The Benefits of Generosity

First in a ‘Six-Days’ Series,
Delivered April 21, 2002 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Theme: God rewards us in many ways when we unselfishly give financially to help others.

Sermon Text:
II Corinthians 9:1-11
1 There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints.
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.
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give,
not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
8 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.
9 As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to
the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
10 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.
11 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 past week I found myself in a discussion group with other pastors and we were talking about the subject of the giving of money and all the discomfort that seems to go along with that. And in talking about general reluctance on the part of pastors to talk about money, one guy remembered a couple that was in his church. They thought they would try church again after being away for many, many months maybe even years. This is not a joke, this is really what this pastor told me. The first Sunday that they came back after many Sundays away, they were blessed to hear the stewardship sermon from the pastor. And they thought, well that’s just one week, let’s give it another try next week and wouldn’t you know it that they managed to pick the two weeks in a row that coincided with the congregation stewardship focus and the second week they heard another stewardship sermon. They never came back. Now you can imagine as I was sitting in this group, how excited I became at that very moment, when I knew that I was about to embark on the preaching of not one, but two such sermons back to back. I and every other preacher can feel like the young woman who wrote to Dear Abby. She wondered how she might approach her boyfriend and ask if he would pay for half the cost of her birth control pills, but said she didn’t know him well enough to talk about money. You see, money is a tough subject to talk about, no matter who’s talking. And so I suppose that as we begin today, I would like you all to know two things. One, we don’t always talk about money even though I don’t know many people who can go a whole day without thinking about the subject and secondly, to talk about giving is a gift of love, truly. It’s a gift of love for any pastor to ask people to give of themselves and their substance generously, because of the blessings and benefits that such generosity yields. Now from a certain perspective it might even be considered an act of indifference, not to talk about stewardship. Maybe even some would say an act of hatred to not inform listeners of the benefits of generosity because God knew and Jesus preached constantly about the connection between the spiritual and the material. He knew that the use or misuse of our finances would affect both our relationship with God and the deep quality of our living.

Let me try to explain it to you this way. A little visual aid time. I brought a glove with me today. Now if I said to this glove, “Glove, just pick up that paper. Go right ahead.” Can’t do it. Glove can’t do it on it’s own. Can’t grab anything, okay? But if I put my hand in the glove, you see that now the glove has dexterity and power, you see. It has become a gifted, smart glove that can do many things. Money is like the glove, through which human personality expresses itself. The glove, like money is neither good nor bad. The hand or the personality can take on either self-centered or self-giving characteristics. It can open up its hand and give or it can grasp in greed. Possessions management is one of the surest indicators of the health of our souls. You know the Apostle Paul knew this. And that’s why he was writing his friends in the letter of 2nd Corinthians. He was actually not writing his friends, he was loving his friends by encouraging their generosity. Now if you would turn with me to 2nd Corinthians 9, I will try to move us through the first part of the text, which is a little hard to take all in one lump. And so I will just piece meal it for the first part and then we will read the rest of the text. He starts out in 2nd Corinthians 9, Verse 1 and it says, “There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints.” You ever have anybody say to you, “Now I shouldn’t mention this but” and often we hear people say, “Then don’t say it.” But he says there is no need really for me to write, but I am going to write anyway about this service to the saints. What is he talking about, this service to the saints? Well if you go back to 2nd Corinthians, Chapter 8 in Verse 7, you will see that he’s encouraging the Corinthians by saying this, “Just as you excel in everything, in faith, in speech, in knowledge and complete earnestness and in your love for us, see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” That’s what he means when he says, “There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints.” The service he has in mind is the subject of giving to others, because the Jerusalem Church was in need and those churches that had the resources, he was appealing to them to come and share with those in need.

Then in Verse 2 we come to this thought, “For I know your eagerness to help and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians.” You see the folks down in Corinth lived in southern Greece and the Macedonians lived in northern Greece. And he said, “I have been boasting about you to the Macedonians, your neighbors to the north, telling them that since last year you in Achaia, southern Greece, were ready to give. And your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.” Now I don’t know if Paul is still being tongue in cheek here, but they haven’t done anything yet. He said, “Your enthusiasm though has stirred them to action.” Now if you go back to 2nd Corinthians 8 again and look in the first part of the text, you’re going to see the kind of action that the Macedonians were stirred up to. Listen to these unbelievably powerful verses.

“And now brothers we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian Churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty weld up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.”

