We're turning to 1 Corinthians 16 - and not to anticipate anything that we will be coming to in later weeks in our Bible Readings, and of course you know we're going through 1 Corinthians - but just to illustrate to you in the second study of 'The Grace of Giving', 'Its Biblical Principles'. We looked two Sundays ago, just before our missionary weekend, we looked at 'Its Biblical Basis', the Biblical basis for grace giving in both Old and New Testaments. Now we didn't derive too many principles out of that that particular morning, but we just wanted to lay down the scriptural foundation for the fact that both in the Old Testament and New Testament dispensations there is the precedence for giving - the saints giving to the work of God. But over the next two, or maybe more, weeks we want to look at the Biblical principles for grace giving, and of course that, where it's regarded to us, is found in the New Testament.
Verse 1 of chapter 16 of 1 Corinthians: "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye", so this is not just specific to the Corinthians, this order, but it is given to the churches also of Galatia. "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come".
Now let me just say in introduction, I hope that all of us have got over any of the hangups we may have about talking on the subject of giving, or indeed mentioning the subject of money in a church capacity. I'm aware that some of you don't like money being mentioned from the pulpit, and I would have to say that I'm sympathetic with that because we never want to be misunderstood as begging, as being gold-diggers. We never want to be confused with charismatic false prophets in our day that seem to be in it only for the money. Neither do we want to have unbelievers make the mistake of thinking that in some way we can earn or buy our salvation by what we give. Although we don't want to be misunderstood in any of those ways - we don't want to be the author of confusion, for God is not, and God's word is not - let us not make the opposite mistake of ignoring this teaching which is very clear within the word of God, or indeed retracting some portion of Scripture from use in public ministry.
I would ask you the question: are we going to say that there are only certain passages of Scripture that we should preach on? Are we going to say less than the apostles said with regards to these particular Scriptures? Are we going to say less than our Lord Jesus said? It's very important that we remind ourselves continually, especially in public pulpit ministry, of those words found in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17 that: 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man or woman of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works'. Unless that text is not true any more, I will continue to preach the whole counsel of God, which includes the subject of giving, and I will do it without apology.
Now perhaps it's the very personal and private nature of this subject that makes people uncomfortable? Well, the fact of the matter is that Paul was extremely personal as he dealt with the subject of giving, for in this verse, verse 2, he said: 'Let every one of you, let each of you, lay by him in store'. He didn't single out any particular group within the church, but he wanted everyone to know there are no exceptions - whether you're rich or poor, whether you're a master or a slave, it is incumbent upon every child of God within the assembly at Corinth to give to the Lord's work. Every Christian, he is saying, should have a personal system of regular giving.
As we look at the first two principles I believe are Biblical with regards to grace giving this morning, I want to ask you at the very outset: do you have a personal system of regular giving to the Lord's work? If you do not have that, you clearly are in transgression of the word of God and the principles that are laid down for us as New Testament Christians. I'm not asking even 'Do you give?', I'm not concerned really with how much you give, but really what we're looking at this morning is: do you give regularly to the Lord's work, and do you have some kind of a systematic giving whereby you give proportionately to the earning that you have?
This is so important because, not just the apostle Paul, but the Lord Jesus Christ assumed that all His followers would have a plan of giving, regular giving. He did not say: 'if you give' on the Sermon on the Mount, but he said: 'When you give, do not do it like the Pharisees', of course, but 'when you give'. Now if we are going to give to the Lord we need to know how to give. Of course, the Holy Spirit has not left us hanging in the air with regards to this - but verse 2 specifically gives us two Holy Spirit principles, Biblical principles, of grace giving. Here they are: one, our giving should be regularly; and two, our giving should be proportionately.
So let's spend the time that remains looking at these two principles of grace giving. The first is very clear: 'Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store' - our giving is to be regular. In converse, Paul is saying giving is not to be an erratic thing, it's not to be now and then, or when our spirit moves us; but he tells us that the Lord's Day is singled out as God's appointed day for keeping accounts, yes, even financially, with Him. It is the day not only that we give, but the day that we determine proportions to give to Him; it is the day, he says, that we lay by in store. It is God's given command to do it on the Lord's Day.
