Description / Transcription
Father in heaven, we gather around Your Word and we simply ask that You would speak and that we would listen. We do not want to waste our time, neither the preacher nor the listeners’, and so we pray that Your Spirit would descend upon us and there would be a holy unction as Your Word goes forth and that You would give us the ears to hear and to receive. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I’ve never known a pastor whose favorite part of the job was administration, and if I ever meet such a pastor, I would be concerned for him and for his church. We have been blessed with so many great pastoral inters, we have I think is it ten now, we’ve had many others in the years I’ve been here and then many more before that. I’ve never had a young man preparing for ministry say to me, “You know, Pastor Kevin, I just really feel called by the Lord to administrate. I’d like to become a pastor so I can facilitate processes and draw up policies and respond to e-mails.”
Church members rarely ask me, “Pastor, is there anything I can do to manage details?” Though many of you do that very well.
Administration in the church is often like getting the microphones right on Sunday morning, or keeping the piano in tune, or keeping the words on the screen. No one notices until something goes wrong, and we ought to notice all the times, which is almost all the time, when things are going right. We have so many faithful servant men and women who serve, behind the scenes and with the microphones and the instruments, and the administration in all sorts of ways, and we ought to have our eyes open to say, “Thank you.”
Yet isn’t it true that many of those tasks can sadly be thankless tasks. People don’t notice until something isn’t working, until the communication isn’t clear, or when the handling of the finances seems sketchy. When no one schedules an oil change for the church van or no one bothers to take minutes from the last meeting, or all of the policies are 20 years old and no one follows them anymore, or things start to break down and people get mad at each other and they don’t realize that yes, there may be human sinfulness, but behind all of that are problems with administration.
You’ve heard me say before about the trellis and the vine. It was one of the books that we read when we did our vision work. We actually read the sequel to it, The Vine Project, and the metaphor is very simple, that the goal of Gospel ministry is the vine. That’s what you want. You want this organic life to grow forth. But for the vine to have a chance to grow, there needs to be an appropriate trellis, think that lattice-type work on which you’d grow some sort of plant.
It’s a bit of a balance because in some churches you end up getting everybody to do trellis work, and people pat themselves on the back and feel like, “Yes, look at all the things. We have lots of committees and lots of people engaged,” and you realize they’re doing all the work to keep a trellis, and there’s a very little vine growing. And yet, we want to realize on the other side of the equation that if we don’t have people to maintain a sturdy trellis, then the vine will grow wild or it will grow into the ground or it won’t grow at all. We need a strong trellis if vine work is to flourish.
So we need all of the spiritual gifts operative in our church, all the gifts that remain for God’s people. There are some gifts that seem more prestigious than others. Leadership is a good gift, teaching, service gifts.
We don’t do this so much anymore and I am not sure this was the best way to find your gifts, but it used to be when I was growing up people would take these very long tests, it felt like you were taking the SAT for Christians, and you’d have to take this very long test, answer all these questions, and then you’d get a printout back and it would tell you what your gifts were.
If you remember doing that and you found out your spiritual gifts, there was a bit of compare and contrast. If you got preaching or teaching, that feels kind of good. Maybe if you got gifts of service, people patted you on the back and said, “Oh, you are such a servant.” If you got prayer, that felt very spiritual. Depending on your church context, if you got healing or tongues, you were a bit confused, but that’s wild, okay.
If you got administration, there were probably people putting, “Oh, you didn’t get enough sleep. You probably didn’t have a good breakfast. Next year, next year you’ll get some better gifts. I’m sorry.”
We tend to have a hierarchy of spiritual gifts, but a gift is a gift and we need all of them. Paul says, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it, and God appointed in the Church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.”
Right in the middle there, healing, helping, tongues, administrating. It is a gift from the Spirit and we need it in the Church, and praise God we have it in this church, and it is essential to Christian generosity.
Two weeks ago we looked at the character of generosity, what does Christian giving look like. Last week the motivation for generosity, why do we give. This week the administration of generosity, how do we handle the giving of God’s people. I doubt that many of us have heard too many sermons on administration, and yet it’s one of the gifts of the Spirit and it is absolutely essential for churches to flourish and be healthy and for people to have confidence in their giving.
