealth. But they are not just about his financial state, they are talking about everything that he had that could be considered gain. A BBC survey undertaken in 2012-2013 defines the classes by the accumulated wealth of the person in terms of culture, finance and social wealth.
Christ renounced his wealth and took on our poverty…
Christ took on our poverty so that we might become rich… And just like that BBC survey our wealth in Christ covers far more than material success. We are given salvation and all its rich blessings… Here is a sample of the blessings we have:
- Blessing 1: Knowing Jesus
- Blessing 2: Receiving the Holy Spirit
- Blessing 3: Bearing the fruit of the Spirit
- Blessing 4: Being transformed, becoming more like Jesus
- Blessing 5: Discovering the purpose of your life
- Blessing 6: Doing God’s will
- Blessing 7: Being a member of the family of God
You just can’t hide these blessings. When God’s blessing is upon someone everybody knows it! I need to ask a very serious question: can people look to follow your example of generous giving?
With such a wealth, and such an example, we should also follow his example of expansive giving.
John Stott concludes his Bible study on the ‘Grace of Giving’ by talking very personally about the challenge he has faced when writing the study:
‘Final Note from John Stott I hope that our study of these chapters will help to raise our giving to a higher level, and will persuade us to give more thoughtfully, more systematically and more sacrificially.
Whilst we now consider what we can give, let us all ensure that we give generously, thoughtfully, thankfully, cheerfully. I call on you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if you haven’t already done so, to come and join this adventure of giving, this life of faith and trust. And as the song ‘Count your blessings’ says: ‘And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.’