“REMEMBER THE POOR!”
TEXTS: Gal. Acts -30 Rom. -29 2 Cor. 9:6-15
INTRO: One of the most defining characteristics of Christianity is compassion. Even Jesus said that the most important quality that would define us as Christians to the world would be love – “by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” Our conduct therefore will define us more than our creeds in the world. We are the “2nd mile” people; we don’t just respond coldly to those in a crisis, we are to respond generously. IF we don’t we really are no different from this world and therefore the witness of the life changing quality of Jesus Christ becomes meaningless to those in this world who will never read the Bible. Paul said however that those who witness our actions are reading “living epistles.”
Look at what was written about Christians during the 2nd century, about 100 years after the Apostle Paul died:
ILLUS: “CHRISTIANS ARE NOT DIFFERENTIATED FROM OTHER PEOPLE BY COUNTRY, LANGUAGE, OR CUSTOMS; YOU SEE, THEY DO NOT LIVE IN CITIES OF THEIR OWN, OR SPEAK SOME STRANGE DIALECT; THEY LIVE IN BOTH GREEK AND FOREIGN CITIES, WHEREVER CHANCE HAS PUT THEM. THEY FOLLOW LOCAL CUSTOMS IN CLOTHING, FOOD, AND OTHER ASPECTS OF LIFE, BUT AT THE SAME TIME THEY DEMONSTRATE TO US THE UNUSUAL FORM OF THEIR OWN CITIZENSHIP. THEY LIVE IN THEIR OWN NATIVE LANDS, BUT AS ALIENS; EVERY FOREIGN COUNTRY IS TO THEM AS THEIR NATIVE COUNTRY, AND EVERY NATIVE LAND AS A FOREIGN COUNTRY. THEY MARRY AND HAVE CHILDREN JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, BUT THEY DO NOT KILL UNWANTED BABIES. THEY OFFER A SHARED TABLE, BUT NOT A SHARED BED. THEY ARE PASSING THEIR DAYS ON EARTH, BUT ARE CITIZENS OF HEAVEN. THEY OBEY THE APPOINTED LAWS AND GO BEYOND THE LAWS IN THEIR OWN LIVES. THEY LOVE EVERYONE BUT ARE PERSECUTED BY ALL. THEY ARE PUT TO DEATH AND GAIN LIFE. THEY ARE POOR AND YET MAKE MANY RICH. THEY ARE DISHONORED AND YET GAIN GLORY THROUGH DISHONOR. THEIR NAMES ARE BLACKENED AND YET THEY ARE CLEARED. THEY ARE MOCKED AND BLESS IN RETURN. THEY ARE TREATED OUTRAGEOUSLY AND BEHAVE RESPECTFULLY TO OTHERS. WHEN THEY DO GOOD, THEY ARE PUNISHED AS EVILDOERS; WHEN PUNISHED, THEY REJOICE AS IF BEING GIVEN NEW LIFE. THEY ARE ATTACKED BY JEWS AS ALIENS AND ARE PERSECUTED BY GREEKS; YET THOSE WHO HATE THEM CANNOT GIVE ANY REASON FOR THEIR HOSTILITY.” [Written by an unknown person and preserved in a letter to Diognetus in the 2nd century]
I wonder if such a letter like this would be written today about Christians? Christianity historically has been the foundation of much of this world’s good, it has been responsible for the creation of institutions like hospitals to care for the sick; our first colleges for higher learning were the creation of Christian influence. Our legal system for protecting the truly innocent was built on the foundations of a Christian faith and Biblical guidelines. One historian who wrote as a non-Christian even identifies the western work ethic and the generosity of Americans as stemming from our Judeo-Christian foundations.
Real Christians don’t just drink in their own success without being sensitive to helping the poor, even Jesus stated that ministry to the poor was a defining characteristic of HIS people and HIS life and ministry!
PROP SENT: The Bible teaches us that we are to be sensitive and compassionate toward the truly poor of this world; it is a defining characteristic of having Christ in us.
A. Catastrophe -28
1. There is a clear distinction in Scripture between helping the truly poor and just giving handouts to those who choose poverty!
a. There are many proverbs that warn the lazy whose lives end in poverty.
b. In the New Testament Paul writes the Thessalonians and warns them against idleness and poverty, the church must not help out those who are choosing poverty through laziness by just giving them money!
c. YET ... there are clear warnings to God’s people if they ignore the truly poor – those who circumstances of life are out of their control!
