2 Corinthians 8 1-15 – Preaching from ChristChurch London’s Sunday Service
SLIDE 1: Blank slide
Well please relax, because if you are here for the first time, you’re probably not planning on giving any money into our annual offering. And that’s because, right now, you have no idea who we are. For all you know we might teach a name it, claim it, frame it prosperity gospel that God wants you rich-a. And then once you’re rich-a, you give it to me-a, because I’m a preach-a. For all you know I’m about to get my wife up on stage, and then we’re both going to put on make up, and put on shoulder pads, sit on thrones, and then we’re both going to cry and invite you to touch the screen and pledge now. But don’t worry, because I’m not going to command you to send in your love offering to keep this ministry on air, I’m not going to promise to send you a signed photo of me in my pink Cadillac for every gift of over one hundred dollars. And I’m not going to promise that if you do, I’ll pray for you by name every day.
What I will promise to do is to open the Bible with you to 2 Corinthians chapter 8.
So if you’re new to London, or maybe you’re a student, and you’re just very tentatively sticking your head round the door, and you’re thinking “Oh no they preach on money every week,” we don’t. But we do preach on money at the end of September every year, because we have our annual offering on our birthday, which is the first Sunday in October every year.
We don’t apologise for talking about money because Jesus taught about money. Jesus taught about the deceitfulness of wealth, about using earthly money to store up treasure in heaven. Jesus had no problem telling certain people to sell their possessions and give their money away.
So if you hate sermons on money, or you have so little money, that you’re thinking “this subject is irrelevant to me” then please don’t switch off, because as John Piper puts it, if you had to sum up Jesus teaching on money, you’d have to say that Jesus taught that it is what we do with our money that is the true and accurate reading of our spiritual temperature.
Personally, I’d much rather be judged by how loud I can pray in the prayer meeting, or by how many Christian books I’ve read, but Jesus says the true test of what’s really going on in my heart is what I do with my money.
Now of course, practically speaking, when it comes to Christian giving, there is a distinction between regular giving and occasional offerings. We see both in the Bible.
What I’m NOT talking about today is regular giving or monthly giving by standing order. If you want to know what we teach about regular giving, then go onto our website, click on podcasts and you’ll find a talk there entitled “should Christians tithe?” which is, if I say so myself, an even-handed, reasonable, and at the same time humorous treatment of the subject.
No, today we’re NOT looking at regular giving, we’re looking at offerings, and in particular a one one-off offering in two weeks time. Last year, we raised just under £200,000 through our second birthday offering. The exact figure was £196,000.
And that’s amazing! Well done. Thank you so much. You know that £196,000 did not appear by magic. We didn’t all sit here watching, as captain Wonga swept into the building, wearing tights, with a big capital W for Wonga on his chest, and then he wrote out one massive cheque and we just watched as he disappeared back to Wonga-land. No you gave that money.
This year we want to raise £150,000. Who knows we may get more. We may get £196,000 again, but our target figure is £150,000.
And so this afternoon we are going to look at an offering in the New Testament church.
OK, let’s go to 2 Corinthians 8 and verse 1. First, some geographical background to this passage:
OK, Let’s imagine, Britain is up here. France is here. Spain is here, and my right arm is Italy, and my left arm is Greece. (Turkey is here and Israel over here).
The northern part of Greece is called Macedonia. Paul has planted at least three churches there.
In this letter, he’s writing to another Church in the South of Greece, at Corinth. And Paul is trying to encourage the Corinthians to give into a special offering by using the gift the Macedonians have already given to the offering as a sort of provocation. So he says . . .
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. (2 Corinthians 8: 1–4)
So Paul was taking up an offering from all the churches in Greece. But what was the offering for? Well, it was for the impoverished, persecuted, famine struck Christians back at Jerusalem, back at the mother church, if you like. And even through we learn in 1 Thessalonians 2:14, that the Macedonians were also being persecuted, out of the most severe trial, and despite their extreme poverty, the Macedonians had just given an amazingly generous gift into the offering.
So Paul is saying to the Corinthians, hey, if the Macedonians can give that generously, then seeing as you Corinthians aren’t being persecuted, and you aren’t impoverished, why don’t you give too? So he says to the Corinthians . . .
