The Cheerful Giver

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on November 6, 2005

2 Corinthians 9:6-7

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The Lord’s Day

November 6, 2005

II Corinthians 9:6-7

“The Cheerful Giver”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

Amen. Please be seated.

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
II Corinthians, chapter nine, verses six and seven. These are the verses, this
is the passage, that the Deacons’ Stewardship Committee has chosen as our
emphasis during stewardship season this year.

It is always a great privilege for me to address
this theme of stewardship, especially because this congregation is so faithful
in its giving. One of my besetting sins (and this is not bragging, this is
confessing)…one of my besetting sins is that I often worry about the finances
of the church — wrongly so. And when I do, very often some of the older, wiser
elders come to me and put their arms around my shoulders and say, “Now, Ligon,
don’t worry about the giving of this church. These people are generous and they
give. You just tell them what the needs are, and they’ll give.” And they’ve
always been right. The people of God have always been generous here at First
Pres, and so stewardship season is not a fund raising time at First Pres, it’s a
time where we look at the heart.

And the thing that I’m concerned about as we
approach this passage today, and I think the thing that the Stewardship
Committee is concerned about, is that our motivation for giving be directed by
the Scriptures. That is, that we have a biblical understanding of why we give.

Last time we were together we studied an outline of
the Bible’s teaching about Christian giving. We looked at nine particular truths
which are taught in the Scriptures about Christian giving. Today I want to
concentrate on our motivation in Christian giving. Why is it that we give, and
how is it that we ought to give? The Apostle Paul in this passage speaks of us
as “cheerful” or “givers who delight” in giving, and I want us to think about
that today. Very often in our messages we focus on explaining the meaning of the
passage and then sort of at the very end we get around to the matter of
application, but today’s explanation is fairly short and sweet, and though you
have six points before you in the outline, those six points are not so much six
points of explanation as they are of application.

I want us to look at the one main thing that Paul is
pressing home to us in this passage, and then I want us to look at these six
points of application of that truth together. Now before we read God’s word and
hear it proclaimed, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His help.

Lord, this is Your word. It is a lamp to our
feet and a light to our path. In Your word You reveal Yourself to us, You
reveal Your Son to us, You reveal Your gospel to us. You show us our sin and
ourselves, our emptiness and our need, and You point us to the Savior. And
having pointed us to the Savior, You also show us what the way of blessedness
is: how to live the blessed life in this fallen world. Lord, as we study Your
word today, show us these things, and by Your Spirit help us to understand. This
we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the word of God.

”Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly;
and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. Let each one do just
as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God
loves a cheerful giver.”

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

The Apostle Paul says something quite extraordinary
here: that God loves a cheerful giver. He’s quoting from a Greek translation of
one of the Hebrew Psalms that goes something like this: “God blesses the
cheerful giver.” But what Paul is emphasizing is that God delights in those who
delight to give to Him, and it’s really quite an amazing assertion — that God
the Lord, our Creator, takes a special pleasure, has a special joy in, receives
great delight in our delighting in giving to Him. And the Apostle Paul is of
course encouraging the Corinthians to have this attitude as they give to the
relief of poor Christians back in Palestine who are in need. He wants them to do
this because they have purposed to do this in their hearts. He wants them to do
this not because they feel compelled by Him to do it — “Oh, we’ve got to do this
because Paul asked us to do this…” — he doesn’t want them to do this
grudgingly — “Well, Lord, I’m going to have to give of my hard-earned money to
help those ne’er-do-wells in Jerusalem who never can seem to meet their
budget.” He wants them to do this cheerfully, with merry hearts delighting that
they have the opportunity to give. That’s what Paul is saying to the
Corinthians, and that’s what he’s saying to you and me.

