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Overflowing Generosity

2 Corinthians 8:7-9


7 Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.

8 I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.

9 For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.


Today we launch into our fall stewardship emphasis, and in the next few weeks, through testimonies in Sunday school and in the worship services, you are going to be hearing some things about Christian stewardship. I hope that you will be listening attentively to what God may have to say to you about this important area of our life. If you have been around here a while you know that in our church we practice what we call “faith financing.” That is to say that we plan a budget that we feel is adequate to carry on the work that needs to be carried on throughout this next year, and then we just trust God and trust you to meet the needs. There are no pledge cards or public commitment days; it is a matter of faith in God and faith in you that the needs will be supplied. Up until this point God has never failed us. I have every reason to believe that he’ll probably take care of us this year also.

But the people of God need to be taught and they need to be reminded of what the Bible has to say about Christian stewardship. And so that is what I am going to be doing in this sermon and again in about three weeks from now. I am going to preach another sermon dealing with the subject of Christian stewardship. I want you to know that the purpose of this sermon is not self-serving. This is to say I am not trying to get something for me or something for us as though this church could not go on without your gifts. What I am interested in is that you grow in your Christian life. 

There is no verse in the Bible that makes this need to grow more evident than the one that was read a few minutes ago. In 2 Corinthians 8:7, Paul says, “Therefore, as you abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that you abound in this grace also.” 

He had been talking about the churches in Macedonia who are going through a time of great financial difficulty. They were experiencing a money pinch. And yet in spite of those financial difficulties they were giving generously to the work of God. In fact he said they gave beyond their means, beyond what they really were able to give. And he said, “We didn’t have to ask them to give. They asked us to give. And as they gave their money they also gave themselves unto the Lord. Now,” he said because of the example of those churches in Macedonia that gave of themselves so liberally, “in the light of that, as you abound in faith, and in utterance, and in your love toward us, see to it that you abound in this grace also.”

There are two or three little things that I want to call your attention to before I depart from it. The first is that Paul referred to giving as a grace. Abound in this grace also. He did not look upon giving as a grim duty. Rather he spoke of it as a grace and the word grace means “a virtue that flows from God.” Generosity is a virtue that flows from God through us. He puts it in the same league with a lot of other important virtues. For example, he says, “As you abound in faith” (the ability to trust God), “as you abound in utterance” (the ability to speak for God), “as you abound in knowledge” (the ability to understand the word and the will of God), “as you abound in diligence” (your enthusiasm and your zeal for God), and as you “abound in love for us.”

“Now, I want you to abound in this grace also.” He was saying that a generous heart is in the same league with faith, with the speaking of the word of God, with understanding the scriptures, with working for God, and with loving other people. It is as much a part of Christian character as any of these other things. So as you abound in them, you abound in this grace also. Giving is a grace; it is a virtue that flows from God.

The second thing that I want you to see in this verse is that he says, “See that you abound in this grace.” That is to say, it is your responsibility to let generosity flow through you. It is your responsibility to grow in your faith. It is your responsibility to grow in your ability to communicate the Gospel. It is your responsibility to grow in your knowledge and understanding of the scriptures. It is your responsibility to grow in Christian service. It is your responsibility to grow in love. In the same way, see to it that you abound in the grace of giving—that you grow a generous heart also.

The third thing I want you to see is that he says, “See that you abound in this grace.” And that word abound is one of Paul’s favorite words. It literally means “to overflow.” It describes a river that has flooded. It has gotten out of its banks and the water has now spread over and has flooded the whole countryside and is touching everything in its reach. He is saying that giving in your life is not to be narrowed down to some tiny little trickle or to some teensy little stream. He said, “I want you to see to it that giving in your life just floods and overflows into everything and into every person that you see.” He is talking about something that is marvelous and magnificent that ought to be taking place in our life. He is saying that we ought to have an overflowing generosity as the people of God. We ought to give not because we have to, not because somebody is pressing us to, and not because somebody is making us feel guilty if we don’t. We ought to give out of a generous heart because God is in us and he sparks within us that desire to give into his kingdom and to the needs of other people. Now, what I want to do in our time together is to go back into the New Testament and to single out five examples of overflowing generosity. We’ll look at five different people (or groups of people) to whom the scriptures point as examples of what I am talking about.

