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The Rewards of Giving (June 9, 2002)

When I was in college I took a psychology class.  In that class we studied the work of Abraham Maslow, a psychologist born in the United States.  In his research Maslow identified five distinct levels of human need.  He arranged these needs into a pyramid to show how when one level of needs are met, we graduate to a new level of need.  We go through this process until we achieve fulfillment.

Physical.

At the base of the pyramid are the most basic needs common to mankind, physical.  Physical needs include food, water, strength, rest, comfort, and health.  If someone is hungry, he doesn't care about anything else.  He'll do virtually anything to put bread on his table.  He'll steal, wreck relationships, beg, gamble, and cheat.  The more hungry he is, the more desperate the measures he'll take.

Safety and security.

But once our physical needs are satisfied, we seek safety and security.  With bread on the table, we begin buying health insurance, auto insurance, dental insurance, home insurance, smoke alarms, and burglar alarms.  We buy the big secure house, the indestructible car, and a cell phone for emergencies.  At this level our primary focus is eliminating our anxiety, our insecurities, our worries, our fears, and any outside threats so that we can find peace.

Love and affection.

Once we feel safe and secure, we next seek love and affection, or connectivity.  We want a place to belong.  We want companionship.  We want to be appreciated.  We want to be needed, accepted, and included.  We want intimacy with others.  We want deeper and more meaningful relationships.

Esteem.

Once we are surrounded with love and affection, we concentrate on building esteem.  We want to stand out above our peers.  We want respect, admiration, and success.  We want to have confidence and to feel forgiven for our shortcomings.  We want to feel good about ourselves, not just because others love us, but because we have achieved something.  And so we work, work, work to make a difference and to feel good about ourselves.

Self actualization.

Last, Maslow says the highest human need is self actualization.  Self actualization is a fancy way of saying that we seek satisfaction, or a sense of completeness, usefulness, or purpose.  Ultimately, we want to experience joy, fulfillment, deep contentment, and gratification.

All of these needs are represented in this room this morning.  Some of you have unmet physical needs.  Some are seeking some kind of security, financial or otherwise.  Some are looking for a sense of connectivity or belonging with others.  Some need esteem.  Some are seeking fulfillment.

And some of you are saying to yourselves, "Wait a minute.  I thought you were going to talk about the rewards of giving this morning."  Exactly!

Giving to God satisfies every physical need.

As I studied 2 Corinthians 8 and 2 Corinthians 9 this past week, it dawned on me that one of the greatest human needs is to exercise generosity.  Because as we give, God satisfies every single one of our deepest needs.  All of the needs I've just mentioned in Maslow's hierarchy of needs are met as we step out on faith and learn to give generously.  God has wired us up to be most satisfied and fulfilled as we give.  And this is precisely the reason so few people reach the top of the pyramid.

The most contented and gratified people in the world are the most generous people in the world.  There's no surprise here.  There is no fulfillment in greed, or in hoarding, or in withholding our generosity from others.  Instead, the most miserable people in the world are those who will not give to God!

In 2 Corinthians 9:6 (NIV) Paul speaks of the principle of sowing and reaping.  In that verse Paul says, "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously."  If we sow sparingly, we reap sparingly.  If we sow generosity, we reap generosity.

Our biggest problem is that when it comes to meeting our personal needs, we are relying too heavily on the principle of the lottery.  The principle of the lottery says, "Whoever sows sparingly will reap a windfall.  Whoever gambles away a dollar will strike the jackpot.  Whoever sinks a quarter will be flooded with a waterfall of wealth."  Our biggest problem is that we want the maximum return with the least investment.  We want all the rewards of generosity without investing a dime.  The Bible reminds us that it doesn't work that way.

