Can I Trust God with My Pocketbook?
II Corinthians 9:6-11I have a friend in California named Rick Gautreaux. Rick used to tell me about his experiences witnessing to a skeptical friend at work. It seems that this friend really has it in for churches in general and preachers in particular. Every time Rick talked to him, he always brought up the same objection—that religion is just a big money racket and that most preachers are in it just to make a quick buck. As proof, he offers the fact that Billy Graham is a millionaire. When Rick protests that I was not a millionaire, his friend would say, “Just wait a couple of years. You’ll see what I mean.”
It frustrated Rick to no end, but it amused me. In the first place, I don’t think Billy Graham is a millionaire, but even if he is, it isn’t just from preaching. But even granting the exceptional case, I laugh at the rest of it. I am not a millionaire yet, and alas, it will take me longer than a couple of years to get there.
But love of money has always been one excuse the gainsayers have thrown at the church. It’s easy to generalize and difficult to refute. If you search long enough, you can eventually find a preacher who got caught with his hand in the till. From the days of Simon Magus until now, there have always been a few moneygrubbers in the ministry.
All of this makes most pastors hesitant to preach on money. Skeptics without and doubters within unite to make preaching on giving difficult even in the best of circumstances. However, as I told you last week, our church has been going through a difficult time financially. The leaders of the church are committed to being up-front about our needs. Our intention is to calmly lay out our needs along with the biblical teaching on giving. We’re trusting God’s people to consider the needs, respond to the teaching, pray about their response, and then act according to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
That’s our plan. It’s not high pressure or panic-driven. It’s the need, plus the biblical teaching, plus your prayers, followed by your response to the leading of the Spirit. We feel entirely confident that his approach will, in the end, provide all the funds necessary for the church to prosper in all its ministries.
The Key Passage
If I were to ask you to name the major Christian teaching on giving and where it is found, you might say tithing is the teaching and Malachi is the location. But you would be mistaken on both counts. The major teaching is called grace-giving and it is found in II Corinthians 8-9.
Let’s talk about the background of those two chapters. The believers in and around Jerusalem were in desperate straits. They had very little money, very little food, and a great deal of fear. Paul took up their case as his own and traveled among the churches of Turkey and Greece raising money for the poor saints in Jerusalem. The church at Corinth, in a burst of zeal, made a large and generous pledge. For some reason or other, they had never made good on their promise. And now Paul, like any good money-raiser, writes a follow-up letter to urge them to go ahead and make their gift.
For two chapters he uses every motivational argument in the book. He tries to challenge them by comparing them to the Macedonian churches. He tries to move them by recalling the sacrifice of Jesus. He tries to reassure them of his integrity in handling the funds. He tries to excite them with promises of great blessing from God. All in all, it is a magnificent piece of work. Whenever I read these chapters, I want to pull out my wallet and give some money. That’s why I don’t read them very often!
At length his plea is finished. Now they will either give or they won’t. His conscience is entirely clear. The facts are on the table. Like any good speaker, he goes for the stirring conclusion. It is his final appeal for generous giving. It begins in verse 6 of chapter 9 and goes through the end of the chapter.
In this section Paul explains two things: the principle of Christian giving and the results of Christian giving. This sermon will look at the principle and the next will look at the results.
We desperately need to know these things—not because we aren’t giving, but because we need the stupendous things Paul says will happen to those who become generous givers.
I. The Principle 6
Let’s begin with the principle Paul lays out in verse 6:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
This is the Law of the Harvest. Many of you are familiar with a similar passage in Galatians 6:7, “A man reaps what he sows.” Here is the difference. Galatians 6 is saying, “What you reap is what you sow.” Plant beans and you get beans. Plant corn and you get corn—not watermelon. II Corinthians 9 makes a different point: “How you sow is how you reap.” Sow a little, reap a little; sow a lot, reap a lot.