That’s what we find in our text this morning, so open in your Bibles, if you’re not there already, to 2 Corinthians chapter 8. We pick things up at verse 16. 2 Corinthians 8, beginning at verse 16.
“But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.
Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.”
Having the motivation to give is great. Having joy is essential. But if you cannot administer the gift, the people who need the gift won’t get helped and you may actually make things worse, and even be further behind, than if you had never collected the money in the first place. We’ve all seen this in our churches, hopefully not in this church, but we can see it in Christian ministry. Perhaps you’ve seen it in your place of employment. Poorly administered generosity is often worse than no generosity at all, because when giving, when finances are administered poorly, it leads to suspicion, accusations, rivalries, disappointments.
Just live long enough and pay attention to the news and you will find, sadly, in Christian churches or Christian ministries, examples of scams, waste, lost funds, misappropriated finances, no follow through, or perhaps just poor accounting procedures so that no one really knows where the money is going.
In these two chapters, Paul devotes 7 verses to describe the look and the character of generosity, 8 verses to explain the motivation for generosity, 10 verses which we’ll get to next week to talk about the blessings of generosity, and here 14 verses to explain how he is going to administer their gifts of generosity. So clearly this was a concern for Paul. He wanted everyone to know that their money was going to be handled rightly.
What I want us to see this morning are three lessons from the Apostle Paul for us on administration, especially as it relates to money.
Here’s the first lesson: Financial administration in the Church is a spiritual task for spiritual people.
How many churches have made the mistake of thinking financial administration is for financial people, spiritual tasks are for spiritual people, and so they end up putting in charge of the money, perhaps not thieves and crooks, not Judases, but just persons who don’t have first of all a ministry mindset. I’m glad to say that I don’t believe we do this here in this church, but I’ve seen it in other churches. Often it’s taking men who are very successful in business, or men who have some sort of worldly acumen for money, and that’s fine. Those can be worthwhile gifts. But if they are not appropriate spiritual men, you are putting them in positions of great influence and power over the church’s gifts, and that’s a mistake.
We see here with Paul he is appointing three of his very finest men to attend to this financial matter. Three brothers are going to Corinth and then to Jerusalem. Remember the financial need here is to provide for the saints in Jerusalem who have been experiencing a famine. A year ago we read that the saints here in Corinth, that’s in the region of Achaia, that the saints there had been stirred up and they had started this great collection, but a year later they hadn’t quite gotten all their pledges in. They hadn’t quite completed the task. Paul’s been boasting about them and he doesn’t want to be embarrassed when he comes to collect the resources and then bring it to Jerusalem, so he’s sending ahead of them three men who are going to go and see that they finish this task of generosity.
Look at the three men. Verse 16: Thanks be to God who put it into the heart of Titus.
So Titus is going to you, verse 17, of his own accord. Titus is one of Paul’s most trusted, beloved disciples and colleagues. We read in verse 23 he’s a partner, he’s a fellow worker. Earlier in the book we saw that Titus was the one who brought the so-called “severe letter” to the Corinthians and then returned to Paul with the good news that they had received the letter well. Titus was familiar to the Corinthians. Look back up at chapter 8, verse 6: “Accordingly we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace.” So Titus was there at the beginning when this collection was started, and now he is earnest to go back. Paul wants him to go, Titus wants to go. He wants to return to the Corinthians and see that they finish this good work.
Sending Titus to lead this delegation back to Corinth is like setting aside your best elder, your best seminary intern, the best pastor from the presbytery, whoever. This is the cream of the crop. Paul does not say, “Well, we just need a warm body to go. Anybody can go and collect a bagful of money and bring it to Jerusalem.” He says, “No, we are going to send the very finest, one of our best spiritual leaders, to handle this financial matter. We’re sending Titus.” That’s the first.
Now look at verse 18. Here’s the second of the three brothers: With him, we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the Gospel.
