RSS

The Grace of Giving (1 Corinthians 8.1-7)

20 Feb

The following sermon was preached at the First Baptist Church of Benbrook on February 20, 2011

In 2005, our church embraced an ambitious challenge. At that time, our church needed updated and adequate space for our ministry to children and preschoolers. In addition, we desperately needed a gathering space outside of the sanctuary. So, we embarked upon an ambitious goal: to build a 12,000 square foot addition to the front of our church that would include 11 educational rooms, workroom, children’s bathrooms, an office, and a children’s worship area. Also, the project gave our church a new front entrance complete with a gathering area for our congregation to assemble before and after services. That building opened in 2009.

Bill Parcells, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, is famous for saying, “Don’t tell me about the labor, just show me the baby.” We have been enjoying the baby for over two years now, and we have mostly forgotten about the labor pains that brought the baby into our church family. In 2005, we launched a Capital Fundraising Campaign called “Future Seed’ where we asked our membership to pray about making a commitment to give a monthly offering, above and beyond the tithe, each month for a period of three years to fund this project. Through your sacrificial giving, over $550,000 was given (above and beyond the operations budget) towards Future Seed. Combined with a loan just south of $1 million, we were able to build the addition that we have been enjoying for the last two years.

And now we are at Future Seed II. As they say in the movies, “It’s Back!”

But first, a little walk down memory lane. The First Baptist Church of Benbrook was organized in 1954, and 57 years later, we are still meeting on the original property and in the original buildings. The first building was a sanctuary and Sunday School classrooms and was built in 1954. Today, we call that the “L Shaped Building” and houses our church library and Sunday School rooms. The second sanctuary, built in 1961. After that, the church built a Preschool Building and the Fellowship Hall before building our current sanctuary in 1980. Along the way, the former sanctuary was transformed into what we call the “Two Story Building” or “Education Building” and houses most of our adult Sunday School classes.

And each time that our church, or any church, builds a building, the same process is used: church members gave above and beyond their tithe over several years to help build the building. Almost every church building you see in Fort Worth exists today because some group of God’s people gave money above and beyond their tithes over a period of several years to give birth to that building.

And now we come to Future Seed II. This time, our goals and needs are not so much a new building but significant updating of our current buildings. I think we would all agree that our desire is that the First Baptist Church of Benbrook be a part of our community for decades to come. We don’t want to cease to exist in 20 years. If this church is going to continue for the next twenty or fifty years or hundred years, then we are going to have to maintain our facilities so they will be usable for the next generation.

Two major needs stand before us. One is our north parking lot, the parking lot by the van cage. This parking lot is an asphalt parking lot that gets used quite a bit both on Sundays and during the week. Our Meals on Wheels ministry uses that parking lot every day. Anytime a group meets to use the vans to travel somewhere, they park in that lot. We have some outside groups that use our facilities during the week, and they park in that lot. And every Sunday morning, that lot is full of people who park in that lot so they can be close to their Sunday School rooms. Because it is an asphalt parking lot, it needs constant updating. Currently, there are two massive holes and about three or four smaller holes that aspire to be massive. We have patched these holes for decades, and now it is time to fix it properly. That parking lot needs to be a concrete parking lot just like our main parking area outside of the sanctuary. And concrete is not cheap.

The second major need is adequate restroom facilitiess to service the sanctuary and welcome area. The rule of thumb for a worship area of our size is we should have eleven toilets between the men’s and women’s restrooms and six lavatories (sinks). We have less than half of the toilets we ought to have and about two thirds the number of sinks we should have. In addition, neither of our restroom facilities are handicap friendly. You could get a wheelchair in there, but it would not be easy. We simply need to provide adequate and spacious restrooms for our welcome area and sanctuary.

These two projects, though they seem small, are costly. Combined, they will cost us in the neighborhood of $500,000. Since we are still paying on our loan for the children’s building, we do not want to take on any additional debt, so it is our goal that these will be “cash only projects,” meaning that we will pay for these in cash. And so this morning we begin the process of asking you, the church, to pray about how the Lord would have you participate in this next step.

