Address by Martin Smith, Chester Diocesan Adviser

A Summary of the address given by Martin Smith, Chester Diocesan Adviser in Christian Giving, at the 10 am Service on Sunday 9 June 2013 at St. Mary’s, Newton with Flowery Field 

A strongman at a circus sideshow was demonstrating his strength before a large audience. Towards the end, he squeezed the juice from a lemon between his hands. He then said to the audience, “I will offer £100 to anyone in the audience who can squeeze another drop from this lemon. A thin looking man came forward, picked up the lemon, strained hard and managed to squeeze out a drop. The strongman was amazed. He paid the man and said, “I’ve been doing this act for sixteen years, and tonight is the first time I’ve had to pay out. What is the secret of your strength?” “Practice,” the man answered. “I was a church treasurer for thirty-two years!” 

Sometimes it might feel like our need for money requires us to try and squeeze more money out of those who already support the church. But that isn’t what Christian giving is all about, if we reflect upon what the Bible teaches. 

This morning I would like to briefly share with you some thoughts about the characteristics of biblical giving which St. Paul sets out in Chapter 8 of his Second Letter to the Church in Corinth. Here Paul writes about the Christians in the Macedonian churches, who set such an amazing example of generous, 'God-centred' giving. 

By way of background, the churches that St. Paul was writing to the Macedonians about were located in the cities of Philippi, Berea and Thessalonica in the north of Greece. Now Macedonia was a Roman province and had been for the previous two hundred years during which its economy had plundered by the Romans. The Roman's plundering, along with a series of wars, had reduced the region to a state of extreme impoverishment. In addition, the Macedonian churches had endured a much persecution. 

Characteristics of Biblical Giving 

Generosity 

Christian giving is characterised by generosity. The Macedonians “welled up in rich generosity. (2 Corinthians 8:2). Now there are three aspects to the Macedonians generosity: 

  • We see in verse 1 that their generosity was motivated, not by human kindness or a desire to do good works, but by God’s amazing grace: "We want you to know about the Grace of God has given to the Macedonian Churches;..." (verse 1) 
  • It was not based on money and possessions, for they had little, but on an attitude of generosity. 
  • The Macedonians generosity was based on an attitude of single mindedness. They did not focus on their own needs, but on the needs of others, in this case the needs of the poor believers in the Jerusalem church. 

Joyful 

Christian giving is Joyful giving. In the case of the Macedonians we see that “their overflowing joy.... welled up in rich generosity.” (verse 2) A Christian's joy is an inner joy which arises through being in union with Christ. When we join our lives to his, when we know him, love, remember and imitate him, we have joy in our lives. We feel his presence and rest in his security. While God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7), Christian joy is much deeper than happiness. Happiness is temporary, because it is based on external circumstances. Joy however, is lasting. Joy overcomes external and difficult circumstances because it is based on a relationship with the risen Lord. 

The Macedonians gave with joy. Why? Because their hearts were full of true joy which flowed from their relationship with the Lord, to whom, they had first given themselves. Joyful giving is something which flows from a joyful heart. 

Proportionate to Income. 

Christian giving is characterised by a generosity that is proportionate to our income. We see that the Macedonians"... gave as much as they were able." (verse 3). God does not ask us to give what we genuinely have not got to give. As it is written ,"...if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what [one] does not have." (verse 12) 

In 2009, the General Synod of the Church of England challenged church members to assess annually their financial giving as a proportion of their income and to adopt as an initial target the giving of “5% of after tax income to and through the church, and a similar amount to other work that helps to build God’s kingdom.” This challenge is a big one. For some, this challenge might be too demanding and simply impossible. For others, this challenge may be achievable. Some Christians may be able to exceed this challenge. The important point is that giving is related to our income and our ability to give. Everyone’s circumstances are different and whatever you give, is valued. 

Sacrificial 

Christian giving is characterised by a generosity that is sacrificial. The Christians in the early Macedonian church gave not only generously but also sacrificially. They gave not only “as much as they were able”, they gave “even beyond their ability”(verse 3). Maybe they were aware of the words of David that we read in 2 Samuel 24:24 “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt-offerings that cost me nothing.” 

There can be no true generosity that has cost us nothing. Self-sacrifice and self-denial is the hallmark of Christian discipleship. In a world that appears to be consumed with self, sacrifice is not a word that many like to hear these days. But let’s remember that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice, he laid down his life for us.“.. though he was rich, yet for [our] sakes he became poor, so that [we] through his poverty might become rich.” (verse 9) 

Act of Worship 

A final characteristic of biblical giving is that it is part of our spiritual worship, not just an act of charitable donation. The Macedonians act of total dedication to Jesus appears to have taken Paul somewhat by surprise. He was probably hoping for an offering of money to his collection for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. However, the Macedonians priority was to give themselves to the Lord. 

