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Cheerful?

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 2, 2008

2 Corinthians 9:7b-9

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The Lord's Day Morning

November 2, 2008

Stewardship Commitment Sunday

II Corinthians 9:7b-9

“Cheerful?”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

Dr. Duncan: Lord, Thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another; before the mountains were brought forth or ever the earth and the world were made, Thou art God, from everlasting to everlasting, to everlasting. I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. I will sing of the lovingkindness of the Lord forever. Let us worship Him.

Dr. Thomas: Now let's look to God in prayer. Let us all pray.

Lord our God, we gather together for worship. It is Your day; this is the day the Lord has made, and we will rejoice and be glad in it. We desire a heart that beats like Yours, and we are grateful, O Lord, for the gift of one day in seven. We have missed being together since we last met together. We can testify this morning how often it is that as we've gathered together and read Your word and sung Your word and prayed Your word, and preached Your word, that we've known that blessing, that peace that passes all understanding. As we've already said this morning, Lord, there are some amongst us whose lives are just falling apart, but for whom this morning this hour of worship is a safe place, a place of refuge, a place of protection, a place of warmth, a place of reassurance. We thank You that You are the same God yesterday and today and forever.

Our hearts trembled as we read Your word this morning: Your anger towards Your people as You raised up Babylon, as You raised up the Medes and Persians, great empires of the past, with fierce military might, and You brought that power against Your own people — men and women, and even children. Your ways are not our ways. Your thoughts are not our thoughts, and we would delude ourselves this morning if we thought that we were any better than Your ancient people. We too have sinned; we too have fallen short of Your glory.

We thank You this morning for the gospel. We thank You for the cross. We thank You for the safe place: beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand. We thank You this morning that One has borne that wrath in our place. He took it to the full, the unmitigated reflex of Your holy character against sin; He cried, ‘My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?’ It was for us. We realize that now. He stood in our place, the just for the unjust, to bring us unto yourself. You made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be reckoned the righteousness of God in Him.

Father, we pray this morning for our country. We pray for this upcoming election in less than forty hours. We want to acknowledge this morning that You are sovereign. You sit upon a throne. You reign and rule. We read this morning You bring up kingdoms and You put them down again; You hold kings and princes in the palm of Your hand. We ask forgiveness, Lord, this morning, when we have spoken in apocalyptic terms of the consequences of an election going one way or another. Lord, have mercy upon us! It is a sign of our lack of faith, of our distrust in You, and moreover of having placed far too much importance to the things of this world. Forgive us, O Lord, that we give our hearts to earthly kingdoms. Earthly kingdoms will never save us. They will never redeem us from our sins.

We thank You for stable, just, and righteous government and rule. We bless You for those times in our history when we've known such. But, Lord, we pray this morning that You would have Your own way, that Your will might be done on earth, even as it is in heaven. Prepare us for whatever the outcome may be. We do pray for an environment in which we do not see the murder of infants and little children unborn on a daily, hourly, minute- by-minute basis — 4,000 every day in this country alone, let alone the rest of the world. It is a scourge upon our country and upon the world in which we live, and You would be altogether just to bring down Your unmitigated wrath. Father, spare us!

We ask, O Lord, for an administration in the White House — in the Senate, in the House — in which just government and just rule might prevail. O Lord our God, we commit it to You. We rest in You. We ask to be reminded this morning as our forefathers would so have reminded us that here we have no continuing city, but we seek one which is to come, whose builder and maker is God. If it is Your will to bring upon us a lean time, it will be for our good. If it is Your will to put us through a time of economic uncertainty, it will be for our good; and we say ‘Bring it on,’ because we would be conformed to the image of Your Son no matter what, and even if it hurts. And even if we lose all earthly goods, even if we lose everything that we have, we will still trust in You.

Forgive us, O Lord, when we have erred and strayed like lost sheep. Now bless us, we pray. Draw near to us. Give us a spirit of worship and praise. Fill us with songs of joy and gladness at the very sweetness of the name of Jesus. We ask it all in His name. Amen.

Dr. Duncan: Amen.

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to II Corinthians 9. For a number of weeks we've been working through the Fourth Book of the Psalms, but this is the Lord's Day which our elders and deacons have appointed for us to consider our privileges and obligations as Christian stewards. It gives us a yearly opportunity to refresh ourselves in the teaching of God's word as to our own responsibilities in the material support of the ministry of the church and to see how our giving is connected to our worship and to the gospel — because it is!

