Monday, October 13, 2014

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 "THE SUPREME MOTIVE FOR GIVING!"

Since the beginning  of its existence, our church has,  as far  as  I can remember, observed   October as   a "thanksgiving month".  It is the 10th month  of the year, and  the  biblical 10th  portion reminds us of an OT principle on  giving   which guides, but certainly does not bind the NT church today. We certainly  do not want  to propagate meaningless traditions  in our church. God detests  mindless  habits. This is unfortunately a human problem  and it became one of the problems  in  Israel.

Many times  in Israel people   were  bringing their tithes, offerings, sacrifices  in a thoughtless  fashion. At other times, people were  not only thoughtless. They were plainly  irreverent towards God. In  the prophecy of Malachi  the prophet rebuked the people for bringing diseased animals to the altar (Mal. 1:6-10) and  the LORD  God needed  to remind them: “Oh that  there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts.” (Mal. 1:10). On another occasion  the people had to be reminded, that    to obey is better than sacrifice” (e.g. 1 Sam. 15:22; Micah  6:6-8).  

Mere outward  display  for the sake of religious  duty  does not please  God at all. This was the problem that Jesus had with the  Pharisees. In Matt. 15:8,9 Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah saying: "These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me… ".  It is  significant  that the Lord Jesus says this in the context of the Pharisees’  hypocritical   approach to giving. It was not done  as an act of worship to God. It  was done in order to be seen by men  (Matt 6:1-4). So then,  we need to explain  why we pursue this tradition. 

A GENERAL OVERVIEW:  THE THEOLOGICAL BASIS OF GIVING:

Ever since the beginning of biblical history, thank offerings were brought to God. Abel brought  the first  acceptable  offering to God, whilst his brother  Cain brought an unacceptable  offering (Gen. 4:1-7).  Abraham gave his tenth to God through Melchizedek,  that mysterious priest of God Most High  (Gen. 14 : 17-24).   So did  Jacob at Bethel  (Gen.28:22).

Thank offerings were a   regular feature  in  OT temple worship. The  bringing of tithes and offerings  into the temple  continued  to be the  practice in Jesus’ time, and Jesus  never  said anything negative about that!  The  story of the poor widow’s   offering (Mk. 12:41-44)  shows that  Jesus did not discourage this practice at all. Here, He  merely commented on the generous giving of a Hebrew widow, while  the rich were giving out of their abundance and not sacrificially.

Jesus also paid the temple tax (Matt. 17:24-27). He assumed the practice of regular giving  in Matthew 6: 1-4, as much  as  He  assumed the practice of regular  prayer and fasting (Matt 6:1-15). 

The early church  participated in regular  giving,  as an act of worship,  on the first day of the week  (1 Cor.16:1-4). Part of this money was  used to help the poor among the saints  (Rom. 15:25-28).  The early church also  looked after  its elders who  “labour in preaching and teaching”  (1 Tim. 5:17,18), remembering the OT rule  in  Deut. 25:4, “ you shall not muzzle  an ox when it treads out the grain”. In this they called to mind  the OT Levites,  the priestly tribe Israel   who were to be supported for their work  in the temple.  

And so we note that  the act  of thanksgiving,  and the giving of tithes and offering is a practice that is deeply rooted in the worship  of the  whole Bible. We believe that  it  remains  a thoroughly biblical practice  for every believer. 

The New Testament however  presents the profoundest  reason and motive  for giving:  Jesus  Christ  and His Gospel!  In  2 Corinthians 8  and 9 we have a  beautiful and touching  example of cheerful, happy, willing  and sacrificial giving reflected  in the testimony of the  Macedonian believers.  Consider their testimony in   8:1-5.  
How on earth do poor people give like that?  
What moves them? 

The answer given is that  they had received  the grace of God  (8:1,9; 9:8,14-15). They had understood and appreciated  the richness  of God’s gift to them in Christ Jesus.  They saw themselves as debtors to grace, and they were now looking for ways to express their thankfulness   to God for this great salvation.For this reason they begged Paul, “Please  allow  us  participate in this act of giving. We want  to show our thankfulness   to our Lord Jesus  by helping to supply the needs of the saints in Jerusalem”   (8:4).  

Background:  Between AD 52 - 57 a considerable proportion of Paul's time and energy was devoted to organizing a collection among his gentile churches for the "poor among the saints in Jerusalem" (Rom. 15:26). After their conversion to Christianity many  people in Jerusalem (particularly orphans and widows) were ostracized, socially and economically. The  Jewish social system only cared for their own.  That is why Acts 6: 1,2 addresses the issue of caring for widows,  for which purpose deacons were appointed in the early church, to oversee this ministry. In addition,   there was also  the great  famine  which was experienced  in this region , culminating  in  AD 46 (Acts 11: 27 - 30).

So then,  the  great example of the Macedonians  was used  by the apostle  Paul to challenge the Corinthian Church,  a church that appeared to have been very self- centered. He urges them  that they should imitate  their  Macedonian brothers, and to  “complete  and  even excel  in this act of grace “ (8:6,7).  

