This is the penultimate talk in our believing and belonging series. We have talked about what healthy churches look like, who should belong to a church, the importance of baptism and communion and how we are to use our gifts together in the service of the Gospel. Next week we will be looking at pastoral care and church discipline. Today we are going to talk about giving.
Now, this is one of those subjects that isn’t easy because for various reasons. Some people feel that the church talks about money too much. That may be your intention if you watch some of the TV shows. I know there are others that think we should talk about it a bit more. And it’s tempting isn’t it, especially if a church has a short fall or a big project to think “we need to preach about this” to fire everyone up. Well, I’ve always felt it important that we should give the subject the same level of attention that Scripture does. This means that we do talk about it as it arises in our teaching series but we don’t go on about it. I also don’t like this idea that we can try and talk it up and persuade people to give. That’ one reason why we have left this topic almost to last because you will see that it is coming up after the gift day and the pledging exercise. We are not trying to stir up an emotional response this morning. Rather we want to help each other think Biblically for the whole of Christian life.
Yet, this is also an important topic because my attitude to my money does tell me something about my attitude to God. Is this something I retain control of or do I recognise God’s ownership of it? Do I trust God when it comes to this area of my life just as I trust him with everything else? So, I would like to draw your attention to Romans 15 and we will see what Paul has to say on this.
- Give because of the needs of fellow believers
Paul is coming to the end of his letter to the Romans. He then begins to describe his plan to come and visit them on route to Spain. His ministry at the eastern end of the Mediterranean is reaching its fulfilment and he wants to press on to where there is no active witness. Some people have suggested that this feels like the punchline of the letter. It is a missionary letter. I wouldn’t go that far, it isn’t just about his mission trip but this does seem to be an important part of his reason for writing.
Then Paul tells them that he has one task to complete first. He is going to visit Jerusalem with a gift for the poor among the believers there from the Gentile churches. One of the fascinating things about Paul’s letters is that he has no problem in challenging the churches to give. He brings up this matter when he writes to the Corinthians. Paul doesn’t have a problem with identifying the need and encouraging giving. However, I want you to notice three other things.
– First of all, that the primary reason for giving is to help those in need. We need to be careful about using those passages to exhort people to give to the General Fund or Staffing Fund because they primarily arise out of concern for those who are going without. This is about the whole church being part of the family together. We are connected and so should look after each other.
– Secondly, the focus is specifically on the poor in the church. Christian compassion and giving starts with a familial concern for our brothers and sisters who are in need. There should be a natural overflow from this and a right desire to love and care for our neighbours. The starting point for the church is the family of believers.
– Thirdly, whilst this is about practical help, there is also a spiritual dimension. The very reason that the church in Macedonia desire to bless the church in Jerusalem practically is because they have been blessed through them spiritually (note they give because they have been blessed not to be blessed).
So, when we are thinking about giving, we want to start by thinking about those in need. This challenges me. Do I see the good things I have received as for my personal benefit? Do I hold onto them tightly? The early church recognised that all they had was from the Lord and they were stewards only, to enjoy it and use it in his service for his glory. Am I moved by compassion? Am I open handing in sharing what God has blessed me with for the benefit of others?
- Give to help the Gospel go out
I mentioned a very helpful article about giving the other week in the Bulletin. It had lots of good advice and insights in it. There was just one thing I wasn’t so sure about. The author said that Paul is always willing to talk about the needs of others but not his own.
However, here in v24 he explicitly expresses the hope that the church in Rome will help him on his way to Spain. The word used indicates that he has financial mission support in mind. Why can he do this? Well actually because he isn’t asking about his needs at all is he? Rather, Paul’s concern is for the need of those in Spain who have never heard the good news.
Paul does talk in other places about the need to support Gospel work. We can do this by praying, sending and encouraging, going ourselves – but giving has a place too.
Now this leads to our third and in fact main application
- Give because of the Gospel
We give to support Gospel work because we are motivated by the Gospel. This is important becaue when we look at how people encourage giving it is so often for the wrong reasons and uses horrendous methods. Paul does not try to manipulate or emotionally blackmail the believers. He doesn’t try to bribe them with the promise of prosperity in return for tithing. Rather, the whole motivation is the Gospel.
You see, Paul spends just a few verses here at the end of his letter talking about this need and it is all in the context of how wonderful the Gospel is.
It starts back in Chapter 1-3 with the reminder of how deep, serious and costly sin is. We have rejected the truth of God’s revelation. We have turned our back on him and worshipped idols. This brings slavery, death and destruction. We are under judgement. We are all without excuse.
Paul them points to the incredible good news. Jesus has taken our guilt and shame on himself. He has received the just penalty for our sin. The righteous Son of God has died in our place. The Wages of Sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. We are justified. It is just as if I kept God’s law perfectly. We have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection. We have died to the old life. We often talk about this as past grace, what Christ did for us at Calvary (see ch 4-7).
In Romans 8 we discover present grace through life in the Spirit. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Spirit intercedes for us. Isn’t it incredible to know that we are in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit. We are loved by the Father and adopted into His Family.
Then in the same chapter, we are reminded that Creation is groaning and longing for the great day when Christ will return. We look forward to that day. There is future grace too.
It is this great and glorious gospel of grace that is meant to motivate and fuel our giving. We give in gratitude for what Christ has done and as a mark of our hope and trust in Him. We have been so blessed with grace and there should be a great and natural overflow from our lives of praise, witness, service and love. Giving is part of that overflow.
It is this great and glorious gospel of grace that is meant to motivate us to give because we see the desperate need that people around us in Bearwood and beyond have for the Gospel. We give because there is a harvest field which is white. We give because we have found a wonderful loving Father -or rather because he found us. We give because we have experienced the depth of his love as we have been forgiven and adopted in his family. So, we want to see others set free from sin and give new life. We give because we want to see others praising and honouring him as Father too.
I want to come back to what we discovered last week. We are part of the body, part of the family together. Giving starts there. You and I have been given to the body with all that we have to love and encourage one another and to glorify God. Am I ready to give my whole life completely into his hands my time, my money, my gifts my energy, All that I am for his glory.