STEWARDSHIP SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 2015
Text: 2 Corinthians 8:1–9, 13–15
I want to start off by thanking you for being here today, because there are always those folks in a congregation who will stay home if they know this is our topic. And I know how some of you, though you are here, may not be thrilled with our topic today. That is reflected in the old joke that goes, “Two men were marooned on an Island. One man paced back and forth worried and scared while the other man sat back and was sunning himself. The first man said to the second man, “Aren’t you afraid we are about to die?” “No,” said the second man, “I make $100,000 a week and tithe faithfully to my church every week. My Pastor will find me.”
Now I want to approach our subject matter today not by talking about giving more for the budget (that is not what we are doing here), not by saying if you give more God will make you a millionaire (that is not in the Bible), but instead we will discuss the concept of generosity. Do you know someone who is generous? Maybe a grandparent or uncle or someone who was quick with a check when needed. Maybe you have friends that when you go out to eat, they always want to pick up the tab. I have a neighbor where we live now that will loan me any tool, assist me with any project. And that’s cool.
Now we may not be so thrilled when the government is generous with our money. Do you think the government is too generous? There are some members of Congress who check the federal budget. They publicized that in 2013, for instance, the State Department spent $630,000 to attract followers to its Facebook and Twitter accounts. NASA budgeted $3 million to conduct annual weeklong seminars to explain to its employees how Congress works. The U.S. Army spent almost $300 million developing a mega-blimp for surveillance in Afghanistan and then scrapped the project.
We get upset when we can’t do anything about other people being overly generous with our hard-earned tax dollars. But we also can find it tough to be generous with the money we do control.
An LCMS pastor took a survey and asked parishioners for some reasons why they fail to be generous. One person wrote that it’s hard to be generous not having a job or the funds to contribute as he’d like to. Another wrote about having a fear of not being able to survive on a fixed income today. A third admitted to being afraid that they won’t have enough left to meet their bills and obligations. Other reasons given include, “My money is all mine.” “Others give so I don’t have to.” We hear the apostle Paul talk in our text about some poor Christians who “pleaded for the privilege” of being generous! Can we be like them? I can assure you here today that God wants us to be. Today I am going to show you how Jesus shows God’s generosity and how God can power our generosity even in tough times, how God’s Generosity Makes Us Generous.
You may be thinking, “Some of those reasons not to be generous had some truth to them.” You’d be right. But that doesn’t change the fact that we may let these reasons grow into excuses for not being generous at all. One of the devil’s best tricks is to use half-truths to lead us to sin. That often happens with money or other blessings with which to be generous. The devil knows that God wants us to be generous, and he will help us come up with any excuse not to be. And it is easy to come up with those excuses, right? When you or I are not generous because of our selfishness, we sin.
But just as Paul pushes us today to consider our generosity, the apostle provides us with help for us to grow in a generous spirit. He points us to this fact: Jesus shows God’s generosity to us. Jesus IS God’s generosity to us.
Paul was writing to the folks in the city of Corinth in our text. The Corinthians were wealthy. They had cash. He was talking to the folks in Corinth about the Macedonians. The Macedonians included the Philippians and Thessalonians, to whom Paul wrote epistles. The folks in Macedonia were not rich. They did not have a lot of cash. But Paul had informed the churches that they were gathering an offering for the church in Jerusalem and the Macedonians who didn’t have a lot of money wanted to give what they had for that collection. The folks in Corinth, who had a lot, were not very interested in giving. The Macedonian Christians were so single-minded in their generosity (v 2) that they begged to be able to be part of providing relief for the Jerusalem Christians.
Paul told the Corinthians in v 9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: rich as he was, he made himself poor for your sake, in order to make you rich by means of his poverty.” The apostle isn’t talking about the facts that Jesus didn’t have a lot of money and never owned a home. Paul is talking about spiritual wealth. If sin is the spiritual debt we owe to God, then forgiveness earned for us by Jesus on the cross and by rising again is the spiritual wealth by which He makes us rich. Paul says more about this in Rom 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We are each blessed by God’s generosity in giving Jesus to die and rise again for us, though we don’t deserve it. That’s why Jn 3:16 says God loved the world so much that He gave us Jesus. God is very generous with us. If you don’t think that, you really need to come and talk to me. Every blessing, every good thing in our lives comes from God. I mean, He gave us Himself! He gave us His Son! Still think God isn’t generous?
