The Lord's Day Morning
November 6, 2005
II Corinthians 9:6-7
“The Cheerful Giver”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. Please be seated.
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to II Corinthians, chapter nine, verses six and seven. These are the verses, this is the passage, that the Deacons’ Stewardship Committee has chosen as our emphasis during stewardship season this year.
It is always a great privilege for me to address this theme of stewardship, especially because this congregation is so faithful in its giving. One of my besetting sins (and this is not bragging, this is confessing)…one of my besetting sins is that I often worry about the finances of the church — wrongly so. And when I do, very often some of the older, wiser elders come to me and put their arms around my shoulders and say, “Now, Ligon, don't worry about the giving of this church. These people are generous and they give. You just tell them what the needs are, and they’ll give.” And they've always been right. The people of God have always been generous here at First Pres, and so stewardship season is not a fund raising time at First Pres, it's a time where we look at the heart.
And the thing that I'm concerned about as we approach this passage today, and I think the thing that the Stewardship Committee is concerned about, is that our motivation for giving be directed by the Scriptures. That is, that we have a biblical understanding of why we give.
Last time we were together we studied an outline of the Bible's teaching about Christian giving. We looked at nine particular truths which are taught in the Scriptures about Christian giving. Today I want to concentrate on our motivation in Christian giving. Why is it that we give, and how is it that we ought to give? The Apostle Paul in this passage speaks of us as “cheerful” or “givers who delight” in giving, and I want us to think about that today. Very often in our messages we focus on explaining the meaning of the passage and then sort of at the very end we get around to the matter of application, but today's explanation is fairly short and sweet, and though you have six points before you in the outline, those six points are not so much six points of explanation as they are of application.
I want us to look at the one main thing that Paul is pressing home to us in this passage, and then I want us to look at these six points of application of that truth together. Now before we read God's word and hear it proclaimed, let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His help.
Lord, this is Your word. It is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. In Your word You reveal Yourself to us, You reveal Your Son to us, You reveal Your gospel to us. You show us our sin and ourselves, our emptiness and our need, and You point us to the Savior. And having pointed us to the Savior, You also show us what the way of blessedness is: how to live the blessed life in this fallen world. Lord, as we study Your word today, show us these things, and by Your Spirit help us to understand. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God.
”Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
The Apostle Paul says something quite extraordinary here: that God loves a cheerful giver. He's quoting from a Greek translation of one of the Hebrew Psalms that goes something like this: “God blesses the cheerful giver.” But what Paul is emphasizing is that God delights in those who delight to give to Him, and it's really quite an amazing assertion — that God the Lord, our Creator, takes a special pleasure, has a special joy in, receives great delight in our delighting in giving to Him. And the Apostle Paul is of course encouraging the Corinthians to have this attitude as they give to the relief of poor Christians back in Palestine who are in need. He wants them to do this because they have purposed to do this in their hearts. He wants them to do this not because they feel compelled by Him to do it — “Oh, we've got to do this because Paul asked us to do this…” — he doesn't want them to do this grudgingly — “Well, Lord, I'm going to have to give of my hard-earned money to help those ne’er-do-wells in Jerusalem who never can seem to meet their budget.” He wants them to do this cheerfully, with merry hearts delighting that they have the opportunity to give. That's what Paul is saying to the Corinthians, and that's what he's saying to you and me.
He wants givers who give, not because they think that if they don't give the work of the kingdom of God is going to stop. Let's set aside that misconception at the outset. God doesn't need our money. If God wanted to convert the Islamic world by Himself, He could snap His fingers or say a word and do it. If He wanted to convert the Hindu world, He could snap His fingers or say a word and do it. The reason that we give is not because God “needs” what we give to Him. He owns the cattle on the thousand hills! One of the things that we're going to learn before we're done today is simply this, that if we don't give, it's not God's kingdom that falls apart. It's not God that misses the blessing. We miss the blessing when we don't give, because God is going to do His work with us or without us. The only question is do we get the privilege of being a part of it.
So Paul's concern is not ‘If I don't get the Corinthians to give, the Christian church just isn't going to go on. The Christian mission isn't going to go on.’ No, Paul's concern is that those Corinthian Christians give rightly, that they give for the right reasons, that they give for the right attitude, and so he's emphasizing to them that they need to give joyfully and energetically and merrily, cheerfully, to the Lord. Well, you may say, ‘OK, I get that point. I want to be a cheerful giver, but I'm not. How do I get there? How do I become a cheerful giver? How does one become a cheerful giver? How does giving become a delight?’
