Why do we, as Christians, give to God? To God's work and how should we determine how much we're to give?
We'll explore the answers to these questions today on Truth for Life Weekend. Alistair Begg draws from the Apostle Paul's intensely practical instructions to the Corinthian church. The message is titled Principles in Giving.
to you about this service to the saints. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you and Achaea were ready to give, and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. 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.
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. 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 this, whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion. For God loves a cheerful giver, and God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written, he has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever. Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you, their hearts will go out to you because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.
Amen. You may want to keep your Bibles open there, and we ll pause and ask God s help as we study together. Father, we confess that on our best day we are unprofitable servants, that we are entirely dependent upon you for the ability to speak and hear and understand and obey. And so it is to you alone we look. We lift our eyes to the hills and say, Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Help us then, Lord, we pray as we study the Bible. For Jesus' sake.
Amen. Last time we learned that any consideration of giving must begin with the fact of God's giving. And that's how Paul begins chapter 8, telling them about the grace that God has given the Macedonians.
It's how you will notice he concludes chapter 9, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. And any attempt to address the question of money and the giving of money that does not begin with an acknowledgment of the fact that all that we have and are is from the hand of God is a teaching that starts from the wrong place. We noted then that the Macedonians were an example to us in that, according to verse 5 of chapter 8, they gave themselves first to the Lord.
And again we said that that was foundational, that any consideration of giving money that does not begin with the giving of oneself starts again at the wrong place. And that is why many people from the outside looking into churches, and often not absent justification in many instances, look from the outside and say, Well, it appears that the church is just about trying to get money or collecting things for itself, and so on. It is only when we come to read the Bible and come to discover who Jesus is that we discover that God has given to us immensely in Jesus, and that we in turn must give ourselves unreservedly to him, discovering him to be a Savior and a Friend and a Lord and a King. And that is exactly where the Macedonian believers were. They gave themselves first to the Lord. And then we noted in verse 1 of chapter 8, they gave in response to God's grace. It was because God had provided for them that they had grateful hearts, and they were able to give to others. And we tried to summarize that with those three words, beginning with g, grace, gratitude, and giving. We noted that their giving was not simply in concurrence with their ability, but that according to verse 3 of chapter 8, they gave beyond their ability. They gave beyond their comfort zone.
They were prepared to endure the squeeze, as it were, so that others may not feel the pinch. And they curtailed their wants so that they might give to other people's needs. We then noted that they gave without being prompted or prodded. That's the phrase that ends verse 3 and begins verse 4 of chapter 8. Hence the significance of it.
They gave entirely on their own. And they were so excited and interested in this whole concept of giving to God's people that according to verse 4, they pleaded for the privilege of giving. We then, in the evening, paid a little attention to the question of tithing, recognizing that most considerations of giving are almost exclusively tied to this notion that we are required, obligated to take a tenth of what we have and give it to God.
And so we looked briefly at the Bible. We saw that tithing was the basic pattern of giving in the Old Testament. We also went on to notice that tithing is nowhere stated as an obligation in the New Testament. And we thought that that was probably significant in its absence, especially when you think of the extent of, for example, Paul's Jewish background being a Hebrew of the Hebrews. If ever there was anybody who was going to, in a letter such as this, put to the very front and foremost the Old Testament obligation of tithing, then we would expect that Paul would be the person to do it.
And therefore, the fact that he leaves it out must, by his very silence, nudge us in one direction. We also recognized that while the New Testament does not lay down the principle of the tithe, we have to be honest and say that neither does it set it aside. And therefore, when we take the Bible as a whole, it is not unreasonable to assume that the presupposition of the New Testament is that when men and women think of giving to God, that they would assume that their giving would more than equal the tithing obligations under the old covenant. We then spent a moment or two thinking about the priority of the local church. Why is it that we would give to the local church?
We turned to Acts chapter 4. They brought their gifts to the apostles' feet. We considered briefly Galatians 6, that those who are fed or taught should share all good things with their teacher. We looked at 1 Timothy chapter 5, where Paul tells Timothy that the elders who direct the affairs of the church are worthy of a double honor. And so we said to one another that the place where we are fed and cared for is the place where our giving begins.
Other organizations and opportunities may come afterwards, but not before. And then we wrapped it up by looking briefly at 1 Corinthians 16, where we saw that our giving to God's work should be planned, it should be regular, it should be proportionate in keeping with our income, and at the end of it all, it is, as Hebrews 13.16 reminds us, another evidence of spiritual sacrifice. So that's where we were, and now we're at chapter 9. And Paul begins at chapter 9 by saying that there is really no need for him to repeat himself when it comes to this question of service to the saints. The phrase, service to the saints, we've already seen in chapter 8, and it is also the terminology used by Paul in Romans 15, where he addresses, again, this question of the collection that was being made for the struggling saints in Jerusalem. As you read the opening five verses as a paragraph, I think you will notice along with me that there is no sense in which we could ever say that Paul was cajoling the people into giving.
