How to Say “I Love You”

II Corinthians 8:1-12

A number of years ago, a popular book entitled The Five Love Languages was out on the market – the five love languages being touch, affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and gifts. Millions of these books have been sold to couples who are trying to learn how to say I love you to their mate. Today I thought we’d like to look at God’s love language. His language of love.

As you study Scripture, you learn again and again that when the Bible talks of love, it’s usually more than an emotion, or a feeling, or even a few words. It’s an action, an act of the will to do something for the benefit of another. We see that kind of love shown to us through Jesus Christ. We were lost in our sin but God proved His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us on the cross as a sacrifice to pay for our sins. He went to the cross to pay for our sinfulness and rescue us from sin and death so we could be restored into a relationship with the God who loves us.

I love the way Paul puts it in today’s passage. “He who was rich became poor so that by His poverty we might become rich.” He was living in the majesty of heaven. He had all the benefits of heaven, but He became poor, became one of us. He went all the way to the cross and emptied Himself out so we might become rich in our relationship with our heavenly Father.

Jesus talked about love quite a bit. One time He was asked what is God’s favorite commandment. His answer: “It’s simple: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). We also hear Jesus in the upper room on the night before He was crucified for our sins giving His disciples what He called His new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

There’s the clincher: “. . . as I have loved you.” He had just washed their feet, which was the work of a slave back then, and He was about to sacrifice His life to rescue them. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend” (John 15:13). The language of love attached to God is always something you do. It’s an act of giving of self for the sake of another.

In our congregation, the language of love is used every November as we discuss giving (or as some of us were raised to call it – stewardship). Giving is our expression of love to Christ. It’s a matter of the heart. We know God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Over the years I’ve used a statement that sums up what Scripture teaches about the language of love and giving. It goes like this: We give out of love to Christ in the area of our faith. This statement has three parts.

We give to Christ. What we put in an offering plate is a gift to Christ. It’s not to pay the bills to keep the lights on, but a gift to the person of Jesus Himself.

We give because we love Him. We give it out of love in response for what He has done for us. It is our way of saying, I love you. Thank you for loving me.

Finally, we give with faith in God’s promises. As our relationship grows, our faith grows and typically our giving then grows.

This teaching is not something simply made up. It is based upon scriptural passages such as the one we have today. The apostle Paul is describing some folks in Greece called the Macedonians. Their extreme poverty and affliction actually wound up overflowing with joyful generosity toward a mission Paul was trying to fund – to take care of starving people in Jerusalem because of the famine.

In this letter, Paul is writing to the Corinthians, who were also Greeks. He says, You wouldn’t believe these people! They’ve been through so much and yet there was this joyful generosity from them. They voluntarily gave over and above what they could probably afford. In other words, they took an offering and then they took another offering. They pleaded to participate in the mission for the destitute in Jerusalem. They wanted to share what they had.

Those Corinthians, at this point, might have scratched their heads and asked, So, what’s behind this crazy generosity Paul is talking about?

Paul begins by saying, You’d be amazed at what the grace of God is doing! He then says in verse 5, “. . . they gave themselves first to the Lord and . . . (then) to us . . .” What was behind the generosity? These were people who loved Jesus Christ. They’d tasted of His grace and wanted to show love to Him.

We find a principle here when it comes to giving. The relationship always comes first. They gave themselves first to the Lord, then to us – the mission, Paul said. Their giving was in response to the love God poured out on them in Christ. Their hearts were captured by Jesus and what He did for them. If they had known the song, they would have been singing at the offering time, “O, How I love Jesus, because He first loved me.”

When Christ captures your heart, giving becomes a joy, a privilege. We love and want to show it. It’s the language of love to our God. Just think about it. If you’re married and it is your anniversary, you want to get a special gift for your loved one. Think of the joy that comes in finding just the right gift, and then watching their face as they open their gift. It’s almost more fun for you than for them as they receive it.

This is what Paul’s talking about here as he describes giving with love! Until a relationship with Christ happens, talking and thinking about giving of our resources is a very tender subject. It gets fairly uncomfortable for folks.

