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Managing God's Gifts

The Sermon On The Amount

Erwin W. Lutzer | March 19, 2000

Selected highlights from this sermon

The Corinthians promised to contribute a gift, but they were moving slowly in comparison to poorer churches. Paul urged them to give, reminding them that they needed to give generously, cheerfully, and expectantly. 

We should never give out of obligation, but instead we should give out of joy. 

Every few years I quote this poem, and I think that in light of my message it should be quoted again today.

A big silver dollar and a little brown cent
Rolling along together they went.
Rolling along the smooth sidewalk
When the dollar remarked, for the dollar can talk,
“You poor little cent, you cheap little mite,
I’m bigger than you and more than twice as bright.
I’m worth more than you a hundredfold,
And written on me in letters bold
Is the motto from the pious creed,
‘In God we trust,’ which all can read.”
“I know,” said the cent, “I’m the cheap little mite,
And I’m not good, nor big nor bright.”
“But,” said the cent with a meek little sigh,
“You don’t go to church as often as I.”

Today I am speaking on the Sermon on the Amount. (laughter) Everyone wonders (Yeah, you’re catching on.) how much should we give. Well today I want to help you from God’s Word. In the Old Testament there was a ten percent requirement called a tithe, but it was a requirement. It was like a tax.

When you fill out your income tax, the IRS doesn’t say, “Well, you know, how much would you like to give this year? Why don’t we have a stewardship day and see what your commitment is?” No, the IRS says, “Pay up or you’re dead meat,” or something like that.

So the thing is that in the Old Testament it was a requirement, and beyond that tithe or that tax, there were offerings and there were even other tithes and so forth. So people often wonder if we should transfer that Old Testament context to the New. Well, in the New Testament we know that there’s a sense in which God does have a higher standard, and we are to give in the way in which we are prospered. But the New Testament does not specify specifically a percentage. It goes to the heart of the matter and gives us principles by which, if we follow those principles, God will show us how much we should give.

If you have your Bibles, I’d appreciate it if you would turn to 2 Corinthians 9. The Apostle Paul wanted to raise an offering from the Corinthians for the saints in Jerusalem. Now many of the Jerusalem folks were Jewish people, and the Apostle Paul not only wanted to help the poor, which was a great motivation for giving, but there was more to it as well. Paul wanted to bind together Jew and Gentile by means of this offering. There’s nothing that brings people together as when wealth and resources are shared.

And so Paul is talking to the Corinthians who made a promise but they had not followed through. You’ll notice in 2 Corinthians 8 he says in verses 10 and 11: “And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.”

Paul says, “You agreed to give an offering and now the offering has really not been taken. You’ve made your commitments – a very great deal of relevance to us. It’s easy to make a promise and to say, “Well, we have made a promise but we have not followed through.” Paul says, “Follow through so that it may be completed.” Now in order to motivate them he used the Macedonians, as we noticed last time. He used Jesus Christ, who though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. And now what he wants to do is to motivate us as he has recorded this in God’s most holy Word. Paul elevates giving. He calls it in this passage a ministry – a fellowship. He even refers to it as a debt, as the fruit of Christian love, and throughout the text he keeps speaking about the unique grace called giving.

Now what I’d like to do is to ask you to look at chapter 9, and we are going to pick it up at verse 6. Paul, in encouraging people to give, chooses the metaphor of a farmer, and having chosen it he gives us principles that will help us to know how much we should be giving. You’ll notice he says in verse 6: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully (generously) will also reap bountifully.”

Three principles: Principle number one – the example of Jesus Christ, yes, but the first principle is to sow generously because we reap what we sow. Paul is saying if you sow stinginess, you are going to reap stinginess. Elsewhere he says if you sow to the flesh, you shall of the flesh reap corruption. If you sow to the Spirit, you will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. You sow generously and you will reap generously because we reap more than we sow.

You know, back on the farm there were times when farmers might have an implement that was to be doing the seeding, and maybe it got stuck. Maybe the grain got stuck, and so the wheat was not being put into the ground. Sometimes the farmers perhaps didn’t know it until they had done part of the field. But in the fall when harvest time came, if there was no seed or sparse seed, there was a very sparse harvest.

We used to take grains of wheat and count the number of kernels, and one kernel of grain sometimes produced up to 30 kernels of wheat. And Paul is saying that if you sow sparingly, you will reap sparingly. If you sow generously, you will reap generously. So the first principle is to sow generously, and if you are wondering how much you should give to God and to His work, there’s a question you have to ask. What kind of a harvest do you want? Do you want a bountiful harvest, or would you be satisfied with a sparse harvest? That’s the first principle.

