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Grace of Giving

Giving is a matter of grace from beginning to end.

When Paul addressed the matter of giving to the Corinthian church in his second letter to them, he did so with model tact. What he did is, he sited the remarkable giving of their sister churches in Macedonia. And his words are ever so gentle and beautiful. Verse 1 "And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given to the Macedonian churches." Now, the grace that he's talking about, and of course it's defined by the context, is the grace of giving—the inclination, because of God's grace, to graciously pour out what one has to God and to others in giving. In other words, God's grace has been poured into them and so they responded in kind by their giving. And that is what this section is all about. It is a matter of the grace of giving from beginning to end.

It's all grace. In fact, the Greek word for grace occurs ten times in chapters eight and nine. In fact, in the first nine verses it occurs five times. I'd like you to take note of that because I want you to see how the whole thing rides on the matter of grace.

  1. Verse 1 speaks of "the grace."
  2. The word "privilege" in verse 4 is actually the word "grace."
  3. Verse 6: "this act of grace."
  4. Verse 7: "so that you also excel in this grace of giving."
  5. And verse 9: "For you know the grace."

So you can see that this passage rides on the word "grace." This is an extremely valuable passage to the serious Christian because it gives and example of how it was done by the churches in Macedonia. And because of that, we can take that example and apply it to our lives.

The sermon that we are giving this morning is not a sermon about the amount that we ought to give; it is a sermon on grace from beginning to end. And as we think about this whole matter of grace in giving it will be God's grace in giving as among the Israelites, God's grace in giving among the Macedonians, and then what its implications were to the Corinthian church and to us.

God's grace in giving among the Israelites

Now there is a general haziness about this whole matter of how much people gave in the Old Testament. Most people say, "Well, it's ten percent. That's probably what it is." And that is true if you're talking about starting, because actually in the Old Testament there were several types of mandatory giving. It was compulsory giving for every person who considered himself or herself to be faithful to the covenant. It was not optional; it was mandatory.

First, there was a tithe called the "Lord's tithe" or the "Levite's tithe," because it went to support the priests and the ministry in the tabernacle and the temple. Leviticus 27:30 stipulates "a tithe of everything from the land," that is, a tenth of everything from the land—whether grain from the soil or fruit from the tree—belongs to the Lord and is holy to the Lord. Ten percent of all of their produce and all of their animals were required. Again, it was not optional, and any man who did not comply, that was living under the covenant but who did not give, then he was considered to be disobeying the law and robbing God. We often hear of the blessings associated with giving in Malachi 3:10, but we rarely hear the preface to those blessings. Malachi 3:8 says, "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me," here God is speaking to Israel, "but you ask 'How do we rob you?'" and God answers, "In tithes and offerings." So, if a person avoided this compulsory thing they were considered to be robbing God of the beginning ten percent.

Then there was a second tithe called the "Festival tithe," found in Deuteronomy 12. In verses 10-11 it specifies that when they get into the land,

But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. And he will give you rest from all your enemies around you, so that you will live in safety. Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name's place, you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes [that is, your tenth and special gifts], and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord.

And that Festival tithe was to be used for religious celebration, to bring the family and friends together. So you have compulsory two ten-percent tithes. You're up to twenty percent.

Then there was yet another tithe termed the "Poor tithe," which is described in Deuteronomy 14:28-29. "At the end of every three years bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your town that the Levites who have no allotment or inheritance of their own and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your town may come and eat and be satisfied; so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands."

So what he says there is that every three years there is to be a ten percent tithe that is for helping people in poverty, which breaks down to about three percent per year on average. Which then means that mandatory tithes for a faithful Israelite was 23 percent of their income annually—the tithes for the priesthood, a tithe for national religious feasts, and a tithe that aided the poor—all compulsory.

And it didn't end there. There was a mandatory type of profit sharing with the poor. This is in Leviticus 19:9-10. "When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and aliens. I am the Lord your God." It was not a large amount, perhaps one percent or two percent, but that was to be left. You were to be generous about what was left in your field.

