Series: Acts, “The Church Is Born”
Title: The Grace of Giving
Speaker: Kyle Cunningham
This transcript has been edited for readability and brevity.
This morning, we’re going to talk about giving money to the church. What could go wrong?! The reality is when we use those three words: church, money, and giving in close proximity, there is inevitably a strong, emotional response. But, why?
That’s because when we talk about money, we’re not really talking about money, are we? Money is a metaphor for things in our lives that have value to us.
Let’s be a little more precise here. The work of a man named Abraham Maslow might help. Maslow was a psychiatrist in the mid 20th century, and he developed what he called the Hierarchy of Human Needs. There are five basic categories to help us to describe what we need as human beings, and the first level is called physical needs. The next need is the need for safety. The third is love. As we keep moving up, we come to the need for esteem. Finally, at the very top, we have what is called self-actualization. All of these, at least in a modern American context, rely on money in some way.
A couple of years ago, back in Eugene, I was talking to a friend about giving. She said, “You know, these are always hard conversations for me.” She continued, “I really take offense that I’ve been accused of having a heart issue when it comes to giving money. I don’t have a heart issue. I want to give. I want to be generous. But every time the offering plate comes by, I go back to when I was in seventh grade.”
“My mom lost her job and we got evicted from our apartment. We had to spend a few months living in our 1996 Honda Civic behind Walmart. So, whenever I think about giving money, I revert back to how I felt when I was homeless.”
I think we could give ourselves some grace, and some understanding about why this conversation is difficult for us. Money is never about money! In fact, even when the apostle Paul talks about money, he’s not talking about money either.
So today, I want to direct our attention for the remainder of our time to the book of Second Corinthians. We’re going to be in chapter 8.
The context behind what’s what Paul is going to address here is that he’s writing to the church in Corinth, but he’s addressing a special offering that he has been working on raising for over a year. These funds are going to be used to support the church in Jerusalem. This church has come under persecution and they’re experiencing incredible need. Paul is talking about money. And the reason I emphasize this fact is that if you read through all of 2 Corinthians 8-9, you will find that the word “money” never appears in two chapters of teaching about money, which I find surprising.
I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia.
2 Corinthians 8:1 NLT
My translation translates the Greek word charis as “kindness.” The better translation is the word “grace.” You probably have heard sermons on grace, so what is grace? Grace is a gift. It is God’s kindness and love that he gives to us freely when we have faith in Jesus. As Christians, we understand that there are two things that we must do with grace. First, we freely receive grace, realizing that we can’t on our own attain God’s love or God’s favor. Second, we freely give grace to others. God’s grace has done something in the churches of Macedonia. Let’s read about what that is in verse 2.
They are being tested by many troubles and they are very poor, but they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more, and they did it of their own free will.
2 Corinthians 8:2-3 NLT
Paul, true to form, is creating a theological argument. He’s helping us to understand a spiritual principle that he will then make a practical one. His argument is that a response to a realization of God’s grace includes rich generosity.
They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.
2 Corinthians 8:4 NLT
What is “the gift?” It’s money; it’s cash that they are going to bring to the church and Jerusalem. But would you know that the Greek word that Paul used for the word “gift” is the word charis, which means grace?
They did even more than we had hoped for; their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do. We have urged Titus, who encouraged your giving in the first place to return to you and encourage you to finish the ministry of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:5-6 NLT
Do you know what the Greek word for “giving” is? You guessed it, grace!
Since you have or since you excel in so many ways in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm and your love from us. I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:7 NLT
There’s the word grace again! However, Paul is changing his tune slightly and he’s being very intentional with the Corinthian church. First, he wants to encourage the church. He says, “You are doing amazing in all of these ways, in your faith, in your speaking knowledge, enthusiasm, your love… You’re doing so well in all of these areas.” But then he says, “Here’s what I’m going to challenge you to do. I want your financial generosity to match how you excel in all these other areas. I want your financial generosity to be as strong as your faith; to be as eloquent as your words.”
This means, that the Corinthians, have faltered in this area. They seemed to have had good intentions, but they’ve never fully followed through with giving. In verse 8 and 9, we see Paul bring this theological argument to a close.
I am not commanding you to do this, but I am testing you to see how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of the other churches. You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9 NLT
Where does he leave this argument? Right back where he started—with grace. He points them back to the cross. So when Paul is talking about money, he can’t get grace out of his mind. And it changes the way that he thinks about generosity.
Paul gives us three practical principles in verse 10.
Here is my advice: it would be good for you to finish what you started a year ago last year. You were the first to want it to give and you were the first to begin doing it. Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. Whatever you give is acceptable. If you give it eagerly.
2 Corinthians 8:10-12 NLT
The first principle is faithfulness. If you want to grow in grace, Paul tells us the first thing we do is give faithfully. When Paul is writing this letter, he is being very diplomatic, but what he is saying in this principle is that when it comes to giving, good intentions don’t really count. He says that that eagerness is fantastic, but now you have to match your eagerness with faithfulness. Follow through, especially in uncertain times is incredibly difficult.
Second, he says to give in proportion to what you have. A proportion is a part of a whole, which we would call a percentage. A proportion or percentage is important because it is a commitment to give back to God part of what He has given to you. And so, of course, that answers or that begs the question, what has God given you? There’s a lot of different ways you could look at this question. I think about common grace, and I feel like God is giving me a lot. This is to say nothing of the special grace of salvation that Jesus purchased for me on the cross and he freely gives me.
And finally he says give eagerly. This is what it means to grow in the grace of giving.
Let’s talk about eagerness. This is where the heart comes in to giving. Paul says that it is the attitude and the heart with which you give that makes your gift acceptable. If you want to give one percent faithfully, and eagerly, God says it’s acceptable. If you want to give 100 percent of your income all the time and have a terrible attitude, it only affects your taxes. Your eagerness, the heart with which you give, makes your gift acceptable.
So if you want to grow in the grace of giving Paul’s advice, give faithfully giving the right proportion to what God has given you and most importantly, give it with a cheerful, eager, glad heart. And God says, “I accept what you give.”