Friday, August 11, 2006

Sunday School Lesson: Giving Generously

Purpose: To inspire generosity as a response to God’s grace.

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

How many of you think you have enough money?

Today we will study how the answer to that question relates to Christian stewardship: what we do with what we have.

How much is enough?

When I consider my own personal wants and needs, how much is enough?

When I think of the Church and it’s mission in the world, how much is enough?

When I think of my Lord and what He has given me and contrast that with what He desires of me, how much is enough?

In Acts 20:35 Paul offers an otherwise forgotten quote of Jesus:

Act 20:35 ESV
(35) In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

It is a great and wonderful thing when Christians enter into the grace of giving, when they really believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive. This is a very foreign concept in our materialistic society. This will never be the slogan for the "Me" generation. In today’s scripture passage, Paul gently scolds the Corinthian church for their lack of interest in taking part in giving to a special offering for the impoverished church in Jerusalem. There was a real need in the Jerusalem church. The area surrounding Jerusalem was experiencing a famine. The Jerusalem church also had a large proportion of widows in its care.

How can we tell when we are practicing "grace" giving?

Paul gives us several examples in today’s scripture:

1. We practice "grace giving" when we give in spite of our circumstances.

2Co 8:1-2 ESV
(1) We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia,
(2) for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

The Macedonian churches that Paul used as an example had suffered great difficulties, yet they had given generously. They had not merely suffered affliction but had suffered a "severe test" of affliction. They did not merely live in poverty but "extreme" poverty. The word that Paul used to describe their poverty literally translates as beggar or indigent. This word describes a person who not only has nothing but also has no hope of getting anything.

We don’t know why the Macedonian Christian suffered so, but we do know that their situation did not hinder them from giving. They did not merely give but gave a "wealth of generosity" joyfully and liberally.

Does this formula compute in your mind: severe affliction + extreme poverty = abundant joy + wealth of generosity.

Something is missing from that equation. Do you know what it is?


Severe affliction + extreme poverty + grace = abundant joy and wealth of generosity.

Do we use difficult circumstances as an excuse for not giving?

I think we often use not so difficult circumstances as an excuse for not giving.

I think we often use very ordinary, everyday circumstances as an excuse for not giving.

Yet with the addition of grace into our everyday or ordinary or even difficult circumstances we will not use our circumstances as an excuse for not giving.

Can our circumstances become an encouragement to giving?

"Grace giving" means giving in spite of our circumstances.

2. We practice "grace giving" when we give enthusiastically.

2Co 8:3-4 ESV
(3) For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will,
(4) begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints--

Do we ever give generously but not enthusiastically?

"The preacher says I should give till it hurts," said a miserly church member, "but for me it hurts just to think about giving."

The Macedonian churches did not need a reminder to give although by the evidence of this passage the Corinthians needed much reminding. The Macedonians gave "of their own free will." They even "begged earnestly" for the opportunity to give. Who is going to beg for us to take up the offering this morning in our worship service?

Their giving was voluntary and spontaneous. It was full of grace. They gave because they wanted to give and because they had experienced grace. Grace not only frees us from our sins, but it frees us from our former selves. The grace of God will not only open your heart, but according to Paul will open your wallet.

3. We practice "grace giving" when we give as Jesus gave.

2Co 8:5-9 ESV
(5) and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
(6) Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace.
(7) But as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you--see that you excel in this act of grace also.
(8) I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.
(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 by his poverty might become rich.

Jesus is always the example for us to follow.

Some versions use the words "generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ." What is the "generous act" that Paul is speaking of?

What is the greatest example of giving in the Bible?

For Paul the sacrifice of Jesus did not begin at the cross, although taking on the sins of the world and dying like a common criminal was a sacrifice beyond our comprehension.

For Paul the sacrifice of Jesus did not begin at his birth, although being born in a stable is far from the best circumstances for the birth of the King.

For Paul, the sacrifice of Jesus began in Heaven, when the Son of God laid aside His glory to come to earth as a lowly human. He gave up His throne to become a servant. Can you imagine any man agreeing to become a monkey to bring salvation to all monkeys? Can you imagine any man agreeing to become an earthworm?

Jesus leaving the glory of heaven to be one of us must have been just as great a sacrifice as those examples.

Paul told the Corinthians of the great generosity of the Macedonians. In this passage he gives an even greater example of generosity. He seems to be saying: "With such great examples of giving in front of you, why are you holding back?"

Like Jesus Christ and the Macedonians, Paul calls on the Corinthian church and all Christians to give themselves to God and to others.

If we give ourselves to God we will have no problem giving our offerings to God.

If we give ourselves to God we will have no problem giving ourselves for our neighbors. It is impossible to love God and ignore the needs of our neighbors.

Jesus gave Himself for us. Should we not give ourselves to Him? His sacrifices were not made so that we could live for ourselves, but that we could live for Him and for others.

