Greg Ogden, D.Min.
Executive Pastor of Discipleship
Christ Church of Oak Brook
Oak Brook, Illinois
Summary: Scripture consistently tells us to seek our own pleasure and how to find it. If you are at all concerned for your own happiness, give; if you care about your quality of life, give. Principle: The extent you give will be the extent to which you get back.
There is a stewardship principle built into God's economy: You get back, what you give. This phrase summarizes well the Apostle Paul's motivational message in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15.
Paul illustrates this principle through the practice of farming. "He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously" (2 Cor 9:6). It is common knowledge among farmers that if you plant few seeds you will yield a meager crop; but if you sow seeds with abandon you will have a much greater chance of an abundant harvest.
The Scripture unashamedly appeals to personal reward as an incentive for living out the Christian life. Sow to your own joy. Out of sheer self interest, the best way to live is to give. Some purists might find this appeal to personal reward to be troubling. One commentator wrote, "Nowhere does Scripture propose the gaining of rewards as a motive for goodness." Many of us were taught this as children. However, Scripture consistently tells us to seek our own pleasure and how to find it. So, if you are at all concerned for your own happiness, give; if you care about your quality of life, give. Principle: The extent you give will be the extent to which you get back.
Please don't misunderstand. This is not at all promoting the pursuit of financial reward as an end in itself, as some "health and wealth" preachers would. Their teaching is that the size of one's faith is equal to the growth of one's financial capacity. The more faith you have the more material rewards you will attain. One such preacher told how his faith had grown from believing that God could provide an inexpensive car, to paying cash for a Cadillac, to where he could believe God for a Rolls Royce, which was given to him as a gift. The Scripture does not teach that faith equals riches. In fact, you could make a case from the New Testament that faith will actually lead to hardship, but that is another lesson.
An implication of the principle of sowing and reaping is that some people struggle financially because they have not yet learned to give. We read in Proverbs 11:24, "One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want."
A first step to getting one's financial house in order is develop the practice of giving. Bill Hybels proposes a simple plan for sound financial management: (1) pay God; (2) pay yourself (save); (3) pay your bills.
Hybels begins his discussion of motive by honoring the individual choice that each person must make regarding their financial resources. "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give" (2 Cor. 9:7). In other words, we should each pause and thoughtfully consider before God what should be our practice for financial giving. This implies planned giving, versus a haphazard approach. We should not come to the end of the month and then say to ourselves, "What do I have left over to give?" We don't wait until the offering plate is passed down the aisle, then to pull out our check book or wallet to see what we can afford to throw in. At the conclusion of this article you will be given a process that you can go through to evaluate and plan your giving with forethought.
Paul undergirds the principle—you get back what you give—with the appropriate mindset. Let's turn our attention to the attitude that will lead us to financial freedom. Before Paul asserts the positive, he identifies two attitudes that must be rejected if we are to find our way to joy.
First, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly." Literally, this word means "to give without grief or regret." Do not mourn the loss of money. If there is a phenomenon called "buyer's remorse," then there may be "giver's remorse" as well.
Why might we be reluctant to give? In order to give we might have to cut back on our wants. Giving and greed cannot co-exist. Giving means that there are things I might want that I won't be able to have. Greed is the insatiable desire for more. Greed is fueled by the spirit of the age; it is the air that we breathe. In a myriad of ways every day we are told, "We are what we have." This is why Jesus called money, mammon, the money god. Money is not just a neutral means of exchange, it has the power to inspire devotion. Charlie Sheen, the Oscar winning actor, captured this truth in the common vernacular, when he honestly said, "Money is energy, man."
The way to loose the grip of greed is to give. In his book Money, Sex, and Power, Richard Foster tells us how to dethrone money, "The powers that energize money cannot abide that most unnatural of acts, giving. Money is made for taking, for bargaining, for manipulating, but not for giving. This is exactly why giving has such an ability to defeat the powers of money."
In addition to greed being a reason for reluctance to give, we are also stymied by fear. Money becomes a god when we find our security in what we accumulate. John D. Rockefeller was asked, "How much is enough?" His answer: "A little bit more." Enough is never enough if anxiety is the underlying tension and we seek our security in how much we have. I am not arguing here against prudent planning. Remember our formula: (1) pay God; (2) pay yourself (save); (3) pay your bills. There is a difference between prudent planning for the contingencies of life and being obsessed and driven by anxiety over what might be. The only way to financial freedom, even if you are following the above principles, is to find our security in the Lord. The only protection we have against the future is the God who rules the future. Stock markets rise and fall, only Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.
We are reluctant to give because we bow before the twin gods of greed and security.
Paul identifies a second attitude that can keep us from financial freedom.
"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly nor under compulsion" (2 Cor 9:7). Under compulsion means "to give out of necessity, duty or under pressure."
We can be compelled to give out of guilt. Appeals to give in order to absolve of a guilty conscience are commonplace. For example, we are told that we wealthy Westerners absentmindedly misplace about $100 a year, which is more in per capita income of many third world countries. I was at gathering where the speaker asked us to look at the manufacturer's label inside our shirt collar. Where was it made? We were then told that we live well off of meagerly paid sweat workers who produce in expensive goods. Message: Give because you are an exploitive Western consumer. The trouble with manipulating giving out of guilt is that it does not cultivate a spirit of generosity.