Giving and the worship of the one true God are inextricably connected. There are many reasons for this. One reason of course is because of what Jesus said to His disciples. Do you remember when He said to them once, “You cannot worship God and mammon”? It's a word that means stuff. You can't worship God and stuff. “No man can have two masters; he’ll hate the one and love the other.” You can't worship God and stuff, Jesus said.

Why did He say that? Because it is so tempting even for us who know that this world is passing away and is giving way to the fullness of God's plan, in which He will reign forever and ever with His people…it is so tempting for us to find our delight in stuff here and to put our trust in stuff here rather than in God. And in fact, the more you have, the greater that temptation. As C. H. Spurgeon himself said a hundred years or so ago, “There is no trial like affluence,” because the more you have the more you begin to depend on what you have, and the more you trust in what you have, and the more you delight in what you have; and what is not seen, but which is far more real, seems less real and less tangible and less precious.

And so in stewardship we have a crucible. We have a crossroads. We have a point of trial for the issue of what we value most. Do we value God most? Do we value the gospel most? Do we value His kingdom coming and His will being done most, or do we value our comfort most? Do we value our stuff most? And so stewardship is always a God issue and a gospel issue, and so I'm glad that at least on a yearly basis we have the opportunity to reflect about these things because it's about far more than just supporting the ministry of this congregation for the year to come. It's about far more than simply the importance of giving to the poor, as important as that is. The Lord himself in His word will describe the essence of religion as caring for those who are poor and orphaned, and keeping ourselves unstained from this world. But as important as that is, there's nothing more important than God and the gospel, and so the study of this passage today will give us an opportunity to consider that.

Now, the deacons’ Stewardship Committee has chosen II Corinthians 9 — not the whole of verse 7, but just the final phrase of verse 7, through II Corinthians 9:9 as our text which supplies the theme for stewardship, and I'm so thankful that they did, because this is an exceedingly rich passage.

I want to remind you of four things before we read the passage together. The first is simply this: though this little three-verse section (or not quite three-verse section that we're going to study) is indeed about stewardship, it's a part of two chapters on Christian giving that the Apostle Paul is in the midst of teaching the Corinthians about. So if you think that churches and pastors that pause to speak on stewardship are simply appealing to worldly things and sort of drumming up business for the life and welfare of the local church, no, actually we're following the example of the Apostle Paul in Scripture. He talks about money just like the Lord Jesus talked about money a lot. It's a spiritual issue, as we've just said. So this is part of two solid chapters on giving.

The specific type of giving that the Apostle Paul has especially in mind in these passages — not everywhere, but certainly in these passages — is a gift from one congregation to another congregation or group of congregations of Christians that are experiencing extraordinary trials. And he is gathering a collection from the churches in Asia Minor where he ministers to send back to the church in Jerusalem, because the church of Jerusalem is suffering great trial and persecution and poverty, and, as the gospel went out from Jerusalem to these churches in Asia Minor, now Paul wants to send back from those churches in Asia Minor to the church and churches in Jerusalem and Judea an offering to help them in time of need. And so Paul is talking to the Corinthians, and to you and me, about that mindset that moves a local body of believers to give away what they have themselves for the welfare and benefit of others, not only for ministry and the support of ministry, but for the relief of those poor Christians with whom they share the bond of faith in Jesus Christ. There's the first thing I want you to see.

Second, third, and fourth things that I want you to see, you’ll see in verses 7, 8, and 9 as we read them. The second thing I want you to see is that in this passage God tells us what He delights in. Third, He tells us (verse 8) what He supplies to those who are cheerful givers. And, fourth (verse 9), He tells us what He commends by way of cheerful giving. So be on the lookout for those four things as we hear God's word. Let's pray before we read it.

Our heavenly Father, this is Your word, so by Your Holy Spirit help us to receive it for what it is: not as the words of men, but as the very words of God. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear God's word, beginning in the last phrase of II Corinthians 9:7.

“…God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,
‘He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor;
His righteousness endures forever.’”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

I. Christian giving should be cheerful giving.

The Bible teaches that Christian giving ought to be cheerful giving. By that we mean that when a Christian gives for the support of the ministry of the church, when a Christian gives for the purpose of aiding and relieving the Christian poor, when the Christian gives God's tithe and his offerings and offers alms for those in need and for their relief, the Bible teaches that the Christian ought to have a peculiar delight in that…that it ought to be an activity that engenders an expresses joy from the heart…that there ought to be a certain pleasure about our giving. And you say to me, “Really? I'm supposed to like this? I'm supposed to delight in this? In these times when world economists are telling me that 2,800 trillion dollars of wealth has been lost globally over the last couple of years — evaporated in this global crash? When forty percent of my retirement is gone? I'm supposed to be cheerful about my giving?” Yes. Precisely. And Paul tells you how in this passage.

