Overflow - Grateful Generosity message by Lead Pastor Terry Brisbane. For more information, visit cornerstone-sf.org
Generosity, the series itself is this idea of overflow. It has to do with generosity. When we were coming up with an idea for this series, we were talking about, “what do we want to say to us?” the church and the community. We thought about this idea of overflow; generosity flowing out of our lives being a blessing. It does connect it. From a general sense, generosity is an accessible theme. We can talk about helping, blessing, and being a part of an expression that in a way brings life to other people. So from a general standpoint, I think generosity is a very accessible theme. At this time, we’re in the midpoint of the six-part series. As we sat with the theme ‘Generosity’ we also thought, if we’re going to talk about the idea of generosity, we also needed to talk about Christian giving. Specifically, we were going to need to talk a little bit about money. I have to be quite honest with you, when we started talking, they said, the money part was my piece. I said, “why do I have to be the guy who does that part?” There are a lot of stereotypes to go along with that. “I’m the boss, why can’t we have pastor Lewis do it?”
Part of me wanted to delegate that out and say, I don’t want to be put in with this stereotypical, televangelism money stuff. Maybe part of that is because I grew up in the city and have seen this stuff myself. Honestly, you feel awful about it. At the same time, as I was reflecting on it, I felt like the Lord said, “You don’t want to do this.” I said, “yeah, you need to be okay with being undignified.” “Don’t be afraid to be a fool for me even.” I sat with that, I thought, “okay.” I believe in the principle of giving. I believe in the promises of the Lord. I believe in what Jesus taught us. I believe also that the purpose for which our church exists is part of an expression of grace to this city that I know He loves. We get to be a part of seeing people healed, saved, helped, encouraged, and strengthened in their faith as part of what we do. I believe in those things and am not ashamed of those things. We were also talking about last week, and I said, we have to be careful about being a nominal believer. Imagine you are introducing yourself, “Hey, I’m a nominal believer.”
We did that in a lighthearted way, but nominal means in name only, or just a small amount. I thought you know what, Lord, I know you don’t want us to be nominal. I know you don’t want me to be a nominal pastor. So the Lord doesn’t want us to be nominal in our faith. I think He wants us to even be better than solid. I was talking to someone. He was looking back at what we said. He asked, “are you saying nominal?” I said, no, I’m saying you’re on your way to becoming phenomenal. I said, “I think that’s what God wants all of us to be.” If you look up phenomenal, it basically means, good and great, impressive in a good sort of way. An unusual way of impressiveness.
I think God does want us to be that. In so many ways, this whole piece in Corinthians is about the Apostle Paul trying to appeal to a church to be phenomenal in their faith. Particularly as it relates to their giving. He wanted them to step forward and demonstrate the reality of their faith in a far more than just mediocre fashion. I know that we all have people in our lives who have affected our faith, who’ve become part of the story of our faith life. Even now there might be people that are coming to your mind. Sometimes mothers, grandmothers, fathers, friends, or people who crossed our path helped us. It wasn’t a coincidence whose prayers were sent ahead of us and our lives have been affected by it. We do not know all the good that we will ultimately do for the Lord. We do not know all the effect that other people’s decisions have had on our own life with God. We’re part of a far more intricate story that is interwoven at so many different levels. Paul was trying to tell the Corinthian church that he wanted them to be part of the larger story of what God is doing. Specifically, it had to do with that fund. We’ve been talking about what is being addressed in second Corinthians 9 here. Last week, we looked at second Corinthians 8. Again, Paul was writing to believers.
Paul was writing to people who were pretty much committed to their faith. I say that because I realize that not every one of us is necessarily there. Some of us might be in the process. Some of us might be exploring. Some of us might have just begun our walk with Jesus. Sometimes things can be a little bit harder to understand or appreciate, but at the same time, remember who he’s writing to. Paul is writing to people who are clearly committing themselves as believers. The Corinthian church was a prosperous church. Jerusalem is east of Corinth and had been the epicenter for spreading the faith in Jesus. The message was taken from Jerusalem. It was the mother church. It all began there. The apostles and the believing community of Jewish believers in Jesus. The Messiah came to a place where the chief prosecutor of the early movement of the way of Jesus was, had his life overturned. Saul of Tarsus went from being the number one despiser and disbeliever in Jesus to its chief radical proponent. He persuaded the church that the Lord wanted them to send him and the team out to found churches in the Gentile communities. The Roman world allowed for transportation and the movement of the gospel in ways that previously hadn’t been possible. Paul takes that message to Greece, Asia Minor, we call modern-day Turkey and Greece. Corinth was a prosperous city in Greece.
