The Hilarious Giver

Third in “Share The Vision” Series,
Delivered November 7, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: A big part of being faithful with what God gives is giving it away generously. God doesn’t want grumpy givers! He delights in giving and wants us to share his character, share his joy. God loves a cheerful giver.

Sermon Text:
2 Corinthians 8:1-14; 9:6-14

Sermon Notes are at the end.

Well, given the natural thing, we are going to begin with that concept. Giving is something that all people do. It’s not just Christians. When someone gets sick in the neighborhood you see the casserole brigades start you know, but its not just the Christians that get involved in that, people have this innate desire to be generous, to share with their family with the people that are close to them, their community. In 911 we saw an incredible outpouring of generosity from all kinds of people, not just from Christian people. So this issue of generosity is very a human thing, but today we are going to be looking at the issue of generosity particularly as it applies to Christian people, and to do that I would like to go the longest section in the Bible, in the New Testament that has to do with giving. There are two chapters in the Book of 2nd Corinthians that have to deal with this issue of giving. There is a crisis in the Jerusalem church, already a poor church and this poor church is facing a shortage of food and Paul is going around trying to generate funds to help these Christians and even though it has to deal with this specific crisis, the things he says here are things that we all can profit from as Christian people. Now it’s two chapters long. I am not going to read all of the passages. I am going to read to you a few verses and then actually in the course of the sermon I will refer to some of those verses and actually some other verses I am not even going to read. So you are going to have follow that closely, but on your own read the two chapters. It’s an amazing presentation of what it means to be involved in giving as Christian people.

Let’s go to Chapter 8 and I want to focus in on verses 1-7:

“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 welled 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. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. So we urged Titus, since he had early made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But just as you excel in everything– in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in completed earnestness and in your love for us– see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”

Now Chapter 9, verses 6-8:

“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 own heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound in you, so that all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Let’s pray. God this is your Word and we pray it will open it up to us, that we will hear what we need to hear and that we will respond to that in the obedience that comes through faith. For we ask this in Jesus name. Amen.

Let’s look at this issue then of giving from a Christian perspective. The first thing I want to point out to you is that Christian generosity is part of our total response to God. God has given to us generously, abundantly and then He calls for a total response from us, and that response includes everything that we are. Think of what God has done for us in grace and grace here for the sake of this service, as the unmerited generosity and abundance and favor that God gives to us. So God is gracious towards us, so he forgives us at an incredible cost to himself. He provides us a beautiful and bountiful earth. He gives us health. He gives us minds to think. He gives us the capacity to create and communicate. He gives us incomes. There are all kinds of things that weave into our lives and that we can take so much for granted and God has given this not because we deserve it, but because He loves to give. So God is gracious to us first and so then our response of generosity is simply giving back to God and giving back all of ourselves to God.

So it comes up in verse 5 of chapter 8 where is says this “And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” They first offered the wholeness of who they were and then out of that, then they applied themselves to a particular need that Paul had, that he was telling them about. Verse 7 talks about this as well. This wholeness in what we give. “But just as you excel in everything– in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us– see that you also excel in the grace of giving.”

So this grace of giving is one excellent point in an entire life that is pursuing a spiritual exodus. And so giving is part of our total response to God and so that means that we can’t give money to God instead of giving ourselves. You know the sort of contract the Mafia sort of mindset you know. Go and support the church and do whatever you want on the side. It doesn’t work. You can’t give a $100 bribe to God. Hey God, take this instead of me. It doesn’t work. That was really drilled into my mind because the first church that I went to in New Orleans, Canal Street Presbyterian Church, at that church at that time every week during the offering they would say,

“If you have not given your life to Jesus Christ, don’t put any money in the plate. What you have to deal with right now is that God wants you. Deal with that and then after you offer yourself to God first, then your offering of your money is acceptable.”

So we’ve got to offer ourselves, we can’t offer money instead of ourselves, but when we offer ourselves, we’ve got to offer money too because it is such a big part of who we are. Somebody has said that the last part of a person’s life that is converted is his wallet, and there is a lot of truth to that. We try to say that we have a spiritual life and that we have our priorities in place with God, but if we don’t have our monetary priorities in place, there is a big area we still need to work on, because this is a huge part of who we are. Jesus talked about it constantly. Paul talks about it repeatedly in his books and here two chapters dealing with this one issue of giving. It’s a big issue in our lives. We can’t ignore it and expect that we will be mature and that we will be releasing our life to God because a big part of releasing our life to God is releasing this area of money. God has given abundantly to us. In response to that we give all of who we are back to him and part of that is giving our money.

