The Riches of Liberality
October 10th, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
2 Corinthians 8:1-8
THE RICHES OF LIBERALITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-10-76 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing with us a unique service in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Liberality,The Riches of Their Liberality.
Could I be permitted to say one or two or three things before we open God’s Word and expound the Scripture for the day? In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson came to this very church, bearing tidings of war. Now in 1976, sixty years later, President Gerald R. Ford comes to the same church, bearing tidings of peace and good will. I listened to the president as he spoke to our great Southern Baptist Convention in Norfolk, Virginia, last June. It was one of the most moving and masterful of all the addresses I have ever heard in my life. In the address, he referred to George W. Truett and quoted from him. Dr. Truett, my predecessor, was pastor of this church for forty-seven years. Last Sunday was my thirty-second anniversary as undershepherd of the flock. That means that for seventy-two years our dear church has had two pastors.
On a Thursday of a week ago, along with other men of the faith, I was invited to visit with the president in the White House. It was one of the highest days of my life. I went away encouraged and full of hope. So oft times is our government depicted as being corrupt and immoral, and those things make the headlines of the papers. But you rarely hear of the godly men who gather before the Lord in prayer and ask heaven’s wisdom in making decisions for our nation and for our destiny. I announced, before I knew that the president would be here today, that at the service tonight at 7:30 I would speak on my visit with the president. I asked some of my men about it, and when I told them the encouragement that I’d felt in my heart after the visit, they said, "Pastor, you ought to share that with all of our people. It is an insight into the leadership of our government that our nation ought to know." And tonight, if God will help me, I will share it the best that I can. And Mr. President, I can assure you it is full of admiration and gratitude for you.
"What do you mean, pastor, that you were encouraged by the visit?" Well, I mean things like this: one of the men there was Dr. Harold Ockenga, the president of Gordon Cromwell Seminary, near Boston, from which our Dr. Melvin Carter is an alumnus and graduate. When Dr. Ockenga was greeted by the president, he asked Dr. Ockenga, "How is my son Mike?" And Dr. Ockenga replied, "Just fine." And the president said, "We are proud of that boy." He’s a ministerial student, a young minister in the seminary there. And Dr. Ockenga later said to us, he said, "Mike Ford is a sweet, humble boy. You’d never know that he was the son of the president of the United States." And I liked that. He’s also a graduate of our Baptist, senior Baptist college in North Carolina, Wake Forest University; and I like that. And in our conversation with him, we asked him, "Mr. President, if Playboy Magazine were to ask you for an interview, what would you do?" And the president replied, "I was asked by Playboy Magazine for an interview, and I declined with an emphatic no." And I like that. There are other public media through which we can discuss the moral issues of life and government other than the pages of a salacious pornographic magazine.
Now, we have come to a place in our church calendar that is dedicated to our stewardship appeal. I have been asked by a throng, "Pastor, are you going to deliver a message on stewardship this Lord’s Day, and the president present?" I said, after long and thoughtful consideration, "Yes." Maybe we get a pledge card from him!
No, for two reasons: I felt that the president would like to see us just as we are, and not as we rearrange ourselves to be. And second, of all men in the earth, President Ford would be most sensitive to and familiar with the great fiscal responsibilities we undertake as a congregation of the Lord; for we have a tremendous budget. It totals for this one church, $6,804,962. And of that amount, this fall in which we are now entering, under the leadership of Dr. Nolan Estes, this one congregation, please God, will oversubscribe the part of the $7,000,000 allocated to this fall, which is $4,427,005. Dr. Richard Brannan says, "Pastor, you ought to call that to the attention of our people. That one church would attempt to oversubscribe a budget of almost $7,000,000 is unheard of, and is almost unthinkable." But we have never failed to do it. In the thirty-two years that I have been here, we have always oversubscribed that giving program in the fall. And I am persuaded that under Dr. Estes it will be again a triumph we can lay at the feet of our Lord.
As I look at that program and that budget, there is a specter on the governmental horizon that brings dread and foreboding to my deepest soul; and that is the increasing vocalization of the possibility of taxing our churches. A church cannot be separated from its institutions. Our sanctuary is the church worshipping, our mission station is the church evangelizing, our Christian school is the church teaching, and our hospital is the church healing. And to tax any one of them is to tax the church itself, and the taxing of the church brings with it the possibility of our destruction.
May I pause to say that with gratitude and thanksgiving to God, I heard Gerald Ford, our president, say boldly and courageously that he would interdict any such movement in America. May the Lord give him strength as he helps us build our Christian institutions that are so desperately needed in the life of our nation.
Now to the Word of the Lord; the message is an exposition of the first nine chapters of Paul’s letter number two to the church at Corinth: 2 Corinthians chapter 8, chapter 8, verses 1 through 9; 2 Corinthians chapter 8, verses 1 through 9:
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;
How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they gave of their own accord;
Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.
And this they did, not only as we had hoped for, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and then unto us by the will of God,
Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that you abound in this grace also.
I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the earnestness of others, and to prove the genuineness and sincerity of your love.