Corinth was a lot like San Francisco, very well-to-do, a very sensual city. The followers of Paul were amazed because there came out of that city of a very healthy, vibrant community of believers in Jesus. Two letters are written to the churches in Greece, Corinth, and Macedonia. The church in Corinth was the wealthier church. They were in the south. Churches in the north were poorer. Paul originally asked for Corinth to consider giving to the Jerusalem church at the time. I don’t want to rehash this completely, but Jerusalem was suffering. They were under economic difficulties. They had been oppressed, they were being persecuted. They were having a hard time and Paul felt that predominantly Gentile churches had been planted because of the blessing of the church in Jerusalem. He felt it was time to return the favor.
Paul says I think we need to show our unity in Jesus despite our cultural differences. We need to raise a fund to help the church in Jerusalem without whom there wouldn’t be churches in Greece. Corinth was the first one to sign on. We will do it. Then Paul goes up and visits the churches in the north. He tells them about what Corinth decided. They get all excited and give in a way that stuns Paul because they were poor themselves. He’s amazed that the churches who were poor themselves would give the way they did so magnificently. The Bible says, out of the abundance of poverty they gave to a church that they wanted to bless. Part of what inspired them was they heard about what the Corinthians had done.
That’s the context of what we’re about to read and walk with. I’m going to go through this fairly rapidly, but I want us to at least appreciate what’s happening here. Second Corinthians 9:1. Paul writes again. We just heard the context of what Paul was writing about. He says, “now it’s superfluous for me. It’s really unnecessary for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints.” Follow with me in verse two, “for I know your readiness of which I really don’t need to follow up on the promise and pledge you made about giving to that fund.” They had made the promise, but they hadn’t completed it. It is ironic because the churches in the north, who had far less, when they heard the news, gave right away. They had already given.
Corinth who had had the initial idea was dragging its feet. Paul says, “I really don’t know if it’s necessary for me to remind you, but I do want to remind you about it anyway. I know your readiness. I know it’s in your heart to do this anyway. I’ve been boasting about you to the people up in Macedonia. I think you need to know that I’ve been bragging about you to the northerners up there about how ready you were to give. I’ve been telling them about your zeal. Because of that, I’ve been telling them that you’ve been ready since last year. Your zeal because of your readiness, your desire to give, and your enthusiasm stirred them up as well. They did it. I need you to know that I used you as an example and they have already responded.” In verse three Paul says, “I’m sending the brothers so that they are boasting about may not prove to be empty in the matter so that you may be ready. I’m sending an advanced team to remind you to finish the thing that you promised because I’m bringing the representatives from the north who have far less than you and they’ve already fulfilled their giving. They just did it. I bragged on you. I told them about you. I’m afraid that if I bring them and then we come and you haven’t done it. It’s going to make all of us look bad.”
“It’s going to make it look like I was manipulating them and they hold you in high esteem. They’re going to think a whole lot less of you.” That’s the gist of what’s going on here. Paul says, “otherwise if some of the Macedonians come with me and find that you’re not ready we would be humiliated to say nothing of you for being so confident. I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance the gift that you promised so that it may be ready as a willing gift. Not as something we have to try to work out of you, an exaction.” Paul drops into principles. “This is for our life too. The point is this, whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. Whoever sows bountifully, sowing is the idea of spreading the seed, blessing will reap bountifully. Each one must give as he or she has decided in their heart, not reluctantly or in a compulsion for God who loves a cheerful giver. God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all sufficiency in all things, at all times. God wants to bless your life. You may abound in every good work as it is written.” Paul quotes from the Psalms.
Paul says he has distributed freely and has given to the poor. His righteousness endures forever. He grounds his statements in the scripture of the older Testament. He says in verse 10, “God who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” He basically says you can never out-give God. Don’t forget whatever you sow in life, you’re going to reap that. There’s a principle. What you plant in the ground is the crop you get a vast majority of the time. That’s what it means when it says we reap what we sow. Paul’s trying to remind them for a variety of reasons. He starts out by saying, I think so highly of you. I know I don’t even need to tell you this, but I’m reminding you to follow through. Secondly, your example inspired other people to step out in faith. I need you to follow through because I don’t want them to think anything less of you. I think so highly of you. What’s more, remember this church, you can never out-give God. Plus whatever you give ultimately comes back to you. Be the blessing you are created to be. Be this type of person. Be this generous person who overflows. That’s what he’s getting at. He then goes on.
