“. . .by the will of God.”

Posted in II Corinthians

II CORINTHIANS 8:5c
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

II Cor. 8:5c “. . .by the will of God.”

Two thousand years later, these Macedonians continue to be an inspiration and example for us. They gave themselves to the Lord, to trustworthy leaders, and to God’s dear people. Our text now tells us what motivated their generosity.
The Macedonians were spurred on “by the will of God.” They believed they were pleasing Him. Christians want to please God, and often our hardest challenge in discerning His will about giving is to ascertain, “How much is enough?”
This is a reasonable question which deserves from any preacher a straightforward answer. Let me approach the question with three observations and a parable.
The first observation: preaching is a high, holy calling, and a pastor must never vulgarize or cheapen it. I realize the significance of this hour in our church’s life. We all know the importance of not stumbling in our current fundraiser.
In past fundraisers, though asked to do so, I have refused to preach several sermons on giving. The purpose of preaching is to change lives, not to promote a particular program. A sermon is not a commercial, but a sacred trust. I will someday stand before Jesus and ask, “What did You think of my sermons? How did I do?” This thought always looms large in my mind when I am preparing a sermon.
Several years ago, one of the most powerful pulpiteers in this country left his pastorate to become the leader of a wonderful, well known Christian institution. Ever since he made this move, each time I have heard him preach he has been unable to get a full head of steam up in his sermon. He feels compelled to detour often to promote his institution. Thus, the message ends up sounding like a commercial. I don’t think less of him because of this. I would probably do the same thing if in a similar circumstance. I just note this as an observation about his preaching.
For our current fundraiser, I consented to preach four sermons on giving. I also determined, if I am going to preach about money, I will preach not primarily about the program, important as it is, but rather to change lives, to help people, to seek to say things that will benefit them for a lifetime. Let me be clear on this. I don’t want to be dishonest or hypocritical. I do want you to give to this fundraiser. At the same time I want you to know my heart’s deepest and strongest desire. Being more a pastor than a fundraiser, my first concern is your lifelong well-being.
The second observation: preaching must never be self-serving. Pastors’ salaries are paid out of what people place in the offering plate. Thus, before preaching on money, a pastor must stay in a closet in prayer until emptied of selfish motives.
Pastors are stereotyped. We have the terrible reputation of loving the offering more than any other part of a worship service. I’m glad archaeological evidence has conclusively proven the handwriting on the wall, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” (DN 5:25) is not ancient Hebrew for “Money, money tickles the parson.”

My favorite recent story on this subject involves two men stranded on a desert island. One is grieving, “We’re going to die.” The other man is calm, “I make a million dollars a week and I tithe.” The first one moans, “You’ve lost your mind. Money won’t help us here.” The second one coolly answers, “Don’t worry. I make a million dollars a week and I tithe.” The first one argues, “What in the world does that have to do with our situation?” The second confidently replies, “I make a million dollars a week and I tithe. I promise you, my pastor will find me.”
Pastors certainly have a vested interest in the financial success of the churches they serve. Thus, it is incumbent upon us to make sure we preach on giving in order to raise money for God and His cause, of which our salary is but a small part.
I pray my motives are pure at this point. My job is secure. I’m confident my salary will be paid, whether or not I preach on giving. I think my heart is right, and trust these sermons have addressed a cause higher than my own advancement.
The third observation: preaching must be Bible-based. Personal opinions are expressed in preaching. Applications and observations have to be made to the best of a preacher’s understanding. However, the authoritative part of preaching is that which comes obviously and directly from the Bible. This being the case, as best I can tell, one Bible verse is critical in determining God’s will with regard to the amount we should give. The answer to the question “How much is enough?” hinges on our interpretation and understanding of Matthew 23:23. Our Master said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
People often say tithing, giving one-tenth of our income to God, was required in the Old Testament only, and is not taught in the New Testament. When I hear this I have to bite my lip to keep from blurting out, “What about Matthew 23:23?”
The “Old Testament only” argument applies to ceremony and ritual. The New Testament book, Hebrews, plainly teaches we no longer need priests or sacrifices.
The “Old Testament only” argument applies to worship on Saturday. Several New Testament texts tell us the early believers had begun worshiping on Sunday.
The “Old Testament only” argument applies to killing people for sex crimes. The way Jesus handled the case of the woman taken in adultery settled this debate.

