God Loves A Cheerful Giver – Group Study Questions

Introduction

Why are we often so reluctant to talk (or preach) about money and giving?

Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-7

What impresses you most about the giving of the Macedonian Christians?

What lessons can we learn from their example?

Paul does not command the Corinthian Christians to give generously, so what are the grounds for his appeal?

Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (v.6) How do we avoid the pitfalls of legalism on the one hand and prosperity gospel on the other hand?

When preaching on this passage, Tim Keller says “The Bible says … there can be no significant spiritual growth in your life unless you put your money and what you think about your money into God’s hands. Because it’s just too big and just too pivotal an issue“.

Share your thoughts together about Keller’s assertion.

Share some stories about the ‘cheerful givers’ you have known over the years. How did their generosity impact on their own lives? How did their generosity impact on the lives of others?

Consider/Share: What changes do you intend to make as a result of studying this passage for Scripture?

God Loves A Cheerful Giver

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Readings: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Today we want to listen to God’s word about money. Let’s acknowledge at the outset that’s not always an easy thing to do. Especially as a pastor. I think we realise that in a church like ours the pastor’s salary makes up a significant proportion of the overall budget, so preaching about giving can be construed as banging your own drum. Let’s just acknowledge that for what it is, and note that in no way do I want to bang my own drum. It’s more that we are framing our financials for the AGM, and so it’s timely for us to consider what God says to us about money, giving and generosity.

Generosity’s Motive

We’ve looked at what Paul has written in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, and they reveal four things about generosity. First up, they tell us about generosity’s motive. It is important to see this clearly, because typically we start at the wrong place. We start with the idea of possession. That it’s our money. After all, we earn it, we work for it. We grow up with the idea of ‘my money’ and our parents teach us, as their parents taught them, that we have to build our future and strive for financial security. These things are basic to our culture.

When it comes to money, however, the bible does not start with our concepts of possession, our perception of need, or our preferred financial future. When it comes to money, the Bible starts with Jesus. We see this is 2 Cor 8-9.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9, NIV)

Want to know about giving? Then this where we start. With the grace of Jesus, who considered the riches of glory as nothing to become poor. And having said that, I think we realise these words are not a comment on Jesus’ financial status. They refer to the riches of his glory before he took on the human nature, and the abject poverty of the Cross, where we suffered for undeserving people:

Philippians 2:5–8 (NIV)

5 …have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

This is where we start, but we can also go further: back to creation. There we see the Triune God giving his creative energy, giving life to all things. God gives, and creation comes out of nothing. The Son gives, and life is given to the dead. His death and resurrection mean that hope is replaces our despair. Forgiveness is given in exchange for our guilt. Beauty is given in exchange for our wretchedness.

In Isaiah 53-55 we read about the work of the servant of the Lord, we remember the very well know words of !Isaiah 53:5. But the prophet’s thoughts do not stop with the servant’s suffering, or even redemption he shall win. God has his eye set on the renewal of his entire creation:

Isaiah 55:12–13 (NIV84)

12 You will go out in joy

and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills

will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field

will clap their hands.

13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,

and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.

This will be for the Lord’s renown,

for an everlasting sign,

which will not be destroyed.”

We should not be surprised to find, then, that in 2 Corinthians, Paul says this totally new life, this new creation, is for those who are ruled by Jesus:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ  … God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18,21 NIV84)

This is why God loves a cheerful giver. Giving is his nature. It is the core truth of the Gospel. We see this in those most recognisable words from John’s Gospel:

God so loved the world that he gave His One and Only Son…

If we are to understand anything about Christian giving and generosity this is where we have to start. The “giving-ness of God” is the defining truth of life itself: in Jesus we were given grace, life and hope that we never deserved.

Generosity’s Model

This helps us understand the power of Paul’s model for Christian generosity: the Macedonian Christians:

1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. – 2 Corinthians 8:1–5 (NIV)

For these Christians, there was only one thing worse than extreme poverty, and that was being extremely poor and being prevented from giving!

