Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 15, 2 Corinthians 9
The Generosity Of God – Part 2Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | July 13, 2014
Selected highlights from this sermon
While some people think that tithing is a duty or obligation, it is, actually, a part of worship—of giving glory to God. While sharing five facts about giving found in 2 Corinthians 9, Pastor Lutzer reminds us that giving is about the heart and that God loves to bless a cheerful giver.
This actually is the second in a series of messages entitled The Generosity of God. Once again, we’re going to talk about God’s generosity. We’re going to talk about giving. We’re going to talk about money. And some of you, the minute I mention that, say to yourself, “Oh no!” It’s your first time here. “All that the church ever wants is money.” Or you brought a friend and you say, “I just can’t believe it. It’s the first time they’ve been here and he talks about money.”
Relax! With no pressure, no guilt, nothing that would come anywhere close to something like manipulation, I’m going to make a prediction. After I finish this message I believe that there are going to be many of you who say, “Wow, I wish that the offering had been after the message rather than before the message.” I’m going to predict that some of you are going to come up begging for the opportunity to give. Now if I’ve oversold this passage of Scripture you come and tell me that too, but hang on. I believe it’s going to happen.
It’s been years actually since I preached on this and particularly on this passage of Scripture. I have never preached on 2 Corinthians 9. One of the reasons, and I’m being more honest than I have to be, is that the imagery that Paul uses of sowing and reaping is oftentimes used by so many false prophets on television. You know, “Come. Send us a thousand dollars. Sow a seed.” And as a result of that, because it’s terminology that comes from the Scripture, there’s been some apprehension on my part as to whether or not I will be misunderstood. But I don’t think I will be. Remember that those false prophets, and not all who are on television are false prophets, are basically into sowing and reaping because of greed. Not only that, they operate on the premise that the wealth that you have is an indication of your spirituality. If you are poor it’s your fault. God wants everybody rich. They sometimes even fall into the category of occultism whereby you can just pronounce yourself rich. It’s just the words themselves. And so I want to rid you of all of those ideas, which are manifestly unscriptural.
The context of 2 Corinthians 9 is that the Apostle Paul is getting an offering together to give to the saints in Jerusalem who have gone through a very, very difficult time. Because they became Christians, they have been marginalized. They don’t have jobs. They are poor. And Paul says, “I want you Gentiles to bless Jewish believers and I have even predicted that you are going to give a good offering, and I want to encourage you to give that offering.” And so the Apostle Paul writes 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, and if you missed the message last week I hope you take time to go on the Internet and listen to it. It’s about the generosity of God in that though Jesus was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor that we through his poverty might be made rich.
But now we come to chapter 9, and I’m going to pick it up in verse 6. “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” I’m reading just that far for now.
What I’d like to do is to give you five facts regarding giving. The first fact is that giving actually is sowing. The Apostle Paul uses that terminology, and if you sow sparingly, you reap sparingly. Many years ago I was a farm boy, and I knew right well that if we would only seed say a half a bushel per acre, we wouldn’t reap very much. If we wanted to have a good crop we’d sow perhaps a full bushel per acre or maybe even beyond that because if you sow sparingly then you reap sparingly, but if you want a good crop, what you have to do is to plant that crop with lots of seed.
Now one of the things that we discover is that whatever we sow we do reap. We reap what we sow, obviously, and we even reap more than we sow. And the Apostle Paul is going to use this imagery for giving. He’s not going to back down from the fact that if we sow, God is going to give us a harvest.
So fact number one is that when you give to God’s work, you must keep in mind that it is a matter of sowing. You have planted a seed. That’s fact number one. Fact number two is simply that it’s a matter of planning. Look at the text. It says, “And whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind.” Paul is saying that there should be some contemplation. There should be some prayer as to what you are going to give. You shouldn’t simply give on impulse. You know the offering basket is being passed and if I happen to have twenty bucks I put it in, and if not, I let it go by. No, think it through. If you are married talk to your spouse and come to an agreement as to how much you should give. Rebecca and I have those talks every once in a while. So what you are doing is you are purposing to give. You are planning.
In 1 Corinthians 15, an earlier letter, the Apostle Paul says that each person should set aside on the first day of the week to give. The first day of the week is Sunday. Set aside so that you give consistently every Sunday. And may I remind you that when you are on vacation you should be giving as well because the needs continue and the blessing of generosity continues as well? So the second fact regarding giving is that it involves planning.
