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Cheerful Giving

January 29th 2012 by Joel Schultz

In this second week of Consecrated Stewards we hear from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians the "God loves a cheerful giver." How can we be cheerful givers? When we realize that giving starts with God. Read or listen to more...

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Consecrated Stewards Week 2 – “Cheerful Giving” – 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 – January 29, 2012

With two big dogs and our brutally dry summer, much of our back yard is a giant bare spot. Now if I were to take a dozen grass seeds and spread them over the area, what kind of results could I expect? It would look like a few wisps of green hair on that bare soil. On the other hand, if I generously spread a big bag of seed over the area and kept my dogs off it, what can I joyfully look forward to? Great results – thick green grass.

This might be one way of describing the opening thought in the verses of our text today. St. Paul is telling the Christians at Corinth about giving. If you sow sparingly; you reap sparingly. And if you sow generously, you will reap generously. Paul is saying there is a certain fulfillment and joy in giving to God that he wants Christians to know and experience. This is what I would like to explore today during week 2 of our Consecrated Stewards program.

I think the most helpful place to start is to remind ourselves that God is the source of all that we have – that giving originates with Him. We acknowledge that God is really the owner of all that we see and have. He has made us managers – stewards – to manage all this with care. And He has showered that grace on us in abundance, as St. Paul writes: “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…. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (vs. 8,10).

Notice the word “grace” used here. In its specific and narrow use in the Bible, it is through God’s grace that He gives us all that we are and have. Grace is the “undeserved love” that God gives us. Martin Luther captures that so well in his explanation of the 1st article of the Apostle’s Creed:

“I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason, and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger, and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me [that’s GRACE]. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.” (From Luther’s Small Catechism).

God has created us to reflect His pattern of giving in our life with Him and with others. Just as you and I would scatter seeds abroad when planting grass, so God scatters abroad His gifts to everyone – the poor as well as the rich. God is not stingy. He gives generously everyday, year after year. For this we are thankful, and a thankful heart is a happy heart. It is a trusting heart. It is a heart full of praise. It is a heart that gives in return. When we are led by the Spirit to recognize and count our blessings, we are the healthiest and happiest in our hearts and our minds; we are able to approach life with an attitude of giving. Picture a hand that is planting seed generously, and you see an open hand scattering seed in contrast to a closed hand that is holding the seed tightly in the hand. This takes a trusting heart – the thankful heart of faith – because otherwise we would want to hoard that seed and not let go.

When yours is a trusting heart, God can accomplish what He wants through you. Indeed, the trusting heart of the Christian has a sense of expectation – of faith – that God, the ultimate Giver, will do what He wants through your life. This suggests something important about our hearts and giving.

God is not looking for a disinterested giver. He is not looking for a dutiful giver. He is looking for a joyful giver. He wants to know that you delight in giving. One example is L. Kraft, head of the Kraft Cheese Corp. He has been giving approximately 25% of his enormous income to Christian causes for many years. He said, “The only investment I ever made which has paid consistently increasing dividends is the money I have given to the Lord.” Obviously, he has found purpose, joy and fulfillment in his giving.

We find another fascinating example in the story of Zacchaeus, the short person who was a tax collector, despised by his fellow Jews. He had heard about this Jesus. Then one day, Jesus came to town. He climbed a tree to see Jesus over the crowd. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus in, He told Zacchaeus to come down, and that He wanted to stay in Zacchaeus’ home. Zacchaeus experienced Jesus’ unconditional love, and it changed his life. In response, Zacchaeus said he would gladly give away half of all that he owned and would reimburse anyone he had cheated in taxes four times what was taken. Someone might suggest Zacchaeus felt guilty, felt he needed to repay for what was wrongly done. But who gives “gladly” out of guilt? No, Zacchaeus had a thankful heart and found joy in giving in response to God’s undeserved love and grace.