And then there were other requirements. For example, the third of the shekel temple charge required to pay for materials of temple worship. All in all, a faithful Israelite was required to give between 23 and 25 percent of their income per year, and there were no options. That was mandatory.

And then there came the volunteer free will giving, grace giving, we'll call it; and that included what was called first fruits giving and free will offerings. Now an Israelite who loved the Lord, in addition to his 23-25 percent, would give the first fruits of his crops to God. And here is the beautiful thing. The beauty is that the Israelites did it before harvesting the crop. In other words, he would go out and he would survey his fields. He would look for the best part of it. He would decide on the portion that he was going to give as an offering over and above, and he would harvest it and take the best part in before the harvest, trusting that God was then going to multiply his harvest. And so it is a "Faith giving." It is entirely voluntary. And that is what informs the whole spirit of first and best in the Old Testament. It is utterly lovely and beautiful and joyous and totally of the heart.

Then, finally, there were free will offerings that were given for special projects such as building the tabernacle. "For the Lord said to Moses, 'Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give.'" It's not mandatory. It comes from the heart. The entire emphasis is free will, joyous, over and above the 23-25 percent.

The ideal in the Old Testament was grace giving whether it was mandatory or voluntary. In other words, it was meant to come from the heart. It was meant to be offered to God with great joy and rejoicing. Now you can imagine an Israelite in the Old Testament, if he has committed, say, 23 percent or 25 percent and he's given that, that when he responds with his heart it becomes a very substantial part of his income. You take the 23 percent and you add 5 percent and you're at 27 percent. So some were giving 30 percent. Some were giving 40 percent, and it was huge. That is the Old Testament, the old covenant.

God's grace in giving among the Macedonians

But now we are in the age of grace, and you have the grace among the Macedonians and his very gentle reference to the Macedonians as a motivation to the Corinthians. Again, verse 1 and 2, "And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty well up in rich generosity."

The Macedonians were poor. The word that's used here for "poor" is an interesting word. It is the word bathos, which means "deep"—the word from which we get bathysphere (where we take a ship that goes down to the bottom and explores the sea). It goes down deep. He's saying that the Macedonians were in deep poverty. In fact, one of the great old commentators at the turn of the century, Alfred Schlemmer, gave it the perfect expression. He said, "They're down to the depth poverty." They were at the bottom. They were "dirt poor."

For those of us who are modern suburbanites, it is a stretch to imagine what "dirt poor" means in ancient culture. We fancy ourselves poor if we have to think about it before we go out to dinner. As to credit cards, the Macedonians always left home without them. They had no cards. They had no wardrobes. They had no vacations. They had no TV. Even our poor have TV. How to describe it would be something like Palestinian poor—maybe. The poorest of the poor.

And they are also in the most severe trial. The literal idea is that they are crushed by life, because what is happening to them is surrounding culture is squeezing them harder and harder because of the Macedonian's devotion to Christ. Immense pressure—you're poor and you're picked on. Grinding poverty and a crushing tribulation that made life impossible. But out of their impossible situation they did the impossible, stated in verse 2, "Their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity." Now I'm sure you're thinking what I'm thinking: that is truly an incredible statement. "Their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity" with this poorest of the poor. In their parched existence, squalid, little churches gush forth with the joy of giving, and it can only be the grace of God. The only thing that you can lay it to is the grace of God. It is a marvelous example, and Paul expands on it in verses 3 and 4. He says, "For I testify that they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in the service of faith." They gave, literally, contrary to their ability.

Christostem, the ancient preacher in the Greek church, marveled in his homily on this. He said with amazement, "They did the begging, not Paul." What were they saying? "Paul, we entreat you. Don't deny us this honor," or something like that. And so you see what happens when grace motivates a heart. It is not dictated by ability. It has nothing to do with being well-off. It is willing, it views giving as a privilege, and it is joyously enthusiastic.

Now what is at the root of such great giving? Well, we've mentioned grace. But the answer is very explicit in verse 5. "And they did not do as we expected. But they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will." It's also very simple. The grace of God had come into their life, and they, in turn, gave their lives back to God. And then they gave themselves to the welfare of the universal church and then gave what they had as best they could.