The Macedonians giving was, like Christ’s, motivated by love. We have spent several weeks learning of the great spiritual gifts and blessings of the Corinthian church. It seems that they may have been to concerned with the gifts of the Spirit and not nearly concerned enough with the graces of the Spirit, in this instance the grace of giving. The Macedonians gave even though impoverished. The Corinthians, although wealthy in spiritual gifts, lacked the love of neighbor which would have led them to give what they had promised to give the year before (see verse 10).

Do we ever use our gifts as a substitute for generous giving?

Do we ever fall into the habit of thinking that if we give our time and energies to the church that we don’t have to give our money?

4. We practice "grace giving" when we give willingly.

2Co 8:10-12 ESV
(10) And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it.
(11) So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.
(12) For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.

There is a great difference between intentions and actions, between promise and performance.

The Corinthians had boasted to Titus a year before that they would provide their share of this special offering. Paul emphasizes here willingness, desire, and eagerness to give. Grace giving must come from a willing heart. It cannot be coerced or forced.

What good is willingness if it is not followed through with doing?

If the willingness is sincere, it must be followed by some action. Willingness is not a substitute for doing. The great tragedy of the human condition is not that we lack an eagerness to do good. It is that we lack the actions to do good.

An eagerness that remains an eagerness, an observed need that remains only observed, a desire to do good that never turns into a good deed is unfinished, uncompleted, worthless.

We have a popular saying: "It’s the thought that counts." I have to disagree. A good thought without following through with good action is no-account. It doesn’t count for anything. The gift is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. If the gift is thought of but not given then it is not acceptable.

Who is it acceptable or not acceptable to?

God sees what we give willingly. If we see a need and our heart tells us to give, but are unable to give because we truly can’t then God will see what was in our heart. If we could have given more but did not, then God sees that also.

Early Christian writers often called for action as a "proof" of the genuineness of a believers faith.

James is famous for his demand that the genuineness of a person’s faith manifest itself in deeds of kindness and mercy.

Jam 2:14-17 ESV
(14) What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
(15) If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,
(16) and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
(17) So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

John also calls for love, if it is genuine, to show itself in acts of kindness and generosity.

1Jo 3:16-18 ESV
(16) By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
(17) But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?
(18) Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Paul seems to agree with these other early Christian writers.

When we give willingly, according to what we have, we are practicing the grace of giving.

5. We practice "grace giving" when we give by faith.

2Co 8:13-15 ESV
(13) I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness
(14) your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.
(15) As it is written, "Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack."

Paul did not suggest that the rich become poor so that the poor might become rich. He was reminding the Corinthians that life has a strange but natural tendency to even things up. Far more often than not, we find that it is measured to us with the same measure as we measure to others. Life has a way of repaying generosity with generosity and miserliness with miserliness.
Our motive for giving is God’s spiritual blessing (grace) in our lives. Our measure for giving is God’s material blessing in our lives.

How much are we supposed to give?

Paul never mentions a tithe. Paul never gives any mathematical formula as a guideline to giving. Grace giving is not limited by any formula. Grace giving is not interested in only giving the minimum acceptable amount.

Paul speaks here of fair balance. This "fair balance" principal is Paul’s concept of stewardship within the Christian community. All we have, spiritual or physical, is by grace. We own nothing because God owns us. No system is acceptable that allows any person to take advantage of another person. If one prospers more than another, the "fair balance" principal must be applied. The "haves" must share with the "have-nots".

In verse 15 Paul is quoting from Exodus 16:18. The manna is an excellent example of the "fair balance" principal. The manna was a gift to the whole community, yet those who tried to hoard more than a daily share found that it spoiled. Those who could not gather enough for a day found that they had plenty. Lack of generosity destroys both the individual and the community. God’s grace, on the other hand, is inexhaustible. The more we share, the more we receive. Those who hoard do not find their lives overflowing with abundance. Many seemingly very wealthy people still feel the pressures of being in debt because their standard of living grows faster than their income.

Are we supposed to tithe?

What is the point of our giving?

What temptations do we face when we decide how much to give based on the guideline of "according to our means"?

Is obedience in giving any more or less important than other spiritual disciplines?

Stewardship has nothing to do with what we owe God, but about how we use the resources that God has blessed us with. All of our resources, physical and spiritual are gifts of God’s grace. Just like spiritual gifts our physical gifts are given to us for the benefit of the whole Christian community. We must not use our gifts for our own pleasure and enrichment at the expense of those in need.

Many of us may feel that we cannot afford to give much because of our own pressing needs. We all must pay for housing, food, clothing, transportation and other necessities. But I am afraid that an honest examination of our checkbook register or credit card statements will reveal that much money is spent on luxuries by some of us who claim that we have little or nothing to give toward God’s work.

If we wait until we have all we want before we give to God, we will never give much. We should not see giving as a financial decision but as a spiritual decision. Financially, it makes no sense to give away money in any circumstances. But if we believe as Jesus did that "it is more blessed to give than to receive", we will give generously.

Heavenly Father,
Help us to overcome our greed. Lead us to recognize selfishness and not rationalize our financial behavior. Fill us with hearts of compassion, and give us the stewardship to manage the resources you have given us in a way that You will find pleasing and acceptable.
In everything we do, help us to imitate the example of Christ,
In His name,

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