Sunday, 29 April 2018

The integrity of Giving

2 Corinthians 8.16-24


We continue our theme on giving looking at 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.

The background is this: there is a serious famine in Jerusalem. The churches of Asia Minor and Macedonia, including the church in Corinth, have agreed to raise funds for famine relief.

In chapter 8.1-15, Paul has spoken about our motives for giving: that we give out of gratitude to God for what he has given us, and that is a response to the Lordship of Jesus. He is now into practicalities. He commends to the Corinthian church three people who will visit them in order to receive the gift and take it to Jerusalem. We need to remember that in the first century there were no notes, no cheques and certainly no bank transfers. If people were giving money, they were giving the hard and the heavy stuff!

So who are these three people?
There is Titus, Paul’s colleague and co-worker
There is ‘the brother who is famous among all the churches for his proclaiming the good news; and not only that but he has also been appointed by the churches to ravel with us while we are administering this generous undertaking’ (v18f). Some commentators think that this might be speaking of either Luke or Barnabas. But that is not really important.
And there is (v22), ‘our brother whom we have often tested and found eager in many matters’.

And in these verses Paul speaks about:

1.      The need for integrity in dealing with money

Paul writes, ‘For we intend to do what is right not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of others’ (v21).
Paul is concerned that not only should he do what is right, but that he should be seen to be doing what is right. There is to be no hint of any scandal. When we come to money, this has to be Caesar’s wife stuff. She must not only be chaste, but she must be seen to be chaste.

For churches, this is particularly important. We need not only to be people of integrity, but to be seen as people of integrity.

Billy Graham died a few weeks ago. When he began his work as a small-time evangelist, he was dependent on many small gifts. But as the work grew, and the gifts grew, he realised that he needed some sort of system. He set up a business, paid everyone on the team – including himself – a fixed salary, and published his personal accounts each year.

In the UK and the US there is often pressure on politicians, and particularly on senior politicians, to publish their personal accounts. That pressure is often resisted.

But I wonder what it would look like if your personal accounts were published
-          where you got your money from
-          how you spent your money
How would it look if everybody could see where your money came from and how you spent it?

As believers we are called to the highest level of integrity when it comes to handling our money.

There are three questions that we need to ask.

1.      How did we get it: legally or illegally?

And even if we got it legally, did we get it because we exploited other people or took advantage of their weakness; did we get it because we destroyed something rather than created something. Or can we put our hand on our heart and say that how the money came to us was right.

2.      What do we do with it?

How do we spend our money? On what do we spend our money?

Do we pay our taxes?
Jesus speaks twice about the need to pay our taxes (Matthew 17.24ff, and Matthew 22.15ff), and Paul writes about paying our taxes in Romans 13.6-7.
It is part of the idea of the common good. Somebody has to pay for schools, police, hospitals, social security, defence. And if you or me don’t pay for it, then either those services cannot be provided or others will need to pay for them.

I understand that the introduction of the 13% flat rate of taxation in Russia was because people were not paying taxes. It was felt that if a simple low flat rate was brought in, people would pay/ But, for westerners (and in the UK we are used to a normal rate of 20% taxation and 40% for higher earners), it is low. For those who are wealthier, it is low.
And I would argue that those who are wealthier, or those who find themselves in a situation in which they cannot pay taxes, then those who are wealthier have a far greater responsibility to give over and above the 13% for the common good – whether that is supporting a hospital or a school or a place of worship or whatever.

And do we give?
Last week I spoke about the biblical guideline of tithing – giving away 10% of what we receive. I said it is only a guideline: some of us here should not be tithing; most of us probably should at least be tithing, and there will be some who should be handing on far more than a tithe.

But we need to remember that as Christians, as people who have given our lives to God, everything that we have belongs to him.

The story is told about the delivery man who never delivered anything. They went round to his flat and found it crammed full with TV’s, clothes and groceries. As they were taking him away, he said, ‘But why did they give me all these things if they didn’t want me to keep them’?

As believers we’re delivery men and women. We’ve been given everything that we have in order that we can then give it on.

A minister received a letter from a little girl in the congregation, in which were a few coins. She had written, ‘This is my thieving money’. It was alarming. Had the Sunday school started to send out the children Oliver Twist style to do a bit of pick pocketing in order to raise funds? But when he spoke to her, he realised that she has misspelt ‘tithing’. If we are not giving what we can afford, or even over and above what we can afford, then we are – like that delivery man – guilty of thieving.

