How To Make Your Money Go a Long, Long Way
II Corinthians 9:12-15The story is told of three tightwads who visited a certain church for the first time. Not wanting to give any money, they deliberately came late so they could skip the offering. They were shocked to discover that in this church the offering came after the sermon. Not knowing what else to do, when the offering was announced, one of them fainted and the other two carried him out.
If the truth were told, that’s how many Christians feel about the whole subject of giving. They would like to avoid it if they could.
But it’s hard to avoid thinking about money … even in church. We spend most of our life trying to make money … and the rest of our life trying to spend it. So it’s not surprising that the Bible is filled with stories about money—how to make it, how to spend it, how to save it, and how to give it away.
In fact, in the first three gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—one verse out of every six has to do with money, either directly or indirectly. In 16 out of 38 parables Jesus told, money is involved.
What it means is this: You can’t read the Bible very long without realizing that what you do with your money is very important. The way you use the money God gives you is an acid test of your spiritual life. A man can say many things but the way he spends his money tells the truth about his heart.
What About Tithing?
This is the third and final message in the series called Who Owns Your Life? Before I return to II Corinthians 9, I want to say a word about tithing. For those who don’t know, the word tithe comes from the Old Testament. It’s a Hebrew word that literally means a “tenth.” When you tithe, you are giving ten percent of your income. For instance, a tithe of $1000 would be $100. A tithe of $537 would be $53.70, and so on. A tithe is ten percent of whatever you make.
If you read the Bible, you soon discover that tithing began in the Old Testament as a way in which the people of Israel could support the nation and especially the Levites who served as priests. When you come into the New Testament, you discover that there is no verse that says to Christians, “You must tithe.” Nor is there a verse which says, “Do not tithe.” It is neither required nor forbidden.
Why, then, do so many churches stress tithing? The answer is, it’s a useful guideline for giving. It’s easy to compute. And it’s a good place to begin. I agree with those who say that Christian giving goes far beyond the tithe, just as grace goes far beyond the law.
But tithing makes sense as a helpful way to gauge your giving. Let me give a personal suggestion to those who may struggle in this area. It’s possible that you are so over committed financially that giving ten percent isn’t feasible for you right now. Fine. Why not set a goal of moving toward the tithe? If you only give 2% right now, why not ask God to help you give an additional 1% each month until you reach 10%. If you started now, you would be tithing by the end of the year.
Don’t forget that in two weeks we’ll be having Tithing Demonstration Day. On Sunday, March 5, we’re asking everyone in the congregation to bring a tithe to the church with them. If you can’t do it before or after, tithe on that day. It will be an encouragement to you and a great help to your church.
Let me go one step farther. Marlene and I have tithed since we were married nearly 19 years ago. Sometimes it has not been easy. Usually we have given more than a tithe. One year our giving came to about 18% of our income. But I can give you this testimony. We’ve never run out of money. Oh, sometimes we’ve been close, right on the edge, and sometimes we’ve been overdrawn for a few days, but somehow we never missed a meal. Through the tight seminary years, a move to California, the birth of three children, moving to Texas, buying a home for the first time, being briefly without a job, taking a new job, then moving to Oak Park and buying a home here … through it all, we’ve never regretted tithing. Never, not for a single moment. God has always honored us when we honored him? We’ve never run out. Run low … yes. But run out? No. So I commend tithing to you as a useful and helpful guideline for your giving.
With that we return to II Corinthians 9. Beginning in verse 12, Paul mentions four great results of liberal Christian giving.
Result #1: Generous Giving Supplies the Needs of the Saints (12).
“This service that you are performing is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (12). Your giving, Paul says, is fully supplying the needs of the saints. That makes sense. When you give, you help someone out.
Do you see the little word “service?” It’s a Greek word used mostly to describe priests who served in the temple. It means “official, public, religious ritual.” We get the English word liturgy from it. But Paul used that word to describe what happens when you give to meet needs. It’s a ministry just as sacred as the Old Testament priesthood. When you give to help others, you please God just as much as the man who stands and preaches or the elders who lead or the teachers who teach. Giving is one ministry everyone can share.
That’s reason enough to give until the day you die. Most of us have a bit of built-in selfishness as part of our basic nature. In a day of high prices, unemployment and much uncertainty it’s easy to focus all your energy on building up your net worth and forgetting about people.
When you give money to a worthy cause, when you cook a meal for a friend, when you give a bag of groceries, when you anonymously slip a twenty dollar bill in an envelope and mail it, when you move to meet the real needs around you, you are doing exactly what God expects—you are supplying the needs of the saints.
That’s only the first result. The second is listed at the end of verse 12.
Result #2: Generous Giving Causes a Great Outpouring of Praise to
Paul makes this point three different times in as many verses.
"Your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (11).
"Many expressions of thanks to God” (12).
"Men will praise God” (13).