I. Giving is a delight when we realize we are giving to God.
Well, I want to suggest to you six things that are part and parcel of becoming a giver that delights in giving, and the very first thing is to realize that in giving, we are giving to God. Giving is a delight when we realize that we're giving to God. Jesus emphasized this in the passage that we studied last week in Matthew 6:1-4. He said, ‘When you’re giving to the poor, don't give so that you’ll be noticed and recognized and praised by men. Give so that you’ll be seen by your Father who is in heaven, who sees in secret what you’re doing.’ In other words, we're consciously giving to the Lord. Paul emphasizes this in the whole of the Christian life. In Ephesians 6:5-7 and in Romans 14:8, the Apostle Paul says that everything that we do in the Christian life we ought to do self-consciously, as if we were doing it to the Lord, as if we're doing it directly for the Lord.
There's a beautiful example of this in Jesus’ own ministry. Do you remember in Matthew 26 (it's also recorded in Luke 7) Jesus has just gotten to Bethany. He's getting ready to go into Jerusalem for the last hours of His life, and a woman who is a notorious sinner comes and she pours expensive perfume on His feet. And one of the disciples says ‘What a waste! We could sell that perfume for a lot of money and give it to the poor!’ And you remember what Jesus says. Jesus says ‘The poor are always going to be with you, but I am not going to always be with you, and this was a gift poured out on me.’ (They didn't realize it, but there is a real sense in which this woman was anointing Jesus for the death that He was going to die on behalf of all His people.) And then Jesus says ‘I want to tell you that wherever the gospel goes throughout the world, what this woman does is going to go with it. This woman's expensive gift to Me is going to be remembered wherever the gospel goes.’
And do you realize that when you give that you’re laving the feet of Christ like that woman laved the feet of Christ with the most expensive thing that she could give to Him? Because He is worth it! And when we realize that our gift is to Christ, not just to some budget, not just some project, however worthy it may be, however well spent it might be, but ultimately when we give as Christians we are giving to Christ, the One who had everything and gave it for us, that we might share everything with Him. We’re giving to Him. When we realize that, giving becomes a delight. We’re giving to the Savior of our souls; we're giving to the Lord of our lives. We’re not simply giving to the church, we're giving to God. Then giving becomes a delight.
II. Giving is a delight when we view it as worship.
But there's a second thing I want you to see as well, and that is that giving becomes a delight when we view it as worship. Giving is a delight when we view it as worship. Remember the Apostle Paul (we studied this last week, as well, in I Corinthians 16:2) tells the Corinthians ‘OK, when we're getting ready to give this offering to Christians in need, set it aside on the first day.’ Why does he say that? Because he wants them to view their giving as part of what they do on the first day. Well, what do they do on the first day? They gather to worship! It's the Lord's Day, it's Sunday, and that's what they do. Christians gather on the Lord's Day to worship God, and so he says ‘You set that aside on the Lord's Day.’ You could have set it aside on Thursday, couldn't you? Or on Monday, or on Wednesday. But no, ‘You set it aside on the first day, because I want you to understand that your gift for those Christians ultimately is an act of worship to God.’ Of course, the Apostle Paul had said six chapters before in I Corinthians 10:31 that in everything that we do in life, whether we're eating or drinking, or whatever else we're doing, we ought to do all of it — what? — for the glory of God. So, everything that a Christian does ultimately ought to be an act of worship, but Paul sees in I Corinthians 16 that even our giving is a part of that worship that we offer to the Lord.
You know, it's quite an extraordinary thing. When Christians give, one of the things that they’re saying is ‘Lord, You are more important to me than anything else in this world, and You’re more important even than the things that You give to me.’ And every Christian saved by grace can look around himself or herself and see men and women who are worshipping stuff. They find their security in money, in houses, in clothing, in cars, in status…they find their delight and satisfaction in their own ambitions and recreations and pursuits, and when it gets all down to it, when you follow the trail of their time and their energy, the focus of their minds, they’re worshipping stuff.
