I love the TOY STORY movies! Don’t you?!
- The animation is great.
- So is the cast! I mean with actors like Tim Allen and Tom Hanks you can’t go wrong.
- The writing is wonderful—I love all the jokes that only adults will get!
But the thing that really moves me about these films—is the way all the toys in Toy Story have each other’s backs. I mean, those toys take care of each other. For example—do you remember Toy Story 2 when Wheezy was taken from Andy’s room to be sold at a yard sale? When that happened, Woody hopped on Buster the dog and rode to his rescue! Then when Woody ended up being stolen by that toy collector—Big Al of Al’s toy barn—ALL of the TOYS left the safety of Andy’s room to rescue their friend. Do you remember that scene where they got under traffic cones to cross the street? And in Toy Story 3 Woody came to the rescue of the other toys when he learned how bad it was for toys who lived in the Sunnyside Day Care Center. The theme song for these movies reflects this “got your back theme.”
I don’t know about you but I kind of tear up when I hear this song because there have been tons of times in my life—when friends came to my rescue. How about you guys? Has there ever been a time when you were in great need and someone had your back? Sure! We’ve all experienced that—because that’s one thing about Christians—if we follow our Lord’s command, we can all say to each other, “You’ve got a friend in me. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you!”
In this—our final sermon in our study of 1st Corinthians—Paul reminds the church in Corinth of this core belief—and how it applied in their response to the needs of the Christians in Jerusalem. Take your Bibles and turn to the last chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. I want us to read the first three verses.
1 – Now about the collection for the Lord’s people:Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.
2 – On the first day of every week,each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
3 – When, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.
Okay—did you note the WAY Paul tells the Corinthians they are to “have the back of” the Christians in Jerusalem? They were to help them with a serious financial need. And the fact that Paul speaks of this offering as THE collection—well it indicates that the Christians in the Corinthian church already knew about it. Paul had probably mentioned it to them in a prior letter.
In any case this COLLECTION was for the Christians in the first church—the church in Jerusalem—and Paul had been collecting it for a year or more. He’d asked the churches in Galatia and Macedonia and Achaia to help. He collected the gifts from each of these churches during his third missionary journey. And then according to Acts 24:17 says Paul delivered this collection when he returned.
Now—there was a real need for the offering for a couple reasons.
- First, extreme poverty was common in ancient times.
- Second—in spite of its religious and strategic importance, in the first century, Jerusalem was a poor city.
You see, since it was the religious center for Jews, it was often overpopulated, especially during times of special fests and celebrations. I mean, its resources were continually strained.
- To make matters worse, Acts 11:28 tells us that some years earlier there had been a severe famine from which the people were still suffering.
- Another thing that made it particularly hard on the church there was the fact that Christians had been persecuted for many years.
Many of them were put out of their homes, stripped of possessions, prevented from getting any but the most menial of jobs and even imprisoned. We know that many believers in the church sold their property and gave the funds to help with this constant need.
So—knowing about this crisis—Paul organized this offering—an offering to let the Jewish Christians hear the Gentile believers say, “You’ve got a friend in me! We may be from different cultures—different ethnicities—but we’re spiritual brothers and sisters.”
This offering was also a way to show the lost that the people who gave to this offering were Christians. As Jesus said in John 13:35: “They will know you are My disciples if you love one another.” Francis Schaeffer once said that Christian community is the final apologetic: “Better than words, better than books, better than fancy argument—is the simple notion of a person far from God observing how deeply believers care for on another and look after one another.”
This “loving one another deal” is indeed a powerful form of evangelism because everyone wants friends. I mean, this kind of “TOY STORY LOVE” draws people to God.
This is especially true in our day and age—because friendship has changed—and not for the good. In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, William Deresiewicz examines this change by looking at the new forms of friendship that have emerged in the age of Facebook.
While social media has allowed us the opportunity to be connected to everyone, it more often than not comes at the expense of the deep, meaningful, friendships that everyone longs to have.