1. The generosity of a widow—a person on a fixed income.

The first is found in Mark 12:41. Jesus went to the Temple one day, and while he was there he beheld the people as they cast their money into the collection boxes. That means that Jesus observed the way people gave. That’s not surprising because Jesus is interested in every part of our life. And Jesus knows that our giving is a barometer of our spiritual lives in a very special and unique way. It is a thermometer of spiritual temperature. He is always interested in and observing and beholding how we give. Jesus knows that where a man’s treasure is, there will his heart be also. Jesus knows that no man can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other, or cling to one and despise the other. You can’t serve God and serve money at the same time. You simply cannot live with a divided heart. And so he is always observant of how we give. 

Jesus noticed as he was in the Temple that day that a poor widow came by and dropped in two mites. Now that is about the smallest amount of money that a person could give. To us, we would say she gave two cents, and you can’t give much less than that. When Jesus saw that, he called his disciples over and he said to them, “I want you to look at that lady and what she did. She has given more than all the rest.” The disciples had seen some rich people come by who had dropped in a great deal of money in the collection box. But this lady dropped in only two cents and Jesus made the amazing statement that she had given more than all the rest. 

There is a truth there for us, and it’s that the main factor in spiritual bookkeeping is not the amount of money you give, but the proportion of the money that you give. It is not the total amount of dollars and cents—it is the amount of sacrifice that a person makes. There is no real generosity unless you give something that you could use yourself. Jesus pointed out that this woman had given her all—that she had given even her living. She had given the last cent that she had, and in all probability she would do without supper that night because she wouldn’t have enough money to buy bread and to buy meat. She chose rather to give that money to the kingdom of God, even if it meant going without food. 

This widow stands out as an example to us of the overflowing kind of generosity that the apostle Paul was talking about. I believe that she represents that vast number of people in our congregation who live on a fixed income. These are people who have a limited amount to give—people who are retired, widows who are living on a pension, college students who have an allowance that’s just barely enough to get by. And yet in spite of their limited amount to give, they still want to give. They still want to do something. I think in all probability that if I had been there that day and been watching that scene, I would have said to that lady, “Lady, you ought not to be giving to the church. The church ought to be giving to you.” But Jesus did not do that. And the reason was that Jesus did not want to prevent that woman from stretching her soul through practicing stewardship. He realized that he would be cheating her of a blessing and a great opportunity for spiritual growth if he had denied her the privilege of giving. 

Some time ago I read a story by Robert Lee Sharpe. He told that early in his life, he and his father took a broken hoe and a broken rake down to the blacksmith shop one day to fix them. A few days later they went back to old Mr. Trussell’s blacksmith shop and the hoe and the rake were fixed as good as new. The father asked old Mr. Trussell, “How much do I owe you?” And the man said, “Oh, the job was so small there is no charge for that at all.” But the boy’s father would not accept that answer. He reached down in his pocket and pulled out a bright new shiny silver dollar—and that’s when a bright new shiny silver dollar was worth a bright new shiny silver dollar. He tried to pay the blacksmith, and the man refused by saying, “Can’t you let a man do something just to stretch his soul?”

There are a lot of God’s people today whose spiritual lives resemble a shriveled-up prune. They have never stretched their soul at all by giving. They’ve been dropping pennies, dimes, quarters, and dollars into the collection plate that they could very well do without, and they never have really made a sacrifice. They’ve never gone without anything in order to support the kingdom of God or to meet the needs of other people. And because of that they have failed to experience that overflowing generosity that Paul was talking about, and they have missed the great blessing in life.

Jesus told about a woman who was a great example of the kind of giving that we ought to practice. 

2. The generosity of the businessman—a person of wealth.

There is a second example in the scriptures found in Luke chapter 19. It is the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector. Zacchaeus is exactly opposite of this poor widow lady. He is a hard-nosed businessman who has been so successful that he has become rich as a tax collector. Tax collectors were usually unscrupulous and consequently wealthy men. Rome had a tax structure, but it was unpublished. No one knew what it was. It was the tax collector’s responsibility to collect so much money for Rome. Any money he collected beyond that, he could keep for himself. Simply put, the more he could milk out of the people, the more he had for himself. Zacchaeus was the chief of the tax collectors.

