Monday, December 08, 2008

Stewardship Sermon11/16/08 What's in Your Heart" Part Two: "Trusting God: Do More"

“Trusting God: Do More”

2 Corinthians 8:9-15

This is the second week of our Stewardship Campaign. For those who missed last week, our sermon series is entitled, “What is in Your Heart.” As we said last week, stewardship is not about how much money you have in your wallet, it is about what is in your heart. Last week we talked about giving being a spiritual gift that we give to others. It is giving the “grace of giving.” This week, I want to talk about giving as an act of trusting God.

In preparation for this sermon, I did a little research about church giving and the giving for the previous presidential election. Here is what I found. Barna Research group concluded,

Almost two-thirds of the public (64%) donated some money to a church, synagogue or other place of worship. The median amount donated to those religious centers was $101; the mean amount was $883. Those figures were up slightly from the previous year.[i]

In the 2008 Presidential election, the follow dollar figures where donated to help get these candidates elected.

Obama- Over 603 million dollars
McCain- Over 357 million dollars
Clinton- Over 247 million dollars
Huckabee- Over 16 million dollars [ii]

According to the numbers, where do most Americans place their trust, in the President or in God? It would be very interesting to find out how much Christians donated to the Presidential campaign as opposed to how much they gave to church, but I do not have those numbers. I would submit that like Paul, I believe Christian Stewardship is a trust issue.

Paul, in one of his letters to the Corinthians, explains why they should give to the collection he is taking up for the Jerusalem churches. To help you better understand this letter, I want to again go over some issues that Paul is dealing with in his letters to the Corinthians. In our Bibles, we have two letters written to the Corinthians. We also know that Paul helped establish the church there and spent quite a lot of time in Corinth. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in response to a letter that he had received from Chloe’s household in order to address some problems that has come up after his departure. Some scholars believe there is a missing letter written to the Corinthians that we no longer have. Other scholars believe the missing letter is actually 2 Corinthians 10-13.

In this missing letter, the Corinthians took offense to Paul for several reasons. First, they felt that he hid behind his words. In other words, they believed that he was unfair in his letter and that he refused to show up in person to defend his letter. Secondly, and most important for our purposes, Paul did not take any money from the Corinthians for himself. He did take up money for himself from other churches in Macedonia, which made the Corinthians very upset. Paul did however; take up a collection from all the churches, including Corinth, for the struggling churches in Jerusalem. He has asked the churches to take up a collection when they would meet and then one of Paul’s helpers would come and collect it. This was probably Titus.

In the first part of Paul’s plea to the Corinthians, he tells them to follow the example of the Macedonian churches in their faithful giving. He tells them that these churches went above and beyond the giving means. He then challenges the Corinthians to “excel in the grace of giving.” In the test for this morning, he continues his challenge,

8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others 9 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 through his poverty might become rich.
10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: "The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.[iii]
Notice, the first thing Paul tells the Corinthians that he is not trying to make them feel guilty by using the Macedonian churches as a means to show them up, but that he wants to challenge them. He then goes beyond the example of the Macedonian churches about points to the example of Jesus. In other words, if the Macedonian churches do not encourage you to give and challenge the sincerity of your heart, then hopefully the example of Jesus will.

Paul then shares the heart of the situation in Corinth when it comes to giving. He seems to pinpoint the two real issues that he believes is keeping the Corinthians from the grace of giving. First, he tells them that their eagerness has died. More than likely, Paul established this pattern of giving in Corinth with the help of the Corinthians. He tells them that they began this giving project with earnestness, but now that the excitement has died down, so has their commitments to giving. He encourages them to finish the commitment that they first began.

I remember the first full year of being back in Chattanooga and being at First-Centenary. The Vine was a brand new worship service and we had help out first stewardship campaign. Of coarse I was committed to giving to the church. I had never really made mush money before this so I was making a huge commitment for me. I began the next year with “giving gusto.” I gave very faithfully for about 8 months and then I just got preoccupied with life. The excitement of the Vine had diminished some and work was really business as usual.

Then, in December I received my giving statement from the church and I saw where I was behind in my commitment. I thought for a minute about just not fulfilling my pledge for the current year and starting over with a new commitment, but then I believed God was telling me that giving was about making a commitment to God, not just following the emotions I was feeling. And so, I wrote the check.

Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians that giving is a commitment you make to God, even if they are not feeling excited about the project. Paul then goes on to respond to a second issue. It seems that some in Corinth was accusing Paul of wanting them to give and then as a result, wanting them to suffer hardships. In other words, they were saying that if they were to give to others, then they would be putting themselves in dire straights.

Paul quickly responds by telling them that this is not what he or God intents. God does not want us to give so much that we are suffering. Paul says that his goal is to have every person’s needs being met. His goal is equality. This is seen in the Old Testament text that Paul quotes. It comes from the story in Exodus where the people are complaining that they are going to starve now that they are in the middle of no where. In the story God provides for his people by giving them manna. No matter how much or how little the people collected, their needs where all met.

In the society in which Paul writes, there was a common misconception. People believed that there was only so much to go around, so if they were to give what they have, then they would suffer. Paul is trying to tell them that they can give from what God has already given them and then trust that God will provide for their needs.

This morning I want to suggest that there is one truth that transcends this whole passage and it is this: We ought to trust that God can handle our money better than we can. NT Wright says it like this,

When people who follow him are ready to put their resources at his disposal, the world and the church may benefit, not only from the actual money, but from the fact that when the Jesus-pattern of dying and rising, of riches to poverty-to riches, is acted out, the power of the gospel is let loose afresh in the world, and the results will be incalculable. [iv]

The truth of the matter is that oftentimes we act as if we believe that we can actually do more with the money that God has given us that God can do with it. Just image that if Christians right now give about 3 percent of their income to God and look at the things God is doing around the world, just image what would happen if Christians trusted God with ten percent. If you think that would be amazing, imagine what would happen if Christians trusted God with all their money. Imagine what our world would be like. Now, stop imaging it and make it happen in Chattanooga, TN!
[iii] TNIV 2 Cor. 8:8-16
[iv] NT Wright, Paul For Everyone: 2 Corinthians

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