Jesus talks about it in Mathew 5 and 6. He talks about people who serve mammon, or things or stuff, rather than God, and He says you can't serve, you can't worship, stuff and God. Well, when we give, we are actually saying ‘Lord God, by Your grace You saved me from worshiping stuff that is going to pass away, and You caused me to love You, and You’re going to last forever, and our relationship is going to last forever, and Your relationship with a multitude that no man can number is going to last forever, and I could have been out there worshiping stuff just like everybody else, but by Your mercy You saved me.’ And so in your giving you are actually saying ‘Lord, I understand that You own everything, and everything I have comes from you. And my giving back to You is but a token that You have set me free from the worship of something that is going to burn up one day, something that is going to pass away, and something which, by the way, doesn't even give satisfaction in this life, no matter whether it's advertised to do so or not. You have saved me from that.’ And our giving as an act of worship is a celebration that God has set us free from slavery to stuff. Boy, is that big for us! Because even those of us redeemed by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, living in our time and place and culture, know how the world worms its way into our hearts, and oftentimes makes us find our satisfaction in places we ought not to find our satisfaction, and makes us set our hearts on places that we ought not set our hearts, and makes us tempted to find our treasure in something other than the Lord Himself.
And giving as an act of worship also functions as a “thank You” to the Lord that He has saved us from that entangling mess of the world, and a testimony that He has liberated us to love the only thing that matters and the only thing that will last. And so when we realize that worship, that giving is an act of worship, it becomes a delight because it's a testimony in and of itself that we've been saved from slavery to things that will not last.
III. Giving is a delight when we realize the privilege of giving.
But there's a third thing, and you see it in Luke 8:1-3. I'd ask you to turn there, or if you want to look at the outline I think I have those verses copied for you there. Giving is a delight when we realize the privilege of giving. Giving will become a delight when you realize what a privilege it is to give.
Once a month I have the blessing and privilege of preaching at St. Catherine's Village to a gathering of some of our members and some others that come along. Brister is usually there to lead that service, and I'm working through the Gospel of Luke very slowly with that very longsuffering group of brothers and sisters in Christ. And I was in Luke 8:1-3 this past Thursday afternoon, and the final verse — or final part of verse 3 — hit me like a ton of bricks. And it especially hit me like a ton of bricks after I read J.C. Ryle's wonderful comments on it. Look at those words in Luke 8:3.
Luke is telling us about Jesus in verse 1. “Going throughout the villages and cities of Galilee, preaching and teaching the gospel of the kingdom of God…” and then he tells us that the twelve, the twelve disciples, were with Him, and then he tells us that there are women who are with Him. He even lists a few of them who are with Him there, and then he tells us this very interesting thing: (Verse 3) “They were contributing to their support [that is, the support of Jesus and His disciples] out of their private means.”
Isn't that stunning? That Jesus’ ministry, Jesus and His disciples’ ministry, their public ministry, was supported through the private means of these women. That is colossal! Do you realize that these women at the last day will be able to stand with the greatest philanthropists in the history of this world? You know, there will be some who go, ‘What did you do?’ ‘Well, I gave money and established a great university.’ ‘Well, what did you do?’ ‘Well, I gave money and established a great art series.’ ‘Well, what did you do?’ ‘I gave money and built a great civic auditorium.’ ‘What did you do?’ ‘I gave money and built a great sports complex.’ ‘What did you do?’ ‘Well, we supported the ministry of Jesus.’
I don't know what it was they gave or how much it was, or how much of their substance it was, but I know this: that their gift is going to hold up against any gift ever given. But do you realize that we have that same privilege? To be able to give to support the work of Jesus’ ministry, because Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew 25:40 that “…as you have done it to the least of these My brothers [and He's speaking of His disciples], you've done it to Me.” Do you realize the privilege that we have in supporting the work of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ? It is colossal!
Again, God could have saved this world without our involvement whatsoever! He could have saved us out of darkness into His marvelous light, and just announced that He had saved everybody. But in His mercy He says to us ‘You know what I'm going to let you do? I'm not only going to save you from damnation, I'm not only going to cause you to enjoy the inheritance of My Son, but I am going to give you the privilege of being a partner with Me to spread the good news of [My] Son around the world.’ Do you realize what a privilege that is, so that in the Last Day we have something to cast down at the feet of the throne of the living God, along with the Lord Jesus Christ? He could have saved us and we could have had no part in that ministry, but He has given us the privilege of participating in that! Do you realize how glorious that is?
Just like these women who gave of their own substance to support the earthly ministry of Jesus, how many times did that investment repay? What a privilege it was! It won't be forgotten either, just like that woman who laved His feet with perfume. We have the privilege of participating in that same work of the kingdom, and let me tell you, the privileges are manifold!
