Giving With Grace
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
September 23, 2001 | Brian Bill
As I’ve wrestled with the events that are transpiring in our country, I’ve once again asked the Lord to let me know if we should continue in our “Building for the Future” series or if we should focus on something else. I sense that it’s time for us to move forward. As we learned last week from Psalm 46, we can depend on God for His protection and presence because of His position as the supreme Commander of the armies of heaven. There is no crisis in heaven.
Let’s start by summarizing what the Old Testament teaches about giving. We’ll do that by camping in a verse from the book of Malachi. We’ll then spend the majority of our time focusing on how to give with grace from the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians.
Please turn in your Bibles to Malachi 3:10: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the LORD Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
The first thing we notice about giving in the Old Testament is the word “tithe.” This word literally means “a tenth,” or 10%. While some would say that this requirement is based on the Law, it’s important to remember that Abraham practiced tithing 400 years before the Law was even established in Genesis 14:20 when he gave a tenth of everything he owned to the priest Melchizedek. Deuteronomy 12:11, which is part of the Law, challenges God’s people to bring their tithes and special gifts to the place of God’s choosing.
In Malachi’s time, the people had stopped bringing 10% of their possessions and crops to the Lord. Instead of giving God what was rightfully His, they had allowed other things to get in the way. Many of God’s people had made a pretense of giving 10%, but were actually giving much less than that. Incidentally, according to a recent study by the Barna Research Group, while 17% of Christians claim to tithe, in actuality only 6% do so. In addition, the average churchgoer is only giving about 2% of their income to the Lord’s work. That means that God is just getting the leftovers in many churches today.
God not only required a tithe in the Old Testament, He challenged His people to respond to Him when He says, “Test me in this.” This is the only time in the Bible when God tells us to test Him. In every other passage that deals with testing God, we’re told to not do so. But, for some reason, when it comes to giving, God invites us to test Him because the real issue is not money, but trust. When we decide to give a percentage of our income to the Lord, we then have the opportunity to trust Him to meet all of our needs.
God is saying, “I dare you! Test me in this way to see if I really exist or not.” This is one of the most amazing verses in the entire Bible. He allows Himself to be put on trial. He didn’t have to make this promise. He could have simply told us to give 10% because He demands it and that’s that. But He wanted us to get to know Him in a much deeper way. Is God alive? Is He real? Is He loving? Will He keep His promises? One of the best ways to find out is to start tithing.
Do I trust God more than money?
When my wife and I honor God with the first part of our income by giving 10% back to Him, we’re really saying, “God, we believe you’re going to take care of us in the future. We trust you to help us make it on the 90%.” For me, the real question is, “Do I trust God more than money?”
God promises a reward to His people when they put Him first with their finances. Look at the last part of verse 10: “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” God says that He will open wide the river of heaven and will blow us away with His blessings. The phrase “floodgates” is used in Genesis 7:11 when we read what happened when God started to flood the earth with water: “…on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.”
Proverbs 3:9-10 sheds some additional insight into how God rewards those who honor Him: “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
The word, “pour” in Malachi 3:10 means to “to make empty.” When we trust God with our giving, He will empty His bucket of blessings on us and we’ll barely be able to stand it! We’ll feel like we don’t have any more room to hold everything that God gives us. Proverbs 11:24: “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another man withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.” Proverbs 22:9: “A generous man will himself be blessed…”
To Tithe or Not to Tithe
I don’t have time to get into a more detailed discussion of tithing this morning, but I do want to make four summary statements.
- While we are no longer under the Law, tithing is a good benchmark for believers. In other words, it’s a good place to start, sort of like a “minimum guide” for giving.
- It’s easy to tithe and yet miss out on what’s really important. Jesus took the Pharisees to task not because they didn’t tithe, but because they had become so legalistic that they no longer cared about their love for God or for their neighbor. Luke 11:42: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” God looks at the heart, not the hand. He focuses on the giver, not the gift because the attitude is more important than the amount.
