A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on November 21, 2010.
1 Corinthians 9:6-15
O Lord, we pray today believing the words of scripture that every good and perfect gift comes from you. Lord, what do we enjoy that is not a gift from your generous heart. What have our eyes beheld with affection today that is not a reflection of your grace in our lives. We give thanks for family, for friends, and for this place of faith and the opportunity that it provides us to serve, to praise, and to hear your word. We give thanks for our homes and for the food that has nourished us yet another day. Thank you as well for the privilege of living in a time and place where homes are warm, where medicine is available to heal our illnesses and extend our lives, and for living in a time and place where technology satisfies our curiosity and extends our knowledge. O God, whatever we possess you have given us. In this season of Thanksgiving, we offer ourselves back to you. Take our minds and use them to find solutions to the challenges of this world. Take our creativity and use it to find ways to help others. Take our wills and bend them solely to your will. Take our children and use them in service that others might know Christ. Our Father, you have given us much. We ask only for one more thing—give us love for you and love for you only. With your grace, we are rich enough to ask for nothing else. In Christ’s name. Amen.
When you give of yourself, to a faith community and to others, that’s one of the places where you get to discover the image of God that is within you. The essence of God is always to be giving. God is a giver. God is a giver of life; God is a giver of health; God is a giver of forgiveness; God is a giver of mercy and compassion; God is a giver of energy to transform the world to be a just and peaceful place. I think that there is a spiritual phenomenon that goes on when you give generously. The by-product is joy and happiness, but the deepest thing that is going on is that you’re expressing the image of God within you. I think that people feel connected with God in a way that’s as powerful as having a mystical experience during prayer or while gazing at the sunset
—Douglas LeBlanc in Tithing—Test Me In This
The Friday after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday. That always sounds bad, but it is really good. Having grown up in a home where, during the latter part of their business lives, my parents owned retail businesses, Black Friday is called that because you rock along all year on the borderline of being in the red, and on the Friday after Thanksgiving, you go into the black. It is such a great shopping day that it pushes you over. If you hope to make a good profit during the year, typically in small retail, you make it between the Friday after Thanksgiving and the end of the year. What sounds like a bad day is really a good day. I have no doubt it is going to be a great shopping season.
Those among us who are the most organized will probably say, “I’ve already done my shopping.” We get a little irritated at those people for being so smug. The power shoppers among us are already lining up a plan of attack for Friday morning. Door busters at Toys R Us at 4:00, on to Belk’s at 5:00. I don’t know what time these places open, but it seems to me they might as well open at midnight. It doesn’t matter to me because I am not getting up.
In the course of this holiday week, chances are on Thursday you may gather with family. If some of your family lives far away, you will call them on the phone and part of the conversation will go like this:
“I need to know what you want for Christmas. I have been asking you this for a month, and if I don’t know what you want, I am not going to know what to get you. You still haven’t told me what you want. What do you want?”
Why do we want to know? We want to know because we do not want to be the one that gives a bad tie. We don’t want to be the person who gives something that goes into a drawer or closet until the next yard sale. We don’t want to waste our money on giving someone something that is something they do not want.
Deeper than that, we also want to give out of love. The people we love the most we want to please. The people we genuinely have affection for and are such vital parts of our lives, we want to give them something that makes them happy. We want to give them something that is good and that they appreciate. So we say, “Tell me what you want. You still have not told me what you want. I don’t want to get you a gift card. I don’t want to give you something that is meaningless. I want to give you something that will please you because it is something that you desire and that I have taken the time to shop for and get you. Please tell me what you want.”
Today marks the third Sunday that we have merged two themes. Since August, we have been walking this trail about what it means to my life now that I believe in Jesus Christ. Now that I believe, there are certain moral obligations on my life. Now that I believe, there are things that I once did that I cannot do any more. Now that I believe, God is working in my life. Because God is now such a vital part of my life and my life has changed, some things are different now that I believe.
The second part we have merged into this is what this means for giving. What does this mean for generosity? Now that I profess faith in Jesus Christ, is there something different about my relationship to my money? Is there something different about the way that I give? In thinking about these things, it brings us to the question: If we could ask and God would speak so that we could hear, out of our love for God now that we believe, what would God say that he wants? What does God want?
As evangelicals, we believe that we have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This is the heart of who we are. We talk about Jesus is my friend. We talk about how we talk to God and God talks back. We talk about that it is not simply the worship of some far off deity but it is a personal relationship with the Almighty. I have always been convinced that the laws of relationships are true whether it is a relationship between you and me or whether it is a relationship between any one of us and God. The laws of relationship hold true whether or not I am supposed to forgive you or whether or not I take forgiveness from God. If part of loving each other is wanting to give each other gifts, then wouldn’t we want to know what God wants? Wouldn’t we want to get God what we know that he would want?
To help us, we look at the Apostle Paul. I think it is hard to understand any of the books of the Corinthian Letters of you don’t understand that Paul had an up-and-down relationship with the Christians in Corinth. Sometimes it was good and sometimes they were butting heads. In this particular case, for over a chapter, Paul has been talking to them about an offering that he is taking up. Evidently, about a year before, he started to take up an offering for the poor Christians in the area around Jerusalem and he was trying to get all the Christians in the Mediterranean area to participate. Reading between the lines, what we can put together is that about a year ago, the Corinthians had made a somewhat bold response. “Yes, we are going to give.” They were so enthusiastic that they inspired Christians in other areas to give, such as the Macedonian Christians.