This is important to establish, because I think some people have misunderstood the issue of giving as to simply give to the Lord's work in response to emotional appeals from men. When the missionary gets up and shows you slides of the little black children in a foreign country starving to death, we are moved by compassion, our heartstrings are pulled, and we empty our pockets into the collection box. That is only right that we do so, or when the preacher stands up and tells you about a building fund or the need for a building, that we then get exercised to give - but Paul is saying that it should not be the case. We should not be giving to the Lord's work for specific plans or endeavours that are only up and coming and immediate, but we should have regular giving in our lives, and that regular giving should also be Spirit-controlled.
You would think to hear some people that it was the emotional impulsive giving that was Spirit-controlled: 'The Lord told me to give to this, to that, or the other' - and it may well be Spirit-controlled, but Paul is laying down categorically that regular giving is Spirit-controlled also. In fact, Spirit-controlled giving will be both regular and spontaneous - not either or. To illustrate that, can I cast your mind back to our studies on the Sermon on the Mount, and you'll remember that the Lord Jesus looked at three areas of Christian living and practice. He looked at prayer, He looked at fasting, He looked at giving of alms - do you remember that? He preached, by the way, on giving. But there was a fine line between hypocritical praying and spiritual praying; hypocritical fasting and spiritual fasting; and the same with giving. But do you remember when our Lord Jesus Christ addressed that, that we applied those truths in this sense: that there should be regular praying, fasting and giving in our lives - but the Lord is also legislating for the special efforts, the special events.
We wouldn't say we would only pray when we have a need, would we? Now, we pray regularly, and then we pray intensely at times when there is an intense need. The same with fasting, and giving is applied in the same way. So let us be very careful that our giving is not just spontaneous, not just responsive to emotional appeals, but that in those realms - yes, that our giving is such - but also that our giving is regular and systematic and planned. Lewis Berry-Schaeffer (sp?), the theologian and writer, said: 'Too many of our churches have been trained to respond only to the incessant human appeals, and this, like some medicine, requires an ever-increasing dose to produce the desired effect'. The believer should not be pressed upon to give to the Lord's work. There is to be spontaneous giving, but all giving is to be Spirit-directed - and if you're directed by the Spirit, you will be giving regularly.
I was interested to read D.M. Steems (sp?), who used to read his congregation messages from various Christian workers and missionaries, and then he would instruct his people to withhold their gifts, not to give anything to these appeals - unless not to give would burden their souls. Now that is Holy Spirit-controlled giving! Where we're not directed by what we hear is a need, but directed by what the Lord leads us to give - but it is also regular giving. Yes, it should be responsive to need, it should be like the Macedonians that we read of several weeks ago, it should be like Mary at Bethany taking the gift that she had spontaneously and breaking the alabaster box and letting the perfume flow over the Lord's feet - but however spontaneous our giving is, let us make sure it is regular, let us make sure it is systematic, for only then will it be Biblical giving.
Now let me give you one of the reasons why it must be regular, it's very simple: it must be regular because giving is part of our worship to God. That is why the first day of the week is singled out here: 'Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store' - and 'lay by him in store' was almost certainly done in these people's homes, privately by themselves, but the mention of the first day suggests that this laying by in store was in association with the assembly gathering - that they were laying by in store for the assembly, and of course Paul was coming to take this money as a collection.
Giving on the first day of the week ought to be every week because it is worship to the Lord - and I wonder do you see your giving as an offering of praise and thanks, adoration and worship to the Triune God, for it is! Maybe you don't believe me on this one - well, if you turn to Philippians chapter 4 for a moment, and we dealt with this many Sunday mornings ago, but just to refresh your memory. Paul talking again about giving and about finance, if we weren't to talk about finance we would have to take all these verses out of the Scriptures, verse 17: 'Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God'. He uses an Old Testament illustration and picture to show that our giving financially to the work of God is an act of worship that ascends to God as a sweet smelling savour in His sight.
Now, what I'm wanting to exhort all of us today is, to not miss out on the pleasure and the blessing of weekly worshipping the Lord by your giving - and if there's a week goes by and you do not give, you are missing out. Now I know what some of you're thinking, you're maybe sitting thinking: 'Well, some people, when they get their paycheque at the beginning of the month they lay aside what they're going to give to the Lord' - and that is commendable because you don't want anything else eating into your giving to the Lord - is that wrong or is that right? Well, we're not talking about the rights and wrongs here this morning, we're talking about what is best and the best principles that we find in the word of God. I would say what is better than doing that is to give every week on the first day of the week - not just taking your paycheque and separating your offering and then giving it in the first Sunday of the month, but rather seeing it as more than that - not just something to get rid of quickly before you eat into it, but as an opportunity every Lord's Day to offer to Him an expression of your worship financially.