But this morning, I want to take a step back from that to look at the bigger picture.

Building for God

The idea of God’s people coming together to build something for God is not new. There are at least three major building projects in the Bible. The first major building project for God’s people was the Tabernacle. After leaving Egypt, the Lord gave Moses specific instructions on how to build “a sanctuary that He may dwell in their midst” (see Exodus 35.8). God told Moses how to get the materials and funds for this project. He said,

Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. 3And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, 4blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, 5tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, 6oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 7onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 8And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. 9Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. (Exodus 25.2-9 ESV)

Moses was to take the contributions of the people and fashion the Tabernacle. So great were the gifts of the people that Moses had to tell the people to stop making contributions “for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more” (see Exodus 36.6-7).

The second major building project was Solomon’s Temple. Over 150,000 laborers worked on the Temple project for seven years (see 1 Kings 5.13-18).

The third major building project, or rebuilding project, was the Walls of Jerusalem during the time of Nehemiah. The Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, and when the Jews returned in 536 BC the city was in ruins. Most importantly, the walls were destroyed. And 2500 years ago, if you didn’t have walls around your city, you didn’t have a city. So, Nehemiah led the people to rebuild the walls, and the people were able to miraculously rebuild the walls in 52 days. In chapter 3, we read how this incredible feat happened, and what we see is a long list of people each doing their own part to rebuild the wall.

28Above the Horse Gate the priests repaired, each one opposite his own house. 29After them Zadok the son of Immer repaired opposite his own house. After him Shemaiah the son of Shecaniah, the keeper of the East Gate, repaired. 30After him Hananiah the son of Shelemiah and Hanun the sixth son of Zalaph repaired another section. After him Meshullam the son of Berechiah repaired opposite his chamber. (Nehemiah 3.28-30 ESV)

The walls were rebuilt in 52 days, with God’s help (see Nehemiah 6.16) because each person worked on the section of wall in front of his own house.

Time and time again, we see the people of God working together to build and repair structures for the glory of God.

The Abuses of Men

But church history screams out a warning from the past.

About 500 years ago, there was a little known monk in Germany who was causing his superiors in the church quite a headache. He had written several papers that had criticized some of the church leaders, but most of them had been ignored since he was a no account friar. But that really began to change when this upstart friar began to study Paul’s letter to the Romans in the New Testament. And in his study, this monk rediscovered justification by grace through faith alone. Whereas the church had been teaching that we were made right with God by partaking of the sacraments and following the practices of the, Martin Luther rediscovered that we are made right with God by grace through faith in Christ alone.

And for Luther, this shocking discovery led him to re-examine a multitude of the teachings of the church. One of the things that greatly disturbed him was the church’s practice of selling indulgences. Not to give you too much of a church history lesson, but at this time there was only one universal church, what we now call the Catholic church, under the leadership and authority of the Pope. And in the catholic church, there were and remains two sources of authority: the Scriptures and the official teachings of the church through the Pope and Bishops. And some of the official teachings of the church are not found in the Old or New Testaments, one of which is the idea of purgatory. Purgatory, according to the catholic church, is the place where Christians go after death where they will pay or make satisfaction for their sins. This process continues until they are purified and ready to enter heaven.[1] That process can be shortened by performing a variety of religious acts like reciting the rosary or reading Scripture, etc.[2] After performing these actions, one is granted an indulgence. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

“An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishment due for their sins.” The Church does this not just to aid Christians, “but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity” (CCC 1478).[3]

Unfortunately, in the middle ages of church history, there was much corruption in the church. Church and state were merged, and there many church leaders who were most likely not even Christians, much less worthy of being a bishop. And it didn’t take long for these corrupt priests, bishops, and even Popes to discover that these much sought after indulgences could be sold for a profit. There was money to be made.

