Imagine this scenario: You pull up to the ATM at your local bank, insert your debit card, type your PIN, choose the fast cash option, press $100, only to hear the following audio recording. “I’m sorry. I won’t give it to you. I have other plans for that money. Have a nice day.”
I’ve never heard of such a thing happening, but if it did, I’m confident most of us wouldn’t go quietly into the night. You would raise a ruckus, demand to speak with a real person, call the bank manager, and rightly so. After all, it is not the ATM’s money. It’s yours. You’ve entrusted it to the bank and it’s their job to do with your money whatever you tell them to do with your money, including giving back however much you desire whenever you desire it, because it’s yours.
Deuteronomy 10:14, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.” Job 41:11, “Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” What do those verses tell us? God owns everything. Which means what? We don’t actually own anything. All the money in your bank account right now. All the money in your investment accounts right now. All the possessions in your home, the car you used to drive to church today, it’s all his. We’re stewards, entrusted with what belongs to another. We’re God’s ATM.
How do we tend to think? We tend to think our money is well…our money. If you’re a good Christian you’ll give a portion of it back to God to support the work of the church, provide for the poor, finance frontier missions. I mean, it’s the least we can do after all God’s given to us. But once you do that, the rest of it is, well, mine, and I’m free to use it however I want. Give God his due share and do whatever you want with the rest.
I’m not sure you would be any happier if the ATM said, “Ok, you make a good point. You asked for $100, and because you’ve been good to me lately and I’m feeling really generous, I’ll give you $10.” Why not? Because it’s all your money. The ATM doesn’t own any of it. Nor do we, my friends, which is why the Bible teaches us over and over again that worshiping God with our money means using all of it to love God and love our neighbor.
We began talking last week about the purpose of money as part of our Sunday Matters series. One of the most important and most difficult things Kings Jesus tells us to do when we gather to worship him is to give. It’s not about paying the bills or keeping the lights on. Giving generously to the Lord on Sundays should be the overflow of something much bigger – worship God by using all our money to love him and love our neighbor. That’s the big idea in 2 Corinthians 8:1-15. The biblical purpose of money isn’t to acquire and store up more and more wealth for ourselves. The biblical purpose of money, after providing for ourselves and our dependents, is having something to give to meet the spiritual and physical needs of others. For when we give to them, we are giving to the Lord and we will be richly rewarded by him for doing so.
Paul helps us understand as much by laying out a series of biblical principles for giving in these verses. I hoped to cover 9 of them over two weeks, but have decided to limit myself to 7, focusing on the first nine verses of chapter 8. Last Sunday we considered the first 3. First, God is the ultimate Giver. Everything we have, including the ability to use it all to love God and our neighbor, is a gift of grace, an expression of God’s undeserved favor. Second, generosity is the fruit of surpassing joy. We gladly spend money on whatever brings us the most joy. You won’t discover freedom to stop loving money and start loving God with your money until your soul is satisfied with Jesus.
Third, the giving that pleases God is proportional and voluntary. The Lord is less focused on how much we give and more focused on how much we keep. He’s the God who ignored the rich as they dumped bags of gold into the temple treasury and celebrated the poor widow who put in two copper coins. Why? Because it was all she had to live on. The biblical emphasis isn’t the dollar amount of your gift relative to others. It’s about what that gift represents of all God, in his perfect wisdom, has entrusted to you.
The churches in Macedonia exemplified as much when Paul urged them to help relieve the financial needs of the churches in Judea. 2 Corinthians 8:3-4, “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints…” Why would they do that? Why was giving not an unfortunate duty, but an incredible privilege? The answer is found in the very next verse.
4) GIVING OUR MONEY STARTS WITH GIVING OURSELVES (Verse 5)
Understanding verse 5 is crucial in order to understanding God’s purpose for money and what it means to worship God with our money. “…But they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” Jesus’ exchange with a Jewish lawyer in Matthew 22:36-40 help us understand what Paul’s talking about here. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”
Friends, when we turn away from loving sin – making the possessions, power, and pleasures of this world your greatest treasure – and choose to love the Lord instead – embracing Jesus as your greatest treasure – we don’t give part of ourselves to Him. We give all of ourselves to him. Think about it. Jesus didn’t create part of you for himself. He didn’t die on a cross to redeem part of you from sin and death. He created all of you. He redeems all of you. His claim on your lives as Creator and Savior is utterly comprehensive.
