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.” .
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.