Let me illustrate this personally to you: I used to take at the very beginning of the month the portion that was the Lord's, and that He laid upon my heart to give to Him, and I used to give it away as soon as I could get my hands on it on the first Sunday of the month. Several years ago this happened that coming up to Christmas, Barbara and myself had come home from the meeting, and we got into the house and had our cocoa and all the rest - and then Barbara realised that she couldn't find her handbag anywhere. Of course, as you men will know, all the money is in the wife's handbag, and we panicked right away! We looked everywhere for this handbag, everywhere - and she went out to the car, it must have been two or three times in the freezing cold with a dressing gown on, poking under the seats, everywhere - we could not find this bag! You can believe this story, or you can disbelieve it, but this is the way it came to me: eventually I decided 'I'll go out' - and there's a very important point there! - 'I'll go out and look in the car for that handbag'. In the front seat someone, probably from this meeting, had given me a bag of books, and when I lifted the bag of books there was the handbag in which was all of the money in kind if you like, credit cards and so on, which was needed for Christmas. As soon as I saw that bag, what came into my heart - I'm not saying it was the audible voice of God, for it was not - was: 'David, you need to sort out your money and your giving to the Lord on a regular basis' - because the Lord had been speaking to me about this beforehand. But it was that little lesson that taught me that you need to sort this out, not just as something to get rid of at the start of the month, but something that you offer to God as a worship, as a devotion, as praise - and you're missing out on it if you don't do it on a weekly basis.
In Deuteronomy 16 verse 16 the children of Israel were told not to appear before the Lord empty-handed. Now that does not refer to money or finance, I know, what does it refer to? It refers to worship. But if giving financially is our worship to God, ought we to be before Him, even on a weekly basis, empty-handed where that is concerned? We are to bring our prayers to the Lord, we're to bring our praise, we're to bring our worship through the preaching of the word around the Lord's table, but we're also to bring it to Him financially - and let us never be empty-handed where that is concerned.
Here's the point I'm making: the Lord's guidance with regards to giving ought to be sought every week with regards to how much we give. Now you're saying: 'What are you trying to say?', well, this is what I'm saying: our giving could be more one week than the previous week, because we could come into money one week, or conversely our giving could be less one week than the week before depending on our ability to give. What Paul's point here, I believe, is that it's not simply a calculated percentage cut up and collected that God wants, but there is to be more thought, there is to be spiritual devotion in it. The poet put it: 'High-heaven rejects the lore of nicely calculated less or more'.
So although our giving is to be regular and systematic, we must guard against it being cold, calculated and just simply a cut of what we earn. It is to be offered spiritually to the Lord, led by His grace, but always worshipfully. Certainly this subject of giving is too important to be haphazard or impulsive or cold or calculated. Now as we end this principle, first of all, that we should give regularly, let us not first of all misunderstand that in some way this is just getting rid at the start of the month of what God has given us, but it is weekly considering what we should give to the Lord - and that will be teased out a little bit later in this second principle. It is to be nonetheless done systematically and planned, not just spontaneous giving to the needs that we know of or that we hear of that tug upon our hearts, but planned, systematic before the Lord.
Let me read to you quote, in closing of this principle, from George Mueller the great man of God in the faith. He asked the question of believers in writing: 'Are you giving systematically to the Lord's work? Or are you leaving it to feeling, to impression made upon you through particular circumstances or striking appeals? If we do not give from principle, systematically, we shall find that our one brief life is gone before we are aware of it, and that in return we have done little for that adorable One who bought us with His precious blood, and to whom belongs all that we have and are'. Imagine if we didn't pray until we felt like praying - can I tell you something? I wouldn't pray very much!
The second principle after giving regularly is giving proportionately. Verse 2, look at this statement: 'Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no collections or gatherings when I come'. Our giving is to be proportionate, now this does not primarily mean proportionate to the need that there is, but it means proportionate to the ability that we have - and the sense here is that God, although it's in italics the sense is there, God hath prospered us. It is God who has given us the wherewithal to give to others. So Paul is saying and thinking: 'God providentially has given us certain abilities to give, and the higher providentially and proportionately He has given us, the higher proportion and ability we should have to give to others'.