I want you to see three things that he says about how Christian giving is to be cheerful giving, and the first way is simply this: believers need to understand that when they are giving cheerfully, delightedly, joyfully to the support of the church's ministry and to the relief of the poor, that God delights in that.

Believers are the peculiar (the special) object of God's delight when they are cheerfully giving. Now that's a motivation, I think. There are not many things in life where I can tell you ‘Now, if you’ll do this, I can assure you that God will delight in your doing that.’ But I can tell you that when you are giving cheerfully to the support of the Lord's work and to the relief of those in need that God takes a special delight in that. And I can tell you that because of what Paul says in II Corinthians 9:7 — “God loves a cheerful giver.” There's the Apostle Paul giving you this encouragement that when you give with joy in the heart in this way that God takes delight in that. He smiles down upon that. He takes pleasure and enjoyment in your own cheerful giving. And Paul tells the Corinthians this by way of encouraging because he knows that it always requires sacrifice to reach into our pockets and take out what would have been spent — sometimes very carefully and thriftily — on things that we need, and give it to others. And so he gives this word of motivation that believers would know that God takes delight in our cheerful giving.

And then he goes on to say in verse 8 something else quite extraordinary: that not only does God delight in those who give cheerfully, but that He supplies those who give cheerfully. Look at what he says in II Corinthians 9:8:

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

Now, there's a lot in that little verse and I won't do it justice right now, but let me say that there's a parallel to this verse in II Corinthians 9:6, just prior to the passage that we're reading. It's the passage that says that he who sows sparingly will reap sparingly. And what the Lord is saying is He will supply us with the sufficiency that we need in order to abound in every good work of service. In other words, Paul is saying that God will favor you in such a way as to enable you to be abounding in His good work. Unlike our “health and wealth” friends want to say (give money and God will make you rich), Paul's message is when you are a cheerful giver and you are about the work of the Lord and supporting the work of the Lord, God himself will supply you so that you can abound in doing the work of the Lord.

Now for some of us, that may mean that He’ll give us enough money so that we can give our twenty dollars. And for some of us that may mean that He’ll give us enough money so that we can give our $200,000 to the work of the Lord. But the point is this: God will supply us in all things at all times with a sufficiency that allows us to abound in the work of the Lord.

The Corinthian Christians weren't rich by your standards. They may have been rich by comparison to the Philippians…and you know what? The Philippians, though they had less than the Corinthians, gave more sacrificially than the Corinthians. And so I can say this, that in their sacrificial giving God gave to those Philippians a greater sufficiency to abound in the doing of the work of the Lord. Does that mean that the Philippians became more rich in dollars (or whatever their currency was) than the Corinthians? No. But they became rich in grace. And here the Apostle Paul is saying that God supplies those who give cheerfully.

And then in verse 9, he says that God commends those who give cheerfully. Look at what he says:

“As it is written,
‘He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor;
His righteousness endures forever.’”

Now when you first read that, you might be tempted to think that that's a Scripture passage about God…that God has distributed freely and given to the poor, and that His righteousness will endure forever. Or you may be tempted to think it's a passage about Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ has distributed freely and given to the poor, and that His righteousness will endure forever. And of course both those things are true, but if you look closely you’ll find out that this isn't just any Scripture passage; it's a quotation from an Old Testament passage. It's a quotation from one of the Psalms. Specifically it's a quotation of Psalm 112. Turn with me there. And when you turn to Psalm 112, you find out that this is not in reference to God or to Jesus, it's in reference to a person who fears God. Psalm 112 is one of those Psalms that describes for us the kind of person who fears God. It tells us what that person is like, and it tells us that that person is blessed. And in Psalm 112 we read:

“Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
Who greatly delights in His commandments.”

So there's the first thing that's asserted: that a person who fears the Lord is blessed by the Lord.