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: 7)
And that’s the title of this afternoon’s talk: “This grace of giving.” And can I just commend you, because as a church you already excel in the grace of giving. This church is not bank rolled by one rich sugar Daddy, you know who lives in a mansion in Epsom, who Dave, Rhys and I go to every year cap in hand, who sort of ruffles our hair and says: “Nice to see yer lovely boys. I’ve got loads of money. How much do you need this year?” No you all over the last three years have proved that you all excel already in this grace of giving
I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8: 8-9)
(could comment here on:
a) the comparison of the Macedonians with the Corinthians
b) The example of Jesus)
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9: 6-8)
And from this passage I’m going to say that Christian giving should be:
a) Motivated by grace (2 Cor 8:1, 8:7, 9:8)
b) Generous and sacrificial (2 Cor 8:2, 9:6)
c) Not commanded or under compulsion (2 Cor 8:8, 9:7)
d) Cheerful (2 Cor 8:2, 9:7)
So whatever sum you are thinking of giving in two weeks time – in fact why don’t you think right now of the sum you are planning to give? Whether it’s £5, £50, £500 whatever, ask yourself in my giving that sum,
a) am I being motivated by grace?
b) is my gift generous & sacrificial?
c) am I sure that no-one is compelling to give it, am I sure that no-one is commanding me to give?
d) and finally, can I give that sum cheerfully? Or am I secretly fuming? Just when I was starting to save some money it’s offering time! I am asking you, can you give your sum of money cheerfully?
Well before we get into all of that, you might ask, “tell me more about what we are giving to?”
OK, I’m going to flag up 5 items and then explain how they fit into our overall budget.
If our six trainees could run up on stage and join me?
The first thing we are giving to is . . .
1. The running costs of training six people who have just joined the church staff on a voluntary basis
So this is a year project thing. They serve voluntarily, but we pay the costs of running the project. So we pay for their equipment, computers and such, phone, travel, conferences. We’ve never trained 6 volunteers before so this is all new for us.
Here they are, I’m going to ask each one of them to tell us:
• who they are,
• what they are doing this year,
• and a surprising or unusual fact about themselves . . .
Thank you very much.
Next we want to carry on subsidising our
2. Alpha & Beta Courses
How did Christianity ever get to Corinth? How come there was a church in Corinth to write to? How come anyone in Corinth ever heard about Jesus of Nazareth? Answer: Because Paul went there to reach urban non-Christians with the gospel and plant a church.
That’s the main reason why Christ Church came into existence 3 years ago. We didn’t start a new church in London because we thought: “Oh, the church scene in London is really bad. The Christians of London need to be rescued from their churches and come to Christ Church, because we’re so brilliant.” No, we came to London for the same reason that Paul went to Corinth, to reach urban people who don’t know Jesus yet.
And the way we do that is a three-part strategy, first by befriending non-Christians through life groups, and then secondly by inviting those friends onto our Alpha Course, and then thirdly by inviting them onto our follow up Beta Course.
Now I’m going to ask my friend Michael Airey to come and join me . . .
• Alpha & Beta (interview Michael Airey)
You know this summer, I had a dream that Julia and I lost our children on Clapham Junction station. We were on a train that left without them. And I woke up in the middle of this dream absolutely beside myself, and in my turmoil, as I realised it was a dream, God spoke to me.
God has only ever spoken to me twice in my whole life through a dream, so please, look excited, because, for me, this was really something.
In the dream I was thinking, “Oh no, I’ve lost my own flesh and blood, I’m cut off from our children, this is desperate, I must go back and find them, I must search and search, nothing is more important than this.”
And then God said: “Adrian, that is exactly how I feel about lost people. God said, I feel like a Shepherd who Jesus said would leave his 99 sheep just to look for the 1 who wandered off.” God said: “I feel like the Father whose Son has gone off to squander his wealth in wild living.” God said, “I feel like the woman, who loses one of her ten sliver coins and then sweeps the whole house looking for that one lost coin.”
The whole point of what Jesus teaches us through those 3 parables in Luke 15 is that God the Father is pre-occupied with the lost. A Lost sheep, lost son, lost coin. It’s the one who wanders off, the one who is lost, that tugs on the heart of God. What does God get emotional about? What stirs his interest? Luke 15 tells us, it’s lost-ness that gets God’s attention. God is a searching God, searching out lost people. And then when he finds one, he rejoices, and the Bible says that that there’s rejoicing in heaven whenever a lost person becomes a Christian.
That’s why Paul travelled around Turkey and Greece trying to reach lost people.
The way we try and reach lost people is through Alpha, but Alpha and Beta costs something, because there’s a venue to hire and food to serve and so on.
And it’s worth giving to because sometimes as many as half of those who finish the course become Christians.
And at the end of the course, we give out feedback forms that ask the question: “Do you have any comment on the fact that the Alpha Course was free and that the weekend away was heavily subsidised?” and time and time again, people have said, “if I’m honest, I would never have come otherwise.”