This is why Paul says near the end, I’m not trying to throw my weight around here with a command to give. I’m trying to teach you that giving is about expressing your love for Christ. This is your opportunity to do just that. He is testing the genuineness of their love. If you love Him, you’ll want to give to Him.

When I came to my congregation back in 1986, I was told they had not had an organized stewardship program their first ten years of existence. They didn’t talk a lot about giving, money, or pledging. They had no stewardship month emphasis. So when I suggested my first year to have a stewardship emphasis during the first three Sundays in November from which we would build our budget, I was told some people were very nervous about doing this and wondered what I was going to clobber them with.

I surprised them, I guess. I used Paul’s words from II Corinthians 8 the first Sunday of stewardship. Our theme was, “It’s a matter of the heart.” Giving is a matter of the heart. We give out of love to Christ in the area of our faith. I said, Giving, you see, is love language. It begins with a relationship with Christ. If you don’t have a relationship with Him, don’t pledge even a penny to this ministry, and don’t give a minute to serving. You’re not yet part of the missionary force, but part of the missionary field. You just keep coming. Jesus doesn’t want your money, He wants you first. The rest can flow naturally from you, because when we love, we want to give.

God blessed our study of Scripture that first year. We had a generous response on the part of the congregation. As it turns out, a lot of people love Jesus. After studying the apostle Paul’s teaching about giving as empowered by the Holy Spirit, it only made sense to them to bring their pledges as a way of saying, I love you, Jesus.

This is how we’ve talked about giving at our church ever since. We give out of love to Christ in the area of our faith. Every Sunday at offering time I tell them, “If you brought a gift for Jesus today, the plate is going to be passed around for you.”

As we talk about “in the area of our faith,” again I remind you we learn to trust God’s promises to provide for us as we are growing in this relationship. We are safe as we trust Him and give ourselves away.

Over the years, we’ve never run into financial difficulties. God blesses those who follow His Word. This’s what we’ve learned, and we have grown in our faith and in our ministry’s impact on people. Because giving to Christ actually brings His love into other people’s lives so they can find out how much they are loved by Jesus. Your giving allows your local church and organizations like Christian Crusaders to keep telling Christ’s love story again and again through words and through loving actions in the name of Christ.

At my own congregation, we support more than twenty-five Christ-centered local, national, and international ministries that we’ve carefully vetted, and they are impacting people’s lives with the gospel. We hear great stories of changed lives from these organizations on a regular basis. Your love gift to Christ makes a difference in the lives of others, which is exactly what Jesus wants to see happen.

We here at Christian Crusaders constantly receive mail from people telling us how this gospel ministry has been such a blessing in people’s lives. It’s great fun to read this mail and know listeners’ lives are being touched by the gospel of Jesus. This is what happens when followers of Jesus Christ give out of love to Christ in the area of their faith.

I am glad to tell you a whole lot of love has been expressed for Jesus over the years toward Christian Crusaders as people have given to this ministry. In fact, it’s been nothing less than inspiring and overwhelming as monthly gifts and memorials – even estate gifts – are given from people who are in love with Jesus. Those gifts have changed other people’s lives as the message is proclaimed all around the globe how our God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

This, my friend, is the whole point of what we are called to do as followers of Jesus Christ. We are to get the message out about Christ and what He has done. This message rescues and saves as it gets into other people’s lives.

I hope this message has been illuminating for you today as it has been for me in my congregation. Learning that we give out of love to Christ has been a real blessing to us.

To be honest, I didn’t know much about giving until someone early in my ministry named Homer Larsen shared this truth with me. He picked up this statement – we give out of love to Christ in the area of our faith – from someone else. As we follow this statement based on Scripture, giving has been a joyful, personal experience ever since! My faith in God’s promises to provide for my needs has grown and grown over the years, because I’ve learned God really is faithful, and He takes care of us.

So I invite you, if you have not already understood this great truth, to put it to work in your own life. May it be your guide as you live out your faith in Jesus Christ. We give out of love to Christ in the area of our faith. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer