Second Corinthians 8:1–15 . . .
Generosity — The Principles of Engagement
Apostle Paul does something quite amazing in chapters 8 and 9: He tells us (and the Corinthians) about generous Christian giving: It's not to be tight-fisted, miserly, grudge-filled giving, or wild, spendthrift, careless giving; instead, it's to be true, generous, gracious, abundant, and, what Paul calls, "hilarious" giving. What's amazing is that Paul's teaching in both chapters never once mentions "money"! So, instead of talking about "money," we're going to talk about "giving."
Paul's chapter 8 begins with an example of giving that he experienced while in Macedonia (vv. 1–5, shown below). The background to this was a severe famine in Palestine (see summary of 1 Cor. 7), in which many people were deprived of their livelihood due to a drought. Paul was determined to enlist the aid of the Gentile churches to relieve the Jewish Christians. Thinking that it would express the oneness of the body of Christ while removing Jew and Gentile partitions, wherever he went, he told everyone about Jerusalem's need for support. When he mentioned it to the Macedonian churches of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, the response was tremendous, which encouraged him greatly.
Many Christians today don't understand how to give properly. Several give from wrong reasons, in wrong ways. As we look at the example of the Macedonians' giving, notice that the first note the apostle strikes is that true giving always originates with the grace of God (v. 1).
People are motivated to give for many reasons. God is very concerned about motives: (1) Some people give in return for a tax write-off; but is that a proper motive to give? Giving should be something you do more for others than yourself, because giving will have a tremendous effect on your life. A tax write-off offers no such effect. (2) Some give to gain a reputation for giving. (Note in Acts 5 that the first death recorded in the church occurred when Ananias and Sapphira strove to gain an undeserved reputation for giving by seeking the honor and prestige usually heaped on generous givers; they pretended to donate all of their property but didn't.) (3) Some who are afraid of dying give to look good in God's eyes. (4) Some give thousands of dollars, hoping that such giving would help them in their standing before God at the judgment seat. All these are wrong giving motives. Notice that none of the above-referenced givers gave to help God's cause; they gave only to gain a reputation for giving.
However, the Macedonians, ignoring the usual excuses for not giving, gave because their hearts were moved by God's grace. They dug deep and gave beyond their means; they felt like giving! It's only through feeling that givers become blessed.
If you tithe, great. But please don't rest on the laurels of your tithing. You don't give 10 percent to the Lord and believe that the remaining 90 percent is yours. No, that's not Christian giving; one hundred percent of it belongs to God! He's to do what he wants with it, because it belongs to him, not you. You're to be a wise steward or trustee of your resources, responsible to distribute it for his name's sake. That's exactly what the Macedonians did; they freely gave everything they had for God's purposes.
The Macedonians became a model for other churches, as Paul goes on to say in vv. 6–8, then encouraging the Corinthians to similarly "excel in the grace of giving." Notice how carefully Paul avoids using pressure: He doesn't say that they have to give; he doesn't lay a guilt trip on them; he doesn't ask them to outdo the Macedonians. There's nothing of that. Without pressure, he exhorts them to consider what giving is: a manifestation from a heart that's been touched by the love and grace of God, which leads to the supreme example of giving; the giving of Jesus (v. 9). Christ Jesus knew there was a time when he was rich, when everything in the universe belonged to him; he owned it all. Yet he gave it up voluntarily, deliberately impoverishing himself. As Paul put it in Philippians 2:8, "He humbled himself" and became a man, a poor man. He "owned" nothing on earth; he borrowed food, clothing, a coin to use as an illustration, a donkey to enter Jerusalem, and finally a tomb in which to be laid. He had no home to go to, no place to lay his head.
Why did Jesus "become poor"? According to Paul, Jesus became poor that we might become rich in increasing joy. The apostle turns to practical matters at Corinth (vv. 10–12), advising believers of what God expects of an awakened heart, giving them and us wonderful principles of giving. Evidently, when Titus first visited believers in Corinth he announced the dire need of the saints in Jerusalem; many Corinthians had promised to take up a collection and give to that need; alas, it was never actually taken. So now, a year later, Paul reminds them of their promise to give. In effect, Paul says, "Don't delay. Give what you can, for (as he puts it in v. 12) 'if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.'" The point is: When the need exists, give what you can, according to what you have. Don't worry if it isn't as much as you'd like it to be, or even as much as you said it would be. God knows your heart and isn't requiring something that you don't have. He delights in one who gives all that he or she can. Later on (in 9:7), Paul will gladly confirm, "God loves a cheerful giver," which means that "God loves one who feels that what a gift can do is far more important than its monetary value.
In this week's closing three verses, Paul introduces "the goal of equality." In effect, he argues for an equality of response: "Now it's your time to give, because it may turn out very shortly that you may lose all you have; then it'll be your turn to receive." That's equality. Paul's saying, Now, it turns out that while you have more than you need, some have less; you have more than you need so that you might give to those who have less. He supports his reasoning with a quotation from Exodus 16:18: "The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little." That comes out of the story of the manna falling in the wilderness to feed a huge crowd of people. The amazing thing was that after collecting it and starting to dish it out, those who had more than they needed gave to those who had less, creating equal portions; everybody received exactly what they needed.
God gives every one of us opportunities to learn the joy of sharing what we have with those who have needs. Paul helps the Corinthian Christians recognize that. He goes on to say a lot more about "our responsibility in giving" and "the actual practice of giving," but we're going to leave that for next week's stewardship passage. Let's close with this thought:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich (v. 8).
- Q. 1 Have you thought about how rich the Lord has made you? If not, why wait?
- Q. 2 If you were to evaluate your zeal for God in light of your checkbook, what grade would you give yourself?
- Q. 3 What from Jesus' example (v. 9) prompts you to be generous with your money, time, and energy? What inhibits you?
2 Corinthians 8:1–15
New International Version (NIV)
[You can view it in a different version by clicking here; you can also listen to chapter 8.]
The Collection for the Lord's People — Generosity Encouraged
8 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord's people. 5And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 6So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7But since you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you — see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
8I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
10And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
13Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15as it is written: "The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little."