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Three-Dimensional Giving

Note: This lesson is an optional study provided as a small group emphasis on stewardship.
Thank you for participating in this emphasis, and may God bless your preparation.

Scripture in Focus
8
I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the
earnestness of others. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was
rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
10
And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first
not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11Now finish the work, so that your eager
willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12For if
the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what
he does not have. (2 Corinthians 8:8-12, NIV)

Introduction
“Taking up the offering” is an age-old, but tragically misunderstood aspect of corporate worship.
Perhaps it is because of the proliferation of financial impropriety through the years by misguided
ministers or irresponsible churches. Perhaps it is because of incorrect perceptions of church
visitors or of the unwilling, unmotivated, uninspired hearts of church attendees. Whatever the
barriers that exist between understanding the purpose for giving and the provision for ministry,
those obstacles that begin as financial ultimately result in spiritual roadblocks.

In church life, “giving” is not relegated to financial offerings, although this aspect tends to be the
one most under scrutiny. Most churches, though, would agree that there are four expressions of
giving to and through the church. Those expressions are:
• Your Time: The amount of your life devoted to Kingdom purposes in service to the
Lord to and for others.
• Your Talent: The allotment of the skills, gifts, talents, and abilities given to you by
God that you turn back and use for His purposes to bring Him glory and renown.
• Your Treasures: The first portion of your wages, gifts, and even possessions given to
God as an offering to fund and facilitate ministry and aid those in need.
• The Truth: The devotion you give in sharing the truth of the Gospel with others so that
they may come to experience the saving knowledge of God through faith in Jesus, who
is the Christ.

These four expressions are biblical, essential outpourings of your giving. However, God also
offers in 2 Corinthians 8:8-12 a three-dimension rationale to encourage these expressions.

Biblical Background
The apostle Paul’s relationship with the church in Corinth could be described as “rocky.” His
initial year-and-a-half stay from Spring AD 50 to fall 51 is detailed in Acts 18, as is his departure
and subsequent replacement by Apollos. As Paul ministered in Ephesus for the three years
beginning in AD 52, he wrote instructive letters to the Corinthian church. 1 Corinthians 5:9
suggests his first letter was lost which would make 1 Corinthians his second letter, written in
response to reports by Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11) and the ministry team of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and
Achaicus (1 Cor. 16:17) of additional problems.

Paul visited for a second time in 54, a “painful visit” that was impinged by an immoral man who
was likely spreading doubts through the fellowship of Paul’s authority as a church leader (2 Cor.
2:1,5-11; 7:12). Paul returned to Ephesus, where he apparently wrote a scathing letter (2:7:8),
carried by Titus.

After a reunion with Titus in Macedonia in 55, Paul learned that the Corinthian church was
improving. From Macedonia, Paul wrote the letter now regarded as 2 Corinthians, most likely in
fall 55. Paul made a third visit to Corinth that winter (see Acts 20:3, in relation to 2 Corinthians
12:14).

2 Corinthians devotes a large portion to the defense of Paul’s apostolic authority, since it was
apparently in question. However, in chapter 8, the tone and attention shifts, having settled the
matter of Paul’s authority to provide leadership and direction to this struggling church. In chapter
8, Paul resumes instruction based on the authority he has re-established, and encourages the
church in Corinth to give to the poor in Jerusalem. In the first seven verses, he illustrates the
example of the Macedonians (particularly the Philippians).

Paul exhorts the Corinthian church to give, regardless of the tension that may have existed
between them, because the need was great. He encouraged the church with a three-dimensional
appeal. That encouragement still speaks to the church today, for the need is great and the
opportunities are present.

Note: Some scholars argue that “the painful letter” mentioned in 2 Corinthians is either 1
Corinthians or is text mentioned in 2 Corinthians 10-13. These are compelling arguments,
although internal evidence for both theories are problematic and suggest otherwise.

Dimension 1: Giving is a Test of Your Love For Others


I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the
earnestness of others. (2 Cor. 8:8)

Paul has moved beyond the arguments of his own authority, firmly establishing it biblically and
experientially. In fact, Paul makes the extraordinary step to remove himself “from the equation”
by declaring in verse 8 that he does not command them to give to the poor in Jerusalem, as
though he were an overlord or governor. Rather, he appeals to the Corinthian church to give,
challenging them to measure their love for others by their giving to those in need, as compared to
the earnest example demonstrated by the Philippian church.

