The Offering

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Henry Ford, founder of the motor company, once visited Dublin and agreed to donate £1,000 to an orphanage being built. But the newspaper misprinted and ran the headline, ‘Ford to donate £10,000’. So realising the mistake, they contacted Ford and rather cleverly asked whether they should correct it – ‘We can easily run the headline, ‘Ford to give only £1,000 after all’.’ So with his reputation for philanthropy at stake, Ford agreed – reluctantly – to donate the other £9,000, but on one condition: that he choose the Bible verse over the doors of the orphanage. And the verse he chose? – ‘I was a stranger, and you took me in.’

Well, we all know what it is to give reluctantly under pressure – eg, to the ten year old daughter of your best friends, who asks if you’ll sponsor her for a charity run. That’s pretty much unrefusable. But reluctant or pressurised giving is just what the apostle Paul was trying to avoid by writing 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, which we began looking at last week. And the reason we’re looking at these chapters during this Giving Review time at JPC is that we also want to avoid giving that’s reluctant or that’s in response to human pressure rather than in response to God.

So let me remind you of the background. Paul was organising a collection from the churches he’d planted for their fellow-Christians in Jerusalem, who were in dire need because of persecution and famine. The Corinthians had made very enthusiastic promises to give. And Paul had then told his churches in Macedonia about the Corinthians’ response. And, as we heard last week, that fired up the Macedonians to give in an extraordinary way. So Paul’s plan is now to travel to Corinth with some of the Macedonians plus their gift, to pick up some of the Corinthians plus their gift, and then to travel on all together to Jerusalem to hand it over.

But then Titus, Paul’s colleague, arrives from Corinth and says, ‘Look, we have a problem. They may have made big promises in Corinth, but in fact hardly any giving has been done – and if you arrive with the Macedonians and nothing’s changed, it’s going to be embarrassing for everyone.’ So the challenge for Paul (and for any church leadership) is: how do you encourage willing giving, without pressure? And Paul does it by providing three things in this morning’s verses:

First, GOD-CENTRED MOTIVATION (8.16-19)

Look down to 2 Corinthians chapter 8, v16:

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. (8.16-19)

So the bottom-line motivations for financial giving are there at the end of v19 – first and foremost, ‘the glory of God.’ Paul knew that if he arrived in Jerusalem with a seriously generous gift, it would glorify God – first of all in the eyes of the Jerusalem Christians, because serious giving shows that people professing faith are taking God seriously. So, eg, on one of my trips to our partners in Mburi in Kenya, I visited a housebound couple who benefit from the food fund we support. And they said, ‘Please send our greetings to the people of Jesmond and tell them we can see their faith is real.’ Serious giving shows people are taking God seriously.

But I guess Paul knew this gift would also glorify God in the eyes of non-Christian people – as they heard that Christians from elsewhere had given to help Christians in Jerusalem. So, eg, I love to tell non-Christian people about our partnership with Mburi and to say we’ve paid for a community centre and a clinic and a primary school. And someone I spoke to recently about our Mburi partnership said to me, ‘So do you have a slush fund in the city for that sort of thing?’ And I said, ‘No, my congregation pays for it all.’ And he was utterly taken aback. Serious giving shows people are taking God seriously.

And if we want to see God glorified more on Tyneside and world-wide, it will mean more serious giving. If under God we’re to grow to 2,000, it’ll mean giving for more staff, more buildings, more innovation – and more quality in everything we do so that it all says loud and clear, ‘These people take God seriously.’

But the other motivation at the end of v19 is ‘to show our good will.’ Paul knew that if he arrived in Jerusalem with a seriously generous gift, it would show the Christians there that other Christians identified with them as part of God’s world-wide family and were committed to them. So in our giving literature you’ll see that our starting suggestion (and it’s only a starting suggestion) is to give 5% of gross income to support the ministry here and 5% to world mission. Which stops us being parochial or self-interested in our giving. It encourages us to show our good will to God’s world-wide family and to give away where it may not directly benefit us at all. But the same principle of showing good will applies within JPC. Eg, you may not have children, or your children may now have grown up, but your giving to JPC partly supports children’s work and shows your commitment to the whole church family, not just to what directly benefits you.

