Monday, December 08, 2008

Stewardship Sermon 11/23/08 "What's In Your Heart" Part Three: "Being Thankful: Priceless"

“Being Thankful: Priceless”

2 Corinthians 9:1-15

One of my fondest Thanksgiving memories happened when we all set down for Thanksgiving dinner and just when we began to eat the turkey and dressing, our cat, who was outside walked up to the door with a special gift for us. She had caught a mouse and she brought it up to the door for all of us to see.

I have learned a funny think about cats. Apparently when they want to show their owners gratitude, instead of people a normal pet and letting you pet it, they go out and catch a mouse and bring it to the door as a Thanksgiving offering.

For the best several weeks, we have been focusing on Christian Stewardship. We believe stewardship is not about how much money is in your wallet, it is about what is in your heart. The first week of the sermon series, we said that we give because we are responding to God grace, by showing grace. Last week we said that giving is about trusting that God can do more with our money than we can. Today, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I want to add one last piece to the puzzle and suggest that we give to God out of our gratitude or our thankfulness.

Before I read the passage that we are going to study, I need to give you some background about Paul and his dealings with 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 ahs 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 this passage, we have already noted that Paul used the Macedonian churches as an example of how the Corinthians should give. The Macedonians gave more than they were capable of. Paul then encourages the Corinthians to do as the Macedonian churches did and practice the gift of giving.

Paul then uses the example of Jesus’ giving as a model for their own giving. Paul believes that by giving, God will take care of the needs of both the giver and the receiver. In other words, giving is about trusting God. The rest of chapter 8 is Paul explaining to the Corinthians that Titus is coming with another person to collect the offering. Paul then begins chapter nine,

There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord's people. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given. Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: "They have scattered abroad their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever."

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.

Paul makes me laugh in this passage. Notice he first uses the Macedonians to inspire the Corinthians to give and now he tells the Corinthians that he used them to inspire the Macedonians to give. Paul has already laid out his travel plans to collect the offering so he tells the Corinthians to be prepared with the offering so that the Macedonians will not be disappointed.
Giving Comes From the Heart

Paul has two main points to finish off his plea for the Corinthians to give. He tells them that a person should give out of their heart, not out of compulsion. In other words, we should not give because God dictates us to do it, but we should give out of a heart that wants to give.
I do want to mention one piece of this text that I believe has been taken out of context. In verse six, Paul says that the person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will reap generously. I have heard it said that Paul tells the Corinthians to give so that they will get a lot more back. This is normally used in the context of saying if you give 10 percent, God will give you back 20 percent. The problem comes in when people follow this logic and find that they still have to struggle to pay the bills. Then they question their own faithfulness and the faithfulness of God.

To understand the context of what Paul is saying , we need to understand what Paul has in mind. He quotes from Proverbs 22:8, “God blesses a cheerful giver.” This is actually not in your English Bible, it is in a Greek translation that Paul would have used. Paul obviously has this who Proverb in mind. Proverb 22:8 says, “He who sows injustice reaps destruction.” “The beginning of this Proverb says, “A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; favor is better than silver or gold.”

What Paul is saying is that when we give with a cheerful heart, God will bless our giving because out of a cheerful heart we will sow great things. God’s blessings are greater than giving you 10 percent back; God’s blessings come from doing what pleases God, because we know that God will be pleased with us. Paul then reiterates a point we made last week that God will provide for their needs when they give from their hearts.

Giving is About Being Thankful

Secondly, Paul tells them in verse 11 that God will supply their need so that they it can produce generosity in them. In other words, they should give out of thanksgiving. Paul seems to actually be saying to the Corinthians, if you are not giving, then you believe God is not supplying your needs, therefore you have no reason to be thankful.

I read an interview with our Bishop, James Swanson, about the current economic times. He says this about giving, “For us to quit giving to God when times are tough indicates that we were only giving out of our surplus rather than out of regular, faithful giving.” I do want to stop here for a second because I have talked with some of you who are really struggling financially and it has hurt your giving. However, the people I have talk to all still find a way to give and for many of them, it is really a leap of faith. They are giving from their budget because they do not have surplus. The point is this, ‘THEY KEPT ON GIVING” Why, because they were thankful that God had given them what they have.

Bishop Swanson goes on, “To put God on the backburner- when he has never put us on the backburner- is the height of ingratitude.” WOW. What Paul and Bishop Swanson are saying is that God has always, no matter what situation we have been in, came through for us. He has never made us priority two. In response to God’s grace, we should respond back with gratitude and thanksgiving.

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