I’ve never forgotten something that happened when I pastored a small church in the Los Angeles area many years ago. One young couple in that church experienced a long string of setbacks. Unemployment, sickness, losing their home, family problems of every description. At one point the wife became pregnant and was expecting twins. Late in the pregnancy, complications developed and one of the babies died before delivery. At that moment, the husband got sick, couldn’t work, and the roof caved in around them. The church rallied to their cause, raised money on their behalf, bought groceries, prepared meals, and helped pay the rent. Church members helped take care of the children and did the chores around the house until they could get on their feet. Sometime later, after the crisis had passed, the wife sent the church a note that went something like this: “I thank God for all you have done. God used you to help us out when we really needed help. I’m glad to be part of a church that cares.”
That note illustrates what Paul is saying in II Corinthians 9. Our giving not only meets physical needs, it also causes a great chorus of thanksgiving to rise up before the throne of God. When we give to help others, they know we do it in the name of Jesus of Nazareth who went about doing good … and they glorify God who made our giving possible.
How does it work? When we give as Christians, there is a divine name-tag attached to every dollar we give, every meal we cook, and every piece of clothing we donate. Our giving reflects on our Heavenly Father and enhances his reputation in the world.
Verse 13 introduces us to the third great result of generous giving.
Result #3: Generous Giving Proves Our Obedience to the Gospel (13).
See how clearly he states it? “Because of the service by which you have proved yourself …” (13). Maybe you’ve seen those bumper stickers that say, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” That’s always a sobering thought. What evidence could you bring from your life that would guarantee you a jail term for being a Christian?
Your checkbook will be Exhibit A. It will either argue for you or against you. You show me your checkbook and I’ll show you something profound about your faith—or lack of it. Paul told the Corinthians their giving would prove the reality of their faith in God.
Suppose we looked at your checkbook for the last year or two. What stories would it tell about your Christian commitment?
Many of us don’t like to hear that. After all, we say, there’s more to being a Christian than giving money or food or clothes. True. And some have more to give and others can hardly give anything. True again. Finally, we argue, giving is a private matter between the individual and the Lord. Still true.
But all those points—as good as they are—can’t evade the force of this verse. Your giving proves or disproves the genuineness of your Christianity. Why? Because giving is at the very heart of our faith. A stingy Christian is a contradiction in terms. Whatever we have of any value was given us by God. And he gave it to us so that we might share it with others. A Christian who hoards silver and gold is surely the world’s biggest fool.
I remember hearing Dr. Hendricks say that one of his favorite questions is to ask seminary students, “Tell me, how is your giving these days?” He said it’s amazing to see grown men crawl under the table in embarrassment. But it’s a very pertinent question and not just for seminary students. It’s a question you need to consider because your giving either proves or disproves the genuineness of your faith.
Verse 14 brings us to the final result of generous giving.
Result #4: Generous Giving Gains Prayer Partners (14).
Many of us would not have thought about this particular result, but Paul says it quite clearly. “And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.” Did you catch that phrase—"their prayers for you?” When the Corinthians gave to help the poor saints in Jerusalem, a spiritual bond was formed. Chains of love forged through sacrificial giving linked the wealthy Christians in Greece with the poor Christians in Judea. Paul says that the saints in Jerusalem would put the Corinthians on their prayer list. Why? Because they would be so grateful for the gift that met their need.
That gives us the final impetus toward generosity. Give to the needy. They will love you, they will yearn to see you, they will pray for you.
That’s true, isn’t it? If someone gives you money or a nice gift, you find it easy to pray for them. It’s a fact of human nature. It’s easy for me to care for you when you demonstrate in a practical way that you love me.
Please note one fact. They do not pray because of the gift, but because of the love that motivated the gift. That’s what Paul means when he refers to the “surpassing grace God has given you.” When the marvelous grace of God works in your life prompting you to give to others, the people on the receiving end pray for you because they sense the love that was behind the gift.
I don’t know how you feel about that, but it excites me. I just can’t get on enough prayer lists. I’m always delighted to hear that someone is praying for me.
That’s the final result of generous giving. Let’s review those four results. Generous giving …
Demonstrates your faith
Gains prayer partners
All these blessings flow to the believer who decides to become a regular, generous giver. Here are two questions to ask yourself by way of application:
Is my giving regular or haphazard?
Is my giving generous or stingy?
How is your giving these days?
Go give to the needy, Sweet Charity’s bread,
For giving is living, the angel said. "But must I keep giving again and again?”
My peevish and pitiless curt answer ran.
"Oh no,” said the angel, piercing me through
“Just give till the Master stops giving to you.”
But does it really work in practice? I would like to close this final message on giving with some testimonies from the members of Calvary Memorial Church. Though quite different in many ways, each one clearly affirms that when God’s truth regarding giving is taken seriously, great blessings always follow.
Testimony #1: “This is God’s doing, not mine.”
We can testify that God does what he promises to do. This is especially true in the area of physical healings, guiding us in our daily lives, and meeting our earthly needs.
In fact, the area of finance and earthly possessions is one of the areas that God has blessed us in the most. We truly believe he has blessed us beyond what we need or deserve, not only because he loves us and is a gracious God, but because of the tithing commitment we made in the early years of our marriage.