He wants givers who give, not because they think
that if they don’t give the work of the kingdom of God is going to stop. Let’s
set aside that misconception at the outset. God doesn’t need our money. If God
wanted to convert the Islamic world by Himself, He could snap His fingers or say
a word and do it. If He wanted to convert the Hindu world, He could snap His
fingers or say a word and do it. The reason that we give is not because God
“needs” what we give to Him. He owns the cattle on the thousand hills! One of
the things that we’re going to learn before we’re done today is simply this,
that if we don’t give, it’s not God’s kingdom that falls apart. It’s not God
that misses the blessing. We miss the blessing when we don’t give, because God
is going to do His work with us or without us. The only question is do we get
the privilege of being a part of it.

So Paul’s concern is not ‘If I don’t get the
Corinthians to give, the Christian church just isn’t going to go on. The
Christian mission isn’t going to go on.’ No, Paul’s concern is that those
Corinthian Christians give rightly, that they give for the right reasons, that
they give for the right attitude, and so he’s emphasizing to them that they need
to give joyfully and energetically and merrily, cheerfully, to the Lord. Well,
you may say, ‘OK, I get that point. I want to be a cheerful giver, but I’m
not. How do I get there? How do I become a cheerful giver? How does one
become a cheerful giver? How does giving become a delight?’

I. Giving is a delight when we
realize we are giving to God.

Well, I want to suggest to you six things
that are part and parcel of becoming a giver that delights in giving, and the
very first thing is to realize that in giving, we are giving to God. Giving is
a delight when we realize that we’re giving to God. Jesus emphasized this in
the passage that we studied last week in Matthew 6:1-4. He said, ‘When you’re
giving to the poor, don’t give so that you’ll be noticed and recognized and
praised by men. Give so that you’ll be seen by your Father who is in heaven, who
sees in secret what you’re doing.’ In other words, we’re consciously giving to
the Lord. Paul emphasizes this in the whole of the Christian life. In Ephesians
6:5-7 and in Romans 14:8, the Apostle Paul says that everything that we do in
the Christian life we ought to do self-consciously, as if we were doing it to
the Lord, as if we’re doing it directly for the Lord.

There’s a beautiful example of this in Jesus’ own
ministry. Do you remember in Matthew 26 (it’s also recorded in Luke 7) Jesus
has just gotten to Bethany. He’s getting ready to go into Jerusalem for the last
hours of His life, and a woman who is a notorious sinner comes and she pours
expensive perfume on His feet. And one of the disciples says ‘What a waste! We
could sell that perfume for a lot of money and give it to the poor!’ And you
remember what Jesus says. Jesus says ‘The poor are always going to be with you,
but I am not going to always be with you, and this was a gift poured out on me.’
(They didn’t realize it, but there is a real sense in which this woman was
anointing Jesus for the death that He was going to die on behalf of all His
people.) And then Jesus says ‘I want to tell you that wherever the gospel goes
throughout the world, what this woman does is going to go with it. This woman’s
expensive gift to Me is going to be remembered wherever the gospel goes.’

And do you realize that when you give that you’re
laving the feet of Christ like that woman laved the feet of Christ with the most
expensive thing that she could give to Him? Because He is worth it! And when we
realize that our gift is to Christ, not just to some budget, not just some
project, however worthy it may be, however well spent it might be, but
ultimately when we give as Christians we are giving to Christ, the One who had
everything and gave it for us, that we might share everything with Him. We’re
giving to Him. When we realize that, giving becomes a delight. We’re giving to
the Savior of our souls; we’re giving to the Lord of our lives. We’re not simply
giving to the church, we’re giving to God. Then giving becomes a delight.

II. Giving is a delight when we
view it as worship.

But there’s a second thing I want you to see
as well, and that is that giving becomes a delight when we view it as worship.
Giving is a delight when we view it as worship. Remember the Apostle Paul (we
studied this last week, as well, in I Corinthians 16:2) tells the Corinthians
‘OK, when we’re getting ready to give this offering to Christians in need, set
it aside on the first day.’ Why does he say that? Because he wants them to view
their giving as part of what they do on the first day. Well, what do they do on
the first day? They gather to worship! It’s the Lord’s Day, it’s Sunday, and
that’s what they do. Christians gather on the Lord’s Day to worship God, and so
he says ‘You set that aside on the Lord’s Day.’ You could have set it aside on
Thursday, couldn’t you? Or on Monday, or on Wednesday. But no, ‘You set it
aside on the first day, because I want you to understand that your gift for
those Christians ultimately is an act of worship to God.’ Of course, the Apostle
Paul had said six chapters before in I Corinthians 10:31 that in everything that
we do in life, whether we’re eating or drinking, or whatever else we’re doing,
we ought to do all of it — what? — for the glory of God. So, everything that a
Christian does ultimately ought to be an act of worship, but Paul sees in I
Corinthians 16 that even our giving is a part of that worship that we offer to
the Lord.