Certainly, there is no notion of him chiding the Corinthian believers. But the tone, the tenor of his appeal to them, is largely that of encouragement. And he encourages them by acknowledging, first of all, their eagerness to help, in verse 2. He says, I know your eagerness to help, and in fact, I've been boasting about it to the Macedonians. The churches in the south, in Achaea, which is where Corinth was, in southern Greece, were now going to contribute to the churches in northern Greece, up in Macedonia. And Paul, in his conversations with the Macedonians, was boasting about the Corinthians giving, and in his conversations with the Corinthians, he boasted about the Macedonians giving. So he was very skillful in the way in which he encouraged them by making reference to one another. They will be encouraged to learn, he said, that their enthusiasm, which is there mentioned again in verse 2, that their enthusiasm has been the means of stirring most of these Macedonian believers into action. So that having told of their generosity and the enthusiastic approach to giving to the work of the Lord, it stirred the people in Macedonia up and said, if the Corinthians can do it, we can do it as well. And this may actually be the only basis that I can find for the idea of matching funds. And it isn't explicit, it is implicit.
I'm not a great fan of matching funds, as my colleagues know. I'm always afraid of it. But I suppose here that I can take a half-step towards it, insofar as Paul says, Listen to what the Corinthians are doing. Come on, Macedonia! And he says to the Corinthians, Listen to what the Macedonians are doing. Come on, Corinth! And that by their generosity and by their enthusiasm, they are a means of stimulating one another.
I think there is something in that. But although he says in verse 1, there is no need for him to write about this service to the saints, in verse 3 he says that he's sending the brothers down. I like verse 3, but I am sending the brothers. In other words, there's an intense practicality about Paul. Sometimes when we talk about giving and think in spiritual terms, there's a danger that we either become very legalistic and obligatory about it all and thereby turn everybody off.
The other possibility is that we've become so sort of high-minded in the way we speak about it that nobody really knows what we're talking about. And they want to know, what's the expectation here? Well, Paul is masterful, isn't he? He says, You know, your eagerness has been a terrific help.
Your enthusiasm is a stimulation to others. He said, But just in case, because there's many a slip, twixt cup and lip, just in case promise made is not going to be promise fulfilled, I'm going to send the brothers down to you so that they make sure that the boasting that I've been doing about your promise to give doesn't prove to be a bunch of hot air. It would never do, he says in verse 4, if some of the Macedonians were to accompany me on my visit to you and find you unprepared for this act of generosity. So do notice the obvious practicality of Paul. And perhaps we can say in summary on this little paragraph that in this matter of service to the saints, we should acknowledge that the enthusiastic giving of others may be a stimulus to our generosity, and that in the same way as if you have siblings who are enthusiastically generous and you're a little bit stingy, it may be possible that you will catch something of their enthusiasm for generosity and that it will relieve you of your stinginess. At the same time, in chapter 8 and in chapter 9, it is clear that there is a need for careful administration when it comes to the matter of funds themselves. Paul in chapter 8 is concerned about the character of those who will be conveying the funds, and here in chapter 9, he's concerned that there is a mechanism for ensuring that the promises that were made will be promises that are kept.
And he does so without any embarrassment at all. Nobody reading his note to the Corinthians would be in any doubt as to what he was saying. He was saying, I know that you have been eager and enthusiastic, and I know that you have made promises about what you're going to give. It is distinctly possible that you may not do so, or you may not do so in a timely fashion.
Therefore, I'm sending the brothers down to you to ensure that you do what you said you would do, that you do it in a timely fashion, and that the means of helping others will get to them in due course, and that none of us will have occasion for embarrassment. I think it teaches this, that there is a place for making promises to God and sometimes even making promises to others about what we plan on giving. The very making of a promise may be the thing that holds us to it. Some of us may not want to make promises. Because we have a sneaking suspicion we may not fulfill them. But if you think in financial terms, our lives are riddled with promises.
I don't know your circumstances, but I can guarantee that whether it is the mortgage on your home or whether it is a contractual obligation that you have on a car or whatever else it might be, you have tied yourself up with all kinds of promises that people are anticipating you will keep. And rightly so. When it comes to the issue of giving to God's work, some of us are very diffident about making those kinds of promises. It's interesting, isn't it?