Since that time we have increased our tithe through the years. In the last 13 years, we have been able to average about 15% of our gross income. God has truly been faithful to us and has blessed us in ways we never expected. We are well aware that our “prosperity” comes from the hand of the Lord, that it’s not from our attempts at “righteous” behavior or any human efforts. This is especially true of my work situation. God has increased my sales dramatically. This is God’s doing, not mine. Most of my efforts have been mediocre or completely fruitless. It is appropriately humbling to experience God’s power in this way. I find it encouraging, and it also builds my confidence in the Lord.
Testimony #2: “For me to tithe is no big deal”
To me the most vivid illustration of grace giving was illustrated by the First Romanian Baptist Church of Chicago. The body wanted to pay off the mortgage on the church. Most of the members pledged two weeks of their earnings towards retiring the debt. These were poor uneducated immigrants who worked long and hard to provide just the basics for their families, but God worked through them to accomplish his will. My grandfather and grandmother were founding members of that church. They became an economic success, yet God richly blessed them.
I can also point to my mom and dad as examples of believers who gave and give liberally. For me to tithe is no big deal. It seems to me to be a reasonable service of worship because giving has been modeled over and over. I have seen and experienced God’s blessing heaped upon those who give of their time, talent, and treasure.
A great cloud of witnesses is looking down from heaven, watching to see what I will do. My son John is looking up, watching to see what his dad will do.
I have been given much. As for me and my house we will give willingly and cheerfully. I am called to give, I am required to give.
As an aside, I have my own spin on cheerful giving, Pastor Ray. Whenever you say the Lord loves a cheerful giver, it encourages me to give more. In fact whenever I put my offering in the offering plate I try not to disturb anyone around me, but I chuckle out loud. I’m sure this embarrasses my wife.
Testimony #3: “Down to the last decimal.”
Five years ago I started tithing and stopped worrying about money. Yes, that’s the right order, as strange as it may seem. Let me explain how it happened.
As I studied the Bible, it hit me that Mammon is a genuine spiritual power that intends to destroy us. After all, Mammon is the only power that Jesus ever compared directly to God. I think this is because money, like God, claims to be the measure against which all of life can be judged.
I used to worry about money. I would sit at my desk and figure out how much my IRA would be worth at age 65 not once, but four or five times a day. The answer never changed—it was simply my way of making sure the god I worshipped was pleased with me.
But my study convinced me I should try tithing. And it was tough. I’d take my paycheck and figure 10% out to the last decimal place … and round down. Giving a tithe was genuinely the hardest thing I have ever done in my life—harder than working up the courage to ask for that first date. I remember it clearly.
Have you ever cut the strapping on a load of lumber that’s been wrapped too tightly? It parts with a “sprong” and the ends whip around from the released tension. That’s exactly the feeling of my heart when I wrote that check. I’ve seen it in my own life, and in others’ lives, too. God puts a new spiritual dynamic into place when we start to give. And 10% seems to be the spiritual threshold, the place where Mammon’s strapping gives way and we enter into freedom in Jesus.
Now I haven’t noticed the typical things people say about tithing to be true in my life. I don’t notice God making the money left over go farther. And only on rare occasions has he increased our cash flow as a response to our tithing. That is, our financial circumstances haven’t changed a great deal as a result of our tithing.
But my response has. Tithing does the most tremendous thing in the world. Because I tithe, I’m not required to worry about money. I’m no longer in bondage to it. I belong to Jesus and not to Mammon.
And that is certainly worth 10%.
God’s Indescribable Gift!
I said earlier that Christianity is a giving religion. Paul certainly thought so. When he reached the end of all he wanted to say about giving, his mind went back to the greatest gift of all, the gift of God’s Son. In verse 15, Paul calls Jesus “God’s indescribable gift.”
I think he means to say something like this. If I were to go to the bank and withdraw all my money and give it away, and if I were to sell my car and give the money to the poor, and if I were to give the clothes off my back and the food off my table to world missions, if I were to give everything I had and then gave myself as someone’s slave … I wouldn’t have given as much as God did when he gave his only begotten Son.
God can never owe me anything. I can never outgive him. When I come to the end of my philanthropy and begin to pat myself on the back for being such a wonderful person, God bids me to look to the cross and see the bleeding Son of God. Then I realize I know nothing of what real giving is.
Jesus is God’s indescribable gift. Anything I do pales into insignificance by comparison. Therefore, I will not hold back, I will not be stingy. I will be a generous giver. If God really did so love the world that he gave his only begotten Son, then I will follow him and give whatever I can. I can do no less.
Somewhere I read the story of Maxey Jarman, president of the Genesco Shoe Company. Mr. Jarman was a wealthy man and a well-known Christian layman who loved to give money to support God’s work around the world. He served for a time on the board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. At one point in his career he suffered a series of financial reversals that cost him nearly everything he had. As he struggled to put his life back together, a friend asked him if he regretted all the money he had given away over the years. “Oh no,” he replied, “I only lost what I kept for myself.”
Lord Jesus, teach us that we only keep what we give away. We have tried so hard to hoard things, only to have them slip through our fingers.
We have tried stinginess, Lord, and it didn’t work.
Teach us to be generous.
We thank you that we have everything we need … and more besides. Open our eyes to see what you are doing in the world. Save us from spending our lives building castles of sand.
Help us to give as you did, bleeding, dying for us.
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