Paul says, carrying out this social relief work involves far more than just helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. He’s basically saying it’s way more than what it seems in the giving of itself. He says it also produces an abundant and bountiful Thanksgiving to God. It does so much good. This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best. Don’t run past that too fast. Paul says it’s a blessing. It’s a growth opportunity. It presents you with something that will call out the best in you. There are things that God will bring into our lives that will present us with a choice. God sometimes is trying to utilize things in our lives to bring out the best in us. Many times, those are the places where we wrestle. Do I feel is this really you God? Should I respond this way? A lot of times, Paul was saying, what I’m asking of you is really a growth opportunity. It’s an opportunity for you to be not nominal, but phenomenal.
It’s an opportunity for you to step out and live into what you say you believe. It’s an opportunity for you to be your best. Whether it’s at work, in our families, or our lives, there are going to come moments where the Lord is saying, “this is your opportunity to live out your faith, to be your best. Step up.” There are moments where God will say that to us. We don’t always get it right. Go further and look at what he says. Paul says, “showing your gratitude to God, by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of a message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings for your needy brothers and sisters.” That is, by helping out you’re showing the reality of who and what you are. Doing this gratitude that shows up in your life is going to flow out as a blessing to everybody.
Meanwhile, move by the extravagance of God and art our lives. They’re going to in turn, respond by praying for you and passionate intercession for whatever you need. Do you understand what’s going on? What he’s saying? He’s saying, you give out of your blessing to those who are hurting. This is what’s going to happen. This is how the body works. Watch the rhythm of the exchange he says what they’re going to do when they receive that, they can’t give you back anything. They can give you back their heart and prayers for you. Those prayers they give earnestly, sincerely, and that intercession they make for you as a people, don’t underestimate the power of what that is going to bring back to you.
Paul’s saying you give that’s great. You get the blessing of giving. They get the blessing of what you give and then they return it back to you in a form of prayer for your blessing. He says, do you see how it’s all working together? He starts getting excited. He says, “they will respond by praying for you and passionate intercession for whatever you need this.” Paul gets excited. Thank God for this gift. His gift, no language can praise it enough. There are no words that are able to explain how much we’ve been blessed by God in Jesus. I hope I can convey it. Paul’s marveling. The reason he’s getting excited is that in his mind, he’s thinking, this is what it’s all about.
Pushing past the barriers that keep people apart. Remember Paul is Jewish. His burden has been for the Gentile church, the non-Jewish people. He’s talking about the barrier that other people can’t get past in Christ. We’re all woven together as one because of what Jesus has done. He said these indescribable words can’t explain the goodness of God in Christ. He was super happy. I love that because it does remind us of what the Lord can do. Paul was not talking about their core giving. He wasn’t talking about giving to their own church, their home church. He has assumed that what he was talking about with the Corinthians was something that they were to give in addition to their core giving. Call that an offering, something that was given to a purpose.
Over the last months, I’ve had some amazing conversations with people, particularly these last few weeks. I’m not exaggerating when I say that there have been more than a few who have said, ‘I’m wrestling with this giving thing with God and trusting Him.’ I told the story about how I have been since a boy. I was trained to tithe them to the Lord. I give a 10th. I was told one penny out of 10 of my dime, I give it. I’ve been doing it in Sunday school and ever since it has been a way of life. I believe in the promises of God, what Jesus taught us, and what God taught us in Malachi. I believe the words of the Lord have blessings and promise in them. I believe how we manage what He entrusts us with ultimately will flow out in far greater measure in the way we manage our lives and our relationships.
I believe there is no way to measure the goodness of God that comes when we honor Him with our first fruits, our best. I was talking to different people. Some people were wrestling with this truth that others were saying and I’m thinking about it. I’m thinking maybe God wants me to step up. Others said I’ve always struggled in this area. This is a very delicate issue. I had a couple of conversations with people, where I said, you are way more faithful at this than I am. Some people I’ve talked to because I started asking questions. But one man, I said to him because I’ve watched his life, “you’re amazing because you’re very faithful. You give not only faithfully to this body in your tithe, but I’ve watched you in all of the things that we do, compassion Sundays, the spirit of giving, and the ministries we support. All these things you give towards. The camps are your offerings. That’s not even counting what you do outside. How do you know what the Lord wants you to give to and what he doesn’t? How do you decide that?” I wanted to know. I was thinking he had this elaborate system where he went before the Lord. Initially, it may not seem like it’s a big deal, but what he said hit me. He says, “I asked myself this question. How much money am I going to give the Lord? Then I ask the second question, how much of the Lord’s money am I going to keep?”
