See That You Abound In This Grace Also
One of St. Paulís favorite words is "abound." The word means to "overflow" with the blessings that God gives us. According to 2 Corinthians 8.7 Christians abound in faith, speech, knowledge, and love. If youíve ever seen an artesian well, you know the image behind this. The crystal clear water just wells up and bubbles up out of the ground continually. Paul also says that we abound in hope (Romans 15.13), forgiveness (Ephesians 1.8), and holiness (1 Thess. 4.1ff).
In Christ we abound. But the world, without Christ, can only absorb. The fallen world is like a drain than sucks down everything it can, and still it is never satisfied. The Christian is a life-giving person who lifts up rather than tears down, who builds up rather than destroys. In the Bible passage today God wants us to abound in something very specialÖ to abound in the grace of giving.
I. Wrong Approaches to Giving
In this sermon Iím going to talk about money. But please hear me correctly, this sermon is not about money, it is about Jesus. Thereís an old saying that the church is built on three books: the Bible, the hymn book, and the pocketbook. But thatís not really true. Godís church is built on Jesus. He will provide all that is needed. "Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you." (1)
Let us begin, however, by talking about some of the wrong approaches to giving.
Some people give out of guilt. Many times we hear radio or television ministries begging people to give and threatening to shut off the program if they donít give. If this is the main motivation for giving, itís wrong, and it probably wouldnít be a bad idea if the program did go off their air.
Some give out of pride. Jesus said that the "left hand" should not know what the "right hand" is doing (2). We shouldnít compare our gifts to others and take pride in their size. This is one of the reasons why we provide offering envelopes. Other members donít need to know what your offering is.
Some give logically. They remind me of the lady who apologized to me some years ago because she had not been able to "pay her dues." "My goodness," I thought, "whoever taught you that your offerings were dues?" People do this. They come to worship and figure somebody has to pay for the lights and the bulletins. Sadly many people also give as they are guided by tax laws. We shouldnít just give because itís practical. Giving is spiritual.
The worst form of giving is that of unthoughtful giving. This is the problem I struggle with the most. I like to collect old church documentsÖ not so much Bibles, hymnals, etc. Iím interested in the minutes of meetings, church records and things like that. I have a "money counterís report" from the 1930s. Weekly offerings are listed in the report. Some of the offerings were as low as 10 cents. Others gave 50 cents. Quite a few gave a dollar. There were a few $5 and $10 offerings. Now anyone who understands a little bit of history and economics knows that even the smaller offerings were large offerings in those days. But the sad part is that some of the children and grandchildren of these people are still giving the same amounts. They do so because their giving is habit that they donít think about.
II. Growing in the Grace of Giving
God wants us to abound in the grace of giving, or as the bulletin cover says, "to excel in the grace of giving." How can this happen?
First of all take a look at that bulletin cover and notice the translation of 2 Corinthians 8.7, "excel in the grace of giving." My sermon title is the New King James translation, "abound in this grace also." How do we know that "this grace" is "the grace of giving"? The reason for the two, different, but good translations lies in the meaning of the word "grace." In Greek this is the word charis. Charis can mean "grace," but it can also mean "gift." This important word makes it possible to see the real motivation behind all of our gifts to the Lord. These gifts are possible because of Godís grace to us in Jesus Christ. We can abound in giving our gifts because God abounds in giving His gifts and/or grace to us. In the Christian church we like to use the concept of "stewardship." Stewardship means that we are the managers of Godís assets. As we come into the wisdom of Christ, so we begin to manage Godís assets in such a way that they bring glory to God and blessing to our neighbors. Here are some of the ways that we can abound in "this grace also."
Timing is always important when it comes to financial things. We look for the opportune time to make investments etc. However there is a different kind of timing involved when it comes to the grace of giving. The devil would like us to think that it is never the right time to serve the Lord. We are convinced that when we get a better salary or things begin to fall our way, then we will begin to excel in the grace of giving. We look to changing circumstances in order to grow in the grace of giving. Let me tell you, the grace of giving does not depend on changing outward circumstances, it depends on the change within your heart. In fact where there is a real change of heart the grace of giving will grow even in the most difficult earthly circumstances. Take a look at 2 Corinthians 8.2. Paul is talking about a group of Christians in the region of Macedonia. He says "that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality." Did you hear that? The "trial of their affliction" and their "deep poverty" abounded in the riches of the liberality. The time for grace is always now, and where there is grace in our hearts there will be generosity even in the most trying circumstances.
I like to read about Christians who have endured suffering. I read some time ago about a Lutheran bishop who suffered in communist prisons in the former Czechoslovakia. He had no Bible, no hymnbook, no church. He craved the opportunity to serve and worship his Lord. Most of the time he did this in prayer. But one day he received a cell-mate. These men were fed a starvation died: one bowl of thin soup and a chunk of bread each day. When the bishop noticed the weakness of his cell-mate, he gave him his bread. The man quickly ate it, and asked, "why did you do that?" "Because," the bishop replied, "You needed it more than me, and it gives me a chance to show God my appreciation for His help. He is the one who has kept me alive so far." Tough circumstances actually work to bring out generosity when people are led to lean on God.
Comparison is also an important part of growing in the grace of giving. Iím not talking about comparing our giving with others. We do compare the gifts we give with the blessings that we have received. Listen again to 2 Corinthians 8.3. "For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing." The grace of giving depends on the blessings God has given usÖ above all on the fact that God has been patient with us, that He has forgiven us all our sins for the sake of Jesus, who died on the cross. But our giving is also to be done in relation to the material blessings that God has given us. That is why we stress the importance of proportionate giving. We give a thoughtful portion of the blessings that God has given us. Our gift should be compared to the gifts God has given us.
Perspective is most important. In 2 Corinthians 8.5 we read, "they first gave themselves to the Lord and then to us by the will of God." And 2 Corinthians 8.9 says, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." It is this perspective of what God has given us in Christ that makes all the difference. Giving is always an "ought." It is a matter of the Law. The Law is like a beautiful tool. Think of a hammer. A hammer can do a lot of good. But by itself itís nothing but a paper weight. However, when the hand of the Gospel picks it up, then the hammer can really do some good. So it is with those who know the love of God in Christ. Giving becomes a joy. Paul was not afraid to ask the Corinthians to abound in the grace of giving because he knew the abundance of Godís love in Jesus Christ. Listen to what Martin Luther says about this in his commentary on Isaiah. "People who have been drawn into the church and to a love of the neighbor by faithfulness in faith and true love share what they have with a trusting heart and diligent hand. If I have won someoneís heart, I will soon have his purse too." (3)
Paul carried this theme throughout his ministry. Listen to his words to a group of pastors from Ephesus. "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified... And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' " (4) He was on his way to Jerusalem, and he knew that he would probably never see these people again. These were his last words of commendationóthe important things they were to think about as they continued the Gospel ministry. Eventually Paul would be arrested, imprisoned, tried before Caesar, and finally executed. But through it all the grace of God would abound. It continues to abound through us as we give to one another of our time, our labors, our love, and as we give to the Lord and the work of His kingdom. We do so in the abounding grace of God in us and through us. Amen.
(1) Matthew 6.33 (2) Matthew 6.3 (3) Lutherís Works 47, Isaiah 60.9 (4) Acts 20.32 & 35
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2003
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