Deresiewicz writes: “[Concerning] the moral content of classical friendship, its commitment to virtue and mutual improvement, that has been lost. We have ceased to believe that a friend’s highest purpose is to summon us to the good by offering moral advice and correction. We practice, instead, the nonjudgmental friendship of unconditional acceptance and support—‘therapeutic’ friendship—A friend fulfills her duty, we suppose, by taking our side—validating our feelings, supporting our decisions, helping us to feel good about ourselves. We tell white lies, make excuses when a friend does something wrong, do what we can to keep the boat steady. We’re busy people; we want our friendships fun and friction-free—With the social-networking sites of the new century—Friendster and MySpace were launched in 2003, Facebook in 2004—the friendship circle has expanded to engulf the whole of the social world, and in so doing, destroyed both its own nature and that of the individual friendship itself. Facebook’s very premise—and promise—is that it makes our friendship circles visible. There they are, my friends, all in the same place. Except, of course, they’re not in the same place, or, rather, they’re not my friends. They’re a [superficial likeness or semblance] of my friends—little dehydrated packets of images and information, no more my friends than a set of baseball cards is the New York Mets.”
Deresiewicz concludes: “Friendship is devolving, in other words, from a relationship to a feeling—from something people share to something each of us hugs privately to ourselves in the loneliness of our electronic caves.”
Sad but true—so it’s more important than ever for Christians like you and me to model TRUE friendships—the kind Paul encourages here—friends who give of themselves to help each other. This is why he encourages the Corinthians believers to welcome Timothy—to take care of him when he came.
The cool thing about this text is the fact that it not only teaches us about the core value of Christian friendships—it also teaches us a lot about the basics of GIVING. And, I have to say, I can’t help but see the hand of God in the way He inspired this sermon series—because what Paul says about money matters hits right when—as you know—we are facing some serious financial issues because of a lack of giving. The fact that this text landed up on this Sunday—is not a coincidence. I mean, we would obviously benefit from a look at the basics of giving—and God knew that way back when He led me to plan this series. So—what does Paul say about giving?
(1) First he says that it is a vital part of regular WORSHIP.
In verse two we read that the Corinthians were to give weekly, “on the first day of every week.”
This tells us a couple things. First, it tells us the early church met on Sunday—just like we do. By the way, did you also note that Christians were already celebrating Pentecost Sunday—cool. The second thing we see here is that their weekly worship services involved taking an offering—passing the plates—just like we do. So—part of worship then—and now—is the giving of money to kingdom purposes. You know there is a trend these days for churches to almost apologize for taking an offering. Many even encourage visitors to not feel obligated to participate. But that goes against the teaching of Scripture because giving is part of worship. We should no more apologize for it than we would for preaching or praying in worship. Think about it. Would we say to visitors, “Don’t feel obligated to sing this next song.” Or “Don’t feel obligated to stay for the sermon?” No—of course not. And neither should we encourage people not to participate in the offering. GIVING is part of worship!
Now—I know that GIVING—TITHING—is not a popular sermon topic. The same people who apologize for taking an offering tend to think Pastors should steer clear of talking about money in their sermons—as if to do so is inappropriate—unspiritual. But to ignore giving in sermons would mean ignoring a huge chunk of the Bible. I mean, there are 1,565 references to GIVING or STEWARDSHIP in the Bible. In fact, Jesus had more to say about stewardship and money than any other subject including Heaven, Hell, salvation, and His 2nd coming! This underscores the fact that giving our tithes and offerings to God’s church each Sunday is very important.
GIVING is an important part of worship because it is a foundational Christian discipline. That’s how Paul thought about it. We see this throughout his writings and this first letter to the church in Corinth is a prime example. Look back a chapter or two and you’ll see why I say this. As you do you be reminded that in those chapters Paul talks about some core Christian beliefs.
He writes about Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins—and Jesus’ resurrection—Remember? I said our Christian faith all comes down to those two facts! Then Paul talks about what our resurrection bodies will be like. Remember when I said last week that Paul tells us God will give us not a face lift—but a body lift? And do you remember the final few verses of last week’s text? Paul says:
“Then shall be brought to pass the thing that is written; ‘Death is swallowed up in victory! O death, where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory?’ The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus, Christ. Therefore, dear brothers, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” And then without even stopping to catch a breath he writes, “Now, let’s talk about money—let’s talk about the collection.” And he goes on to talk about giving in the church.