The second principle: sow cheerfully. The text says in verse 7: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Now it doesn’t matter what a farmer’s motive is when he seeds. As long as there is rain, as long as the soil is good, as long as God does not send him any hail, he’s going to have a crop no matter what his attitude was on the day that he planted it. But this is a different kind of seeding and a different kind of harvesting.

So Paul says, “I want you to do it with the right kind of attitude.” He said, “Do not be a sad giver. Don’t give grudgingly or reluctantly.” But I need to say that to you today. God has to do a work in our hearts so that we can give cheerfully most assuredly. Do not be a sad giver. Do not be a mad giver. He says, “Do not do it of necessity, or don’t do it under compulsion.”

If you are here today and saying, “Stewardship enrichment! They can just do whatever they want to do. I don’t want to get involved in this. That’s their program.” Well then maybe you shouldn’t give at that point because Paul says, “Don’t be a sad giver and don’t be a mad giver, but be a glad giver.”

Why give cheerfully? Because God gave cheerfully! “He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things?” God gives cheerfully; therefore He says we should as well.

I have a friend who is a pastor who tells his congregation quite often (more often than I think he should), “God loves a cheerful giver, but we’ll take money from a grouch.” (laughter) Now I’ve thought about that statement quite a bit because I’ve heard him say it a number of times, and I may have used it here at the church a couple of years ago. I feel a little uneasy about it but here’s my analysis of it. If you are a grouch and you give, there is no doubt that God can take that gift and use it. God will bless it. God will invest it. It will have an impact in the lives of people. It will support missionaries. It will help children. It will take care of responsibilities and salaries in the ministry. It will be blessed, but God can bless the gift but He cannot bless the giver. And therefore, don’t give grudgingly or of necessity. Be a cheerful giver. Desire to give more than you can give.

A couple of weeks ago a woman in this congregation (an African American woman) after the service came to me and she said, “Pastor (And the moment she began to talk she began to cry. Tears were coursing down her cheeks.), I want you to know that for years I’ve given ten percent to this church. I’ve given my tithe, and now I want to double it for stewardship enrichment, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to afford to do it.” I looked at this dear lady and I said, “Don’t feel under compulsion to double the amount that you are giving.” I said, “Your tears are testimony to the fact that you are a cheerful giver, and you would desire to give more, and God will honor that.” If more of us wept, saying, “You know, we have a certain amount that we could give, but we are crying because we want to give more,” how precious that would be to God. And I will tell you for sure that our needs and our goals and our aspirations at this church would be fully met. God loves a cheerful gift, and those tears were a sign of love and cheerfulness.

Well, we’ve learned the first principle is you must sow generously. So if you are wondering how much to give, ask yourself the question, “What kind of a harvest do I want?” But there is a second principle, and that is to give cheerfully. Ask yourself a second question, namely “What kind of a heart do I have?” Those who love God love to give, and God loves those who give hilariously and cheerfully.

Well, there’s a third principle, and that is we should sow expectantly. Now the question is, what kind of a harvest are you going to have? What is God going to give you in return? In the Old Testament it was primarily wealth. There was a tight connection between the spiritual life of the nation and the way in which God blessed them on their crops. He said, “If you follow Me and serve Me, I will bless you and your barns are going to be filled with plenty, and you are going to have all that you could possibly have, but if you turn away from Me as a nation,” the Lord says, “I will send grasshoppers. I will send hail. I will send drought.”

That’s not true today, you know, because God is no longer dealing with us as a nation. He’s dealing with us as individuals and He is creating a transnational community – a community of Jews and Gentiles, a community with different races and cultural backgrounds, and that’s why we have here at The Moody Church our desire to be known as a culturally diverse community – not theologically diverse but culturally diverse because we know that God is choosing people from every tribe and nation. But He no longer deals with us in that tight relationship.

This is possibly the best place for me to comment on so-called television preachers. I actually thought that they no longer existed, the kind that we sometimes refer to, and I was surprised to discover that there are some people on television who are saying things that are so wrong, that are so demeaning to God and that are so manipulative. I hope that you are aware of them. I hope that you warn others about them. “You know that if you give, God is going to give back to you. If you send to this ministry, this is the seed faith and soon you are going to be driving that pink Cadillac.”