I said, “what did you just say?” He said, “I asked how much I’m supposed to give. I ask myself how much of the Lord’s money I’m supposed to keep.” I tithe, but that was a different level for me. I said, “wow, you know, I need to hear that. I didn’t think that. Because what you’re saying is all I have is the Lord’s, I’m just a manager. I’m the dispenser of the blessing.” I thought, okay, that’s what Paul was getting at here. I’m going to take it from giving of our resources to the larger idea of generosity flowing in our lives. I’ll explain to you what I mean. Here’s a principle. Here’s what I’d like us to wrestle with within the few minutes we have left. Number one, God wants generosity and faithfulness to characterize the way we give and live. He wants the key phrase ‘generosity’ to be a way of life. What I mean by that is God wants us to live big, not small. I’ve been wrestling with this. It may have to do with our resources, it may have to do with the way we invest relationally. Sometimes there’s a temptation that gets so tight, small, and defined by our fear. You can have a lot and be bound up in fear. You can have a little and be very free. Generosity is a way of life. It’s a way of approaching life. There’s a large gest to it. It’s an abundance approach. It’s not about how little there is. There’s only so much of the pie to go around. If I am not careful, I won’t get my piece. It’s different, it’s not a scarcity approach.
There’s an abundance approach to it. I was thinking, ‘Lord, I know you want me to have an abundance, a bigness, not a smallness, not a tightness, not a clenched fist, not that I have to cling to it. I have to hold it. I have to tighten my world. I have to be small, calculating. He’s a giver of blessings.’ That’s what Paul was getting at. He was saying, God blesses in amazing ways. When you do that, it opens you up. He was saying, it frees you up to not get stuck in places, to live that abundant life. That’s what I’m looking at here. I think, ‘Lord, I want to live like that.’ Check out this proverb. A lot of good wise. If you want to sit in wisdom, then read one proverb a day for 31 days. There are 31 proverbs. You can pick one a day and go for a month and say, ‘I’m investing in wisdom for a month.’
Proverbs 11 talks about the principle of giving, it is a paradox. Initially, it doesn’t make sense. There is one who scatters yet increases more. Stop and think about that. An increase by giving away. How does that work? “There is one who withholds more than is right. Tight, bound up, but it leads to poverty of the soul and other things. The generous soul will be made rich, opens things up and he who waters will also be watered himself.” Another version says, “when we refresh, we ourselves will be refreshed.” How good is that? One of the key principles is when we become a refresher, we ourselves are refreshed. There’s a principle here that is so good. I’ll just flip it into that next thought here. Number two, we may be most like Jesus when we give and bless others.
When we generously give to bless others, we will often find that the greatest blessing will be what happens on the inside of us. Indeed, the master taught us it is more of a blessing to give than to receive. He modeled it, He gave it all. You couldn’t give any more than He gave. The one who refreshes with themselves will be a refresher. Jesus said, “You are giving a cup of water in my name.” I was sitting with that verse. The one who refreshes will be refreshed. I thought about the idea of water in His name. I was reminded because it’s the overflow, the water refreshing. I remember this scene I’ve always loved from a movie. The film itself is a classic. I went back and I re-watched it.
I watched the movie in two ways. I watched it with and without the audio. Some of you may have seen the movie, Ben-Hur. I know there was a remake. I suspect that will soon be for God. The original 1959 classic won 11 academy awards, William Wyler director, extraordinaire. The story is based on Lew Wallace’s novel designed to get people to look at Jesus very differently. The story is about Ben-Hur, a wealthy son of a merchant who is betrayed by a friend. He is sentenced to a life of slavery under Rome. It looks like he’s lost everything. There’s this one scene that I’ve always remembered. It comes back to me when I think about the idea of refreshing someone. Ben-Hur is being marched through the desert with a group of slaves and criminals. People who’ve been tied up in a line and are being marched through the desert on their way to the slave pens for life.
They come to this small little Roman outpost town. There’s a well there, they’re so thirsty. They want water so bad. They can’t move. If they move, they’re going to get beat to a pulp. They have to stand there and wait. The people come from the town to start giving them water. But the Romans says, first us. All the soldiers get the water. Then the horses, then the prisoners, and Ben-Hur is there. He’s been betrayed falsely. He’s angry, but he’s so thirsty. They all are thirsty. The people coming from the town start giving him water finally. You can see he’s just like, God, I want that water so bad. You can see it, but he can’t move. He’s afraid. Finally, they come to give him water. Right when he is about to get it, a soldier walks up and says “Not him.” The soldier takes the water, drinks it down, and spits it out. The way it’s portrayed, Ben-Hur just cracks. He falls to the ground.