Now just incidentally, we hear a lot about the danger of celebrity pastors and I don’t know why anyone would want to put “celebrity” next to “pastor.” Celebrity someone once said is someone who’s famous for being famous.
So if “celebrity” means in whatever vocation the person is vain, demanding, domineering, carries himself with a sense of entitlement, then certainly we are all opposed to those things.
But we see here that simply being well-known, well-regarded, or Paul even uses the word “famous,” is not by itself a negative assessment. Here it’s a positive assessment. Here’s this man who is well-known for his preaching of the Gospel.
It’s not wrong. It’s always been the case throughout the history of the Church.
Now we don’t know who this is. People guess, is it Barnabas? Is it Gaius of Derbe, Tychicus, Trophimus? Might it be Apollos who we know was a great preacher and teacher?
In Acts 20, verse 4, we have three men of Macedonia that accompanied Paul; Sopater, Aristarchus, and Secundus. So maybe it’s one of these men because Paul talks about when the Macedonians arrive you don’t want to be embarrassed. So perhaps it’s one of these men. We don’t know. Maybe it’s in God’s design that we’re not given the name, but Paul certainly assumes that they would have been familiar, “Ah, yes, the great preacher of the Gospel.”
Notice again, spiritual men to handle this financial matter. You might think, “Well, this man has a great gift for preaching the Gospel. The last thing we need to do is get him tied up with this collection.” But Paul wanted to send Titus and this brother famous for preaching the Gospel so that they would have confidence, “We are sending spiritually, godly, mature Christians to handle your gift.”
And then the third brother, look down at verse 22: “And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters.”
Again, we don’t know who this is either, but you put these together and we see that Paul is sending quite a threesome. These are not the three stooges. We have one of Paul’s very best young pastors, Titus; we have a famous preacher; and here we have a man who is zealous, earnest, and well-tested. This is the triumvirate that Paul is sending to handle this financial matter, and the lesson for us is loud and clear: Handling money is a spiritual matter for spiritual people.
Remember the qualifications for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3: Elders are not to be lovers of money, deacons are not to be greedy for dishonest gain. Both must manage their household well, which speaks not only to managing the relational affairs of their household with wife and children and that there is some basic level of discipline and order and authority and love, but also that there isn’t financial mismanagement in the home.
This makes sense, that when you look for leaders in the house hold of God you’re looking for men who have shown themselves to be leaders in their own home, and part of that is showing that they have been responsible with their finances.
It doesn’t say anything about whether they’re rich or poor, but that they are spiritual men who know how to handle the spiritual business of money.
Remember in Acts chapter 6 when there is the conflict with the distribution for the widows, the Greek widows and the Jewish widows. When they find men to handle this, they don’t just say, “Well, we’re just dealing with distributing funds or meals for widows and the first three people to volunteer.” No, we read they were to find men of good reputation, full of wisdom and full of the Holy Spirit.
Again, spiritual men to handle these financial matters. We don’t just want warm bodies or good business people on the diaconate, on the finance committee, doing HR. We want people who are spiritual. Churches get into all kinds of trouble when they put money people in charge of money instead of Christ-like people in charge of the money.
Now obviously you’re looking for Christ-like, godly people who also have some gifts or facility with the stewardship of resources, but I would always rather put godly, Christ-like people than to put godless people who have some track record of financial success.
We need people full of faith, wisdom, and the Holy Spirit. Spiritual people for the spiritual task of managing money in the church. So let us not ever think that the Church has its Gospel work and missionary work and preaching work and then sort of the dirty, unseemly work of handling all the filthy lucre. No, we need spiritual people to do this spiritual work.
The church budget must always be a spiritual document. Now I know in a church this size, with millions of dollars, very few people are going to see or need to see all hundreds and hundreds of those line items, nor would most people even want to see all of those hundreds and hundreds of line items, but you need to know that there are people who do see them and take them seriously and hold people accountable and pray about it. We don’t want the giving in Christ’s Church to be a routine matter of transferring some dollars and cents. It is a spiritual task because it is first of all money that you have given, and even more than that, it’s God’s money that He’s entrusted to you and then you have entrusted to the church, or what other Christian ministries or schools or missionaries or organizations you may support.
