(Preached at Alger First UMC on 8/23/2015)
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:6-12
We’re on the third week of this series we’re calling “Stuff My Church Does.” The whole idea behind this series is to ask the question “Why do we do that?” about everything we do here. Why do we sing in church? Why do we pray in church? Why do you let me stand up here and talk for 20 minutes? Those kinds of questions. And we’re doing this so that we can discover the meaning behind what we’re doing here. Here’s one of the things I’d like this series to do: When you’re asked “Why do we do that?” about anything we do as a church, I want to get us to stop saying “We’ve always done it that way.” That’s not a real reason, right? It’s easy, but if we just stop there, we lose the real meaning of what we’re doing here. And we don’t want to do that, right? So let’s rediscover the meaning. The first week of this series, we asked “Why do we preach?” Last week, we asked “Why do we gather here in the first place?”
So this week, we’re going to ask the question “Why do we give?” When the offering plates are passed around, why do we put money in? Why in the world do we give our money to the church every week?
Now I struggle with this sometimes, I question God sometimes about giving, saying “God, do you really need this portion of my paycheck? I have all of these student loans to pay back, don’t you know college ain’t cheap? Don’t you want me to pay those off? So it’s really hard for me to give sometimes.
Now, I realize that when I said that I’d be talking about giving money today, you might have just turned your ears off and resigned to sleeping with your eyes open for the next 20 minutes. I know, we don’t like to talk about money. It’s private, and that’s ok. But I think we need to ask the question “Why do we give” because it’s a big part of our worship service and our life as a church, and I think we need to investigate why we do it. Past the obvious reason of paying bills, why do we give to the church?
Now tithing, giving 10% of your income, is a long tradition of the church, supported in many parts of the Bible that are too numerous to go into right now, so when I talk about giving today, the tithe is the standard that I’m using. Now, I promise you that I’m not going to be condemning, I’m not going to wag my finger, I’m not going to talk about how much Alger First needs your money as if we’re going to go under if you don’t start giving right now, I won’t do that. If you don’t give at all or not very much to the church, this will not be a guilt- and shame-fest. I just want to look at how the Bible can answer the question “Why do we give?” Because if we can answer that question, then I think we can be the church God wants us to be, not just the church who does the same old thing every week without knowing why.
So since this is kind of a touchy topic, I want to go slowly today. Could you all get out your Bibles and turn to 2 Corinthians 9:6-12.?
6 What I mean is this: the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop.
7 Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver. 8 God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. 9 As it is written, He scattered everywhere; he gave to the needy; his righteousness remains forever.
10 The one who supplies seed for planting and bread for eating will supply and multiply your seed and will increase your crop, which is righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us. 12 Your ministry of this service to God’s people isn’t only fully meeting their needs but it is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God.
So first, let me give you a little background on this passage. The Apostle Paul wrote 2 Corinthians as a letter to the church in Corinth, an ancient city in Greece near Athens. Paul had founded this church and he continued to visit them periodically and pastor them from afar through several letters. The passage I just read for you comes from a part of the letter where he’s asking for the believers in Corinth to contribute money to a specific cause. Many of the believers in Jerusalem were living in poverty, so Paul was asking the Corinthian church, along with several other churches, to take up a collection for the Jerusalem church that Paul would take to Jerusalem.
Now here already, we find what could be a pretty easy answer to our question, “Why do we give?” Why did the Corinthian church give money? Because there were people in need in Jerusalem. It was as simple as that. Now, it is certainly true today that there are people in need, and this could be a very good reason to give because the church is able to help those people, but it’s not really an overarching answer. So let’s keep looking.
This passage is really dense. Paul talks about how God loves a cheerful giver and that we should never feel strong-armed into giving. He talks about how generous God is, that’s really splashed all over this passage. He talks about how if we want to be generous, then God will provide the means for us to be generous. It’s not that if we give one dollar then we’ll get two in return, but that we’ll have everything provided for so that we can be generous. What we see all over this passage is God’s generosity.
Now we can understand that. God is generous. That’s a pretty simple truth that we can understand, right? In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus said “Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread? Or give them a snake when they ask for fish? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”
Now Jesus is not really calling you evil, he’s using a hyperbole here, but he’s saying that you parents know how to be generous to your kids. I think of how generous my parents are: they put my twin sister and I through college, they’re putting my two younger sisters through college-that’s four kids through college, and we all chose expensive private schools. Ridiculous! But they’re helping us out big time, without a doubt. Recently, I was driving in Columbus, jumped a curb and damaged my tires. My car had to be towed all the way from Dublin to Findlay, and my Dad was waiting there at 11:30 pm to pick me up when the tow truck dropped me and my car off. They then picked my car up and paid for it up front (I’m paying them back, don’t worry).
My parents are crazy generous. But Jesus said here that even that much generosity doesn’t look like anything next to God’s generosity. God is so generous that he makes the most generous person in the world look selfish in comparison. God gives us everything we need when we ask. God’s so generous, God even provides us with the means to be generous. It’s crazy! So we can start with this truth, right? But why does that mean we should give? So let’s keep looking.
If we go back to our passage from 2 Corinthians, I think we can see the answer to our question “Why do we give?” in verse 12. Paul says “Your ministry of this service to God’s people isn’t only fully meeting their needs but it is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God.” He’s saying that the giving of the Corinthian church is not only meeting the needs of other people, which is great, but their giving is also multiplying in many the expressions of thanksgiving to God. More and more people are coming to God and giving thanks to God because of the Corinthians’ generosity. So remember the generosity of God we were just talking about? The Corinthians were reflecting that generosity, and it was bringing others to Jesus.
You see, people aren’t going to believe if you ask them the traditional evangelistic questions: “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven or hell?” You know the types of questions I’m talking about, the ones that street preachers yell out on bullhorns? Those don’t work. But people are much more likely to believe in God if they see God’s generosity coming from God’s people.
So we are called to reflect that generosity. We are called to put God on display in our day-to-day lives for others to see. That is central to our calling as Christians, to live in a way that others can see God in us. And that includes displaying God’s generosity in our lives. So why do we give? Because God is generous and we are called to reflect that generosity.
So what? What does all of this mean? How are we supposed to reflect God’s generosity? I want to challenge you with something today. I want to challenge you to try tithing for one month. If you don’t already tithe, I want to challenge you to try giving 10% of your income to the church for one month.
(What followed was an explanation of a special response/offering time we did after the sermon)
Now, I realize this might be tough for you. Giving is often tough for me as well, student loans are a big reality in my life right now. But dream with me. What would it look like if we took generosity seriously? Not just as a good trait to have in our lives, but what would it look like if we saw generosity as a way to say my generous God gave it to me, and I’m going to be generous right back. Imagine the impact we could have on the community.
This isn’t a dream of Alger First having enough money to do whatever we need to do. That’s a small dream. I’m dreaming of a church who is full of people so committed to the mission of God that they are willing to be generous about everything. Because we are the only hands, feet and bank account that God has, and we are called to live into that.