Ben-Hur says, “God help me.” He’s got nothing. The way they portrayed it was awesome. When they walked into the town, you saw a little pan. The pan shows a guy in a darker area. Almost like a workroom. This man is looking outside to see what the commotion is all about. He makes his way and you never see his face. You never see anything of his front, only his backside. He looks like he’s in a carpenter’s shop. Judah Ben-Hur is on the ground deprived of everything. All of a sudden, you see this figure, never the face, only the head, but then you see the shadow of the moment. You see the hands, then one hand with a ladle. This is the part that I love. It was Jesus. It captured it so beautifully because he pours the water first onto him. He hugs him gently and pulls him up. The part of that you see is the hands. The only thing you see of Jesus is what you see in the eyes of Ben-Hur as he’s looking at him. He’s just there to drink. There was tenderness, gentleness, and the offering of the water. It plants a seed in the man amid all the hatred, all that was wrong. The water is a metaphor. It’s a metaphor for not just natural thirst, but for the spiritual thirst of his soul.
The soldier walks up and asks, “what are you doing?” Jesus stands up, you never see his front or his face. He just stands up. The anger and the evil that comes at Him and the way it’s captured shows Jesus just backing off. They get going again. Ben-Hur is looking back. He’s been affected. That seed is going to germinate. First, the two things for me besides the fact that the movie’s four hours long, which is a long film. But I found myself thinking about this. I have been there where I felt so dry, beat, defeated, and hopeless in certain areas that I said, “Lord, I need your tenderness.” It was an odd thing to see, there’s something about it. You just don’t see that tenderness in the way it was conveyed. Sometimes art can convey something of the message of Christ in a way that is quite powerful. I still thought, whoever came up with that way to see Jesus through the eyes of the one being blessed was wonderful. The tenderness of the hands and the giving of the water. Lord, I’ve known your touch. I’ve been that man. I thought, what’s the other principle? The principle of course is the giving of water. It’s what we’ve been talking about with generosity. When we give water, what do we say? We give in a way that we are the ones who are being blessed. That’s what we’ve been called to do.
We are meant to be this way. This is the way. I look at that and think, Lord, that’s what I want to do. I want to refresh others. I want to be able to do what you do. When we are like you, then we refresh. That’s what we do. That can only happen when we allow you to refresh us too. It’s all intertwined. So much of what Apostle Paul is appealing for is anchored in the why. The why is the good that it will do. Paul says, do you understand what will happen as a result of your generosity and faithfulness? My friend at Corinth will bless you. It will bless them. It will build the unity of the church. It will testify to those outside the circle that even the barrier of Jew and Gentile can be overcome by the unifying message and power of Christ. That’s why Paul says, ‘truly, this good news knows no bounds.’ He’s excited. This leads me to this last piece. It’s just my reflection on it. Honestly, many times our gratitude is connected to our generosity and vice versa. God wants to fill us with gratitude that overflows in generosity. There are times when I felt sorry for myself. You may have felt that way too. Using the analogy. He was seething with resentment at the injustice, the water of Christ.
When I tasted your goodness, it changes me. I can’t stay like this. I can’t stay locked up. I can’t stay in my cave. When we understand how much we are loved, how much God has given for us, not only for us in this life that we could never earn, but the life which is yet to come. A blessing upon blessing, a life overflowing, and the undying life of God. Out of your belly and the very center of your beam full of rivers of water. When we understand that it creates gratitude in us that causes us to never be able to say, I will be defined by this. We start to be defined by what God has done in our lives. It starts showing up because we don’t allow ourselves to get stuck in the lockdown places. Our heart has gratitude in it that is reminding us, “Lord, I know this is look. How I can, who’ve been blessed so much, except so much less than what you’ve wanted me to be. Give me gratitude for your love that cannot be quenched that overflows in the generosity that affects all of my life.” It doesn’t mean I get it all the time. But “help me Lord to doubt my doubts into my belief.”
Let’s pray. Lord, I thank you for the privilege of being able to talk and share about this. You’ve given everything. You call us to places as a surrender. Even the song that we close with invites us this idea of surrendering our heart to you, the giving God who gives everything, who calls us to be great givers. We may identify more with the one who needs refreshment, which we may at this time in our lives. Lord, I need the water from your hand and the gentleness of your touch in my life. We may need that feeling of resonance with the need to give away the blessing to the people who are around us. To be the type of person who lives big for you, gracious, generous, good, godly, and a blesser. May we be the refresher of others, knowing that the ones who refresh will themselves always be refreshed. That’s the way you want us to live. Bless these closing minutes. Bless this song. Bless our time of giving. May you be honored in it all in this church and our lives. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.