You know, it’s quite an extraordinary thing. When
Christians give, one of the things that they’re saying is ‘Lord, You are more
important to me than anything else in this world, and You’re more important even
than the things that You give to me.’ And every Christian saved by grace can
look around himself or herself and see men and women who are worshipping
. They find their security in money, in houses, in clothing, in cars,
in status…they find their delight and satisfaction in their own ambitions and
recreations and pursuits, and when it gets all down to it, when you follow the
trail of their time and their energy, the focus of their minds, they’re
worshipping stuff.

Jesus talks about it in Mathew 5 and 6. He talks
about people who serve mammon, or things or stuff, rather than God, and He says
you can’t serve, you can’t worship, stuff and God. Well, when we give, we are
actually saying ‘Lord God, by Your grace You saved me from worshiping stuff that
is going to pass away, and You caused me to love You, and You’re going to last
forever, and our relationship is going to last forever, and Your relationship
with a multitude that no man can number is going to last forever, and I could
have been out there worshiping stuff just like everybody else, but by Your mercy
You saved me.’ And so in your giving you are actually saying ‘Lord, I understand
that You own everything, and everything I have comes from you. And my giving
back to You is but a token that You have set me free from the worship of
something that is going to burn up one day, something that is going to pass
away, and something which, by the way, doesn’t even give satisfaction in this
life, no matter whether it’s advertised to do so or not. You have saved me from
that.’ And our giving as an act of worship is a celebration that God has set us
free from slavery to stuff. Boy, is that big for us! Because even those of us
redeemed by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, living in our time and
place and culture, know how the world worms its way into our hearts, and
oftentimes makes us find our satisfaction in places we ought not to find our
satisfaction, and makes us set our hearts on places that we ought not set our
hearts, and makes us tempted to find our treasure in something other than the
Lord Himself.

And giving as an act of worship also functions as a
“thank You” to the Lord that He has saved us from that entangling mess of the
world, and a testimony that He has liberated us to love the only thing that
matters and the only thing that will last. And so when we realize that worship,
that giving is an act of worship, it becomes a delight because it’s a testimony
in and of itself that we’ve been saved from slavery to things that will not

III. Giving is a delight when we
realize the privilege of giving.

But there’s a third thing, and you see it in Luke
8:1-3. I’d ask you to turn there, or if you want to look at the outline I think
I have those verses copied for you there. Giving is a delight when we realize
the privilege of giving. Giving will become a delight when you realize what a
privilege it is to give.

Once a month I have the blessing and privilege of
preaching at St. Catherine’s Village to a gathering of some of our members and
some others that come along. Brister is usually there to lead that service, and
I’m working through the Gospel of Luke very slowly with that very longsuffering
group of brothers and sisters in Christ. And I was in Luke 8:1-3 this past
Thursday afternoon, and the final verse — or final part of verse 3 — hit me like
a ton of bricks. And it especially hit me like a ton of bricks after I read J.C.
Ryle’s wonderful comments on it. Look at those words in Luke 8:3.

Luke is telling us about Jesus in verse 1. “Going
throughout the villages and cities of Galilee, preaching and teaching the gospel
of the kingdom of God…” and then he tells us that the twelve, the twelve
disciples, were with Him, and then he tells us that there are women who are with
Him. He even lists a few of them who are with Him there, and then he tells us
this very interesting thing: (Verse 3) “They were contributing to their support
[that is, the support of Jesus and His disciples] out of their private means.”

