Grace Abounding

This evening we come to the last in our short sermon series on God's gift from Paul's letters to the Corinthians, as part of our giving review, and our final theme is Grace Abounding. Three things which are very striking about our giving in 2 Corinthians are that Christians are not just to give but to give generously and with the right attitude and that God's abounding grace is key to both. Look at the context of our passage this evening -v.5 of ch.9- Paul wants the Corinthians to give generously but not grudgingly. In ch.8:8 Paul had told these reluctant and stingy Christians to excel in the grace of giving, i.e. to show selfless generosity as the Macedonians had done and, supremely, as God has done in Jesus. God gave generously and freely, not reluctantly. Our reading from Malachi made it plain that we are to give back to God the full tithe - that we are not to rob God of money or of other kinds of service. Of course in no way can we earn or buy our salvation -no- we give generously in response to God's indescribable gift but our giving is a proof of our Christian commitment as a theologian once wrote: "Our chequebooks have more to do with our Christian discipleship than our hymnbooks". Now in some quarters of the world it has become quite fashionable to give to charity hasn't it? And in many ways it's encouraging to see so many being moved to give. It has even become quite fashionable to give generously and cheerfully and not just by way of Comic Relief! Last September Ted Turner of the American Cable News Network or CNN gave away one third of his personal fortune: 1bn dollars out of 3bn to his favourite charity the United Nations. Other well known American billionaires, such as Bill Gates of Microsoft, then apparently rushed to follow suit not wanting to be outdone or seen as selfish! They were willing to give generously and openly and received a good degree of publicity as a result! So we now need to look in more detail at: Why and how are we to be giving generously as Christians? How are we to give generously if we're on low incomes, or as students, or as young people? Why should we be moved to give generously to God's work here and overseas? What should our motivation and attitude be? Are we to give openly or privately? And what will the results of giving generously be? Does all our financial giving just disappear into a bottomless pit and leave us with only a hole in our bank balance? This section of 2 Corinthians, where Paul considers the nature of Christian giving, does give us some answers and I want to look at verses 6-15 of chapter 9 under 3 headings: first, WHY ARE WE TO GIVE GENEROUSLY? secondly, HOW ARE WE TO GIVE GENEROUSLY? and thirdly, THE RESULTS OF GIVING GENEROUSLY. First, WHY ARE WE TO GIVE GENEROUSLY? Why are we to give generously in financial and other ways? What should our motives for giving generously be? Look firstly at verse 12 of chapter 9. We are to give generously to supply the needs of God's people. Paul is concerned that the relatively wealthy Corinthian Christians should help to supply the needs of God's people, motivated by God's abounding grace, generosity, love and compassion. Here Paul is referring specifically to the needs of the believers in Jerusalem who faced desperate poverty and persecution due to a famine and because of their faith in Christ. Therefore it is right that we should not only give generously to supply the needs of God's people and of God's work here at Jesmond but that we also give generously to supply the needs of God's people and work elsewhere both on Tyneside and overseas. In the giving literature we suggest that each person gives 5% of their income to the work here and 5% to other missionary work. But we should only give to Gospel ministry and via Gospel based relief agencies. I'll always remember an evangelical bishop from Zaire saying that he would only accept aid from TEAR Fund because they brought relief and the Gospel. If Christians don't give to this church and to other Gospel ministries no-one else will. At JPC our only income comes from what is given by us here. Secondly, and leading on from that in vv.12-14, we are to give generously to God's people in need and to God's work here and overseas because of our partnership in Gospel ministry and because we want God to be praised and glorified. Look at what's going on in vv.12-14. The Lord gives to us-v.14, the surpassing or abounding grace God has given you- and we thank him and give to others in response and they thank God for the kindness and generosity he's inspired in us. So a round of thanksgiving to God takes place created by the grace of giving, springing from that incalculable gift from God: Jesus Christ himself. Thirdly, v.13, we are to give generously out of obedience to God. Our reading from Malachi made it clear that tithing and other forms of service are not optional extras. As Paul says in Romans 12.1:

in view of God's mercy, offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship or obedient service.

Our confession of the gospel of Christ says Paul here in v.13 should be accompanied by practical evidence and obedience, including giving and handing in our response forms. Then others will see and praise God. Fourthly, v.6, we are to give generously because of the harvest principle. You reap what you sow. Now this is not in itself a very exalted motive for giving but as one commentator puts it: "surely it is right to present to people the divinely ordained consequences of their actions as motives to control their conduct". Whoever sows generously will also reap generously.(cf Lk 6:38) But although sowing generously could therefore be seen as an enlightened form of self interest, Christian giving is not. As Michael Green states: "As we give generously, and are liberated from bondage to materialism, so the Lord is liberated to do things in and through us which he otherwise would not be able to do.

God will bless the generous giver with enough for their needs and multiply their resources for good works. It really is more blessed to give than to receive.

