Stott on Stewardship: Ten Principles of Christian Giving
- 2003 27 Sep
In II Corinthians 8 and 9, we read that the Apostle Paul organized an offering from the Greek churches of Achaia and Macedonia for the benefit of the impoverished churches of Judea.
It may seem extraordinary that he should have devoted so much space in his letters to this mundane matter, referring to it also in Romans 15 and in I Corinthians 16, but Paul did not see it as such.
Rather, he saw it as relating to the grace of God, the cross of Christ and the unity of the Spirit. In fact, it is very moving to grasp this combination of profound Trinitarian theology and practical common sense.
Christian giving is an extremely important topic on the contemporary church's agenda, for I doubt of there is a single Christian enterprise in the world that is not currently hindered and hampered by a lack of funds.
Here in this passage, the apostle develops ten principles of Christian giving.
1. Christian giving is an expression of the grace of God.
"And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. So we urge Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part." ~ II Corinthians 8:1-6 (NIV)
You will notice that the Apostle Paul does not begin by referring to the generosity of the churches of Macedonia. He refers instead to the generosity of God, to 'the grace God gave the churches in Macedonia' (v.1). In other words, behind the generosity of Macedonia, Paul saw the generosity of God, for grace is another word for generosity. Our gracious God is a generous God, and he is at work within his people to make them generous too.
More remarkable still is the fact that three tributaries contributed to the river of Macedonian generosity (v.2) - their severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty. In consequence, the Macedonians gave even beyond their ability (v.3), and they pleaded for the privilege of sharing in this service to God's people in Judea (v.4).
Indeed, they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to Paul and his apostolic band (v.5). Also Paul had urged Titus to complete what he had begun in Corinth, the capital of Achaia, a little while ago (v.6). What was this? It was this same 'work of grace'.
This then is where Paul begins - with the grace of God in both the Macedonian churches of Northern Greece and the Achaean churches of Southern Greece. Christian generosity is fundamentally an outflow of the generosity of God.
2. Christian giving can be a charisma (that is, a gift of the Spirit).
"But just as you excel in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us - see that you also excel in this grace of giving." ~ II Corinthians 8:7 (NIV)
Thus, as they excel in the spiritual gifts of faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness and love, the apostle urges them to excel also 'in this grace of giving'. Similarly in Romans 12:8 Paul includes among another list of charismata 'contributing to the needs of others'.
Why is this important? Because many of God's endowments are both a generous gift given to all believers and a particular gift (charisma) given to some. For example, all Christians are called to share the gospel with others, but some have the gift of an evangelist. All are called to exercise pastoral care for others, but some are called to be pastors.
Similarly, all Christians are called to be generous, but some are given the particular 'gift of giving'. Because they have been entrusted with significant financial resources, they have a special responsibility to be good stewards for the common good.
3. Christian giving is inspired by the cross of Christ.
"I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of you love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." ~ II Corinthians 8:8-9 (NIV)
The Corinthians were not being commanded, much less browbeaten, to give generously. Rather the sincerity of their love was being put to the test by comparison with others and especially (it is implied) by comparison with Christ, for they knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Not only is the grace of God at work in us (v.1), but the grace of Christ challenges our imitation (v.9).
Here are two references to poverty and two references to wealth. Because of our poverty Christ renounced his riches, so that through his poverty we might become rich. We must not misunderstand this by supposing that material poverty and wealth are in mind. No, the 'poverty' of Christ is seen in his incarnation and especially his cross, while the 'wealth' he gives us is salvation with all its rich blessings.
** Don't miss the rest of this message. Join us Tuesday for Part Two and Wednesday for Part Three. **
(c) 2002 by John Stott Ministries. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Generous Giving, Inc.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Stott has authored over 40 books, including the classic Basic Christianity, The Cross of Christ, and The Contemporary Christian. Based in London, he travels extensively overseas, especially in the Third World, speaking mainly at seminars for pastors and at student conferences. He is also the Founder and Honorary President of the London Institute for Christianity. Visit www.johnstott.org.
ABOUT GENEROUS GIVING, INC. - Generous Giving (www.GenerousGiving.org) is a non-profit ministry that seeks to encourage givers of all income levels - as well as ministry leaders, pastors, teachers and professional advisors - to fully understand and embrace what it means to live generously according to God's word and Christ's example. It offers an array of practical tools like books, study guides, quarterly briefings, eNewsletters, and an exhaustive online library of news articles, statistics, Bible studies, and sermons on generosity. It also hosts the Generous Giving Marketplace (www.GGMarketplace.org), a Web site that introduces givers and Christian ministries to one another through a searchable database of hundreds of giving opportunities from scores of Christian ministries worldwide. Generous Giving is privately funded and does not solicit donations.