Now there’s a third fact. And here we get to what the Apostle Paul says that’s kind of breathtaking, and in many ways hard for us to get our mind around. Giving is not a matter of amount. It is a matter of attitude. He says this. “You should not give (and here it is) under compulsion, not reluctantly.” That is because within you, you are saying, “Oh, I don’t really want to give but I should give.” No, keep it if that’s your attitude. “You should not give reluctantly nor under compulsion or of necessity (as I think this translation puts it) just because of the fact that you feel that you are manipulated or you are obligated to give.” Some of you come from churches where that happened to you. The expectation was there. Everybody was supposed to give. If you weren’t giving people would maybe know about it and so you felt this burden. The Apostle Paul says that if that’s the way you feel about giving, don’t give. Let it go by.
You know there’s a story I read about a woman in the south who was very wealthy and sophisticated. And she came to church and she sat there in all of her finery, loaded with “bling,” and she just let the offering basket pass and didn’t put anything into it. So what the usher did was when it came to the end of the aisle he sent it back. (laughter) And once again she just let it go by. He thought he’d try it one more time. He sent it back another time and she let it go by, and he whispered in her ear and said, “If you don’t put anything in, take something out because it’s for the heathen anyway.” (laughter) Well, you know, sometimes those stories may be true or they may be untrue, but they make a point. If you are going to sit there with an attitude like that, don’t give.
Now Paul makes an amazing statement here. Theologically we have to grapple with it. The Apostle Paul says, “For God loves a cheerful giver.” Now you know that the word cheerful is from the word hilaron from which we get the word hilarious. That is often emphasized. God loves somebody who just wants to give, who begs for the opportunity of giving, who enjoys giving because, after all, Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Now here’s the theological problem. I thought about this text for a long time and particularly this past week I’ve meditated on it because, you see, you’ve often heard me say from this pulpit first of all that God loves the world. Certainly He loves the world. In a certain way He gave His only begotten Son. God loves the world.
God loves His own people in a special way. There’s no doubt about it. In John 17 Jesus makes the amazing statement to God, “Thou has loved them even as Thou has loved Me,” and how much does the Father love Jesus Christ? The Father is deeply in love with Jesus Christ.
Now I’ve always made the statement that there’s nothing you could do as a believer to get God to love you less. There is nothing that you could do to get Him to love you more because He loves you unconditionally, and He loves you as much as He loves Jesus. So that means that God loves stingy Christians too. (laughter) He does. If you are stingy and you are a believer, He loves you as much as He loves Jesus. Amazing love! That’s why we sing about the love of God. But here in this passage it almost seems as if there’s another category.
God throws that in. He loves a cheerful giver. Well, doesn’t He love a stingy one? Yes, of course, but He loves a cheerful giver. It’s almost as if God says, “A cheerful giver so attracts my attention that I love that giver, and I’m going to do some remarkable things for him, or for her.” I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be in that inner circle where God not only loves me because I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, and He loves me as much as He loves Jesus, which is so overwhelming that I can’t grasp. But I’d also like to have this special love that God has for the cheerful giver, the one who loves to give.
Now I know it isn’t this way exactly in heaven, but let’s be a little loose in our description here. I can imagine that God is having a conversation with Michael, and He says, “Hey, Mike, do you notice that we found another cheerful giver over there? Here’s a cheerful giver. There’s a cheerful giver.” Now I’d like to think that within The Moody Church there are hundreds of cheerful givers so it’s not as if they are that scarce, but when God finds a cheerful giver, God says, “What are we going to do for that giver?”
And that’s why there’s a fourth fact about giving, and that is that giving is harvesting. Now our Bibles are open, are they not? I hope so. You know I know that people don’t come to church today with their Bibles, or they bring their iPhones. And they say, “Well, you know I have the New Testament on my iPhone.” May God bless you, and He loves you just as much as if you actually brought a Bible. (laughter) But for the sake of the record, look up this way. This is a Bible. (laughter) Alright? (applause)
Now notice what God is going to do. He’s going to grant special favor to the cheerful giver. This is amazing. Verse 8 says, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times you may abound in every good work.” Is that your testimony? Well, you say, “Boy, that describes my life. What describes my life is that God is able to make all grace abound so that I have all sufficiency in all things at all times for every good work.” That’s what God is promising to cheerful givers. It’s amazing!
