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Giving With Generosity

We know that Paul traveled throughout the ancient world preaching and teaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. But we often forget that he also saw to the physical needs of the poor. Paul would travel and take up collections from churches and deliver them to Christians where there was great need. He did this because the message of the gospel and caring for the tangible needs of people go together.

As he writes 2 Corinthians Paul is taking up a collection for some of the Christians in Jerusalem who are really struggling. He wants the Christians in Corinth to give to alleviate the poverty the Jerusalem Christians are experiencing. Two whole chapters of this letter, chapters 8 and 9, are Paul telling the Christians in Corinth that he wants to see generosity in them.

And to stimulate the Corinthian Christians Paul uses the example of the churches in Macedonia. Macedonia included churches in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. We read about these churches in Acts and in Paul’s letters. These Christians in Macedonia were nuts. They were off-their-rockers in faith for Christ. They were shining examples of what it meant to follow Jesus.

This is what we know about the Christians in Macedonia:

They were experiencing a severe trial. We don’t know what this was, but we know that severe persecution, often resulting in material and economic poverty was common for first century Christians. They lost jobs, property, and status. To be a Christian in their world often came with a great cost. The Macedonian churches were hurting.

But though they were experiencing deep affliction and were in extreme poverty themselves they had such overflowing joy that they gave to the needs of other Christians with rich generosity. Paul says they “welled up” in rich generosity. These Macedonian Christians were like a well, bubbling up to help others who were hurting.

They gave as much as they were able, and then some. The crazy thing was that they did this even though they faced extreme poverty themselves. That raises the questions for us: Do we give only when it is easy and pleasant for us? What about when life is hard for us? When we don’t have a lot? Or things are tight? These Christians didn’t give because they were financially prosperous. They gave, it says, in extreme poverty.

Mother Theresa once said, “If you give what you do not need, then you really aren’t giving.”

Do you know that studies on giving within churches show that in general, people with less and smaller incomes give proportionately more than people with higher incomes. There is an old Jewish saying, “It is the poor who help the poor.”

The Christians in Macedonia gave to the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem entirely on their own. Paul didn’t even ask them. In fact, they begged him to be able to join in the offering he was taking. That’s radical generosity, when someone gives even before being asked.

What if instead of praying, “Bless me, give to me, Lord,” we prayed, “Lord, show me opportunities to give”? Most of the time I have to wait to be asked before I give.

These Macedonian Christians exceeded Paul’s expectations. They blew his mind. We get a clear clue as to why they were like this when it says in verse 5 that they gave themselves first to the Lord. Generosity won’t come in our lives until first we belong to God. The more we give ourselves to the Lord, the more generous we become in all parts of our life.

In fact, material giving is as much a measure of our relationship to Christ as is our prayer-life, our going to church, and our Bible reading. We can claim to be followers of Jesus by the prayer times we have. We can say we are Christians by our presence in the church. But could we show our faith by our credit card transaction statement? By our Venmo records? Do those things show what kind of Christians we are?

Giving is grace.

Four times in this passage the grace of God is mentioned. Paul says that it is the grace of God that has allowed the Macedonia churches to give as they have. (8:1) He says it will be an act of grace for the Corinthian Christians to give. (8:6) Paul encourages them to excel in what he calls the grace of giving. (8:7) And he points to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for us.

Giving is always a product of grace, always made possible by grace, always led by grace.

Grace is the free, undeserved, mysterious kindness of God that nurtures us, protects us, provides for us, and works for us. You don’t earn it or work for grace. Grace works for you.

Grace is the Lord working in our lives, we know not how. Grace happens in more ways than we will ever know. It is immeasurable. Stuff happens that blesses us, helps us, supports us. Again, we know not how.

And when it comes to giving, grace is what stirs our hearts to give. Grace is when we are not sure we have it to give, but God in some amazing way provides it. Grace is when we give and we find we aren’t any poorer.

Personal testimony: literally, there have been times for Nancy and me when we have given to the things of God, though things were tight amidst car repair bills, mortgage payments, college tuition, and other expenses, and we were nervous, and a month later we found we had more in our checking account than that made sense to have.

Even that we have anything to give is grace. Yes, we have income from jobs and investments, but isn’t it God, who in his goodness, provides those things for us? Grace always blows my mind because I live by it moment by moment.

And if the Corinthians don’t understand what grace is, then Paul tells them this:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.[1]

Grace was modeled in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was with the Father in glory before coming to this world. What a place to be! Talk about the good life! But he gave it all up to come down to us, to become like us. That was not a promotion.

Christ did not carefully consider how much of himself he should give out. He didn’t calculate how much he would receive back if he came to give himself.[2] That’s grace!

Carefully read chapters 8, 9 of 2 Corinthians and you notice in all Paul says about generosity, the word “money” is never used. What he talks about is human relationships and the work of God.

And verse 9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” really speaks of what God is about.

It’s interesting that in encouraging the Corinthians to give to the struggling and hurting saints in Jerusalem, he doesn’t talk about their needs. He doesn’t flash pictures of hungry children, dilapidated homes, threadbare clothes of the Jerusalem saints. He says practically nothing about their situation. Instead, he writes about God. It is because of what God has done in Christ that he wants them to give.