So—Giving—stewardship—is a core belief! It’s right up there with the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s a vital part of our spiritual growth—our becoming more and more like Jesus Who GAVE His life for us. It’s part of our learning to trust God to provide for us. Giving must be part of our worship—both here the first day of each week—and out there as we worship God with our day-to-day lives.
Christian leader Gordon MacDonald shared the following story about how God helped him to understand this. He writes: “My wife, Gail, and I once made a mission trip to West Africa. On the first Sunday of our visit, we joined a large crowd of desperately poor Christians for worship. As we neared the church, I noticed that almost every person was carrying something. Some hoisted cages of noisy chickens, others carried baskets of yams, and still others toted bags of eggs or bowls of cassava paste. ‘Why are they bringing all that stuff?’ I asked one of our hosts. ‘Watch!’ she said. Almost every person in that African congregation brought something: a chicken, a basket of yams, a bowl of cassava paste. Soon after the worship began, the moment came when everyone stood and poured into the aisles, singing, clapping, even shouting. The people began moving forward, each in turn bringing whatever he had brought to a space in the front. Then I got it. This was West African offering time. The chickens would help others get a tiny farm business started. The yams and the eggs given could be sold in the marketplace to help the needy. The cassava paste would guarantee that someone who was hungry could eat. I was captivated. I’d never seen a joyful offering before. Obviously, my ‘keep-money-under-the-radar’ policy would not have worked in that West African church. Those African believers, although they never knew it, had moved me. I began to understand that giving—whether yams or dollars—was not an option for Christ-followers. Rather it was an indication of the direction and the tenor of one’s whole life.”
Well, Macdonald is right. Giving is an integral part of our walk with God. Giving is part of a life-style of worshiping God—Who gave His only Son—God Who gives to us every breath we breathe.
(2) Here’s a second principle Paul teaches us: Our giving should be SYSTEMATIC.
In other words, there should be a plan. In verse 2 Paul says, “each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” This reminds us that giving to God should not be a spasmodic thing. I mean, it’s not something we do when we feel especially generous or when we find we have a little extra left over at the end of the month. No—it should be a regular thing. Stephen Um puts it this way, “Sharing—giving—isn’t natural. But regularity is the first step in making it more so.” And he’s right. When we get our paychecks—the first thing we should do is set aside part of it to give back to God.
And parents, it is important for our children to learn this principle. We need to teach them about money and giving. John Ortberg talks about teaching his kids this lesson. He writes: “When our kids were little, we put them on the envelope system. When we gave them an allowance, they would put it in envelopes labeled ‘Give,’ ‘Save,’ ‘Gifts,’ ‘Spend,’ and so on. I thought it was working until one day I had a Band-Aid on my arm, and my daughter, who at that time was about six, asked, ‘Why?’ I explained I had gotten a medical exam that day to get life insurance. She asked, ‘What’s that?’ I explained, ‘Well, Daddy loves you so much and loves the family so much, so if anything were to happen to Daddy (which of course it won’t, but if it would), it would provide for $250,000.’ Her eyes got really wide. She has a tender heart, and I knew she’d be worried. She looked up at me and said, ‘Apiece?’ I thought, ‘I’m not sure the right lesson is getting communicated.’” Children do indeed need to be taught about money—and giving.
Sue and I enjoyed some time with the Esch family last week and I noticed an odd bank on the top of Abigail’s book shelf. It had three compartments and when I asked about it, Tom said that whenever Abigail gets money for her chores—part goes in the compartment for saving—another part goes in the compartment for spending—and the final part goes in the compartment for giving back to God. Even at 5 years of age Abigail is learning this important principle. She regularly sets aside part of her tiny income to give back to God. COOL! That’s the way we should all think. One very important “money matter” is this “setting aside a portion of our income” to give back to God. And—one of the benefits of this systematic giving is the surprise at the end of the year—when it comes to the AMOUNT you gave—the total of your systematic giving. I love getting our statements at the end of the year—it really does add up—which really does help when tax time rolls around!