All farmers know that planting time is an act of faith. You take your seed, put it in the ground and cover it with soil. You can’t see a thing. One day passes—nothing. Two days pass—nothing. Three days pass—nothing. A week, two weeks—nothing. To the untrained eye, it seems that all your planting was for naught. The farmer may be tempted to think, “I wasted my time. Maybe I shouldn’t have planted as much as I did.” It’s always that way when you sow. You plant the seed and then you wait. Once the seed is in the ground, it’s too late to change your mind. But if you wait long enough, the harvest comes. And you sure are glad you planted as much as you did.
So it is with giving to the Lord. It seems financially impossible. You’ve got bills to pay, a heavy mortgage, car payments, dental bills, school bills, maternity clothes to buy, child support payments you have to make, the pantry is almost bare, your youngest daughter needs a new dress, and the poodle needs a pedicure. It looks impossible. You want to give to the Lord but it seems like throwing seed on the ground. Maybe you should go back. Maybe you should wait. Maybe you can give when you get another raise or when your spouse takes a second job.
Ah…but then comes the harvest. And the principle comes into play: How you sow is how you reap. If you didn’t scatter very much seed around, you don’t have very much to harvest. But if you sowed lots of seed, spread it around with a bountiful, glad heart, what a grand harvest you will have.
It’s wonderful to live on a farm during harvest time. All the work of the year begins to pay off. Back from the field comes the truck loaded with corn or wheat or cotton or hay. You don’t regret sowing all that seed at harvest time.
That is the great principle: What you give, you end up receiving. The generous man receives blessings from God all out of proportion to his own. God will be no man’s debtor. When you dare to become a generous giver, God himself pays you back himself. That is exactly what Jesus meant when he said,
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38)
Proverbs 19:17 teaches the same truth in other words:
He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.
God himself will repay you for your generous giving to meet genuine needs.
Why We Struggle With This Teaching
There are two reasons why we find this teaching hard to accept:
1. Extremist Teaching. You may be familiar with certain well-known television preachers who take this truth and turn it into a sure-fire formula for financial prosperity. “Give a hundred dollars and God will give you back a thousand dollars.” “Name it and claim it and it’s yours.” That teaching elevates money far above its actual importance and devalues God by turning him into a kind of celestial slot machine. It reduces giving to a purely mathematical formula. Put so much in and get so much out. In the end, it leads to selfish giving instead of grace giving.
Because we don’t want to associate with that teaching, we may shy away from the true teaching of Scripture. My answer is simple: I’m not going to let some extremist rob me of what God’s Word really teaches. Why should we let the extremists have all the good verses?
2. Lack of trust in God. Down deep in their hearts, many Christians fear that God won’t hold up his end of the bargain. They fear that if they begin giving generously, they won’t be able to pay their bills, they’ll go broke, then bankrupt, then be hauled into court where they will lose all their possessions, be left penniless, homeless, and hopeless, roaming the streets of Chicago dressed in rags with a tin cup in their hands. So instead of giving generously, too many believers give the least amount possible—just enough to salve their consciences, but not enough to be a real sacrifice. As a result, when the harvest comes, they miss out on the blessings of God.
That’s the principle: When you give, you end up receiving.
II. The Explanation 7-9
Paul immediately explains how this truth works in the area of Christian giving:
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written, ‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’
Verse 7 gives us our part—the sowing side. In it, Paul tells us four things about our giving.
A. It should be personal.
“Each man should give what he has decided.” Giving is an individual decision between you and the Lord. It doesn’t matter what anyone else gives—how much or how little. You aren’t even to worry about that. Since giving is always personal, you can’t pass this responsibility off on other people.
B. It should be deliberate.
“What he has decided in his own heart.” No one ever becomes a generous giver by accident. It’s not something you slide into; it’s a choice you make. Giving is like farming: The seed doesn’t plant itself. You’ll never learn to tithe until you decide to start moving in that direction. It doesn’t happen any other way.
