Please Give

Tithing

What is grace giving? The purpose of this post is to discuss the nature of grace giving as found 2 Cor. 8-9 and also to discuss some principles of giving in the New Testament. Grace giving has to start with an understanding of the purpose of giving. Paul writes, “…but they gave themselves first to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Cor 8:4). Giving is an act of service for God’s kingdom (2 Cor. 8:19-20).  It is a ministry opportunity to minister to the saints (2 Cor.8: 4).

Grace giving, secondly, starts with an understanding that everything one has is of divine grace. Belleville writes, “It is only as God blesses and enables that we are able to give in the first place.”[1] God gave grace to the church in Macedonia in order for them to give beyond their ability. The word grace appears nine times between chapters 8-9 showing the need for grace in the act of giving.[2] God gives most and because of it believers are to give in order to follow God’s example. In addition, Garland writes, “God is lavishly generous and abundantly supplies us with everything necessary to have enough for our own need and to be generous with others.”[3] In other words, grace giving has an understanding that God will supply all that we need in order for us to give beyond our ability. God will and does bless so that we can give.

The third element of grace giving is it does not refer to any amount of money, rather it is giving according to one’s ability and beyond one’s ability.[4] It is not ten percent or twenty percent of one’s income. It is not giving out of the surplus, but out of one’s condition. For the Corinthians it was giving according to their ability. Grace giving does not compel a person to “go into debt, to become disadvantaged or overburdened,” rather it is giving out of generosity even if it is a small gift.[5]

The fourth element of grace giving is it has theological consequences.[6] Paul uses words like “grace,” “privilege,” “partnership,” “sharing,” “love,” “blessings,” “ministry,” to describe the ministry of grace giving.[7] It is not giving money for the sake of giving. It is a ministry to the poor yet through it the giver will experience fellowship, partnership, joy, and so many more benefits. God says it is better to give than to receive.

The fifth element of grace giving is it is done with gladness of heart not under compulsion or grudgingly because God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). Garland writes, “God, who knows the heart, values only those gifts that come as a free expression of the deepest part of our souls.”[8] If a person gives out of a grudging heart it does not matter the amount, that attitude would cancel out the gift.

The first principle we can learn about grace giving is giving is in proportion to what a person has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Cor 8:12). The Old Testament required a person to give a portion of one’s income, but the New Testament principle is give according to what one has. This principle is important to grasp because “it is not the gift — neither the fact of it nor its amount — that is “acceptable to God, but the sincere motive that inspires it, namely “willingness.”[9] This principle illustrates that giving is not dependent upon one’s resources, rather it is dependent upon God’s grace given to a person. Our giving should be in proportion to God’s grace.[10]

The second principle of giving is giving is an individual matter that one purposed in the heart (2 Cor. 9:7). Other people should not know what one gives. Jesus says, “Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt 6:3). There is no need to boast about giving, rather it is a private matter.

The third principle of giving is it requires resolves.[11] It is not to be done based upon emotion or carelessly. Don’t be convicted to give while the offering bag is being passed around. That type of giving is based upon emotion. Rather purpose in your heart what you will give before that time comes.

The last principle of giving is “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6). Belleville writes, “The principle is clear: we harvest in proportion to our planting—or, to use a contemporary maxim, ‘we get as good as we give.’”[12]

Biblical giving in the church is hard to find in modern day evangelical Christianity because pastors and teachers have not taught their people on how to give. Maybe it is time for a change. Point people back to the Bible to inform them about grace giving, so that God will get all the glory and honor.


[1] Linda L. Belleville, 2 Corinthians, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, ed. Grant R. Osborne (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 210.

[2] Ibid., 211.

[3] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, Vol. 29 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1999), 407.

[4] Garland, 2 Corinthians, 368.

[5] Ibid., 381.

[6] Garland, 2 Corinthians, 369.

[7] Ibid., 369.

[8] Garland, 2 Corinthians, 406.

[9] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle To The Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1997), 412.

[10] Scott J. Haffmann, 2 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids: Zondervan House Publishing, 2000), 344.

[11] Belleville, 2 Corinthians, 237.

[12] Ibid., 236.

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12/14/12

By now, I am sure you have heard about what happened in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut with the murder of the 20 children and 6 adults.  You may also have heard of the 22 children that were stabbed to death from YuanChuan Elementary School in the village of Chengpin in Henan, China that happened the day before.  If anything, what happened so saddened even President Obama that he cried as he shared his condolences and support to those that died.