However, when we try to apply the “Old Testament only” argument to tithing, we choke on Matthew 23:23, one of the most helpful verses in the whole Bible on giving. This text teaches us tithing is not the answer to the world’s problems. It is not the most important part of Christian living. The scribes and Pharisees tithed, but were ungodly. Tithers crucified our Lord. Some of the meanest people I have ever known were tithers. One danger for those of us who tithe is to begin to see it as a huge deal, as the most important aspect of our spiritual lives. It becomes the benchmark, the standard by which we measure our spirituality. It is interesting to note that people who say a tithe is the minimum we should give often treat it also as the maximum. Of course, they would never say this, but do practice it. For many believers, a tithe is all they plan to contribute. Giving thus becomes the only area in their Christian life with a lid on it. We know we are to continue increasing and growing in every other area of Christian living, but in giving we stagnate.
Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees to focus on more important matters, but was also careful to clearly state they should not leave the duty of tithing undone. We might be tempted to say we should not build a whole doctrine out of a casual remark Jesus made in passing. Be careful, dear friend, do not put your hand on the holy. Every word proceeding from Jesus’ mouth is precious. He should not have to state anything twice or thrice for us to heed Him. Once ought to be sufficient.
Had He casually said, “I love flowers,” every church building in Christendom would be filled with flowers. Had He mentioned off the cuff, “I love trees,” every church building would sit in the middle of an orchard. The same respect should be paid to His one remark about the duty of tithing. It should not be left undone.
For me, even if Matthew 23:23 did not exist, it would be hard to believe God would expect less of His people after Jesus died for them than He did before. It seems logical that “more” should be the operative word in our current thinking.
Now hear a parable. On the sixth day of creation, angels were discussing how God would divide His resources among these new creatures known as human beings. Since everything belongs to God, the question under consideration was, how much will He let people use on themselves, and how much will He want returned to Him for His own causes. One angel said, “God is kind. He will want people to keep at least one-third for themselves.” A second angel replied, “The Lord is generous. I think He will want them to keep at least half.” Michael, who works close with God, chimed in, “You don’t understand how much the Father loves these new creatures. I think He will want them to keep at least two-thirds for themselves.” “No way!” the other angels cried, “That’s unreasonable.” At this very moment, Jesus Himself walked by. The angels asked, “Lord, settle this debate. How much do you want people to keep for themselves? We’re deadlocked. One says one-third, one says one-half, Michael says two-thirds. Who is right?” “No one,” said the Lord, “You are all wrong. I want them to keep ninety percent for themselves.” As He walked away, the angels sat in stunned silence. After a few steps, the Lord Jesus turned toward the angels, and with a tear in His eyes, sadly said, “Most of my children will begrudge me the ten percent.” With that, the angels began to cry.
Ruth and I were raised in homes where tithing was taught. We have tithed on every dime we have made as a married couple. Actually, we have given more than ten percent, and during this fundraiser, as in past ones, I guess we will be moving in the direction of approaching twenty percent. I have often thought of this as being impressive. This parable puts it in a new light for me. It’s hard to brag when I see eighty percent kept for myself. “How much is enough?” Probably more than we have ever given before, and maybe more than we ever dreamed of giving. God bless you as you imitate the Macedonians and seek to be led “by the will of God.”

“. . .and unto us. . .”

Posted in II Corinthians

II CORINTHIANS 8:5b
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

II Cor. 8:5b “. . .and unto us. . .”

Poor Macedonians gave generously to even poorer believers in Jerusalem, but only after giving themselves to the Lord. They decided all they had belonged to Jesus. Once this decision is made, it is easier to give to God than to spend on self.
The Macedonians also gave themselves “unto us,” to Paul and others who could help get the job done. They knew they could not accomplish God’s required mission on their own. The Lord’s kingdom enterprise is vast. It is egotism at its worst to be a Lone Ranger in God’s work. Realizing this, the Macedonians, with a deep sense of humility, joined hands with others to accomplish the task at hand.
Determined to discharge God’s work effectively, the Macedonians committed themselves to trustworthy leaders of the work. They loved Paul, and wed their lives to his ministry. They sent Sopater, Secundus, and Aristarchus to help Paul on his third missionary journey (AC 20:4). Aristarchus accompanied Paul on his dangerous voyage to Rome (AC 27:2). Paul was a prisoner in chains, but Aristarchus was not ashamed. He was on a mission, to help the beloved Apostle in his time of need. When Paul was wasting away in a Roman dungeon, the Macedonians of Philippi sent a love offering by the hand of Epaphroditus, who risked his life and almost died on this mission of mercy. Deeply touched, Paul called him “my brother and fellow-worker and fellow-soldier” (PH 2:25 NAS). Epaphroditus carried home the New Testament’s most joyous book, the letter to the Philippians.
The Macedonians trusted Paul enough to follow his lead. They felt he was in line with God’s will. Paul understood his leadership role. He did not view it as absolute. He told the Corinthians, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 C 11:1). Paul was to be followed solely to the extent he followed Jesus.
It is not a leader’s place to determine what direction God’s people should go. God makes that call. A leader’s job is to help people effectively move in the direction God has determined. I see myself as a flag-man waving traffic on a highway God has already prepared. Jesus is the Leader, capital L; I am a leader, little l.
Our church motto is deeper in holiness, farther in outreach, wider in ministry, stronger in bonding. None of these ideas is an original notion. Each is from the Lord, clearly set forth in Holy Writ. Any time a leader sets his own agenda, do not follow. But if a leader is following the Lord, then follow without reservation.
The Macedonians felt safe in giving themselves to Paul because he had given himself to them. He brought the message of salvation to them, and then went from being their evangelist to being their teacher and companion. He held nothing back. There has maybe never been a more transparent and open minister than Paul the Apostle. He bared his soul to his dear people in his life, letters, and sermons.