The example of the Macedonians  continues to challenge  the modern church. Our church has  come to a point in time  when it appears as if   the Lord is challenging us to expand   the  ministry of the Word to particular  segments of our  community.   To do this we are in need  of  dedicated giving  in order to  do the work that the LORD has  burdened  us  to do  in our  own generation.   And in the spirit of Paul,   I   appeal to you as thankful worshippers  of the Living God, as men and women  liberated by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ  - and "debtors to God's Grace in Christ" – and  as  stewards, and not "possessors" of  your material gifts : "excel in this grace of giving"  (8:7)   as  you  consider the need of our  own day.

The Bible, the Word of God  although it is  respected  and possessed by many  in our city,  is little read, little studied, little  understood  and therefore  little appreciated by the vast majority. There is little real  gospel preaching  heard in  our city. I remind you that “the gospel is the power of God  for salvation for everyone that believes…” (Rom.  1:16-17).  Feel good, psychological pep talks and    mysticism dominate our  pulpits, but this accomplishes nothing  in the minds and hearts  and lives of people. On the contrary, it appears as if  the Word-less, gospel –starved  church in Windhoek  becomes more and more conformed  to the image  of  lost-ness, capitulating to the  ever increasing trend of moral relativism. People  are not  really helped  to look to Jesus.  They are hurting because they have been taken captive by hollow philosophy. There is no answer for their sin , because they  are not confronted with the gospel, by which  they are shown their  sin  and then the Saviour.   We need to invest in gospel labourers.

Now, if you have been freed by the grace of God  from  a vain and meaningless life , then I  challenge you to consider   what Paul has to say in  9: 6 – 15 in terms of investing  in the kingdom of God:  Follow the logic of the text.

a.       Engage  in bountiful kingdom giving – not  stingy giving  (v.6).   The law of sowing and reaping is applied here. To give is to sow. What is given for kingdom work is not lost. Like the seed sown by the farmer   it is multiplied. Lives  changed  by the power of God,  one person  at a time  change  our society, and we will benefit  much more from  that  than from economic  or political reforms.

b.      Engage the heart in your giving ! (v.7)  Reluctance and  compulsion  are bad  motives for giving.   Cheerful, heart felt  giving  pleases God. The word ‘hilaron’, translated as cheerful, forms the basis of our word hilarious and exhilarating . God loves a hilarious giver!

c.       God helps you in your giving. (v.8-11) The ability to give by the poor Macedonians  is attributed to  the grace of God which  they had received.(8:1) It teaches us that  God is able to triumph over human inability, as His power is made perfect in our weakness.  Paul is confident  that what  God did for the Macedonians  He could do for the Corinthians… and therefore He can do it for Eastside.     If you  have it in your heart  to give, even when it hurts,  God  will make sure that  it you have sufficient.  Your jug of oil and your flour will not run out.   In support Paul quotes  Psalm  112: 9 (v.9)  in which  we find the example of  a man who gives freely because he delights in the Lord. It is a righteous  act that endures forever. God honours such a man.  In fact , v.10  continues to magnify the grace of God  as  we are reminded yet again, that God supplies the seed for   sowing and for making bread.  We ultimately need to remember that we have nothing  which we have not received.  V. 11  provides us  with an interesting perspective. John Chrystostom  (349-407 AD), bishop of Constantinople said  upon this first portion of v.11  text,  “in things which are necessary  he  allows them to seek for nothing more than need requires, but in spiritual  things  counsels them to get for themselves a large superabundance.”[1] .

d.      Vv. 11b,12, 13   such giving itself produces thanksgiving to God! Enabled giving  perpetuates worship ! “… is not only supplying the needs of  the saints” – one of the highest acts by which we   worship God is seen  in how we take care of the needs of the saints in the church  – the poor, the orphans, destitute, widows, and those who work on our behalf  i.e.  those serve us   through preaching and teaching the gospel by which men and women are redeemed from their slavery …(2 Tim. 5:17,18) …  but is also overflowing in many  thanksgivings to God …  NOTE   how the cycle is completed  :  (i)  The act  of giving  (an act of worship) (ii) meets the needs of the saints  (iii)  and  the  thankful saints     again return  thanks back  to God  for  the faithfulness  of  your   giving  which is based on  your confession of the gospel of Christ  (v.13)  

e.        Generous giving  is a benefit to the giver [v.14] while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.  Those who are generous will be genuinely appreciated   and they  will be  prayed for.

f.    Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!  [v. 15] Here is the ULTIMATE MOTIVE  for our thanksgiving expressed in  clearest terms.   Glory goes to the Lord God for His indescribable gift, the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have become what we are! We give because we have been made glad!

SUMMARY AND   APPLICATION:

The supreme  motive for giving  is   a profound thankfulness   to  God for  the Lord Jesus,  His indescribable gift.   This is at the heart of  cheerful giving  (9:7).   People   that give in such a fashion do not give  reluctantly or under compulsion.  They give with a free heart. Their  first  question  is  not  “how much  can I keep for myself?” Their heart is where their treasure is. (Matt. 6:20,21).

As a church we have  yet much to accomplish in terms of a country where the true gospel  is understood by so few. We have much to do in a country where  many of our  churches  are so  poor! May God  give us a heart filled with wisdom and compassion in these things. May He  continue  to encourage  you to give generously , as you  think of yourselves as debtors to grace  and as  you are  filled with joy  at the  thought  of your future heavenly reward.  
AMEN!




[1] Quoted in  NICNT Commentary (Eerdmans) by P.E Hughes , p.  336

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