I want to speak on a subject I seldom speak about. It is not because Scripture does not address the subject. Rather, it is because the subject has been so abused in modern Christianity that I am afraid of it. I fear, lest I perpetuate a viewpoint that is totally contrary to God’s teachings on the subject. I do not speak on this subject out of a sense of need, but out of a sense of compulsion by God. You be the judge.
The subject includes money, but more specifically it is about the grace of giving. I title the sermon “There’s grace at the Cross.” Two weeks ago we looked at the subject of equality at the cross. We saw that mankind was equal at the cross both because of our shared curse and because of our shared life in Jesus Christ. Yesterday, I was speaking with a lady about Jesus Christ. I was attempting to lay out simply what Christianity is all about. I said that the simple message of Scripture begins with our sinfulness. We are all sinners. The salvation of Christ begins with our own sinfulness. She said that she had some trouble with that. “Why, that would take away our self-confidence, our sense of self worth, if we really believed it,” she said. “Precisely so,” I said. The Scriptural story begins with our own depravity. We are sinners. We have fallen short of the glory of God. There’s equality at the cross in our shared curse.
But there’s also equality at the cross in our shared life. When we leave the cross, we each leave with the same life–the life of Jesus Christ. He is our life.
Last week, for those brave enough to make it out, we looked at the opportunities we find at the cross. John 12:24-26 tells us that in our death there is the opportunity for fruitfulness, in our giving up ourselves there is the opportunity for eternal life, in our following Christ on the cross there is the opportunity for the Father’s honor.
Now, today, I want to speak on the subject of the grace at the cross. It is the grace of giving. In fact, that is what grace is all about. The grace of God is the riches of God poured out to us. Can it be a surprise that our grace at the cross is our riches poured out for others?
There is a problem, however. In teaching the grace of giving, many preachers have used it to benefit themselves. You have heard them. “God has called you to give. If you give, it will be given back to you. But you must give. Send your $1,000, your $500, your $100, your $50, or your $20 to me. And you will be blessed.” The most outrageous one I have heard about is a fellow who calls himself “Reverend Ike.”
I want you to know that I am not teaching on the subject because I am in need of money. I may be one of the rare ones on earth. But I have plenty of money and want no more. I am not sure I handle the money I have right before God and I certainly do not need any more responsibility in this area. God has not called me to be a money manager. I would fail miserably. I have enough for my needs. That is all I desire. I do not want your money.
And I am not teaching on the subject because the church wants your money. The church is not in need of any money. God has more than supplied the needs of our church and if we need money, we will go to Him and ask, not to you. This sermon is not a plea for you to give more to the church. Displace that thought from your mind.
But, there is a Biblical teaching on the subject of giving that is seldom heard. Satan surely will not teach it. The world will not teach it. It is not natural to humanity. And the church has often so garbled the message that the truth remains unknown to Christians.
So, I want to attempt to set forth a clear message on the subject of giving.
I. First, I must give myself to the Lord.
I begin with the cross. As we have repeated many times, discipleship requires us to take up our cross and follow Christ. The picture of taking up one’s cross is not the concept of bearing a heavy burden. Rather, it was the picture of going to one’s death. Paul takes it one step further when he says that not only is he going to his death, but he has gone there. I am crucified with Christ. We come to the cross to die; to die to our own desires and to live for the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Until we come to that point, we have no hope of eternal life.
It is the picture of the cross that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 8:9 when he speaks of the poverty of Christ becoming our riches. Outside of the cross, the poverty of Christ would have never become our riches. It was at the cross where our sins were transferred on Him and His righteousness was transferred to us. At the cross, His grace was bestowed upon us. We partake of His grace at the cross. The cross is where He gave up all of His rights for us.
And it is at the cross where we give up all of our rights for Him and for others. The grace of the cross begins in us when we give ourselves to the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5) This is so important. I can give of my resources and give of my resources until I am broke, but if I have not first given of myself to the Lord, it is emptiness – meaninglessness. Don’t try to give of your substance when you are holding yourself back from God. Don’t do it. 1 Corinthians 13:3 speaks of love and says that if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor and give my body to be burned, without love it profits me nothing. The grace of the cross begins in us when we give ourselves to the Lord.
I firmly believe that if we have given ourselves to the Lord, we will have no problem in giving of our substance to others. The problem is not that we have done the first but not the second. The problem is that we have never done the first.
Let me illustrate. Suppose I give you my car. I don’t let you borrow it. It do not lend it to you. I give it to you. I sign over the title. I have given it to you. It is now your car. Now, suppose having given you my car, I decide that I need one of the tires. Am I free to go take a tire off of the car? Suppose I decide that I need the engine. Am I free to go take the engine out of the car and leave it sitting in your driveway? How would you feel about that? It is no longer my car. I have no rights to do anything with it.