The specific event that rattled Luther’s cage was a partnership between Pope Leo X and one of the ruling families of Germany, the Hohenzollerns. The Hohenzollerns were needing funds to solidify their control of their part of Germany, and the Pope was needing funds to complete the Great Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, in what is now part of the Vatican. So, they made a deal. Albert of Brandenburg was authorized to sell indulgences as long as half of the proceeds were sent to the Pope. John Tetzel, whom church historians call “an unscrupulous monk,” was put in charge of both marketing and selling the indulgences in Germany. Tetzel marketed the indulgences with such sayings as,

The indulgence made the sinner cleaner than when coming out of baptism and cleaner than Adam before the Fall.

The cross of the seller of indulgences has as much power as the cross of Christ.

As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.[4]

Luther was incensed about this, and he wrote down his grievances with the church, all 95 of them, and published them in 1517 by nailing them to the wooden door of his local church, the church in Wittenburg. Many of his Ninety Five Thesis, as they have been so called, dealt with the scandalous sale of indulges to finance the building projects of the catholic church. Luther wrote,

Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial. (Number 82)

Again:  “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?” (Number 86)[5]

With his sharpened pen, Martin Luther fired the first shot of the Protestant Reformation. To their credit, the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in 1567 reformed the practice of granting indulgences and forbid all grants of indulgences involving any fees or other financial transactions.[6]

But the lesson to be learned in church history is still very clear: the temptation will always be before the church to use ungodly means and methods to reach a godly goal, particularly the goal of building a building. Or to put it another way, the church will always be tempted by Satan to use the ways of this world in their efforts to take a faith step for God so that the spiritual forces of evil can corrupt the church.

Future Seed II

So, here we sit on the precipice of Future Seed II. We know through the Scriptures that the people of God are often called to build in the name of God and for His glory. We know through our own personal experience that if we are going to have a church, we need to have adequate meeting space, adequate parking, and adequate restrooms. But we also know through church history that the church has abandoned the gospel and embraced the ways of this world in trying to accomplish those goals. Because I can see both of those so clearly, I think it is imperative that we spend some time examining the Word of God to make sure that every step we take in this Future Seed II campaign is pleasing to God.

And the best place to start that journey is in 2 Corinthians. In chapters eight and nine of Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, we find some of the most complete teachings in all of the Bible about asking for and giving an offering to a Kingdom cause. Yes, their situation was completely different than ours, but we can study this apostolic writing to discover truths and spiritual principles that we can live by in our own situation. And we can learn what God says about giving an offering to Kingdom causes, and we can learn what God does not say about giving an offering to Kingdom causes. In these two chapters, we are going to discover some incredible promises and principles about giving, and at the same time, see how those promises have been twisted by the church even in recent history in efforts to further Kingdom causes. We want to walk in the truth and stay far away from all falsehood.

2 Corinthians 8-9

I knew that I was going to use much of my time this morning explaining Future Seed II and laying the foundation for our study, but I do want us to take an initial glance at the Scriptures this morning to put giving in its rightful, biblical context. Paul wrote,

1We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 4begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—5and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. (2 Corinthians 8.1-8 ESV)

Paul is collecting an offering for a Kingdom cause, but a cause much different than ours. He had been traveling around the Mediterranean collecting an offering for the “relief of the saints” in Jerusalem. Evidently, the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were being ostracized by the Jewish community, and they were suffering financially because of it. So, Paul was collecting an offering for the “poor saints in Jerusalem” (see Romans 15.25-28).[7]

But what I want you to see in our limited time together, and will come back to this next Sunday, is the way that Paul talks about giving. He used the word “grace” four times in these short eight verses. First, Paul wanted the Christians in Corinth to know about the “grace of God that has been given among (or given to) the churches of Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8.1). He is going to uphold the generosity of the Macedonian church as an example, but he begins by talking about the grace of God given to the churches of Macedonia. This is a story about grace. Giving begins by receiving grace from God. We cannot give anything unless God has given it to us to give. Everything we have is a gift from God, so anything we give is something that we have received from God. And less we are tempted to think “I earned that by working hard at my job,” the Bible tells us that God gave us the ability to make money (see Leviticus 8.17-18).[8] Giving begins by receiving grace from God.

