During the months of May and June we spent four weeks seeking to gain a deeper understanding of “God’s Amazing Grace” and how the Lord has so freely showered every one of us with His abundant blessings. We learned that we were not born by mere coincidence or happenstance, but that the God of all creation took time to knit us together in our mother’s womb. He has created us with purpose in mind. The reason God has given us life is so that we may live in fellowship with Him, bring glory and honor to His holy name, and share His saving grace with everyone we meet so that they may know Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives.
God has set us in this world as people of purpose and He has also provided every blessing we need to fulfill our purpose and enjoy Him all of the days of our lives. Every aspect of our lives is a gift from God – from life itself to the air we breathe to the relationships we enjoy to the health we are experiencing to the beauty of His creation. God’s grace is truly amazing! God’s grace is a constant reminder of His love for you and me.
The study of God’s amazing grace was a breakthrough for many of us who have struggled with important questions like, “Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with this life I am living? Is there anything of lasting meaning in this life?” As we came to understand God’s answers to these important questions we were challenged by God to answer an important question. When God gives us insight into the truths of His Word He then asks for a response. We must answer the question, “How shall I respond to God’s grace freely given to me?” Will I respond by simply shrugging it off and going on about my business? Will I respond in humble gratitude and seek to know Him more and more, serve Him with all of my heart, and commit my life, my time, and the material blessings God has given me to honor Him each day?
It is now four months since we studied these deep truths of God. I am convinced that many of us were moved to action by God’s Spirit I believe we have heard God’s voice calling us to get off the sidelines and into the game of honoring and serving the Lord. You may ask, “What makes you think you know our hearts and what we do when we are away from the church?” That is a great question and the answer is that nobody knows the heart of a person except the person and God, but I see the fruits of the commitments that many of us have made. I see new people who have signed up for Bible study on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Tuesday mornings, and Wednesday nights. I see more people volunteering to serve the Lord by serving His people. We had forty people who willingly signed-up to help with the “Game Day Witness” last Sunday. You signed-up to serve our guests because God moved upon your hearts. I watch the Chimes each week to see how we are doing in keeping pace with the budget our Stewardship Committee has set for the church and I see how faithful you are in your commitment to tithe to God’s work going on at Britton Christian Church. I see fruit coming from our studies and it thrills my heart.
Our Stewardship Committee made the decision back in June to move our budgeting process from the fiscal year to a calendar year. This is being done because in May and June we were having to fit things in between Mother’s Day and the end of school when families were going on vacation and attendance is generally lower. As a result of their decision we are going to do a mini-stewardship study for the next two weeks so that we can seek to discern what God is leading us to do for the calendar year of 2000. I have to confess to you that at first I thought to myself, “Those folks who say the church has always got their hand out will have a field day with this one. Two stewardship studies in less than six months will be a tough sale.” The more I have prayed about our second stewardship study the more I have become convinced that God’s hand is in this and it is His desire that we reexamine our commitments. One of the big reasons my hesitation and reluctance has turned into excitement is because I have studied the number of us who filled out and turned in a “Covenant Commitment” during the last stewardship study. In a church that averages almost 300 in worship we had less than 100 people who filled out a “Covenant Commitment” and made their stand in their commitment to the Lord’s ministry here at Britton Christian Church. This should not be.
We have seen the Lord pour out so many blessings upon us over the years that we should have complete confidence that what He calls us and leads us to do – He will certainly provide. My prayer for the next two weeks is that you and I will humble ourselves before the presence of God and diligently seek His will concerning the stewardship of all He has entrusted to us. I know this; if we will be obedient to His leading we will experience a new depth in our walk with the Lord.
Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 as Paul writes to motivate the brothers and sisters at First Christian Church in Corinth. Take out your Bible and read along with me.
1And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. 6So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7But just as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us-see that you also excel in this grace of giving. (2 Corinthians 8:1-7 NIV)
The beginning of the eighth chapter of 2 Corinthians is the most detailed and thorough examination of stewardship found in the entire Bible. The entire section runs from 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15. We will look at this entire section of Scripture during the next two weeks.