And then it says some extraordinary things that are incredibly timely for us — those of us living in the midst of a huge economic downturn that has massive ramifications, especially for many of us who are already retired or who are on the verge of retirement, or who are in the financial services industry, or whose jobs may be imperiled because of whatever is going to happen in the months and years ahead because of our economic situation. And these words are incredibly timely in light of those of us who fear what's going to happen on Tuesday in the Executive branch, and in the Legislative branch, and in state and local government, and what will be the ripple effect in the judiciary. These words are incredibly timely, and they’re incredibly timely in light of the Scripture passage that we read this morning from Isaiah 13 and in light of the prayer that Derek prayed. Listen. Listen to what it says in verse 4. Here's the description of the godly man:

“Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
He is gracious, merciful, and righteous.”

Do you see what the psalmist is saying? For the upright man, for the godly man, for the person who fears God, even in pitch darkness light dawns for him and for her. The world can be falling down around your ears, and God will be there.

Then listen to what it says in verse 7:

“He is not afraid of bad news;
His heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.”

How timely is that? The righteous man does not fear bad news. It's on this Psalm that James Ward based that famous contemporary paraphrase. You know how it goes?

“He won't fear no bad news; steady as she goes.
He won't fear no bad news; he’ll triumph o’er his foes.
He won't fear no bad news: the future will be bright,
Because even in darkness, light dawns for the gracious and upright.”1

It's right out of Psalm 112.

So everyone else is knocking at the knees because of the bad news around them, but not the man who fears God…not the godly man. No. He does not fear bad news because he doesn't trust in stuff. He doesn't worship stuff. He trusts in God and uses stuff. He worships God and uses stuff. Unlike the world that uses the Lord but loves the world, he loves the Lord and uses the world. And so he doesn't fear bad news.

And do you know what he does while everybody else is gripped with bad news? Look at verse 9:

“He distributes freely; he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever….”

That's what Paul's quoting in II Corinthians 9:9. He's saying, ‘Corinthians, let me tell you about the man that the Lord himself commends. Everyone else is fearing bad news. Everyone else is looking out for Number One, and you know what he's doing? He's giving generously. He's caring for the poor. He's a cheerful giver. He's the poster child for the cheerful giver.’ And how timely is that for us!

You know, we Western Christians don't get many opportunities to face adversity and to give sacrificially, but we've got one now, and our response ought not to be to roll up the carpets of our generosity and tuck them in tight, look out for Number One and protect ourselves. No, now is our opportunity to show that we love God more than we love stuff; that we care about God's kingdom more than we care about this world; that this world is not our home, that we're looking for a city with foundations whose architect and maker is God; that we're looking for the age to come; that we're here as an outpost of glory, that our priorities are elsewhere. This is our opportunity.

There was a sportscaster last night that stuck the microphone in front of the mouth of that Texas Tech quarterback who had just led that last second victory over Texas…I mean literally they won in the last second of the game. And the sportscaster said to the quarterback, “Were you nervous when you went out onto the field with a minute and 29 seconds, trailing by a touchdown?” [Now first of all, just quickly — Stupid Question! I don't know where they teach sportscasters to ask questions like that. Stupid question.] But listen to what he said. He said, “Quarterbacks live for that situation.” Well, let me just put a little Christian spin on that. Bad news all around us, fears in the economy, fears in the election. Christians ought to live for a time like this to say, “God's more important. God's ruling. I'm trusting in God. I worship God. I'm about God's mission, and let me show you in how I give and how I support ministry, and how I care for the poor.”

II. Are you a cheerful giver?

Now let me ask you this question. How do you know that you’re that kind of a giver? How do you know that you’re the person who fears God like Psalm 112, like Paul quotes in II Corinthians 9?

Very briefly, the first way that you know that you’re a cheerful giver is that in your giving you give to God. Your giving isn't first and foremost about giving to a charity or giving to the church, it's about giving to God. You know one of the things that is the same in all of the sacrifices in the Old Testament, half of the truth of all the sacrifices in the Old Testament is simply this: that when those sacrifices are given, the offerer of those sacrifices is saying what to God? ‘Lord, what I'm about to give You came from You. I wouldn't even have it if You hadn't given it to me. So here it is. It's Yours.’ Half of the truth of every sacrifice in the Old Testament is that truth. It's’ the offerer just coming back to God and saying, ‘Lord, You gave me everything that I have. Here's a little bit of it back to You. I'm giving it to You.’

The cheerful giver knows that in the end he's not giving to a cause, he's not giving for some specific agenda; he's giving to God. “It's for You, Lord.” If you’re giving to the Lord, you’re a cheerful giver.

