The Gospel and Generous Giving

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : 1 Corinthians 16:1-2

Now concerning the contribution for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come.

1 Corinthians 16:1,2 rsv

This is a message about money. Not how to make it or win it or keep it or use it but how to give it away. I call it, “The Gospel and Generous Giving.” I know that the very mention of money has a suspicious ring in religious circles today. There’s been enough scandal and greed and fraud among the professedly religious to discourage and disgust us all. We’ve had enough of impassioned pleas for money by people who use what we send to indulge themselves. We’ve had our fill of false appeals for questionable causes by people who have made fakery into an art form.

What I’m going to read you now is vastly different from all of that. Listen to the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 16, right after his triumphant chapter on the resurrection hope: “Now concerning the contribution for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of the week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up as he may prosper so that contributions need not be made when I come.

If you think that all preachers and evangelists are money hungry, out to enrich themselves at others’ expense, consider this man from Tarsus, Paul the apostle. He had a right to be supported by the churches to whom he lovingly ministered, but he often refused to take anything for his services. He worked at his tent-making trade along with his gospel labors so that he wouldn’t burden anyone with his support. Whenever he could, he loved to make the gospel appear for what it really is, a free gift. He would have gone to any lengths to guard against the impression that the servants of Christ are for hire.

In this passage of Scripture, the apostle is making an appeal for money but it’s not what we would ordinarily expect. It seems that there had been a famine in the area around Jerusalem. The Jewish Christians there were in urgent need. Paul’s heart went out to them. They were his fellow human beings. More, they were his fellow believers in Jesus Christ. He longed to see their need met. He was ready to do anything he could to help them and wanted to enlist others in this mission of mercy.

Especially he wanted his Gentile Christian friends to share in the project. He longed to strengthen the ties between Jews and Gentiles within the body of Christ, to overcome the division and prejudices of the past. Above all, he wanted their mutual concern to be a testimony to the reconciling love of Jesus Christ.

Paul knew that appeals for money by religious leaders were even then vulnerable to suspicion and abuse. He wanted to bend over backwards to avoid any appearance of evil. So that no one in Corinth would have any unanswered questions, Paul asked for representatives of that church to go along with the gift to Jerusalem. Further, these emissaries would be appointed by the Corinthians themselves. It wasn’t even certain that Paul himself would go at all. He left that to the discretion of his brothers and sisters. The apostle coveted a conscience void of offense before God and before men. He wanted these gifts for others and for God’s glory, and he wanted the whole enterprise to be above suspicion.

Evangelist Billy Graham in our own time has taken similar precautions. He decided early in his ministry to do away with love offerings at his services and to observe strict accountability in money matters. Dr. Graham has a board that pays him a salary. He receives no income from the meetings he holds around the world. Many observers believe that this financial carefulness has helped immensely to keep his half-century ministry above reproach.

But today I especially want to notice three things about the kind of giving which the apostle Paul recommends. For one thing, it is to be regular. The apostle writes, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up.” From the resurrection of Jesus Christ onwards, the first day of the week became a day of special celebration for Christians. It became their day for worship when they remembered the Savior’s victory over sin and death. And remember, many of these first Christians were of Jewish background. Theirs had been the ageold practice of rest and worship on the seventh day. How amazing were the effects of Jesus’ resurrection! The early Christians were determined to rejoice in this, not just one day a year but every week. Every Lord’s day, every first day of the week was a little Easter day, a fresh resurrection morning.

With that same regularity, believers were to set aside each week money to be given away. Paul knew the value of regularity in the religious life. The New Testament notes that it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue every Sabbath. Like all pious Jews of His day, He probably observed every day three appointed times for prayer. Think of the prophet Daniel, praying three times a day on schedule, even when it meant risking his life.

Think about this in the matter of your daily worship, your devotional life. There’s value in setting aside a specific time for it, a regular place, every day. You say, “Doesn’t that become mechanical?” It surely can. “Doesn’t repetition rob devotions of spontaneity?” That’s possible. But when each day we set aside time to listen to God speaking in the Word and to call upon Him in prayer, we provide opportunity for the fresh, miracle of communion with God to happen anew. We put up our sails, as it were, to catch the wind of God’s Spirit.

In the matter of giving, few would question the value of regularity. I’ve been around churches most of my life. In every one I’ve been a part of, I remember people of considerable means who made occasional gifts to the church. Sometimes these gifts were fairly large, and I got the impression that the donors saw themselves as uncommonly generous. But people of much more modest resources who gave with regularity often ended up giving even more. The apostle is speaking here of a giving not by whim or impulse, not because of a current emotional appeal, but with plan and purpose, with care and thought. In all our religious exercises, that approach builds character and develops depth.

