Advent Conspiracy: Give More – Dan Teefey
Sermon text: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15
Last week we discussed how the messages that our culture has been giving us are lies. Our joy is not dependent upon our stuff. And we have to be vigilant, especially during the Christmas season, to identify the consumerist thieves and robbers around us and to run towards the true shepherd, who is the source of eternal and abundant life.
Last we talked about spending less and that is good . . . but not enough. So you spend less and less and your income keeps coming and sometimes gets larger and larger . . . does your bank account, and your retirement, and your standard of living just get bigger and bigger too . . . or is there something more we are called to.
We are called to be people that give. When you hear this passage and think through what we are called to, you are probably always going to think about money . . . and that indeed a part of how we demonstrate our generosity . . . but it is not all of it. We want to also think about how God is calling us to be generous with our time, with our presence, and with our talents.
Let's take a look at 2 Corinthians 8:1-15.
1-2 “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”
We don't know what exactly the Macedonian church was facing when Paul mentions their severe trial and extreme poverty, but it is clearly not good. And he honors their generosity out of their poverty.
It reminds me of the story in Luke 21. “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."
Repeatedly throughout scripture, those with little are praised not because of the amount of what they give, but because of what they sacrifice to give it. It is even more pronounced in the New Testament as the focus of giving moves well beyond some arbitrary percentage to what one is giving up. Biblical generosity is not measured by how much is given . . . it is not measured by the total dollar amount given . . . but by the level of sacrifice in giving it.
You know what I mean. Some people can give 10% and have $100,000 left over. Others can give 10% and have $10,000 left over. That 10% means something very different to those two people.
British Evangelist George Muller said, “God judges what we give by what we keep.”
It is not the dollar amount that is significant.
3-4 “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.”
What does it mean to give “beyond their ability?” This is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of giving. When we open up the floodgates of our generosity, God regularly pours out his abundance.
This is the part of giving that makes us radically uncomfortable. We are often very comfortable giving from our excess.
I have seen this in our girls even at a young age. If there are three balloons in the room and Adelaide is playing with them and Miriam wants one, then she generally has no problem giving one of the balloons to her. It is not a big deal because she still has two balloons to play with herself. But if there is just one balloon and Miriam wants to play with it . . . it is much much more difficult to convince Adelaide to give it to her. She will give it up when she gets to the new and better thing, but not while she still wants to play with it herself.
When we are honest with ourselves about our own willingness to give we know that we are the same way. We are perfectly fine giving away our old television, but it would seem crazy to us to give away our new one. The same with our clothes. We have no problem dropping our old clothes off at Goodwill, but it would seem bizarre to us to donate our new clothes.
And to be honest, Paul does not pretend that this more radical understanding of generosity comes naturally to us. It doesn't. Our nature tells us that we must hoard what we have to protect ourselves against anything that could happen in the future.
When Paul says that the Macedonian Christians gave “beyond their ability,” he is saying that the Spirit has empowered them to trust beyond what seems reasonable to their culture. He is saying that what they previously thought was impossible, God has made possible.
There is a clear sense repeatedly in Scripture that we cannot do anything of any real significance without God. We can give some here and there, but ultimately, for the earth shattering, life transforming work, we have to let the Spirit guide us. To lift us beyond ourselves in generosity.
Verse 5 helps us to understand the path to radical generosity.
5 “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.”
The first step is always giving ourselves entirely to the Lord. It always starts here. When we began this sermon series on consumerism in our culture around Christmas, we began it with worship.
Any true transformation always begins with worship. It is our worship, our allegiance to God that overflows into sharing with others. Jesus sums this up when he answers the question which is the greatest commandment in the law. In Matthew 22, Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.”
First, we love God. And it is not such a sequential thing that we can say that we are not ready to love others yet, because we have not loved God enough. That can be a problem too.
If you remember a couple months ago we had a drama where a bunch of church folk were meeting at a restaurant and discussing plans for a great church event. As the drama went unfolded the church folk were talking about their plans and who was going to do what and how much it was going to bring glory and honor to God, when the waitress came to their table. They treated her very rudely . . . sending their food back and repeatedly asking for tiny things. The worst part was when they were praying for their meal and the waitress came to the table . . . they basically told her to leave them alone, they were busy praying . . . and made her wait as they went on and on.