Another motivation that derives from compulsion is to give in order to look good in comparison to others. This was the sin of the infamous Ananias and Sapphira recorded in the fifth chapter of the book of Acts. When they saw the generosity of others they too wanted to have their faces on the Givers Hall of Fame. Ananias and Sapphira had sold a piece of property and gave part of the proceeds to the apostles to be given to those in need. Their sin was deception. They acted as if they had given the whole amount. They wanted to look more generous than they were. Peter made it crystal clear that there were not under compulsion to give any more than their faith permitted. They could give whatever they were led to give from the sale. It was their deception of false generosity that led to the judgment of God upon them.
Neither reluctance nor compulsion are motives that are honoring to God. What is the attitude that leads to financial freedom? "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly nor under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:7). The word translated "cheerful" in the original Greek has the meaning "hilarious." God loves a "hilarious" giver. This implies that the most joyful moment in our worship services should be when the offering plate is passed. We give not out of reluctance or any sense of "have-to," just out of the overflow of joy that we can be a conduit of the Lord's generosity.
But what is the wellspring from which cheerfulness comes? How do we get the attitude that is the foundation for financial freedom? There is only one thing that produces hilarity in life. Gratitude. The words "grace," "gift" and "thanksgiving" dominate Paul's thought in the rest of our text. Read 2 Corinthians 9:8-15 and circle these words and note the spirit of generosity and abundance that marks Paul's thought. Paul concludes this section with, "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Cor 9:15).
Of what gift is Paul speaking here? The gift of His Son Jesus Christ. Cheerful givers are those who hearts have been overwhelmed and captured by undeserved grace. There is no greater feeling in the world that gratitude.
Dr. Lewis Smedes, like only he can do, put into words the feelings of gratitude. Doris, Lewis's wife, had found him lying on the floor, as he wrote, "looking quite dead." He lay in the hospital for a couple of days, tilting heavily in death's direction, lungs filled with blood clots as if they were buckshot. On the fourth day, his physician of Norwegian extraction leaned over his bed and congratulated him on surviving the twenty-to-one odds that medical statistics had stacked up against him.
Lewis responded matter-of-factly, "Oh yeah? That's terrific, doctor."
In retrospect, he said, his heart was not awash with gratitude, for until the doctor informed him, it never occurred to him that he might die. He closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
But here is what happened two nights later in Smedes' own words, "In the moody hush that settles on a hospital room at two o'clock in the morning, alone, with no drugs inside of me to set me up for it-I was seized with a frenzy of gratitude. Possessed! My arms rose straight up by themselves, a hundred-pound weight could not have held them at my side. My hands open, my fingers spread, waving, twisting, while I blessed the Lord for the almost unbearable goodness of being alive on this good earth in this good body at this present time."
"I was flying outside of myself, high, held in weightless lightness, as if my earthly existence need no ground to rest in, but was hung in space with only love to keep it aloft."
"It was then I learned that gratitude is the best feeling I would ever have, the ultimate joy of living. It was better than sex, better than winning the lottery, better than watching your daughter graduate from college, better and deeper than any other feeling ... I am sure that nothing in life can ever match the feeling of being held in being by a gracious energy percolating from the abyss where beats the loving heart of God."
Once gratitude gets a hold of us, rooted in undeserved grace, giving will not be an issue ever again.
Steps to freedom
Here's a very practical picture of the steps to financial freedom.
Step 1 Give Cheerfully
All giving begins with attitude, not the amount. Giving has nothing to do with how much you have. There is no correlation in God's economy between means and munificence. The first step to financial freedom is to ask the Lord to show you how outrageously lavish is his grace toward you.
Step 2 Give Regularly, Not Haphazardly
Giving that is honoring to God has a thoughtful faith goal that is translated into a plan. What can you believe God for this year? Giving is not just reactive or sporadic, but done with forethought. Plan your giving in the same way that you would an addition to your house.
Step 3 Give Your First Fruits
Pay God. Pay yourself (save). Pay your bills. It was the practice in the Old Testament that people gave the first fruits of the harvest or the best of their flock to the Lord. Make the first checks you write each month to further the Lord's work.
Step 4 Give When It's Tight
Giving is an act of faith in the ability of God to provide, whatever the circumstances. The beauty of stepping out in faith in regards our money is that it gives the Lord an opportunity to demonstrate his faithfulness to us in very tangible ways. How often do we get to see the Lord's hand clearly at work? When we trust God even in the lean times, and watch him provide, we have clear evidence that he is real.
Step 5 Give Sacrificially
C. S. Lewis has said it best: "I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot because our charitable expenditures exclude them."
Step 6 Give a Tithe
There is no more exact guideline for obedience that to give a tenth of our income to the Lord's work. Write down your annual or monthly income and multiply by 10%. Here is your goal and starting point. Build from there.
Step 7 Give in Faith
Giving should always contain the element of the risk of faith. In the realm of stewardship, this is called making a "faith promise." In other words, the goal of giving is set to the level that the Lord must provide in faith. You reach at least a little beyond where you know the resources will come from. For those who have been practicing tithing for some time, the edge of adventure may have been lost. Giving has simply become a financial transaction.
Consider what it would be to move beyond the routine, to a place of cheerful adventure.
Giving that is honoring to God is motivated by gratitude. Cheerfulness and the awareness of undeserved grace are inseparable. When we know what we have been given, we give. And then the cycle repeats itself. We get back, what we give.
Reading Study Guide
1.Put in your own words the key principle of this reading: You get back what you give.