Beautiful, isn’t it? They had so little, but they gave so much. Check it out:

8:2: their extreme poverty overflowed  in extreme generosity.

8:3 they gave as much as they were able, even beyond their own ability, beyond what might have been reasonable.

8:5 …they exceeded even Paul’s expectations!

How is that possible? How does that work, that people so incredibly poor could be so deliciously generous? It works because they valued joy more than happiness. And joy is not necessarily happiness, is it? Happiness is my here and now. Joy, at least in biblical terms, is grounded in God’s faithfulness to his promises. Like Jesus himself, who despised his ‘here and now’, his circumstances, and for the joy set before him – that vision of what a gracious God would do through his death – went to the cross (see Hebrews 12:2).

So very different to us. We think if we just get this done, get that paid for, plan the holiday, pay the mortgage, then we will think about giving. We start with our circumstances, and then determine our giving. These Macedonian brothers and sisters would look at us and say we have got it the wrong way around. They started with Jesus’ giving, his gift of life, and it changed their world.

This is why we are confused about tithing, and by that I refer to the practice of giving 10% of one’s income for the work of the Lord through his church. The question is often asked: “do I have to give 10%?” To which the answer is “Of course not.” You don’t have to give anything! God’s grace is free! God’s gift of life and salvation in Jesus cannot be bought, earned or deserved.

What we fail to understand is that giving is not about obligation. Giving is about opportunity. Opportunity to show our love for Jesus. That’s why Paul says,

“I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” (2 Corinthians 8:8, NIV)

And

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7, NIV)

Listen: giving is a matter of the heart. Giving is about being cheerful. About being joyful and thankful for all we have received in Christ. If this is where you are, thankful for everything you have in Jesus, you’ll be a cheerful giver. So, start at the 10% figure.

On the matter of tithing, Tim Keller has a great question for us: what if your salary was cut by 10%? What would you have to do? No doubt, we’d have to make some adjustments, either in how much we save or in how much we spend. We get this. So Tim Keller says: “Go. Do it. And let this show your thanks to God for all he has given and continues to give in Jesus Christ.”

He adds:

The Bible says … there can be no significant spiritual growth in your life unless you put your money and what you think about your money into God’s hands. Because it’s just too big and just too pivotal an issue[1]

Generosity’s Promise

Now, I can guess what you’re thinking: “if I make that change, how will I be able to do what needs to be done, and pay what needs to be paid?”

Great question! The answer is our third point: Generosity’s Promise: We have to take God on his word, to trust the promise of the Lord:

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Corinthians 9:6, NIV)

We are called to be generous sowers, and as we do we give God an opportunity to show more of his faithfulness.

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV)

Do you believe that?

Do you believe that God will look after you?

Will you sit down with your bank statement, see your income, and say to your God “I believe you will provide for me as I do this. I trust you to keep your word”?

“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.” (2 Corinthians 9:10, NIV)

Take God on his word, friends!

Think about it: why do you live here? Why has the Lord given you life in this place, at this time, in this great city, in a wonderful country? His word reminds us:

“You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, … 2 Corinthians 9:11, NIV)

He has looked after you, hasn’t he? Of course he has! And he will continue to do so as you walk in his ways. The question is do you believe this? Really, this truth – that God will meet out needs – should thrill us! It should excite us! It should warm our heart!

God will look after us, not because we give, but because he loves us and has promised to care for us.

You want proof? Just look at the cross! The Cross shows us just how committed God is to giving us what we need to follow him and love him. He gave us his son!

Take God on his word. Adjust your giving. He will give you what you need. God loves cheerful givers.

