The Proof Of Love

If you were with us last week you'll know that this is the second of two Sundays which we call our Giving Review. During which we do three things. We send out literature about how to give money to God's work through this church. We have a presentation in the services of the budget for the coming year. And we preach on the subject of giving. To old hands at JPC it may feel like old hat. To some it's not just new, it's very different from other churches we've belonged to. And it begs the question: how should God's work be financed? One way would be for the leadership to do nothing. You don't make needs known; don't budget; don't arrange any opportunities for giving; just wait for God to provide. Which was what George Muller of Bristol did when he ran that remarkable orphanage work there in the last century. Alternatively, you do exactly the opposite. You do make needs known. You do budget. You do arrange opportunities to give. Which is what we do here. And which is what the apostle Paul did when he organised a collection to enable some better-off churches to support some poorer ones. And that's what 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 are about. They're basically Paul's 'giving literature'. Last week, from 1 Corinthians 16, we saw how the Corinthian church had begun to get behind this collection. Well, time has moved on. Paul is writing from another church in Macedonia. And he's told the Macedonian Christians how keen the Corinthians were about the collection. So the Macedonians, inspired by the Corinthians, have themselves contributed a generous amount. Paul is then embarrassed because one of his colleagues, Titus, arrives from Corinth, with the news that the Corinthians, for all their keenness, haven't yet actually done their giving. For some, no doubt, the reason was forgetfulness, or putting it off. I recognise that in myself; I'm sure many of us do, if we're honest. And they needed motivating. But other parts of 2 Corinthians show that others were suspicious that Paul might misuse the money. 'Will it really get to these poor churches, or will it go no further than his pocket?' And they needed reassuring. So the issue for Paul was: how do you motivate giving without being open to the criticism of manipulation? And how do you reassure people whose criticism is that you might misuse what's given? And the same issues face us. So what are Paul's principles for conducting organised giving in the church? Well, firstly, THE LEADERSHIP IS TO HANDLE THE MONEY GIVEN BY GOD'S PEOPLE IN A WAY THAT IS ABOVE CRITICISM(8.16-24) And the focus here is on trustworthy people and trustworthy structures. In verses 16-24, Paul tells the Corinthians about three men he's sending along with this letter to help them sort out their giving. They are: Titus (verses 16 and 17) and two others whom he just calls 'brothers' (verses 18 and 22). And Paul is giving reasons why these men are trustworthy when it comes to money. And his principles still apply. Verse 16:

I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. For Titus not only welcomed our appeal [which I guess means Paul's appeal for help in sorting out this collection], but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative.

Why does Paul say that about Titus? My guess is this. Some people are saying that Paul is out for money for himself - like a crooked TV evangelist, or cult leader. And he uses unthinking side-kicks like Titus to get money out of people. But Paul says: not true. Verse 17: Titus 'is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative.' Paul is not an unaccountable one-man band, surrounded by mindless 'yes-men'. He has fellow-leaders who've thought for themselves about this use of money and who believe independently that it's a godly use of money. And there's the first principle: only trust your giving to a shared leadership. Don't trust it to an unaccountable single leader, however respectable or impressive. So, the Jesmond Trust has six trustees. We have a Finance Committee of eight. Much financial discussion goes wider to the Church Council. Financial decisions are never one-man decisions. Then, verse 18:

And we are sending along with [Titus] the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.

Isn't that striking? What are this second man's credentials for being trustworthy with money? That his degree was in maths? That he was an accountant with Coopers & Lybrand before he got ordained? No: his credential is 'his service to the gospel' He's made spreading the gospel his priority. And that's the second principle: only trust your giving to a gospel-centred leadership. Because leaders whose priority is the spread of the gospel will spend money on the right priorities. My heart sometimes sinks at how primitive or uncomfortable or far-from-ideal our buildings are. But that's because buying new children's Bibles, or overseas missionary support, or student evangelism are higher priorities. Another thing on gospel-centredness. At each Giving Review, as a body of believers, in a sense we're asking ourselves whether our fellowship is truly a gospel-work that deserves the trust of our giving. And that's a very healthy thing. I trust for example that if I went off the rails, you'd stop paying for me. That if the whole ministry went off the rails, you wouldn't give to something that had lost the gospel. So it's a very healthy thing that JPC has no reserves or external funds. It means that year by year God can use the whole congregation to weigh up what is going on here, and he can over-rule our giving to further our plans, or veto them, as he sees fit. Verse 19:

What is more, [this brother] was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer to honour the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.

