Jars of Clay: Giving as Worship

jars - calendar2 Corinthians 9

Week 1 – 2 Corinthians 8

The issue of giving away money evokes two diametrically opposed responses among Christians:

   an awkward timidity amongst some and

   an "in-your-face" boldness among the prosperity gospel movement.

In the first case, we fear that "too much" talk about money may offend. Truth is that it directly confronts our materialism and the individualistic nature of our lives. We say, ‘The preacher should talk about God," we mean that the preacher should not talk about money (since, for us, giving is a private affair and nothing to do with being blessed spiritually).

Summary: Spiritual gift of giving is the reflex of our joy in God’s gift to us in Christ. The Macedonians’ joy led to giving, not the other way around. For this reason, the collection is termed a "grace" and a "ministry!"

Week 2 – 2 Corinthians 9

Giving is a response to what God has already done for us in the past and a demonstration of our continuing confidence in what he has promised to do for us in the future. Just the same as other components of worship.

In Pauls day, like our own, participation in charitable giving and the administration of financial affairs were matters of public concern. It is not surprising, therefore, that each of Paul’s three major themes finds echo in our time:

1. a concern for integrity (the need to send the delegation (8:16-24)).

2. a concern that giving be uncoerced and generous (completing the collection in advance (9:1-5)). Giving is a matter of the heart as much as the mind.

3. a concern for maintaining the proper purpose (responding to the grace of God (9:6-15).

If we intend to live in ways that honour God we have to get this giving issue right!

1. God the Giver

Our resources originate from him as a blessing, not from us as an expression of what we deserve. This insight is as profoundly life-changing as it is simple. That God is the giver of everything is the foundation of our giving to others.

The key to generosity is not caring less about what we have in the world, but caring more about God’s purposes in granting to us his gifts.

Wealth is a gift of God, freely given as an expression of God’s commitment to his people. Hence, for those who trust in him, it can be freely given way.

"Cheerful givers" are not so by nature. Only those who realise that they received great benefits from God have both the material means and the inner disposition to become cheerful givers.

2. Giving as challenge to our culture

Ours is the first major civilization to be building itself deliberately and self-consciously without religious foundations. Beneath other civilizations there have always been religious foundations, whether these come from Islam, Hinduism, or Christianity itself. It creates marvellous ingenuity and intricacy but it is arising over a spiritual vacuum.

As a result we have also rewritten the religious question. That question was always how we might be consoled in our journey through this valley of tears.

Socrates found consolation in the good, the beautiful, and the true; the New Testament finds it in Christ’s redemption; Marx and liberation theology found it in the journey toward a more just world.

But we find it simply in ourselves. We have become both our own patients and therapists, deeply committed to the gospel of self-fulfilment. And at its heart is our obsession with money.

Giving away generously challenges everything we learn in our society.

3. Giving as an act of grace to the glory of God.

Since our giving is an expression of God’s having already given all things to us, we must focus on God’s grace as the basis for giving.

1, This means resisting the temptation to turn giving into a voluntary opportunity "to do something great for God." Giving to others is not yet another way of contributing back to God for what he has done for us.

2. God does not need our money to further his causes. He is not dependent on us. God gives out of his sovereign self-sufficiency and love, not in order to receive back, as if he needed anything (Acts 17:24—25).

3. Nor should we give "in order to show God how thankful we are." Our job is not to prove our sincerity to God. Those who recognise God to be the giver of all things are thankful, and God knows our hearts.

Instead, the motivation for giving is as radically God-cantered as its foundation.

Giving to others is a response to what God has already done for us in the past and a demonstration of our continuing confidence in what he has promised to do for us in the future.

Giving is an act of faith in response to God’s grace.

As such, our giving is not a decision to participate in the projects of the church, but an expression of the fact that we are the church; that is, that we belong to God and hence to one another.

For this reason, the affirmation of the Corinthians, who have already repented, climaxes with the collection. The collection reveals the manifestation (3:7-18) and praise (9:12-15) of God’s glory.

4. Giving as a sign of belonging

The New Testament does not teach a doctrine of tithing. Nor does Paul hint at what constitutes giving generously. He does not even provide a target or general guidelines. The only rule is to give freely and generously as an expression of our continuing trust in God’s grace (9:5-8).

Paul simply assumes that believers will give all they can to meet as many needs as they can in order to glorify God as much as they can. The point of 9:6 is that one should give as freely as possible, knowing that the "return" will be of like kind.

There is a principle of divine retribution here, since the manner of one’s giving reflects the character of one’s heart. God gives back blessings to those who give as a matter of blessing, but withholds his blessings from those who withhold from others.

We must be careful here, however. The “payback" is not material, but the prayers of God’s people and the enjoyment of God’s glory (cf. 9:12-15).

While giving must be done freely, it is not optional!

The Corinthians’ participation in the collection was not "for the church," but evidence that they were the church, to give to others is a manifestation of the righteousness of God, apart from which there is no salvation (9:9-11).

The fact that believers often ask how much they should give reveals that they have not yet grasped the point. Besides, our problem is usually not that we are in danger of harming ourselves by giving too much!

John Piper:
When people don’t find pleasure (Paul’s word is "cheer"!) in their acts of service, God doesn’t find pleasure in them. He loves cheerful givers, cheerful servants. What sort of cheer? The safest way to answer that question is to remember what sort of cheer moved the Macedonians to be generous. It was the overflow of joy in the grace of God. Therefore, the giver God loves is the one whose joy in him overflows "cheerfully" in generosity to others.

5. Giving as Proclamation

Faith is trusting in God
to meet our needs in the present so that we might give to the needs of others. As such, faith encompasses the past and future as we live them out day by day before God.

We give, therefore, as an expression of our trust in God to meet our needs today. We should not give simply out of our surplus from the past, nor should we give in the hope of getting more in the future. Rather, not worrying about tomorrow and trusting God to sustain if through the trouble of today (Matt. 6:34), we are free to share our daily bread with others.

Indeed, Paul calls us to give freely and generously supremely because of our riches in God himself, past, present, and future, quite apart from our current economic status (remember the Macedonians), and without any thought of future financial recompense (Paul never promises financial reward for giving).