Second point I would like to point out. Christian generosity is proportional. Take a look at verses 12 and 13 in Chapter 8. “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.” The Christian life and Christian giving in this issue of generosity in the church is never a matter of matching people dollar for dollar. If you are a college student and living off of what your parents are sending you and a part time job, you are in a very different place than later on in life when you become an investment banker and own property. It’s a very different thing, but what is the same is the fact that we are called to respond fully and deeply to the challenge that God gives us. We are not like a country club where everybody here has to pay the same amount to join. It’s not like that. And you don’t get extra privileges if you give more. In fact, in our church there is only two people in the church that know what people give and they have to in order to do the accounting. Everybody else is clueless. I don’t know. I don’t want to know, because your participation in this church has nothing to do with a dollar figure. It has to do with you selling out to God entirely and part of that will be monetary. So it’s proportional. We respond to God, we give and the two measures of what we give in this proportionality is one, in proportion to what we have and two, in proportion to our faith. Those are the two factors that will guide our giving.

Third point. Christian generosity is a joyful response to God. Chapter 9, verse 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.” God loves a cheerful giver. I never understood about generosity until I became a father and once I became a father and I had these children, I realized there was nothing in the world I wouldn’t give them. If I had the resources and if it was good for them. If it was good for them and I had the resources, I wanted to give it. And why did I want to give it, because it was so much fun. You get such a kick out of it. Christmas comes around and I was excited as the kids. I would stay up all night making a tank out of Lego blocks and all for them, because I was siked, well it was fun to play with the Legos. And God is like that. He loves giving. God loves giving. He gets such a kick out of it and he wants to invite us in. He wants to share my joy. I love this world. I love these people. I see their need. Share my joy, get involved. God loves a cheerful giver.

I get stories from people out there who have been sharing with me because of this campaign. They have been sharing about their learning about giving in the past or their struggles right now, not struggles, but they are wrestling the opportunity to give right now and inevitably in all of these, there is this undercurrent of joy. This isn’t a sort of well, we’ve been calculating this and we feel like we must give this to God. It’s not like that. It bubbles over. People are talking about how excited they are, what a wonderful opportunity, this and that. Lessons they learned 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago. God loves a cheerful giver. And so the kind of giving God wants is the kind that bubbles out because of the joy we have, and that is only increased and magnified because of our generosity. Now, there are times that we aren’t cheerful givers. Let’s face that. Tax time is one of those times. I don’t think there is any spot in the Bible that talks about you know the cheerful taxpayer. It’s just not there. There are times when we have to pay. In the church, in response to God is not one of those times. You settle this in your heart before God and God wants a cheerful giver. Christian generosity is a joyful response to God.

The next point about Christian generosity is God responds to it. God responds to our generosity. I want to point out again a few verses. We are not in this alone. Chapter 9, 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.” Do you hear all those all’s and everys? God’s in this. He is in this for keeps. When we give, He responds to that. Verse 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.” God is in this issue of giving. It is so much on his heart, it is so much who he is, that when we step in next to him and say “Yes God I will be like you. I will become a channel of blessing” then God just kind of clears things out of the way, so he can shove more blessing into your life. Now this is not always monetary, because it talks about us being blessed in all kinds of way, so that in every kind of situation, sometimes what we need is, we need more stamina, or we need more wisdom, or we need a capacity to endure a situation in order to serve. There are all kinds of ways that God will get back into our life, but one of those ways is financial.

When I was finishing seminary, Debbie and I were planning for having a child and because of that we started to save for all the expenses around the birth of a new child and during this time a friend of ours who was a new Christian, who had become a Christian out of a motorcycle gang background, decided that he wanted to get his life in order, get off of welfare and the way he thought of doing that was to buy a boat and a motor and do some inland fishing. We didn’t know whether that was a good idea or not, but we felt God prodding us to give. At that time, Debbie had a miscarriage and when she had that miscarriage, we felt God saying that that money was released at this point and that he wanted us to use it. So we gave all that we had saved up, which was $150 and we gave that to him to buy the boat and a motor. It turned out that it wasn’t that great of deal. It didn’t change his life in the way he had hoped. We kind of anticipated that that might happen, but we really believed that God wanted us to give that money. That was early in the summer.

At the end of that summer, we came back from a Bible conference that we had been serving and some friends of ours in seminaries came up and said, “John, Debbie, we know about your car.” Now let me tell you about our car for a moment. Our car was a Volkswagen bug that had had 120,000 miles on it at that point. In those days, 120,000 miles really looked it. We had a hole in the back on the floor board that when you pulled up the floor mat you could put your feet outside and do the Fred Flinstone thing on the ground. You couldn’t start it from the key, you had to go and short out the solenoid to get it started. Debbie used to stand outside in her robe and push me down the driveway so I could �this was our car. So our friends came up and said “We know your car. We are getting a new car and we want to give your our four year old Volkswagen van”. That van when we appraised its worth was worth ten times the amount of what we had given away earlier that summer. God has given us virtually a brand new automobile. God was happy. God was enjoying it and you know what, the people who had given us the gift, they were happy too. It wasn’t a somber thing. They were overflowing with joy as they gave it and then we as we received it, we were praising God too and we were joyful because of what God had done. God loves to give and God is in our giving. When we give and we become a blessing to someone else, God will be sure that in some way in a needy area of our life, that we will receive a blessing because he intends always to bless. So God responds to our involvement.