Paul moves on from talking about trustworthy people to trustworthy structures. It seems that what Paul did was this. From each church that gave to this collection, he got a representative of that church to accompany him. So that at the end of the journey, the money would arrive in Jerusalem with Paul plus someone from each area that had contributed, so that they could ensure that the money was used as its givers had intended. So there's the third principle: only trust your giving to structures that will ensure the money is used as you intend as a believer. One example of how we try to do that is our link with the church at Mburi in Kenya. From time to time, a senior member of staff goes out there to see what's actually going on at the other end, to keep the use of money there accountable. Another example is the way we set a tight limit on what we give to central Anglican funds. Because it simply isn't godly to give large sums of money which are not accountable to gospel-people and which cannot therefore be guaranteed to go to gospel-work. So, three principles: only trust our giving to a shared leadership; to a gospel-leadership; and to structures that ensure our money is used as we intend as believers. They apply to any Christian organisation we consider giving to. (And I should say, no-one's assuming that a member of JPC will give only through the JPC giving scheme. Many of us, myself included, have commitments to other Christians and organisations, too.) Then verse 20 sums up Paul's major concern:

We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord, but also in the eyes of men.

And in this age of Clinton and the Arkansas scandal, and of the 'cash for questions' scandal here in our Parliament, that last point is vital. Paul made every effort to make sure that his handling of this money was above criticism 'in the eyes of men'. So, verse 22: two trustworthy people were not enough:

In addition we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you.

And then he sums up the credentials of all three. Verse 23:

As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow-worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honour to Christ.

It's as if Paul expects the Corinthians to ask questions about these men; he expects them to be critical. And in this matter, in the right sense, we should be critical. Because money is at stake. And money for God's work. And in our case, with a 1998 budget of £410 000, a lot of it. And, verse 20:

We want to avoid any criticism of how we administer this

How do we go about that at JPC? Well, the giving literature does a lot of explaining about exactly where money goes, and how it is processed. The Trust and the PCC accounts in which the money is held are professionally audited, and the accounts made public at the annual church meeting. So there's public and professional scrutiny. The other side of the coin is that there's as near as possible total secrecy about who gives what. Clearly, someone has to open envelopes and see names on cheques. But only our Administrator and Giving Scheme Co-ordinator know about that. None of the pastoral staff know anything about that, including the Vicar. Then notice verse 24 before we move on:

Therefore, show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.

It mattered a great deal to Paul that churches were seen to support other churches. His collection was a demonstration of the responsibility that Christians felt for fellow-Christians beyond their own local church. And just as misuse of money would have been a matter for criticism in Paul's eyes, so would a narrow-minded church that gave only to meet its own needs. And I have heard it asked, 'Does JPC spend too much on itself?' Does it give to other churches, especially given its stance on Anglican central funds? Does it know there's a world out there? Which are fair questions. At least something of an answer is this. We do give, directly, to two other Anglican churches here in Newcastle. And last year about £96 000 [figure subject to this year's audit] went from the giving scheme to overseas work. (And on that, if you're relatively new to JPC and don't know about our overseas commitments, do pick up a copy of this booklet, 'Mission from Jesmond Parish Church' - it's on the Welcome Desk at the back.) Secondly, GOD'S PEOPLE ARE TO TRANSLATE GOOD INTENTIONS AND PROMISES INTO ACTION (9.1-4). Paul's point here is that the Corinthians have voiced good intentions (verse 2) even made promises (verse 5). But at the time of writing, they haven't actually done their giving. Verse 1:

There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints [ie, the collection for the Christians in Judea]. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia [the region where Corinth is] were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers [ie, Titus and the other two] in order that our boasting about you should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we - not to say anything about you - would be ashamed of having been so confident. (2 Corinthians 9.1-4)