When you're looking at something so awe-inspiring, so awesome, there is an implicit lesson. And that is: it won't do any good to give our possessions to God unless we give ourselves. In fact, I think there's a sense in which that kind of giving can harm us, and the reasons are easily apparent. Because when we give without giving ourselves to God, when we give out of some other motivation, then we will be tempted to imagine that giving our substance is enough, that somehow that will make God pleased with us.

While I appreciate the Carnegie libraries around the country, I wonder about that motivation at the end of the man's life. External giving can build religious pride. Giving things instead of ourselves can easily become our religion, and you never turn to Christ. And so it needs to be said, if you've not given your life to Christ, please don't give your money. God doesn't need money. He doesn't need that at all. Even more, he doesn't want anyone to delude themselves. The story that Paul tells here is about believers, for believers, to instruct true believers and no one else. We give ourselves to God. And when we give ourselves to God in response to grace, then we give of our resources—but not before.

Implications for the Corinthian church

Now as to the implications for the Corinthians, who he's trying to motivate, and to us, he's quite clear. He goes on, "So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But just as you excel in everything, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us, see that you also excel in this grace of giving." He wants them to come to completion, to maturity in that. You see, the Corinthian church wasn't like the Macedonian church. It wasn't poor, and it was marvelously gifted. That's what 1 Corinthians 12 was all about. There were gifts all over the place, and so he talks about these—faith and speech and knowledge and earnestness and love. But they did not excel in the grace of giving. Despite all of their qualities he says they are incomplete. They're immature, and he wants them to grow in the grace of giving.

Which brings us to the major implication of this passage. There is no way—there is no way—to grow to spiritual maturity without committing your finances to the Lord. No way. I think there's an axiom. Jesus can have our money and not have our hearts, but he cannot have our hearts without our money. "For where your treasure is, there is your heart also."

This principle can cause some of us to reach sinking spots in our spiritual growth, because we've not begun to give as the Scriptures and conscience are directing. There are so many excuses: It's too hard. I have so many obligations. I'll begin when I get a full-time job. I'll begin when the car is paid for. I'll begin when the children are done with school. I'll begin when I can really make a difference. I'll begin with the next promotion.

Paul is helpful here. Note his attitude in verse 8, "I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others," that is, the Macedonians. So he is saying this is not a command. All I am doing is describing to you the great grace of giving that happened in the Macedonian churches that you might look at that, look at your own lives, consider your affluent situation against their poverty and decide what you ought to do. It's a beautiful, gentle attitude. And that has to be the pastoral attitude in all suggestions that are made on the basis of this passage.

Implications for believers today

So now the advice. While the New Testament sets no figure as to how much one ought to give—it doesn't say you should give five percent or four percent or ten percent or fifteen percent or twenty percent.—the great requirement put on covenant people under the old covenant would suggest that ten percent is a good place to begin. It's not a law. The New Testament doesn't say it, but it can be a good place to begin. For some, because of what's going on in life, four percent or six percent would be a massive beginning. The Bible doesn't say.

In giving, whatever the percentage is, if you are giving regularly to the Lord the church should have first priority in that amount. I'm not suggesting that all that you give go to the church, but it ought to be given priority and not placed down the list, because giving empowers your church for ministry. One of the tragic trends around the country is that smaller churches are struggling because the members give the bulk of their money to parachurch organizations, thereby disempowering their church. After all, the church is the place where you worship and are taught. It is the institution that aids in instructing and discipling your children, that reaches out with specialized ministry to those with special needs, that supports yours sons and daughters and friends in missions.

The other thing that is apparent from this is that giving must be regular. On an earlier occasion he talks to the Corinthians right at the end of the book. It is 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, and this is what he says, "Now about the collection for God's people. Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up so that when I come no collections will have to be made." He says: I want you to give regularly.

So, when you look at what's going on here, you can see that the motivation is to bring health to the body of Christ, to respond to the grace of God. And my advice is to begin giving now. In fact, my advice is—to anyone who understands this—begin to give now. So if you're a child out there and you understand what Pastor Hughes is saying, if you can understand it, start to give regularly now. What a wonderful, wonderful grace in a child's life. What a wonderful grace in a student's life. So learn it while you're in university, while you're in college.

