A Cheerful Giver (August 5, 2018)
2 Corinthians 9: 6-15
A Cheerful Giver
On a normal sermon I will read prayerfully through the scripture and listen for the Spirit to give me guidance and insight on it. And then I’ll sleep on that. This usually happens on Monday. And then on Tuesday I’ll load up the Internet and I’ll go to a kind of collection of resources, as well as some as I have in my office, and look for what the church has said about the passage over the years. And usually I’ll get one or two insights out of that, but for the most part I’m looking for whether I’m completely off base. On most passages I can usually get thirty-five one to two page articles that have been written by scholars in the church about the Scripture in question with the website I use. And I usually read about ten to eleven of those and see what is the consensus is about this passage.
This week’s message, in spite of the fact that this is in the Lectionary as a Thanksgiving Sunday passage, and in spite of the fact that this is one of the more popular scriptures to be cited in society: “God loves a cheerful giver! Now give and don’t complain!” In spite of all of that there were three commentaries from modern day authors this week. Now the old ones were still there, because back in the old days they just did a commentary on every verse and so they exist for everything. But for today it’s three. There was one exception to that: there were more than average children sermons. But there was way less for adult sermons.
I began to wonder why. This passage is often utilized; you hear it so often in passing. And it’s in the three-year preaching plan. So why is this passage so unexplored? I think that one reason might be that we get squeamish when this passage begins to talk about something more significantly valuable. It’s OK for this message to be for children. It’s OK to be teaching children to give gladly, because children are only giving 10% of their allowance and then the other 90% of their allowance can often be used on video games or candy at the local gas station.
But we don’t like this passage anymore when we’re talking about giving from adult perspective. When there’s bills to be paid, and the bills take up 80% or 85% of our income, and then at the church they say “OK give 10% of your income.” And that now is the vast majority of our income. It’s no longer 10% of our disposable income now, it’s 60-70% of our disposable income. And the church is still saying that God loves a cheerful giver, so be cheerful! We start to get more squeamish when what we’re supposed to be happy about giving up is more valuable than a candy bar. Yet the scripture remains. What we do with it?
It is worth noting that what Paul is doing here is collecting an offering for the Saints in Jerusalem. He says specifically this is an “above and beyond” offering that he’s collecting from the various churches in Macedonia and in the lower parts of Greece. That money would be taken back to help support the people in Jerusalem. And so he says that “as you were giving to help support the Jerusalem Church, in a place which is far more persecuted, remember that God loves cheerful people giving.”
This scripture has been grossly misused to guilt people into giving more than really they wanted to. And I think that Paul’s message here is actually quite the opposite. It is not about guilting people into giving more, it’s actually about reminding them that the point of this giving is to bless others. And gift the money will bless the people who are receiving it, but don’t forget that God is blessing you in the giving of it. And you need to be giving in spirit where God is going to bless you. The spirit that you give this offering in is what your sewing into the ground, and you will reap that same kind of spirit later in journey. This isn’t about the amount in my mind, and I don’t think it’s about the amount in Jesus’ mind either.
Do you remember the parable where the widow gives two cents and the Pharisee is giving the full tithe? The Pharisee is giving much more than the widow is in terms of amount, but Jesus says the widow has given more and that the widow has left blessed and not the Pharisee. Do you remember that parable? Jesus doesn’t care as much about the amount you give, but about the attitude you give it in (the pastor says a little scared, remembering that the church has a budget).
You reap what you sow is about your spiritual attitude as you give. If you give begrudgingly or resentful of God, you will reap resentfulness of God. If you give for self-motivation like the Pharisee does; he’s giving because that’s what you’re supposed to do and he’s going to get something out of it: he’s going to get a blessing or he’s going to get Heaven out of it. If you give like this, then the relationship with God you reap is transactional, it’s one of patronage; it’s not one of worship or one of friendship, it is not one of love. You’re going to begin to view God as someone who is taking what is yours; you view the tithe as almost to tax. Or you begin to view God as someone from whom you are purchasing a service, and God had better supply God’s side to it or you’re going to be upset. In today’s society we have this “customer is always right” culture; imagine if you begin to approach God with saying, “I don’t care what you have to say, God, because the customer is always right and I’m a customer.” You reap what you sow.