Why would that be? Surely of all people we would promise God. And then, of course, we recognize that God may have to use various stimulants in order to help us to make sure that we fulfill the promise that we've made. Paul's great concern, in summary, is that they would continue to be those who were eager to help rather than some who, in verse 5, were grudging in their giving. So, in the opening paragraph, he says, There's no need for me to repeat myself.
And then, in the balance of the text, he says, But I do need to give you some necessary reminders. First of all, in verse 6, remember this, who ever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. Whoever sows generously will also reap generously. This is essentially a proverbial statement. It's the kind of thing you find in the book of Proverbs. For example, Proverbs 11, 24, One man gives freely, yet gains even more. Another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
I learned it in Scotland. It went like this. There was a man they said was mad. The more he gave away, the more he had. One man gives freely, yet gains even more. Another withholds, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper. He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. It's a proverbial statement.
It's not a categorical promise. And Paul essentially uses a proverbial statement by way of encouragement here so that people would understand stingy sowing, stingy reaping. I mean, if you plant a dozen daffodil bulbs in the… whenever you're supposed to plant them, don't expect that you're going to have, you know, just meadows of daffodils come the springtime. There may be a few of them die, and the ones that come through are horribly weak, and what you thought was going to be this amazing display looks pretty paltry.
Anybody would have told you. Stingy sowing, stingy reaping. However, if you go crazy, and in an expression of abundance, in a kind of hilarious fashion, fire those things all through your grass at the front and the side of your house, then when the time comes for them to bloom, then you will have this amazing display. Farmers understand that. Town dwellers get some picture of it. And while we should be cautious about excessive literalism, which is what this sort of stuff falls foul of in the prosperity gospel stuff, be very, very careful about taking this with a—in a wooden way.
You know, press button A, put X in, get Y out. This is not a categorical promise. This is a proverbial statement. But in guarding against excessive literalism, we need at the same time to recognize that generous giving brings its own rewards. The stingy never know.
The stingy can't know. Only generous people know, because only the generous are on the receiving end of what God supplies. Secondly, by way of a necessary reminder, our giving is a matter of the heart.
That's verse 7. Each individual should give what they've decided in their hearts to give, and not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Peterson paraphrases it, I want you to take plenty of time to think this over and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm twisting.
That's very helpful. Because if you think about charitable giving, so much of it is driven by either arm twisting or sob stories. Who can resist the scenes of poverty and need that are presented to us at phenomenal expense, incidentally, on our screens, urging us to do things which may be well to do and right to do, but nevertheless, it is a manipulative process.
Paul says it shouldn't be that way. It should be that each one should decide in his heart what to give. And if you think about it, that's eminently sensible, because our circumstances differ from each other. Some of us have disposable income that we did not have.
Others of us no longer have disposable income that we once enjoyed. And therefore, for any one of us to try and manipulate the other in order to do something that it is not in the right interest under God to do, it has no substantiation in the Bible. It's a matter of the heart. It shouldn't be a matter of the calculator. Everybody should decide in his heart.
He shouldn't decide with his calculator. The apostle Paul's concern in writing to the Corinthians was that God's people would excel in the grace of giving. It's a privilege to give, not an obligation. The question for us is, are we cheerful and generous givers? You're listening to Truth for Life Weekend. That's Alistair Begg, challenging us to examine our own hearts.
We'll hear more next weekend. Now, do you find yourself easily distracted during the Christmas season by lesser things? Well, the devotional for Advent, titled The Dawn of Redeeming Grace, would be perfect for you. Author Sinclair Ferguson presents 24 daily readings that take a deep dive into the first two chapters of Matthew's Gospel.
For example, in the book, we see how God worked out his purposes through an unusual providence in the ordinary lives of the wise men. This book will help you consider how their awakening and discovering and then worshiping describes how we should come to Christ today. The book, The Dawn of Redeeming Grace, will help you navigate your way through the remarkable story of the birth of Jesus with fresh eyes. Each daily entry includes hymn lyrics and a prayer. Find out how to obtain your copy at truthforlife.org.
And are you an early shopper for Christmas? Well, while you're on our website today, check out the collection of books that are available for children of all ages and for adults. Books that make great gospel sharing gifts. We love sharing the gospel here at Truth for Life, and that's why we make all of these books available at our cost.
You'll be able to find something for just about everyone on your list. Once again, the link is truthforlife.org slash gifts. Our mission at Truth for Life is to teach the Bible with clarity and relevance. We do this knowing that God works through the teaching of his word to bring unbelievers to faith, to establish believers more deeply in their faith, and to strengthen local churches. Our prayer is that God is at work through the teaching you hear on this program in a similar way in your life.
I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening. So what does your generosity reveal about your Christian convictions? Find out as you join us again next weekend for the conclusion of today's message. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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