Try this out. The following is a true story. In 1984, Mike and his family belonged to an East Coast church. One Sunday evening, the sermon was on sacrificial offerings, and then they collected a special offering at the end of the sermon. The only money in Mike’s wallet was a $50 bill, which was supposed to buy a week’s worth of groceries for his wife, their five children, and himself. However, in a move of faith, Mike put the $50 bill in the offering. Then, after the conclusion of the service, the family went out to the parking lot to go home. Within minutes, they joyfully returned to the sanctuary and asked the pastor to come outside and see their miracle. Somewhat skeptical, the pastor accompanied them outside to their 20-year-old station wagon. Looking through the windows, he saw that the interior of the vehicle was filled with bags of groceries. Happy for the family, he remarked that someone had given them a huge blessing. “You don’t understand, pastor,” Mike said. “Before service, I made sure that all the windows were rolled up, and the doors were locked. I have the only key, so it must have been the Lord!” (Mike had no family living in the area, and no one from the congregation ever claimed responsibility.) Now I know some of you are thinking, “yeah, right.” But answer me this: Is there anyone in this room who thinks the God who created the universe with a thought, who sent His Son to die and rise for us, is incapable or unwilling to fill a car with groceries?
God is generous. This generous God helps us be generous. With the Spirit working in us, we can be generous. We can give out of caring. When we talk about generosity, we don’t start with money. We start with what’s in our heart. True generosity starts with a caring heart. Paul says that those poverty-stricken Macedonians first gave themselves to the Lord (v 5). Then they pleaded for the privilege of helping others (v 4).
The English word “generous” comes from a French word meaning “of noble birth.” Our generosity comes because we are of noble birth spiritually. We are children of the King, sisters and brothers of the Prince of Peace. So we give out of what we have.
Generosity isn’t about the amount, but attitude. A pastor told the story that one day some time ago an envelope showed up in their collection plate that had twelve quarters. An enclosed note read: “Sorry about these being quarters. I didn’t have dollar bills. My husband is just starting a new job. He’s been out of work.” That generous giver reminds us of what Paul says in v 12: “If you are eager to give, God will accept your gift based on what you have to give, not on what you don’t have.” When we give generously, it doesn’t matter how big or how little our gift is, compared to what others give. We are generous because we care. We give out of what we have. As that person wrote, Generosity is a gift from the heart.
We give to thank God. Giving in thanks to God is worship. That’s what the Macedonian Christians did. Paul writes in v 2: “In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” You could put a check for a million dollars in the offering plate at this service, and if you make a billion a week, that might not be generous. It might be leftovers. There are those who might give a check for a million dollars trying to buy God’s forgiveness. That wouldn’t be generosity either. Generosity comes from caring and trusting and thanking. As many Christians and pastors have said, “We cannot out-give God.” Sometimes we think we “earned” what we have, but we didn’t. God blesses us. And knowing we are blessed by God, we can then be a blessing to others.
When you and I receive faith in Christ from God, as the Macedonians did, we are grateful for all He’s done for us. We ask forgiveness for those times we’re selfish instead of generous. Then we seek to be generous—with our loved ones, our church, those in need here and elsewhere. Generosity is about sharing with others as God has first shared with us. As one person wrote: God always blesses us from the cross of Jesus so that we can be generous in some way, to someone.
Think of it this way. It has been said that there are three kinds of givers — the flint, the sponge, and the honeycomb. To get anything out of a flint, you must hammer it. And then you get only chips and sparks. To get water out of a sponge you must squeeze it, and the more you use pressure, the more you will get. But the honeycomb just overflows with its sweetness. Which kind of giver are you?
God is so very generous with us. Now in thanks to Him, in the worship of Him, we get to be generous in service to Him, and each other.