Friday, August 18, 2006

Sunday School Lesson: Reasons For Giving, Giving is a Witness

Purpose: To recognize that our giving bears witness to our experience of grace as we share God’s blessings.

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:1-15

Today’s lesson may seem like a repeat of last week’s lesson, but is really a continuation. Both passages deal with Paul’s effort to raise a collection from the Gentile churches in order to present a gift to the Jerusalem church when he returned there at the end of his third missionary journey. There was a real need in the Jerusalem church. The descriptions of the Jerusalem church in Acts tell of a church that lived almost communally. All the resources of the members was pooled for the welfare of all, but especially to care for the poor and the widows. The Jerusalem church had a large proportion of widows due to a custom among the Jews of the time to travel to Jerusalem to die. There is also some indication that the area surrounding Jerusalem was experiencing a famine at the time which would have stretched the resources of the church even further. Paul likely deliberately repeated his plea to the Corinthians to reinforce the need and also because the Corinthians seemed to be quite stubborn at times.

What does our giving say about the transformation of our hearts and the genuineness of our faith?

Which is easier: to make a pledge or to fulfill a pledge?

Do you think God is more concerned with our attitude in giving or with our actual giving?

In Chapter 8, Paul told the Corinthians about the wealth of generosity of the Macedonian church, a church described as suffering a severe ordeal of affliction and extreme poverty. He almost seemed to be attempting to shame the wealthy but miserly Corinthians with the example of poor but generous Macedonians. Let’s read and see how he turns it on the Corinthians yet again.

2Co 9:1-2 ESV
(1) Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints,
(2) for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them.

As we learned in last week’s lesson the Corinthians had made a pledge to give a large donation the year before. Paul writes to them a year later asking where the offering is. Poor Macedonia has already given generously. What’s the problem Corinth?

Now we read that one of the Macedonian’s reasons for giving was that Paul had told them of the Corinthians pledge. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be generous by telling about the Macedonians and at the same time encouraged the Macedonians by quoting the Corinthians.

2Co 9:3-5 ESV
(3) But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove vain in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be.
(4) Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated--to say nothing of you--for being so confident.
(5) So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.

Ok, I’ve told the Macedonians about your generous pledge to help. They responded by giving much more than it would seem they could afford. How embarrassing it would be if some of those poor Macedonians just happened to drop by at the church in Corinth and learn that you haven’t done what you said you were going to do. I certainly don’t want my boasting about you to be as empty as your offering.

How would you feel if these tactics were used on us in our stewardship campaigns?

Would these tactics work on us?

What was Paul’s ultimate motivation in making his plea in this way?

Paul’s ultimate motivation was the welfare of the Corinthians and other Gentile churches. He truly did not wish to see them embarrassed and their standing in the Body of the Church suffer. If the Corinthians ignored the needs of the saints in Jerusalem, especially after public promises had been made, it could harm or devastate the effectiveness of future Christian missions and the unity of the church.

What are some methods that churches use to raise money?

What are some reasons that people give money?

Some wrong reasons:
People may give out of a sense of duty. There is no generosity in giving from a sense of duty. Giving from a sense of duty is no different than paying a bill that we owe.

People give as a way of finding self-satisfaction. These people are more concerned with the pleasant feeling that giving provides than with the feelings of the recipient of the gift. There are people who will give money to a beggar because of the satisfaction they get rather than from any real desire to help. These people are giving to themselves rather that to the needy.

People give with motives of prestige. The gift is given not to help but to glorify the giver. This gift probably would not be given at all if there was no chance of it being seen and praised. The source of this type of gift is not love but pride.

Are these examples wholly bad? At least the gift is given. If a gift is given with the wrong motives, is it better to not be given at all?

What is the one good way to give?

To give with love. To give because we can’t help giving. To give because the knowledge of a person or group in need wakens a desire that cannot be ignored. This is God’s way. It was because God so loved the world that he gave the greatest gift of all.

Another characteristic of the finest gifts is that they are made before they are asked for.

How do we match the methods of the church with the motives of the givers?

Why did it take the Corinthians such a long time to collect their gift? Why didn’t they just pass the plate one day and be done with it?

Apparently their pledge was for a very large amount. Most of us can only give a substantial amount if it is given over time. Paul had instructed the Corinthians in this matter:

1Co 16:1-2 ESV
(1) Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do.
(2) On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

Is Paul trying to get them to give as much as he can get them to give?

Read verse 5 again. He is only asking that they give what they had already promised to give.
Paul is teaching a lesson on consistency. Christians must practice what they preach. If we make a pledge, we need to follow through with that pledge. Repetition is a method that all teachers use to get their students to learn concepts. Actions become habits through repetition. If we give regularly and consistently, we become givers who don’t need reminders and manipulative tactics.