So this first lesson here is loud and clear: Financial administration in the Church is a spiritual task for spiritual people.
So we want to wed together people who are very knowledgeable and passionate about the Gospel to also know something about finances and vice versa. Often when I teach the pastoral ministry class at the seminary I will have Sandy Spitz come in. Who better? I will have Sandy come and do a half hour or so on church administration, because nobody does it better than our very own Sandy, and because those who are preparing for ministry need to have something, some sort of reckoning of how to read budgets and how to understand mortgages and how to know something about the financial world.
I always tell the students, “Look, if this is what you’re most passionate about, then you shouldn’t go into ministry. But if you don’t anything about this, then you are just going to be at the mercy of whomever else has the most expertise in these things.”
We need spiritual people to attend to the spiritual task of handling the finances in the Church.
Second lesson: Leaders should take great pains to be above reproach in handling money. Leaders should take great pains to be above reproach in handling money.
There are always peddlers. There were in Paul’s day, there will be in our days. False teachers who are out to earn a buck.
Paul was sensitive to the charge of mishandling money. If you have your Bible, turn back to chapter 2, verse 17. Here’s a constant refrain: “For we are not like so many peddlers of God’s Word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God in the sight of God, we speak in Christ.”
Or turn over to chapter 4, verse 1: “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart but we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”
You need to understand something about the ancient world, that to be a rhetorician, an orator, a public speaker, those were often like the rock stars of the ancient world.
Now we still, you have TED talks and you have pastors’ conferences, but it’s not even comparable to what the famous Greek orators could command by way of attention and celebrity in the ancient world.
So the temptation was you make the audience sovereign. This is part of your livelihood. You know what they want to hear, and so you say what they want you to say. Because they would often go and they would receive money, or you might hire to yourself or to your family, you’d be a sort of wealthy patron, you would pay for people. Perhaps you have a group of wealthy women and they would pay for a speaker to come, just like you might pay for a string quartet or a band to play at your wedding, they might pay for the orator to come.
Well, of course, there’s a market dynamic there. You’re being paid then you are going to tickle our ears. You’re going to give us something interesting to think about. You’re going to tell us what we want to hear. There was this temptation not only to change the message, but to present yourself in such a way that you would draw attention to yourself.
That’s why Paul says we have renounced these disgraceful, underhanded ways and by an open statement of the truth we preach the Gospel. Paul says when we preach the Gospel, we’re not going to make a name for ourselves. We’re not going to direct attention to ourselves. We want the main thing to be the main thing, straight down the middle we want to give you the Gospel.
There was this market incentive that you would play fast and loose with the truth in order to gain a hearing, in order to gain money.
Paul throughout his letter says I refuse to do that, and beyond that he says not only do I refuse to change what I’m doing or what I’m saying, but you need to know in all things I am absolutely above reproach in handling your gifts.
That’s the point here in chapter 8. Look at verse 20: We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable, not only in the Lord’s sight, but also in the sight of man.
We might think that people 2000 years ago, it was such a different world, such a different time, and of course there were differences, but here we see same sort of checks and balances, same sort of suspicions people might have about how you handle your money. Paul says, “Look, this is a big deal. You’ve been working on this gift for a year.” What do you do when you just hand over a load of cash or coins and then somebody’s going to take it on a boat and they’re going to travel across the Mediterranean. How do you know that Paul isn’t just fleecing the flock? How do you know that this money ever gets a world away to help the people?
He says, “That’s why I am doing this, to be honorable before you all, to make sure that you know that we are administering this with the utmost care.”
Paul, if anybody could have just thrown down the “Trust me” card, it could have been Paul. “Look, I’m Paul. Remember? The Apostle Paul. You know? I write books in the Bible. I save people. I plant churches. If you can’t trust me, I’ll come, give me the gift, of course I’m going to bring it.” They should have trusted him, but he goes one step farther. He says, “No, no, we’re going to send not just one. I’m going to send three brothers. We’re going to make sure that this is completely above reproach. We’re not going to send any one man sailing across the Mediterranean Sea with a literal boatload of money.” He wanted to be above reproach.