Note that Paul is not challenging the Corinthian church to compare their giving to the quantity of
the Philippians’ offering. Rather, he is exhorting them to compare their giving to the quality of it.
In basing the comparison in this context, Paul rightly argues that the Corinthians’ offering is a
measure of their selfless love for others, rather than a measure of self-focused pride or
accomplishment.
Application: People can give their gifts for any number of reasons. They can feel obligated to
give, that if they don’t they are not “doing their job.” They can feel guilty, that if they don’t they
may fall out of favor with God. They can feel manipulated, that their giving is an emotional
response to a message or song. They can feel that their giving affords them more sway or
influence in the decisions of the church.

However, Paul determines and declares that an essential dimension of your giving is not
motivated by any of these factors, but rather is a test – or measure – of your love for others. This
means that when you give to and through the church, it is with the awareness that your gift
impacts others and meets needs for Christ’s purposes. Just as the Corinthians are encouraged to
set aside any past issues they have had with Paul, the church today is encouraged to set aside any
personnel challenges, any differences in opinion over policy or procedures. The congregation is
exhorted to give because it tests the sincerity of its love for others.

Illustration: Southern Baptists gave over $17 million in response to the 2004 tsunami in the
Indian Ocean. They gave over $13 million to 2005 hurricane relief. In 2010, Southern Baptists
responded to flash floods with disaster relief in New England, Tennessee, Texas, and Kentucky.
They provided relief to tsunami victims in American Samoa, and their response to the
devastating Haiti earthquake included (as of 08/05/2010, according to www.namb.net):

Professions of Faith 1,910


Gospel Presentations 14,808
Volunteer Days 22,171
Meals Prepared 159,151
Mudout Jobs 1,076
Chainsaw Jobs 128
Repair Jobs 230
Roofing Jobs 5
Children Cared For 474
Water Purified (gallons) 4,308
Showers 2,407
Laundry (loads) 1,350
Messages 15
Buckets of Hope Collected approximately 155,000

Discussion Questions:
1. What are ongoing needs existing in your community that are met through your church?
2. What have you heard said about your church (within the community) because of its
involvement in community ministry?
3. Who are partners in community ministry, and how are they strengthened by your
church’s support?
4. What other Scriptural support can you give for giving as an expression of love?
Dimension 2 Giving is a Testimony of God’s Love for You
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he
became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Paul reminds us that any expression of love for others through giving is held in the context of
God’s love for us shown through the sacrificial giving of Jesus. At the throne of eternity amidst
the wealth of heaven, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords determined to die for you. The Son
of God willfully became the Son of Man. The Lion of Judah became the sacrificial lamb.

You were the beneficiary of this selfless love. You, who rightfully stood to inherit nothing –
except judgment, condemnation and eternal separation from God – now instead are promised to
receive grace, commendation, and eternal fellowship with your Creator. You were worse than a
pauper and lower than a peasant. Yet, because of God’s great love, you are now more than a
conqueror and are eternally secure in being named a child of the living God.

Application: Whenever you give – whatever the expression – you testify to the motive behind
doing so. And while the Bible encourages that your be giving done secretly, so that no person
could boast, you openly testify before the Holy Spirit. God has no need for a gift that is given
reluctantly, and is under no obligation to honor a gift that is given with the wrong attitude.

In this regard, giving becomes an expression of worship that edifies, strengthens, and blesses the
giver. You have the opportunity to declare your love for God by your giving through the church.
You have the chance to demonstrate your worship by sacrificially giving to Kingdom purposes.
Just as a mirror reflects your appearance, your giving has the potential to declare to God your
appreciation of His sacrifice, and your adoration of Him as your Lord.

Illustration: The Bible speaks in various places of gifts given in worship to a king or lord.
Abraham gives an offering to Melchizedek. Solomon received offerings from people around the
world. Most famously (and appropriately), Magi from the East brought the infant Jesus offerings
of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts reflected an acknowledgement of the recipient’s
lordship and authority, but were also understood to be an appeal for that Lord’s favor.

We give today understanding that we have already received the fullest expression of the Lord’s
favor. We gladly sacrifice our “first and best” fruits for Kingdom purposes, so that others will
know and receive the Love of God. Your offering is an expression of gratitude to God for what
He has done for you and what He gives to you in the atoning sacrifice and glorious resurrection
of Jesus.