After hearing the news on Friday morning, I was so heart broken that I felt led to go and make some major changes to my Christmas service sermon that I was sharing because I felt that it was so important not to forget what had transpired.  What I share next is not meant to take away from the pain, heart break, loss, suffering or aching that the families and their loved ones may be feeling, but I feel it is important to explore an important topic together… that is this concept of sin.

The truth of the matter is this: This is not the first time nor will it be the last time we will hear of such horrific things happening.  Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, such terrible things will have happened and will continue to happen.  We must take a moment then and ask ourselves, what drives such activity?! What I write to you after this is related to this because I believe what motivates such an action is this concept of sin which leads to such evils.  A quote I saw on my friend’s Facebook said this:

“The presence of evil does not imply the absence of God, rather the presence of evil demands a God who must be present — present to judge, heal, restore, and to save.”

I think that this is so true… that what sin reveals to us… what this evil shows what the world needs and has is a God that is able to judge, to heal, to restore and to save.  You see, sin is this corruption… this separation from God and what He originally planned for humanity.  It is a break from this vertical relationship with Him.  Originally, God intended for humanity to glorify Him, love Him, worship Him, love others, and to care for His world.  From the beginning with Adam & Eve till now, humanity has willfully disobeyed God.  We have done so by going against God’s original plan and desire for us … and have placed our own lives and priorities before what God has planned. By doing so, we have disconnected the vertical relationship with God and we have placed our own desires before God’s  By doing so, our sin has separated us from God and because of the inability to be perfect, our sin always now disrupts this relationship with God.

The truth is this… sin is nasty… it is what leads us to place these other plans and purposes (what we want) before God… and by doing so… we have started to worship creation and created things rather than the Creator!  God is no longer first.  As a result, our sins manifest themselves in two ways. One is outward and are actions that place one’s own desires above the care and consideration of others.  This often leads to acts of violence, exploitation, murder and taking advantage of others; it is about putting oneself before others.  This is what happened in China and Connecticut; it is this outward display of sin by selfish, sin-corrupted, evil people.

But you must be wondering, I am no nowhere near as messed up or evil as such folks, but the truth is sin is not just an outward display of selfish action, but it is also an inward disposition of our heart.  It is the corrupted selfish thoughts, feelings that we may have… the intentions, the desires, the bitterness, the jealousy, the greed, the rage and the pride that may lead us thinking about hurting others and putting ourselves first.  Trust me, the only reason sometimes we don’t act on these thoughts is simply our fear of self-preservation; we are afraid of the consequences of our sin and going to jail and being victimized as well.  The reality is we have the potential of great sin as well.  Humanity is unable to escape from this slavery of sin, and this is what brings us to where we are today.  As imperfection due to our sin, we cannot attach ourselves to a God that is so perfect because our sin now makes us imperfect.  Perfection and imperfection cannot mix!  You see, what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary and at YuanChuan Elementary is not alien to humanity, but common; it is the unchanging reality of our lives apart from God… the date, title and story of the News event may change, but these things will continue to happen because of sin; sin is the lowest common denominator of human reality!

In light of the Christmas season and preparing a sermon, I realized that ultimately the failure of Christmas for many Christians is not that we don’t remember it is about Jesus, but that we fail to remember the entirety of the story and just the birth of Jesus.  For some, we may only see Christmas as an occasion to deal with food, relationships and gift exchange; it becomes only about the horizontal relationships.  I think Matthew had a different idea when he wrote these words coming from an angel as it spoke to Joseph about Mary:

“She (Mary) will bear a son, and you shall his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

What Matthew shares is that what Christmas needs to be about is remembering this story of restoration of the vertical relationship between God and humanity through the physical reality of Jesus’ coming.

All our questions, our doubts, our pain, our heartbreak… we need to see that God about 2000 years ago answered our cries about sin and the brokenness of humanity.  It can be found by Matthew’s hinting using the name of Jesus at his birth.  Consider Jesus in verse 21, which means “God saves”.  Consider Immanuel in verse 23, which means “with us God”, or “God with us”.  What Matthew is pointing out is that in Jesus, God has answered our questions by sending Jesus to finally resolve this break in the vertical relationship between God and His people. God is here to save and He has not left us alone… but has entered into the historical timeline as a physical reality both as God and as man… the 2nd person of the Trinity, God’s Son, Jesus Christ has come so that He will know our pain as a reality.  Despite being tempted, with opportunities to outwardly sin, and inwardly sin, Jesus resisted and lived a life without sin.  Yet despite his sinless life, he was persecuted unjustly and put to death in the most humiliating way … through the cross!  Yet despite this, after three days, He resurrected, overcoming sin and the consequence that is death and separation from God, and now sits at the right hand of God, the Father advocating on our behalf.  By such actions through Jesus, God has taken all of humanity’s sin: past, present and future sin, and has washed those that call on the name of Jesus Christ as their Lord & Savior… a restored vertical relationship that gives humanity hope despite this world’s hopelessness.

In Christ, I don’t have an answer, but every time we see acts of incredible evil and sin, we realize the Author has written Himself into His story (History) and is here to save us.  It does not take away the pain and the inexplicable acts of violence and evil and suffering of this world, but these things should drive us to see that this is not the way God intended things to be; God had such a better plan that would lead to no heart break, and so now, God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ reminds us that He is bringing about a restoration and hope.  He comes alongside the brokenhearted and He lovingly embraces us and says, He understands… He knows because about two thousand years ago, He, a Father as well… lost His only Son to sin too.  He lost His beloved child and knows exactly how it feels.  

During this Christmas season, do NOT forget this true Christmas story about Jesus.  God has come to restore the vertical relationship that was broken due to sin, and Jesus is God saves, God with us.  May you continue to pray for the children and the adults that have died in such senseless tragedies and consider your own need for the love and redemption of God.  Remember,

“The Lord is near to the  brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Self-Reliance, Materialism, and James

Be forewarned — today’s post is a rather gloomy post. Lately, I have been thinking a bit about the book of James. Famously, Martin Luther was not a big fan of the book; he thought it failed to mention Christ and the gospel enough times. Well, I think a more charitable read of James is that it presupposes the gospel. Hence, James is writing to those who already considered themselves Christians.

Given that James is writing to Christians, it is interesting to see how much they struggle with worldliness, so for the rest of this post, I want to reflect a bit about two manifestations of worldliness that our current culture especially demonstrates. The first kind of worldliness is what I’ll call self-reliance. Consider the following passage from James 4:13-17.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Now, we might ask, “What’s so bad about having plans for our futures? After all, isn’t that wise stewardship?” The problem, I think, is the underlying attitude. James is writing against an attitude that focuses on our plans and purposes, rather than on God’s plan. This attitude is arrogant because it assumes that we have the ultimate say over our own lives. However, as James says, we do not know what tomorrow will bring. We cannot control reality. The fault is not in having plans for the future, but in having a belief that we are our own masters.

The second kind of worldliness relates to material possessions. It is discussed in James 5:1-6.

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

This is a thorny passage, but I just want to point out two things. First, James emphasizes the temporary nature of material possessions, as if there were some who had an undue attachment to money. Second, he condemns the “rich” for the lack of justice in withholding wages from their workers. In our day, it has become popular to demonize the “1-percent” or the wealthy. But before we attempt to remove the speck from our brother’s eye, let us see if we have a log in our own eye. Do we, as Christians, have an excessive attachment to possessions? To worldly success? Is there justice in the way that we use and share our resources?

Self-reliance and materialism are, I think, two of the most prominent forms of worldliness among Christians today. We need look no further than within our youth groups. I see kids who are pushed to academic success, which is certainly a good thing, but when it comes to the Bible, they are functionally illiterate. I see parents who are more concerned about the worldly success of their child than they are about their child coming to the knowledge of the living God. We are blessed with so many things, yet I wonder if that has not trained us to be the most materialistic generation the world has seen. We make idols out of our smartphones, but justify it by downloading Bible apps.

Even if you don’t agree with what I’ve said, here’s one thing that we may agree on: my generation of young men and women must learn humility. For some reason, we think we are the latest and the greatest. This is even reflected in the church. Young Christians like me (especially those in high-school and college *ahem*) seem to think that we do the Christianity thing better than our parents, our churches…better than all those Christians in two-thousand years of church history. They are traditional, outmoded, and ignorant, but we are progressive, urbane, and enlightened.

Well, I am guilty of all that as well. I, too, am self-reliant, materialistic, and proud. What are we to do? Here is James’s advice to us; let us attend carefully to it:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
(James 4:7-10 ESV)

Let your worship be your witness

Let Your Worship Be Your Witness

In a sermon I preached a few weeks ago, one of our application points was:

let your worship be your witness.

We didn’t have time to unpack this so in the next few paragraphs we’ll make an attempt at scratching a little deeper. If you want to catch the entire message for context we were studying was Acts 3:1-10. Throughout the morning, we asked ourselves the question: “do you see the lame beggar“? You can catch the recorded podcast on iTunes, or stream it from the CCCTO website, where the PowerPoint is also available for download.