Generosity’s goal

Finally, let’s think about the goal of this generosity. Again, as we think about this, we often focus on our immediate needs. Our financial position. Our salary. Our mortgage. Our church perhaps struggling to meet the budget, or a cash deficit which needs to be managed. All these things are important, and we need to be responsible as we address them. They are important, but they are not the most important consideration. For once again, Bible directs us to God. When we discussed generosity’s motive, we started with God’s grace. As we discuss generosity’s goal we are focussed not on our needs but on God’s glory. This emphasis permeates 2 Corinthians 9

“…through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11, NIV)

When Christians are generous givers, God gets the praise!

“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:12, NIV)

“Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” (2 Corinthians 9:13, NIV)

“And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.” (2 Corinthians 9:14, NIV)

You have already seen this today. We could miss the look of obvious delight in the faces of children in Operation Christmas Child they opens their shoebox? This past week I saw correspondence from Compassion which quoted a sponsored child saying “they [the sponsors] have no idea how much I praise God for their love.” Or who has not seen the look of absolute gratitude in the faces of people rescued by International Justice Mission operations?

One thing we do not see, which I sometimes see, is how people right here in this community, when they are helped by something we do, people who have nowhere else to turn, often express such rich gratitude. Do they become Christians? I am not aware that has happened. Do they thank God? I have not heard them doing that. But when God’s church is honoured and gratitude expressed for works of service, it is a win for the Kingdom. And I would like to think that that next time any of these people are engaged in a conversation about God’s love of his mercy in Jesus, it might just be a little easier for them to believe, as they have seen his love through his people’s generosity.

Jesus challenges us, quite starkly, to not focus on the things everyone else focuses on: What we drive. Where we live. What people think of us. The next cruise. What labels we wear.

Jesus’ people have their concern  elsewhere:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us in Jesus – that we should be called children of God!

Look at what he has given me! The natural question then is, How can I give more? What does my church need? What is God calling us to do, and how can that happen through generous giving?

Jesus’ words are clear:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:31–34, NIV)

Today, Jesus is inviting you, all of us, to step into His Kingdom existence. To have his Kingdom, his Lordship, change our view of money. To discover a whole new identity in him: new creation, new rules for living, new attitudes, new life, new hope, new values.

And as his people this we will do, and may he received all the praise and the glory.

Endnotes:

[1] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

Living Members: Sharing

LM ppt background

Reading: Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-37

So we have all seen those before and after diet ads. They show a picture of people like “Fred” [not his real name] before he started Weight Watchers. And then there’s a second picture taken after he’s been on the program. The change is unmistakable. In 12 months Fred lost 50kg. He’s a changed man!

biggest loser

Most people’s experience with diet, however, tends to be more like this:

robert-lost-his-glasses

In only two weeks Robert lost his glasses..

Experts are saying that crash diets do not lead to permanent change, so their suggestion is don’t throw out your old wardrobe just yet…

Moving on from diets, let’s talk church: does being part of a church change people? I read some research from George Barna this week which said that 46% of people say their lives had not changed as a result of being part of a church. Would that statistic be reflected in this church, do you think? That around half of us would say our lives have not changed as a result of being part of a church? That would be a very disturbing reality, wouldn’t it?

And it seems a picture very different to what we have in Acts 2:

Sharing…

 “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:44–45, NIV)

This thought is extended in Acts 4:

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4:32–35, NIV)

Here’s the question: What is happening in this church that moves them to such compassionate sharing? We probably wouldn’t pick it up, but that little phrase ‘there were no needy persons among them’ would have been immediately recognised by the people Luke first wrote to. At this stage, all of them were people who identified as Jews, most of them well versed in the OT Scriptures. Many of them would have memorised at least the first five books of the Old Testament, some of them, even more than that. And a few of them would have know the entire Old Testament by heart. Their minds would have immediately gone to Deuteronomy 15, where the Lord gave commands about using wealth and freeing people in debt. As the Lord outlined how Israel was to live as people before the watching world, he said

“However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,” (Deuteronomy 15:4, NIV)

In these few phrases in Acts 2:44, and Acts 4:34, God is telling this brand new church something very important: they are now His new people, the new Jerusalem, the new Israel, God’s new community.