This stands against the American sort of mindset. You know, where “If I don’t do it for myself, you know nobody will. I have got to take care of myself.” Well you know that’s a good good attitude. It keeps the middle class from being a burden on anybody else. I mean, you know people of all strata’s of society who share those values are productive people, we like that, it’s good, but it’s not good in our relationship to God, because God does take care of us, even when we can’t take care of ourselves. And so, when we are in a situation where we think that we’ve got to take care of ourselves, we’ve go to do it ourselves, then inevitably we can’t let go of things. It doesn’t make sense to let go of things. If you’ve got to protect yourself against all the vagaries of life, all the possibilities, you got to hold it in because life is going to come crashing in on you, but we don’t live like that, because God is in this. God responds to our generosity.

So the question is, do we really believe that? Do we really believe that God has the right to call us to give, even to the point of sacrifice? And then, do we believe that if we respond to that call that God will actually take care of us if we do? Our answer to that is not what we say, but what we end up doing in our lives. At one time I was embarrassed to talk about giving and I can remember a time about six years ago when we were having a stewardship campaign in our church and the senior pastor said, “John, you are going to preach the one on giving.” I was real happy about that, until I read the chapters that we have been looking at. And at the end of it in chapter 9, in verse 15 something stood out to me. Chapter 9, verse 15 says this: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” What does that mean? Who benefits from this gift? Indescribable gift to whom? To us, the givers. Take a look at verses 12-14 in chapter 9. I am going to read it out loud.

“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 and 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!”

One of the greatest places to be in this church is on the Mission Committee, because that means that you get to read all of these letters from these missionaries and you get to see that things happen in the world because we have given to ministry and they thank God and praise God for our faithfulness and partnering with them. Things are built. Ministries happen. People hear the gospels. Bibles are translated and published because of our partnership in the gospel through money. In a normal year this church gives $575 per person to need outside the walls of this church. And if we reach our goal in our capital campaign and add that money, that 10% that we are giving to concerns outside on top of what we normally give, then in three years we will give $1.8 million dollars to needs outside of these walls. That’s an incredible place to be. It’s an incredible blessing because out there on the field there are people who are receiving of this abundance and they are praising God and they are praying for us, they are thanking God for our obedience and God is getting glory, eternal glory from our response to the gospels.

Now, Debbie and I were on the other side of this equation and I can remember a time particularly in 1995. The Colby earthquake had just happened. 6,000 people died in our city. 80,000 buildings fell. 300,000 people were homeless and in the midst of this devastation as we tried to help and cope, one other thing happened which was the Japanese yen and the dollar went against each other and all of a sudden because of the change in the exchange rate, our buying power in Japan dropped $800 in the first month. In the second month it dropped $400 more. So that meant in two months time, our paycheck brought $1,200 less. We were in some serious straights there. And there was nothing the mission board could do because they had all of these policies and procedures and it would take months before they could catch wind of what was going on and so we prayed. One day in early March, we opened up a letter from a church a lot like this one and in it was a $2,500 check and a note. It was made out to Debbie and I and a note in it said, “Use this for whatever you need.” God was involved. God enjoyed that moment. We enjoyed that moment and we praised God for the faithfulness of the church that gave so generously to our need. And so, God is getting glory in all kinds of corners and places in the world because of the obedience and generosity of God’s people. That’s the indescribable gift. We have the indescribable privilege of being involved in something that’s eternal. Something that will bring God glory here and bring God glory to the ends of the earth. To lay a foundation in this life of things that will bring glory to God forever, to have our name on that picture underneath God’s, being part of the generosity that he has done in the world. So that is what we are invited in to when we are invited to give. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

Let’s pray. Lord, we are amazed at your generosity. We see it most in Jesus Christ and then we see it in our relationship to you everyday and in all kinds of ways. Help us now to have the faith, have the freedom to step closer to you and to share your joy for we ask this in Jesus name. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

Christian generosity is part of our total response to God’s grace.
2 Corinthians 8:5
Christian generosity is proportional.
2 Corinthians 8:12
Christian generosity is a joyful response to God.
2 Corinthians 9:7
Christian generosity elicits a response from God.
2 Corinthians 9:8,11
Christian generosity is an indescribable gift. — to the givers!
2 Corinthians 9:12-14