Sunday, March 11, 2007

Experience Grace Giving Part 1

I confess that there are some pastors who are afraid to talk about money to their churches. Their motives are right. They are not just comfortable with the topic. So, they would rather invite a guest speaker to talk about giving.

However, as your pastor, I believe if I can’t talk to you about giving, I can’t really talk to you about anything. As I have mentioned in a sermon before, our Lord Jesus Himself talk more about money than heaven and hell. There are more verses about possessions in the Bible than verses on faith and prayer combined. So, since this is what the Bible teaches, I have to share it with you. And I believe a straight talk on giving is better that not talking about it at all. Giving is both our privilege and our responsibility.

But first, let me clarify that this is family talk. In short, I am talking to our members and regular attenders of Makati Gospel Church. To our visitors, this is not meant for you. Though, of course, you are most welcome to listen.

When I was in the media, I learned to ask the 5 “W’s” and 1 “H.” That is, who, what, when, when, why and how. This morning, we will do just that.

Let us read 1 Corinthians 16:1-4... Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.[1]

Let’s first talk about the “WHY,” that is, the PURPOSE of giving. Note that Paul was talking about “the collection for God’s people” and the “gift to Jerusalem.” At that time, they were pooling their resources to help the needy believers in Jerusalem. And that’s the first reason why we give, to HELP the NEEDY. The early believers supported each other. “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”[2] Now it was voluntary on their part. The apostles did not require them to sell their properties. So, you can all heave a sigh of relief. It was their way of helping the needy. You may be asking, “I only have limited resources. I cannot help all the needy. How can I do that?” I will talk about that later.

The second reason why we give is to HONOR the WORK OF GOD. Paul wrote that, “The elders [that is, the leaders of the church] who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”[3] What did Paul meant by “double honor”? Connect it with “The worker deserves his wages.” Now you get the picture. That’s why the Contemporary English Version[4] goes like this: “Church leaders who do their job well deserve to be paid twice as much”. We are not in the ministry for money. But the ministry needs money to fulfill its mission. Thus we are to give RESPONSIBLY.

Now, let’s talk about the “WHO,” the PARTICIPANTS of giving. Verse 2 says, “let each one of you”. Who was he referring to? Each believer! We are to give PERSONALLY. In 2 Corinthians 8:5, Paul commended the Macedonian believers for their giving: “they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” Note that “they gave themselves first to the Lord” before giving anything to anyone. That means that only believers in the Lord Jesus should give. That’s why we are against those who collect offerings in busses or in public places like the market. Baptism is only for believers. Communion is only for believers. Giving is only for believers. Giving is a family matter.

Also, being poor is not an excuse. Look at the situation of the Macedonian believers: “Although they were going through hard times and were very poor, they were glad to give generously. They gave as much as they could afford and even more, simply because they wanted to.”[5] It’s not an issue of how you much money you have or how much you give. It’s an issue of how big your heart is. It’s a personal issue, between you and God.

There was a young professional who made a promise that he would give God a tithe or ten percent of his income. He was earning ten thousand pesos a month at that time. How much was his tithe? One thousand pesos. Now he had no problem giving that. Finally his salary became fifty thousand pesos. How much supposedly is his tithe now? Five thousand pesos. Now he has problem. He is struggling with giving. He is now tight with his tithe. So, he went to his pastor. He asked if there’s anything his pastor can do to clear him from his promise. His pastor laid his hands on him and then prayed, “Lord, bring back his income to ten thousand pesos.”

Some people say that they would only start giving when they already earn a lot. But if you can’t give now that you are earning little, I don’t think you would give when you are earning much. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”[6]

You may be asking, “How often should I give?” Verse 2 gives us the answer: “On the first day of every week”. That’s the “WHEN” or the PERIOD of giving. You may be asking, “But, I receive my salary every 15th and 30th of the month, not at the end of every week. How can I give every week?” That doesn’t mean that you have to spread out your giving so you can give literally every week. You may also be asking, “I am on a commission basis. So how can I follow this pattern of weekly giving?” Let us not be legalistic. The point is not that literally we have to give weekly but we are to give REGULARLY. What Paul was saying is that giving should be a habit. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”[7] The question should be not “How often should I give?” but “How often do I want God to bless me?”