Second, the church in Macedonia, even though they themselves were poor, begged Paul “for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (2 Corinthians 8.4). The word that the ESV translates “favor” is the Greek word, charis, which is the Greek word for “grace.” Paul said, they begged us to participate in the grace of taking part in the relief of the saints. The Christians in Macedonia begged Paul to experience God’s grace in the act of giving to this offering. They were saying, “We want in on God’s grace. Don’t leave us out. We want to be a part of the outpouring of God’s grace.” So, giving begins by receiving grace, and giving is part of experiencing grace.

Third, Paul had already encouraged the church in Corinth to participate in this offering. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he wrote,

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 3And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. (1 Corinthians 16.1-3 ESV)

Unfortunately, the church in Corinth had not taken adequate action upon Paul’s request. So in his second letter, Paul had to remind them to take this offering. In fact, he left Titus in Corinth to do just this. Paul wrote,

We urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace (2 Corinthians 8.6)

So we see, giving begins by receiving grace from God, giving is experiencing God’s grace, and giving itself is an “act of grace.” But, it is possible for our participation in this grace to stall out. Good intentions often get choked out by the worries of life and the deceitfulness of riches (see Luke 8.14). So Titus needed to encourage the church to complete this act of grace.

Finally, Paul finishes his opening paragraph with these remarkable words in verse 7. He wrote,

7But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you (some MSS, “your love for us”)—see that you excel in this act of grace also (2 Corinthians 8.7)

Literally, Paul said, “excel in this grace, too.” Just like we are to grow in love, and grow in knowledge, and grow in our speech, and grow in our faith, we are to grow in the grace of giving. Growth does not just naturally happen. We don’t just automatically become more loving or more knowledgeable or more faithful, we have to grow in these issues. And growth requires change. Growth requires new thinking, a renewing of the mind. Growth requires a change in behavior based upon what we have come to know to be true. We are commanded to grow, to excell in the grace of giving.

In Paul’s view, giving is a grace issue. The churches in Macedonia could only give because they had received grace from God (2 Corinthians 8.1). The churches in Macedonia knew that to give was to participate in God’s grace and to experience God’s grace, and they begged to be a part of it. The Christians in Macedonia knew that giving itself was an act of grace. And like all kinds of grace, Christians need to grow in the grace of giving, and we can either stall out or excel in the development of this grace.

Closing

So let me simply close with this word. Giving to Kingdom causes, whether we are talking about the tithe or offerings for the poor or to support a missionary or to meet a need or to build a building, is not a money issue for believers. It is a grace issue. If we are going to understand what it means to give to Kingdom causes, then we have to understand grace, and how giving relates to grace and how giving is an act of grace.

Grace is God doing in us, through us, and around us what we cannot do for ourselves or by ourselves. The Macedonian churches were extremely poor (see 2 Corinthians 8.2), yet God did something for them that allowed them to give a “wealth of generosity.” God gave to them, and they were able to be generous by giving to others. Just like grace is God giving to us what we cannot do on our own, giving is God giving through us what we cannot give by ourselves. What this means is that giving is being a conduit for God’s grace to travel through us to others.

That concept is faith shaking.

God’s people need to excel in the grace of giving, in this grace, too. We need to excel in being conduits for God’s grace to travel through us to further the Kingdom in various ways, and not just in building campaigns. The spiritual principle of giving as an act of grace will transform the life of a Christian.

We have a lot to learn about this, and next week, we will examine this spiritual truth some more. But for this week, may we meditate together on this simple biblical truth, praying and asking the Lord to open our eyes to the grace of giving.


[1] Of course, as Protestants, we believe that our sins were fully satisfied by the work of Christ on the cross

[4] See Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, volume 2, pages 20-22.

[7] At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. (Romans 15.25-28 ESV)

[8] Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth (Leviticus 8.17-18 ESV)

 

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: