This blog post is based upon a sermon I preached on Sunday 4th October, to celebrate the festival of Harvest. It is based upon the passage 2 Corinthians 9:6-15.
You can also watch me preach this sermon here:
Good morning. It’s wonderful to be able to be with you to celebrate the festival of harvest, a time when we thank God for all that he has given us & when we bless others. We have seen many wonderful examples of generosity during this pandemic, from people donating to Coronavirus Support Funds to help others, to people volunteering to go shopping for other people who couldn’t go out, to all of the harvest gifts that have been donated this Harvest season.
So, why do we bless others? Why do we give, whether to this church or to other people or charities?
Is it because you think that’s what you should be doing? Is it because you feel that you owe something to someone? Is it because it makes you feel good? Is it because want to make a difference to someone else’s life?
My job is a Fundraising Officer for a charity. So, I write applications to funders (everyone from Children in Need, to big companies, to local family trusts) to tell them about our charity and to ask them to give money to our charity. So, this means that I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what motivates people to be generous. What pushes them to give, and how can I convince them to give their money to this charity?
A survey found that 96% of people give money because they feel a sense of duty to give back to society, 75% give because they are passionate about a specific cause, and 61% give because of a single life-changing experience.
Maybe one of these reasons strikes a chord for you, but in the passage, we read earlier from 2 Corinthians, Paul calls us as Christians to be generous for a much greater reason. The passage of 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 comes from one of Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth, and explores what generosity is, what it looks like, and answers the question of: why should Christians be generous?
This passage begins by saying:
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each one of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”2 Corinthians 9:6-7
And from this we can see two important features of generosity. Firstly, generosity is stated as the counterpart to giving sparingly, the two are opposed to one another. Paul doesn’t say, “whoever sows £10 a month will reap generously”, or “whoever sows to 20 different charities will reap generously”. Instead, he evaluates our generosity based on whether we give sparingly or give freely. It is not about how much we give necessarily, but about how tightly we are gripping onto what we have – are we holding onto our money tightly so that we don’t lose any, or willing to share it freely where we see it is needed, openhanded.
The second thing that we can see about what makes someone generous, is this direction that God loves a cheerful giver. Not in a put on a grin and bear it kind of way, but as people who are giving from a place of joy and actively want to give. We’ll come onto what this might look like in a bit.
So, why should Christians be generous?
God provides, so that we can be generous
The first reason that Paul gives us is that God has provided for us so that we can be generous.
Have you ever been given something, and had absolutely no idea what it’s for or how to use it? Or perhaps you’ve tried to use it only to discover you’re using it for entirely the wrong purpose?
My favourite sport in orienteering, which is basically cross-country running with a map, and we did this quite a lot as a family growing up, competing in different events. And when I was in Primary school, my dad ran an orienteering club at the school. At one of the sessions, he was teaching the group about the controls and how you prove that you’ve gone to the right control. At big events, you use an electronic timing device, but for a small after-school club we were sticking to the traditional pin punches – where you had a crocodile shaped device, like a pair of tongs, with a pattern of small pins in one side – you would put your piece of paper into the device, and punch a set of holes into the paper and that would prove you had been to the right control. But anyway, Dad was explaining this to the group, and set up a relay game. So, he told them, just run up to the controls laid out, find the right one, punch the right control and run back again. Well one of the younger girls that was there, maybe in year 2 or 3, took my dad’s instructions very literally, so she ran up to the controls, found the right one, took her fist, punched the control as hard as she could, and ran back. Which left my dad slightly speechless for a few minutes.
But that’s kind of what it’s like when we take the things that God has provided for us and aren’t then generous with those things. When we cling onto it or use it simply to help ourselves, we are using it in the wrong way. God’s generosity to us, should lead to our generosity to others around us.
Generosity is an act of faith
The second reason that Paul gives us to be generous, is that giving our money, our time, our energy, our resources, is an act of faith in response to God’s grace. Being generous is an act of trusting in God, it shows that we have faith in him. And we should be careful not to get confused here – we’re not being generous now so that God will give us more in the future, which leads us towards the prosperity gospel. And we’re also not being generous now in response to what God has given us in the past, gathering up all of these things that we have been given over the years, and then giving away a portion of it like a tax. Instead Paul calls us to trust in God’s ability to meet our needs right now so that we can give to the needs of others.
I think this goes back to the idea of giving freely that we explored earlier. If we have faith in God to provide for our needs now, we have no reason to cling onto the good things he is giving us but can part with them freely in order to help someone else. This also shows us how we can be cheerful givers, because when we are sure in our faith of God, we aren’t giving reluctantly, full of worry or resentment, instead we are giving from a place of joy because we have seen the wonderful grace that God has shown us.
Our generosity brings glory to God
And the third reason that Paul gives us to be generous, is that our generosity will lead to thanksgiving, praise and glory to God.
Verse 12 of our passage said, “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” And verse 13 says: “Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else”.
When we are generous, when we minister to other people, God uses that to reveal his glory to other people. People see the surpassing, overflowing grace that God has given to us, and through that they see God’s goodness – so they praise him and thank him.
So, God through his grace, provides for us in every way; so that because of our faith in his grace we can cheerfully and freely give and minister to others; so that God’s glory will be known, and he will be praised. So, this harvest, when we hear the calls to donate food or money, or bless those around us – let us not get lost in worrying about how much to give, how much to keep for ourselves, or what other people are giving; but let’s focus upon the grace that God shows to us each day and freely give from a place of faith and joy.
Dear God, thank you for everything that you have provided for us. Help us not to hold onto all of these things, but to share them freely and cheerfully. Show us how we can be generous with all that we have, blessing others and helping those who are in need. Amen.