There’s a pretty prominent concept in our society called “paying it forward.” Anyone heard of it? For those who haven’t, it’s the idea is you do something nice for a stranger. Then, they’ll doing something nice for another stranger. A chain of nice grows person by person, and ideally these actions make the world a nicer place.
I’ve noticed that paying it forward seems to happen a lot at Starbucks coffee shops, as customers pay for the drinks of the person behind them in line. Here are two examples to help you picture it. One lady orders an iced coffee at the drive thru, and pulls up to pay. But the worker tells her the car in front of her paid for her drink, so she owes nothing. This generosity makes her day, so she decides to pay for the order of the person behind her in line, too!
Another guy goes to the counter and orders a caramel Frappuccino, and finds out that the guy in front of him paid for his coffee too. It makes his day, because now he doesn’t have to drop $4.25 to get his morning caffeine boost. So he smiles, and heads off to work.
Both were part of a pay it forward chain, but which of them really got the concept? The lady! Her thankfulness for one person’s generosity led her to be generous to another. Not the guy though. While he appreciated the generosity, he didn’t pay it forward.
Can we really blame him? What if the guy behind him had ordered 5 lattes?! It’s much easier to be a cheerful receiver than to be a cheerful giver, isn’t it? And that’s really why paying it forward hasn’t “changed the world” much more than an occasional free coffee. Human beings have selfish sinful natures!
In the verse preceding our sermon text for this morning, Paul tells us, “God loves a cheerful giver.” That’s how God wants us to feel about giving! But as we just pointed out, that’s not always easy. Yet, Paul tells us that being a cheerful giver is a matter of realizing that you’re just paying it forward. Not with coffee, but with something far more important!
To be a cheerful giver, first you need to acknowledge where everything comes from. Paul tells us in verse 8, “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.”
The real reason for giving isn’t to gain something for yourself. A lot of “paying it forward” comes from selfish motivation. “I give to feel better about myself.” “I pay it forward because everyone would judge me if I don’t.” “I give because eventually, those good things are going to come back around and hook me up. It’s a karma thing!”
But as Paul tells us, giving isn’t about receiving. We give, because God has already given us everything we need! Look closely at that passage. Paul uses the word “all” or “every” 5 different times to show us the absolute sufficiency we have in Christ! Paul takes the same word that Greek philosophers used to talk about “self-sufficiency” and flips it around. He shows us that everything we need doesn’t come from self-reliance. It comes from God. God is able to make all grace abound to us, so that we have all we need!
And don’t think of God’s grace as just enough to scrape by. The Greek word that Paul uses to talk about God’s grace “abounding,” is the same word used for the left over food after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 that we heard about in the Gospel. Jesus fed those 5,000+ people until they were all satisfied, and there were still leftovers! That’s the kind of grace and blessing that God has filled our lives with. Not just enough to get by, but so much that there’s grace left over!
Maybe you doubt that. Maybe you’re thinking of the money in your wallet, the clothes in your closet, or the size of your house, and wondering if that’s really true. But stop and see what Paul said. God’s given you all that you need and more, not all that you want! God doesn’t promise you a dream mansion, a yacht, a new Ferrari or Rodeo Drive shopping trips. But he does promise to fill your life with his grace.
And God doesn’t make empty promises. See things from the proper perspective. Was there food on the table this week? Isn’t there probably enough food in the fridge and pantry to eat for the next week too, if not more? Weren’t there enough outfits in your closet this morning that you actually had to choose what to wear? Did you have a vehicle to get here today? On top of that, look beyond all the “things” and see all the countless other gifts God has given you. God allowed you to wake up today. He allows you to see and hear me as I preach this sermon; allows you to be in church without having to worship in secret; he gives you skills, talents, and hobbies; gives you friends and family to love and be loved by; most importantly… he gave you a Savior! First thing, realize how richly God has blessed you. And acknowledge that all of it comes from God!
Now, the result. “Having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. Picture it like this. You’re an empty glass in the sink. God is the faucet, and the water poured into the glass are the gifts of his grace. The water fills the glass until the water runs over the edges and flows all around it. And yet, even with the water pouring out, the glass remains full, because the faucet keeps running! As God floods you with his grace, the extra flows out to those around you in every good work.
Paul quotes a Psalm to show that he’s talking about the good work of giving. Psalm 112 talks about the blessings a believer possesses. As the Psalmist writes, “He (the believer) has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor.” It’s a cool illustration, the believer taking the gifts God has given in excess, and sowing them to the right and to the left to provide for all those in need! And so for the Christian, giving is a blessing, not a burden! A cheerful giver acknowledges where his gifts came from, and then cheerfully shares those gifts with others.
As believers we don’t need to feel uncertain in giving to those in need, because when we reach into our “bag of seed” to sow, God promises we won’t run out! Paul assures us, “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed.” Not only does God promise to give everything you need, he also promises to give you enough so you can be generous to others!
It seems backwards to a world that wants to receive, but not give, right? If it’s yours, keep it for yourself! But it makes as much sense to claim that we produced all the things we have, as a farmer claiming that he conjured up the seeds he plants. As Christians, we realize that it’s not all about us. Everything is supplied by God!
Most importantly, remember the incredible grace God showed in winning us salvation! How can we not share God’s gifts with others when we remember that? The Corinthians understood grace firsthand. In his first letter, Paul reprimanded them for their sins: Rampant sexual immorality, suing fellow Christians, even drunkenness at the Lord’s Supper! Their sin was great, and public. So Paul preached the law to them. By God’s grace, many of them repented and turned from their sin. Paul then preached the gospel, to assure them of the forgiveness that was theirs through Christ! With their lives changed by the gospel, the Corinthians’ joy flowed over the edges and spread to others, as they cheerfully gathered an offering for their fellow Christians in Jerusalem. Their joy in Christ naturally expressed itself in giving to those in need.
We too find joy in the gospel, as we remember our former spiritual poverty. The poverty of sin, of death, of unbelief. We were poor, wretched sinners, searching, scraping, begging for even a penny of eternal hope…but finding none. And so our glorious King, our Savior, took our poverty on himself, so that we might become rich in the assurance of eternal life in Heaven.
Like the Corinthians, our joy in the gospel naturally expresses itself in giving! Having been given so immeasurably much, how can we not then pay it forward to others? Especially when Paul reminds us that that’s part of the reason God gives us his riches. “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” It’s not just about you. It’s about others!
When you pay it forward with God’s grace, it produces things far greater than free coffee! When you cheerfully give from God’s grace, “your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” God uses you to bless others, so they give thanks to him as a result! God promises that he’s going to use your generosity in giving to “enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.” God uses your giving to do his work!
When you give your offerings to church, God uses it to bless people who need to know about their Savior. When you give offerings to support world missions like Indonesia, you scatter abroad your gifts, so people all over the world might hear about Jesus. Your offerings for Christian Aid and Relief go to help people in times of crisis. When you give generously from a thankful heart, God uses you to bless people, and care for their spiritual and physical needs.
And as you help those in our community, with food pantry donations, giving to the homeless shelter, serving at a Soup Kitchen, God gives you opportunities to share the gospel! When people ask why you help, why you give, you can tell them you give because God became poor so you might be rich. You can tell them how God has made them rich in Christ too. And through your giving, God’s name is praised!
So, want to be a cheerful giver? Remember, everything comes from God. Martin Luther once said, “The gifts of God are surely there, but a still greater gift is to know and acknowledge them.” Remember God’s design for his generosity. Be generous to others, with a joyful heart. After all, you’re simply paying it forward. Jesus paid your debt, and continues to fill you with grace.