Nowadays it seems that the Christian faith has been reduced to “right living”. We spend so much time talking about what you should do so that people will see God through you. After all, that is what it means to be “kingdom minded” right? Live according to the Bible, and other people will see Jesus. May I propose that that statement is not incorrect, but rather that it is incomplete. If we are to be kingdom minded, we must see Jesus first.

How does this relate to the story of the lame beggar in Acts? Starting in Acts 3:2 we see the beginning of the incredible transformation of a man who was lame from birth. This man had never walked a day in his life. However after the miracle performed through the hands of Peter, the man regained strength in his feet and ankles. He is transformed from being lame from birth to having the strength to stand for the very first time. But did this man only stand? In Acts 3:8 we see that he leaps up, begins to walk, and then enters the temple with Peter and John, “walking and leaping and praising God.” Realizing the incredible gift he has received, not only does he stand, but he walks and leaps to the praise and glory of God, the giver of the gift.

If you have placed your faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have received a gift that is incomparable to anything else. Remember that you were just like the lame beggar, lame from birth. It is only through Jesus’ death and resurrection for your sins that you could be reconciled to God.

The encouragement is simple.

Christian, if you have been saved, live like it.

Live like it in community with the local church, just as the lame beggar entered the temple gates with Peter and John (Acts 3:8). Live like it individually, just as the lame beggar leapt and danced.

And what is the result? As we continue on into verses 9 and 10 we see that, “all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” The lame beggar understood the depth of what had happened, and his joy was apparent to those around him. His worship was his witness. He did not just stand there.

Where every person is along that progression is different. Some may still be like the lame beggar sitting at the gate. Others may have received the gift at one time, but are simply standing. And others may be leaping and dancing.

We all were crippled by sin from birth, helpless to save ourselves from the penalty of sin, but God has shown us grace and mercy by sending His son to die on the cross as a substitutionary atonement. When we understand this and respond in faith, we will worship (we will leap and jump) and the world will see and come to know Jesus Christ is Lord.

Please Pray

Luke 11:1

What is one of the hardest disciplines in the Christian faith? Arguable, I would say prayer. Yet, it is one of the most beneficial disciplines in the Christian faith. If prayer is one of the most beneficial disciplines, then why don’t we pray more often? Maybe the reason why Christians don’t pray as often is because we don’t believe that God is able to answer our prayers. Or perhaps, we have become too self-sufficient that there is no need for God and prayer in our lives. May this post about prayer encourage us to pray more.

Luke 11:1 reads, “It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of his disciples said to Him, ‘Lord teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” The necessity of prayer in the Christian life is clearly in view in this verse. The necessity of prayer can be seen in the disciples’ need to learn how to pray. I think, however, the better view to show the necessity of prayer in the Christian life is the simple phrase, “It happened that while Jesus was praying…” Think for a moment, if the Second person of the Godhead, the God-Man needed to pray, how much more do we need to pray? Jesus prayed for his disciples (John 17), for himself (Luke 22:39-46), and at times the Scripture simply records for us that Jesus prayed.

The life of Jesus is filled with prayers. One cannot escape that fact. It is throughout the gospels. He often prayed all night and at other times arose a great while before dawn to pray to his heavenly Father. I think Jesus is onto something, maybe prayer is expressive of the relationship between a child and the Father. As one author puts is, “For those who know God best are the ones who speak to him most of all.” Christianity is a relationship with God the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit. How many of us express this intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father? Not only is prayer an indication of how intimate a believer’s relationship is with the Father, it is also an expression of faith.

One author puts it best, “Prayer, in many ways, is the supreme expression of our faith in God and our faith and confidence in the promises of God.  There is nothing that a man ever does which so proclaims his faith as when he gets down on his knees and looks to God and talks to God.  It is a tremendous confession of faith.  I mean by this that he is not just running with his requests and petitions, but if he really waits upon God, if he really looks to God, he is there saying, ‘Yes, I believe it all, I believe that you are rewarder of them that diligently seek you, I believe you are the Creator of all things and all things are in your hands.  I know there is nothing outside your control.  I come to you because you are in all this and I find peace and rest and quiet in your holy presence and I am praying to you because you are what you are’.” What type of prayer do we engage in? It is a prayer to get things or is it the type of prayer that will stretch our faith? It is not wrong to pray to receive things. Another author puts it like this, “Prayer is not simply to get things from God, but to make those things holy, which already have been received from Him. It is not merely to get a blessing, but also to be able to give a blessing. Prayer makes common things holy and secular things, sacred. It receives things from God with thanksgiving and hallows them with thankful hearts, and devoted service.” How is your prayer life? Do you even pray? Jesus prayed. His disciples prayed. Do you pray?