That phrase “There were no needy persons among them” was a clear signal that God was living in them. Taken along with the outpouring of the Spirit into the church at Pentecost, it showed they were the temple of his Holy Spirit. It showed the Risen Christ had poured his new life into them! And they would never be the same.

God is telling this brand new church something very important: they are now His new people, the new Jerusalem, the new Israel, God’s new community

And because Christ’s new life was in them, those who had been drawn into Christ’s church considered it unthinkable that rich and poor could exist in the same community. See, when God is present in people, his compassion overflows into their lives, and from their lives into the lives of others. Through his Spirit Christ is living in these people, and has formed them into His Body. He is living in them corporately as the church, and living in them individually as his followers. They are an entirely new community, a new reality, a new spiritual entity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said

Because Christian community is founded solely on Jesus Christ, it is a spiritual and not a human reality … which comes from the natural urges, powers, and capacities of the human spirit.
[Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p.21]

The church is not a human organisation, and what we see in Acts 2 & 4 is not typical human behaviour. Christ lives in the church, and his life is poured into this community by his spirit.

This sharing did not come about because they knew one another, because they’d grown up together, or because they were great friends. We saw earlier in Acts 2 this church had grown rapidly: 3000 people had been added in one day. People from all over the known world. So this church would have included some wealthy people, business people, farmers, freedmen, servants and slaves. It was an incredibly diverse community!

But look at what happens:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:44–45, NIV)

Now, this is not the enforced abolition of private property. We know this because many of these people still lived in their own home, we see that in v.46. We see in Acts 12 that people some time later also owned homes. We see in 1 Corinthians 1 how as the church spread into areas like Corinth, that people are still holding meetings in their own homes. People’s homes, in fact, were the primary meeting places for the church as it spread and grew. So, private property was retained, and used to bless the church.

So, this is not totalitarianism. Rather, this is spirit filled transformation of people and their community. These people have had their lives changed by Jesus, transformed by Christ. So the sharing is voluntary. And we can tell by the way the original sentences are structured that it was a regular practice, and it was directed toward poverty and need.

“They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:45, NIV)

See, these Christians had made a very conscious decision to use their money and wealth to show the grace of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. And all it took for this to happen, it seems, was for someone to have a genuine need. Followers of Jesus would volunteer cash, or goods that could be sold, or shared, so the needs of that person to be met.

Of course, there is a caveat: this is not about throwing good money after bad, or rewarding poor choices. God does not want his people to sell their stuff so someone can use the money to support their substance abuse, or their gambling habit. Substance abuse and gambling are destructive behaviours. This sort of sharing would have been applied in a way that the restoration of the Kingdom, the values of heaven, would have been brought to expression. Both giver and receiver come under the same transformation.

It is an incredibly attractive picture, isn’t it?

Here’s the question: Would a church like this be a church you would like to be part of?

Materialism

Maybe you’d want to be part of that kind of community. At least on the receiving end. But would you want to be one of the givers? Would you be prepared to share something of your wealth or your assets to assist the genuinely needy?

I think this is a challenge for us, because we place so much emphasis on our possessions. Our struggle is not that our goods are bad. It’s more that it’s so easy to make them gods.

Tim Keller reminds us:

Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things

If we make good things ultimate things, they become our idols. They take the centre of our lives. They occupy our vision, they determine our gals and values. But when Jesus is Lord of your life, he occupies that place and hold those prerogatives. He is Lord of all, and as Lord of all he intends to cast every idol out.

Jesus in your heart changes how you use what is in your hands. When Jesus is your God, he’ll change how you see your goods.

This becomes more complicated the wealthier our society becomes. Go back generations, and there was less focus on what people had, because so few people had disposable wealth. Today in Australia, we are more wealthy than most of the world, and yet it’s hard for us to contemplate this kind of sharing. It shouldn’t be, really, because whether now, or 200 years ago, or 2000 years ago, Christians have always said that Jesus is their rock.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

Christians have always said that their only comfort in life and in death, is not in what they own, but in that they are not their own, but belong, in body and soul, in life and in death, to the faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.