Loving God truly will move us into giving generously. Later on in 2 Corinthians 9, Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver.”
I heard a story once about a mom who was trying to teach her daughter about giving and so she gave her a quarter and a dollar and told her that she could keep one, but must give the other to the church. After church the following Sunday, the mom asked the daughter whether she had given the dollar or the quarter. The daughter said that when she went to church she intended on giving the dollar, but then the pastor gave a sermon on giving cheerfully and she decided to give the quarter instead.
6-9 “So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
There is one concept that Paul repeatedly links with giving and generosity in this passage. It is grace.
It is by grace that we are capable of giving. Paul began by saying, “we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.” The ability to give generously comes through grace. It is God empowered.
Paul is challenging them. You are good in a lot of things: faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness and love . . . but you should also be good in giving. And the reason he gives is because Jesus was good at giving . . . in fact his entire life was one of giving. Paul says, “that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
This is the main force of his argument as to why we should be people of radical generosity. That since God has been radically generous to us . . . we should be generous to others. And the point is not that God has poured out material blessings on us. Remember that the example he uses is that of the Macedonian Christians who did not have anything, yet gave generously.
Regardless of our economic status and how much stuff we have in our houses . . . we all begin life desperately poor because we are sinners who regularly flee from God. But the Good News of Christmas and our faith is that our rich God, who needed nothing, came to earth as a human being. God became a poor baby born in a tiny Bethlehem cave in animal food trough . . . He grew up to be a modest Jewish carpenter that was nothing special to look at . . . and he ultimately faced ridicule, insult and death . . .
Our God who is perfect and needs nothing . . . chose to put on our flesh and walk in our world . . . for no other reason than that he loved us. That is radical generosity. He was rich, but became poor . . . so that we could become rich.
It should be noticed too that God did not wrap up a nice new bicycle and FedEx it down to us from heaven to show his love. He came down himself and gave us himself. That is why we keep saying that at Christmas we want to be people that give presence and not just presents. Because that is what God did. He gave himself.
10-12 “And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.”
The first step is to develop a willingness to give. The second is to actually give. Hypotheticals help us to feel good about ourselves. “If someone really needed me to buy them dinner, I would do it.” “If someone needs me to help them move, I am there.” And perhaps our intentions are right on, but many times when it comes to actually completing what we offered we come up short.
Take a look at this past year. Where have you demonstrated generosity with you finances, time, talents.
Paul adds again that what matters in our giving is not the total amount of the gift, but what percentage it is of what one has. We can’t measure the depth of our generosity by what others give. It is a very personal assessment. Our generosity is most accurately measured by what we keep.
13-15 “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”
Paul concludes with some language that may make us uncomfortable. He says that the goal of generosity is not to put ourselves in a destitute situation while others flourish upon our gifts . . . the goal is equality. It is a reciprocal agreement . . . those with plenty supply the needs of those with little so that when the situation is turned around the opposite will be true too.
Paul then ends with, “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”
This is a quote from Exodus 16. The Israelites had just escaped Egyptian slavery and captivity and find themselves in the desert. They are mad at Moses and Aaron who led them out of Egypt because at least when they were slaves in Egypt they had food to eat. Now they might starve to death.
But God blesses them with Manna, which came from the Hebrew for “what is it.” And here is the interesting part about the Manna that God gave the Israelites. Exodus 16:16 says, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.” And they were told not to keep it overnight . . . eat what you need, don’t try to save it . . . instead trust that God will provide again tomorrow.
As you can imagine the Israelites had a hard time with this. Some took more than they needed. Others tried to store it. Some tried to collect it on the Sabbath when they were not supposed to.
As Paul uses Jesus as an example of God’s generosity . . . so is God’s providing for the Israelites.
God’s gift to us was a relationship built on love. So it’s no wonder why we’re drawn to the idea that Christmas should be a time to love our friends and family in the most memorable ways possible. Time is the real gift Christmas offers us, and no matter how hard we look, it can’t be found at the mall. Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom. Time to write mom a letter. Time to take the kids sledding. Time to bake really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols. Time to make love visible through relational giving. Sounds a lot better than getting a sweater two sizes too big, right?
Malachi 3:8-12 “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. 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. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.”