This week I chatted with a friend whose personal life is undergoing great difficulty. She told me that last year she made up her mind to begin tithing—not 10% but 20%. No one told her to do that, she just felt that’s what God wanted her to do. She was afraid to say anything about it because she knew that even her friends would think she was crazy. But when I saw her this week, her face shone with the joy of the Lord. Why? Because as she added up her income from 1994, in the midst of great turmoil in her family, she discovered that somehow she ended up making $12,000 more than the year before. How did it happen? It’s wasn’t her planning, it was the Lord, who always takes the side of those who dare to trust in him.
C. It should be free-will.
“Not reluctantly or under compulsion.” Here is where so many of us stumble. Too many people give to God but wish they didn’t have to. Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the miserly man who mistakenly dropped $20 into the offering plate when he actually intended to give only $5. After the service, when he noticed that the twenty was gone from his wallet, he said to his wife, “At least I get credit for giving twenty dollars. “ “No, dear, the Lord knows your heart. You only get credit for giving five dollars,” his wife replied. She’s right, of course. What you give grudgingly is as if you never gave it at all. Seed planted under pressure from the pulpit will never yield a fruitful harvest.
D. It should be cheerful.
“For God loves a cheerful giver.” The Greek word is hilaros. We get the English word “hilarious” from it. It means “cheerful, glad, or happy.” Here is a great truth: It is not just how much you give, but how you give that matters to God. Keep it in balance. How much you give is important, but how you give—your heart attitude—is also important. If you give but wish you didn’t have to, you have lost the blessing. That’s like paying the birds to come and steal the seed out of the garden.
“Here Is The Money!”
A few years ago I ran across the following letter written by a church member to his pastor during a stewardship drive. Dr. Charles Allen of the First Methodist Church of Houston says he received the following letter:
Dear Dr. Allen,
In reply to your request to send a check, I wish to inform you that the present condition of my bank account makes it almost impossible.
My shattered financial condition is due to the federal laws, state laws, country laws, corporation laws, mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and outlaws.
Through these laws, I am compelled to pay a business tax, an amusement tax, head tax, school tax, gas tax, light tax, water tax, sales tax. Even my brains are taxed.
I am required to get a business license, dog license, not to mention a marriage license. I am also required to contribute to every organization or society which the genius of man is capable of bringing to life: women’s relief, unemployment relief, every hospital and charitable institution in the city, including the Red Cross, the black cross, the purple cross, and the double cross.
For my own safety, I am required to carry life insurance, property insurance, liability insurance, burglary insurance, accident insurance, business insurance, earthquake insurance, unemployment insurance, old-age insurance and fire insurance.
I am inspected, expected, disrespected, rejected, dejected, examined, re-examined, informed, reformed, summoned, fined, commanded and compelled until I provide an inexhaustible supply of money for every known need, desire or hope of the human race. Simply because I refuse to donate something or other, I am boycotted, talked about, lied about, held up, held down and robbed until I am ruined.
I can tell you honestly that had not the unexpected happened, I could not enclose this check. The wolf that comes to so many doors nowadays just had pups in the kitchen. I sold them and HERE IS THE MONEY.
Do whatever you have to do, but learn the secret of generous giving!
After all that I have said, the thought still remains, “But if I give, how can I pay my bills? Don’t I have to take care of my own needs?” Verse 8 answers those questions and gives us God’s part of the bargain. This is a wonderful verse you ought to commit to memory: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” Let’s start at the end of the verse and work backwards. God’s promise is that “you will abound in every good work.” What
good work? In this context, the “good work” is helping other people, giving your money to alleviate suffering, giving to meet physical and spiritual needs.
Now go back one step. The middle phrase says “having all that you need.” The Greek text uses a word that the Stoic philosophers used to describe the man who is so detached from the world and so self-controlled that he needs nothing at all. He lives by himself and for himself. Paul picks up that word and applies it to the generous giver. He will make you self-sufficient. That means you won’t depend on your circumstances for happiness and you won’t be hooked on to material things as your standard of living. The self-sufficient Christian is the one who has not directed his life toward amassing things but to alleviating needs. He is independent of circumstances and totally dependent on God.
