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Edward F. Markquart

Bible Study of II Corinthians 8:1-15; 9:6-11

Stewardship Sunday

It is important that each one of you have the piece of paper, the bulletin insert, in your hands.  You also need a pencil in your fingers.  The ushers are around the sanctuary, passing out bulletin inserts and pencils.  You need the pencils for underlining and note taking.  Are we now ready to begin our Bible study?

Notice the title of the insert.  Scripture texts for Stewardship Sunday.  To all you first time visitors or new visitors here at Grace Lutheran, we specifically preach about money once a year on Stewardship Sunday which is always the third Sunday of November.  The people in our parish know this. 

Focus on the word, stewardship.  The word stewardship comes from the Greek word, oikos, which means house or household.  From the Greek word, oikos, we get the word, oikonomics which sounds like our word, economics.  In other words, the word stewardship means household economics.  Would you write the two words, household economics, above the word, stewardship? I am curious.  How many of you people are interested in household economics?  Could I see your hands?  Yes, we are all very interested in our household economics.

Focus on the word, Corinthians.  You need to know a bit of geography of Greece.  At the south end of Greece, on the sea, is the seaport of the city of Corinth. People who lived in the city of Corinth were naturally called the Corinthians.  Being a seaport town, the Corinthians were well acquainted with sailors, ships, sea going commerce and prostitutes. There were pagan idols from all over the world in that seaport, and so this letter will concern itself with these issues facing the Corinthians.

Focus on the chapters 8 and 9.  These two chapters are the classic chapters on Christian giving in the New Testament.  There is no other place in the New Testament where there is such a systemic discussion of offerings. You will notice that there is no mention of tithing or tithes in these two chapters.  Tithing is really an Old Testament concept  and there is not one single mention of tithing in these two classic chapters.  Tithing doesn’t seem to be part of the earliest Christian’s theology and their spirituality of giving. 

Please listen as I read from I Corinthians 16.  Paul wrote several letters to the church at Corinth and those letters are grouped into first and second Corinthians.  I would like to read from a previous letter to Corinth and his words help set the context.  He writes: “Concerning money raised for the needy, every Sunday each person put aside a proportion of what they earned.”  How often were they to give?  … Yes, you are right, each Sunday or systematically.  They were go give how?  They were to give in… yes,  in proportion to what they earned.  So from I Corinthians 16, we learn two important principles of Christian giving:  systematically, the first Sunday of the week, and proportionately.  They were to give a proportion of what they earned, the poorer gave less, the richer gave more.

Focus on “our brothers and sisters.”  The word, brothers and sisters, reveals that these people are family.  In fact, that is the way Paul feels about all the Christians he has worked with around his world. These people are family.  These people may have different colors of skin and different languages, but they are called brother and sister, family.  This phrase reveals a fundamental attitude of the heart to all Christians everywhere.

Underline, what God’s grace has accomplished in the churches Macedonia. Circle the word, God’s grace.  The focus is on God’s grace and what God’s grace accomplishes.  It is grace that has the power to change people, not guilt.  It is God’s grace that changes people. … The other night, at my adult inquiry class, I spoke with a woman who was struggling with grace.  She even telephoned her friend saying that she didn’t get it;  but a week later, she telephoned again and exclaimed, “I got it.  I got it.”  She finally got it that God loved her unconditionally, freely, she couldn’t earn it, didn’t deserve it.  As the book of Colossians says, “that you would come to know grace as it really is.”  It is the power of God’s grace that accomplishes all good things in the church. … Grace empowers great generosity. Grace is the inner power that makes great givers. Guilt has no power to produce great generosity.  Not the Ten Commandments.  Not the tithe.  These are all law; they are all guilt.  It is grace that empowered people in Macedonia to be great givers. This is a very basic principle that needs to be clearly understood.

Focus:  they have been severely tested by the troubles they went through.  Circle the words, severely tested.  These people were put to the test by the early persecutions of the Christians.  Many or most of us have discovered when life severely tests you, you can actually  become stronger through the suffering.  These severe troubles in Macedonia made these Christians stronger in their faith, not weaker.

