Today is our annual Toy & Gift Service; an opportunity for everyone to give something to those who are less fortunate. As in previous years any gifts that we receive will be passed on to Birmingham City Mission for them to wrap and then distribute them to the appropriate families. Last week we looked at a passage in 1 Corinthians 1 and thought about how we are enriched by knowing Christ. This passage today also talks of our being enriched but this time by our generous giving; Paul’s hope is that by giving freely and generously we will all be enriched spiritually.
Whilst I’m only intending to look at 9:6-15, it is important to understand the context of these verses. We know from the later chapters of Acts and from some of Paul’s other letters that he had been organising a collection to take to the Christians in Jerusalem. They had been suffering and were stuck in deep poverty partly caused as a result of a famine. Paul’s idea was to persuade those churches that he had visited or founded to gather together and collect as much as they could to help their Christian brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. We need to appreciate that the churches that Paul was asking to contribute consisted in the main of Gentiles whilst the church in Jerusalem consisted mainly of Jews; not necessarily an easy situation to deal with. Paul may have been collecting funds to help them but he also wanted to demonstrate the unity of Christians in their faith in Jesus Christ. He had this thought in mind when he wrote to the Galatians and said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile ... for are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Paul’s plea had obviously had the desired effect since the Corinthian church was very enthusiastic to help and therefore to demonstrate their solidarity with other Christians. So enthusiastic were they that news of their efforts had even reached the churches in Macedonia and enthused them. Unfortunately as Paul came to finalise things the early enthusiasm of the Corinthians had waned somewhat and it had waned so much that Paul was deeply concerned that their giving would be grudging and half hearted. He wanted them to get their enthusiasm back and give willingly and cheerfully. It is that that prompted Paul to write the verses that we will be looking at.
Now I do realise that our context today is slightly different in that we are collecting gifts and toys, but giving is giving and the same principles still apply.
There is a heavy emphasis on farming running all through this passage and that is for a very important reason. Many of the people reading this letter or hearing it being read could well have been farmers or had farming connections and so would have been able to identify with the picture that Paul was painting. Jesus wasn’t the only One Who told stories in parable form or used events happening around Him to illustrate a point that He wanted to get across!
Paul reminds everyone 9:6 that, “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously”. There were some farmers who held back a lot of their seed lest what they sowed fell on stony or bad soil. However, those that did reaped very little and consequently had a very poor harvest. It is no good hanging on to most of the seed and keeping it in a barn; it won’t grow and produce a crop there. For a bountiful crop to be reaped a bountiful supply of seed needs to be sowed. It may have something to do with the business adage, “speculate to accumulate”! To support his sowing illustration Paul also quoted from Psalm 112:9 when he said, “They have scattered abroad their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures for ever”. His point was; that the more we give the more we will receive and in quoting the Psalm 112 he was emphasising that by giving generously we are simply demonstrating our righteousness before God. We should want to give because God, in His grace, gives us so much and it is only right that we should share His generosity with those who are less fortunate.
Paul goes on in 9:10 to remind us that it is God Who supplies the seed to the sower and then the bread that comes from that seed. God gives abundantly and if we give abundantly then He will “enlarge the harvest of our righteousness” (9:10b). Paul’s meaning is that we will be blessed by God in all that we do. We shouldn’t think of this as necessarily being in a material way but almost certainly in a spiritual way.
The main point of these verses is to remind us that when we give we should give willingly. It is important that any giving should come from the heart and not come as the result of being coerced or manipulated in any way. Giving made as a result of devious methods or wrong thinking or that comes from feeling obligated does not come from the heart, it is merely done to keep up appearances. Whilst a lot of giving is of course spontaneous, Paul seems to suggest here in 9:7 that we should perhaps decide in advance what we are going to give and whatever we decide the giving should come from the heart. We should also give generously and by saying that I am not suggesting that we should give all that we have but rather that we should give freely and willingly and be prepared to share our good fortune with those less fortunate. Whatever we give, and that is between the giver and God, it should be done cheerfully and with a happy heart; after all, as Paul points out, “God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7b)!
