Grace and how to apply it
Paul wrote in II Corinthians 8:7: "But since you excel in everything; in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in zeal and in the love we have kindled in you, see that you excel in this grace of giving."
Grace is a quality of the heart: They excelled in faith because they had received great grace. They were zealous for Him because of grace, they shared Jesus because His grace lived large in their hearts, they loved Paul and his helpers because through them they had learned so much of grace in the Lord.
But they lacked the grace of giving. They had shut down grace in that area in their hearts. In fact, he had to work at least 18 months as a tent maker in Corinth rather than live off tithes and offerings while he ministered to them for this very reason; the only time in over 30 years of ministry he did so. So he instructed them about giving and receiving which we are examining today, and it starts with grace.
The condition of their heart and lifestyle could also be said of many Christians today - they have grace and love for prophecy, or they have grace for great teaching or studying the things of God, they proclaim their fervent love for God and those who sow into them with great enthusiasm - but they lack the grace of giving.
Giving is not to be legalism. God is not angry with you if you only give 9.999% and then suddenly becomes thrilled when you cross 10.0001%. He relates to us through the blood of Jesus. Yet because money is on the earth, some things on earth and in heaven are set in motion when a person gives in the right way, but it all starts with that quality of the heart Paul states above: grace.
In I Corinthians 16:2 he says: "On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made."
They had to determine what to set aside; no basket was going to be passed under their noses, no minister brow-beating them into putting something in the plate. "See that you excel in this grace of giving" means it required of them a purposeful discipline. Disciplined giving means being intentional about it.
The context of the New Testament was house based church, which is what I do as well, so I understand how they did 'church'. There was no offering basket, no 'offering time' - everyone was expected to develop the discipline born of grace to be givers without anyone having to 'remind' them or prompt them to give; it's all about Christ in you, so develop the maturity to get with Him and figure it out, and then follow through.
Grace is always balanced by and coupled with, discipline. Jesus coming to earth was grace, but look at the discipline (self control) required to go to the cross! Giving is a grace; therefore we must apply ourselves.
Discipline, or self control is one of the fruits of the spirit of Galatians 5:23. Note the small 's'. It is the fruit of the born again human spirit, for the context is choosing the works of the (human) flesh or the fruit of the (human) spirit. Peter also mentions discipline, or self-control in II Peter 1:6 as Christian character purposely and diligently built on faith, moral excellence, consistency, godliness, brotherly and unconditional love.
Paul expected that each one of them would set aside a sum of money, but how could he expect 100% participation given that no doubt like in our own day, some were struggling financially?
In II Corinthians 8:11 says, "So finish the work. Then your longing to do it will be matched by your finishing it. Give on the basis of what you have." The KJV continues: "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not."
Remember, that's not talking about just what's left over "if I have enough to give", that's in the context of having disciplined themselves to set aside something each paycheck - give according to that, no matter if the amount is large or small. Remember that the widow of Mark 12:41-44 gave more than all the others because she was giving 100% of her assets to the Lord; but she set aside something on purpose for giving.
So there are times like that widow, where 1 unit of currency from someone will be greater than a 1000 unit gift from someone that is giving maybe a mere 10% of profit from a real estate sale. His point was to set aside something, and from that give according to what you have.
Seed or bread?
In 9:10 Paul says God will provide seed to the sower and bread for your food. That means from God's perspective a portion of income will be seed, and a portion will be 'bread' to be consumed. The God's Word translation says it this way: "God gives seed to the farmer and food to those who need to eat. God will also give you seed and multiply it. In your lives he will increase the things you do that have his approval."
Don't give your bread, but don't eat your seed. Get with Him inside you and find that peace about what is seed and what is bread - give the one and eat the other!
Still more grace
Paul continues teaching in II Corinthians 9:6-15: "He that sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, he that sows plentifully will also reap plentifully" (v6) Remember according to God, this is percentage, not amount.
The widow of Mark 12 was an abundant giver.
"Every person according to how they have purposed in their heart, so let him give; not grudgingly or out of necessity (feeling forced), for God loves a cheerful giver." (v7)
You have to have your heart right, and give to the point your cheerfulness is maximum, but not over. If you have with cheerfulness set aside whatever percent you and Christ in you have determined is your disciplined amount, then give it - it's seed to be sown. But if an extra 1% tips the scale so you won't have joy in giving, if you step out of grace by that extra 1%, stop at the percentage for in this case, more is not more, nor better.
That overall grace
IF you are abounding in this grace of giving by having a right heart and priorities, giving out of what you have disciplined to set aside, are cheerful about it (giving out of love), then Paul says this is the result:
"And God is able to make all grace abound to you; that you, having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work."
Having all sufficiency in all things is the result of a person who lives a lifestyle as outlined by Paul here: Giving is a grace. You and Christ in you determine what to set aside as seed from each paycheck. Develop the character required to be disciplined about it. Give in that cheerfulness to people in need and/or who sow spiritually or otherwise into your life, and you will have a grace that supplies all sufficiency in all things as a matter of flow.
When I look back over 33+ years of ministry to those who struggled financially no matter what they did, going from feast to famine as a lifestyle, without exception these people were also inconsistent givers. They never did what Paul taught the Corinthians, to excel in the (disciplined, purposeful, intentional) grace of giving as a matter of developing Christian character, so that they would have all sufficiency in all things.
Often they can't discipline themselves in giving because in general terms they have not disciplined their houses to be in divine order, their relationships, finances, spending habits, and time. Developing a giving discipline leads to Godly discipline and structure in every other area of life, and when that happens, grace abounds.
Everyone has tough times, and sometimes you have to eat your seed in order to live, but they become the exception once you establish grace coupled with discipline in giving. Starting is often the hardest part.
Enters into your future
When you give in grace to God it always comes back to you. That gift never actually leaves your life; it enters into your future to provide for you at a later time, and He gives back more than what you gave. That's why it is called seed to be sown, a seed grows and produces much more than just a single seed.
Two examples: Luke 6:38 says if you give, it will be measured back to you good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over shall men give back to you. Proverbs 19:17 says, He that hath pity upon the poor lends unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again. Giving in Christ, in grace, never leaves your life!
Giving to God in the way described as covered today, with proper life-priorities and discipline, truly enters into your future. Constrained by love, knowing it's coming back to you in the future, how could a disciple not live a lifestyle of giving?
But the subject of those life priorities and to whom the Bible says we are to give, which may be a surprise, is the subject of the last of this series, next week. Until then,
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