That’s one of the characteristics of Christian giving. It is done cheerfully and with the purpose of expecting results. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver…. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (vs. 7, 11). Your Christian giving is a commitment that comes from your heart, and should be one that both stems from joy and brings you joy.

There are pitfalls or difficulties of which to be careful in giving. We are not to be forced into giving. Nor should we give out of guilt or out of just some emotional overflow (or rush) that causes us regret later on. You are not to be sorry that you parted with your money. The Bible mentions not to give “under compulsion” which means giving under pressure. Rather, we are to give with a deliberate intention. That means that probably we are not called to answer EVERY single request for help. There are so many that come through the mail or radio or television that we need to be deliberate about what would honor God.

Giving is to be done with forethought and planning. Each person should make up their mind after serious thought of how to honor God. The stewardship principle here is that giving should be an occasion for joy. The giver wants to give because he/she loves Jesus. And it honors God.

Let me give you a specific example. It is your anniversary. You (as the husband) take your wife out to a nice restaurant. The two of you are enjoying a nice romantic time together when she looks into your eyes and says, “I want to thank you for this time together. It is so thoughtful of you.” And then you say to her, “Why, don’t think a thing about it. I’m just doing my duty!” What do you think her response will be? She will look at you with glaring eyes and may challenge the whole marriage relationship between the two of you. She expects to hear just the opposite of this. She wants to see you giving with joy. It is the same with God.

But it’s not an easy thing to keep our motives in check, is it? Think of the many possible motives for giving: Sense of responsibility. Guilt. Compassion. Self-satisfaction. Love. Fear. Commitment. Public praise or acknowledgement. Thanksgiving. Reward. The reality for us Christians is that we are constantly at war with our sinful nature, and it’s truly impossible for us, on our own, to be “holy” in our motivation for giving.

There’s also the other side of the coin, so to speak, isn’t there? I’m talking about the reluctance to give. There is a huge plumbing problem in American churches. The pipes are stopped up with “Me-ism.” People are blessed with resources from God but are confused about why He gave them those resources. They might think, “Perhaps it is so I can have a bigger car, a longer vacation, or a nicer house.” God’s not against us having those things and enjoying them – unless we are no longer seeking first the kingdom of God and are simply using God for our own selfish purposes. What are our priorities? They are measured by what each of us does with the money and possessions we have in our control.

The truth is that God created and designed us in His image to give, not to hoard or squander. We are following our sinful nature when we are mainly prone to keep and not give. A heart that hoards is not a happy heart. It’s not a trusting heart. At the end of the day, it is poorer, not richer.

If we pay attention, we can see principles of giving being put into practice all around us. Your marriage will not be successful if you are always on the receiving end. Your marriage is a success when you are giving love and devotion to your spouse. Marriage counselors will tell you: All other factors being equal, the people who are happiest in their marriages are the people who focus on giving, rather than taking.

So what are we to do? Of all the examples of God’s grace, the one at the center is His sending Jesus into the world to die for our sins. When we could not do anything about our sin condition, God gave His very best: He gave the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to pay for our sins. That is the greatest example of giving the world has ever seen. Look to the cross of Christ; keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the perfector of your faith. Trust in the hope you have in Him and Him alone, and you will find the joy of salvation that leads to Christian giving and the blessings it brings.

It is wonderful when we realize the promise of blessing which God attaches to our giving. The promise is that giving has great results. Listen again as Paul describes this: “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings 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” (2 Corinthians 9:12-13).

When you and I are led by the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and recognize how abundantly blessed we are, we will find ourselves with thankful, happy hearts, motivated by love to give cheerfully and joyfully in response to God’s underserved love and acceptance that is ours in Christ Jesus.

Look at the way God has blessed you with what you have. It all comes from His hand. And see His greatest love through Jesus given as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Realize that giving makes your heart healthy as you do it cheerfully in response to God. Open your eyes to the blessings which result from giving to God and to others.

May the Holy Spirit keep your heart reflecting the image of God – giving generously, joyfully, and finding fulfillment in it! Amen.

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