Underline, their joy was so great that they were extremely generous in their giving, even though they were poor.  Circle the words, joy, so great, extremely generous and poor.  These people’s joy was so great.  This was not a middle class happiness that was dependent on a good home and good job and good income and good cars.  This was an inner joy from knowing Jesus.  Great generosity comes from great joy.  The tall flower of generosity is planted in the soil of great joy.  … Let me tell you a story of Sister Mary who lives and works in a slum outside the city of Nairobi, Kenya.  When you walk down the streets near her vocational school, you have never seen such big smiles on the people in your whole life.  There seems to be a radiant happiness coming from within them.  Sister Mary told us, “their great joy results in being great givers.”  It was strange; they were so poor yet so happy and their inner happiness resulted in them being great givers, so she told us.  It is a fundament principle of Christian giving:  you cannot be extremely generous is giving without first having a great joy within. This is also true of the poor.

Focus on verse three:  they gave as much as they could and more than they could, of their own free will.  These people actually gave more than they thought they could.  This is a grand idea, a grand principle; that these Christians gave more than they thought they could.  That idea is what we talk about in this church as well; that we can give more than we thought we could. Focus on the words, of their own free will.  Circle the words, free will.  These first Christians were doing this of their own volition, of their own free will.  The Apostle Paul was not coercing them in Macedonia; some outside pressures weren’t being put on them.  Their motivation came from inside, from their own free will. 

Focus on: they begged and pleaded with us for the privilege of helping.  I know Carl Mau in our congregation.  He is retired but used to be the Executive Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation. He tells of his visit to the Soviet Union and with the German Lutheran brothers and sisters there in a particular congregation.  He told them of the starvation that was occurring in Central Africa, and these poor Russians, (you can’t be a “back country” Russian and not be poor,) how these Russian Christians begged and pleaded with him to take their offering of ruples to help the starving Africans.  Carl Mau said those impoverished Russian Christians literally begged him to take the offering with him.  He couldn’t. He knew that he couldn’t get the ruples out of Russia, but it was the attitude of impoverished Russian Christians begging to give to African Christians that impressed him.

Why are Christians so generous?  That is the question in the Bible and for today.

Focus on verse six.  First they gave themselves to the Lord.  This is crucial.  Any generous giver has given. The children’s sermon was very important today.  All the children came up front, I took an offering plate, one child volunteered, and the child sat in the offering plate while I carried that child up to the altar and that the offering plate on the communion table, as we do with the offering plates every Sunday.  You all laughed at the situation, but also laughed because it is so true:  the best offering to give is one’s self, and when you saw the child in the plate on the altar, you got the message.  The best offering to God is our selves.  That is what verse six says, first they gave themselves to the Lord.

Focus on the phrase, and they gave themselves to us as well.  Now who is the “us?”  Is it the Apostle Paul or may it be the other Christian brothers and sisters.  The “us” is not referring to pastors or apostles but the Christian community.  This double oscillation is very important; this double giving of our hearts first to the Lord and then secondly, to our brothers and sisters in the Christian community.  First, we give ourselves to God and secondly, we give ourselves to our Christian family around the globe.  Both giving are important.

Focus on verse seven and Paul switches tactics here.  You are so rich in all you have: in faith, speech, and knowledge, in your eagerness to help, and in your love for us.  And so we want you to be generous also in this service of love.  Please circle the word, generous. I understand what Paul is saying here; I get it; I often feel the same way about you, Grace Lutheran Church.  I often say to you that you are such a gifted congregation in so many ways:  music, choirs, children, youth, retired, and leadership.  You have so many and varied gifts in this church.  May you also be gifted in your generosity to the needy as well. You have all these gifts; I want you to be gifted in one more area, generosity to the poor.

Underline the opening words of verse eight: I am not laying down any rules.  Here again, in this classic passage about financial stewardship in the New Testament, there is no mention of the tithe, the rule of tithing, the law of tithing. Paul does not lay down any rules for giving.  Rather, he talks about grace, that God’s grace is the power that enables a person to have happily, joyfully, gladly and is extremely generous.  Extreme generosity is motivated by God’s grace living inside of us.

Let us read the rest of verse eight.  By showing how eager you are to help, I am trying to find out how real your own love is.  This is good.  The eagerness of wanting to actually help others less fortunate reveals how true our love is. 

In verse nine, Paul focuses on Jesus Christ.  Up to this point, Paul’s looked to the church in Macedonia to inspire our lives into generosity.  Please, you be as generous as the church in Macedonia.  Now Paul changes focus; he focuses on Christ. Jesus Christ was rich became poor in order to make you rich.  God didn’t stay up in the riches of heaven but came down to earth in the poor person Jesus of Nazareth, and by his death and resurrection, you have been made rich.  We are not only to be like the church in Macedonia; we are to be like Christ, who gave himself and all his possessions away.