To put it in another way, they begged for the pledge cards. They said, “Give them to us, we want to give so much. We know how much the Jerusalem church has meant to us. We wouldn’t even be around if it weren’t for the Jerusalem church. We want to do it.” And notice how Paul says their rich generosity was stirred up, out of two things. Overflowing joy and extreme poverty. Overflowing Joy. That reminds me of the Magi, who were so filled with joy when they saw the star stop over the house where the baby was. And what did they do? They bowed, they worshipped and they opened up lavish gifts. Gifts that the Lord Jesus really couldn’t use right then, but they just gave them, freely. Why? Because their hearts overflowed with joy that they had found him. And then secondly it says they were also stirred by their extreme poverty. Have you ever noticed that those who have the least so many times are the most generous? I was listening to a pastor share how he had gone to South Korea to preach and teach for three months and at the end of the time, he discovered that the Korean students who made very little, saved up a whole months worth of income just so they could take him out to one fancy dinner at the end of his time with them. He said it was then that he discovered the poverty of his own hospitality. And so that’s what Paul is talking about in Verse 2. He is saying, you know the Macedonians were stirred up by your promise. Boy were they stirred up. And then in Verse 3 of 2nd Corinthians 9 he says, “I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow.” I don’t know what brothers he was talking about. I kind of fantasized their names were Vito and Luigi, you know. I am sending the brothers and they are going to get this out of you. But anyway, that’s not what he meant. He says, “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 would be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.” Save us all from embarrassment and come through on the promise is what basically Paul is telling the Corinthians. And then we come to Verse 6. Remember this, “Whoever sows sparingly, will also reap sparingly. And whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” A principle of nature. The more you sow, the more you reap. And you always reap more than you sow. And so the implication in this context? Paul is saying, be generous. Sow generously of what God has given to you. And then we come to Verse 7. What a powerful verse. “Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give.” You see he wanted giving to be something of the heart, not just about numbers. But a heart response. “Each should give as they have decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion.” God doesn’t want anybody to feel forced or reluctant in giving. For God loves a cheerful giver. Do you know really what this means, the word cheerful in this text? It’s the only time this Greek word appears in the whole New Testament. God loves an hilarious giver. It’s where we get our word hilarious from. It’s almost identical in sound to the Greek. What’s hilarity? Exuberant glee. God just loves it when people just exuberantly and gleefully and hilariously and jovially give out of what God has given to them.

Now let me share with you three things in the remainder of this text that I think are benefits of generosity. So that when you sow generously, you’ll see three ways that you will reap generously. Let’s look at the rest of the text. Verse 8.

“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 hath 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.”

Very simple outline. The first benefit of generosity comes to you and to me. I think it is very clear from Verses 8, 10 and 11. Unmistakably. You will be blessed by God’s grace and abundance in your soul and having your needs met as you give generously. Note, not having your greed’s met, but having your needs met. I think it is very plain. You will have all you need in Verse 8. Verse 10, God will supply and increase your store of seed. Verse 11, you will be made rich in every way. Now this is where it gets really like thin ice when we preach about this. Because we have all seen manipulative preachers say, “you just send it on in to me and it’s going to come to you.” But in fact, there is some element of truth in this text that way. More than that, I think Paul is simply saying what Jesus himself put rather plainly. “Give and it will be given to you. The measure that you give, is the measure you will receive.” And he talked about that at length. “Pressed down, shaken together, running over…”, so in some sense very clearly one of the benefits of generosity is that we have a blessing of soul and of body, and of life that is a mystery. Very point blankly again, the writer of the Proverbs says that, “the generous person will prosper.” You see talking about stewardship is not talking about the need of the church to receive. It’s talking about the need of the giver to give so that they will understand the blessings of God’s love and life in their own.

Fred Craddock is a renowned preacher who not only is a preacher, but a teacher of preachers. He tells the story of the death of his own father who was a non-churched man. In fact he was so non-churched he wouldn’t even let the pastor or members who knocked on the door visit with him. He would just send them away. And he would say, “All that they care about”, Fred remembers his dad walking around the house, “All they care about is money and membership. That’s it. That’s the only reason why they come.” And then Fred himself became a minister and his dad started to tell him, “All you guys care about is money and membership.” Toward the end of his life Fred’s father was hospitalized near death and Fred came to visit him. He saw bouquets of flowers lining the room and he started to read the cards on the flowers. One said, Women’s Mission Society. Then he went to another bouquet and it said, Adult Sunday School Class, and another and another from groups in the church. He said his dad couldn’t talk because of his infirmity and so he grabbed a box of Kleenex and on the side of that Kleenex he stole a line from Shakespeare when he wrote, “Draw your breath in pain to tell my story.” Fred looked at his dad and said, “What’s your story Dad?” Fred’s father wrote three more words on the side of that box: “I was wrong”. Don’t’ wait to discover what many know, that you will be blessed by generously blessing others.