When Paul says, “Let everyone store something up,” he used the Greek word from which we get our word treasure. The believers are to treasure something up in order to give it. That’s a different approach, isn’t it? We usually think of treasuring as a kind of hoarding. We’ll stash something away for a rainy day. We’ll save up for something that our hearts desire. But Paul wants us to lovingly, carefully “treasure up” so that for the Lord’s sake and for human need we can lavishly give.

The second thing about Christian giving as Paul envisions it is that it should be proportional. Each is to put something aside, says the apostle, “as he may prosper.” Proportionate giving goes back to the earliest Old Testament tradition. We read about old Abraham giving a tithe. And that became an established practice in Israel. Sometimes it was giving to support the worship of the temple, sometimes a portion of each farmer’s crop into a common storehouse. Sometimes it was a tenth, sometimes twice a tenth. Often it was the first fruits or the first born.

There are two principles in view here. The first is priority. Because everything we have comes from God and belongs to Him, we are to honor Him with the first fruits. Perhaps Paul has this in mind when he talks about setting something aside every week on the first day. This means that our first priority is what we will give in the service of God and of people. Now that’s a principle we often forget and violate, isn’t it? We’re inclined to think that we’ll take care of necessities first. We’ll provide next for things we really want. Then, if there’s anything left over, we’ll give that away. But people who operate consistently on that basis seem to find that there’s never much left over. For the people of God, it was the first fruits and the first born which were especially to be dedicated to God. If He is to be Lord of our lives, if pleasing Him is to be our primary responsibility, then surely what we are to give to His work ought to be set aside first.

Proportionate giving was meant to insure that as people prospered, they would feel a growing sense of responsibility to give. But again, it’s not natural for us to operate in that way. As we prosper, the proportion of wealth which we give away seldom increases accordingly. I’ve often been impressed with this when I read the financial disclosures of those who are serving in high government office. We read of incomes approaching a half million dollars, and charitable giving of a few thousand. For the average person, to give away a few thousand would be quite generous, but when we’re making half a million, that may not even be a tenth of a tenth. As our income grows, it’s easy to let our standard of living rise and our wants multiply even as our contributions remain at beginning levels.

By every biblical standard, it ought to go the other way. A tithe is a considerable sacrifice for the poor but a pittance for the rich. Think of how much the extremely wealthy have left even after they have given a tithe! For giving to have even a hint of sacrifice about it for the affluent, the percentage given would need to increase with growing prosperity.

That leads me to the last thought about Christian giving, that it ought to be gracious. To say that we should give regularly and give proportionately is all good but can remain pretty much in the realm of law, obligation, morality. The apostle writes and speaks here about a giving touched by the gospel.

Throughout the Bible, the most distinctive thing about the giving of God’s people is its character as a free will offering. Remember when the tabernacle was to be built? This is what the Lord said to Moses: “Speak to the people of Israel that they take for me an offering. From every man whose heart makes him willing you shall receive the offering for me.” When Moses approached the people, he put it this way, “Take from among you an offering to the Lord, whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s offering. And get this: Finally the people had to be restrained from bringing because they brought so much! That’s the kind of giving which Paul celebrates among believers. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he notes what the Macedonian Christians have done, how in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy, and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. For they gave according to their means as I can testify and beyond their means of their own free will.” The apostle wants that of the Corinthians, that what they give for the support of the people in Judea shall not be an exaction, but a willing gift. Listen: “Each must do as he has made up his own mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver.

I think of a young couple in Washington who have just married, Sam and Cindy. They both work in shelters for the homeless. They hope some day to labor among the poor in a third world country. They wanted any gifts given to them on the occasion of their wedding to be directed toward relief of the needy. And they decided that, believe me, happily!

Our Executive Director here at Words of Hope, Lee De Young, spent some time recently in Ghana. He reported that the most striking thing about the worship of the people there was the joyous character of their offerings. That was the time of supreme celebration in the service. People came forward singing, dancing, rejoicing to bring their gifts. That’s the Christian way. Because, you see, it reflects the biblical gospel. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. Though He was rich, yet for our sakes Jesus became poor that we through His poverty might be rich.

Money. It can have a sickening sound or it can have the music of heaven about it. It can shrivel our souls in selfishness or enlarge them in love. It can be invested in trifles here or in treasures beyond. Inescapably it’s a large part of life, a measure of our values, an expression of our most deeply held faith.

It seems to be a big step down from the glories of the resurrection for Paul to talk about the weekly collection, but the two can’t be separated, can they? The gospel that fills our hearts with radiant hope must empty them again in self giving love. May it be so for us! Amen.