One day, Jesus went through the city of Jericho and word spread that Jesus was coming. He was a famous figure of that day and time. Zacchaeus wanted to see him. Zacchaeus was short in stature and unable to see over the gathered crowd to see Jesus. So he did what is very typical—he climbed up in a tree in order to get a better view. Don’t be surprised at Zacchaeus doing that. There is nothing special about it. 

This past week I was in Houston for our convention, and I discovered that on Wednesday that Ronald Reagan was going to speak in town at just about high noon. He was going to be speaking in a park that was just a couple of blocks away from the Convention Center. I decided that I would go hear Ronald Reagan, and when I arrived at the park, I saw people everywhere. I found myself moving around here and there. I’m reasonably tall, but I was still trying to find a place where I could look between the shoulders and the heads of some people in order to be able to see the speaker. Roy Rogers was there. Dale Evans was there. Governor Clements was there. All kinds of people were there and I wanted to see every one of them. 

I looked around and there was a little grassy knoll with people on top of it. I looked back to the back, and a bunch of 18-wheelers parked along the street. The Teamsters Union had come out to display their support for Reagan, and up on top of those trucks people were standing everywhere. I looked at the tall skyscrapers, and out of every window there were people peering down, trying to find a vantage point from which they could catch a glimpse of Ronald Reagan and the other famous people. 

That is exactly what Zacchaeus was doing. He just didn’t have a truck to climb on. He didn’t have a skyscraper to get up in. So he did the next best thing—he found a tree and got up in it to see Jesus when he walked by. 

To his surprise, Jesus stopped and said, “Zacchaeus, come down! I am going to your house today to have dinner with you.” He invited himself. Zacchaeus was thrilled to death. Nobody ever wanted to go see Zacchaeus. He wasn’t even welcomed in the synagogue. After all, he was a tax collector and they didn’t allow these tax collectors who were traitors to come to the house of worship. Nobody liked Zacchaeus. Jesus said, “I want to have dinner with you.” I don’t know what else he said, but something happened to Zacchaeus’ heart. For when Jesus started to leave, Zacchaeus said to him, “Lord, behold, the half of my goods I give to the poor.” 

Now you know I would have been thrilled to death if old Zacchaeus had said, “Lord, I am going to start tithing. I’m going to give 10 percent.” But Zacchaeus said, “I’m going to give 50 percent. I’ll give half of everything. And more than that, if I have taken anything wrongfully from any man, I’m going to restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Zacchaeus, today salvation has come to your house.” Now that doesn’t mean that he could buy his salvation. And that doesn’t mean Jesus will save us for giving money away. Not at all. Jesus was saying, “You have given evidence to the fact that a great transformation has taken place in your heart. You’ve been spending your life getting money, grabbing money, and cheating people out of money. Something has happened inside of you, and you now want to give it away. I know that salvation has come to your house.”

Now, you ask a question. Why single out Zacchaeus and commend him for his overflowing generosity? After all, he was rich. The widow had nothing and she gave it all. Zacchaeus was rich; surely it was easy for him to give. So why commend him? You make a mistake if you think it is easy for the rich to give. It is more difficult for the rich to give than it is for the poor to give. We always keep thinking what we would give if we just had a lot. But if we ever manage to get a lot, then our security is oftentimes in that vast amount of money, and we cling to it so tightly that before long it is clinging to us. Don’t ever fall victim to the idea that it is easy for the rich to give. It is not. That’s why Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). It is never easy for us to depart from that which we have worked for and accumulated—our wealth—as our sense of security. That’s why Zacchaeus is a good example of overflowing generosity. He gave when it was the hardest to give. 

George Bernard Shaw said that it was the lack of money—not the love of money—that was the root of all evil. Well, you can make a case for that, but I think I’ll just stick with what the scripture says. It is the love of money that is the root of all evil. Even if you have a lot of it, that does not diminish your love for it. Having more money increases your love for it and makes it even more difficult to give. But if that poor widow living on a fixed income with a very limited amount of money could experience and express overflowing generosity, so can those of you who have plenty to give. You need for your own sake to practice overflowing generosity. That’s what Jesus was saying here.

