A Blessing of Giving
February 26, 2006
This is the final study on a three-part series on the act of grace which occurs when Christians give to their Lord. Our study on “A History of Giving” reminded us that the people of God have always sought to honor God through the willing offering of the first and the best. Our study on “A Practice of Giving” reminded us that giving has also always been surrounded by certain threats to the spiritual lives of God’s people, among which have been the temptation to substitute giving for obedience to God or to separate giving from mercy and compassion for people.
This morning we would like to finish this brief journey through the scriptures by focusing on a blessing of giving. I would like to ask you to think with us of the fact that the overlooked blessing of giving is fellowship, the fellowship that is involved in giving together to the Lord. One of the great New Testament words is the term in the original language, Koinonia, fellowship or communion. It is a word which means “have a share in” or “to participate in,” or “to be partners in.” For example, this great word is used in I Cor. 10:16-17 by the apostle Paul to say that this bread which we bless is a communion of the body of Christ. We jointly participate in, we share in the Lord as we have been thinking about this morning. This cup which we bless, Paul says, is a communion of the blood of Christ – that is, it proclaims that we are joint participants to the benefits that have been purchased for us at the cost of the blood of God’s own Son. The interesting thing is that that same word, communion, is translated sometimes in the New Testament “contribution.” Romans 15:26 is an example. II Cor. 9:13 is another example. II Cor. 8:4 is the one I would like to lay before us just now. This term that is also translated “fellowship” or “communion” is used here to describe what happens when Christians give together. Notice that Paul says here of the Christians in Macedonia that they had been people who were “begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.” In this version “taking part in” translates the word for “contribution” or “fellowship” or “communion” even in a certain way of looking at it. It means that one of the things we have in common as Christians is in giving together for the same purpose. Think about that this morning as we sing Song #842, “A Common Love,” and then as we participate together in the act of grace called giving.
Jesus Gave In The Interest of Fellowship.
If we are to draw nearer to the heart of Jesus, it will involve this idea of fellowship in giving. Jesus gave himself and of himself in the interest of fellowship. Remember in Philippians 2:6-7 there is the amazing statement of the fact that Jesus, though he existed in the form of God, counted not equality of God as something which he would grasp selfishly for himself, but that instead he emptied himself and took the form of a servant being found in likeness as a man. He then humbled himself by becoming obedient even to the death of the cross.
The Hebrew writer in Hebrews 2:17 takes that thought one step farther when he reveals that the Lord’s emptying of himself and taking human form was so that he could be made like us in every way, thus enabling himself to be a sympathetic high priest for us. In other words, the Lord chose to give up his position or place that he had in equality with God in order to take human form, and he did that so that he would be able to exercise fellowship with us, sympathy for us in what we go through. That is why Paul in II Cor. 8 in his great discussion about this act of grace points to the example of Jesus in verse 9. He says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake (that phrase is what I am suggesting involves fellowship) he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Jesus, then, gave in the interest of fellowship.
Giving Was An Expression of Fellowship in the New Testament Church.
And so we are not surprised to discover in the New Testament that giving was an expression of fellowship in the early church also. It seems natural that people who are going to be like Jesus will begin to think and act like Jesus did. In Acts 2 there is the story you remember of the gospel being preached for the first time and people’s hearts being pricked by the fact that Jesus is Lord in Christ and crying out, “What shall we do?” and being instructed in the way of the gospel that people who believe in the Lord like that are to repent and to be baptized in his name for the forgiveness of their sins. Peter encouraged them further to take that action. And those who gladly received the word were baptized into Christ that day, about 3000 of them, the Bible says. At verse 42 it says that those same people continued steadfastly in or devoted themselves to the apostle’s doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and in prayers. Did you notice that Bro. Dennis recently in the bulletin reminded us that that word “fellowship” may involve more than just this but it certainly includes this idea of them continuing in giving like Jesus did. In fact, the New Testament contains a plan or a means by which this might be continued in the church. A familiar statement in I Cor. 16 is, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” It goes ahead and describes his plans in relation to this ministry which was going to be a blessing to fellow Christians in need. Notice that this idea “the first day of every week” suggests a time when Christians would assemble together. That would involve fellowship. “Each one of you” implies joint participation (that is the action of fellowship). “Lay by him in store” is literally, according to McGarvy and Pendleton, “to put into the treasury.” This laying by in store would make it possible for their to be no collecting when Paul arrived. Some people take it as if it means just to put something aside privately at home. If that is what it meant, then it would necessitate the very thing that Paul is saying he is wanting to avoid here. So there is fellowship in this.
In II Cor. 9:13-14, Paul shows the cycle which he envisions of blessings flowing to, maybe spiritual blessings from Jerusalem, where the gospel went forth, to some of these nations in Asia Minor and then material blessings flowing back to help their Jewish brethren who were in need. That idea of fellowship, he considers, will be a cycle that will honor God. Notice these verses: “By their approval of this service (that is these who receive this ministry), they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ (there is something flowing from obedience to the gospel), and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others (there is something flowing back the other way), while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God on us.” That is the wonderful picture of Christian fellowship.
Song 250: How Sweet, How Heavenly.
We Should Be Mindful of Fellowship In Our Giving.