Now, let me suppose that I give myself to the Lord. What rights do I have to myself? The answer must be none. Can I take myself out to dinner? Can I lay me down to sleep? Can I go to work? Can I go on a vacation? Can I stay home? What can I do with myself? The answer must be that I can only do what ever He says I can do. If I do anything on my own, what have I given to the Lord? Something less than myself. Just like that car. The grace that we share at the cross is first the grace of giving ourselves to the Lord. We often talk about surrendering all and giving ourselves completely to the Lord, but we seldom think about what that means. Jesus calls us to sit down and consider the cost and determine whether we want to give ourselves over to Him. It is a high price. It is a great risk, not because it is risky, but because there is so much at stake.
The grace of giving begins with giving of ourselves. I begin to give when I give myself. God is saying: “I don’t want your time, I don’t want your money, I don’t want your brains, I don’t want your talents, I don’t want your beauty, I WANT YOU.”
The churches in Macedonia (the church at Philippi, the church at Thessalonica, the church at Berea) first gave of themselves to the Lord.
II. Second, I must give myself to others.
Now, if one truly gives oneself to the Lord, something amazing always happens. That one also gives him or her self to others. Have you ever noticed that? Such is the will of God. The first commandment is to love the LORD God. The second is like unto it – to love your neighbor. John states that if we don’t love our neighbor, we don’t love God. John also says that true love will lay down its life for another.
Today we profess to love God. We even deceive ourselves into thinking that we may be willing to die for Christ. But we draw the line when we may actually be called to die for our neighbor. Heaven forbid that our neighbor should take advantage of us. Heaven forbid that we should be called to give up something we have for our neighbor.
But by the will of God, those who give of themselves to God will always give of them selves to others. It is as true as day follows night. Those who give themselves to God will give themselves to others. Genuine disciples are giving people.
The grace at the cross begins with giving ourselves to God. It includes giving ourselves to others.
III. Third, I must give myself with joy.
Third, it includes giving ourselves with joy. Look at verse 2. True grace is never a reluctant grace. It is a joyful grace. Out of their poverty, the churches in Macedonia pressed upon Paul to take their gift. They were insistent. They beseeched and begged with urgency. Paul speaks of them as being freely willing. I am convinced that giving apart from the sheer exuberance of benevolence is legalism or worse. Too many times, I have looked back on my life and seen that my giving has been out of a sense of outward compulsion or guilt or some legalistic tendency. This is why I sometimes react so strongly against the concept of the tithe. The tithe is the law. Oh, I know that Abraham gave a tithe before the law and that Jacob promised a tithe before the law. But the requirement of the tithe came with the law. To give legalistically is not to give as we ought. We should give out of the sheer joy of giving. That is the way the Macedonians gave. The abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality (vs. 2). In 9:7, Paul tells us that God loves a cheerful giver.
Paul appears to be telling us in verse 12 that a willing mind is necessary for God’s acceptance. That is, we must desire to give. I know that this runs counter to almost all that we are taught. We are taught to store and save for a rainy day. We are taught to look out for ourselves because no one else will. But God often turns the wisdom of this world on its head. And he does in this area as well. He is not saying that it is wrong always to save. Not at all. Scripture speaks much about saving. Go to the ant and be wise. The ant stores up in summer for winter. Thus we are to do.
But don’t let the necessity of storing rob you of the joy of giving. Jesus is still true. It is more blessed to give than to receive. One of the Scriptural reasons for working is so that we may have something to give (Ephesians 4:28). As Jesus said: “Give and it shall be given to you.” “With the measure you give out, it shall be given back.”
We should give, not with reluctance, but with willingness and joy. “If there is first a willing mind.” As 9:5 tells us, giving should be a matter of generosity, not of grudging obligation.
IV. My giving with joy demonstrates the reality of my love.
This is a hard one. But I am fairly convinced that love is agape love only when it is self-sacrificing. When I was in South Lake Tahoe a few days ago, I had a lengthy discussion on the nature of love with a good friend. There is a book out called “Desiring God.” In it, John Piper has some very good things to say. But I disagree with one of his major premises. He speaks of Christian hedonism, the pursuit by a Christian for his own best position. And, according to Piper, a Christian will always find himself benefited the most if he serves God. Therefore, if we simply look out for our own best interest, we will serve God.