You say, “Well, does cheerful giving also involve money back?” Well, let’s look at the text. I’m going to skip here to verse 10. “He who supplies seed to the sower (Who gave you this seed to sow? God did.) and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” And the answer is, “Yes, of course! You reap whatever you sow. You give money and you get money back. Okay, you heard it from the pulpit of Moody Church. You give money. God gives you money back. You say, “Boy, that sounds an awful lot like those false prophets you like to talk about every once in a while.” It’s very different. Your Bibles are open. You finger is on the text.
Notice what it says. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food…” It’s not that He’s going to multiply and give you money back so that you can drive a fancy car and live in a fancy house, and so that you can be this rich person that the false prophets talk about. No! What does it say? It says, “He will provide bread for food and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” The reason that God is going to replenish what you have given is so that you can give more. That’s the whole point. There’s no self-interest here at all. (applause)
I have to say that I’m really glad that you clapped at that point. And another difference with false teachers is this. They’ll say, “Oh send the money to us and then you know you’ll be blessed.” Well, of course if you find Moody Church to be your church home, your first responsibility is to give to Moody Church. But this message is going to be heard by thousands of people who belong to other churches, and I say to them, “Give to your church, give to your missionaries, be generous wherever you are, and that will be the pathway to blessing.” It’s not as if we send them to one organization because this organization has the ability somehow to bless people. No, we’re just reading the text here. God supplies bread for food, and will multiply and increase so that you can sow more.
You know I have eight beautiful grandchildren and sometimes I take them to a little pond that isn’t too far away, and we take bread and we feed the ducks. So I’m not as excited about feeding the ducks as my grandchildren are, but I take maybe three or four slices of bread. Usually it’s some old bread that Rebecca finds and I take it, and then when we get there you know these kids want to be so generous in feeding the ducks they’d like to throw the whole slice in at once. But I teach them how you break off little pieces so that it lasts longer. So you are out there and you can see the ducks. They’re all fighting for the little bit of bread.
And the kids are just delighted to see those ducks, and then their slice of bread is finished. It’s over. “Oh, we don’t have any more bread to give.” Well, guess what! Grandpa has another slice of bread in his pocket that you didn’t see.” And so what I do is I replenish it because I delight in seeing them give, and when it comes to giving to the ducks, they are very generous and cheerful. (laughter) The only difference with me is eventually I run out of the bread. God never runs out of bread. And He is the one who is able to supply (applause) in answer to this. God is the One who supplies. Well that’s the fourth point that we shall continue to emphasize - the divine favor of replacement. You empty this bucket, and God says, “Oh, I found a generous giver, somebody who delights in giving. I’m going to fill their bucket again because the way in which I’m going to promote my work is through them, and so since I have somebody who likes to empty their buckets cheerfully I’m going to give them more so that they’ll have more that they can give.
Number five, giving is a matter of worship. What’s the point of all this anyway? Why two chapters in the New Testament on giving? The answer is simply this. If you read the rest of the verses here, and I’m not sure I should take time to read them but I will. In verse 11 it says, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints (in Jerusalem) but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God,” and then it goes on to say, “By their approval of this service, they will glorify God.”
What Paul is saying is that when these people in Corinth gave to the Jewish people in Jerusalem there was a bond that developed between them. The Jewish believers in Jerusalem were going to give praise and honor to God and they were going to glorify God because of the generosity of the Corinthian church, and as a result of that, glory was going to come to God and many thanksgivings. And that’s what it’s all about. Many thanksgivings! And at the end, God gets glory.
You know, you may ask me today, “What is your vision as the pastor for Moody Church and giving?” Well, the vision is simply this. First of all, I’d like to see that we meet our budget. That’s a reasonable request, considering the fact that our budget is oftentimes produced right to the bone. Yes, I’d like to see our budget met, but I’d also like to see a great overflow of blessing. I begin to dream about all of the things that we could do if we had more money.
For example, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Pastor Levi and I could write a letter to all of our missionaries who are on a shoestring budget, so to speak, and to say to them, “Guess what! Moody Church has given so much money we can increase the amount that we are paying you?” And listen, if you live in India or Africa or Haiti, and some of those countries, an increase would bring glory to God and many thanksgivings. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do that? I wanted you to clap there too. (applause)
I think, for example, of the advancement and the continued growth of our children’s ministry. I think of our outreach ministries. I think of the fact that there are some slots in our staff that are unfilled simply because we don’t have the funds. I see the great things that God could do, even long-term, perhaps in answer to our perennial parking problem. That would be a way’s away and would take a lot of money, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if Moody Church overflowed with thanksgiving, and saints both here and in other places of the world would give glory to God? That’s what it’s all about.