Discussion Questions:
1. Think about the gifts you received this Christmas. Share what you would say those gifts
showed you about how the gift-giver feels about you. Now, consider what your gifts to
and through the church say about your feelings for God.
2. Share some of the blessings you have received from God this past year. How does your
giving reflect a testimony of God’s goodness?
3. What are additional ways you can give in the year ahead to demonstrate God’s love for
you?
Dimension 3: Giving is the Action Fulfilling Your Intent
And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not
only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager
willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the
willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he
does not have (2 Corinthians 8:10-12)

Paul reminds the Corinthians that they have a history of excelling in giving, and also a history of
desiring to excel in giving. From there, he simply encourages them to continue their history, just
as the needs continue to be revealed. He exhorts them to match their “want to” with “will do.”
The apostle also mentions an important principle with the phrase “according to your means.” In
this, he illustrates the awareness that God expects believers to give sacrificially, not “suicidally.”
Paul understood that the church in Corinth had its own needs, expenses, and ministries. Its giving
to the Jerusalem poor should not bankrupt its own ministries.

Application: God does not expect you to overextend yourself in your giving, even though he
does expect you to give your “first fruits.” The church does not desire for you to bankrupt your
family to meet its budget. However, every church needs to match their “will do” with their “want
to.” Few congregations acknowledge the overwhelming, unending need that surrounds them.
Too few churches, though, put their funds where their feelings are, in terms of expending their
resources to address those needs.

There is a subtle, but deeply profound theological truth in this verse. If every believer gave
“according to their means,” to fulfill all the God-given desires to meet the needs and demands of
ministry, there would be no gap between good intentions and actual ministry. To fail in giving
according to our means results in accepting the disparity and approving of the incompletion of
ministry.

The Bible expresses this sacrificial offering as “the tithe,” or the first ten percent of what you
receive. However, this is intended to be the beginning of your giving, rather than the full extent
of it. For many people, income and resources are ample enough to exceed that basic expectation.
In these situations, believers are encouraged to give additional offerings reflective of the
abundance of what they have received. These additional offerings will always be directed to an
expression of love and ministry through the church.

Illustration: Your church has an annual budget. As your church grows, so does its budget. The
money your church collects each week goes toward the budget, which is much more than just
paying the staff for leading the church and for covering the expenses of the church building. It is
also used to provide for new resources to meet emerging needs and suddenly-appearing
opportunities. It is used here in your immediate community, across your state, over North
America, and around the globe. It funds missions, missionaries, ministries, ministers, and
benevolence. As you excel in your giving, God will entrust even more opportunities to our
church. He will always reward your increasing “will do” with more “want to.”
Discussion Questions:
1. What ministries are you passionate about? How could you see that ministry expanding or
“doing more” if it had more resources?
2. What needs are going unmet in your community? How can your church allocate
resources to those needs? What steps can you take to develop ministry for these needs?
3. Pastor and Author Rick Warren practices “reverse tithing,” where he lives on 10 percent
of his income and returns 90 percent to Kingdom causes. What would you direct money
toward, if money were no object?

The 3-D Reality: Giving is the Redistribution of Your Blessings


Everything that you have is a gift from the Lord. Everything.
• Your life
• Your health
• Your spouse, your children, your family.
• Your possessions
• Your wealth
• Your skills, talents, gifts, and abilities
• Your intellect
• Your charisma, wit, charm, and influence
• Your salvation and your sanctification
• Your good works
• Your purpose

Your gifts from these resources shows your love for others, testifies of His love for you, and puts
“feet to your faith” to fulfill your good intentions. As you give, you are blessed, others are
blessed, and God is blessed. Giving in “3-D” is nothing less than living in the spiritual reality
where God saves, Christ reigns, and the Spirit moves.

Concluding Prayer
As you close, give God detailed thanks for all he has given you. Ask God to reveal to you where
your giving excels, and thank Him for that, too. Ask His Holy Spirit to reveal where your giving
does not properly reflect His love for you or your love for others. Ask God to give you the
courage to give sacrificially, to tithe faithfully, and to offer yourself fully and wholly to God.
Commit to honor God with your resources, and thank Him in advance for the blessing of giving.