I couldn’t believe this, but the other day I heard somebody who should know better praying to break the curse of debt. They were asking God to break the curse of debt. And especially, if you send money to the ministry, why indeed the curse of debt will be lifted right away, and not only that, I heard one preacher say, “This is unbelievable, folks.” (I don’t understand how there are Christians who listen to this kind of demeaning theological talk.) He said in effect, “If you send money to this ministry you’ll discover that God will pay your bills and you’ll receive a computer printout from your mortgage company saying, ‘We don’t know how it happened but our books show that your house has been paid for.’” Utter nonsense! If you are in debt, I’ll tell you how to break the curse of debt. First of all, you take care of those credit cards in the plastic surgery that I talked about a couple of weeks ago. That’s one good step. The second step is to begin to pay your debts. Get to a financial advisor who can help you to know how those debts should be paid over a period of time. And that’s the way you get out of debt. You don’t send money to some TV preacher so that he can pray for you to break its curse. It is a curse, but you got into it, and you and God and your financial advisor had better get you out of it. That’s the answer.

So we’re not here crassly talking about “if you sow money I promise you tenfold; I promise that for every dollar you give you’re going to get another ten in return.” Listen to me. I’ve got something better to share with you than that from this text.

Let me tell you something. I marvel at what the Apostle Paul says here. In fact, I not only marvel at it. I almost don’t understand it because Paul is saying that if you sow money, God is going to give you a harvest, but the harvest is going to be something that is better than money, and something that money can’t even buy. Now there will almost always be financial return, but it doesn’t mean that’s why we give or we are giving our way to prosperity as the title of one book reads. Paul says, “God’s got something in store for you that money can’t buy.”

We’ve learned that we sow generously. We sow cheerfully. So what is the third principle? We sow expectantly because we know it takes faith to sow because you are kissing the seed goodbye. You are putting the seed in the soil, and that takes faith. But notice the harvest that God gives us. What is it? Well, I’ve categorized it under three different ways to describe it.

First of all, he says, the harvest of sufficiency in all things. I am astounded at the universals in verse 8. In fact I think that little word all or its equivalent appears about three times for sure, and maybe four. Listen to what he says in verse 8: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times (Isn’t that four times? Notice then) that you may abound in every good work.” I read that and I am astounded. I am saying, “Paul, are you telling me that if I am faithful in giving money, I am going to experience a sufficiency of God that money cannot buy, and that I will find that well of water within me reaching up to eternal life, because the idea here in the Greek is that it will be a matter of inner resources so that I will be able to suffer better, so that I will be able to face life better, so that I will have more wisdom and abound in all things? That’s what Paul says is one of the harvests of those who give generously. It is a harvest of sufficiency.

It also is a harvest (and this surprises me even more) of special righteousness. Verse 10: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed…” Now there he is talking about money. He is saying, “You put seed into the ground and you can expect that God IS going to bless you to have seed back, but notice what you are going to have. He will increase your store of seed and enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. And I say, “Paul, I don’t get that. What’s the connection between faithfulness in giving and the harvest of righteousness?” Now obviously this is not the righteousness that Jesus Christ gives by which we enter into heaven because that has to be a free gift because it is the righteousness of God to which we can contribute nothing.

And this would be a good place for me to say to those of you who are listening who have never received Christ as Savior, you’ve never transferred your trust to Him, that you must do so realizing that you make no contribution to the righteousness of God. It must be received as a free gift. But Paul is talking about practical righteousness.

I think if we could discuss this with Paul, and I’d love to sit down with Paul and say, “Help me to better understand what you have in mind.” Paul would say, “Look, if you are not giving generously, if you are not sowing generously, then don’t expect necessarily that your family is blessed. Don’t necessarily expect that you are going to find that sufficiency and the practical righteousness, and the wisdom that you need is going to take place because these are part of the harvest of those who sow the seeds.” And you’ll notice he quotes here from Psalm 112:9: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor. His righteousness endures forever.” And somehow there is a connection between the two.

What is the harvest? It is the harvest of sufficiency. It is also the harvest of special righteousness, and then special blessings. And here Paul begins to just, what shall we say, have one phrase after another. And the essence of what he is saying is that this is going to resound to the praise and the honor of God. You’ll notice it says in verse 11: “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way.” And again here he is still talking about spiritual prosperity. It is involved. “It will produce thanksgiving to God.” Who is going to thank God? It’s the people who have been blessed as a result of the gift. It’s the saints who are in Jerusalem. It’s the children that we hope to reach here in the city of Chicago as we build this building. It’s the people who come in who know that we need the classrooms for our adult ministries, our children’s ministries, that we need space for a fellowship hall so that our ministries can be strengthened, and the interaction of believers can be made firm. You see, it is then that people are going to offer praise to God.