Before we get into our study I want to offer something for all of us think and pray about. In our society money is king. I can talk about being stewards of our time and the abilities that God has given us and rarely does anybody get upset. I can encourage us to consider that all of the time we have each day is a gift from God and therefore we should consider how He wants us to use it and nobody walks out of church and makes snide comments. I can encourage us to consider the abilities we have been given by God and how we can use those gifts to bring Him glory and honor and rarely will anyone roll their eyes at me from the pews. But, when I challenge us to examine the Scriptures concerning the use of our money hands all over the sanctuary put a vice grip on their checkbooks. Women clutch their purses like I’ve just made an announcement that a purse-snatcher has just entered the building. Men tune me out by saying, “I work hard for my money and ain’t nobody gonna tell me what to with it.” We as Americans have a real problem with money. We have taken a view of ownership rather than stewardship when it comes to our money. I will assure you that this is a major contributor to the problem plaguing us at the present time. We who believe so much in doing what we think is best with our money filed more bankruptcies last year than any other time in our nation’s history. The question has to be asked, “Do we really know what is best when it comes to taking care of our money? How to spend it, how to save it, and how to give and where?” I don’t think so.
The poor management of America’s finances is troublesome and perilous for us as a nation, but it is deadly for the followers of Jesus. I can say without hesitation that there is absolutely nothing that will ruin your witness and mine as a follower of Jesus more quickly than financial mismanagement. How can you or I stand in front of our creditors who we do not or cannot pay and share the Gospel with them? It is impossible! With that said, let’s begin our study.
Paul was writing to the brothers and sisters in Corinth who had been so enthusiastic and willing to help their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. The folks in Jerusalem were struggling and the Corinthian believers felt God move upon their hearts to get involved. They had taken up a collection and made promises of helping, but something happened, circumstances diverted their attention and they weren’t fulfilling their commitment. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8-9 and tries to inspire them, motivate them, to fulfill their commitment. Paul uses the Macedonian Christians to try and spur them on to faithfulness. Take a look at verses 1-2,
1And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
Paul says that he wants the Corinthian Christians to know about the grace that God had given to the Macedonian churches. Notice that he doesn’t exalt the Macedonian Christians as “super Christians” who through determination and will power out gave everyone else. Paul says it is God’s grace shed upon the church in Macedonia that enabled them to give, joyfully give, even in an extremely difficult situation. What set the Macedonian church apart from so many other churches in Paul’s day and ours is that they were willing to allow God’s grace to flow through them and be turned into action.
It is important for us to notice that the Macedonian church was not a wealthy church. The church was not made up of the super rich who could give tons of money and never miss it. These were folks who were struggling, who didn’t have the money to give, but who acted in obedience to God’s call to share what He had given them. Paul says that there were three parts to the equation: “Their most severe trial, their overflowing joy, and their extreme poverty.” If we add these three variables together in our day we would come up with an outcome entirely different than the outcome Paul witnessed. We would encourage the Macedonians to keep their money because they really needed it. We would encourage them to look into the possibility of securing government funds to help them through their difficulties. We would say, “We need to take up a collection for you.” The Macedonians trusted in God, they walked with God, and they knew that God would provide for them as long as they were obedient to living out His will for their lives. When Paul added the three factors together the outcome was rich generosity.
There are some tremendous lessons that we can learn from the Macedonian Christians if we will have ears to hear and a heart that is open to God’s will for our lives.
The primary key to godly stewardship, to giving with joy, is to first give yourself to the Lord. Let’s face it, giving ten percent of our income back to the Lord makes absolutely no sense in this materialistic, consumer-minded culture that you and I live in every day. Apart from a living, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ you and I will never respond to God’s call to be a faithful, cheerful, steward of all that God has given you or me. Paul said of the Macedonians, 5 “And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.”
When a person commits himself or herself to Jesus Christ then He begins to change our priorities, He begins to align our motives and desires with His. Apart from Jesus you and I will continue to dwell on all of the things that we don’t have that we think we need. We will continue to strive to make more money so that we can have more things, go more places, and hopefully achieve a greater level of satisfaction in life. Satan will seek to draw us away from the blessings that only come through obedience and faithfulness in being good stewards.
The second key to godly stewarship is obedience in the face of trying circumstances and overwhelming difficulties. The Macedonian churches were not giving out of their abundance; rather, they were giving generously out of their poverty. I will assure you that if you wait until the time is right for you to begin tithing then you will never tithe to the Lord’s ministry. All throughout God’s Word we see that He called men and women to act in faith when times were tough, when it didn’t seem rational or logical for them to do what God had called them to do, and when it would be costly for them. God is looking for obedient hearts that will willingly and enthusiastically trust Him even in the most difficult of circumstances.
I remember when Connie and I first started tithing. I was working part-time moving furniture for Derby Rents in Lawton, OK. Connie was working in a “work study” program at Cameron University in the school library. We didn’t have any money. It made no sense for us to give 10% of our income to the Lord’s ministry. I told Connie that tithing just wasn’t a good idea with our bills and everything. She asked me the most profound and challenging question. Connie said, “Do you want to be obedient to God?” That would settle forever the question as to whether or not we would tithe. It didn’t matter that we were newlyweds. It didn’t matter that we were struggling to put food on the table. It didn’t matter that we were living in a tiny, shoebox of a house, we needed to respond to God’s grace in obedience and watch Him meet our needs.