A godly sister from a local ladies monastery was being taken up the drive of an oligarch. It was a vast estate, a tree lined avenue, and at the end a huge English style mansion. ‘Oh’, she said, ‘so this is what our Lord would have done if he had had some money’.

Think on it!

3.      And this is in fact probably the most important question:

This is the question that Jesus asks people time and time again. He urges them not to be controlled or slaves to money.
Next week we’ll look at Luke 12, where a person asks Jesus to arbitrate in a dispute about a will. Jesus says to him, (Luke 12:15) ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’.
And when Jesus tells someone to sell all that they have and come and follow him, it is not an invitation to a life of poverty, but an invitation to a life of freedom

We become like those objects that we worship. And if we worship money, if we make our God, then we will become like money: cold, hard and calculating.

Pray for us as a church that we will have integrity in dealing with money that has been given – that if we say something is something, it will be used for that.
And pray for yourself and for me – that we will treat the money that we have with integrity, not as our money, but as the Lord’s money.

2.      This collection, and those who administer it, are working for the glory of God.

v19: ‘While we are administering this generous undertaking for the glory of the Lord himself’
v23, ‘As for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of God’. Most commentators say ‘glory of God’ refers to the messengers and not, in this case, to the churches.)

This is quite an encouragement for me.

I’m British and fairly reserved, especially when it comes to asking people for money. I feel that it is a bit mucky and embarrassingAs a pastor I should be focussing on other things.
But it seems that Paul disagrees! He is saying that asking people to give to a God-cause, to something that is good and right and God honouring, and managing that money, is to the glory of God.

And what intrigues me is that one of the three people who have been sent by the churches to Corinth is well known as a preacher of the gospel, as an evangelist.
Why? Why send him?

Giving – if it is done for the right reason – is good news

If I tell you that you must give, you must tithe, because it is a law, and it will make God love you more, then it is a lie and a false gospel
If I tell you that if you give you will become materially prosperous, then it is a lie and a false gospel
If I try to get you to give by taking you on a guilt trip, because you are well off when others are starving, it is a false gospel.
(It reminds me of the argument that we sometimes tried to use with our children: ‘Eat your brussel sprouts, because there are starving children in the world who would love to have food’. It is using guilt to try and make your children eat everything up. It never worked! The usual response was, ‘Well they can have it!’)

But if I tell you that God loves you and that you can give nothing to make him love you more; and if I tell you that Jesus died on the cross so that you are completely and freely forgiven, and you need to give nothing in order to make him forgive you more; and if I tell you that God calls you – yes you – to know him personally, to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to receive his Spirit, and you receive that gift, then you will want to give. Giving is the signature of the Trinity. It is the signature of the believer. It will be giving as a response to his love. It will be an act of gratitude and an act of submission and trust, to the one who loves you.

I think of Zacchaeus. He was a tax collector who lived in Jericho and used his position to exploit people and take from them what he wanted. He heard that Jesus was coming to his home town, and he wanted to see Jesus. But so did everybody else and there was a crowd. As he tried to shove his way through, they wouldn’t let him. So he climbed a tree. And when Jesus walks past, he looks up into that tree and he looks up and says, ‘Zacchaeus, come down, because I’m going to stay at your house’.

The crowd are unhappy. What had Zacchaeus done to deserve that? He was a thief. He was unclean. He was a traitor. In the UK it would be like Jesus going to the home of a known paedophile who had made a lot of money by exploiting children on the web. But Jesus goes. He shows the love of God, even to a someone who had been a nasty, grubby, greedy little man. And no doubt he speaks of the love of God, of the welcome of God. And something happens. Zacchaeus could have rejected Jesus, and rejected the love of God, but instead he receives it and he commits himself to be a follower of Jesus. And we are told that as Jesus leaves, Zacchaeus takes his money and says, ‘Lord I will give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay him back four times’.

That is gospel, good news giving, and it is the sort of giving which brings glory to God.

So what about you?
Have you received the gospel, the good news of Jesus?
Have you heard of how much he loves you?
Have you, as a response, given your life to him – your relationships, hopes and fears, time, home and stuff to him?

Because when you do, you will realise that we are just the delivery man or woman. And you will want to be trustworthy and you will want to give; to give to society for the common good, to give to people in need, to give to the Church for the work of proclaiming the good news of God. And you will give: freely and abundantly.

And that will bring glory to God.

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