Now, as we come to the ninth chapter, Paul is writing and he says: “I am going to send some emissaries to you and they are going to finish this offering that we started a year ago. When they come, you really do not want to embarrass yourselves.” Oops! In this somewhat obvious relationship with the Corinthians, I think Paul realizes how that sounds. He realizes that is putting a little too much pressure on this group and they may not receive it very well. Would you want to be told, “You better give or you are going to embarrass yourself”? That is not a high motivator. He is beginning to paint himself into a corner so he starts to back up. First of all he says, “You don’t want to embarrass me.” That is really the bad thing. Then he says, “You don’t want to embarrass yourselves.” Then still trying to back up, he says, “You need to give as you are led. You need to give willingly. Wherever it is that God leads you, you need to decide yourself what you are going to give.” If we want to know what God wants, the first part of it is that, through the Apostle Paul, we find out that God wants us to give willingly. God wants us to give because it is our choice.
Have you ever had to give a gift because it was expected? You get a wedding invitation in the mail and you say, “Why are these people inviting me to their wedding? I hardly know them. I bet they just wanted a gift.” So you give a gift and it winds up meaning little to you or to the people who receives it.
Perhaps when you were younger you were having an argument with your brother or sister and a stern parent said, “You will buy your brother a birthday present. You will!” You hated it and it didn’t mean anything because a gift that is commanded is no gift. A gift that is given because it is required means nothing to the giver or to the person who receives it.
That is why in church we do not have dues. We do not have assessments. We are not like a country club or a condominium association. Someone who means well will say, “Why don’t we count the number of families and divide it up.” It doesn’t work like that. What God wants is for each person to decide. God wants us to give willingly. Of course, the model is God himself. God gave us freely life, freely grace, and freely gave his own son, Jesus Christ, because he chooses to. He forgives because he chose to. Instead of being concerned about whether it is a dollar or a thousand dollars, God would say to us, “I want you to give willingly as he purposeth in his heart.” That’s what God wants.
Then, of course, God wants us to give generously. If you read 1 Corinthians 9 and the surrounding passages that go with it, words like enlarge, surpassing, generous, and abounding, remind us of increasing giving and goodness. The model is God in Jesus Christ. Earlier he says to the Corinthians, “Christ who was rich became poor for your sake.” It is an image of Christ being part of the very God and pouring himself out that he might come and live the life of a servant among us, being obedient to death, even death on the cross. It is an image of great richness, becoming great poverty because, in his generosity, God through Christ has given this gift of life.
I came across a simple statement that had never occurred to me before. I tried to say that love is expressed in giving and if you love you will give. The statement was: God loves to give. It is not only that God loves and that God gives, but God loves to give.
On Wednesday nights in one of our studies that is currently going on, we are talking about principles that we live our lives by financially. We are talking about actually writing out some principles that we believe are important, principles we want to share with our children. I believe if you look at the family of God and what God’s principles are, it is loving to God. When Paul talks about giving generously and abounding in giving, he is saying that these are part of his family values. This is what I want when my children give. I want my children to give generously.
Have you heard the scripture, “God loves a cheerful giver.” I have used the word joyful in the title of the message today. I will have to confess that I think most of my life I have misunderstood this. That is probably not a good thing for a preacher to say. The Greek root comes from the same word that means hilarious. God loves a giver who is hilarious about giving—joyful, happy. I have always understood this that if you are not giving joyfully, you really need to change your attitude. This is like when your mother or father told you, “You need to get a new attitude.” How often did that work? It never worked on me. God wants us, as God’s children, to know the joy that God feels when God gives. Do you understand this?
It is not that God wants us to change our attitudes so we will have a smile on our faces when we write that check. God wants us to experience the same feeling that God experiences when God gives, and he loves it when we get it. He loves it when somebody becomes a cheerful giver because that person is experiencing what the very heart of God knows when God gives so generously to us.
The first two things that God wants us to do—to give willingly and generously—are the way we get the third thing—the cheerfulness, the joy, the hilarity, of giving. Have you ever known real genuine joy in a stingy gift or an unwilling gift or a gift that you were compelled to give out of obligation? I haven’t, but when I choose and give out of the richness that God has given me that is when I am blessed with the opportunity to know what is in the heart of God because God loves to give. God loves it when his children get it and give joyfully.
1 Corinthians 9:6-15 starts off with a parable. It says, “Those who sow sparingly reap sparingly, and those who sow plentifully reap plentifully.” It is an agricultural image. For me, most of the agriculture and planting in my life was grass seeds. If you are trying to grow a nice yard and just put out a little bit of grass seed, you are going to get a little bit of grass. But when we take the time to do everything right and spread it abundantly, we get a green fertile yard. It is an image, and Paul tells that if we give sparingly, we are only going to get a little joy that God wants us to have. But when you give generously, you come much closer to experiencing the heart of God. At the end of it all, it is not really what God wants us to give. It is what God wants us to get when we give, and that is a glimpse into his very heart.
God gives to us and hopes that we will emulate those family values so that we find out exactly what it means to be a child of God. God loves a cheerful giver. The language in the text does not actually say this, but I am convinced that what it means is God loves it when we get it enough to have that same joy in our hearts that God has when he gives us love, peace, grace, and everlasting life through his son, Jesus Christ. That is why Paul ends the passage, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”