To me, this giving of one’s very self to a congregation is the essence of pastoral ministry. To take a public office in a church is to become in a way public property. Ministers do have to be willing to live in a fish bowl, visible to all, and judged by all. Dad taught me by his example to live in such a way that there is no need to try to hide things. He taught me my duty, to live in such a way that I could without fear of embarrassing Christ or His Church exercise the necessary virtue of openness. Be consistent. What you are in public, be in private also. Keep everything up front, on the table, be honest and transparent. I have tried to convey the same message to my household. Thus, my relationship with my family is such that if I were inconsistent at home for a nanosecond, they would call me on the carpet.
For even further accountability, my physician is a member of our church, as is my banker, my accountant, my lawyer. As best we know how, Ruth and I have given ourselves to God and to you. We try to walk close to God, determined to be holy, and we desire to love you with nothing held back. To the best of my knowledge, the same is true of your dear staff. To the person, they are godly, holy, loving people. What you see on the platform is what they are behind the scenes. They do not come here to be holy; they carry the holy with them. They do not in private tell dirty jokes or make light of you, dear people. They do not slouch off in their labors in your behalf. Each works extremely hard. If anything, I have to ride herd on them to make sure they don’t work too much. You can give yourselves to them. You can trust them. This praise is necessary, for when it comes to giving, trust in leadership matters. It was important to the Macedonians, and is to you.
The Macedonians gave themselves first to the Lord and to His leaders, with the result being a closer bond with other believers. They understood that being connected with Jesus and His shepherds entailed also being connected with His people, the flock of God. Shame on us North American Christians for being the first believers in history to try to define ourselves apart from the organized church.
We who grew up in the sixties and seventies often bought into our culture’s decision to cast off institutions. Unfortunately, we conveyed this sad legacy of cynicism to our children. When rebelling against the establishment, we wrongly threw the Church into the mix, as if it were just another organization among many.
Every Christian deeply owes the Church. Every believer can trace their spiritual ancestry to a church member. A member of the church preaches to us, a member of it teaches our children. She is the chief means of extending God’s kingdom.
Next time someone bad-mouths the Church, ask when they last went to a Kansas City homeless shelter, to Nepal, to China, or anywhere else on mission. Ask what risk they’re taking to get the Jesus Film into repressive countries. Be slow to stand outside the Church and harshly criticize her. Workers in the scorching sun find it hard to heed someone under a shade tree offering advice on how to swing a sickle better. The active tend to be skeptical of advice offered by the inactive.

We who belong to the Church know she is not perfect. I have given a third of a century in preaching and ministry to try to help bolster her. If I ever find a perfect church, I will not join it, for if I did, it would immediately become imperfect.
The Church cannot be perfect because none of her members is perfect. People are not angels. Forgetting this fact has caused preachers to leave the ministry, teachers to forsake their classes, members to give up faithful attendance. We need to get a grip. Folks are just folks, they have sin natures, they mess up, they sin.
Everyone knows the Church in North America is struggling with her own sinfulness. Our brand of Christianity has produced a generation of believers who too often define the faith in terms of what it can do for them. Many serve God selfishly, solely for what He can do for them or their family. They choose a church in light of what it can do for them, not for what they can do for it. Our pews contain many whose understanding of Christianity is self-oriented. As a result, some are saying, if you want to find the love of Jesus, the last place to look is a church. I feel this is too harsh, but if perception is as important as reality, we have to admit Christians are facing a long, hard row to hoe in convincing the world we love it.
The Church is imperfect, but still Christ’s bride, and the only New Testament sanctioned expression of the Universal Church is a local church. Friend, find a church to join. Seek out one whose leaders are going where God is leading, and join it. If it is okay for one believer not to join the church, it is okay for everybody not to join, and the result of that would be the crippling of God’s work on earth.
It is time for all believers to cooperate with one another in the work. United we stand, divided we fall. Right now we need to stand shoulder to shoulder, pushing in the same direction. I’m reminded of a man who tried to get his couch out the front door. When the couch lodged and would not budge, he enlisted a neighbor’s help. They got on each end of the couch and pushed until totally exhausted. Finally, the homeowner said, “I’m never going to get this couch out of here.” His neighbor replied with dismay, “Out?” They had been pushing against each other.
Be not ashamed of us, your imperfect brothers and sisters in Christ. Hear Charles Spurgeon’s story. When he became a believer, he was determined to join a church immediately, but had to undergo an interview with the pastor. “I called upon the minister four successive days. . . .Each day there was some obstacle in the way of an interview; and as I could not see him at all, I wrote and told him that I would go down to the church-meeting, and propose myself as a member. He looked upon me as a strange character, but I meant what I said; for I felt I could not be happy without fellowship with the people of God. I wanted to be wherever they were; and if anybody ridiculed them, I wished to be ridiculed with them; and if people had an ugly name for them, I wanted to be called by that ugly name.”
It is time for Christians to come out of the closet. Everybody else is. We need to declare which side we are on. These are the times that try men’s soul. A war is raging for the soul of our nation. If we don’t join now, when the battle is engaged, when will we join? Identify yourself with God’s people. The Macedonians did.