The quickest way to climb the pyramid to find fulfillment is through generosity.  When we give, God promises to meet all our needs.  In their extreme poverty, the Macedonian Christians gave generously and God stocked their cupboards!  In 2 Corinthians 8:14-15 (NIV) Paul tells the Corinthians, "At the present time your plenty will supply what they (the Macedonians) need, so that in turn their plenty (the Macedonians) will supply what you need.  Then their will be equality, as it is written: 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.' '' 

The Macedonians moved from deprivation to plenty by exercising generosity.  The reward for their generosity was that God took care of their physical needs.  Notice that this is exact opposite formula that many people use to move out of poverty.  So often the poor try to take everything they can get their hands on including welfare, handouts, government programs, church programs, you name it.

But if you are always taking, that means you are never sowing.  And if you are never sowing, that means you may never reach a point where you'll be reaping!  One of the first rewards of giving is that it allows us to move away from always depending on others for food, clothing, shelter, and transportation.  We should teach those in need to give, instead of empowering them only as takers.

Giving to God brings security.

One main reason we withhold our generosity is because we are insecure.  Think back to the last time you didn't give.  Can you also remember the reason?  So often our generosity is quenched by our anxiety.  When was the last time you said to yourself, "If I give to God but then a pipe breaks in my house, or the engine fails in my car, or the bank goes under, or the stock market tanks, or gas prices go up, or insurance premiums skyrocket, or the kids get sick, or my spouse leaves me, or that bill comes due, or the weather turns nasty, or, or, or, or....."

It seems ironic to say, but deep down we often believe that the quickest pathway to security is by having a tight fist.  Perhaps that makes sense on Wall Street, but it makes absolutely no sense from God's perspective.

Consider a couple of verses out of 2 Corinthians 8 and 2 Corinthians 9.  2 Corinthians 9:10 (NIV) says, "Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and enlarge the harvest of your righteousness."

2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV) says, "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."

2 Corinthians 8:5 (NIV) referring to the Macedonians says, "...they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will."

Here is what the impoverished Macedonian Christians realized.  They discovered that there is a security that transcends this life.  This life is not our home.  This life is not our destiny.  What we can see and verify and calculate is not all that we get.  They learned to trust in the God who supplied their security.

Let me say this even more clearly.  Our insecurity is really ungodliness.  Worry and anxiety is really ungodliness.  Fear is ungodliness.  The essence of godliness is trusting the God who supplies.  And when we give money to God, that is precisely what we are doing.  We are declaring our trust in God.

I want you to open your wallet and purses for a moment.  No, we are not taking an offering!  Grab a dollar bill, whatever you have, and tell me what it says.  Your dollar bill says, "In God we trust" doesn't it!  If it doesn't, throw it away.  Your dollar does not say, "In money we trust.  In money we find security."

Through giving, God meets our physical needs.  He provides us with security.

Giving to God connects us with God's love.

We cannot buy love and affection, not even God's.  We cannot buy friendships.  We should never give money thinking, "This will earn me God's favor.  This will make God love me and accept me."

But having said that, showing generosity gives us deeper intimacy with God and his people.  Generosity puts us in touch with the very heart of Jesus Christ.  It enables us to experience a closeness to God that moves far beyond anything we've known.  In 2 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV) Paul tells the Corinthians, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."

Jesus emptied himself of all his heavenly riches in order to enrich us in every way.  Jesus became poor in order to show us God's love.  He died on a cross to provide forgiveness for our sins.  He came to bring a message of reconciliation and acceptance from God.  He came to include us in God's eternal kingdom.  He came to establish a Christian community in which we can belong and be valued.  Jesus set the highest standard imaginable for generosity.  And when we follow in his footsteps, our generosity spiritually connects us to his heart and to one another.

We cannot give to God without also thinking of how deeply he first loved us by sending his Son to invite us into his eternal kingdom.  Giving reminds us of God's love.  In this way, giving meets one of our deepest needs.

Giving to God builds our esteem.

In our culture, we are encouraged to find esteem within ourselves.  Pop-psychologists encourage us to keep digging deeper and deeper until we find self esteem and begin feeling good about ourselves.  Our culture wants us to feel good first before investing anything.  The truth is that it is hard to feel good about ourselves without achieving something first.  And this is true in the spiritual realm as well.