I look forward to the day. Some day in my mind’s eye I can imagine the dedication of the building that we hope to build. And I can imagine that we will begin by singing the doxology, or at least end by singing it. It will result in praise to God because we will say, “It isn’t the building, but it’s the thousands of lives that are going to be touched as a result of it. Thanksgiving and praise to God in that building and for that building will go on for years to come, long after you and I have passed off the scene.

So you’ll notice in verse 12 Paul is saying: “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints (Oh, that’s part of it – yes) but it is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” He’s saying, “Those saints in Jerusalem are going to bless you for what you are doing, and you are going to be bound together with them and because of the service with which you prove yourself, men will praise God.” Now I underlined this in my Bible, but that’s at least the third time Paul says that one of the results of this harvest is thanksgiving to God.

“By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.” Now no wonder he ends by saying: “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” Again, Paul wants to root our faithfulness in giving in the unspeakable gift of God, and he holds Christ high.

Do you see what Paul is saying? Through our giving we are bound to other saints. Our hearts are knit together. Lives are challenged. People are blessed, and because in Stewardship Enrichment, ten percent of our giving is going to missionaries in different parts of the world, and to different projects, there are people all over the world who are going to offer praise to God because of the generosity of God’s people, and that is part of the harvest of righteousness. It’s the kind of thing that money cannot buy.

Now, of course, the question is how much shall we give? Somebody says, “Shall I tithe on the gross or shall I tithe on the net?” How shall we do this? How shall we discern God’s mind? Have you understood the principles? Sow generously, and ask yourself the questions, “What kind of a harvest to I want? Do I want God to bless the gross, or do I want God to bless the net? What kind of a harvest do I want? Shall I sow sparingly or shall I sow bountifully, believing in the harvest?

There’s a second principle, and that is, what kind of a heart do I have because we are to sow cheerfully? Could it be that there is somebody here today who says, “They aren’t going to get a dime out of me?” Well, my dear friend, if you are sitting here today and you are saying that, then I humbly say, “Keep your dime. Get on your knees until you love God, and then you’ll be able to share that dime, and then even maybe a few others. But until your heart is right, don’t worry about your checkbook.” But your checkbook may be a good indicator as to where your heart is. So what’s the second principle? You sow cheerfully. We asked the question, “What kind of a heart do I have?”

And now we also sow expectantly, and we ask ourselves the questions, “What kind of a heritage are we going to leave? What kind of lives are we going to impact for the cause of the Gospel?” No, there is no percentage stipulated, and we’re not here to tell you what the percentage would be. Certainly ten percent is a good benchmark. It’s a good beginning place, but beyond that it is between you and God, seeking His mind and asking the question about the harvest.

In a third world country there was a father who faced a very difficult decision. He had a bucket of corn that his family needed because they were poor. And here was this tension within him as to what to do with the bucket of corn. You could use it now, and it would probably serve them maybe for a week. What he did was he went into the hut and took it down and he put it in the ground. He seeded it. As he walked along he stomped it into the ground, and his little daughter was astounded because to her, Daddy was just ruining the whole thing. I mean, what good are these seeds in the ground? I mean we need bread. We need whatever corn can make. But he said to her, “My little girl, I want you to know that I’m putting this seed away in the ground because I believe in the harvest.”

You see, some of you face that decision, don’t you? You need money to live. There’s no question about it. You have mortgage payments. We all do. We all have to be able to survive, and so there is tension here, you see, between what shall I give and how much can I (quote) afford to give? In a sense, that is a legitimate question. How much seeding can I do when there is not a whole lot of corn in the house? And the answer to that question is that it depends on your faith in the harvest.

The Apostle Paul says, “You give generously, and God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need (what a promise), you will abound in every good work.” You give generously and you get things that money can never possibly buy. Can you trust the God of the harvest? That’s the question. Can we trust God to keep His word that the harvest will come in?

You know, of course, that you always reap in a different season than you sow. You sow in the springtime but you don’t harvest in the springtime. You have to wait. In the very same way, we sow now and over the next three years, and the harvest will come in, of course. We will see it with our own eyes, God willing, but it’s down the road. It’s years from now that we see its fruition and its completeness. And so I ask you today what is the amount? Sow generously. Sow cheerfully. Sow expectantly, and believe – believe - in the God of the harvest.

Let’s pray.

Now Father, we ask that You shall take these words and bless them. We ask today, Father, that You might help us to trust You in those areas that are so difficult for us to trust. And we pray that the grace of Christ and the strength of Christ would be upon us. Those who have not yet made their decision and their commitment for next week, oh Father, even at this late date, help them to seek You, to believe You, and to be generous. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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