Verse ten.  It is better to finish now what you began last year.  It is an inspiring word:  finish the job! Complete the project! Get it done! Complete your Christian faith by becoming an extremely generous person in your offerings for the poor.  You do so many good works; you have so many good gifts; finish the job, complete the project and be extremely generous to the poor. The Bible says:  be as eager to finish it as you were to play it.  We are always so eager at first in our planning; Paul says we are to be just as eager to finish the job, and mature into being extremely generous.

Verse eleven and twelve:  circle the word, eager, in both verses. There is an eagerness to wanting to be generous.  An anticipation, a planning, a let’s do it attitude.  An eager attitude makes all the difference.

Underline the words, God will accept your gift on the basis of what you give, not on what you don’t have.  No gift is too puny, too small, too insignificant.  The widow in the gospel story only gave two coins that added up to one penny, and the gift was of a great magnitude.  Not gift from the heart is too small for God.

Focus on verses 13-14.  I am not putting a burden on you.  Since you have plenty at this time, it is only fair that you should help those in need.  Would you circle the word, plenty.  The word could be translated, enough.  I would like to see a show of hands:  has God given you enough to meet your needs in this life?  I thought so.  We all have been given plenty.  Out of fairness, we need to help those who haven’t so many material goods at this time.  It is only fair to share. 

Look at verse 15.   The Old Testament says, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.  This sentence is a reference to the story of the manna in the wilderness.  When the Jews were out in the desert, one morning they woke up and there was manna on the ground, enough food for all.  Nobody was greedy;  nobody took too much manna or too little manna.  The Jews in the wilderness took what they actually needed and no more.  This becomes a problem for us, because we sense that we have taken much more than we actually need to live.

Focus on chapter 9, verse seven.  Each person should give then, as he has decided, not out of regret or duty.  This is good.  Don’t ask Pastor O’Neal or myself how much you need to give for your offerings.  You are the one who needs to make the decision about your offerings.

Focus and underline: not out of regret or duty.  Circle the word, not, and the word, duty.  Duty never makes for a generous giver. Duty won’t last. Duty doesn’t inspire hearts.  We’re not talking about Norwegian guilt here.

Focus and underline:  God loves the one who gives gladly. Circle the word, gladly.  We hear another translation in our minds:  God loves a cheerful giver.  In Greek, the word translates, hilariously.  Hilarious is even a happier word than gladly or cheerfully. We are to give hilariously, taking such pleasure in giving to those in need.

Focus and underline verse eight:  God is able to give you more than you need, so you will always have (please circle the word, always) all (circle the word, all) you need (circle the word, need)  and more than enough for every good cause.  What a mouthful.  Have you been given more than you need?  Yes.  Has God always taken care of you? Yes. Does God give you all your wants?  NO. Does God give you enough for all your needs? Yes. Do you have more than enough to give to good causes?  Yes.  God is faithful to his promises and will meet our needs and we will have more than enough to give away.

Verse nine. Circle the words give generously.These words are repeated often. Circle the word, needy, for these are the people who are the recipients of our care.

Underline:  God’s kindness endures forever.  You can trust God. God is faithful to his promises…to meet your needs, to care for you, so that you will have more than enough to give away.

Focus and underline in verse ten:  God will supply you with all the seed your need, it will grow, and produce a rich harvest from your generosity.  Please circle the word, generous again.  You can count on God.  You may not trust that God will take care of you.  God will supply you with all the seed you need; God promises to make it grow; God promises a rich harvest from your generosity.  Do you trust God being faithful to these grand promises?

Focus on verse eleven and circle the word, generous.  Again, it is another promise of God.  Do you believe that God will make you rich enough to be generous?  Wow. What words.  What promises.  God will make us rich enough to be generous, not so we become rich enough to give ourselves of our abundance. Whether rich or poor, we are generous. 

Focus and underline:  so that many people will thank God for the gifts that they receive from us.  It blows your mind:  A ten dollar gift will feed a thousand hungry children one meal. Ten dollars.  Those hungry children will thank God for the food that has been given to them this day.  May you give generously, with generous hearts, so that millions of people will thank, not you, but God.  

Well, that is some of what the Bible teaches about stewardship in the classic passage from II Corinthians 8 and 9. Amen.

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