Now what I want to do is to bring this home to all of us so that there is no mistaking. The world says this: “Keep your money. Don’t let them have it. Save it.” It’s very interesting that in the book of Proverbs we read this: “There is one who scatters (He scatters his seed.) and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous and he who waters will himself be watered.” You keep it all and it doesn’t turn out to be the source of happiness that you think.
The first lesson as we come to the bottom line is this: Sowing involves faith. There’s a story about a man in a third world country with lots of poverty and he took a bucket of grain from the little shed and his little daughter apparently accompanied him. And she saw daddy take a bucket of grain, and instead of using it for bread or pancakes, or whatever else, knowing that they were so low on food, he put all this grain in the ground. He took it and he seeded it. And he came back the next day and there was no evidence of anything. The seed was gone, and when this daughter asked him why he would take a bucket of wheat and put it in the ground, he said, “It’s because I believe in the harvest.”
But it takes faith to believe in the harvest, doesn’t it? I mean, when you stop to think of it you realize because you do not reap in the same season that you sow, it does take faith to put that seed in the ground. Sowing takes faith. You say, “Well, I just don’t see how God could multiply what I have. I don’t see how, if I give generously to Him, He can replenish it.” You don’t have to see how. I just read the text that says, “God is able to make all grace abound to you so that you would be sufficient and have sufficiency in all things at all times.” Now that’s just in the Word of God, and God takes care of the how if we are faithful.
Now, I want to say a word to those of you who perhaps have nothing to give, particularly those of you who are in debt - non-mortgage debt especially which some of you are drowning in. The first think I want to say is this: What you need to do is to find a plan to get out of debt, and there are plenty of plans. We have classes here taught from time to time on stewardship and managing your wealth and so forth because there are ways that you need to plan to get out of debt, because debt can be a very terrible thing.
But could I ask you this? Could you at least give something every week? Could you give a dollar every week? Could you? Could you give fifty cents a week? Could you give two cents a week? Could you afford that? You say, “Oh yeah, I can afford that.”
One day Jesus was at Jerusalem and He was watching the people put their money into the treasury. And by the way, giving at Moody Church is confidential, but I want you to know that it sure is not confidential in heaven. It’s news in heaven. Jesus was so close to the treasury that He could see how much each was giving. And He noticed that there was a woman there with two copper coins. Now what can you do with copper coins? You can’t even buy oil for one of the lamps in the holy place. You certainly can’t buy a brick or a stone. And yet Jesus said that she was really giving more than everybody else because she was giving out of her living, and everybody else was giving out of their abundance, Jesus said.
Jesus was watching. You see, it’s not the amount. It’s the heart. What I want to see in my life, as I pray that it shall be in yours, is a heart of generosity, a heart that is willing to give. And when the heart is willing to give, God begins to bless because, as I mentioned, Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than it is to receive.” I want you to experience that blessing, and so I encourage you to give something.
In fact, do you know what Paul says in the previous chapter? You can read it there on your own. He basically says that if you can’t give much, if you just give a little, you actually get rewarded for giving a lot because your heart was right. To God it is the heart that matters.
Now I want to say a word to the semi-rich, and I’m not in any way going to define that because there’s a whole continuum there. To give for the semi-rich is not necessarily to seed in faith because they know that they are going to have money for tomorrow. They are simply giving a portion, and many of us have saved some money. We may have retirement accounts, but we too can prove this principle by being generous.
And last time I told you that I appreciate the fact that there are those who are rich because they oftentimes are very generous, and they are of great help obviously. So what I’m saying is that you can begin to give more, increase the amount, and then see how God continues to fill that bucket so that you can continue to give more, which is the whole point of this passage. (applause) I hope your clapping today is really a sign of commitment and agreement.
And then I want to say something to the super rich. I was with a man the other day who is a broker. You know during the time of our financial downfall here in the United States all of us knew what a broker was. We were broker and broker (laughter) as the time went on. Of course he’s looking for clients with an awful lot of money because he gets a portion and that’s the way in which he lives. And he was telling me about some who have ten to fifteen to twenty million dollars, and they are looking for a place to park it. Those were his words. I said, “Are some of them believers?” He said, “Yes, some of them are believers.” Now I’m just talking to you very honestly today. I can’t get my mind around that. You’ve got all this money that you can never possibly use, and you are looking for a place to park it? Are you kidding me? If you want a place to park it you come and see me after the service and I’ll tell you a place to park it. (laughter and applause) I mean I’m trying to help raise funds for an orphanage in India. We have the land but we don’t have the building. You come and you tell me.