There is something that jumps out at me as I study 2 Corinthians 8:1-2. In the midst of the Macedonians extreme poverty and severe trial you find that they possessed overflowing joy. Their joy was the ingredient that enabled them to give with rich generosity. Paul told the Corinthians believers later in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV)
How does a person possess joy when they are giving away their hard-earned money? Money that they could be using to buy a new stereo, take an added trip during the year, eat out during week, or buy a new car. Where does the joy come from? Great question! The joy that the Macedonian Christians exhibited came from their absolute understanding that God was calling them to act in obedience.
The third key to becoming a godly steward of all that God has given is that all Christians should prayerfully strive to excell in the grace of giving. Far too often we Americans look to our relationship with God as a “self-improvement” program. My marriage is struggling so I think I will try God. My kids are becoming unmanageable so I think I will try God. I am having a hard time making ends meet and making enough money to do the things I want to do so I think I will try God. I am finding it difficult to enjoy this life so I think I will try God. Discipline is really lacking from my life so I think I will try God. My friend, you need to know that our walk with God is not a self-improvement program – it is a relationship.
I didn’t marry Connie because she has better financial management skills than I have or because she helps me to be more disciplined in my daily living – I married Connie because I love her. The great gifts that God has given to Connie certainly enhance my life, but they are not the reasons that I chose to marry her. I married her because I love her with all of my heart and I want to be with her for the rest of my life.
Because of my love for Connie I truly desire to excel in my love for her. I want to be a better husband, I want to be more loving, more helpful, more encouraging, and more supportive. I did not learn this from any textbook or class, I learned it from God’s word as it teaches us that our love will translate into action if our love is genuine.
Paul told the Corinthians, 7″But just as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us-see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” The Apostle didn’t question the love of the Corinthians, he appealed to it! He said, “Just as you excel in all of these things…excel in this grace of giving also!” We should seek to excel in our giving as we live out our love for the Lord.
The fourth key to becoming a godly steward is to recognize that we give not because of what we can do for the church, but because of what God will do through us. The Macedonian church was an impoverished church. They didn’t have the resources to make a big difference for anyone, but they knew that their giving would accomplish more than merely assisting another church – their giving would change them.
As I observe the American landscape there seems to be a very dangerous expectation among our people. The expectation of reciprocity seems to motivate us at every turn. Reciprocity is the expectation that in giving I will get something in return. If I help you then of course you will help me. If I give something then surely I will get something in return. God’s Word has even been used to support this American mindset. Jesus said in Luke 6, 38Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38 NIV) All too often this verse of Scripture has been quoted to justify our desire to get something from God. Most often the “something” is material blessings, but if you read the Scripture in its context you will find out that what Jesus is speaking about is forgiveness and not money or material goods. Let’s read the same Scripture in its context and learn the lesson of Jesus,
37″Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37-38 NIV)
I will assure you that if you and I give in order that we will receive materially from the Lord then we will be sorely disappointed. God is not a slot machine. God is not a lotto ticket that we can gamble on. We are to give for the sole blessing of being obedient to God’s call upon our lives.
The wonderful blessing that Connie and I learned is this: As we have sought to be obedient to God’s call upon our lives to tithe and to go beyond a tithe in our giving we have seen Him change us. We made a commitment to write the first check every two weeks to the Lord and His ministry regardless of what we are going through and how difficult our financial situation is at the time. For more than sixteen years He has been more than faithful to us. He has provided for us precisely what we need, but even more, He has changed us.
God has given us the ability to be disciplined financially. Because we have made the commitment to tithe first thing each two weeks, God has given us the insight as to what we need to say “No” to regarding what we would want or desire. He has given us the ability to live within our income.
Connie and I do not give because we can make a difference in the finances of Britton Christian Church. The fact of the matter is that we are part of a church with a budget of over $300,000.00 and our tithe does not scratch the surface of meeting the needs of the church. We give because we find great joy in being obedient to God’s cal upon our lives.
I want to encourage you to study this section of God’s Word this week. Look over the four keys to becoming a godly steward of all that God has given you and watch the Lord begin to change your heart. Remember that the key to becoming obedient to God’s call upon our lives is to first give our lives to Jesus Christ. If you have never asked Jesus to come into your life won’t you do it today?
2 Corinthians 8:1-7