Paul is not a people-pleaser. Being above reproach doesn’t mean that people may never have bad things to say about you. Paul’s always running into conflicts. It doesn’t mean that you’ll never say or do things that are deemed controversial. Jesus was controversial. Paul was controversial.
Being above reproach doesn’t mean that everyone likes you. It means, number one, you make it hard for false claims to stick to you, that if some enemy of the faith starts saying something about me or you or our church, you at least would say, “Well, that just doesn’t seem right.” You make it hard for those negative, slanderous assessments to stick.
Number two, being above reproach means there is nothing legitimate anyone can have against you. In other words, you walk in integrity and you make it easy, not difficult, for fair-minded people to believe that you’re walking in integrity.
Early in my ministry, one of my elders said something very wise. He said people in the church will overlook a lot, and they will put up with a lot of weaknesses, and they’ll even put up with some real mistakes, but they won’t put up with two things: A lack of integrity with sex and a lack of integrity with money.
That seems like good advice, all these years later. Obviously, there’s other ways to sin and sometimes less pronounced, but no less serious ways, but he was right.
It’s not just good common sense advice. Jesus said a lot about sex and a lot about money. You could add them up and they’re just about at the top of His list of the things He warned against. Are you walking in integrity sexually? Are you walking in integrity financially?
So that means here at the church that we have layers of accountability. Administrator, administration committee, an ELT, that’s our Executive Leadership Team, will look at the budget. The session. We have outside auditors who come in, plus all of the industry standards, internal controls, and the finance department. We take all of that stuff very seriously.
It means also that as you give to ministries, you ought to do your homework, for the people and the organizations that you’re supporting. Will they steward the gifts of God’s people well? Will they serve with integrity? Or sometimes people continue to give money to missions or schools or organizations long after they’ve really left behind the Christian moorings and the evangelical faith that they once had and yet they’re propped up by people who continue generously to give, but they’re not checking “are you really doing what you say you’re doing?”
Leaders must take great pains to always be above reproach in handling money.
Here’s the third lesson, finally: Planning and follow through help giving and collecting take place gracefully. Planning and follow through help giving and collecting take place gracefully.
Think about. The mighty Apostle Paul, who prayed and preached and faced shipwreck and stoning for the cause of the Gospel, he also paid attention to details and the need for careful planning. You see in verse 3: I’m sending the brothers ahead. Verse 5: I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you.
He has the mark of a truly great leader, one who knows not only how to do the big things, but how to delegate the small things. It wasn’t that Paul was doing all the small things, he wasn’t superhuman, but he didn’t ignore the practical details, either. He knew what mattered, and so he got others to help him.
Remember, this was a delicate situations. Things easily could have blown up between the Macedonians and the Achaeans. You have to put yourself back into this situation and understand how it required sensitive, wise, strong leadership. So you have the Macedonians. They gave out of their poverty. Paul has been boasting about the Macedonians. The Achaeans have more material wealth, and yet they started this collection and they haven’t finished it. So there’s this danger, as Paul has talked about the Macedonians to the Achaeans and the Achaeans to the Macedonians, that the Macedonians might say, “Now wait a second. We’ve been giving out of our poverty for this relief effort, and the rich Corinthians can’t even do it? What’s the meaning here? What’s going on, Paul?”
And vice versa. The Corinthians, they might have thought, “Well, Paul, you went to Macedonia when you said you were going to visit us.” Do you remember that? Look back at chapter 1, verse 16: I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and come back to you from Macedonia, and have you send me on my way to Judea.
But remember, he had to change his plans, and they were upset. “Aww, you’re wishy-washy. You’re fickle. We can’t count on you. You never showed up.”