So giving shows good will to our fellow-Christians. But it also shows good will to non-Christian people who need to hear about Jesus. And our brothers and sisters in the Chinese church have been a great example to us yet again in cooking for our week of Christianity Explored Tasters. Because the food (equals money) which they’ve given says loud and clear, ‘We love people enough to pay a significant price to help them hear the gospel.’

So that’s God-centred motivation – end of v19:

for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will [to both fellow-Christians and non-Christian people] (8.19)

And to encourage willing giving, Paul also provides:

Second, TRUSTWORTHY ADMINISTRATION (8.18-21)

Ie, structures which give confidence that money will be both properly and well used.

Paul had critics at Corinth who even stooped to question his financial integrity. And they were probably saying, ‘If you give to this Jerusalem fund, how do you know Paul won’t just pocket the cash?’ Which is why these verses say so much about the hugely important and spiritual business of financial administration. Look down to chapter 8, v18 again:

With him [ie, Titus] we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us [and the implication is, ‘to keep an eye on us on your behalf’] as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honourable not only in the Lord's sight but also in the sight of man. (8.18-21)

So we on the staff aim at what is honourable in the Lord’s sight – at being personally scrupulous and careful with JPC’s money and resources. So, eg, if I’m unsure about a mileage for my expenses, I’ll always round it down and underestimate it. But you need to know we’re behaving like that, not just assume or hope we are – which is why we have all sorts of public systems to control the use of money. Eg, we have Jill and David in the church office (if they’ll pardon me calling them public systems) – both qualified accountants. At one end of the spectrum, we’re professionally audited; while at the other, seemingly hardly a day goes by without someone knocking on my door to get expenses authorised. And so on. There are many systems to give confidence that money will be properly used – which includes making sure it’s used on what it was given for. Eg, the giving to replace these church Bibles was more than the cost of our initial bulk buy – so the remaining money is now in an earmarked Bible fund and can’t be used for anything else. That’s how we operate.

But we also need confidence that money will be well used – that any ministry we give to, and its future plans, are worthy of giving to. And for JPC, which is supported entirely by us, we together are the ultimate judges of that, by the way we give. Which is a healthy situation. And year by year it’s encouraged me to see us saying together through our giving, ‘We believe in what’s going on here and want to be partners, not just passengers.’

Now I’m aware there’s some frustration around about what the plans are for moving ahead – we are facing something of a hiatus. We invested a lot of energy in the plan for a free school with a new congregation meeting on the site, but the Lord’s closed that door for now and sent us back to the drawing board. So do be praying for David and the rest of the leadership as we plan. And do read his coloured supplement for February 2013 which quotes one very experienced church advisor as saying that to enable churches of this size to grow beyond our current plateau of about 1,200 is (quote) ‘both difficult and rare’. So we need great patience, prayer, wisdom and the corporate will to rise to the challenge – including what will be a very substantial financial challenge.

And to encourage willing giving, Paul also provides:

Third, UNPRESSURISED OPPORTUNITY (9.1-5)

Look on to chapter 9 and v1:

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints [ie, the collection for Jerusalem], for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia [which is where Corinth was] has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 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. 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 [ie, not like taxes]. (9.1-5)

So Paul wants to avoid the embarrassment of arriving in Corinth with the Macedonians plus their gift, only to find the Corinthians haven’t put their money where their mouth is. But he also wants to avoid the hasty, pressurised giving that his arrival would precipitate. So he sends Titus & Co in advance – end of v5:

so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. (9.5)

And there are two important reasons why Paul wants their giving to be unpressurised. One is that God isn’t interested in unwilling giving. He’s interested in our hearts, in our motive, in our love for him and for his glory – and whatever response you make to this Giving Review, he wants it to be a response to him and not to the leadership here. The other reason is that hasty, pressurised giving will always see less given. Because it takes time to work out what your gross income is, from salary and investments and so on; if you’re married it takes time to align your thinking on this with your spouse; it takes time to reconsider what percentage of gross income you should give away. But it will always result not just in willing giving, but more given.

And that’s why instead of having congregational collections to support the work of JPC, we have our Giving Scheme and then this Giving Review once a year. Because the answer when it comes to avoiding pressure isn’t to provide no opportunity to give, but unpressurised opportunity. And if you really are born again so that your heart really is for God, you don’t need to be told to give. You just need to be told, ‘Here’s the opportunity.

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