Like the preacher who paid a visit to the farmer and asked him, "If you had two hundred dollars, would you give a hundred dollars to the Lord?" "Sure would." "If you had two cows, would you give one cow to the Lord?" "Yeah, I would." "If you had two pigs, would you give one of them to the Lord?" The farmer replied, "That's not fair. You know that I have two pigs." The whole point is that there is not a better time than now. It will never get easier.

But this also comes with the recognition that regular giving is a source of great blessing—not only to the church, but individually. And I say this while objecting to the abuse of Malachi 3:10, which is one of the most abused texts in Scripture. Nevertheless, the principle is true that God generally prospers generous people. Generally. Proverbs 11:24-25 "One man gives freely yet gains even more; another withholds unduly but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper. He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." That is a wise saying from Proverbs.

A great biblical statement on this subject is found in 2 Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 6, "Remember this. Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. And whoever sows generously will also reap generously." Then look down at verse 10. "Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of food and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness." Somebody may object and say, "But that is spiritual reward." Well, I think that most of the promises are essentially spiritual in the Bible. And what would you rather have—a spiritual blessing or bigger bank account?


Listen to Jesus' words Luke 6:38, "Give and it will be given to you. A good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over will be poured into your lap, for with the measure you use it will be measured to you." Now Paul has made his point to the Corinthians by comparison with the Macedonian church. Nevertheless, he reaches for his ultimate example, the highest example, the ultimate motivation, and you see it in verse 9. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." There's the word grace again. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."

He's the Creator of the universe, but he emptied himself of his riches, immense riches, and became a servant. That is heaven's stewardship program. That is the grace of giving logged in eternity.

So, he says the Macedonians weren't forced into giving by gimmicks or fears, or by pulpit pounding, or by some sort of burlesque appeal, but the giving came because of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the ultimate motivation for giving. There is no greater. And, when you really get down to it, there must be no other. Because of his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace, grace heaped upon grace.

And so as we said in the beginning, giving is a matter of grace from beginning to end. Christ gave himself for us. We receive his grace. We give ourselves back to him. We give ourselves to others. And that includes giving what we have. That is how the Macedonians gave out of their poverty with great liberality, and that is how we give out of our affluence. It's the same.

Now we are putting our money where our mouth is next week with our First and Best celebration. This is our corporate movement for the ideal which the Scripture teaches. Why? For grace to fall upon the entire church. What is behind the concept of First and Best is a unified, purposeful, corporate demonstration of our thankfulness to what God has already done. It is grace responding to grace. It is an expression of confidence that he will do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. And so what we're asking everyone to do next week is to give ten percent of one week's income. One week. The way you figure that out is to divide your annual income by fifty-two and then divide the number by ten and come with that. If the children have a weekly allowance, you got it made. If you're self-employed, well, make a good guess. But we want to see the body of Christ join together in establishing and rejoicing in what ought to be normal. The biblical principle is not equal amounts but equal discipline.

So next Sunday is First and Best. I hope. I hope that the gentleness and sweetness of the apostle Paul's motivational example has bestowed grace on every soul. And I hope that there will be many who will look back on the first week of June as the beginning of increased joy and blessing in their lives to the glory of God.

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

R. Kent Hughes is pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and author of numerous books, including Disciplines of a Godly Man (Crossway).

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Sermon Outline:

Grace of Giving

by Kent Hughes


2 Corinthians 8:1-15


How to respond to grace in giving

Big Idea

Giving is a matter of grace from beginning to end.


Giving; Money, tithing; Grace; God, grace of






When Paul was talking about giving to the Corinthians, he encouraged them through the example of the Macedonians.

I. God's grace in giving among the Israelites

II. God's grace in giving among the Macedonians

III. Implications for the Corinthian church

IV. Implications for believers today


He's the Creator of the universe, but he emptied himself of his riches and became a servant. That is the grace of giving logged in eternity.