Maybe instead of bigger fund-raising campaigns, we need a bigger picture of God. And his grace. Because we are not only saved by grace, we live by grace. Grace isn’t just about receiving but also about giving.

In Acts 4 we are given a picture of the first Christians. It says “no one said that any of the things that belonged to them was their own” and that there was not a needy person because people were giving and sharing. And it says, “and great grace was upon them all.”[3]

I think one of the greatest barriers to generosity is worrying about having enough. At least it is for me. “Enough” is an interesting concept.[4] What is enough? How do you know when you have enough?

Later on Paul writes that “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.”[5] The New Revised Standard Version translates that “having enough of everything”.

The word Paul uses is autarkeia. It means contentment. It speaks of material independence, but not the independence that comes through amassing more wealth and possessions. It speaks of the independence that comes from eliminating needs. It describes the person who has learned to be content with less. A person with autarkeia will be able to give far more to others because he/she needs less for him/herself.

One great blockage to generosity can be that we want so much for ourselves that there is nothing left to give others. Our needs – what we perceive as our needs – are so massive that we use it all on us.

I need these particular types of clothes, this particular car, this size of house, this gym membership, this color of hair, to have my nails done, that vacation, to eat out this much, this cup of coffee or latte, this much skiing, that much golf, this type of body and looks, this cell phone, this computer, this much leisure and personal time.

Need is an addiction in our society and even in Christians. A sense of “enough” counters need-addicted living. Maybe the way for us to be more generous is not necessarily to give more but to hang onto less. Knowing when you have enough is also about the grace of God.

Christians on average today give between 1.1 and 3.4 % of annual income to both religious and non-religious organizations. That is not a staggering amount. 31% of Christian households give nothing.

Over the past decades as wealth has increased for many people in the United States giving has proportionately gone down. Somewhere we divorced faith and our relationship with God from our money and personal wealth.

Notice that Paul never gives any amount for what should be given. He never gives any guidelines for what “generosity” is. He provides no numbers.

How much should we give? Some of us might have heard the word “tithe,” or we have heard of the concept of tithing. It comes from the Old Testament standard of giving one-tenth of crops or animals – which were often the wealth of that day – to the Lord. The tithes were to be given to the priests to support them and the work of the Temple. A tithe of one-tenth can be a helpful standard when we figure out how much to give.

But in the New Testament there is no specific percentage for giving. Jesus praises giving and challenges people to give as much as possible. Here in 2 Corinthians Paul never gives a standard for giving, but he does give the standard of giving. He writes that giving should be done joyously and somewhat sacrificially. If we give what we don’t need is it really giving?

The Corinthian’s giving was an expression of God’s grace, not their own moral or spiritual virtue. God’s grace is the springboard for our giving so that even our gifts go right back to the glory of God. Giving is not a way of showing God how much we can do for him, but a way of illustrating how much God has done for us.

We are free to give. We are also free not to give. It is between you and the Lord. But the quantity we give will match the quality of our hearts.[6]

And how much isn’t necessarily as important as the spirit with which we give. Just a few verses later in 2 Corinthians 8 Paul writes,

“For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.”[7]

Maybe you can’t give very much. That’s OK. Just give and let it honor God. It’s the willingness that matters.

It’s not, “Someday when I win the lottery…” No, we give from whatever the Lord has given us right now. The Macedonia Christians didn’t wait until they had more. They gave right then and there, out of the conditions in which they found themselves because they had first given themselves to God.

Give based on what you decide in your heart, but not reluctantly or if you feel you have to. God loves a cheerful giver. Right?

A mother wanted to teach her daughter the joy of giving. She gave the little girl a dollar bill and a $5 bill for church.

“Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself,” she told her daughter.

After the service the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given.

“Well,” said the little girl, “I was going to give the $5, but just before the offering the man up front said that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I’d be a lot more cheerful if I gave the $1. So I did.”

It says God loves to see people giving cheerfully. It stokes his fire. He gets off on a cheerful giver.

Generosity does at least three things:[8]

It does something for others. Needs are relieved. People feel loved and cared for. Real lives are really touched.

Generosity does something for us. It strengthens our faith. It moves us beyond ourselves and out of self-centeredness toward others. It deepens our relationship and dependence on God.

Generosity does something for God. It results in thanksgiving to him. It honors him. Proverbs 3:9 says “Honor the LORD with your wealth…”

And if you wonder if you can be generous it says that,

“Now (God) who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”[9]

Like the man who was found out to be a very generous giver, and someone asked him how he was able to give so much, given that he didn’t have great means. He said, “As I shovel it out, the Lord shovels it in. And he has a bigger shovel.”

I don’t always know how that happens. It is part of this thing called grace. When we live in the grace of God stuff just happens.

Grace is acknowledging that what we have is not solely of our doing and that because we have received freely, we can freely give.

Prayer: God we praise you for the grace we have received from you. We praise you for the grace that comes to us moment by moment, every day of our lives. Help us to acknowledge your grace by giving ourselves to you. Thank you for the grace we know in Jesus Christ. In him we pray. Amen.

[1] V.9 [2] Ernest Best, Interpretation Commentary on 2 Corinthians, p. 88 [3] Acts 4:33 [5] 9:8 [6] NIV Application Commentary, 2 Corinthians, Scott Hafemann [7] V.12 [8] See William Barclay, Corinthians, p.236 [9] 2 Cor. 9:10,11

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