Attitudes towards giving vary of course from person to person depending on their personal circumstances. A great illustration of this was given by Jesus in Mark 12:41-44 when He spoke of the widow and what she gave. Jesus had been sitting and watching people as they made their offerings in the Temple. As a widow approached and gave her offering Jesus noticed that she had given all she had got whilst the wealthy gave large amounts of money, possibly without even thinking or noticing just how much they had given. After observing this Jesus turned to His disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all that she had to live on” (Mark 12:43b-44). The widow probably had no idea that Jesus was watching nor of the significance of what she had done. However, she was never forgotten by Him and would undoubtedly have received God’s richest blessing as a result.
Giving is difficult, especially in this day and age when economically things are tight for many people. However, the Bible leaves us in little doubt that we should give and give generously if we are able. Matthew records in Matthew 19:16-24 the story of the rich young man who approached Jesus to ask Him how he could receive eternal life. Jesus quizzed him on keeping the Ten Commandments. Having been told by the young man that he did indeed keep them and had done so from a very young age, Jesus then told him to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. Note what happened next, “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:22). It seems that he wasn’t prepared to give away even some of his wealth despite the offer of eternal life. Perhaps this rich young man had never read the Proverb that says, “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9).
We know that we won’t gain eternal life by our giving, no matter how much we give. Eternal life only comes through placing our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. However, Paul points out in 9:10b that if we do give generously then God “will enlarge the harvest of our righteousness”. The writer of the Proverbs summed it up rather well when he wrote, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. People curse the man who hoards grain, but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell“ (Proverbs 11:24-26).
Last week we looked at a few verses in 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 which talked of how we are enriched by knowing Jesus. In those verses Paul suggested that we are enriched in all we say and all we know. All of that wonderful enrichment comes purely from knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Now, here in 9:11 he says that we will be “enriched in every way” as a result of our giving. The recipient of our gift will be blessed but the giver will not only be blessed but also enriched. Paul says more when he goes on to add that we will be enriched “so that we can be generous on every occasion”. That says to me that Paul expects us to not only keep on giving but also to give more and more. Not only will be enriched by our generous giving but our generosity will result in “thanksgiving to God”. Just think about that; every time we give and give generously, we are bringing thanksgiving to God for all that He does for us and all that He gives us. All of that comes from the simple act of our giving someone a gift of some description.
We have no idea who will receive the gifts and toys that have been brought in this morning although I suspect that God has a very good idea who will be smiling on Christmas morning. Because we don’t know who will receive these gifts we won’t have the satisfaction of seeing their smiling eyes and faces as they open these surprise presents. Our reward comes over a period of time as our giving is rewarded by God by our being spiritually enriched.
Christmas especially is a time for giving. It is a time for celebration as we remember Jesus Christ’s birthday but it is also a time when we give one another represents of varying sorts and in doing that we are replicating the acts of the Wise Men who presented very generous gifts to the baby Jesus. When we buy gifts we try to think of what someone would like or need and buy accordingly. However, for many of us there is also the need to think of how much we can afford and how many gifts we have to buy. After all many of us have ever expanding families as our children find partners and then perhaps their own children come along. We perhaps cannot be quite as generous as we may have been in the past. That doesn’t mean though that we should stop giving, it simply means that we adjust our giving. Even though the context is slightly different, Paul appreciated that, he understood that not everyone was wealthy and able to give lots. However, he also understood that giving according to our ability is also just as good and important as giving huge, ostentatious gifts. The gifts that are received today will be passed on to Birmingham City Mission for them to distribute to the needy families that they know. God is fully aware of all that is happening and regardless of the reaction of the families receiving these gifts; God will reward the giver with unlimited spiritual blessings.
Paul’s basic message in these few verses is that giving brings its own rewards. The giver benefits by being blessed by God and the recipient benefits by receiving a gift but also by also being blessed by God. Think of the happiness that your own children and friends had on Christmas morning when they opened their presents, both expected and unexpected. Now think about the joy that one of these gifts brought in today may bring to a less fortunate child or family when they open a totally unexpected gift. That is just one of the benefits that comes from giving at this time of year.
Many years ago there was an advert on television for BT. It featured an actor by the name of Bob Hoskins whose catchphrase was, “it’s good to talk”, done with a cockney accent of course. I want to paraphrase that slightly and say, it’s good to give! Enjoy giving.