You don't get to hear it as often as I do, because I'm out there representing you a lot in different places, and people pass compliments to me that really aren't mine. They belong to you. I was in a meeting of the Gateway Rescue Mission here at First Presbyterian Church just about a month ago, and a few of you were there but most of you weren't, and most of you didn't hear this. The Director of the Gateway Rescue Mission came to me before the program even started, and he said, “Ligon, I want to thank you because First Presbyterian Church has been for a long time the biggest supporter of Gateway Rescue Mission.” Well, first of all, I didn't know that. I was at the meeting to speak on their behalf, and I had no idea. But the second thing I said to him is “I shouldn't get the credit for that. First Presbyterian Church has been giving to Gateway Rescue Mission a long time before I came to First Presbyterian Church.” It's you that's giving that money, and you’ll be giving to Gateway Rescue Mission long after I'm gone. But I get to hear that all the time: people saying ‘thank you for your support of this ministry’.
I got to look at thirty or forty men who were in the room that night who were the beneficiaries of your generosity. What a privilege to be able to help those struggling with joblessness and homelessness, and alcoholism and drug recovery. They’re not only being ministered to tangibly, but are having the gospel presented to them. What a privilege to be able to…you know, we could be on the receiving end of that! We could be the beneficiaries of some other Christian who's helping us; what a privilege that we get to be the one giving that rather than to be on the receiving end of it.
And we could see the same thing for missions. Don't assume, my friends, that Americans will always be the great senders of missionaries. That's just a privilege we have for right now. Already our Korean friends are sending out as many missionaries as we are sending. There will be a day when there will be more missionaries coming to the United States than we're sending out. We may already be there, I'm not sure. Paul Long could tell you! There will certainly be a day when those Christians in the Third World and the global south where Christianity is burgeoning, there’ll be a day when they’re the ones sending the missionaries. What a privilege that we have the opportunity now to give to missions and to participate in blessing others who have never heard the gospel and encouraging the spread of Christ's kingdom.
What a privilege it is to give to orphanages and children's homes. After the morning service, the president of French Camp came up and said First Presbyterian Church is the biggest giver to French Camp. Well, that's the privilege that you have, friends, to show that kind of generosity. Don't take that for granted. You know the Lord could take that away from us tomorrow. You know there were folks two months ago on the Coast of Mississippi who didn't dream that they were going to have nothing when they woke up on Tuesday morning — no job, no house, no church. It could happen to us. But right now, He's given us the privilege of giving. What a glorious thing!
IV. Giving is a delight when we realize that in giving we are acting like Jesus.
Fourthly, giving is a delight when we realize that in giving we are acting like Jesus. One of the things that we long for in the Christian life is to be more like Jesus. We love the Lord Jesus Christ, we see His grace at work in our lives, we see areas where we're growing — but, boy, do we see those areas where we fall short and we're not like Jesus! We’re painfully aware of those areas, but when we give, we get to follow His example. We get to emulate the Lord Jesus Christ. We get to act like Jesus. If we ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” one of the things that we can certainly say is that He would give, because He gave the greatest gift that's ever been given: Himself.
And Paul reminds us of that. We saw that last week in II Corinthians 8:9:
“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”
When you give, you get to act like Jesus. Don't take that for granted. Don't underestimate the blessing of that, being able to be like the Savior…sacrificial giving, especially, because He who had everything gave everything, that we who had nothing might share everything with Him.
There's a story that I ran across five or six years ago. I've never used it in public because I haven't been able to verify it. I don't know whether it's true or not. I'm still trying to hunt it down. It's almost too good to be true, that's why I'm suspicious of it.
It's a story of a family, a mother whose husband had died, and her two children, who live in Appalachia. And their pastor announces one autumn that they’re going to take a harvest offering to help a poor family in the church. And this woman and her children work and work and work and do extra chores and things to save money so that they can give to this offering at the church. When the day comes to give the offering at the church, they’re able to give $20, which is about a third of what they live on every year. (This apparently happens back in the 1920's or so.) And a day or so later they see the pastor come driving up to their house, and he comes out and he says, “I've got a gift for you from the church.” And the mom and the children…their hearts just sink, because they didn't think of themselves as the ones who needed to be given a gift from the church. They didn't think of themselves as poor. They joyed at the thought of being able to sacrifice — I think something like a total of $40 was given by the church to them, twenty of which they had given themselves! (You see what I mean – it's just too good to be true! I've got to track this one down, one way or the other.)
But the point is beautiful. They looked in their poverty at giving as a privilege, as a way that they could emulate Jesus Christ and give out of their poverty to follow the example of Jesus. And friends, when you give like that, when you realize that in giving you’re acting like Jesus, giving is a delight.