The third step in this line of thought is an obvious one and that is that we then should be mindful of the idea of fellowship in our giving. Consider for just a moment how it is that Christians think on this point. We are not saying that the giving we do as a congregation is all that we give to God as Christians. Our view and the Biblical view is that everything in heaven and on earth is owned by God. Psalm 24:1, among other passages, teaches that idea. And our place as the Lord’s people in this world is to be stewards who use what’s Gods in his service. So the Christian view is that when you or I take care of our families, that is giving to God. When we pay our obligations in business on time and responsibly, that is giving to God. When we are good neighbors to those who live around us and we express compassion to people who are in deep need around us, that would be giving to God. If we did that individually, even, that would still be us serving our Lord. When we take care of our parents, when we honor them by caring for them as the Lord wants us to, that is being responsible as his stewards.
But the thing that is different about our giving as a church is that it involves the aspect of fellowship in doing something that the Lord has assigned to the body of Christ in this world. That is what we would like to think about for just a moment.
There are four or five ways in II Cor. 8 and 9 in which this principle proves to be true. When we give together, we are taking part in a work together. I read a while ago from II Cor. 8:4 where these brethren desired earnestly, begged earnestly, for the favor of taking part in the work that was going on. There is the idea here that when we do all that we can together, we will be able to do anything the Lord wants us to do. If we are not able to do what should be done or to do what we want to do through the willing giving together of our people, then we have to consider whether that is what we should do. When we do willingly give and when we do so with the desire to put the kingdom first, we will be able to do anything the Lord wants us to do. And there is the idea that we get more done by working together in this way. I noticed the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. They showed a side of this huge stadium and the people who had come into the stadium for that opening had all been asked to wear white. Maybe they were provided some sort of a white garment to wear. But the idea was when you looked at it, it looked like this big stadium was all filled with snow. You couldn’t have one person sitting there like that to make it look that way, but when they all together were involved in it, it certainly had a big effect. It left a big impression.
Second, giving with fellowship in mind involves cooperating in a planned effort. The idea of fellowship is cooperating. Look at II Cor.8:10-11. It says, “And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you who a year ago started not only to do this work but also do desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.” Is it scriptural to plan a year ahead how much you want to give? I don’t know how you can read those two verses and not think it is. The idea of giving is that a person determines willingly, thinks through it, and decides what he is going to do with the Lord’s will and the Lord providentially blessing him. The thing that makes this effective as a church is for the members to know this work and then to decide and to plan and then to actually cooperate in following through and completing what has been planned. This would imply that those who are responsible for leading a congregation, the elders, could identify what needs they see, could lay that need before the congregation, and each member, each family must decide together how they are going to do it, and then we cooperate in that plan. In that way, we have fellowship with the rest of you who are doing that same thing. It is not merely the giving, but the fellowship involved which honors God.
Third, there is fellowship in what Paul calls here “the matter of fairness or equality.” I read some years ago a statement by an older preacher who said that in the church it is not equal giving which is called for but equal sacrifice. His point was that people are able to give in different measures, but what the church can’t have if fellowship is to be promoted is one or a few who are really sacrificing and then some others who are not involved at all. That is what is dangerous to a congregation. In II Cor. 8:13, 15 it says, “I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their needs so that their abundance may supply your need that there may be fairness. As it is written, whoever gathered much had nothing left over and whoever gathered little had no lack.” I have been a member of this congregation for close to 21 years, and I am thankful that I have never known what anybody here gives besides Kay and I. I have never heard any of our brethren who are responsible for serving the congregation by taking care of this say anything about who gives what, but I want to tell you that the human nature is that there will be some who will be making real sacrifices and there will be others who will hold up their nose and think “I am not involved at all. I am not here to be a giver. I am here to be a taker.” Based on this, that harms and damages Christian fellowship.
Fourth, notice that fellowship in giving involves realizing that others will either be encouraged or discouraged by the level of my own participation. My giving will have an effect, not just on how much the contribution is, but on whether my brother over here who did really sacrifice ends up discouraged by it when he sees that he was by himself in that effort. Notice in verse 24 of chapter 8 it says, “So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.” Notice the proof of your love idea. In verses 2 and 3 of chapter 9, Paul says, “I know your readiness of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year.” Achaia is the province where these brethren were. “And your zeal has stirred up most of them.” One of the ways that we can encourage each other is by showing that we are interested and that we are involved in this process, too.
Fifth, fellowship in giving is aimed at producing thanksgiving to God. Look at 9:11-12. Here, Paul says, “You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” That seems to be what Paul is really after. This will be done to accomplish this work, and people who benefit from it will thank God for it. I believe it is important to notice thanksgiving to God. Can a person give directly and privately as an individual to someone? Of course you can. The person may thank you for what you did, but when Christians give as a church, the church ends up being what they thank God for. It is a different approach and it is something that needs to be thought about. An overlooked blessing of giving is fellowship.
Notice how the apostle concludes his extended discussion of this act of grace. In II Cor. 9:15 he says simply, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift.” It is not as much a question of how much I give as it is a matter of how am I responding to what he is giving that Paul seems to have in mind here. That is one of the reasons why giving is always a matter which individuals have to decide for themselves and do willingly. We can begin by asking ourselves whether we have willingly accepted the benefit of God’s acts of grace when he loved us enough to give his own Son up for us all.
If we are touched by that fact and that truth, we will want to confess our belief in that and to be identified with God’s act of grace by being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. It could be you are here today and you want to make that beginning. If we can help you, won’t you let it be known while we stand and sing together.