2Co 9:6-10 ESV
(6) The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
(7) Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
(8) And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
(9) As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."
(10) He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

The law of Sowing and Reaping comes up throughout scripture.

Do you agree with the following statements:
You reap what you sow.
You reap in proportion to what you sow.
You reap the same kind of stuff that you sow.
Give me some examples of each.

How does this law apply to our giving?

How literally can we take this? Do generous people get money back?

Do any of you have any experience of giving as a form of investment?

Is giving to God a good investment?

Will God give back with interest, what we give to him?

Those who give more will be greatly blessed for their giving. This does not mean that we should give more simply to get more from God. The blessings we receive from giving may not be material blessings at all. To give for the purpose of getting reveals selfish motives.

What is the greatest blessing of giving?

The greatest blessing of all could be the knowledge that we have helped others in their need and that maybe, just maybe they have seen the Gospel through our giving.

What are the rules that Paul gives us for giving?

Each person must decide for themself what to give. Giving should never be a matter of doing what is expected or what provides the least embarrassment for the giver. Giving is a personal decision between the giver and God.

If I feel reluctant to give or compelled to give, should I give or not?

Are my only alternatives to either give reluctantly and with a bad attitude or not to give and have a good attitude?

How can we apply the law of sowing and reaping to a bad attitude about giving?

Describe a cheerful giver.

Who here has everything they need?

Verse 8 says that God is able to provide for every need and that in our abundance we can share. What would be your response if I were to tell you that I have been giving and in fact had given so much that some of my needs had gone unmet?

This passage may teach us as much about what our true needs are as it does about anything else. How much do we truly need?

Most of what we say we need we could really live without. If I truly needed some of the things that I want, wouldn’t God have already supplied it?

2Co 9:10-15 ESV
(10) He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
(11) You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
(12) For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.
(13) By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,
(14) while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.
(15) Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Paul gives us an outline of the principles of generous giving. Paul insists that there is no loser in generous giving. Giving is like planting a crop. The more seed per acre, the more plants to produce a healthy harvest.

Paul insists that it is the happy, cheerful giver that God loves. An ancient Rabbinic saying says that to meet a friend with a cheerful attitude and give him nothing is better than to give him everything you have grudgingly.

Paul insists that God can give us both the substance to give and the spirit in which to give.

When you think of witnessing for Christ what comes to mind?

We generally think of sharing the Scriptures or personal testimony. Another great method of witness is by doing what we have been taught. Meeting the needs of others and giving generously is a very effective witness. Both the giver and the recipient will receive many blessing through gifts given in the name of the Lord.

How does giving glorify God?

Giving promotes thanksgiving. Givers and recipients are reminded of and overwhelmed by the magnitude of God’s indescribable gift to them. By trusting the Lord to provide and minister to others, we are a witness to both believers and unbelievers. Christians who see us actively involved in God’s work will be encouraged to do so as well. Non-Christians will see an example of God’s love that might help them to believe.

The word translated as "glorify" in verse 13 is the same word we use for "doxology", an act of praise that glorifies God which we normally sing at our offering.

One Methodist form of giving is called "apportionments". The apportionment system and purpose is not always understood, so I would like to briefly touch on this subject. The apportionment system makes a remarkable statement about our connection as a community of believers, much the same statement that Paul was making with the gifts from the Gentile churches to the church at Jerusalem. The United Methodist Church is not just an organization that unites together many individual churches. Rather we as a local church are part of a larger whole. The apportionment system emphasizes our responsibility to worship and proclaim Christ throughout the world, not just in our own backyard and for our own self-interest.

I have here as a handout a document published by the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration titled "Why We Apportion: A Theology of Giving." (Available on the web at

I invite you to take these home and read them and examine how the apportionment system is based on Scripture.

I’d like to close with a challenge.

I’d like to challenge this class to pledge an offering like the Corinthians did. Our challenge is to name the recipient, set a timeline, and follow through. This offering is not to replace our normal Sunday School offering, but to be in addition to it. Our regular weekly offering goes to various missions as selected by the Missions Committee of the church.

Everyone think about a group of Christians that need help and let’s decide next week on who to give to, how much to give, and when we will give.

I will offer the first suggestion. Last year our church made a "Barnabas" offering. There are many churches that are unable to make their apportionment payments. Barnabas Churches make extra apportionment payments in order to help and encourage less affluent churches to give. Our class could be a "Barnabas" class. Our class has more members than some churches. Even here in our own county there are churches with fewer members than our Sunday School class. We could probably raise enough money here to pay the apportionments for one of these very small membership churches.

Think about it and give cheerfully.