But, fifthly, the supreme reason for giving generously comes in v.15. Generous giving is a grateful response to God's indescribable, inexpressible and incalculable gift: his own Son, Jesus Christ. God is the first and most generous giver; he first gives himself to us in the person of his Son and all true Christian giving is our response of gratitude for his priceless gift. So why are we to give ourselves and our money? What should our main motivation be? Listen again to v.9 of 2 Cor.8 and v.15 of chapter 9:

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 richThanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Christ was rich. From all eternity he had been enthroned in the magnificence of heavenly glory. But for our sakes he became poor so that we might be enriched. This is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He gave up so much so that we could have so much. What generosity! What grace! What an example! Do we know the grace of the Lord Jesus, who though he was rich became poor? Then in our thankfulness let us imitate him. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! In response how can we not be generous? Secondly, HOW ARE WE TO GIVE GENEROUSLY? How are we to give generously? What should our attitude and manner be in giving generously? Well let's firstly go back to vv.6 &7 of chapter 9.

Remember this you reluctant and stingy Corinthians: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. But each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

So we are to give generously. As we've been seeing, we who receive God's grace are to show generosity without measurement or calculation. That will also involve giving sacrificially. But we are not to do so reluctantly or under compulsion. There should be no coercion. In other words we are not to be like the main characters in this story about an evangelist who once had wires connected to all the seats in his church. "All those willing to give £100 to God stand up", he shouted. As he said this, he pressed a button and electricity zapped through the seats. There was a tremendous response. But later the sidesmen found three dead Scotsmen clinging to their pews! Apologies to any Scots here tonight and don't worry there are no wires in your seats! No, rather we are to give cheerfully for, literally, it is the cheerful giver that God loves. Ours is to be a ready response not a reluctant one. God himself is a cheerful giver. And how important it is to give cheerfully if we want to give generously for the right motives.. As I hinted in the introduction faulty motives can inspire us to give generously but only a real appreciation of God's grace to us can prompt us to give cheerfully. But although we are to give readily and cheerfully our giving is not to be casual or just impulsive. The Corinthians initial enthusiasm to give soon waned. Rather it is to be decisive and planned and therefore regular. Verse 7:

Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give

. And if we are decisive and plan our giving and hand in the relevant forms quickly then that helps the church here to plan and spend accordingly. And, of course, what we decide to give is a private matter between ourselves and God. So what we give to this church is received in confidence and what we give should be given in confidence not openly for our own glory. But some of us may be asking how are we going to be able to give generously? Perhaps you don't have very much money. Perhaps you earn a fair amount but have a lot of commitments. Well our financial giving should be in proportion to our income (1 Cor.16). Some of us will only be able to give a small amount even if we're generous and give beyond our ability but that is still valuable and important. Some others of us may have to review our commitments if we are to give proportionately and generously to God. And look at vv.8-10, remembering from v.6 that giving is like sowing, you reap in proportion to what you sow. And if you sow or give generously, methodically and cheerfully then God will make sure you have enough for your own needs and enough to give away. V.8:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work as the psalmist says.

Yes, says v.10, if you sow your store of seed generously, God will keep on increasing the amount you have to sow. And that leads me on to my third and final heading. Finally, THE RESULTS OF GIVING GENEROUSLY To continue, first of all, with the verses we've just been focusing on, vv.8-10, we can reiterate that two results of generous giving are these: that God will provide the giver with enough for their needs and with more than enough to continue sharing with others. So needs will be met when there is generous and sacrificial giving. Also v.10 - the generous sower will be blessed with a harvest of righteousness, both spiritual and material. And v.11 - the generous giver will be made rich in every way for great generosity. As one commentator writes,

The greater the giving, the greater the enrichment. The greater the enrichment the greater the resources to give.

Now in the NT this enrichment is generally spiritual fruitfulness and caring for others in the family of God. So we need to be careful and clear. Paul here is not teaching a simple prosperity gospel - health and wealth for those who give generously. No, rather what Paul promises here is all that we need and enough for every good work, enough to be generous on every occasion. Secondly, vv.11-13, generous giving will result in much thanksgiving to God from those who receive the gift, for giving does not only bring help to needy Christians and to God's work, but causes God to be glorified by them and by those involved in the work. Just as it should do and does here at JPC when the gifts come in. And, v.13, because of your service of giving generously, people will praise God for your obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ as well as for your generosity in meeting needs and so God again will be glorified. If we don't give generously we miss out on the privilege of helping to meet needs and we also deny ourselves the honour of promoting God's glory. Thirdly, v.14, generous giving will also result in prayers for the givers by the receivers. As a church we know this to be true from our relationship with Mburi in Kenya. Paul here prays it will be true between the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Jerusalem and Corinth. Generous, selfless, grace giving and heartfelt thankful receiving can often result in increased fellowship and partnership between the givers and the getters as the receivers recognise that the generous gift comes from the surpassing grace of God in the givers. The receivers will be drawn to the givers by the grace shown in the giving and new bonds of love will be accompanied by fresh blessing in answer to prayer. And fresh blessing will result in fresh action. But let's remember it is God's abounding grace that starts all this generosity , thanksgiving and fellowship. So, v.15, Paul thanks God for his indescribable gift, his Son, Jesus Christ, which began it all. And we are to be generous, ready, cheerful and joyful givers of all the gifts God has given to us as a grateful response to his saving grace. Then as one writer concludes:

It will be our experience that the faithful Lord of the harvest will enrich us beyond our expectations.

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