V. Giving is a delight when we realize that God rewards for doing our duty.
But fifthly, giving is a delight when we realize that God rewards us for doing our duty. Giving is a part of the Christian life. It's not an optional part. Jesus says “when you give” not “if you give.” But here's the glorious thing. Jesus and Paul both emphasize that God is going to reward those who are faithful in giving. Jesus said it in Matthew 6:1-4, that your Father who sees in secret will reward your giving. God says ‘You should do this, and I'm going to reward you when you do what you’re supposed to. He doesn't have to do that, but He does it, just like parents who give children an allowance for doing chores that they ought to do anyway around the house. You know that, by the way, children. When your moms and dads give you money for cleaning up your room or helping with the dishes or doing chores around the house, they don't owe that to you. You ought to be doing that anyway. When they give you money for that, you know what they’re doing? They are being a living picture of the generosity of your heavenly Father to give you things that you don't deserve, because you ought to do those things. But they give you things sometimes even though you don't deserve them, and that's what the Lord Jesus Christ says — there's not a cup of cold water that you’re going to give in My name that I'm going to forget. I'm going to reward you when you are faithful. He who sows bountifully will reap bountifully. What you invest in His kingdom will be rewarded. It's a glorious truth.
VI. Giving is a delight when we realize that God doesn't want our money unless we delight in giving it.
There's one more thing I want you to see, and it's this, and you see it especially in
II Corinthians 9:7: Giving is a delight when we realize that God doesn't want our money unless we delight in giving it. I didn't say that wrong. God doesn't want our money unless we delight in giving it. Listen to what Paul says: “Each of you must do as he has purposed in his heart….” He wants your whole heart engaged in giving your gift, “not grudgingly or under compulsion.” In other words, Paul is saying don't give to the Lord unless you’re going to give cheerfully. Don't give to the Lord if you feel coerced and constrained, and you grudgingly are going to have to give this gift to the Lord that's such a burden to have to give. Paul is saying the Lord doesn't want your money unless you delight in giving it.
Do you remember the story of Gideon? It's recorded in Judges 6 and 7, and one of the stories of Gideon's life is when he has to rally the army of the people of God, of Israel, to fight against an enemy invading. And you remember when Gideon starts he has 32,000 soldiers. And you remember the first thing the Lord tells him to do? He says ‘OK, Gideon, tell everybody that doesn't want to be here to go home.’ And a third of them go home. Eventually He whittles them down till there are 300 of them left, and they take on the enemies of God and they win.
Now there are a couple of points in that at the very least. One is that the Lord can deliver Israel without any help at all, because if He can win that battle with 300, He can win it with nobody! So it's the Lord that protected Israel. It's the Lord that blessed them. It's the Lord that gave the victory. Now let me tell you what, if you had been living then, men, you would have hated it the rest of your life if you hadn't been one of those 300 — to be able to say, ‘Yep, I was there. I was one of the 300. I was there when the Lord delivered.’ And isn't it interesting that the Lord didn't want anybody there that didn't want to be there?
It's the same thing in giving. You remember, when God commands Israel to build the tabernacle, He says ‘Now, here's what you’re going to do, Moses. You’re going to tell the people that if they want to give, fine. But don't give unless you want to.’ And then Moses sends the people home! It's the worst fund raising campaign I've ever seen! ‘Please, don't give unless you really want to. Now go home!’ And what happens? The people give so much that Moses has to stand up and give the announcement, ‘Please stop giving. We've got too much!’ It's the worst fund raiser of all time, but the people want to give! What's the principle? God wants givers that want to give, and giving is a delight when you want to give.
You see, God can build His kingdom without us or not. The kingdom doesn't hang in the balance in our support of ministry here at First Pres year, because God will raise up those who will support Him and do so happily. The only question is will we get the privilege of being a part of that here at First Pres, or will somebody else get that privilege?
I don't know about you, but I don't want to miss out on that privilege, and so may God make all our hearts cheerful as we give.
Lord God, thank You for Your word; and we pray that by Your Spirit You would make us more and more to be cheerful givers. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: Lord, Thou Lov'st the Cheerful Giver]
Please be seated. We now have the opportunity to make our commitments for the support of ministry in the year to come. We will receive our tithes and offerings at this time, and at this time we’ll also make our pledges, our commitments, for the support of the work and worship of the church for the year 2006.
If you’re visiting with us today, we do not ask that you give anything. We believe that we ought to support the ministry of this church through the membership of this church, and so our guests are welcome to sit there and watch as the members of this church freely give so that we will be a blessing to you.
Let's now give to the Lord His tithe, our offerings, and our pledges, our commitments for the year's ministries to come.
[The Anthem: The King of Love My Shepherd Is]
Please rise for the benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.