"When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow, we gave our today."
These well known and moving words are often quoted when we remember the sacrificial giving of our armed forces, those who have given up so much, even their very lives, in order to serve and protect others. It could hardly be clearer. They left their home to fight for that home. They died for us. They paid the ultimate price. They have given everything. Why? "For your tomorrow". The sacrifice of today is made to secure for others a tomorrow that is different and better than today. It's the same spirit of sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross two thousand years ago, when for our tomorrow, he gave his today.
We are looking at 2 Corinthians 9 this morning and this section of the Bible is a letter from one of the early church leaders called Paul to a church in Corinth, Greece. In this chapter, he's talking about giving because the church he is writing to have agreed to make a contribution of money to a fund that Paul has put together to help another church in Jerusalem. That church was facing a famine and severe persecution simply because they were Christians. Paul encourages the Corinthian church, and other churches he has contact with, to give willingly, cheerfully, generously and sacrificially for the sake of others.
As Christians we believe the Bible to be God's word. And so we - that is, those who trust in Jesus and follow him as our Lord - are also being encouraged to give willingly, cheerfully, generously and sacrificially for the sake of others. And as he encourages us in our own giving, Paul reminds us of Jesus and what he has given for us. Look at verse 15:
"Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!"
Paul thanks God for his gift of Jesus Christ. This gift was much greater than any gift that we may give. In fact, it was so great that Paul almost struggles to describe it here. However, just a little bit earlier on in chapter 8, verse 9 he said this:
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich."
He deliberately uses the financial language of poor and rich, but he's not referring to how much money Jesus had in his bank account, so to speak. He reminds us about the gift of God's Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave up the riches of his glory in heaven to come to earth as a man and die on a cross. Why did he become so poor by suffering so much? In order to make it possible for us to be forgiven and made right with God. In one stroke he became poor and we gained the possibility to become rich in spiritual blessings. Those who accept his gift no longer face punishment for their guilt and receive a new heart and a new status as accepted daughters, forgiven sons. It's a gift that is available completely free of charge to every one of us, but it was not without cost. Jesus gave so much for us - willingly, cheerfully, generously and sacrificially.
When we become his people we too become those who give. As well as using the money we have to care for our own needs and the needs of our family, we are to take care of the poor and those in special need, both in and outside of the church. We are also to support the work of the church locally and throughout the world.
We give to things that God cares about. Not because we have to, but because we now want to. Not in order to be accepted by God, but rather because he has accepted us. Christian giving is always a response to what God has given to us. Paul reminds us of a couple of important truths as he encourages us to give and the first is:
1. Always Remember Why You Are Giving (vv6-7)
Look at verse 6:
"The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."
Paul reminds them about a farmer who sows seeds. The more he sows, the greater his harvest will be. The point is we should not focus on the cost of sowing but on the harvest that comes because of the sowing. It would be crazy for a farmer to get all worked up feeling that he was 'wasting' the corn that he was planting in the ground because he wasn't eating or selling it. He needs to remember that, as a general rule, the more seed he gives away, the greater his harvest will be.
In the same way, when we give money (or for that matter our time or energy) we need to focus on what our giving can, under God, make possible for other people and not see it as money that we have lost. So for example, if I give generously to help towards translating the Bible for the first time into a new language, the harvest would be for people who speak that language to come to know and trust in the good news about Jesus. It's worth clarifying that Paul is not saying that the way for you to get rich is to give money to the church! We give not for our own benefit, but for the good of others.
Perhaps it's worth reminding ourselves of the vision we believe God has set before us as a church and that we believe God is calling us to pray for and work towards and support financially. Our prayer is that, in a generation from now, 5000 people will belong to a large multi-site church that incorporates and grows out of JPC, and another 5000 will be in churches that we have planted around this country and the world. In the short-term, we believe God is guiding us to grow into a multi-site church of 2000 as we see hundreds of people coming to trust in Jesus for the first time. We have been talking about this vision for three years now and our prayer has been for this growth to happen within five years.
Looking back, they have been three extraordinary years. David, our vicar, warned us that growth like this, among other things, "usually requires a radical redefinition of role, responsibilities, and relationships of the senior pastor, the staff, and the volunteer leaders. That is both difficult and rare". He also promised us "this will be costly and it will mean changes". How right he was!
The last three years have certainly been years of heavy sowing for us, in terms of our giving. Getting the St Joseph's building ready has quite simply been miraculous - not just in terms of what it has cost us financially. It has taken a lot of hard work and energy too. God has also been at work in us in ways that perhaps are not that easy to see, but are not less miraculous. It is a harvest - even though it's not so easy to count. God has been changing our attitudes and expectations and even some of the good habits we've developed over long and fruitful years in order to prepare us for a new period growth that I am praying we will see over the next few years. That has not come quick or been easy, but God is at work!
So as we look ahead, do not grow weary of giving to his work. We need to keep the vision that God has given us in mind. We also need to willingly, cheerfully, generously and sacrificially put up with the often personal cost of those necessary changes for the sake of others. We need to remember why we are giving, which also helps us to give with the right motive. Look at verse 7:
"Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
Does that describe you? God is generous and his people should be generous as well, but we do not have to give. When we give, we should give freely, not because we ought to. We should give what we have decided to give between God and ourselves. God knows your situation and circumstances and we should give without comparing ourselves with others. How I give matters much more to God than how much I give.
2. Trust God To Look After You (vv8-11)
Look at verses 8 and 9:
"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. As it is written,
"He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures for ever.""
This reminds us of a key principle the Bible always teaches when it comes to money and possessions. Everything we have comes from God. God owns everyone and everything because he created them. We are just stewards of what God has given us. We do not own them – they are his. And he wants us to use them to look after the needs of others. Someone who didn't seem to get this principle was Bart Simpson! In one episode, the family are at the dinner table and Bart is asked to thank God for the food. He folds his hands and says: "Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves. So thanks for nothing." Verses 10 and 11:
"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. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God."
Everything we have comes from God and he never runs out of supplies. So we can trust him to provide for all that we need and with enough left over so that we can be generous in meeting the needs of others, for the glory of God. That doesn't mean we will never face suffering or hardship. But it does mean we can trust our good shepherd to meet our needs. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-33:
"Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
If you are a Christian and have not yet started to give then here are wonderful promises to help you to begin. So trust God to look after you and use what he has given you to help meet the needs of others. So let me end with these questions. Will you sow generously as a response to all that God has given you, looking forward to a bumper harvest? Will you trust God to look after you as you give for his kingdom work? What, today, can you give? What, for tomorrow, will you sacrifice?