Secondly, generous giving blesses others. It just doesn’t bless us. We see this from the end of Verse 11. “Through your generosity, it will result in thanksgiving to God on the part of others.” When people learned of how you have given, they will be so blessed that the only thing they will be able to do is say, Thank you God. They will be speechless except for that. Something deep will be touched in their souls by your generosity. Now some of you gathered here know what I am about to tell you and probably have heard it more than once, but there are some of you here who don’t know what I am about to tell you and are hearing it for the first time. Eighteen years ago a group of leaders, elders of this congregation approached me and began to guide a young man to consider a seminary education. I remember only six months earlier being at a pastor’s conference, talking to other pastors who had families, we at that time Ellen and myself had three children and they were 8, 6 and 4. And I was at this pastor’s conference talking to other pastors about how these other pastors had gotten through. They said, “Oh I don’t know how we got through seminary, you know pancake dinners and all that, but we got through it and we had family.” And I thought to myself walking away from this conversation, there is no way that’s ever going to happen. And only six months later some very, very loving and generous people came to us and said, we want to send you to seminary. I had been on staff here for seven years. And so they did. And we were blessed beyond understanding. They put the tuition and books in the budget and a number of families contributed and sustained for three years a family of five in Holland, Michigan. And no strings attached. You don’t have to come back here. This is not like we are going to send you, so you can come back and serve us. Wherever you go it’s okay. And you know what, the ministry that’s happened since then has blessed other people, that none of you at Central know at all.

Do you know how many times I have told that story to other people? I just love bragging about this congregation. And do you know what they say when I tell them? You’ve got to be kidding. Wow. Praise the Lord. Thank God for churches like that. You know I am stating the obvious here – but we’re back together. And it’s been almost two years, 21 months. Who would have ever understood at the time when those elders came to me and poured out that generous gift and it happened for three years? Who would have ever thought that this would be the way that the seed would sprout? And so Paul says, “Give because it’s going to bless others and so spread it liberally, because you never now who it is going to bless other.” And it’s not just me. You know it’s no secret that a huge part of Central’s budget is church salaries. But it’s not about salaries, it’s not about giving for Jerry’s salary or Rhonda’s salary, or mine or Alida’s or Bill’s or Andy’s or Janice’s or anybody else’s. It’s about giving so that lives are changed. And that’s why Paul says one of the benefits of generosity is the change and blessing that comes to others.

And then lastly, we not only help ourselves, we are not only blessing others by generosity, we are also blessing God. God loves as we have seen a hilarious giver. God gets blessed by people who give with hilarity. Why? I think because God knows that the heart of the hilarious giver doesn’t claim ownership. It just pours out in response to the way that God has poured out to us. I think God loves a hilarious giver because he sees something happening, something that Ernest Becker said was really what, when you boiled it all down, Christian growth was all about – It’s about fashioning ourselves into an offering. I think God loves a cheerful giver because humility and love are all mixed up in that giving.

Let me share with you a rabbi’s tale that tells us how God is blessed by humility and love. Two brothers began a milling business. One was married with a family and one was single. They determined right at the beginning of the establishment of their business that they would split the excess flour 50-50, half for me, half for my brother. They agreed to it, no problem. A little time passed and business was prosperous and things were going well and they kept their bargain and finally one day the single brother said to himself, “you know my brother has wife and children. He has much more demand on his resources. It’s not fair for me to have half and for him to have half. I know what I am going to do.” But he didn’t want to embarrass his brother so he figured out how he was going to do it. In the darkness of night, he was going to take from his extra store and shift it over into his brothers. And that’s what he did. Well not too long after that the married brother said, “you know what, I am just so blessed by wife and family and my poor brother over here, he is single and he doesn’t have all of those blessings. It’s not fair that I have as much as he does. I am going to give to him so he has an extra blessing.” And he did the same exact thing as his brother. He took from the storage that he had and he started secretly at night putting it in his brother’s extra. And everyday these guys woke up and looked at their storage bins and neither one of them saw them going down. They were equal all the time. Well the inevitable happened. One night they ran in to each other, each holding their bag of flour, and they looked at each other and embraced. And the rabbis say that God reached down and touched that spot of their love and said, “This is where I will build my temple, because it must become a place of generosity.” Our generous giving to others God loves. Now Paul was trying to encourage the Corinthians to look at the Macedonians, but he has one more comparison that tops them all. In 2nd Corinthians, Chapter 8 and the Corinthians may be some of the shrewd Corinthians, we’re thinking boy he is really comparing us to those Macedonians and look how much they have done. And then just when they thought the comparisons couldn’t get any worse, in 2nd Corinthians 8, Verse 9 he says, “as long as we are comparing ourselves,” listen to this, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor. So that you through his poverty might become rich.” I think this is what the Lord meant when he said, “Let your good deeds shine before others, so that your heavenly father might be glorified.” Let us give generously so that God and others, and even our selves will be blessed. Let us pray.

Lord, we thank you so very much for your grace and love that poured out, we cannot understand. We are unaware even of the depth and breadth and love of that grace. And so we simply ask that you would help us to be open handed and open hearted and pass along the blessings of grace that we have received. And we pray Lord Jesus in this week as we consider six days to a prayerful decision, that you would help us to see it as a loving exercise that will benefit our selves and others and bless your heart. We pray it in Christ’s name. Amen.