I have found that evangelism on any kind of scale inevitably costs money. For example, this summer, we had our Newday event at Uttoxeter Racecourse. And on the night that I preached, 404 people reported that they got physically healed and 275 people became Christians for the very first time. And of course it was very moving to stand on the stage and see them all swelling towards the front. I praised God for that, but I also praised God that some generous Christians elsewhere in newfrontiers churches all over Britain, subsidised the whole event. You see the delegate fees paid by the people who go to Newday don’t cover the costs of running the event. It’s “this grace of giving,” that subsidises the event. Otherwise Newday wouldn’t happen.
In the same way, Christ Church subsidises our Alpha and Beta Courses.
Next thing we are giving to is . . .
3. Tube Advertising
Obviously, we are in a sub-culture called Christianity. But 90 per cent of Londoners don’t live in that subculture. They have no idea Christ Church London exists.
Many of you got here because a friend told you about Christ Church. Most people in London don’t know your friend. Most people in London have virtually no chance of ever finding out that there’s a church that meets in the Piccadilly Theatre. However 44 and a half million people pass through Piccadilly Circus tube each year. So to us, advertising at that tube station makes perfect sense.
When we worship together in this place, we say that God is here by his spirit. Well, it would be perverse to keep that fact to ourselves, especially with so many millions of people so close to this building. Hence tube ads.
Next . . .
4. Going into the Balcony
Folks we’re becoming full downstairs. We want to open up the next level, to create more space for more people to come and find a seat more easily. We want the Royal Circle to be full not only with people celebrating the musical Grease during the week, but also with people lifting up the name of Jesus Christ. And we incur some costs in opening up the next level.
Fifthly and finally,
5. World Mission & the Poor
We want to give to the Newfrontiers offering at the Together on a Mission conference. Most of that offering goes to world mission and to the poor.
I doubt I need to remind you of God’s heart for the poor, because you can see it all through the Bible. Perhaps the most celebrated hero of the British Empire in the 19th Century was General Gordon, a Bible lover, whose feats in China and Khartoum made him a household name. During his lifetime he refused titles, he refused great wealth, though he was offered all of them. All he asked for was one gold medal commemorating his years of service in China. And it was not un-naturally his most prized possession. But when he died, the executors of his estate were surprised that they couldn’t find the gold medal anywhere. And when they looked through his papers they discovered what had happened. General Gordon had heard about a great famine and sent the medal away, and asked that it be melted down and that the gold should be given to buy food for the poor. And under that date in his diary he recorded this: “the last earthly thing that I had in this world that I valued, I have given to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
That is true Christianity. And the Macedonians in our passage had done the same thing, they’d given to help relieve the poverty of the church in Jerusalem.
So those are the five things we’re giving to in two weeks time. Now all five are already in our annual budget. But as a church we don’t yet meet 100 per cent of budget commitments through regular giving. We’d like to, and every year we raise a little bit more of our budget through regular giving. So we’re meeting a higher percentage of our budget this year through regular giving than last year. But we’re not yet at 100 per cent. So for the time being, we are still reliant on this annual offering to meet the remainder of our budget.
Now if you’re thinking, you spent 6 minutes on the trainees, but only 2 on tube ads does that mean you’re spending three times as much on training as you are on advertising. No, don’t read anything into the timings. We are flagging these 5 things as symbolic, they sort of represent the whole of our budget. They represent the sort of things we are going for. The five things I’ve mentioned today, don’t even necessarily add up to £150,000, they probably add up to slightly less than that, but the do represent what Christ Church is all about.
Now of course if there were no downside to giving, we’d all happily give at least something right now.
I mean, none of us think any of the 5 things I’ve mentioned are fundamentally bad things. No-one here is thinking, “how dare they give God’s money to those 6 trainees. Don’t they realise that true Christian training is to suffer. Jesus went for 40 days without food, that’s what you should do with your 6 young trainees, give them 40 days in the wilderness, that’ll teach them to rely on God.”
I doubt many of us are thinking, “that’s outrageous, how dare they put God’s money into tube ads. To get on the underground you need an Oyster card, and the word Oyster in Greek adds up to the number 666. Don’t they know that?” No-one here is thinking that. We are more likely thinking, tube ads? Makes sense. Could work!
No-one here thinks that Michael Airey going on Alpha and Beta is a fundamentally bad thing.
No no-one here thinks any of these 5 things we are giving to are bad things.
No our reluctance to give stems from what economists call the opportunity cost of giving. The opportunity cost says that if I give my money to the church, I won’t have it available for anything else. We are reluctant to give because we are worried. We are worried that if we give our money away, we’ll have to go without.
But if we carry on reading Paul’s letter, we find that he addresses this issue . . .