As we study 2 Corinthians 8 and 2 Corinthians 9 we discover that our generosity achieves a lot of things that should make us feel pretty good about ourselves!

First, our giving meets other people's needs.  This was the case with the Macedonians and the Corinthians.  When they gave, they were actually meeting each other's needs.  They didn't liquidate all their wealth and put it into one big pool.  But they did carefully administrate the monies so that no one would go hungry, or stay sick without treatments, or not have adequate shelter and clothing.

Second, our giving inspires other's people's generosity.  When the Macedonians gave generously despite their extreme poverty, it sent shock waves throughout the Christian community.  People said, "You gotta see this.  It's unbelievable.  It's irrational.  Are we missing something here?  How can we become more like them?"

A movie I enjoyed recently was the movie "Pay It Forward."  In a rather creative way it showed how generosity can become contagious.  In the movie, a little boy developed a school project whereby he would show generosity to five people.  Each of those five people would show show generosity to three people, and so on, until the whole world was affected.  In the movie, it worked.  But in real life our generosity can also inspire people.

Third, our giving empowers real ministry.  It takes money to have a place of worship and to hire full time staff who are dedicated to equipping people to build God's kingdom.  It takes money to meet needs, to put Bibles in people's homes, to get the gospel message disseminated, and to help those who have no hope.

Just this week, I received a newsletter from Jeff and Laura Willhoit, home grown missionaries from this church, who are working overseas.  They are getting close to having the entire Bible translated into the language of the Toma people.  They're doing incredible work.  They're working on the book of Revelation.  But none of it could happen without the generous financial backing of this congregation.  The Corinthians' generosity enabled the apostle Paul to go on missionary journeys, to establish new congregations, and to spread the gospel to Rome and beyond.

Fourth, our giving grows God's kingdom.  In 2 Corinthians 9:10 (NIV) Paul speaks of God who will, "enlarge the harvest of your righteousness."

In 2 Corinthians 9:11 (NIV) Paul says, "...your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God."

In 2 Corinthians 9:12-13 (NIV) he says, "This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men 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."

You can often tell how much people believe in something by whether or not they will back it with their money.  If we believe that Jesus Christ is the hope of the world but do not follow that confession up with generosity, then our confession is empty and the world has every reason to doubt the sincerity of our claims.  Putting our money where our mouth is builds God's kingdom.  It is a tremendous witness to a skeptical world.  It results in people being blessed.  It results in blessed people saying, "God, thank you for putting your people in my path."

If you are looking to build your esteem, if you're looking to accomplish something with your life that will make a lasting impact, give to God's kingdoms!  When you give you will always have something or someone to point at and say, "I was a part of that.  I invested.  I contributed.  I got in on the ground floor of that.  I made a difference.  I achieved success for God."

Giving to God brings ultimate fulfillment. 

I prefer to use the phrase overflowing joy.  Imagine being a person overflowing, just bubbling with joy.  I know, such people can seem weird or annoying at times.  But imagine feeling complete.  Our deepest need is to achieve lasting contentment.  This is the ultimate end to which we toil and struggle for our entire lives.  This joy is not contingent on anything other than generosity.  It isn't contingent on health, financial prosperity, circumstance, fortune, or misfortune.  Joy is contingent on our generosity.  It is contingent on our life in Jesus Christ.

The overflowing part of this joy is best described in 2 Corinthians 9:11 (NIV).  Paul says, "You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God."  The overflowing is God putting us in a position to always be generous.  Imagine a life in which God continually supplies your generosity so that you can be a blessing to other people.  This is nothing less than the full life.

In Malachi 3:10 (NIV) God invites us to test him in this matter of giving with generosity.  He says, "Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "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."

The reason we will not have room for God's blessing is that he doesn't intend it to just be for us.  He wants that blessing to overflow out of our pockets into the lives of other people.  God blesses us to be a blessing.  He makes us rich so that we can enrich others.

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