And—speaking of adding up—this week I read about this man: Albert Lexie. Albert is a shoe-shine man. For the last 30 years, he has set up shop in Pittsburgh’s Children Hospital and knocked the dirt off other people’s shoes. He buffs, he polishes. And he charges a mere $5 for his labor. Often, a satisfied customer will leave a tip. Most give an extra dollar, some give two.
Once, during the Christmas season, a doctor gave him $50 for shining one pair of shoes. But big tips like that are few and far between. And people just don’t care about the condition of their shoes like they used to. Albert is a relic left over from another era, a different world. But when Albert has shined his last shoe and put away his shoe-shine kit for good, he will not be forgotten at the Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital. No—Albert will leave behind a legacy. Since the day he shined his first pair of shoes there 30 years ago, Albert has donated more than a third of his earnings to the Children’s Hospital Free Care Fund—which helps parents who can’t afford to pay for their sick children’s medical costs. In addition, Albert has also given the hospital every tip he has ever received. Every single tip. But Albert is just a shoe-shine man. How much could there be to give? According to the hospital administration, he gave just over $200,000. It’s a seemingly impossible number. 200 grand is what professional athletes give, not shoe-shine men. And yet that is the correct number. This shows that even small amounts, given faithfully, add up to a powerful legacy.
It reminds us that systematic giving to God’s church is a powerful thing. Not only does it enable us to give a lot—it also changes US a lot. It turns us into GIVING, sacrificial people.
(3) Here’s a third “money matter” that Paul addresses. He says that giving should be INCLUSIVE. In other words, it’s something everyone should do.
Look at verse 2 again where Paul says, “On the first day of every week, EACH ONE OF YOU should set aside a sum of money.” I think that is fairly simple to understand—no need to research the Greek here—I can tell you without getting out my Greek lexicon that this means—Giving is something ALL CHRISTIANS should do. No Christian is excepted or excused for the simple reason that we are each stewards of whatever the Lord has given us, no matter how little it may be in economic terms.
Do you remember the time Jesus observed different people putting their offerings in the Temple treasury? When a poor widow put her two small copper coins in—Jesus did not reach in to get out those two small coins and give them back to her. No—His reaction was to use her generosity as a model of spiritual giving. He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury—for they all put in out of their surplus. But she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12)
And then do you remember the generosity of the poor Christians in Macedonia when it came to what they gave to the collection? In 2nd Corinthians 8 Paul writes, “In a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.” The reason these poor believers gave so generously to THE COLLECTION was “…that they first give themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.” (vs 5) They gave out of love for God and for His servants. The truth I take from this is we have EACH been given MUCH from God—so we should EACH give back.
(4) A fourth thing Paul says is that our giving should be PROPORTIONAL.
Look at verse 2 again where it says, “each one of you should set aside a sum of money IN KEEPING WITH YOUR INCOME.” This is where the principle of tithing comes in. Whenever we get our paychecks we should set aside a percentage to give back to God. Now WHY TITHE? Why give proportionally? First, we do so as an act of OBEDIENCE because the Bible repeatedly and clearly suggests a minimum giving standard of giving ten percent back to God. For example, in Malachi 3:9 God says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house.” But–as I just said tithing is also an act of GRATITUDE. When we give the first tenth we are saying, “God, I wouldn’t have anything if it weren’t for You. Thank you Father, for as Your Word says, ‘every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights Who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)’”
And then tithing is an act of PRIORITY. It’s a way of saying, “God, I want You to be number one in my life and I prove it by putting You first in my money.”
It’s also an act of FAITH that says, “God, I know all those promises in the Bible that say if I put You first you’ll take care of me. To prove that I BELIEVE these promises I’m going to give to You first.” And listen! God takes care of us like no one else! As David said in the 23rd Psalm, God fills our cups to overflowing! In the text from Malachi God goes on to say, “Test Me in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” According to this verses and others like it—the call to tithe is accompanied by the promise that God will intervene supernaturally in the financial affairs of those who consistently do so. They will enjoy financial miracles that would not happen if they neglected to give to God. So, as I have said in the past, our giving to God should not be viewed as a DEBT WE OWE but rather as a SEED WE SOW—a seed that will yield God’s bountiful blessings.