I want you please to note that there's no percentage mentioned here, there's no goal mentioned here - and although two weeks ago we looked at the tithe, you will never find in the New Testament the tithe mentioned except where the Lord Jesus castigates the Pharisees over their religiosity in Matthew 23 and says: 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone'. Paul the apostle, more than any writer in the New Testament addresses the issue of stewardship and the grace of giving - and he had prime opportunity, if anybody had, to tell the believers to tithe if they should tithe, but he didn't do it! Because it is grace giving, grace giving from your heart - rather the amount is to be determined not by percentages, but by considering what is proportionate to what God has given to me. That's why it's necessary, even on a weekly basis, to analyse your giving to the Lord - because from week to week your income can change.
Now let me give a warning here, because what I'm saying is not in contradiction to giving sacrificially - all our giving to the Lord should be sacrificial, there is no doubt about that. Although we are not reciting percentages of any kind, even though the Old Testament saints give a minimum of 23 percent or 22, thereabouts, in taxes to the nation and added on were the voluntary tithes after that, and the love offerings and everything else - and it could come to nearly 35 percent, although that was the Old Testament law, we are saying there is no stipulated amount for the child of God to give, but our giving is to be sacrificial. Listen to what C.S. Lewis said: 'If our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own in the world, we are probably giving away too little. If our charity does not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say that they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do, and cannot do, because our charitable expenditure excludes them'.
Now, I've laid that down first of all to say that I'm not saying giving is not to be sacrificial - we ought to feel the pinch, but what I am saying from this portion of God's word is that it is nevertheless to be proportionate to our individual circumstances. We've got to take into consideration the bills to be paid, the children to be fed, the petrol to go in the tank, and all the rest of it. In fact, what I think is being laid down here is that there are some, even in the church at Corinth, who could not give a tithe if a tithe was required of them because they were slaves and they maybe didn't have a tithe to give. In fact, there's no reason to believe that one sum a year, for any of us, is satisfactory for the next year. There are two aspects of proportional giving that the Lord wants us to see here, and it's this: if God in His providence gives you more, you ought to give more to God. But equally so, if God allows you to have less, the only reasonable assumption in the light of this scriptural principle is that you are at liberty, not forced to, but at liberty to give less according to your need. So there is not a carte blanche, categorically, black and white standard given here - grace giving is to be proportionate as God gives us and to the need that we have in distributing our wealth.
Now here's a principle if ever there was one in giving, and it is this: God judges our giving, not so much upon what we give to Him, but what we keep back for ourselves. There's a principle! The bills have to be paid, food and clothing are necessary, but that is not what we're talking about - using our resources for those things - but other luxuries that are unnecessary, and the giving to the Lord's work is suffering. Now here's the balance - I love, don't you, the biblical balance that we always find in the New Testament: when you're getting more from God, you ought to give more to God. It's not a rigid law, God gives us what we have in order to return to Him what we can - and here's the challenge to us today: why is it that the poorest among us are the best givers?
That is not a general rule, and don't say: 'How does he know how much you're giving to this that and the other?' - you only need to count the offering to know how much you're giving, and to know that a whole lot of people mustn't be giving regularly at all. You don't need to be Einstein or a prophet to know that! My friends, why is it that whenever something has to be done people complain: 'Oh, but it's putting such a strain on the poor' - it shouldn't be the strain on the poor, it should be the strain on the rich where giving is concerning! For when God gives us more, we ought to give more to Him! I say to you wealthy folk within the assembly, and I know, I'm sure, that some of you do give even sacrificially - but can I ask you: do you give proportionately to your prosperity? There is a difference, isn't there?
When the Lord Jesus saw the widow giving her two mites into the exchequer, it wasn't the amount that mattered, was it? It was the fact of what she had left behind for herself - there was nothing! Now lest I may have been misunderstood in our first study of being too hard on the poor, and telling us that the Macedonians gave out of their deep poverty money that they didn't really have, let me just redress that balance by turning to a passage that has helped me in understanding these principles on giving. Second Corinthians chapter 8 - this shows you how it's not a law how much you give - 2 Corinthians 8 verse 11: 'Now therefore perform the doing of it', the giving, 'that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not'. Now let me paraphrase that for you, what Paul is saying to them is: there is a need here, and it is good that it is in your heart to help out with this need, but I want you to give out of what you have, not what you haven't. You can't give out of what you haven't, verse 13: 'For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened' - I'm not wanting you to go into debt to give to God's work, but what should happen is, as he says in verse 14, there should be equality. Those who earn more should be giving more, those who earn less should be giving less than the wealthy, so that the need is met right across the board.