He isn’t looking for your religious affiliation. He wants all of you. He wants your heart. He wants your affections. Only if you’re willing to give all of yourself to him will he give all of himself to you. It’s called losing your life for his sake. Matthew 16:24–25, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
You want to know why the Macedonians devoted their money to the Lord’s priorities and purposes? It was because they had already devoted themselves. They gave their money because they had already given themselves, which is precisely what being a Christian is all about – giving ourselves to Jesus, surrendering our life to Jesus. Why? Because he purchased us at the cost of his own blood. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.”
And here’s the key connection. When we give ourselves to Jesus, we’re also giving ourselves to his body. Giving ourselves to him means giving ourselves to them, starting with the other members of our local church. James Petty, “In giving themselves to the Lord, the Macedonians gave themselves to God’s people. Their fellowship, communion, and union with God drove their fellowship, communion, and union with one another.”
Imagine I said to you, “Brother, sister, I’m committed to loving you.” But whenever your children are in need, I never care for them. I never give what I have to provide for their needs. What would you conclude? You would conclude I don’t really love you. Yet when the opposite happens, when a friend or family member makes a significant financial sacrifice to spiritually or physically care for my boys, what do I feel as a dad? I feel like they loved me in the most precious way imaginable.
Something is amiss when we read in Acts 2:44-45, “And all who believe were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need,” our first thought is, “Please tell me why that verse can’t mean what it appears to mean.” Luke isn’t saying they impoverished themselves for the sake of others. He’s saying that instead of storing up possessions and belongings for themselves, they seized every possible opportunity to use them to meet the needs of others. Why? Because recognized that giving themselves to the Lord meant giving themselves to one another.
When it comes to loving God and our neighbor, giving our money starts with giving ourselves. John Frame is right. “After all, if you have given yourself away to the Lord and do your brothers and sisters, it shouldn’t be too hard to give your wealth.”
5) GIVING IS A SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE (Verses 6-7)
In verse 6, Paul tells the Corinthians how he “urged” one of his co-workers in gospel ministry, Titus, to lead their church in gathering financial resources for the saints in Judea. He beautifully describes their giving as “an act of grace.” Then he writes in verse 7, “But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you – see that you excel in this act of grace also.”
To “excel” in something is to do it really well, setting a good example for others to follow. The Corinthians prided themselves on excelling in their practice of manifestly supernatural spiritual gifts – including prophecy, tongues, words of knowledge, etc. Truth be told, they didn’t excel nearly as much as they thought they did. Just read the letter of 1 Corinthians. Nevertheless, Paul gladly recognizes the way they have pursued and excelled in all manner of godly virtues, including virtues that are directly connected to the practice of spiritual gifts such as faith or speech.
You’ve worked hard to be faithful, to excel, in these areas of the Christian life, guys. For that, I commend you. And that’s exactly what you need to do over here in an area you’ve neglected called giving. It’s an act of grace in the sense that it requires grace. God gives us, as an expression of his undeserved favor, money to give and the power to give it. It’s also an act of grace in the sense that it gives grace. Those who will benefit from the gift (Christians in Jerusalem) will receive it a tangible expression of God’s undeserved favor in their life.
Yet the fact it’s an “act of grace” doesn’t mean we’re passive. “If God wants to break in and tell me in an audible voice to give money to someone, I’m on standby.” It’s easy to live like that. We quiet our conscience by saying, “I’m willing to give as the Lord leads,” but then we rarely (if ever) pray for more opportunities to give or actively seek them out. We forget that giving isn’t a grace from God that hits us up the side of the head or periodically seizes control of our wallet. No, it’s an act of grace in the sense that it requires careful planning, hard work, and initiative on our part.
Investing financially in the work God is doing to meet the spiritual and physical needs of people around us is no less an active spiritual discipline than prayer, Bible reading, evangelism, or sexual purity. We read books on those disciplines. We attend conferences on those disciplines. We talk with one another about how we’re doing in those disciplines and challenge one another to keep growing and excel in our practice of them.
When was the last time you read a book on the grace of giving? When was the last time you prayed that God would help you excel in the grace of giving? When was the last time you talked with another Christian about how you’re doing loving God with all of your money?