- The practice of tithing is a good reminder of who’s in charge of my life. When I give at least 10%, it’s a way to be reminded that God owns everything that I have. Question. If you make $400/week, how much of it belongs to God? $40, right? No, $400 belongs to the Lord. Why do we give? God doesn’t need our money. He has more resources than we can handle. God wants what your money represents—you. When giving to God, we’re just taking our hands off what belongs to Him in the first place. My use of money shows what I think of Him because my giving is a thermometer of my love. Someone has said, “Sacrifice is the ecstasy of giving the best we have to the One whom we love the most.”
- God promises to provide for us and protect us when we put Him first with our finances. Blessings come to those who tithe and amazingly, Malachi 3:11 states that God will keep certain bad things from happening when we give Him our first fruits. When I give, I put myself in a position to trust God to meet all my needs.
There are at least two consequences of not tithing from Malachi 3. First, when we don’t put God first in our finances, we end up robbing Him. Take a look at verses 8-9: “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.” Secondly, as we’ve already pointed out in verse 10, those who don’t tithe are actually robbing themselves of blessings.
A story is told of a missionary who heard a knock on the front door of his hut. When he opened the door, he saw a young boy who was holding a large fish in his hands. The boy looked up at the man and said, “You taught us what tithing is, so here…I’ve brought you my tithe.” As the missionary took the fish, he asked the young man where the other nine fish were. The boy flashed a radiant smile and said, “Oh, they’re still in the river. I’m going back to catch them now.” He caught both the importance and the ecstasy of giving, didn’t he?
While the New Testament has a lot to say about giving, I want to draw several principles from the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians this morning. We’ll go through this pretty quickly.
Please turn to 1 Corinthians 16:2: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…” We see three parameters for giving in this verse.
- Giving should be punctual. The Bible says that believers are to give on a regular basis: “On the first day of the week.”
- Giving should be personal. Giving is something that is inherently individual – it’s between you and God what you give. At the same time, the Bible makes it clear that every believer is to give: “each one of you.” Giving is not just a suggestion. God expects each of us to be givers.
- Giving should be proportional. We are to give according to how God has blessed us. The believer is to set aside “a sum of money in keeping with his income.” Proportional giving means that the more God blesses us, the more we’re able to give. That’s New Testament grace giving, which may involve more than just giving 10%. According to Malachi, the more you give, the more you are blessed. 1 Corinthians teaches that the more you’re blessed, the more you can give. The Old Testament gives a command to tithe by setting a standard of percentage giving. In the New Testament the command becomes a model as we’re urged to practice unlimited proportional giving.
Turn now to 2 Corinthians 8. Paul is writing to the church at Corinth to help them see their responsibility to give to the poor in Jerusalem. Their giving was a visible expression of the fact that Jesus had torn down the walls of hostility between Jew and Gentile. Paul tells the young believers at Corinth about the gracious generosity of the churches in Macedonia in verse 1. Look at verse 2: “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”
Two things characterized these Macedonians: overflowing joy and extreme poverty. This is striking because we don’t normally put joy and poverty together. Paul is actually giving us a mathematical equation: Overflowing joy plus extreme poverty equals rich generosity. Friends, people don’t give when they have more money. People start giving when they have more joy!
Verse 3 tells us, “They gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.” Amazingly, they gave what they were able to give and they gave what they were not able to give. They gave beyond their means because God had enlarged their capacity to be generous. When our hearts are captivated by the desire to give, God enables us to give in ways we could not have anticipated. Our lives become adventures in giving, and they overflow with joy.
In verse 4 we read that the Macedonians begged to become givers: “They urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” Normally, in fundraising, you think of the person trying to raise money as one who has to do the begging. It was the other way around with these people! They were saying, “Please, please, let us give!”
If you were to continue reading this chapter, you’d see the word “grace” sprinkled throughout. Verse 1 describes the grace that God gave to the Macedonian churches. Verse 6 refers to giving as an act of grace. Verse 7 uses the phrase, “grace of giving.” In verse 9 we’re reminded of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Paul’s mind, there is an intimate connection between giving and grace. John Ortberg writes, “Authentic, generous, freely offered giving is an unmistakable sign of the grace of God. To say that God is a gracious God is to say that God is an irrepressible giver.”