Isn’t that stunning? That Jesus’ ministry, Jesus and
His disciples’ ministry, their public ministry, was supported through the
private means of these women. That is colossal! Do you realize that these women
at the last day will be able to stand with the greatest philanthropists in the
history of this world? You know, there will be some who go, ‘What did you do?’
‘Well, I gave money and established a great university.’ ‘Well, what did you
do?’ ‘Well, I gave money and established a great art series.’ ‘Well, what did
you do?’ ‘I gave money and built a great civic auditorium.’ ‘What did you do?’
‘I gave money and built a great sports complex.’ ‘What did you do?’ ‘Well, we
supported the ministry of Jesus.’

I don’t know what it was they gave or how much it
was, or how much of their substance it was, but I know this: that their gift is
going to hold up against any gift ever given. But do you realize that we have
that same privilege? To be able to give to support the work of Jesus’ ministry,
because Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew 25:40 that “…as you have done it to
the least of these My brothers [and He’s speaking of His disciples], you’ve done
it to Me.” Do you realize the privilege that we have in supporting the work of
the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ? It is colossal!

Again, God could have saved this world without our
involvement whatsoever! He could have saved us out of darkness into His
marvelous light, and just announced that He had saved everybody. But in His
mercy He says to us ‘You know what I’m going to let you do? I’m not only going
to save you from damnation, I’m not only going to cause you to enjoy the
inheritance of My Son, but I am going to give you the privilege of being a
partner with Me to spread the good news of [My] Son around the world.’ Do you
realize what a privilege that is, so that in the Last Day we have something to
cast down at the feet of the throne of the living God, along with the Lord Jesus
Christ? He could have saved us and we could have had no part in that ministry,
but He has given us the privilege of participating in that! Do you realize how
glorious that is?

Just like these women who gave of their own
substance to support the earthly ministry of Jesus, how many times did that
investment repay? What a privilege it was! It won’t be forgotten either, just
like that woman who laved His feet with perfume. We have the privilege of
participating in that same work of the kingdom, and let me tell you, the
privileges are manifold!

You don’t get to hear it as often as I do, because
I’m out there representing you a lot in different places, and people pass
compliments to me that really aren’t mine. They belong to you. I was in a
meeting of the Gateway Rescue Mission here at First Presbyterian Church just
about a month ago, and a few of you were there but most of you weren’t, and most
of you didn’t hear this. The Director of the Gateway Rescue Mission came to me
before the program even started, and he said, “Ligon, I want to thank you
because First Presbyterian Church has been for a long time the biggest supporter
of Gateway Rescue Mission.” Well, first of all, I didn’t know that. I was at
the meeting to speak on their behalf, and I had no idea. But the second thing I
said to him is “I shouldn’t get the credit for that. First Presbyterian Church
has been giving to Gateway Rescue Mission a long time before I came to First
Presbyterian Church.” It’s you that’s giving that money, and you’ll be giving
to Gateway Rescue Mission long after I’m gone. But I get to hear that all the
time: people saying ‘thank you for your support of this ministry’.

I got to look at thirty or forty men who were in the
room that night who were the beneficiaries of your generosity. What a privilege
to be able to help those struggling with joblessness and homelessness, and
alcoholism and drug recovery. They’re not only being ministered to tangibly, but
are having the gospel presented to them. What a privilege to be able to…you
know, we could be on the receiving end of that! We could be the beneficiaries
of some other Christian who’s helping us; what a privilege that we get to be the
one giving that rather than to be on the receiving end of it.

And we could see the same thing for missions. Don’t
assume, my friends, that Americans will always be the great senders of
missionaries. That’s just a privilege we have for right now. Already our Korean
friends are sending out as many missionaries as we are sending. There will be a
day when there will be more missionaries coming to the United States than we’re
sending out. We may already be there, I’m not sure. Paul Long could tell you!
There will certainly be a day when those Christians in the Third World and the
global south where Christianity is burgeoning, there’ll be a day when they’re
the ones sending the missionaries. What a privilege that we have the opportunity
now to give to missions and to participate in blessing others who have never
heard the gospel and encouraging the spread of Christ’s kingdom.