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
You know two years ago, I gave a sum of money to the Brighton Leaders offering, the one I just told you about to world mission and the poor. It was more than I’d planned to give, and it left us short in other areas. It was a big deal. But I was sure it was the right thing to do. So I gave it cheerfully. Two weeks later someone literally came up to me and out of the blue gave me a cheque for exactly the same amount. And then I noticed the date on the cheque. The cheque had been written before I chose the sum I gave to Brighton!
So what’s been gained through that process? Well, it reminded me again that: “God is real. He sees me.” God seems closer. I feel closer to him. And incidentally, although I was prepared to go without, actually because of this gift, I didn’t. All my needs were met. Funny that, isn’t it. Because this verse says that: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
You will not be left in the lurch . . . because:
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9: 10-11)
It’s because of your generosity, that over the last two years 81 people have made a first time commitment to Jesus in this church. Your generosity has resulted in thanksgiving to God. Isn’t it exciting to think that our generosity in paying for tube adds, could result in people leaving behind misery and loneliness and pain, and meeting Jesus. I’m living for the day that I stand up here at a baptismal service, and someone says: “Well it all started when I saw one of the tube ads. And I just want to thank God for what he’s done for me. He’s forgiven all my sins, he’s restored my marriage and so on.” And then we’ll baptise them and we’ll all cheer and all heaven will confirm that your generosity has resulted in thanksgiving to God.
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. (2 Corinthians 9: 12-13)
This verse says that if you put God first in your finances, men will praise God as a result.
Let me give you an amusing illustration of this:
• Durham: Confident of getting on course at City University
• Rejection letter: “God, where have you gone?”
• Cardiff? “But God that’s in Wales.”
• There was a recession on but I got job offers from Gloucester and Birmingham
• Went to a phone booth to ask an evangelist called Lex Loizidies for advice
• Went to phone booth cos I lived with 4 female welsh rugby players
• Emyr was only bloke. Non-English speaker from Anglesey, HP Sauce and pork chops, conversations in broken Welsh over breakfast.
• Lex rang me this week from South Africa, Wish I could be “Rex”
• The Times, night of the Long Knives
• Through going to Reigate that I met Julia, all the best things that have happened to me in life, came as a result of that decision
• But back when I was holding that piece of paper, it all looked bleak.
If I give amount X, it looks pretty bleak. Well, here is your safety net, run your gift through the 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 safety net:
a) Motivated by grace (2 Cor 8:1, 8:7, 9:8)
b) Generous and sacrificial (2 Cor 8:2, 9:6)
c) Not commanded or under compulsion (2 Cor 8:8, 9:7)
d) Cheerful (2 Cor 8:2, 9:7)
Is it motivated by grace? You can tell because grace is a light thing. Grace gives not because it has to, but because it loves to. Grace gives without the concept of buying something, but with the concept of valuing someone. In this case, Jesus.
Is it generous and sacrificial? You say: “But I haven’t got hardly any money. If you like I can give a generous sum, but all that will mean is that afterwards, I won’t be able to afford to eat. I will starve to death, and then I will see Jesus, I can do that if you want
No. Generosity is a relative term. You see for someone here, giving £10 would be as generous and sacrificial, as the person next to them giving £1,000. Remember the poor widow, in Luke 21, who Jesus saw put two very small copper coins into the temple treasury. She gave the smallest sum of anyone that day into the offering, yet it was her gift that Jesus praised. You see Jesus looks at your heart. Those two very small copper coins cost that woman something.
Thirdly, not commanded. Paul says that “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion”
Fourthly, cheerfully. Here’s how you give. You go home tonight, you search the internet for a credit card that gives you air miles as a reward. You apply for the credit card. You give in two weeks time using that credit card. You use it all year, you rack up enough air miles to fly to Israel. You learn about Jesus and sanctify the whole process.
I wonder whether the band could come up here and join me.
And the rest of us, I’m just going to ask you to close your eyes, and I’m just going to read the words of Jesus over you.
Our fear is that if we give, we’ll suffer as a result. We’ll end up worse off as a result. We’ll go without. Jesus says:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? So do not worry, saying, “what shall we eat?” or “what shall we drink?” or “what shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
God knows what you need. You need all the basics in life that all the pagans need to. God knows that. Your heavenly father knows that you need them. And he will provide them. God is faithful. He can be trusted. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.
This, folks, is New Testament maths. You turn up with five loaves and two fish and you give them away. So you left with nothing, right? No, God multiplies your gift and you’re left with twelve basketfuls left over. We think of giving as subtraction. God says it’s multiplication.
The Bible says that: “even the lions grow hungry and weak, but those who seek the Lord, lack no good thing.”
He’s a good shepherd. He lays down his life for the sheep.
If the Lord is my shepherd, I lack no good thing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.
If you are worried, let me pray for you. Cast all your cares on Him, because he cares for you.