By the way this verse in Malachi is the only place in the Bible that says you can prove God. In essence our Heavenly Father says, “You want to prove that I exist? Start tithing. Then watch what happens!” It may not make sense but I can tell you by experience that it works. God has always provided for me and my family. In forty years of tithing I have never even MISSED my tithe. I have found God to be completely trustworthy in this. He has been faithful to take care of us in the generous way that only God can.
And when you think about it—we don’t have trouble trusting God with other things. I mean, we trust Him with our eternal destiny. We trust Him for daily wisdom and guidance. Why can’t we trust Him with our money!? The amazing thing to me is the POWER of the tithe—the power of PROPORTIONAL GIVING. Ron Sider points out that if the believers who attend church regularly tithed regularly: There would be an extra 46 billion dollars a year available for kingdom work. To make that figure more concrete, here’s a list of things that $46 billion could fund each year:
- 150,000 new indigenous missionaries
- 50,000 additional theological students in the developing world
- 5 million more in micro loans to poor entrepreneurs
- the food, clothing and shelter for all 6,500,000 current refugees in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East
- all the money for a global campaign to prevent and treat malaria
- resources to sponsor 20 million needy children worldwide.
Sider writes: “Generous financial giving of ordinary American Christians would generate staggering amounts of money that could literally change the world.” Wouldn’t you like to be a part of that!
(5) A fifth thing we can learn about giving here is that it is UNIFYING.
As I said, the main reason Paul was taking this collection was to raise money for Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who were literally STARVING to death. But I think he had a larger agenda in mind than JUST raising money for the Christians in Jerusalem. You see he had started these churches in the Gentile world. So, he had an investment in them. He wanted the faith of these new Christians to grow and he knew that if they got involved in this offering for these needy people, this is exactly what would happen. I think Paul thought, “… if I can get these new Christians to give to this needy group of Christians they will grow in Christ because: they will put others needs before their own…and…in giving sacrificially they will have to trust God and so they will learn to rely on His strength.”
But I also think Paul was thinking about how the Jewish Christians were a little nervous about the Gentile Christians—and the Gentile Christians were a little nervous and suspicious about the Jewish Christians. Paul felt that if he took this offering from the Gentiles and gave it to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, it might help to break down some of the barriers, and create a unity in the church. This ought to say something to you and me. There is so much more involved in subscribing a church budget than simply paying the bills—because giving IS something that helps us grow spiritually—and giving TOGETHER builds our fellowship! In fact, a church budget is a TEAM PROJECT from the beginning. We put it together as a team—each committee and program ministry lets us know it’s needs each fall. Through two or three business meetings together, we look at the spending plan together. We pray about it and we vote on it—together! And then all year we all sacrificially give together to meet it. We pool our financial resources to achieve a common goal.
And I have to say it feels GREAT when we succeed—when we fully subscribe our spending plan—as we have done many times in the past. It’s a unifying thing when Christians work together to give—and then achieve their goals. It’s better than the joy the CUBS felt this week when they FINALLY won the World Series. I remember the smiles and cheers when we paid off our debt on the Fraley property. It felt so good to burn that note. I look forward to burning the ROC note. The fact is GIVING together BINDS us together.
Ken Blanchard the best-selling author of The One Minute Manger, is a Christian and he applies this principle to his company. He writes, “We tithe 10 percent of our profit, which last year was $320,000. We divide it among all our employees to give away. The lowest-paid employee gets to give $1,000 away, and the highest gets to give $3,500. In this way, we gave to 160 charities last year. A guy in shipping came up to me with tears in his eyes. He got the chance to give $1,000 to his parish to buy robes for the choir. He’s become a local hero.” Blanchard has learned that tithing builds incredible unity and esprit de corps in his company. The same is true of a local church like ours.