Saving Grace

This morning we begin a short two week series of studies entitled God's Gift - the theme this year of our Giving Review. It is very important that from time to time we think about the bible's teaching on money. In the New Testament alone, of the 43 references to money 29 (or two thirds) are warnings. Let me give you just two:

(Mat 6:24) "No one can serve two masters ... You cannot serve both God and Money.

(1 Tim 6:10) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith.

How we all need to be careful about money. The world judges people's importance by money. The bible says that is nonsense. True importance is judged by a man or a woman's relationship to God. Jesus taught that lesson in his parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus. Humanly speaking the Rich Man had everything. People would have envied him. He had all he could want. But in reality he was desperately poor. When he lost all his possessions at death, he had nothing, literally nothing, to take into the next world. He had riches on earth but no treasure in heaven. He was without Christ, without faith, and without forgiveness. When he died, for all his riches, he went to hell. That is what Jesus taught. Contrast Lazarus - the poor man. He had nothing on earth. But he was, in one sense rich. He was a child of God. When he died he inherited heaven. That is why you need to think carefully about money. That is the aim of this next two weeks and our review of giving. Well, this morning I want us to look at 1 Corinthians 15.50-16.6. And my two headings are first, GOD'S GRACE and secondly, YOUR WORK. Let me explain. First, GOD'S GRACE The subject of the first part of chapter 16 is unashamedly collecting money. Verse 1:

Now about the collection for God's people.

Paul is wanting to see money given to fund Christian needs. He is wanting the Christians at Corinth to dip into their pockets and give substantial sums of money. That is the message of chapter 16 - or at least the opening part of it. But what is the context of this appeal for money? What is the setting for this instruction on giving? Answer: the previous chapter - 1 Corinthians 15. And what is chapter 15 all about? Answer: the reality of death and the fact of the final resurrection. Paul is reminding the Christians at Corinth that Christ died and rose again; and that they too will die and one day will rise again. Paul is talking about death and the victory of Christ over death. Look at verses 54-57:

"Death has been swallowed up in victory." {55} "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" {56} The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. {57} But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory. through our Lord Jesus Christ [v 58]).

The real terror of death, says Paul, (whether people do or do not realise it) is not the pain of a terminal illness, or the sadness of separation. No! The real terror of death is sin (if it is not dealt with in this life) and the law (which will lead to judgment in the life to come). Who this morning needs to be made to fear death? Millions today are like a child blissfully playing with a poisonous snake; or sucking lethal tablets. They are blissfully ignorant of the fearful and eternal consequences of their sin. Millions think of death as some sort of extinction - and sadly some Christians are saying the same thing. But the bible teaches that:

man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Heb 9:27).

That is why you need God's gift of victory over sin - victory over both it's condemnation and it's force. Sin, the sting of death, was dealt with at the cross where Christ bore your sins, in your place and so now can give you forgiveness. And the law, with its power to incite and provoke sin, is countered by Christ giving you new power for new life by his Holy Spirit. Who needs that forgiveness and that new life this morning? You simply receive it, by faith. And you can do that as you sit there and even as you think about money. Paul made the Corinthians think about these things before he made them think about money. You see, giving can never earn your salvation. You can't buy God off. Real Christian giving comes in response to what God has done first - the victory he gives us in Jesus Christ, his saving grace. Selfishness - the desire to live for ourselves - and all those things that go with it like greed and covetousness - will only be broken by one thing: not the fear of hell; nor the hope of heaven; certainly not the giving literature from JPC. It will be broken only by a first hand experience of the love of Christ that gives you the victory over sin and death. It is then you will want to say with the Psalmist (116.12):

How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?

Let's move on. Secondly, YOUR WORK. Look at verse 58:

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

"Therefore", says Paul, "in the light of all this teaching about the victory over sin and death through Christ certain things should follow." What are these things? There are two - something negative and something positive. First, you should "stand firm" and "let nothing move you." Don't let new moralities or new theologies or weird ideas or doubts about the fundamentals or the temptations of the devil knock you off course. Stand firm. That, if you like, is negative. But positively there is something to do. It is active rather than reactive - the second half of verse 58:

Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

You are first to give yourself to the work of the Lord. Paul is not yet talking about money. He is talking about giving not your cash but yourself. And he is not here talking about tithing - or giving 10 percent. He is talking about 100 percent giving. He says, "give yourselves fully (100 percent) to the work of the Lord." How many people at JPC are doing that? At this giving review, can we make that the number one priority? Can we all check whether we are giving ourselves and giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord? What is the great aim in your life? To advance your career and make a lot of money? Or to live for Christ? Yes, make money but use it for Christ and his kingdom. Paul said:

He [Christ] died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again (2 Cor 5.15).