Christian giving is about giving the whole of ourselves to God. Giving money is just part of giving ourselves. The self-giving of the Macedonians as act of worship, reminds us of what Paul said in his letter to the Christians in Rome “offer your bodies as a living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, - this is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1). Our giving is part our worship 

Two final points 

1. Biblical giving is giving that it will transcend even the most difficult of circumstances 

Despite their extreme poverty the Macedonians were able to give generously and sacrificially. “Out of the most severe trial, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” (2 Corinthians 8:2). The Macedonian Christians could easily made excuses and not given to the collection for the poor Christians in the Jerusalem church. However, despite their difficult circumstances, the Macedonians didn't offer any excuses but asked to give. Why? Because they had first given themselves to the Jesus.

2. Giving is an act of love

In writing to the Christians in the Corinthian church, Paul was not just encouraging them to finally honour their previously-given pledge to give to the collection for the poor Christians in Jerusalem, he was also asking them prove the sincerity of the love that they said they had for others against the example of Macedonian Christians. “I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others” (verse 8). The true test of sincere love is not positive emotions and good intentions, but tangible actions. As we read in the Letter of James: “…faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17). The Macedonians had expressed their love through their giving. Paul was challenging the Corinthians to do the same. 

Love requires generous giving which can take many forms. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37), we see that the Samaritan demonstrated generosity in many ways: 

  • generously giving time, stopping to help a man who had been beaten and robbed 
  • a willingness to put himself at risk - the road was known to be dangerous, and we might assume that the priest and the Levite did not stop as they weren’t willing to put themselves at risk. 
  • a willingness to go beyond cultural norms - the willingness of a Samaritan to help a Jewish traveller. 
  • giving of his comfort in putting the traveller on his donkey and walking alongside. 
  • giving of his money in an unlimited way - asking the Innkeeper to charge to him whatever it cost to look after the traveller . 

Giving through Service 

The parable of the Good Samaritan also shows us that giving is not just about the giving of money though it does include that. We are also called to give ourselves through service. Serving others is at the heart of the Christian life. 

Christians can serve in many ways. For example, it may be caring for our family or someone who is sick or, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, helping the stranger It may be encouraging or helping someone, walking by their side. It might be offering hospitality. It might be service to our community or to God’s church. 

Whether we realise it or not, God has given each of us talents or abilities and we are called to use them in service to His Church, our families, our communities and one another. When we serve others, even in carrying out ordinary tasks, we are serving God. Every job has dignity because ultimately, the one we serve is God. 

Most, if not all of us, will have sung the words of the Hymn “The Servant King”, the first verse of which reminds us that Jesus came “to serve.” Jesus served in many ways. Some of his acts of service were pretty amazing, like the healing of the deaf and mute man which we read about in Mark’s Gospel. However, not all of Jesus’ acts of service were quite so spectacular. Some of his acts were very humble. In his Gospel, Mark recalls how, during his final meal with his disciples, Jesus got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. He then washed the disciples’ feet and wiped them with the towel he had around him. It was by this simple humble act of foot washing, that Jesus taught his disciples that they should serve one another in love and humility. 

Now it may sound as if serving takes away our freedom. Actually it’s just the opposite. To serve God is an expression of our free will. We freely choose to serve and do so joyfully. There is nothing more fulfilling than serving others, for in serving others we are serving God.

In reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan, we see that Jesus is showing us that generosity is a matter of faith. As we see the Samaritan showering love and compassion upon the person in need, without thought to the personal cost, we are taught that our love for God is reflected in our love for our neighbours. We are all challenged as to how we will express our generosity in response to God’s mission to the world – through our financial and other giving to the Church, and in many other ways. 

Whilst Christian giving is not primarily about balancing the books, it is a fact of life that mission and ministry costs money and the financial challenges that the Church faces are constantly with us. In the current economic climate, many church members will be facing their own financial pressures, but we have to do all that we can to ensure that God’s vital work continues and grows. 

If you are able, please consider increasing your regular monthly or weekly giving in order that God’s work here at St. Mary’s can not only be maintained but also extended. Your giving makes a difference to God’s work. And If you aren’t already a member of St. Mary’s planned giving Scheme, you might want to consider joining now, giving through either Standing Order or by the parish weekly Offertory envelopes. 

In closing, I give thanks to God for you, my brothers and sisters, and all that you have given over the years. I encourage you to think and pray about your giving. Take time to talk with God about your giving, Ask God how he wants you to express your generosity in response to his mission – through your financial and other giving to the Church, and in many other ways. 

Closing prayer 

Heavenly Father, 

you loved the world so much, that you gave your only son, 

so that all who believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life; 

give us grace to use all your gifts, 

for the good of others, 

for the care of your world, 

that we may share your love with others 

and extend your kingdom; 

this we ask in Jesus name. Amen. 

 

 

Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. 

Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Staughton 

A Division of Hodder Headline Ltd. All rights reserved 


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