IMG_0285

Because Christ holds me securely, I can hold other things loosely. Because I am treasured by Christ, I can treasure another reality:

““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21, NIV)

Our treasure is heaven: that is, bringing God’s reality to expression in our lives. Our treasure is to live put that reality that we are seated in the heavenliness with Christ even now (see Colossians 3:1-4). We are living the life of our new citizenship in heaven.

Because Christ holds me securely, I can hold other things loosely

And look at these Christians! This sharing is a clear indicator that they are doing just that!

Gospel Transformation

See, something has happened and it has changed these people forever. And the thing that has happened is this: Jesus Christ is risen, and he is living in these people. That’s what Paul says in Romans 4:

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4, NIV)

That’s what has happened! They have been made alive forever in the resurrection of Christ! They have been drawn into his new community, into his church! They are his new people. In that sense the change that Jesus is working in them is already becoming visible. Jesus is living in them through his spirit, and he is changing they way they lived, and the values by which they lived their lives.

Think of it this way:

Imagine you had a rich uncle. You were his favourite niece or nephew. Imagine you uncle has died, and you’ve just had news that he’s left several million dollars to you in his will. And you will receive that inheritance in 3 months time. October 19, 2015. Do you think your life would be any different? Of course it would! Even though the inheritance had not been fully received, you’d start to make some changes immediately: you would tell people your good news, and the reality of that good news would change your disposition and your behaviour! How could it not do so?

See, this is what we mean when we say we are living a new life. Something has happened: we have the life of Christ! We have been given an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade! And while we don’t have its total consummation, the fact that we have this inheritance makes a difference today, in the here and now.

These people did not have its total consummation: but Christ living in them changed how they lived to such an extent that they used their possessions to bring him glory and to help the needy. They did this knowing not only that something had happened, but that something else was yet to happen. Christ would return, and bring the new heavens and the new earth. And until that happened, their calling was to live the values of that coming existence in their here and now.

It may be true that we lose out on something of the power of Christ’s new life because we do not intentionally live in his changed reality. Because we live like we do not have the inheritance he has given.

R Kent Hughes says

So many people never know the joys of Christian fellowship because they have never learned to give themselves away.

With this in mind, it’s not hard to see how sharing like this is one of the most powerful evidences of the presence of the Holy Spirit. That’s exactly what we read in Acts 4

“…God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them…” (Acts 4:33–34, NIV)

…so powerfully at work in them… – it’s not just a rhetorical expression. It’s the new life of Jesus Christ coming powerfully to expression!

I am incredibly challenged by this. I don’t think I am that driven by possessions. Just don’t ask me if you can borrow one of my bass guitars… Then again, if there was a real need, would I have the desire to put one or two on eBay and give the proceeds toward that need?

I started today by referring to research which said 46% of people were unchanged by being members of a church. Do you think people in the Acts 2 church would have said that? Far from it.

Do you think you would say that if such grace, such spirit power were flowing through you? Far from it.

The reality is, we all want to be this kind of church. We all want to be living members of precisely this kind of community.

Now, I do not know your need, or the extent of your wealth. But perhaps this message is challenging you to step up: “God has blessed be richly, I have some some money, and if there’s ever some genuine need, let me know…” Or maybe you’re being challenged from the other side of the ledger:  “I am so on the breadline, I have been through this awful financial catastrophe, and I don’t know what to do…’

Come, let us pray about it, let’s work this out like God’s people should. Jesus says: it’s time for us to reorient our approach to wealth and material possessions. And if we do, through the grace of Jesus, in the power of his Spirit, our lives will change, our church will change, and our sharing will bring powerful witness to the Christ, who changes everything.

[download sermon audio here, or via iTunes Podcast]