2 Cor. 8:1-15; 9:6-12
8:1 We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4 begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5 and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6 so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. 7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15 As it is written,
“The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
9:6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9 As it is written,
“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.
Explaining a Miracle
How do you explain a miracle? Silly question, isn’t it? If you could explain it, it would cease to be a miracle, right? And yet, that’s what I want to do today. Okay, I do not not exactly want to explain how the miracle happened, but rather, what the miracle was and why it happened. Because it’s going to happen again today, and we best be ready for it.
What was the miracle?
First, I want to start with some background. I spent a dozen years in Eastern and Central Europe as a missionary. I arrived in time to watch the birthday parties of the newly born free states of former Yugoslavia become a funeral procession for hundreds of thousands.
The people of those newly independent nations became inhumane nationalists overnight, ready, willing and all too frequently able to throw neighbors into mass graves.
We have racism here in America – I grew up with that – but over there, I learned about the demonic power of ethnic animosity. It’s still going on in Bosnia today; it would take a miracle to stop it.
An Easter text?
And that brings us to our text. I want to call this an Easter text. I have heard smart people give lectures about proof of the resurrection at the empty tomb. This text before us may be just as much proof. It’s a miracle text.
Here is the point: something happened that made people who were from different ethnic groups, groups that had despised one another, every bit as much as Serbs and Croats did, not only stop hating each other, but pull out their wallets and give money from one to the other. That, my friends, is a miracle!
anti-Semitism and the gospel
Here is what happened. Jesus was Jewish – lived, taught, healed, was killed and rose from the dead as a Jew among Jewish people in the land of Judea.
Paul was Jewish too. Please do not think for a moment that anti-Semitism is a modern or even a European phenomenon. Greeks and Romans were famously anti-Semitic.
But Paul believed that the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus really is “the power of God for salvation” of Jews, like him, and non-Jews as well. He became an apostle to the gentiles.
Paul’s 2 Problems
He had two problems. 1. How was he going to get non-Jewish people to listen to him preach the gospel?; and 2. if they listened and believed it, how would he ever convince the Jewish-Christian leaders back in Jerusalem, where it all started, that these gentiles had actually become Christians? It would take a miracle.
Long story, short, problem no. 1 was solved: Paul was successful at planting Christian communities among gentiles throughout the Roman Empire. Gentiles experienced the miracle of new birth in Jesus Christ.
Now, problem 2: getting the Jewish Christians to accept the genuineness of these gentile Christians, Paul believed, would happen if those Jewish Christians witnessed an undeniable miracle taking place among the gentile Christians.
The Money miracle
Question: what miracle would do it? What would be big enough evidence of God at work in an undeniable way that would convince the Jewish Christians that the gentiles had converted? Answer: money.
Paul reasoned this way: money, for almost everybody in the world, is god. Money means food on the table, a roof overhead, clothes on our backs, and wellbeing for our families. It is not a light matter.
Everybody is and always has been emotionally attached to their money. They are nervous about getting it, and cagy about how much they have. They let go of it only by necessity, and with hesitation, and never without getting something for it. To change this basic fact of life would take a miracle.
But this is exactly the miracle that our text from 2 Cor. is all about. Paul reports to the Corinthians that their fellow gentiles in Macedonia had already contributed in a generous way to this collection that he was organizing for the poor in Jerusalem.
He would add to it what the Corinthian gentiles gave and then take it as proof positive to Jerusalem that God had miraculously brought gentiles into the family of faith.
Only God could pry coins out of human fists with nothing but love in return, for the sake of people who were not related. It happened.
And this is the same miracle that is happening today, on this consecration Sunday, as we offer to God our response to his call to giving.
What can we learn from that miracle?
Motives for Giving:
First that the motive for giving is and always has been simple: gratitude to God for his lavish gift to us of Jesus Christ.
Listen again to how Paul framed the motivation for giving:
8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
We too give, not because of any law, but out of hearts overflowing with gratitude to God for his remarkable gift to us.
Spiritual Relationship with God
Similarly, the Corinthian Christians understood that giving was a part of their spiritual relationship with God. Listen again:
3 For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4 begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5 and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us,
It was because the “they gave themselves first to the Lord,” because of their relationship to him that they gave. This is also why we give. It is part of our journey of growing trust in God who supplies all our needs that we open our hearts and our hands in generous giving.
Privilege to Serve
We can learn another motivation from the Corinthians: they understood that it was their privilege to serve. They were not missionaries like Paul, they did not preach sermons or start churches, but they had a role to play in his missionary ministry that was deep and profound. They counted it a privilege to participate in his ministry by giving.
In the same way, we have the privilege of participating in the total ministry of this church – here locally, and in this Presbytery and this region, and even in places like Haiti and Turkey and around the world. I am making a difference; you are making a difference! This is our joy; our privilege.
Thoughtful, Proportional Giving
We learn from this text that giving is not just a spontaneous gush in response to an emotional appeal. Rather biblical giving is thought through and proportional. Let us hear again:
10 …it is appropriate for you who began last year… 11 to finish doing it, …by completing it according to your means. 12 For …the gift is acceptable according to what one has
Notice that they began the collection an entire year before Paul arrived – not on a momentary whim, but they were disciplined and reflective about it. And notice that the giving was to be proportional, according to their means.
We believe that God calls each of us to give proportionally, a percentage of our means, and to decide that percentage as a result of conscious, prayerful reflection.
What percentage is right?
This is what we all must decide as responsible people, before God. The biblical standard is 10%, which is what a “tithe” means. God gives us everything we have, and allows us to spend a full 90% on ourselves if we wish. But 10% is for him, the firstfruits, off the top at the start of every month, the first check written.
I can tell you that I tithe 10% of my income every month. I have a mortgage, a child in college and one who will be there soon, and I can tell you that God provides for us, just as we heard he would, as the text we read affirms.
Grow One Step
Now perhaps you have not made proportional giving a life-habit and your current giving is below 10%. Then hear this challenge: whatever proportion of your means that you have given in the past, use it as a baseline from which to grow in faith. Ask God to give you the faith to increase that percentage this year, and every year until you reach the biblical 10%. Grow one step this year.
If you are retired and living on a fixed income, then my suggestion is to look at your annual expenses, including discretionary spending on restaurants, travel, gifts, and determine your giving as a proportion of your total spending.
The Promise and the Challenge
The promise of scripture is this:
6 the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
We are either emotionally attached to our money or to God; this is a spiritual issue that is vital to our spiritual growth as people of faith. We are here out of the joy and privilege of knowing God through Jesus Christ; our attachment will be to God through whom all blessings flow!