There is a great measure of truth in that. I believe that there are many motivations for serving God. There is the fear of God – woe is me if I don’t serve God. There is the investment motive – I get the best return on the investment of my time by serving God. And there is the love motive – I serve God because I want to benefit Him. Each of these are valid motives.
In talking with my friend, he was taking the position that everyone, including God, is motivated ultimately in life by what is most beneficial to self. That is, the chief end of God is to glorify Himself. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy God – a self-beneficial action.
I differed with him on this issue. What is the chief end of God? I am not sure Scripture says. But I am a strong proponent of the view that if God was simply interested in glorifying Himself, He would not be wasting time on us. God deals with us out of love, not out of a desire for self-glory. The motivation for Christ coming to this earth is love. And love does not seek its own. Paul had a great love for Israel, so much so that he could wish himself accursed – what possible self-benefit could Paul see in being accursed? The love that Scripture commands is others-focused, not self-focused. And love is Scriptural love when it is a giving love.
I can say to you “I love you,” but John says that this not enough. I can have warm fuzzies for you and my saying the words may make you feel good. But unless I give of myself to you, what kind of love is it? John says: “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Paul here says the same thing. In verse 8, he states that he is not commanding that anyone give. Giving is not something that should be commanded. It was commanded under law. It should be a free act under grace. Paul was not commanding, but he was testing. See also verse 24 (“the proof of your love”).
The old adage is true. You can most accurately tell a person’s love by their checkbook. The statement is truer than we would care to believe. Some may love their cars – you will see it in their checkbook. Some may love movies, you will see it in their checkbook. Some will love vacations, you will see it in their checkbook. Some will love their spouses, you will see it in their checkbook. Some will love their kids, you will see it in their checkbook.
Now, do not get me wrong. More love does not mean that you spend more. And more spending does not necessarily mean more love. But what one truly loves will almost always show up in the checkbook, in the financial expenditures of a person.
It amazes me when people say that they love God but they spend nothing on others. They do not give to the church. They do not give to get the gospel of Jesus Christ out. They do not give to help the poor and the needy. They do not give to help the widows and orphans. They do not give anywhere. But they love God?
No, no, no. It simply is not true. Paul states that he is testing the sincerity of the Corinthian love by the example of the Macedonian love. The Macedonians gave. Would the Corinthians, who were more wealthy, give?
Oh, the Corinthians had expressed a willingness to give. But love is not about nice platitudes, but about actions. In verse 11, Paul states that there needs to be a completion of the act. The grace at the cross is the grace of giving of one’s resources to help others.
- I must give of myself to the Lord.
- I must give of myself to others.
- I must give of myself joyfully, willingly.
- I demonstrate my love by our giving.
V. I seek an equality (verses 13-15).
Paul makes it clear that he is not seeking to make the Corinthians poor. He is not seeking to have the Corinthians give until they were in the poorhouse. He is not telling the Corinthians to sell themselves as slaves in order to raise money for the Jerusalem church. Not at all.
Paul is seeking to shave off some of the abundance for the needy. In 1 Corinthians 16:2, he tells the Corinthians to store up as God prospers them. Now, the Macedonians gave out of their poverty. They were like the widow who gave her two copper coins. But not always does God call us to give our last coin to another. Abraham certainly was never called to do that, nor was David, nor was Zaccheus, nor are the rich in 1 Timothy 6 called to do that. But God does call us to share from our abundance.
I admire older people who give of their social security for the Lord’s work. But I often do not admire those who take it from them. George Muller, who founded a large orphanage in England, once received 100 pounds for the work. He knew who the donor was and decided to visit her to see whether she could afford to give that much. Muller spoke to her at great length hoping to persuade her to reconsider. But she informed him that she had received the money as an inheritance and so she wanted to give it to the orphanage. The goal of giving is not to impoverish anyone, but to enrich those in need.
The grace at the cross is the grace of giving. I enter into that grace when I:
- give myself to the LORD,
- give myself to others,
- give myself with joy,
- demonstrate my love by giving,
- and seek a sort of equality.
Now, I want to apply this a little to missions. While the Scripture speaks mainly about giving to the poor, there is a real sense that those without Christ are poor in spiritual matters. When we give ourselves to the Lord, His last great commission was to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person. There is no nobler giving of oneself to others than to give in the service of spreading the great news of the redemption available in Jesus Christ. Those who sow with tears will reap with joy. There is a joy in seeing souls saved. We must give ourselves to this task. How, then are we to demonstrate to the world our love for them? We do it by our giving that they might be reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In doing so, we seek a sort of equality. Because the day may come, if the Lord tarries, that we may be without the gospel and they may be sending the gospel back to us.
There’s grace at the cross and as we enter into the cross we enter into that grace, we become givers.