Then follows one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible:
For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.
[2 Corinthians 8:1-9]
We are to offer unto God, first of all, a sacrificial gift. "In a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality" [2 Corinthians 8:2]. The gift we offer unto God is to be at a cost to us. In the last chapter of the Book of 2 Samuel is recounted a beautiful and meaningful story. God, through Gad, the prophet Gad [2 Samuel 24:11-13], sent word to David, saying:
To allay the plague destroying the people, go to Mount Moriah, and there on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, build an altar unto the Lord. And the king came to Araunah the Jebusite. And when Araunah saw the king, he bowed himself with his face to the ground. And King David said, I have come to buy of thee the threshing floor, there to build an altar unto God. And Araunah nobly said, Here, I give it to you. I give you my oxen for sacrifice, and the wood of the threshing instruments for fire. And David replied, Nay; but I will buy them from thee at a price: neither will I offer unto the Lord my God that which doth cost me nothing.
[2 Samuel 24:18-24]
Like Antony Lang, who for thirty years was the Cristos in the passion play at Oberammergau, when they asked him why the cross he bore in the play was so heavy, he replied, "If I don’t feel it, I cannot play my part." And if does not cost me, and if I do not feel it, I can’t feel as though I am doing it for the great High God [2 Samuel 24:24].
A week ago, I was in a great assembly of our people in America, in a convocation, a convention of our Baptist churches. The presiding officer had us all to stand and made an appeal for missions. And while we were standing, the plates were passed for the mission offering. In front of me, seated directly in front of me, was an aged woman, bent by the years of time, and so feeble, and from the way she was dressed, so very poor. As we stood up and the appeal for the offering was made, she reached down and picked up her old, worn out purse and opened it. Standing immediately behind her, I could see everything inside of her purse. With a trembling and palsied hand, she took out of it everything that she had: a few coins. And when the plate was passed for the mission offering, she gave everything that she had.
I thought of that beautiful story in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Mark: "And the Lord sat over against the treasury, and beheld as the people gave to the work of the Lord. And they who were wealthy gave much. But there was a poor widow, who cast in two mites, that make a farthing" – a tiny piece – "And the Lord called His disciples, and said, Look at her, look at her: she hath given more than they all: For they out of their abundance did cast into the treasury; but she hath given all that she had, even all of her living" [Mark 12:41-44]. First of all, my gift is to be at a cost. I am to dedicate to God something that means something to me [2 Samuel 24:24].
I am, second, to dedicate to God a life consecrated to Him. "And this they did, not only as we had hoped for, but first they gave their own selves to the Lord, and then they gave unto us by the will of God,But first they gave their own selves to the Lord" [2 Corinthians 8:5]. No one could but be moved by that famous passage in Micah 6:6-8:
Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
Our religion is not one of correct doctrine or of beautiful sacrificial temple liturgy; but our religion is to be one of the soul and of the heart: not by the loud words that we speak, but by the deeds that we do; a faith not carried on our sleeves, but born in our hearts. And it is only as the people of America turn in their hearts in repentance and in intercession to God will the Lord ultimately and finally ever bless us. It must rise as a crescendo from our people, asking God to bless our country with peace and prosperity, with good will, with holiness, with righteousness, with godliness. And the Lord looks down from heaven awaiting the reply of our people; and it is only as we reply that God is able to bless us.
And the Lord God whispered and said to me,
"These things shall be, these things shall be,
Nor help shall come from the scarlet skies
Till My people rise!
Till My people rise, My arm is weak;
I cannot speak till My people speak;
When men are dumb, My voice is dumb –
I cannot come till My people come."
From over the flaming earth and sea
The cry of My people must come to Me
Not till their spirit break the curse
May I claim My own in the universe
But if My people rise, if My people rise,
I will answer them from the swarming skies
[from "God Prays," Angela Morgan]
The great protector and guardian, the great benefactor and Blessed One to endow and keep our America lies in the imponderables of Almighty God.
Thy blessing upon Thy people, Lord, as we offer unto Thee a dedicated life.
Not only are we to offer unto God a sacrificial gift, one that costs something of us [2 Samuel 24:24], not only are we to offer to God a dedicated life [2 Corinthians 8:5], we are to offer unto the Lord a grateful heart. "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich" [2 Corinthians 8:9]. The Lord came down from heaven to this earth, bearing to us rich gifts: atonement for our sins and salvation for our souls [Hebrews 10:4-14]. And this planet can never be the same again because He was here.
Forever did He hallow our earth. There may be other worlds in God’s created universe, but there is none like this; for our Lord lived here, walked here, talked here, died here [John 19:30]. It was this earth that drank up His blood [John 19:34]. Forever is this planet hallowed among all of the worlds and stars of God’s universe.
Forever did the Lord hallow human life. This is a soul for whom Christ died [John 3:16]. I, as you, have seen the flotsam and the jetsam of humanity; throngs, multitudes that are indescribably poor, that live in wretchedness and misery. And as I look upon it, I am ever reminded each one is precious in the sight of God, a soul for whom the Lord died [1 John 2:2].