What a privilege it is to give to orphanages and
children’s homes. After the morning service, the president of French Camp came
up and said First Presbyterian Church is the biggest giver to French Camp. Well,
that’s the privilege that you have, friends, to show that kind of generosity.
Don’t take that for granted. You know the Lord could take that away from us
tomorrow. You know there were folks two months ago on the Coast of Mississippi
who didn’t dream that they were going to have nothing when they woke up
on Tuesday morning — no job, no house, no church. It could happen to us. But
right now, He’s given us the privilege of giving. What a glorious thing!

IV. Giving is a delight when we
realize that in giving we are acting like Jesus.

Fourthly, giving is a delight when we realize that
in giving we are acting like Jesus. One of the things that we long for in the
Christian life is to be more like Jesus. We love the Lord Jesus Christ, we see
His grace at work in our lives, we see areas where we’re growing — but, boy, do
we see those areas where we fall short and we’re not like Jesus! We’re
painfully aware of those areas, but when we give, we get to follow His example.
We get to emulate the Lord Jesus Christ. We get to act like Jesus. If we ask
the question, “What would Jesus do?” one of the things that we can certainly say
is that He would give, because He gave the greatest gift that’s ever been given:

And Paul reminds us of that. We saw that last week
in II Corinthians 8:9:

“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for
your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

When you give, you get to act like Jesus. Don’t take that
for granted. Don’t underestimate the blessing of that, being able to be like
the Savior…sacrificial giving, especially, because He who had everything gave
everything, that we who had nothing might share everything with Him.

There’s a story that I ran across five or six years
ago. I’ve never used it in public because I haven’t been able to verify it. I
don’t know whether it’s true or not. I’m still trying to hunt it down. It’s
almost too good to be true, that’s why I’m suspicious of it.

It’s a story of a family, a mother whose husband had
died, and her two children, who live in Appalachia. And their pastor announces
one autumn that they’re going to take a harvest offering to help a poor family
in the church. And this woman and her children work and work and work and do
extra chores and things to save money so that they can give to this offering at
the church. When the day comes to give the offering at the church, they’re able
to give $20, which is about a third of what they live on every year. (This
apparently happens back in the 1920’s or so.) And a day or so later they see
the pastor come driving up to their house, and he comes out and he says, “I’ve
got a gift for you from the church.” And the mom and the children…their hearts
just sink, because they didn’t think of themselves as the ones who needed to be
given a gift from the church. They didn’t think of themselves as poor. They
joyed at the thought of being able to sacrifice — I think something like a total
of $40 was given by the church to them, twenty of which they had given
themselves! (You see what I mean – it’s just too good to be true! I’ve got to
track this one down, one way or the other.)

But the point is beautiful. They looked in their
poverty at giving as a privilege, as a way that they could emulate Jesus Christ
and give out of their poverty to follow the example of Jesus. And friends, when
you give like that, when you realize that in giving you’re acting like Jesus,
giving is a delight.

V. Giving is a delight when we
realize that God rewards for doing our duty.

But fifthly, giving is a delight when we realize
that God rewards us for doing our duty. Giving is a part of the Christian
life. It’s not an optional part. Jesus says “when you give” not “if you
give.” But here’s the glorious thing. Jesus and Paul both emphasize that God
is going to reward those who are faithful in giving. Jesus said it in Matthew
6:1-4, that your Father who sees in secret will reward your giving. God says
‘You should do this, and I’m going to reward you when you do what you’re
supposed to. He doesn’t have to do that, but He does it, just like parents who
give children an allowance for doing chores that they ought to do anyway around
the house. You know that, by the way, children. When your moms and dads give you
money for cleaning up your room or helping with the dishes or doing chores
around the house, they don’t owe that to you. You ought to be doing that
anyway. When they give you money for that, you know what they’re doing? They
are being a living picture of the generosity of your heavenly Father to give you
things that you don’t deserve, because you ought to do those things. But they
give you things sometimes even though you don’t deserve them, and that’s what
the Lord Jesus Christ says — there’s not a cup of cold water that you’re going
to give in My name that I’m going to forget. I’m going to reward you when you
are faithful. He who sows bountifully will reap bountifully. What you invest in
His kingdom will be rewarded. It’s a glorious truth.

