Posted by: Johnold Strey | October 26, 2008

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 9:6-11

GOD LOVES A CHEERFUL GIVER!
1. A giver not hindered by grief
2. A giver enabled by God’s blessings
3. A giver whose gift brings thanks

Text: 2 Corinthians 9:6-11

The last in a three-part stewardship series

Other sermons in series: 2 Thes. 2:13-17, Haggai 1:1-8

Introduction

Scenario #1.  You are the parent.  It’s Saturday morning, and your family is at the breakfast table.  Before your teenage children head out for their weekend plans, you remind them that they need to make their beds and clean up their rooms before leaving.  And then the whining starts.  “But we want to leave right away!  Why do we have to?  Besides, nobody is coming over to see our room!  What difference does it make, anyway?”  After listening to their arguing and complaining, you put your foot down, they finally head upstairs, make their beds and clean up their rooms, albeit grudgingly.

Scenario #2.  You are the parent.  It’s Saturday morning, and your family is at the breakfast table.  Before your teenage children head out for their weekend plans, you remind them that they need to make their beds and clean up their rooms before leaving.  And while busily shoveling down their food the way teenagers do, they say, “Okay.”  After finishing their plates and remembering to put them in the dishwasher when they’re finished eating, they immediately head upstairs, make their beds and clean up their rooms, head back downstairs, say “good-bye,” and head off to do whatever they had planned for the day.

If you are the parent, which scenario would you prefer?  I think the answer is obvious!  Both scenarios get the job done, but you’d rather see the job done with a cheerful attitude.

In the Bible reading chosen for today’s sermon, the apostle Paul is going to talk to us about our financial stewardship.  The predominant thought that comes through in our reading doesn’t say as much about what we give as it says about how we give-and especially the attitude with which we give.  Parents want children who will listen cheerfully, and in a very similar way, God wants children who will give cheerfully.  God loves a cheerful giver!  That’s what St. Paul will teach us this morning in his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter nine.

I.

When you arrive at work tomorrow, you will probably have several tasks that need your attention.  Some of those items you probably don’t mind doing.  Others you probably wish you could ignore or forget about.  Maybe you would prefer to call up clients and secure their business rather than correct the errors that someone else made last week.  Your actual job might not be something completely different from what I’ve just described, but you probably have some tasks you like to do, and others you do because you have an obligation to perform them.

How do we approach giving our offerings to the Lord?  Is this a task we’re glad to do, or does this feel more like a necessary evil?  Paul does not want us to make the latter our way of thinking.   He wrote, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion.” The word translated “reluctantly” means to feel grief and pain over something.  The words for “under compulsion” have the idea that someone is forced to endure something they don’t want to experience.  Put the thoughts together, and Paul shows us the attitude God doesn’t want us to take with our offerings.  God loves a cheerful giver, and a cheerful giver is not hindered by grief.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Give until it hurts”?  That phrase suggests that Christians haven’t really given to the Lord until their giving hits their checkbook hard.  Sacrificial giving is a tremendous act of faith, but “Give until it hurts” is a pretty lousy motto for Christian stewardship.  That sounds a lot like giving “reluctantly or under compulsion.” That doesn’t sound like a cheerful giver.

Church leaders have to be on guard lest they guilt people into stewardship, but Christians also have to be on guard lest they create excuses that get in the way of cheerful giving.  Let’s face it.  It’s all too easy to come up with excuses for holding back on our financial stewardship.  Anytime our Christian nature wants to commit to a generous and consistent offering, our sinful nature is right there to squeal out its objections.  “But this kind of offering will cut into our money for that tropical vacation!”  “But if we give this to church, how are we going to be able to afford payments for the new car we wanted to purchase?”  “With the economy slowing down, don’t we need to cut back on the offering so we can maintain our standard of living?”

On the one hand, we can’t give when we don’t have–especially in tough economic times.  On the other hand, how many excuses can our sinful nature come up with that are really just sin-produced barriers to cheerful giving?  How easily the sin that resides in our hearts shows up in selfish plans for scrawny gifts!  How easily we can spend 101% of what we earn, but how hesitantly we would give our last leftover pennies to the Lord!  The fact that stewardship talk can cause us grief says a lot about sin’s control over our hearts, it says a lot about misplaced priorities that put our wants before God’s work, and it says a lot about the “guilty” verdict that should come down on all of us in God’s eternal courtroom.

II.

I recently came across the blog of a WELS pastor who is particularly gifted in outreach to Mormons.  In one of his recent posts, he talked about a Mormon who wrote to him.  This man was troubled with some of the teachings of the Latter-Day Saints, but he also thought that the guilt his theology gave him was a good thing.  “Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving,” he wrote.

“Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving” doesn’t exactly jibe with “God loves a cheerful giver,” does it?  Our reading for today shows us that God doesn’t goad us into giving, but his grace and blessings enable us to give cheerfully.  Paul says, “God is able to make all grace about to you.” God has been generous with his grace, giving his all–yes, his only Son–to redeem the world from sin at the cross and to prove that his redemption is certain by his empty tomb.  And on top of that great spiritual blessing, God gives his people what they need day by day.  “In all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every good work.” We have been given faith and forgiveness for our soul.  We have so many material blessings in our homes that we don’t know where to store everything.  There’s no question Paul is right when he says you “[have] all you need.”