So the lesson is simple. We need to be careful about the financial promises we make. And careful about keeping them. In order to plan the work here, we budget. And in order to budget, we do ask one another to make promises about giving. So in the giving literature there's a card headed 'The Response'. It says, 'In the year 1998, I/we plan to give to the work of JPC the sum of' So, we need to be careful to make promises we can keep. Which means budgeting. And I personally find our Giving Review a great help, because trying to answer that Response Card forces me to budget - not just for my giving to JPC, but for a whole lot of other things. Careful in making promises. And then careful about keeping them. Now, obviously, there are unforeseen circumstances which may necessitate some kind of change. Redundancy, or illness, or something. But Paul, writing to the Corinthians, wasn't dealing with that reason. He was dealing with people able to keep their word, but who had so far failed to translate good intentions and promises into action. And that's a matter of godliness. But it's more than a matter of godliness. It's a matter of our corporateness in the body of Christ, our responsibility to one another. In a sense the Macedonians had trusted the Corinthians. They felt that the Corinthians were behind this collection, and that encouraged them to get behind it, too. And now it sounds as if the Corinthians have got cold feet. It sounds as if they feel they can just opt out, rather individualistically, having said they'd be in. And Paul may also be saying: this is more than just a matter of promise-keeping, and whether you let yourself down. It's also a matter of letting others down, too. So, say I promise a sum to JPC this year, but with a sense that I could change my mind if I felt like it. Or I do it unthinkingly - I promise an unrealistic amount. Well, let's say that on the basis of all our response cards we think we can support a further youth-work post. But then people like me go back on our commitment, so that youth worker's salary isn't there after all. Well, I haven't just let myself down. In a sense, if you're a parent of children in the youth work, I've let you down. I've let your children down. Because we're in this together. We're not just discreet individuals paying for our own little 'slice' of the heat, light and paper costs we incur here for an hour on Sunday. We're family. Thirdly, THE LEADERSHIP IS TO ORGANISE THE GIVING OF GOD'S PEOPLE SO THAT IT IS DONE NOT AS RESPONSE TO THE LEADERSHIP, BUT AS A RESPONSE TO GOD (9.5). Paul, remember, is in Macedonia. He's heard news from Corinth that they've not got their giving sorted out. So what does he do? Saddle the camel and head for Corinth right away? That's exactly what he doesn't do, and it's vital to see why. Verse 5:

So [ie, so, because you haven't yet got your act together], I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance [ie, in advance of Paul's arrival] and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then, it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.

Paul knew that if he turned up in Corinth, it would provoke a sudden flurry of guilt-motivated giving. The money - at least some money - would come in all right. But not in a way that pleases God. It would be more a response to Paul, than a response to God, more grudging than generous. And that was the last thing Paul wanted. He wanted people giving freely as a response to the Lord, not under pressure from any human source. So he didn't saddle the camel. He wrote, he sent his 'giving literature' (2 Corinthians 8-9) with these three men, and he gave them those two vital things for decision-making: space and time to think through their own responses under pressure from no-one but the Lord and their sense of obligations under him. And that's the aim of our Giving Review. If we're believers, we do have obligations. To support the ministry from which we benefit (eg Galatians 6.6, 1 Timothy 5.17-18). To support ministries beyond our own church (eg Philippians 1.5, 4.14-18) And to meet the physical needs of others - especially, but not only, fellow Christians (eg 1 Corinthians 16.1f, 2 Corinthians 8.1f; Galatians 6.10). And this Giving Review is an opportunity to review our obligations and our resources. But that's all it is. It's not here to pressurise us, or manipulate us, or create guilt. It's now very much a case of: over to you and the Lord, over to me and the Lord, individually, privately. Just think how the average non-Christian charity operates. I was down at the Monument yesterday and they were shake collecting-boxes in my face. They make us feel guilty, and if we're not strong enough to resist, we drop in a bit of loose change - the fag-end of our money. And if I do that, the truth is: it costs me nothing and it means nothing. That's not charity. It's manipulation. And Paul has a horror of bringing about that kind of giving in his churches; and so should we. Now because of the kind of passage this is, it's been a fairly 'in-house' sermon this morning. But you may not yet be a Christian - or be unsure - and find yourself reluctant to give to Christian work. You know that, like verse 5 says, it would be 'grudgingly given'. In fact, maybe at the moment you imagine the whole Christian life must be like that: one long drag of doing what you don't really want to do, and not doing what you really do want to do. But it's not like that at all! When you find God personally through his Son Jesus, and you discover he loved you enough to die for you (as we remember at this communion service), you find you actually want to live for him. In every area of life, including this one of money. You find your heart is in it. Because you now know what a heart he has for you. And if your heart isn't yet in it for the Lord Jesus like that, then can I say: forget the money issue for now. The issue for you is not whether you should do anything with your money in response to all this. The issue for you is to get clear about what Jesus Christ has done in dying for you, and to sort out where you stand with him. Only knowing him will change our hearts and leave us wanting to live for him. And only when that's happened is there any point in coming back to any area of discipleship - whether sex, or money, or standing publicly for Christ - and considering what he asks of us. 'Then,' end of verse 5, and only then, 'will it [whether my money, or my whole life] be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.'

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