sermonette: A Cheerful Giver
The Letter and The Spirit
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 15-Apr-09; Sermon #933as; 22 minutes
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Deuteronomy 16:16-17, instructs us that in every offering there is an element of sacrifice, leading sometimes to an element of fear, wondering if there will be enough left for self. An agricultural principle gleaned in Proverbs 11:14-25 suggests that sowing bountifully or generously will yield exponential results, while sowing sparingly will cause diminished returns. Paul realizes that God is aware of our fears about sowing bountifully, encouraging us to give with a cheerful attitude. It is righteousness to sow bountifully from within the bounds of what we have, both spiritually and physically. It is righteousness to sow cheerfully, keeping the law within the spirit as well as the letter. The gift should neither be impulsive or compulsive, maintaining a godly balance. For our cheerful generosity, God promises to give back physical and spiritual gifts (the fruits of the spirit). Cheerful generosity promotes God's glory. Our giving of an offering is a test of our attitude toward service, hopefully mirroring God's generosity.
I would like you to turn to those very familiar scriptures there in Deuteronomy 16.
Deuteronomy 16:16-17 "Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you.
My approach toward an offering sermonette is that it is a time of instruction regarding some of the elements of a specific God-given responsibility. My purpose is not to ring every last penny from you but to show principles of what God expects of us if we are going to be in His image. These two verses are very clear that God requires an offering during holy day observances because that is what it means, "You shall not appear before the LORD your God empty-handed." With most of us on each holy day there is an element of sacrifice in our offering and that is as it should be. But with that sacrifice there is sometimes also an element of fear too—as Richard spoke about last Sabbath—the fear that now that I am giving an offering, am I going to have enough for myself? Let us see what God has to say about this by beginning in Proverbs 11.
Proverbs 11:24-25 "There is one who scatters, yet increases more: and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty. The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself."
This proverb is drawn from a simple truth that is observed from agriculture and that is that the farmer who sows few seeds reaps a small harvest, a farmer who sows a generous amount of seeds has a larger harvest. The harvest increases exponentially according to the number of seeds, not mathematically. However the proverb places that simple truth into a human family and community service circumstance in which a person uses his wealth, whatever level it might be to perform services to others.
Thus the proverb is showing that generosity of spirit in the use of wealth, for benevolent purposes also produces an abundant result in the community, the family, and in personal well-being. In fact the proverb focuses on personal well-being. It is a truth that if one limits himself to verses of this sort without seeking other scriptures, scriptures that deal with charitable acts, it can easily be construed that one should use charitable giving as a means of increasing personal wealth. Just like investing in the stock market. You put so much in, you get so much out, if you put a lot more in, you get a lot more out. It is really nothing more than a business transaction.
Well, with God it is an awful lot more than just a business transaction. So the approach here could, if a person wanted to interpret it that way, reduce benevolence to nothing more than a mathematical equation. One thing we can always do in order to get a correct balance on concepts is to look to the New Testament and to the New Covenant where God ratchets responsibility up to a spiritual level.
II Corinthians 9:5-15 "Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation. [Now that sets the stage for what follows. We are going to see very clearly that God ratchets our responsibility up from a business transaction to something that is cheerfully given.] But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. [You know it is like a forgone conclusion. This is going to happen.] So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. [Take notice of that, for every good work.] As it is written: "He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever." Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"
One thing this context addresses that almost all Old Testament contexts fail to address is that God is aware of our fears in sacrificial giving. That is the fear that if we do give to others we will not have enough for ourselves. In addition He addresses our attitude—the spirit in which the sacrifice is made—and thus God addresses what is righteousness in His sight, and at the same time He encourages us by letting us know what we can expect. Does God ever go back on a promise? There are several principles to learn from these scriptures. Let us go back to verse 6
II Corinthians 9:6 "But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."
What He is saying here is that it is righteousness to give generously within the bounds of what we do have because the more one sows the more one reaps. You would not sow more if you did not have it. God is expecting that we are going to draw from what we do have. So this verse actually shows us, by introducing the same concept we saw in the Old Testament there in Proverbs, that this generosity of spirit and cheerful giving applies both physically and spiritually.