So some in Corinth might say, “Now, wait. I have had it up to here. I am tired of hearing about the Macedonians. We know they’re your favorite, Paul. You were supposed to come visit us. You made it to Macedonia. They’re always giving. We’re sick of hearing about the Macedonians up there.”
So you have this potential rivalry, and Paul’s in the middle. But notice how he handles the situation, with great love and great wisdom. He doesn’t play one against the other. He brags one about the other. See, he doesn’t, and this is true, this is good for teaching, this is good for coaching, this is good for church, this is good for parenting, he doesn’t say, “Well, if only you were more like the Macedonians. I’m so disappointed in you.”
What he does is he brags about the Macedonians to the Achaeans, “They’ve given out of their poverty. Would you look at them.” Then to the Macedonians, he brags about the Achaeans. He says, “You know what they’re doing down there in Corinth? They started this a year ago, they’re so excited about it.”
So now he wants the Corinthians to have every opportunity to look good. He expresses confidence that they will do the right thing. He doesn’t want them to be embarrassed. So part of what he does, look back up at chapter 8, verse 22, “The brother whom we have tested who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you.” See, Paul is so wise. He sends one of these brothers. He has great confidence in the Corinthians. He doesn’t send someone who’s, “I never trusted those Corinthians and I’m going to go and I know what I’m going to find when I get there, is they haven’t give half as much as the Macedonians.”
No, he sends a brother who believes the best about the Achaeans. So Paul doesn’t scold the Corinthians because it’s taken a year, he encourages them and he makes every effort for them to succeed. Some of us in life, with our kids, with students, with people we’re mentoring, with people we love, we find every way for them to fail. Here Paul is giving them every opportunity to succeed. He could have said, “You’ve been going at this for a year and you can’t get this right. Shame on you.” But he doesn’t. He boasts about what they did a year ago and now he says, “I’m confident and I’m sending the brothers ahead,” see he’s planning out the details, because Paul knows I don’t want to get there and have to sort of wring this out of them, so he sends these three men ahead to take care of this delicate situation.
If we were in Paul’s shoes, many of us would have probably given up sooner. We would have called up the Jerusalem church, when the pastor there at First Presbyterian in Jerusalem, I’m sure it was Presbyterian [laughter], “Hey, Paul, we could really use that money. We got the check from Macedonia. You said there was a big check coming from Corinth.” “Oh, boy, yeah, I am really sorry about that. They didn’t come through. They bailed on it. They started. They never finished it.”
That’s what some of us would have done, but not Paul. He goes the extra mile to help the church in Achaia come through just like the church in Macedonia. So he sends Titus and the brother famous for his preaching and the earnest brother to go ahead and collect. Paul has high expectations for them.
Too often in ministry we have low expectations and then you know what people do with low expectations? They live down to your low expectations.
Paul didn’t beat up the Macedonians and beat up the Achaeans. He inspired them. He praised one to the other. He expected generosity.
God expects each Christian in this room to give. I expect you to give, and I’ve not been disappointed.
When I’m with friends from other places, other pastors from around the country, people I’ve known, I love to talk about Christ Covenant. I love to talk about how much God has blessed us here with so many dear, mature, generous Christians with faithful, hardworking elders and deacons and a great pastoral staff and an amazing women’s ministry. I love to brag about you to my friends. There’s lots of things to truthfully say. I want you to live up to high expectations.
May God increase in us a love for giving. I read one time, “Don’t try to get $10 out of a person with $5 of faith.” Well, the answer is to try to get them to grow to be a person of $10 faith.
That’s what Paul does here: “I’m not going to come and I can’t wring this out of you, but if I can inspire you and brag on you so that your $5 of faith becomes $10 of faith and then you give this gift joyfully, willingly, that’s a win for all of us.” Paul is to be commended for attending to the details.
Sometimes Christians give little because we simply aren’t organized. That doesn’t sound very spiritual, but it’s the reality. We give inconsistently. We don’t keep track of it. We don’t set aside, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Set aside something.” It’s never been easier to give consistently. There’s all sorts of ways that banks can do that, there’s ways to do it digitally, there’s ways to keep track of it with software, and yet it can be hard to be consistent, structured, routine.
