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Today is our third Sunday in our four-part series on stewardship. We have already reflected on stewarding ourselves and stewarding our communion (our church fellowship). Today, we reflect on stewarding our things. By ‘things’ I mean all the things we have or own – our house, our car, our furniture, the space in the place we live, our books, our garden, and our money.
I’m going to focus on our money in this message, because money is in many ways a proxy for all our things – most of our things were purchased with money. But also, money is needed for the church to to be church and to grow – there are real costs associated with operating a church – salaries, rent, water and lights, supplies, and so on. So, we do have to think about the real costs of serving the communion (the local church) and of building God’s Kingdom (the mission).
In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul writes an extended passage about giving. The context is that the church in Corinth had promised to give Paul some money towards the spreading of the Gospel, but had not actually paid it over. So Paul tries in this passage to persuade them to pay it over, not out of obligation, but freely. This makes this passage quite relevant for the modern church, as we also need money from our members, but want members to give freely.
There are four primary themes about giving in this extended passage:
GIVE WHAT YOU CAN, ACCORDING TO YOUR MEANS
8:3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able…
8:11 …[give] according to your means.
8:12 For … the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
GIVE FREELY, BY YOUR OWN WILL
8:3-4 …they gave …even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.
8:8 I am not commanding you…
8:10 Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so.
8:12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable
9:7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion
GIVE GENEROUSLY, SO IT’S UNCOMFORTABLE
8:2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
8:5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
8:7 Since you excel in everything… see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
9:5-7 So I thought it necessary to … 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… God loves a cheerful giver.
GIVE, AND YOU WILL RECEIVE
9:8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
9:10-11 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 enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
Perhaps the most striking verse in these chapters is an extract from 2 Corinthians 8:7, “see that you also excel in this grace of giving”. Grace in Greek is charis which means a gift (like the gifts of the Spirit). Paul views giving as a gift, a privilege, an opportunity and something that God enables us to do.
As we come closer to the time when we make a commitment to contribute financially to the work of the church, I pray that God will stimulate in you this sense of the opportunity and gift of giving, and that you will be able to give freely and generously, according to your means.