Now go back to the beginning of the verse: “God is able to make all grace abound to you.” That’s the secret: God’s grace. God is able to give you what you need so that you can truly be self-sufficient and still have an abundance left over to give to others.
Here are three statements to keep in mind:
1. God supplies the grace.
2. We are made self-sufficient.
3. We then have an abundance to share with others.
How do you turn that verse loose in your own life? By becoming a generous giver. Let me put it this way: If you truly want to give, God will make it possible. He’ll give you more than enough to give to others. It starts with you. If you truly want to be a generous giver, God will make it possible.
The proof is in verse 9, which is a quotation from Psalm 112. Who is the righteous man? Answer: The man who scatters his wealth around and gives to the poor. God remembers what that righteous man does. He will not forget your generosity to those in need.
III. The Promise 10-11
Our passage concludes with a promise in verses 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 made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
It’s another argument from the farm. God always provides seed for sowing and bread for food. That’s the doctrine of God’s providence. It’s in his nature to care for the planting and also for the harvest. He watches over it from beginning to end … year after year. Now if God does that for the farmer, don’t you think he will do the same for you? He will, and verse 10 says so very plainly. Look at the verbs: “will supply … and increase … and will enlarge.”
Look at this promise carefully:
â€¢ He will supply and multiply your seed for sowing. That’s the money you give to the Lord.
â€¢ He will increase your harvest of righteousness. That’s the blessing that comes to you which you can share with others. When you give, you set in motion a great cycle of God’s grace. God meets you needs and an abundance comes back to you which you then share with others. The harvest is not for you alone. It’s to be shared with many other people.
Verse 11 says the same thing in different words: You will be made rich (materially, physically, spiritually, in every way) so that you can be generous on every occasion. That is, God will give you more so you can share with others. The end result is: Many people will give thanks to God.
It’s like my friend Howard Harvey says. I shovel it out and God shovels it in. And God’s got a bigger shovel than I do.
Think of it this way. When you give generously, three wonderful things happen:
A. The one who receives the gift is blessed because his need is met.
B. The one who gives is blessed with an increased harvest of blessing from God.
C. God himself is glorified as the giver and the receiver together give thanks to Him.
Let me sum up this sermon with two sentences of application: No one is more tormented than the Christian who cannot trust God with his finances. No one is happier than the Christian who trusts God enough to give his money away.
Somewhere I read about a man who wanted to buy a Rolls Royce. He found a salesman and asked him about the total horsepower of the engine. The salesman did not know, so he asked his manager. The manager did not know, so he asked the owner of the dealership. The owner did not know, so he cabled the home office in England with the question. In a few days, back came the answer. It was just one word: “Adequate.” No one has ever measured God’s grace to those who give generously, but rest assured, it is adequate. It is far more than you’ll ever need.
I close my message with this personal challenge. I want every person here to go home and think about what I have just said to you. Open your Bible to this text and think it through for yourself. Then I want you to evaluate your own giving.
What kind of sowing have you been doing? A little? A lot? Hardly any? Husbands and wives should do this together. Perhaps you could discuss this with your whole family.
I challenge you to become generous givers. Put God to the test and see if he will meet your needs. Take him up on his Word. When you do, I predict two things will happen:
1. You will have blessings overflowing in your life—good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.
2. You will have more opportunities to give than you’ve ever had before…and you’ll have the abundance you need to give more than you’ve ever given before.
It’s true. God says so in his Word. But you don’t have to take my word for you. God invites you to put him to the test. See if he won’t come through for you.
Can you trust God with your pocketbook? Yes, you can. But you’ll never know until you make the decision in your own heart. No man was ever the loser because he decided to become a generous giver.
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