It’s like anything in life. If you set out and you say “2022’s going to be the year I really get into shape and I’m going to exercise” and you know what your plan is? No plan. “You know what I’m going to do? When I have an extra half hour someday and I feel I have a lot of extra energy, I’ll go to the gym and I’ll exercise.” You know when that will happen? January 1 and then the following January 1 is when it will happen.
No, if you’re actually going to exercise, you need to have a plan. A purpose. You may fall off of the routine at times, but you need a plan. It’s going to be on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and it’s going to be at this time.
With church, I’ve said before, one of the greatest gifts my parents gave to me, and parents, it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give to your children, is that they know it’s Sunday and we go to church. They don’t have to ask the question, “Mom, Dad, are we going to church?” “Why would you ask that question? Okay, if you’re sick, I get it, but why would you ask the question otherwise? We go to church. That’s what we do.” “Well, yeah, but I’ve got soccer tournaments for the next two months. Then what?” “We go to church. Why are you asking? This is what we do. We’re Christians, we go to church.”
It’s like brushing your teeth. I hope you brush your teeth. If it’s a habit, you know, wake up, I’ll do it two days from now. If that is your habit, then that’s why no one’s sitting around you right now. [laughter]
No, you just do it. You get up, you brush your teeth. You do it in morning. You do it in the evening. You don’t have to think about it. Of course you do it.
You go to church. It’s like anything. It becomes a routine. It becomes a habit. Of course this is what we do. It’s the same thing with giving.
One book puts it this way: “Human actions that are costly or difficult are more consistently accomplished when they are systematically structured into established routines and habits that reduce reliance on memory, thought, and intention.”
Reduced reliance on memory, thought, and intention, and so it is with other things in life, it is with giving. It requires planning and purpose.
I love Paul’s follow through here. Their initial enthusiasm had waned, but here he is a year later, writing letters, sending folks. He’s going to make it happen, reminding people, “You wanted to give. I’m going to help you finish this and it’s going to be such a celebration when you do.”
Now you may say, as we draw this to a close, “Well, that’s an interesting sermon about administration. Great, orderly discipline. Very Presbyterian of you. But, boy, it’s Christmas time. I would have preferred a sermon about God and His glory.” My response is, “Wait. You don’t think those two things are connected? To be orderly, disciplined, and administer well, and God and His glory? Paul thought they were connected.”
Look at chapter 8, verse 19: Not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered for the glory of the Lord Himself.
This whole operation was for the glory of the Lord.
Look at verse 21: For we aim at what is honorable, not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.
Paul absolutely believed that what he was doing to plan and to purpose and to administer was not some lesser matter for him, but was to present himself honorable before the Lord and to give God glory, not only with the gift itself, not only with the intention behind the gift, but with the faithful, above-reproach, administration of it. Think about how God gets glory in this whole episode. All of the gifts are from God, that’s to His glory. It goes to His people, that’s for His glory. They do it because of His gift in Jesus Christ, that’s to His glory. It’s all because of Him, and that’s for His glory. He transforms us, He gives Himself up for our sakes. He becomes poor so that by His poverty we might become rich.
Start to finish, this act of grace was for the glory of God.
We need to handle finances well, thoughtfully, hard work, planning, follow through. Why? Because we want God to get glory. If your faith does not have a place for God to get glory in the mundane details and follow through of life, then you’re going to have a God who’s distant from most of what we do on most days. It’s in the minutiae. It’s in the purpose and the planning and the follow through and the exaction and the administration that God gets glory. Wow, you care enough to attend to the little things?
Now I get it. Some of you are naturally organized, some of you aren’t. Some have gifts of administration, some don’t, but as a church altogether, we need to understand that we give generously, we bless others, we live out our love for Jesus, and we do this wisely, gracefully, and above reproach. When we do that, with our gifts, God looks good, people are helped, and the God of glory receives praise before a watching world.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, thank You for Your Word, for the gifts You have given us. We pray that You would help us to be attentive to these things for Your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.