Verse 2 continues: “each one of you should set aside a sum of money”. Let’s look at “HOW,” the PROCEDURE of giving. This was the reason why we stopped passing the basket for offering. Paul wrote, “so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” The Message goes like this: “When I get there you’ll have it ready, and I won’t have to make a special appeal.” The problem was, at that time we would only compute how much we give when the basket is right there in front of us. So, the church leaders decided to just place the offering boxes at the back. So you can plan how much you would give without pressure. We don’t have to beg or to prick your conscience.

One time, a pig gave birth to two piglets. The owner had a sudden inspiration. He told his wife, “When these pigs grow up, we will give one to the Lord.” His wife asked, “Which one?” He said, “Let’s just raise them and then decide later.” Then an epidemic came. One of the piglets died. The owner was so sad. He told his wife, “The pig of the Lord died.” How come it’s always the pig of the Lord that dies?

We are to give SYSTEMATICALLY. What you give should be in your budget already. Usually when we don’t budget it, we drown in our bills that we end up using our offering. Why can’t we sacrifice on other things like leisure or the non-essentials of life? You heard that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Let me paraphrase that. If you are not planning your giving, you are planning not to give.

Note that Paul was very careful in handling the church finances. Verses 3 and 4 say, “Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.” That’s the “WHERE” or the PLACE of giving. Here in our church our deacons make sure we handle our books properly. “We don’t want anyone to find fault with the way we handle your generous gift. But we want to do what pleases the Lord and what people think is right.”[8]

We are to give CAREFULLY. We are bombarded with appeals for money. Now whether you have lots of money or limited funds, we have to make sure that our offering is not stolen or wasted. Someone asked me, “Why can’t I just give money, for example, to beggars?” Well, you can do that. But our government prohibits that because we develop dependency or mendicancy. Also, our help tends not to be sustainable. The key is to find a reputable organization whose ministry fits your burden and who will make sure your gift is maximized. So, our church leaders would come up with a list of organizations and missionaries to support every year. Then, we present them before you for your consideration. Our church have scrutinized them to make sure they are worthy of our support.

Finally, let’s look at the “WHAT” or the PROPORTION of giving. Usually, when people ask me about giving, they usually ask, “How much should I give?” Some people even make an issue on whether to tithe or not tithe. Or they debate whether we should tithe from our gross income or net income. I answer them, “That depends. How much blessing do you want? Gross or net?”

There were three brothers who were professionals. They earn basically the same. But their father was puzzled. One bought a bicycle. The second bought a scooter. The third bought a car. So the father spied on them to see how they divide their earnings. The first one drew a line on the ground. Then he would pray, “Lord, I will throw the money up in the air. What falls to the left is mine. What falls to the right is yours.” The second drew a small circle on the ground. Then he would pray, “Lord, I will throw the money up in the air. What remains inside the circle is yours. What rolls outside the circle is mine.” The third held his money in his two hands. Then he would pray, “Lord, I will throw the money up in the air. Whatever you can catch is yours. What falls on the ground is mine.” Some of us plan our giving this way.

Seriously, I answer them 1 Corinthians 16:2. Paul wrote, “each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income”. The words “in keeping with his income” were translated “as he may prosper”.[9] I like how the New English Translation or NET Bible translated it: “to the extent that God has blessed you”. We are to give according to God’s blessings. If He is generous, we must also be generous.

In the Old Testament, God commanded the Jews to give not just one but three tithes. There’s the Levite’s tithe, the festival tithe and the poor man’s tithe. Other than that, they do not harvest the edges of their fields or when they gather the harvest, they would not pick up the stalks that would fall. It’s for the widows and orphans to pick up. I see that God is not teaching them to focus on the percentage of what they are giving. God taught His people generosity. So, we are to give ABUNDANTLY. The Message goes like this: “Be as generous as you can.” Tithing is a just a good place to start giving. It’s the training wheels of giving. We should not be limited to ten percent. We should be burdened by ten percent. Generous giving should be the trademark of our lives.

I pray that we would be like King David who declared, “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”[10] Brethren, I challenge you to “Honor GOD with everything you own; give him the first and the best.”[11] Next week, we will talk more about grace giving.

Let us pray...

[1]All Bible verses are from the New International Version, unless otherwise noted.
[2]Acts 4:34-35.
[3]1 Timothy 5:17-18.
[4]CEV.
[5]2 Corinthians 8:2-3, CEV.
[6]Luke 16:10-11.
[7]2 Corinthians 9:6.
[8]2 Corinthians 8:20-21, CEV.
[9]New American Standard Bible.
[10]2 Samuel 24:24.
[11]Proverbs 3:9, The Message.

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