Jump down to chapter 9. In the first five verses, Paul affirms the Corinthians for their eagerness to give and then urges them to follow through on their commitment. Look at verse 5: “So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, and not as one grudgingly given.”
Paul then gives us the principle of giving with grace, the procedure, and finally, the promise.
Verse 6 provides the principle: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” It’s a fact of life. What we sow, we will reap. When you plant the seed, God will provide for your need. That’s exactly what we learned in Malachi 3. When we put God first and become gracious givers, He will bless us. When we don’t give, the blessings don’t come. In Luke 6:38, Jesus says, “Give and it will be given to you.”
Verse 7 specifies the procedure for gracious 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.” We’re told here to have four attitudes in our giving.
1. Give thoughtfully.
When we give it should be something that we think through beforehand. Giving should be a deliberate decision based on prayer and planning, not just an emotional response.
2. Give enthusiastically.
Paul tells us to not give reluctantly. Friends, don’t ever give out of guilt (like Susan did in the drama).
3. Give voluntarily.
If you feel pressure to give, then I’ve done something wrong. We don’t believe in pressure giving here.
4. Give cheerfully.
The word “cheerful” comes from the Greek word hilaros, from which we get the word “hilarious.” God wants us to be hilarious in our giving. In the New Testament, when they took an offering, they had a blast! I’m convinced that one of the reasons this is such a joyful church is because this church is full of people who delight in giving! Notice the last part of this verse: “for God loves a cheerful giver.” When we give hilariously, we experience the love of God that is reserved only for cheerful givers. God loves everyone but He’s ecstatic about those who give joyfully
If you struggle to be cheerful in your giving, remember that God is the source of everything that you have in verse 10: “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.” Verse 11 gives us God’s guarantee: “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.” Every time you give an offering, or give your tithe to the Lord, you’re saying, “Thanks, Lord for everything that you’ve done in my life. Because of all that you’ve given me, I cheerfully give back to you now.” This verse reminds me that as I shovel out, God shovels in…and God has a bigger shovel.
As we practice the principle of planting a seed when we have a need, and as we follow the procedure of giving with the right attitude, we can then experience the promise of verse 8: “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.” Did you notice all the “alls” in this verse? The universals are staggering:
- “all grace abound,”
- “in all things,”
- “at all times,”
- “having all that you need,”
- “abound in every good work.”
When we put God first, we can expect Him to meet all of our needs. That doesn’t mean that God makes every Christian wealthy in material things; but it does mean that the believer who practices grace giving will always have what he needs when he needs it.
Paul is basically challenging believers to take the next step in their quest to become better givers. Look at 2 Corinthians 8:7: “…see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” Recognizing that each of us will give differently because we’ve been blessed differently, and realizing that our theme for the Building for the Future campaign is “equal sacrifice, not equal gifts,” I want to close this morning with an action step.
- Take the tithing trust test. Since God dares us to trust Him in this way, I wonder how many of you are up to the challenge of giving 10% of your income to the Lord for the next 90 days and see what happens? You could say something like this, “Lord you tell me to test you in this way so I’m going to step out in faith and trust you to meet all my needs.”
I want to close with a great reminder from A.W. Tozer: “I do not think I exaggerate when I say that some of us put our offering in the plate with a kind of triumphant bounce as much to say: ‘There…now God will feel better!’ I am obliged to tell you that God does not need anything you have. He does not need a dime of your money. It is your own spiritual welfare at stake in such matters as these…You have the right to keep what you have all to yourself, but it will rust and decay, and ultimately ruin you.” (Christ the Eternal Sun).
The key is not the giving of our money, but the giving of our lives to Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 8:5, Paul describes it this way: “And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” If you’ve never given yourself to Jesus and received the greatest gift of all time, then that’s what you need to do right now. If you’ve already made that decision, then join with Him in becoming a gracious giver.