With every need for soul and body satisfied, Christians can “abound in every good work.” Paul follows that statement with a short little quote from Psalm 112.  The quotation sounds like it’s talking about God, but if you turn back to the Old Testament and read the entire psalm, you’ll realize that it’s talking about the believer when it says, “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor.” God’s blessings enable cheerful giving, whether it’s giving to help those in need or giving to help the mission of the church.

The first-century world Paul lived in was a far more agricultural society than the Bay Area is in the twenty-first century.  And so to make his point in another way, Paul uses an agricultural illustration that his readers could relate to.  “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” The farmer who foolishly thinks that he’s going to lose something by planting lots of seed will come out short when harvest time comes.  But the farmer who wants to see a generous harvest knows that he has to plant seed generously.  Paul wants his readers to understand that Christian giving works the same way.  Those who are worried that their offerings will cause them to lose something won’t have much to show for it.  But those who know that God’s forgiving grace and daily blessings never run short will give their generous offerings with joy, and in the end God’s kingdom will have something to show for it.  God’s blessings enable cheerful giving.

When we began this stewardship program two Sundays ago, our sermon emphasized that we need to focus first on God’s grace before we can really talk about Christian stewardship.  That’s especially true when we talk about financial stewardship.  If you want to be enabled to give generously to the Lord and his church, then look at how much the Lord has given you.

God the Father did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us all.  Jesus Christ gave up the riches of heaven so that we could inherit the glories of heaven.  Jesus gave his life into death on the cross so that you could be given life through his wounds.  Christ gave his life and shed his blood to make us right with God, and Christ took back his life and rose from the dead to prove that he has indeed made us right with God.

And God has taken his grace and gone a step further.  For everything Jesus did for the world 2,000 years ago has been given to you in your baptism.  God gave you his commitment to stand by your side, his guarantee that you are his forgiven child, his promise to take you from this world one day and give you heaven.  He gave you all these blessings when he adopted you at the baptismal font.  And he continues bringing you his forgiveness and commitment when you open the pages of his Word and stand at the foot of his altar for his Supper.  With so many spiritual blessings given to you from God, with so many expressions of his love and commitment, is there any doubt that we can be cheerful givers in gratitude for the one who has given us so much?

III.

When Paul first wrote these words in 2 Corinthians, there was a historical situation that raised the subject of stewardship and offerings.  Paul was organizing a special offering to support the Christians living in Jerusalem.  Christians in and around Jerusalem suffered from abject poverty.  A regional famine combined with persecution made it hard to live and work as a Christian in that region.  The Christians in Jerusalem faced severe hardships.

Paul wanted the Corinthians to look at the spiritual and physical riches they had, and then let the generous grace of God lead them to a generous gift for these needy Christians.  In turn, their gifts would result in generous thanksgiving from their fellow Christians.  “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. 11 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.” Paul had every reason to anticipate that the Jerusalem Christians would be filled with gratitude for the gift they would receive from their brothers and sisters in the faith, many whom they probably would not meet until heaven.  And their gratitude would not only extend to the Christians who gave the offering, but their gratitude would especially extend to God who moved the hearts of those Christians to give in the first place.  God loves a cheerful giver, and the gifts of cheerful givers bring thanks and praise to God.

Are you grateful that you can attend a church that doesn’t mix human opinion with God’s authoritative Word?  I know there are many of you who feel that way, because you sought out this congregation for that very reason.  Then we have reason to thank God for the gifts of your fellow church members who support this church’s ministry!  Are you grateful that you have a school to send your children to where they won’t be taught to disregard God’s Word and will, but they’ll actually be taught to love and trust in Jesus Christ?  I know there are many of you who feel that way, because you send or plan to send your children to our school.  Then we have reason to thank God for the gifts of your fellow church members who support our school’s ministry!  Are you grateful that you belong to a church body that sends missionaries to places where you cannot go and to places where the gospel needs to be heard?  I know there are many of you who feel that way, because every time a missionary visits us or a mission appeal is made, there has been tremendous support.  Then we have reason to thank God for the gifts of people across our synod who love and support our world mission work at home and around the world.  Are you grateful that you have come to count on a reliable and consistent gospel message preached from this pulpit and the pulpits of our synod?  I know there are many of you who feel that way, because that’s why you affiliate with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  Then we have reason to thank God for the people across our synod whose gifts support the professors at our ministry-training college and seminary!  Your cheerful giving and the cheerful giving of your fellow Christians really does bring praise and thanks to God.

Conclusion

It has been said that some people think the first letter in the word stewardship is not an “S,” but a dollar sign: “$tewardship.”  Financial stewardship and offerings are our focus this morning, but stewardship is much bigger than money.  When we first concentrate on our stewardship of God’s Word and our regular connection to his grace, then we can put financial stewardship in its proper perspective.  Then we won’t give out of grief.  Then our gifts will be enabled by God’s blessings.  Then our gifts will result in thanks to God.  Then we’ll be the kind of cheerful givers God has made us to be.  Amen.

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