Coming down from heaven to earth, forever, forever did He reveal the nearness of God to man. He is just there: as near as our hands and our feet, as near as the breath that we breathe; God and the angels watching over us [Psalm 91:11]. And forever did He place within the reach of a man’s hand hope, and forgiveness, and salvation, and heaven.
Shall I buy the favor of God? Some of us might be too poor. Shall I storm the ramparts of heaven and demand God’s blessing by my natural strength? Some of us might be too weak. Shall I win the praise of heaven by great deeds and mighty exploits? Some of us might be unendowed and ungifted and unable. Shall I stand in the presence of God in my own righteousness? Some of us might be too sinful. Shall I merit the forgiveness of the Lord by self-immolation, suffering, and flagellation? Some of us might be inadequate. God says, "Take it as a gift." When He came down from heaven to earth, He brought with Him in His nail-pierced hands all our souls and our lives need ever possess [Colossians 2:10].
As Ephesians 2:8 writes it, "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God." Just take it. Just receive it from His dear and blessed hands. "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich" [2 Corinthians 8:9]. And the Lord asks of us just one thing: that we take it with a heart full of gratitude to God [Psalm 100:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:18].
Across the Potomac River from the White House where the president lives is our National Cemetery. And in that National Cemetery at Arlington, in the heart of it is our Tomb to the Unknown Soldier. You have read the inscription, "Here in honored glory lies an American soldier, known but to God." And representatives of the armed forces by day and night walk before that sarcophagus. Why? I don’t know him. We don’t know him. But it is a dedication to God of our gratitude for these who have laid down their lives for us. And we receive it, the supreme sacrifice that they made, with grateful hearts. It is thus with our Lord: we thank Him, praise Him, love Him for what He has done for us; and this is our measure of gratitude [Psalm 136:1].
In one of our churches, they were taking up an offering for a new building, such as we have rising on this side of our sanctuary. And in the service that morning, a man stood up with his wife, and said, "My wife and I will give five thousand dollars in memory of our boy who was killed in the war." And when he said that, a wife turned to her husband, and said, "Husband, stand up, stand up. Tell the people we also will give five thousand dollars for our boy." And the husband turned in astonishment to his wife, and said, "But dear, our boy wasn’t killed. Our boy came back home." And the wife replied, "Husband, stand up, stand up, and say, ‘We will give five thousand dollars for our boy because he came back. God spared him.’" Ah! that is the spirit in the heart that God will always bless. "Lord, in gratitude to Thee I make this offering."
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, and my all
["When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"; Isaac Watts]
A gift for God [2 Samuel 24:24], a dedicated life for God [2 Corinthians 8:5], and a grateful heart offered unto Him [Psalm 138:1-2].
In a moment now, we’re going to stand and sing our invitation appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, to give himself to the Lord, to come into the fellowship of this dear church, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now; come now. There’s a stairway at the front and the back, and on either side of this great auditorium. Down one of these stairways, walking down one of these aisles, "Here I am, pastor, here I come. I’ve made the decision for God in my heart, and I’m on the way. I’m answering with my life." On the first note of the first stanza, come. Do it now, make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE RICHES OF LIBERALITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 8:1-9
A. In 1917, Woodrow Wilson was here bearing tidings of war; now sixty years later Gerald R. Ford is here, with tidings of peace and good will
B. Listened to President Ford’s address to SBC in Norfolk, Virginia – most moving and masterful I ever heard
C. Thursday a week ago, with other religious leaders I visited the President at the White House – left full of hope and encouragement
1. Mike Ford, seminary student
2. President refused interview with Playboy Magazine
D. This is the time for our annual stewardship appeal – even with the President here
1. He would like to see us just as we are
2. He of all people would understand our budget and fiscal responsibilities
E. A specter on governmental horizon that disturbs me – taxing our churches
1. A church cannot be separated from its institutions
2. To tax any part of it is to tax us
II. We are to offer to God
A. A sacrificial gift(2 Corinthians 8:2-3)
1. David and the threshing floor of Araunah(2 Samuel 24:18-24)
2. Antony Lang playing Christ in the passion play at Oberammergau, on the heavy cross he bore: "If I don’t feel it, I cannot play my partâ€¦"
3. Aged woman gave all she had when plates passed for mission offering
4. The widows’ mites (Mark 12:41-44)
B. A dedicated life (2 Corinthians 8:5)
1. Our religion one of the soul and heart (Micah 6:6-8)
2. We need a great inward turning to God in America
a. Poem, "God Prays"
C. A grateful heart (2 Corinthians 9:9)
1. Christ forever hallowed our earth
2. Christ forever hallowed human life
3. Christ forever revealed the nearness of God to man
4. Christ forever placed hope, forgiveness, salvation and heaven within our reach
a. It is a gift bought with His nail-pierced hands (Ephesians 2:8-9)
b. The Lord only asks we receive it with a grateful heart
i. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
ii. Couple standing to give in honor of their boy killed in the war; another stood to give the same in honor of their boy who came home