God is not wanting you to give till you don't have enough money to do the necessary things in life, and we must be very careful because Paul told Timothy in chapter 5 of his first epistle verse 8: 'But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel'. The burden of giving should not rest, as it does often, upon the poor, but upon the wealthier of the assembly. The sad fact is that I suspect that it is the poor and the pensioners that carry this place along.
It was a blunt but effective announcement that the coloured preacher made as he announced the collection for his Sunday services. Standing before the collection plate he declared: 'My dear brothers and sisters, there are some folks in this church who give according to their means and some who give according to their meanness'. He said: 'Let's not have any of the second class here this morning', and the number of the first class was more than usual that particular morning.
There are two principles: giving regularly, yes spontaneous, but regular - systematic, planned before God. Not just getting it out of the way at the start of a month, but on a weekly basis looking - and if you get a 1000 pounds return from the taxman, that part of that 1000 pounds goes to the Lord. You've extra to give that month - but if you've bills to pay, that you don't get into some kind of law, but yet in all of that that you give sacrificially to the Lord's work as He has prospered. It's to be proportionate to our means, not our meanness!
I wonder, dear friends, is it possible that you have reached a dead end in your Christian experience? Maybe you're at a sticking point, a cul-de-sac, you're not developing spiritually, you're perplexed, you don't know what's wrong. You've analysed your life with regards to sin, you attend church regularly, you enjoy the fellowship of Christians, you read your Bible often and pray regularly - but could the problem be that you are not giving the way that God has told us to give in His word. God simply does not have that part of you! He wants all of us!
Are you giving regularly? Some of you young people haven't even started to give! Are you giving systematically? Are you giving proportionately? Let me read you quite a humorous, but a poignant poem that I read - it's an American one, and you'll excuse the American dollar within it. It's called 'The Dollar to God', and it explains very definitely much of the problem within the church of Jesus Christ. It goes like this:
'Three thousand for my brand-new car,
Five thousand for a piece of sod
Ten thousand I paid to begin a house
A dollar I gave to God!
A tidy sum to entertain my friends in chatter
And when the world goes crazy mad
I ask the Lord what's the matter
--a dollar I gave to God!
Yet there is one big question
For the answer I still search
With things so bad in this old world
What's holding back my church?'
What are you giving to God? The Corinthians were such a gifted group who excelled commendably in things spiritual other than giving. Yet Paul knew that despite all their excellencies, they would never become all they could and should be in Christ until they had learned the grace of giving - it was necessary! The abiding spiritual fact today is the same: that there is no way to grow into spiritual maturity without committing one's giving to God. God can have our money and not our hearts - that's not what we want - but He cannot have our hearts without having all our money, why? Because the Lord Jesus Christ said: 'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also'.
Those are the first two principles, and we'll continue on next week, God willing, with more.
Our Father, we thank Thee that Thy word tells us that God loveth a cheerful giver. Father, this is the essence of grace giving, for Paul told us: 'Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor; that we through His poverty might be made rich'. Father, we know that He set His face as a flint to go to Jerusalem, we know that for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross. Although it was such an agony that we can never ever understand or estimate, there was joy in it for the Christ of God to give His life as a sacrifice to God, a sweet smelling savour. Lord, may our giving, from His example, be the same - even in this financial realm, that our offerings week by week would be worship to Thy heart, in praise and thanks to God to render to Thee all that we are and all that we have. Lord, if there are any here today who have never entered into the joy of not just spontaneous but planned, systematic, regular giving, that the joy of the Lord would be shed abroad in their hearts through this exercise - that the work of God would go on, and Lord we would say that we would be able to earn more and get more that we might give more to Thy work. For we ask these things, asking Thy blessing upon us now in the Saviour's name, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the second tape in his "The Grace Of Giving" study series, titled "Its Biblical Principles - Part 1" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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