Giving yourself fully to the Lord or his work will mean immediate action for some people - giving up a wrong relationship; saying "Yes" to some piece of Christian service; or something else you know you must do. For others it will mean starting to live (in your hospital, clinic, office, hall of residence or wherever) daily with a new perspective. You realise that your friends and colleagues are lost spiritually and for eternity; and the wholehearted giving of yourself to the Lord means that you now pray for them with a new urgency and try (as and when it is appropriate) to win them for Christ. For others it will mean standing up and speaking out for Christ's standards in an increasingly corrupt world. President Clinton, his love life and his "economy with the truth", as it is now called, is just a symptom of so much today. Giving yourself fully means different things for different people. But that is the first thing you must give - yourself and fully. Then, after saying and teaching all that - and only then - Paul speaks about giving money. It was John Wesley who said that the last part of a man to be converted is his wallet. And Paul teaches here in 1 Corinthians 16, quite practically, how a truly converted man or woman should act in respect of their wallet. And note three things that he teaches. First, money is important in Christian work and in the church. Paul doesn't say, "I will only pray about the problem in Jerusalem." No! He asks for money. And so at this time of our Giving Review, we ask for money unashamedly. Secondly, the money Paul is asking for is "for God's people". Christian needs at home or abroad will only be met, normally, by Christian people. So if Christians don't support Christian work, no one will. Thirdly, Paul has a set of principles that he repeated to a number of churches. Verse 1:

Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.

So they must be important. What are they? There are three principles. One, giving should be systematic. Verse 2:

On the first day of every week.

That is why regular bankers orders are so good, as is covenanting. Yes, it is good to give spontaneously with free-will offerings (and now-a-days you can use "Gift Aid" for that purpose). The bible talks about free-will offerings. But regular systematic giving is what Paul is talking about here. Without systematic giving the administration of Christian work becomes difficult; or there has to be panic giving to meet urgent needs. Paul says you should set your money aside, "so that when I come no collections will have to be made" (1 Cor 16.2). What does that mean for today? It means you sit down and budget your giving. That is what this giving review, that we have at Jesmond once a year, is all about. Two, giving should be proportionate. Verse 2:

each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income.

You say, what proportion? The bible talks about the tithe or a tenth - 10 percent. I heard of a businessman, the chairman of a great insurance company. He came from a poor background. When asked what was the key to his success, he said that many years ago he had made a contract with the Lord on the basis of 1 Sam 2.30:

the LORD declares: ... "Those who honour me I will honour".

"So I began tithing," he said, "and that was when I had almost no income." Then, he said, God blessed him and he went from one level of business to another. Why then don't all Christians tithe? Some have never been taught to tithe. But tithing - giving a tenth - was an assumption in Jesus day. Jesus said:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former (Mat 23.23).

Jesus could have exposed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees by just showing their neglect of "justice, mercy and faithfulness". He could have stopped at that. But he is careful, with his criticism, to commend their tithing. Tithing (giving a tenth) should not be a legalistic burden. Some people who start to tithe from scratch, work up to it over a period of time. But some people, of course, give far than a tithe. The righteousness Jesus commended exceeded that of the Pharisees. Of course, all our money is God's. It all comes from him, as we thought in the Home Groups this week. Giving a realistic proportion is a good reminder. And a tenth is at least a biblical guideline and can be a test of serious giving. You say "does it work"? The answer is that it doesn't always work out as in that example of the businessman. And it would be wrong to tithe as a crude investment. But there are definite practical consequences. Malachi 3:10:

"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."

2 Corinthians 9.6:

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

The first result of tithing or giving realistically is God's blessing, or the harvest he gives. This is not necessarily in material terms. It is often in spiritual terms. There is a blessing from obedience itself. When you give realistically there is a new freedom and a new release from the bondage to money. Someone said there are two types of bondage - the bondage you know about and the bondage you don't know about. In the West many Christians are in bondage to possessions and they don't know it! The second result of tithing or giving realistically is that God's work goes forward. In Malachi's day God wanted supplies in his house. It is the same today but with different needs. Does God need your money? Of course not. As with prayer and evangelism God can work without your prayers and your witnessing. But as a matter of fact he so often chooses and wants your active co-operation. In those words of St Theresa, "he has no hands but our hands." And, we can add, he has no cash but our cash! So Paul's principles for giving were that it should be systematic; that it should be proportionate to our income or wealth; but three that it should end up where the donors intended. Verses 3 and 4 (chapter 16):

I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. {4} If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.

Paul wanted only approved and trusted men carrying this gift to Jerusalem. He wanted to make sure it got there. That is always a vital principle in church finance - the money should only go where the donors intended or would approve. If you intend your giving to go for gospel work, it must only go for gospel work. That is why we cap our giving to central Church of England funds at this church. Some years ago we were asked for huge increases for central Anglican costs at the same time as our next-door neighbour was blessing Lesbian couples. We said, "not with our money you don't. We will pay our own costs but then we will set tight limits." So the principle Paul is establishing is that of financial accountability and making sure the money gets to where it is supposed to go. How important that is. I must conclude Let me summarise: the context of Paul's teaching here on giving is God's grace in the victory of Jesus over sin and death - God's saving grace. In response we need first, to give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord; and then to give our money. Paul is not embarrassed in talking about money. He knows that Christian needs are met by the gifts of Christian people. So he has three basic principles. One, giving should be systematic; two, it should be proportionate; and, three, the leaders of the church should ensure it goes to where the donors intend. But when Paul had finished teaching all that, he then looked ahead and said, verse 9:

a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me

Isn't that the way we, too, should look ahead - at this church - as we look ahead to 1998? There is a great door for effective work and there are many who oppose - so what is new? How do we take those opportunities and silence the opposition? Through prayer and obedience. Part of that obedience will involve giving.

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