Money is a very private matter in our culture. We learn early on you don’t ask people how much they make and you don’t tell them how much you make. It’s personal. That cultural habit is good to the degree it’s the fruit of modesty. It’s bad to the degree it’s the fruit of thinking my money is my money. Don’t you dare go meddling in my business. We functionally demote the grace of giving to don’t-ask-don’t-tell status.
So what might excelling in the act of giving look like for us? It starts with having the courage and humility to have honest conversations about this topic. Is it hard for you to give generously? How did you decide what giving “according to your means, and beyond their means” (verse 3) looks like for you and your family? Where are you tempted to selfishness? Are you being active or passive in looking for opportunities to give? The Lord blessed you with a big raise or bonus last month? That’s fantastic, brother. What’s your plan for stewarding that money generously? How can we pray for you?
And by the way, for those of you who are already excelling in the grace of giving, please do not conclude sharing a testimony of how God is enabling you to give is inherently arrogant or boastful. Humility doesn’t hide stories of how the Lord is at work in our life or opportunities he gave us to be generous. Humility celebrates where the Lord is helping us to excel. Giving isn’t a box we check, brothers and sisters. It’s a discipline we strive to excel in together.
6) GIVING IS COMPELLED BY THE LAW OF LOVE (Verse 8)
Verse 8, “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love is also genuine.” Well that’s good news, Paul. I was starting to get a little worried. All this “extreme poverty overflowing in a wealth of generosity” talk was making me feel guilty. It’s nice to know all of this is just a suggestion. I’m sure there are many approaches to the issue. The Macedonians are a great example. Amazing. I’m just grateful the Lord isn’t “commanding” me to follow them.
That’s not what Paul means when he says, “I say this not as a command.” He’s reminding the Corinthians of the fact that the basis for giving under the New Covenant, in the new kind of intimate relationship with God Jesus made possible through his life, death, and resurrection, isn’t a specific law like the laws Israel was obligated to keep under the Old Covenant. What law were the people of Israel obligated to keep?
Malachi 3:8-10, “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house…”
The giving God required of Israel consisted of a tithe of their wealth. In an agrarian society, that meant (Deuteronomy 14) giving a tenth of all their produce and livestock to the Lord to support the annual feasts, the ministry of the Levitical priests, as well as the needs of the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. Some argue it was one tithe (a total of 10%) for multiple purposes. Others argue that there were multiple tithes (totaling over 20%) for multiple purposes. Regardless, tithing was a critical part of keeping the Mosaic law.
On this side of Jesus life, death, and resurrection, however, we are no longer under the Mosaic law because Jesus fulfilled the entire law on our behalf through his perfect obedience (Matthew 5:17). Before the coming of Christ, you enjoyed covenant relationship with God by observing the law. That did not mean that relationship with God for Old Testament saints was legalistic. The law was a gift of grace in the sense that it ultimately pointed to Christ. They were saved by grace through faith no less than we are today.
But when Christ came and fulfilled the law by perfectly obeying the law, he brought the law to an end in the sense that it ceased to define God’s covenant relationship with his people (Galatians 3:24). Under the New Covenant, God no longer distinguishes his people on the basis of their obedience to the law but on the basis of their relationship to Christ.
The entire Mosaic law remains instructive and authoritative, but only as it is fulfilled in Christ and carried forward by Christ, which means what? The bar consistently gets higher, not lower. Jesus doesn’t do away with the moral norms and ethical standards in the Old Testament law. He takes them deeper by focusing on the heart, not just our outward behavior. Matthew 5:21–22, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…” Matthew 5:27–28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
So what does all of that have to do with tithing? There are faithful Christians who disagree with what I’m about to say; however, I do not see in the New Testament a single example of the command to tithe carried over as part of the New Covenant under the law of Christ. What do we find instead? A repeated and exceedingly strong emphasis on loving God and loving our neighbor with all of our money. For as Paul declared in Romans 13:10, “…love is the fulfilling of the law.”
James Petty, “There are no laws or formulas in this area of decision making about giving, except that God has set it up so that we determine our own future reaping by our personal, free decisions about sowing. Our love models God’s in that it is freely offered – not under compulsion or law.” That helps us understand why the Bible doesn’t set an explicit minimum or maximum for much we should give as Christians.
