Paul consciously urges generosity on the part of the Corinthians. It’s an appeal to generosity founded on a promise that God will supply their needs, and more, and so provide the ability to be generous.
The person who sows sparingly will only reap a sparse harvest. By contrast, sowing bountifully will produce a rich harvest. The conclusion Paul draws is straightforward - we need to decide how much we shall give. He then sums up his thinking in the well-known phrase, “God loves a cheerful giver”.
While Paul is looking for a generous contribution from the Corinthians, he does stress that it needs to be a voluntary gift, not one made simply because he is applying pressure. Why does God delight in a cheerful giver? Because He himself is such a giver and He wants to see His characteristics, in those He created. That’s us!!
It’s not about paying Parish Share or keeping a roof on the church; it’s about our relationship with God and trying to be like Him.
**The Greek word is hilaron from which we get our word “hilarious”. Are we hilarious givers? I don’t very often hear much laughter when the offertory plate goes round!!
Paul has in mind the joy that comes from enjoying participating in God’s work.
Generosity is born from the heart of the giver. What type of giver are you?
Flint – need to be hit hard, but only small pieces break off
Sponge – need to keep being squeezed to give a bit more
Honey – no hitting or squeezing necessary, just keep giving
It is impossible to talk about sowing without some reference to the field in which we are invited to sow. Your church is your home address, it is your place of regular communion with God with other members of his family. It is the first call on your giving, just as it is the first call on your time each week for worship. There will be other ministries and good causes you are also called to sow in but this is your home and first priority!
It is God the abundant provider who provides the seed we scatter. Any sparse sowing is not because we haven’t got enough seed. I have no doubt in my mind that God provides all and more, to do His work, it’s just we like to hold on to it. Each of us has a ministry of sowing in relation to what we are given - in money as well as gifts and talents. God’s provision means we will have enough to live on, and enough to give and share. Christian giving should be liberating experience, as we learn to receive gladly and share gladly. We either put ourselves first or we put God first. It is He who gives us the seed, we choose how to sow. Do we use all the seed God blesses us with - or is it still in the packet - untouched, and therefore infertile and certainly not productive?
As regular worshippers we face a tough question: Which field are you sowing in? Yours or God’s? We cannot separate money from lifestyle. We may have seed but if it is all sown in the field of our own personal choices then we miss out on the blessing twice. Once because no matter how much we sow in our own field it will never be enough. Secondly because there will be little left to be sown in God’s field.
For Christians the last thing to be converted is always the wallet. I can give my time and my talents but the acid test is whether I will give my money to God’s work as well.
For all of us, this passage is a reminder of God’s amazing generosity, blessing and daily miracles. Do we wish to be associated with it? Will we trust God sufficiently to put him first in our financial lives as well as our weekly worship? That is the key, will you trust in God. Is our Christian faith, and our relationship with God important enough to us that we will respond to Gods call on our finances? I often hear, or get told, that the Church, or the Diocese is only ever after our money. Well, to me, that is a gross distortion of the truth and a poor understanding of what scripture tells us! We give in response to a phenomenally generous God who wants us to be part of what He is doing in His world.
Each one of us needs to go away from here this morning and prayerfully consider our giving! Do you want to be part of what God is doing in your church and community?
(Talk about packs)
Let’s now focus on the Old Testament reading. We’ll look at v10. It says “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have enough room to hold it”. Do you get the idea “so much blessing that you will not have enough room to hold it”.
4500 years ago God called to himself a bronze aged people who had “no hot and cold running water, no social services, no TVs, DVDs or CDs, no health care, no carpets in their homes, no “almost any comfort you can name”. No anything (by our standards), and he revealed to them one of the most sophisticated, generous, progressive principles on charitable giving this world has ever seen. He said before you spend any money on yourself, before you pay taxes to the King, before you spend money on food and shelter bring me the first tithe. And when they did, God blessed them. But not JUST blessed them, but “so much blessing that you will not have enough room to hold it”.
On average we give less that 1.5% per person to charity. And yet God’s people 4500 years ago, with almost nothing, gave the first 10%, and then paid taxes to their King on top of that. Humbling isn’t it?
Why did God implement this idea of tithing? And why is it that Giving and Blessing are so linked? Well I want to give you three ideas.
Firstly, because it reveals to us the true priorities of our own heart. To give to God’s work FIRST, and to give SACRIFICIALLY, is just about the best indicator of where our heart and hopes are. Jesus said “where your treasure is – there your heart is also”. Where we invest our time and money not only REVEALS where our heart and ambitions are, but it also LEADS them.
But may be you cannot tithe because your financial commitments are already too high. What if I’m on benefits? What about the recession. This has all come as a bit of a shock. Well, “we live under Grace and not the Law”. God is more concerned about your heart and your motivation for giving, rather than the amount. Determine what you can give and give it joyfully. We would ALL like to give more, if you cannot give a tithe, give what you can. And as your circumstances change (and if they change for the better) then give to God from the first fruits of that change.
Or maybe you don’t earn a wage. Well, the key point about tithing is that you give “in kind” from what you do. If you were a shepherd you would bring a lamb, if you were a farmer you would bring crops, if you were a spice merchant you would bring spice. Why? Because God is saying “what you do is important to me” And I will delight in having a part in what you do. So that, if you work at home looking after the children, tending for the needy (or whatever). Then God wants you to know that what you do is every bit as important to him – and he will accept and delight in a tithe of your time every bit as much. It is not second rate. it is not about money – it never has been. It’s about your heart and your priorities before God.
Secondly, because when we are forced to trust God we always end up experiencing the truth that he never lets us down. God says in Chapter 3v10 ‘test me in this.’
I met a lady in a church where I was preaching. She said to me “I knew exactly what you were talking about today. She went on to tell me that her husband had become ill and had to give up work, and eventually she had to give up work to look after him. Their only income was from the benefit system. She said each Monday morning she would go and collect their money, come home and sort it out. The FIRST thing she did was put Gods money in Gods purse and then allocate the rest as necessary. She said in all of the time her husband was ill they never wanted for anything. They would often get up in the morning and an envelope with £50 or £100 had been pushed through the letterbox. Often a box of fruit and veg was left on the doorstep, or a tin with a cake in. God knew what their needs were and He provided.
You cannot out-give God! He says to us, “Go on test me”
Finally, Why is tithing important? Because ministry costs money!
What would happen if all of us gave 10% of what we earned or received to the Kingdom of God and His work here at St Peter’s? What would happen if that began next Sunday? Your ministry and your capabilities here would explode. They would multiply 3, 4, 5 times. What else could you do to reach out to your community in Oundle and share the love of Jesus? How many more children could you reach? How many young people? How many young families? How many more elderly people could hear about the love that Jesus has for them? The people of God in this church would become the most powerful force for good in the whole area. Why? Because you would have the material resources that would be limited only by your lack of vision of where you put them to work.