But, if the attitude that you sow is a cheerful attitude, and you give the way that you might give to a little child if a child comes up and asks for a dollar, the way that parents will sometimes give to their own children, the kind of attitude that good children will have when taking care of their older parents. What if you give sacrificially, where you’re saying, “God, I don’t know how I’m going to make it giving this to you; but God I know you are God, that you are good, and you will use this well, and so I give this to you as a sacrifice.”
If you give like the widow did, what you’re doing is you’re sowing a trust in God; you’re sowing a relationship with God of friendship, of love, of hope. And you believe that God would not only provide to you what you need to survive, but also will multiply your gift and will do amazing things with this gift. How do you give to God?
It’s worth noting that the church in Greece, and the church in Corinth, is not going to get anything back monetarily from this offering. The money that is being offered here that goes to Paul that is being taken to Jerusalem; it is being taken away, it is leaving Corinth, it is leaving Greece. It would be as if we were taking up a collection for the church in Puerto Rico, and then it goes away and it’s gone.
But of course they do get a blessing. Because they’re part of the church, and the Saints in Jerusalem are part of the church. And the apostles can continue to do their work and they get a blessing. And when the Church gets a blessing, then the whole church is blessed as one body. That is a blessing to them even in Corinth, even if it’s never reciprocated. The reason is they are on the same team.
And even if they couldn’t see that, they receive a blessing from simply giving cheerfully because God can work with them and they begin to view the world differently. By willfully giving up something that they had material things become less important; and study, after study, after study shows that when material things are less important your happiness goes up; when you have less you’re actually happier. That’s crazy, but it’s true.
When I hear of a story that talks about giving cheerfully, and the things that can come from giving cheerfully, or more importantly the things that can come when you’re not giving cheerfully; I’m always reminded of the story of Cain and Abel. This is the story of the first offering to God. When we read the story of Cain and Abel we often focus on the end of the story, but in reality it is the story of offering. Cain is a herdsman, Abel is a farmer; and each of them come to God with an offering. And Abel has taken the best ears of corn, and the best grain, and he has come to offer that to God; the top 10%. Cain, though, has come with what’s left, the parts of the animal that he wasn’t wanting to eat, and he’s going to offer that to God. “I mean it’s burnt anyway, what does God care right?” Cain wasn’t cheerful in coming to God, and it showed in what he was willing to offer to God. Cain came with the leftovers, with whatever was left at the end.
Many of us give that way to the church. I’ve been guilty of it before, too, so I’m far from judging. But what was in Cain’s heart showed with that offering. But it also showed with his reaction when God didn’t approve of the offering. You don’t kill your brother on a spur the moment decision, you have been building up anger and resentment for a while for that. When God didn’t accept his offering, he felt wronged somehow and immediately blamed anyone but himself, with murderous consequences.
Let me ask you something: is giving to the church, whether you are tithing or whether you’re giving less than tithe, is that first or last on your budget sheet? Are you giving the top, the first fruits or are you giving leftovers? And sometimes, of course, it’s written for us at the top our budget sheet, but it’s also the last check we write or if things look like they’re starting to get tight this month it is the first check we decide doesn’t need to be written.
My hope that it’s the first check you write. Whatever it is you decide in your budget that you’re going to be giving, that’s the first check that goes out, and it’s the last thing you’re not paying. And this is because you’re cheerfully giving to the Lord, because the Lord’s going to work miracles with whatever it is you’re giving. How are you giving? My hope and my prayer is that you can begin to give, or continue to give, with cheerful hearts, showing a bountiful, loving, and friendly relationship with God that will reap the joys of heaven. Amen.