2. The early church was a role model for keeping these two areas under advisement. Collections were taken to help the poor while others who were simply lazy and poor were disciplined.
3. In this passage God warns the church in the Jerusalem area through the gift of prophecy (the first mention of this gift being used in Acts) that famine would soon strike their area and would make all the people poor, including God’s people!
a. This famine would be a catastrophe; out of the control of God’s people, it couldn’t be helped!
b. Historically we know that this did take place just as the writer of Acts tells us parenthetically here; it was during the reign of Claudius.
c. At that time the church suffered great poverty.
4. The reaction to this catastrophe
was generous giving on the part of the brothers, some from the area of
a. But it wasn’t just the wealthier saints that gave.
b. “each gave according to his ability!” verse 29
B. Compassion -30
1. Their giving according to their
abilities was for the same reason: to “help the
brothers living in
2. The sum of money was no small
potatoes either, it was a sacrificial giving not only from this church and
a. This was a serious effort on the part of God’s people to minister to the poorer members of God’s family.
b. The records of the New Testament
tell us that some of the poorer churches like those in
c. Sacrificial giving is a sign of a truly Spirit filled people!
ILLUS: THE CHINESE FARMERS YEARS AGO LEARNED A VERY IMPORTANT LESSON IN GIVING. AFTER THEY HAD BEEN INTRODUCED TO GROWING POTATOES AND TOLD TO KEEP SOME POTATOES EACH YEAR FOR THE SEED CROP FOR THE NEXT YEAR THEY DISCOVERED AFTER A FEW YEARS THAT POTATOES WEREN’T DOING SO WELL. AFTER EXAMINING THEIR PRACTICE OF FARMING IT BECAME EVIDENT WHAT THE PROBLEM WAS: THEY WERE TAKING THEIR CROP OF POTATOES AND SEPARATING OUT THE LARGE POTATOES FROM THE SMALL ONES. THEY SOLD THE LARGE ONES AND CONSUMED THEM, AND KEPT THE SMALL ONES FOR THE NEXT YEAR’S PLANTING. THIS SEEMED LIKE A LOGICAL AND WISE BUSINESS DECISION BUT WHAT THEY HAD DONE WAS SLOWLY SELECTIVELY BREED A NEW RACE OF SMALL POTATOES. THE SMALL ONES THEY KEPT BACK CARRIED GENES FOR SMALL POTATOES SO BY CONSUMING FOR THEMSELVES THE LARGE ONES THEY DESTROYED THEIR FUTURE, THEY SHOULD HAVE GIVEN TO THE GROUND THE LARGER ONES AND NOT USED THEM ON THEIR OWN APPETITES. HOW MANY CHRISTIANS GIVE TO GOD SMALL POTATOES BUT EXPECT LARGE CROPS OF BLESSINGS FROM GOD’ ... YOU GET ONLY WHAT YOU SOW! – SOURCE UNKNOWN
3. The early Christians were sensitive to the needs of the poor.
a. A mark of a declining nation is progressive selfishness!
b. Where the Spirit of Christ exists there will be liberal givers!
ILLUS: YEARS AGO THE VERY FAMOUS AND POWERFUL MINISTRY OF CHARLES SPURGEON SHOOK THE WORLD. THIS PASTOR HOWEVER WAS SERIOUSLY CRITICIZED AS BEING GREEDY, CHARGES THAT WERE LATER PROVED FALSE. THESE CHARGES STEMMED FROM THE FACT THAT THEY HAD CHICKENS WHOSE EGGS THEY SOLD FOR PROFIT. IT WAS A WELL KNOWN FACT THAT THEY WOULD NOT GIVE AWAY THESE EGGS, EVEN THEIR OWN FAMILY MEMBERS HAD TO PAY FOR THE EGGS FULL PRICE – HENCE THE CHARGES OF GREED. AFTER MRS. SPURGEON PASSED AWAY HOWEVER IT WAS REVEALED WHERE THE MONEY HAD GONE, NOT TO THE SPURGEON’S BUT THE ENTIRE INCOME FROM THE EGGS WENT TO SUPPORT TWO ELDERLY WIDOWS THAT HAD NO SOURCE OF INCOME. THE SPURGEON’S DID NOT WANT ANYONE TO KNOW ABOUT THEIR GIVING, AND THEY CHARGED THOSE WHO WERE CAPABLE OF PAYING TO SUPPORT THESE LADIES. THEY DIDN’T WANT PRAISE FOR THE GIVING THEY DID BUT THEY WOULD NOT IGNORE THE NEEDS OF THE POOR! – SOURCE UNKNOWN
II. BECAUSE OF CHRIST! Gal. Rom. -29
A. Community Gal. Rom. -27
1. Paul now mentions here the giving of the Macedonian churches who were themselves hard pressed financially.
a. He mentions the eagerness of their giving and states the reason for it ... because of Christ!