You know you’re a cheerful giver when you approach giving as worship. When you give to the Lord, it is an act in which you say, “Lord, You’re more important to me than stuff.” What is worship about? Worship is about value. Worship is about priorities. Worship is about what you really care about. And so when you take your own resources and you give them to the Lord, it's saying, “Lord, You’re more important to me than these resources are. You’re more important to me than this money is. You’re more important to me than the things that I could buy with this. You’re more important to me than the security that I could have by keeping these things. You are more valuable than these things. You are more important to me than stuff.” And it's a delight; it's freeing to be able to give to God that way. It means you’re not in bondage to stuff.

You know you’re a cheerful giver when you realize the privilege of giving for the support of ministry and for the care of the needy. Paul makes it clear throughout his letters (and not only in these letters in general but in the Corinthian letters — I Corinthians and

II Corinthians) that the people of God are to give for the support of ministry. In this passage, though, Paul is especially talking about giving for the relief of needy Christians.

Now what's so amazing about this is, this is one congregation taking its resources and giving it to another congregation (or congregations) of Christians in need. It's an act of relief for Christians who are facing a unique situation and need: persecution and poverty. And more than that, it's primarily Gentile Christians in Asia Minor being asked to give to primarily Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem and Judea. And those primarily Jewish Christians have been a little bit suspicious about the Apostle Paul's ministry amongst the primarily Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, and very frankly they hadn't been super-supportive of Paul's ministry. And yet Paul is very anxious that those Gentile Christians (of whom there is some suspicion back in Jerusalem) give to the church back in Jerusalem to help them in their time of need. It's really an extraordinary thing.

I'm asked fairly regularly here, “Why does First Pres give so much of its money away? We’d never run a deficit, we wouldn't have a debt right now if we didn't give our money away. Why does First Pres give so much money away?”

Well, let me just say there are a lot of answers to that, but one fundamental reason that First Pres gives so much of the money that you give to this congregation as a body of believers…why do we give it…a million dollars a year to benevolences, and a million dollars a year to missions and to all sorts of other things in which we directly give away the monies of the church…why do we do it? Because we're trying to copy exactly what we see in II Corinthians 8 and 9.

Aren't we supposed to do that individually, though? Yes, of course we're to do that individually, but collectively we are together just like Paul was urging the Corinthians doing, giving away what the Lord has given to us to be a blessing to others in the support of ministry and the relief of those in need.

People say, “Well, where are your orphanages?” Well, been to French Camp and Palmer Home recently? This church has been supporting those institutions for years. “Where are you taking care of the poor?” Take a look down your Benevolence Budget when you get home. Why is the church giving away that money? Because we take seriously what God says in His word about caring for the poor and about the support of ministry.

And, my friends, the Apostle Paul is saying when you realize the privilege of giving to those in need and to the support of ministry, you’ll be a cheerful giver. So when you delight in that kind of giving, you’re a cheerful giver.

But ultimately, when we give because we want to copy Jesus, we want to emulate Jesus, we want to act like Jesus, it's the ultimate sign that we're cheerful givers. You see, Paul, in this very same passage…if you look back at chapter 8, verse 9 of II Corinthians…Paul says that “though He was rich, yet He became poor for our sakes, that through His poverty we might become rich.” In other words, that in the gospel Jesus did not hold on to the rights and the privileges and the riches that were His prerogative, but He set them aside, and He came into our world in our flesh in relative poverty and obscurity that we might become rich through Him. And in our giving it ought to be our aim to be just a little picture of the gospel, where we take what the Lord has given to us and we become a little bit poorer in order that others might be made rich. It's just a little tiny picture of the gospel. It's not wealth redistribution, it's gospel redistribution. You take a little out of your pockets, you become a little poorer, so that what? So that others might find the inestimable riches of Christ, might become your brothers and sisters, might join in His praise, might enjoy His magnificent beneficence. And that's what we do when we give.

My friends, that's why being a cheerful giver is a God issue. It's a gospel issue. It shows how much the gospel has taken hold of our hearts. May God make us all cheerful givers. Let's pray.

Our heavenly Father, we thank You for Your word, and we ask that by Your Holy Spirit You would work joy and sacrificial generosity in our hearts, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Would you take your hymnals and turn with me to No. 434, and let's sing the first stanza of Lord, Thou Lovest the Cheerful Giver.

[Congregation sings.]

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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1. James Ward, "No Bad News," Faith Takes a Vision, 1982, James Ward Music. (Note: As of December 1, 2008, many of his albums should be available on iTunes.) jwardinfo@comcast.net

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