3. The generosity of the single—a person who is just getting by.

There is a third example, and it is found in Luke chapter seven. It’s the story of a sinful woman who broke a vase of precious ointment and poured it on Jesus’ feet to anoint them. In Luke 7:36 we see that Jesus had been invited by a Pharisee named Simon to have dinner at his house. In those days they didn’t have chairs as we do. Instead they reclined on the floor. A man would stretch out by the table (or by the pad on the floor) where the food was served, and would lean and rest himself on one elbow. He would eat in that manner with his feet stretched out. 

Jesus and some people were reclining and eating that way when this woman—the Bible calls her a sinful woman—found out where he was. She showed up uninvited to anoint him with this expensive perfume. We don’t know exactly what that word sinful meant, but later on we get an indication. She was well known around town and didn’t have a good reputation. She was most likely a prostitute. And in all probability Jesus had met this lady previously, had accepted her, and had forgiven her of her sins. It was out of deep gratitude that she sought him out and wanted to perform this act of humility, love, and devotion by putting expensive perfume on his feet. As she approached Jesus she was overcome by emotion to the point that the tears began to flow from her eyes and down her cheeks until they dripped on Jesus’ feet. Almost spontaneously she took her long flowing hair and she reached down and began to wipe Jesus’ feet to make them clean and dry so she could put this expensive perfume on them. 

When the Pharisee saw this, he was incensed. He thought, “If Jesus is really a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this is. So why would he have anything to do with a woman like this?” Jesus read his mind. He said to him, “Simon, let me ask you a question. There was a man who had two debtors. One of those debtors owed him $50 and the other one owed him $500, and he forgave both men completely. Which of them was most appreciative? Which of them loved him most?” Simon replied, “The one that had been forgiven the most.” And Jesus said, “That’s exactly right. The more a man is forgiven, the more aware he is of forgiveness. The more gratitude there is in his heart, and the more love he has to express. This woman—whose sins are many—has been forgiven. Now her overflowing generosity is an expression of the fact that she has been forgiven much and she is grateful for it.”

There are basically three kinds of giving. There is duty giving. I give because I’m supposed to. That’s my duty. There is grudge giving. I give because I’m afraid that if I don’t God is going to zap me. God is going to do something to me so I better go ahead and do it. I don’t want to, and I really hate to do it, but I’ll do it because I’m afraid not to. So there’s duty giving and grudge giving, and there is also thanksgiving, which is the kind of giving that flows out of a grateful heart. And that is what she was doing. She had overflowing generosity because she was so grateful for what God had done, and that’s exactly the way we ought to give.

Several years ago I stood here in this pulpit and told you about the need to start a work in Mexico. I said we needed to start by getting a preacher and covering his salary at $100 a month for one year. That night we had a deacon’s meeting. And when we started the meeting, one of our deacons stood up and he said, “Pastor, I can give that $1,200. Let me tell you why. Years ago when I was a teenage boy I left home and went out to California. I didn’t have a job, ran out of money, and was nearly starving to death when I saw a little Mexican boy with a wagonload of watermelons. I said to him, ‘Would you give me one of those watermelons to eat?’ I was so hungry that I almost ate the rind. And ever since then I have been looking for a way to pay that little boy back. And if you would let me I would like to give that $100 a month this year.”

You know I got to thinking about that. I don’t suppose one watermelon seed ever produced so much as that one. A watermelon seed is such a small thing. They tell me that it takes 5,000 of them to weigh a pound. That little boy in California one day raked back the soil and dropped a little tiny watermelon seed down in the ground. That little seed in the ground took off its coat, sprouted and eventually produced a watermelon that fed a man. That created generosity that led to the support of a pastor and the building of a church and the salvation of many, many souls.

You know all giving is like planting seeds in the ground. And when we plant that seed in the ground, God does something wonderful and great. He makes it grow and multiply and that’s why the Bible says, “He that soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly. And he that soweth bountifully shall reap bountifully.” God in some marvelous way multiplies our gifts if they are gifts that grow out of gratitude. 