b. He states that these other Christians owed a debt to the first early church; this first early church had been responsible for sending out the Gospel to the others, it would only be right to help them back in return for their investment!
c. Paul here is reminding that early church that Jew and Gentiles in Christ were really one community, they were all part of God’s family!
2. There was a real concern for each other as churches and as fellow Christians in those early years; and should be also in the latter years!
3. This sharing together of God’s people lightened the load in the face of catastrophe, events that were out of the realm of control.
4. It also gave visible witness to the unbelievers of all regions of the reality and power of the Spirit of God to change the hearts of people, to take them from cold, indifferent people to warm and caring people!
5. When Christ enters a heart it becomes generous!
ILLUS: YEARS AGO
(JUST BEFORE EASTER 1988) CHUCK
COLSON RETURNED TO A PRISON HE HAD FIRST VISITED 10 YEARS EARLIER. HE WAS HERE INTRODUCED TO A 35 YEAR OLD
MAN IN THIS
1. This giving campaign was organized and the funds were given to responsible leaders to distribute through the church to the church.
2. The giving was a statement of commitment.
a. TO CHRIST!
b. TO CHRIST’S BODY!
3. This was a tremendous sacrifice by many, but sacrifice is the hallmark of real Christianity!
a. I don’t believe in Christians who don’t give!!!
b. Where God’s Spirit lives giving is normal!!
4. For real Christians the issue is never: “do I give?” it is only “how much!”
ILLUS: LIKE THE
5. There is something unhealthy about Christians who are stingy with God and with serious needs that go unmet!
6. Paul felt fully confident in asking God’s people to be sensitive to the poor of God’s household!
III. BENEFITS COMMUNICATED 2 Cor. 9:6-15
A. Celebration 2 Cor. 9:6-13
1. Paul now in writing to the Corinthian church reminds them of their promise to give, something which they had fallen back on doing! He reminds them of the principle of sowing and reaping and to sow generously!
a. Those who are stingy in giving will find little on the receiving end of their own lives!
b. Giving is to be a cheerful thing and not out of compulsion, because it is so much fun to give!
c. Giving is the celebration of God’s Spirit in our lives!
2. Where God’s Spirit is really alive you will find generous giving because you will find generous givers! Those who experience rich spiritual life can’t help but celebrate it with giving in all kinds of ways!
3. Giving is a joyous experience!
4. Imagine in American churches the revival that would break out if we took that much joy during our collection time!!?
5. In much of the Old Testament period revivals were noted by the large amounts of giving done by God’s people, at some points it was so great Moses and others had to request that God’s people STOP giving!
a. Oh to have such a problem today!
b. No wonder they celebrated with feasts that lasted for days in the Old Testament, giving resulted in revival and celebration broke out!
6. The final outcome of all this giving was that much THANKSGIVING resulted!
a. Paul states that not only would this generous giving meet the needs ... but that it would result in much thanksgiving to God!
b. The witness of sacrifice brings other people to God to give thanks!
c. It will also bring men and women to turn to God and praise Him for the way His people have acted! !
d. It authenticates the GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST! 9:13b
B. Compensation! 2 Cor. 9:14-15
1. Their generosity will certainly cost them something but the results will gain them something very important … the hearts of the people they are trying to minister to!
2. Giving reflects grace, God’s grace, undeserved favor; and grace moves people’s hearts!
3. Generous people are much loved and are the first to have people come to their rescue when they are hurting!
a. This proves the principle that we reap what we sow!
b. You can’t out give God!
4. People’s hearts are pried open by witnessing giving hearts!
ILLUS: LIKE THE
MASAI TRIBE IN
5. Remembering the poor demonstrates the life of Christ and shows our connection to Christ!
CONCLUSION: It is impossible to be a Christian and not be a giver! The very nature of Christ is to be a ‘giver.’ Throughout the Bible God’s people had a heart to help the poor. One of the signs of the Messiah would be “good news” to the poor; the poor were those who could do nothing about their circumstances; these we are called to help.