VI. Giving is a delight when we
realize that God doesn’t want our money unless we delight in giving it.

There’s one more thing I want you to see, and it’s
this, and you see it especially in

II Corinthians 9:7: Giving is a delight when we realize
that God doesn’t want our money unless we delight in giving it. I didn’t
say that wrong. God doesn’t want our money unless we delight in giving it.
Listen to what Paul says: “Each of you must do as he has purposed in his
heart….” He wants your whole heart engaged in giving your gift, “not
grudgingly or under compulsion.” In other words, Paul is saying don’t give to
the Lord unless you’re going to give cheerfully. Don’t give to the Lord if you
feel coerced and constrained, and you grudgingly are going to have to give this
gift to the Lord that’s such a burden to have to give. Paul is saying the Lord
doesn’t want your money unless you delight in giving it.

Do you remember the story of Gideon? It’s recorded
in Judges 6 and 7, and one of the stories of Gideon’s life is when he has to
rally the army of the people of God, of Israel, to fight against an enemy
invading. And you remember when Gideon starts he has 32,000 soldiers. And you
remember the first thing the Lord tells him to do? He says ‘OK, Gideon, tell
everybody that doesn’t want to be here to go home.’ And a third of them go
home. Eventually He whittles them down till there are 300 of them left, and
they take on the enemies of God and they win.

Now there are a couple of points in that at the very
least. One is that the Lord can deliver Israel without any help at all, because
if He can win that battle with 300, He can win it with nobody! So it’s the Lord
that protected Israel. It’s the Lord that blessed them. It’s the Lord that
gave the victory. Now let me tell you what, if you had been living then, men,
you would have hated it the rest of your life if you hadn’t been one of those
300 — to be able to say, ‘Yep, I was there. I was one of the 300. I was there
when the Lord delivered.’ And isn’t it interesting that the Lord didn’t want
anybody there that didn’t want to be there?

It’s the same thing in giving. You remember, when
God commands Israel to build the tabernacle, He says ‘Now, here’s what you’re
going to do, Moses. You’re going to tell the people that if they want to give,
fine. But don’t give unless you want to.’ And then Moses sends the people home!
It’s the worst fund raising campaign I’ve ever seen! ‘Please, don’t give unless
you really want to. Now go home!’ And what happens? The people give so much
that Moses has to stand up and give the announcement, ‘Please stop giving. We’ve
got too much!’ It’s the worst fund raiser of all time, but the people
want to give! What’s the principle? God wants givers that want to give, and
giving is a delight when you want to give.

You see, God can build His kingdom without us or
not. The kingdom doesn’t hang in the balance in our support of ministry here at
First Pres year, because God will raise up those who will support Him and do so
happily. The only question is will we get the privilege of being a part of that
here at First Pres, or will somebody else get that privilege?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss out
on that privilege, and so may God make all our hearts cheerful as we give.

Let’s pray.

Lord God, thank You for Your word; and we pray
that by Your Spirit You would make us more and more to be cheerful givers. We
ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[Congregational Hymn: Lord, Thou Lov’st the
Cheerful Giver

Please be seated. We now have the opportunity to make our
commitments for the support of ministry in the year to come. We will receive our
tithes and offerings at this time, and at this time we’ll also make our pledges,
our commitments, for the support of the work and worship of the church for the
year 2006.

If you’re visiting with us today, we do not ask that
you give anything. We believe that we ought to support the ministry of this
church through the membership of this church, and so our guests are welcome to
sit there and watch as the members of this church freely give so that we will be
a blessing to you.

Let’s now give to the Lord His tithe, our offerings,
and our pledges, our commitments for the year’s ministries to come.

[The Anthem: The King of Love My Shepherd Is]

Please rise for the benediction.

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

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