4. The generosity of a farmer—one who gives with no strings attached.

The Bible tells us about another person. In Acts 4:36-37 there is a story of one of those early disciples whom the other disciples nicknamed Barnabas, which means “the son of consolation.” The word consolation means “called alongside of.” It means to stand by someone in order to help. And they called him Barnabas, the son of consolation, because he was always going up beside people to help them out. For example, when the apostle Paul was converted, all of the church and the Christian leaders were afraid of him, but Barnabas walked up beside Paul and put his arm around him and said, “Paul, I trust you. Paul, I believe in you. Paul, I’ll be your friend. Come, I’ll introduce you to these other Christians, and I’ll show them that they don’t need to be afraid of you.” 

And this man Barnabas, who walked up beside people and helped them, got Paul into Christian work. When Paul was in Antioch and needed a helper, he went down and stood beside Paul and put his arm around him and said, “Paul, why don’t you come up here and help me in this great missionary effort?” When he and Paul went off on their first missionary journey and John Mark turned coward and went back home, Paul would have nothing to do with him after that. But Barnabas walked up beside John Mark and put his arm around him and said, “John, I still love you, God still has a work for you, and I’ll stand by you.” And he took him and went with him in the missionary work.

He was that kind of guy, and this scripture tells us that there was a great need in the church. Barnabas had a farm. I’m not sure, but it may have been his only farm, and he went and sold it and brought the money and laid it at the feet of the apostles and said, “Here, take it and use it to minister to the needs of people. Meet the needs of those around us. I want to give it all.” Here is a man always coming to the aid of people in need.

One of the things I like about Barnabas is that he gave a gift with no strings attached. This wasn’t a designated gift. There are some people who give to the church and they say, “I’m going to give as long as you use it the way I want you to use it. And if things don’t go just the way I want them to go, I won’t give anything at all.”

But not Barnabas. He sold the farm, brought the money and laid it down at the feet of the leaders of the church and said, “You men know what is going on. You know where the needs are. Take it and use it for the glory of God.” Overflowing generosity.

5. The generosity of a church—people who are feeling the money pinch.

And the last example is that example we started with—the church in Macedonia. They were having a hard time financially, and still they gave. In fact Paul says an amazing thing. He says, “They gave beyond their power. They gave beyond their ability. They gave beyond their means.” I have heard of people living beyond their means. But I have never heard of a person giving beyond their means. Have you? I know some people who are head-over-heels in debt. They are just living beyond their means and spending money for things that they don’t need. 

I don’t know of any of you who are giving beyond your means. There may be somebody and I just don’t know about it. But it was people like that whom Paul singled out as an example to the church. He said, “Now, you abound in faith, and you abound in speaking and in understanding, and you abound in work and you abound in love toward us. Now see to it that you abound in this gracious virtue also.”

He comes to the clincher when he says in verse nine, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich.”

You see this overflowing generosity was all started by Jesus, when he in his richness gave it all up and became poor, so that we in our spiritual poverty might enter into the riches of God. Because of what he did 2,000 years ago, and because of what he keeps on doing in our hearts and lives, we want to give—not grudgingly, not of necessity, not to keep the church from going under, not because it is expected of us, and not because we’ve been elected as a deacon. We want to do it because he has done so much for us. We give because we love him and we love other people. May God grant that as you grow in all of these other areas, you’ll be a well-rounded Christian and you will grow in this grace also.

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Today's Devotional

Major on the Basics

Knute Rockne was one of the greatest football coaches ever. In his 13 years at Notre Dame, his teams won 105 games, lost 12, and tied 5. He never had a secret practice. In fact, he sometimes put up a sign for visitors that said, “Secret practice. Come and bring your notebooks.”

On one occasion when an Army scout missed a train connection and didn’t get to the Notre Dame game he was to cover, Rockne obligingly sent him the plays he planned to use against the West Point men. He explained his actions by saying, “It isn’t the play that wins; it’s the execution.”

All great coaches agree: champions are made by majoring on the fundamentals – blocking and tackling. They execute well. Teams seldom win by trick plays or gimmicks.  

The same is true of life. Tricks and gimmicks will seldom get you to the top in any endeavor and can never keep you there. Major on the basics in all of life – work hard, honor God, be honest, kind and helpful to others, and go to church regularly.

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