Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020
Let’s start out with a little lesson on finance. We’ll learn the difference between “disposable income” and “discretionary income” because, on the surface, those terms look very similar.
Here’s how the website “Investopedia” defines them.
“Disposable income is the net income available to invest, save, or spend after deducting income taxes. Disposable income is calculated by subtracting income taxes from income.
“Discretionary income is what a household or individual has to invest, save, or spend after taxes and necessities are paid. Examples of necessities include the cost of housing, food, clothing, utilities, and transportation.”
(Stephen Nikolas, Investopedia. com, April 30,2020.)
Now here’s my question: does your tithe/offering come out of disposable or discretionary income? The answer will depend on whether or not you view your monetary gifts to God as a “necessity” or not. If you understand support of our church as being one of the necessary expenses of life, then it is neither disposable nor discretionary.
A problem with giving is that we put our gift in either the disposable or discretionary category. We think of church as one more thing that we pay for, one more resource that we purchase and consume. It is not.
Our relationship with money is a mirror that reflects our relationship with God. Our use of money will reflect the degree to which we love Him and have matured in our spiritual life. It is a brutally honest mirror, as we tend to put our money where our heart is.
Take for example, collections like One Great Hour of Sharing. It turns out the practice of taking collections for those in need has been observed in the Church from the beginning. It was done in the Jerusalem church and later, at Paul’s direction, to benefit the Jerusalem church. We’ll take a brief look at what Paul did to organize a collection among the Grecian churches in which he ministered.
Love involves caring for those in need.
1. The need for a collection.
In AD 48, Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem for the first-ever Church council (Galatians 2:1–10 and Acts 15:1–29). The reason for the council was to decide whether Gentile converts had to become Jews first. Paul and Silas argued it was unnecessary as they represented the church in Antioch of Syria. The decision of the council was that non-Jews were full members of the Church without any additional requirements. Paul summed it up in Galatians 2:10: ALL THEY ASKED WAS THAT WE SHOULD CONTINUE TO REMEMBER THE POOR, THE VERY THING I WAS EAGER TO DO. Paul demonstrated his eagerness by organizing this collection.
While he was in Jerusalem, Paul became aware of a famine in Judea. He saw the need and organized a response. See Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; 2 Corinthians 9:1-5 for examples of Paul’s teaching on this subject.
2. The means of collection. (1 Corinthians 16:1-4)
Paul’s instruction to take a collection ON THE FIRST DAY OF EVERY WEEK assumes the practice of a Sunday worship service. See John 20:19+26; Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10 for more information on the practice of Sunday worship in the First Church.
EACH ONE OF YOU SHOULD SET ASIDE A SUM OF MONEY IN KEEPING WITH HIS INCOME fits with Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 9, that offerings should be a percentage of one’s income rather than a fixed amount.
SO THAT WHEN I COME NO COLLECTIONS WILL HAVE TO BE MADE is consistent with wise stewardship; it is better to have a habit of generosity than to rely on special appeals. Regular and systematic giving happens when we don’t rely on fund-raisers and emotional appeals creating a “crisis” mentality.
In vs. 3-4 Paul expresses flexibility on whether or not he is with the group who delivered the collection. (He did go with them.) This was a project on which Paul had worked for years and with many congregations. He even had to endure opposition from church folk who accused him of padding his own pockets! (See 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2; 7:2; 8:20-22; 12:14–18.)
That’s why Paul was careful in these verses to distance himself from the money. He was willing to accompany those delivering the collection, but the responsibility belonged to men the Corinthians approved. The men they selected were to take with them LETTERS OF INTRODUCTION from Paul if Paul did not accompany them himself.
These steps were taken primarily to protect Paul from accusation, but he also had to be careful to not offend some of the believers in Jerusalem who might be reluctant to accept help from Gentiles! It’s strange to think of that kind of pettiness in the church back then, but human nature was no different back then than it is now.
3. The outcome of the collection. (2 Corinthians 9:10-15)
Supplying the generosity of God’s people (10-11). God supplies both the seed and the harvest (BREAD); He can be counted on to supply all kinds of material needs. SEED TO THE SOWER AND BREAD FOR FOOD is a phrase Paul borrowed from Isaiah 55:10, where the prophet used it to show that God will accomplish His purposes. One of his purposes is to provide for His people so that His people can provide for others.
Above and beyond that, God can be counted on to INCREASE and ENLARGE t RIGHTEOUSNESS of the church family, supplying spiritual needs. In fact, God’s supply is so generous they will become RICH IN EVERY WAY (materially and spiritually). Their riches will fuel their generosity. Their generosity will, in turn, RESULT IN THANKSGIVING TO GOD.
SUPPLYING THE NEEDS OF GOD’S PEOPLE (12) is Paul explaining the process of meeting the needs of people. God’s supply => their generosity => human needs met => thanksgiving to God.
The outcome is OVERFLOWING IN MANY EXPRESSIONS OF THANKS TO GOD (12-15). Worship (glory given to God) should be the outcome of everything we do. Prayer should accompany everything we do. THANKS is to be given to God - not exclusive of gratitude to the giver - but in greater proportion.
Paul appealed to the believer’s most enlightened motive; we do things not to solicit the praise of others, but to direct their attention to God. After all, God made our generosity possible by means of His supply; we are merely giving what has always been His. God has set for us the greatest possible example of generosity and grace. In our own circumstances, God wants us to use all our resources to keep the example He has set.
Love involves caring for those in need.
A commentary I looked at illustrated this passage with a picture of an ancient paving stone, one that had been unearthed in the city of Corinth. It says “Erastus paid to pave streets in Corinth.”
Isn’t that interesting? Paving stones is a fundraiser we use in modern times. For some strange reason I’ve been contacted with an offer to buy a paving stone for the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium. As if I would do such a stupid thing! Here we have an artifact that survived from antiquity. The streets Erastus paid to pave have not survived, but his stone thank you has survived!
Will you be remembered as a person whose love was revealed in generosity? Have you ever heard anyone remembered fondly as a “good money manager?” Does stinginess ever have a positive reflection on a person’s legacy? What parts of you will survive because you made a positive and generous contribution to the needy around you? To what degree do you inspire people to praise God? Generosity is not optional; it is commanded by God for all His people and commended by all people as well.
Zondervan Bible Commentary, Paul W. Marsh & David J.A. Clines