However, if that causes you to conclude, “Thank God I’m no longer under that burden. Now I can just give whenever I have a little leftover,” you are sorely mistaken. Why? Because Jesus doesn’t replace the tithe with radio silence. He tells us to give generously as he has given to us, to love him as he loved us. Think about it. If Jesus replaced the tithe with a new percentage or said, “Yeah, let’s stick with 10%,” what would we be tempted to do? How much do I have to give? 10%? Ok, here’s my check, check the box, and move on. Duty done. Now I can do whatever I want with my 90% share of the pile.
No! What does the Lord say? 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And 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.”
What “good work” is he talking about? The good work of giving. The question isn’t, “How much do I have to give?” but rather, “How much can I give? How can I abound in the work of giving?” We don’t get give 10% and give ourselves a pass. We have to do the hard work of asking in every season of our life, “Lord, how can I abundantly and generously love you and love my neighbor with the wealth you have entrusted to me? How can I fulfil the law of love? How can I be generous to others, in both the spiritual ministry I support and the material blessings I provide, as you have for me?
Giving is not compelled by a command to tithe. It’s compelled by the law of love. It’s one of the most important ways we demonstrate (verse 8) that our love for God and one another is “genuine.” As David Garland observes, “Words expressing love come cheaply and can be faked; genuine love will show up in the checkbook.”
And let’s be honest, brothers and sisters. We arguably have more reason to give than the saints of old, not less, because of the far greater abundance of blessing God has poured out on us through the person and work of Christ. For that reason, I think we do well to consider 10% as a starting line, not a finish line. Jesus didn’t hold back anything from us. Following him means emulating his example.
7) THE GOSPEL REVEALS THE PURPOSE OF WEALTH (Verse 9)
Look at verse 9. This is where we need to fix our gaze and not look away. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
When the Lord commands us joyfully and generously love him and our neighbor with all our money, he’s not asking us to do something he hasn’t first done himself. He leads us by example. He motivates us by example. He shows us what it looks like to take all that we are and all that we have and lay it down for the glory of God the Father and the good of those who bear his image. He takes us to a stable in Bethlehem. He invites us to behold the act of grace that melts our selfishness and shatters our pride.
Philippians 2:5-8, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he has in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And begin found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
What did Jesus do with his wealth? What did he do with the heavenly splendor he knew from eternity past? The One who dwelt in unimaginable light. The One before whom seraphs and angels hide their eyes. The Mighty One. The God of all the universe, surrounded before time began with endless cries of holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come (Revelation 4:8)! Perfect peace. Mind-shattering beauty. Awesome holiness. No sin. No pain. No sorrow. Born as a man.
Why? To do for you what you cannot do for yourself. To save you from sin and the death you deserve. He didn’t give to us of himself. He gave himself. Through his person and work, God himself has given us his righteousness, his life, his glory, his joy, the new heavens and the new earth, every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. If God has it, he’s given it. He’s held nothing back, as much as Satan tempted Eve and tempts us to think he has. Why? Because that’s who he is. He’s not a God who takes. He’s a God who gives. It’s of his very nature to give.
2 Corinthians 8:9-11, “As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ 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.” That harvest isn’t a bigger pile of earthly riches as if we give more to get more. It’s a spiritual harvest of men and women who come to know Jesus and are transformed more and more into his image because of our obedient generosity. “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
If God has enriched you, Friend, if has given you more than you need to provide for yourself and your dependents, then know this. The rest isn’t yours to keep. It’s yours to give. That’s the biblical purpose of money. The goal of our wealth, after providing for ourselves and our dependents, is to have something to give.
Jesus didn’t cling to his riches. He laid them down. He became poor, so that you might become rich. He didn’t “tithe” on his wealth. He gave it all. Go and do likewise. Worship God with your money by using all it to love him and love your neighbor. John Calvin, “There cannot be a surer rule, nor a stronger exhortation to the observance of it, than when we are taught that all the endowment which we possess are divine deposits entrusted to us for the very purpose of being distributed for the good of our neighbor.”
That’s exactly what Jesus has done for us. May the Lord help us to contribute generously and cheerfully to the support of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations. If you’re willing to do that, Friend, great will be your reward in heaven. Let’s pray and ask for God’s help.