II Corinthians 9:7 "So let each one give as he purposes [Let us not leave that out.], in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver."
We can add to this that it is righteousness to give cheerfully. A grudging giver meets the letter of the law and at that point we are just as righteous as the Pharisee. Not a very high level but there is some righteousness there. The cheerful giver has gotten the wisdom of God's image and keeps the law in its spirit as well as its letter. In other words: generosity adds the spirit that God wants an offering given and that is good.
We will add one more thing and that is that this verse shows that the gift given is neither impulsive (that is based on emotion) nor compulsive (it is not just a grudging obligation met) and this is what the verse then implies as right. There is a right balance between the two.
II Corinthians 9:8-9 "And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: 'He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.'"
These two verses are really wonderful. Because God loves the cheerful giver He responds with all grace. In other words: He does not limit His response to the people merely to money. He starts giving other gifts as well—all grace. And the implication is with both physical and spiritual blessings God will give back physical and spiritual blessings so that we will have even more to work with. What a promise! And we will have all sufficiency in all means given to us. Which is a further expansion the gifts He gives back are not limited to money. He wants us to be sufficient in giving of ourselves in a generous spirit to every aspect of Christian life. And so what happens comes up in verse 10.
II Corinthians 9:10 "Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness,"
So because the sacrifice is given in the right attitude God promises it will produce. It will increase our fruits of righteousness. Do you know what the fruits of righteousness are? That is the fruits of the Spirit. God is responding to generosity of spirit, to a cheerful attitude in giving by saying, "I'm going to make it even more possible for you to increase in love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, meekness, self-control, and on and on." He does not limit it to things that are physical.
II Corinthians 9:11-12 While you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God.
Paul is saying that because others are benefited they will recognize God's hand in it and glorify Him with thanksgiving. In other words: cheerful generosity promotes God's glory. Hey, that is what we are here for—to promote the glory of God.
II Corinthians 9:13-14 While, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you.
What he is saying there, very simply, is that our giving will result in more people praying for our welfare. We want to do well in this, do we not? There is an awful lot tied to keeping this simple command in Deuteronomy 16:16-17 in the spirit rather than merely the letter.
I want to read verse 13 again this time out of the Revised Standard Version because it puts an interesting twist on the verse:
II Corinthians 9:13 "Under the test of this service [Very interesting—our giving of an offering is a test.], you will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others"
I am going to close this by reading this entire series from the Moffatt. Listen carefully. He does a good job.
II Corinthians 9:5-15 "That is why I have thought it necessary to ask these brothers to go on in advance and get your promised contribution ready in good time. I want it to be forthcoming as a generous gift, not as money wrung out of you. Mark this: he who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and he who sows generously will reap a generous harvest. Everyone is to give what he has made up his mind to give; there is to be no grudging or compulsion about it, for God loves the giver who gives cheerfully. God is able to bless you with ample means, so that you may always have quite enough for any emergency of your own and ample besides for any kind act of service to others; as it is written, He who scatters his gifts to the poor, his charity lasts forever. He who furnishes the sower with seed and with bread to eat will supply seed for you and multiply it; he will increase the crop of your charities—you will be enriched on all hands, so that you can be generous on all occasions, and your generosity, of which I am the agent, will make men give thanks to God; for the service rendered by this fund does more than supply the wants of the saints, it overflows with many a cry of thanks to God. This service shows what you are and it makes men praise God for the way that you have come under the gospel of Christ which you confess, and for the generosity of your contributions to themselves and to all; they are drawn to you and pray for you, on account of the surpassing grace which God has shown to you. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!"
Now we are going to be taking up an offering and for offertory music I thought we would do something that is appropriate to the day—since this is the day that Israel really left Egypt on. They just left central Egypt on the first day but on the seventh day they went through the Red Sea and were out and on their own all together. So we are going to have the Ferrante and Teicher arrangement of the main theme from the movie, Exodus.