The women of Moody Church have begun to investigate the possibility of beginning a ministry here in Chicago to women who have been a part of sex trafficking. That’s going to cost us a lot of money. And are you telling me that you are going to park your money that you will never need that people will argue about after you die? Now if you want to invest ten million in a business that eventually gives you twenty million so you can give more, I’ll vote for you.
Folks, eternity is at stake. This past week a friend of ours died, and he was a good godly man. Rebecca and I couldn’t go to his funeral but I watched it online. His son stood up and said that he found this quote in his father’s stuff. Now this is a quote that you have to write down. It should be in the flyleaf of your Bible neatly written. This morning I wrote it in the flyleaf of my Bible, though not neatly. It should have been neater.
Are you ready for it? It is simply this: “What you spend is gone. What you save will be given to others. And what you give to God will be yours forever.” It’ll be yours forever. You say, “Well where’s that in the text?” It’s right here in the Bible. It says in verse 9 – it’s quoting a Psalm – and the “he” there is not God. It’s people. “He has distributed freely (He’s talking about givers that are generous), he has given to the poor, and his righteousness endures forever.”
Jesus put it this way: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Don’t lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupt and where thieves break through and steal. But rather lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” which are secure with a high rate of interest, and that money, that commitment will be yours forever. Forever! (applause)
You say, “Well, I just can’t believe that God would replenish my giving.” Why don’t you try it? In the Old Testament it says, “Test Me, and see whether or not I don’t bless you and open up the windows of heaven and bless you if you are going to be generous.”
Here’s a promise. “Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of your produce so that the barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.” Why don’t you put God to the test and generously give to Him and do it cheerfully, and see what He does. Test Him. He says, “Test Me.”
There’s a final and important point to make and that is this: True giving begins by receiving God’s gift. Do you notice the words of Scripture here? It says, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” It’s the last verse. It’s verse 15 in this passage. You and I were born with a love of money, and resentment toward anyone who has more than we do. That’s just part of who we are when we are born. I can prove this any day of the week. I can line up any two of my grandchildren and give one $10 and the other $20, and I can prove what I just told you.
We are born with a love of money and a resentment of anyone who has more than we do. How in the world do you get that greed out of your heart? How do you become a cheerful giver? Well, the opening thing that you and I must understand is that we must invite the true gift to be ours.
There is a story that comes to us about how there was a Persian prince. I’m sure that this is a legend likely. Let’s call him a Persian king, and he decided to connect with some of his subjects. So he put on ordinary clothes, and of course in those days, without television they had no idea how the king actually looked. And he went down to a common laborer who had the responsibility for filling some boilers with water in the midst of a cave and dungeon. And this man and the king sat down and developed a friendship. And day after day they had lunch together. They shared their hearts together. The king gave the man a lot of wisdom and then decided that it was time to tell him the truth, and to reveal to him who he really was. And the man, of course, was absolutely shocked. He had no idea that he had been fellowshipping with the king. But then the king said to him, “Is there anything you want me to do for you? Anything?” And the man said, “No, all that I want is your continuing fellowship. That is the greatest gift.”
When the Apostle Paul ends this passage by saying, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift,” he’s talking about the fact that Jesus left heaven. As I explained last time, He’s the only one I know who gave until He was poor. He set all of His riches aside so that we could be redeemed, and today if you come with a heavy heart, if you come with sin on your conscience, if you come and you don’t know Jesus Christ personally, and you have never connected with God, would you believe on Him and His amazing grace? All the way through the Bible says, as in this previous passage, “You know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and God is able to make grace abound for forgiveness, for restoration,” and then as we yield to the Holy Spirit of God, that greed that we are born with begins to dissipate and we finally enter into the absolute joy of giving. And God says, “Wow! We have another cheerful giver to bless.”
Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that You might help all of us to understand the depth to which You gave to us. Help us, Lord Jesus, to look forward to giving, to be asking questions of how we can give more so that we can prove Your faithfulness and believe, Lord God, that You are just as good as Your Word and as good as Your promises. And for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, we ask that today they shall understand that they must receive that gift of eternal life by faith, the beautiful gift of forgiveness and reconciliation. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.