Updated: Jan 24, 2022
January 16, 2022 | refocus | Generous Giving| 2 Corinthians 8-9
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The second core value of the church in our refocus series is generous giving, or simply generosity.
In essence, when talking about generosity, we are talking about stewardship. In dealing with the topic of stewardship, there are many places in scripture that we could go. For instance, Jesus talked more about the topic of money than almost any other singular topic. The Old Testament contains God’s commands to the Israelites concerning their resources and the stewardship of them, and the Wisdom literature of scripture is full of comments on stewardship.
But for this morning we are going to look at what Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.
The eighth and ninth chapters of the second letter we have of the letters Paul wrote to the churches in Corinth form the most extensive teaching on stewardship in the New Testament.
Before we dig into what he says, here are three surprising, and maybe counter intuitive things considering his treatment of the subject.
Paul specifically says he is not issuing a command.
Paul does not bring up or refer to what we commonly call the tithe.
Paul expressly emphasizes that the how we give matters as much as the what we give.
Most often when someone in the church mentions giving, people immediately think of sermons that try and shame them if they are not tithing 10%. Here is the truth, in the same way we saw that membership is so much more than where you attend church, stewardship is so much more than discussing the tithe.
I believe generous giving, as a part of the overall stewardship responsibility of believers, is the responsibility of every member of the local church. It is a core value of the body.
Three reasons generous giving applies to you.
Generous giving is motivated by what you have received in Christ.
2 Corinthians 8:1-9 (ESV) 1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.
8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 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 by his poverty might become rich.
Notice Paul’s emphasis is on generous giving being a grace of God. He offers an example of generosity when he says the grace of God that had been given among the churches of Macedonia. They gave themselves to God and because God moved among them, they overflowed in a wealth of generosity.
He then encourages the Corinthian church to participate in this act of grace. He says you excel in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, you are responding to God with faith, your speech has changed, your knowledge has changed, your life has changed, now make sure you respond to him in your generosity as well.
Paul says this is not a command, not motivated by what you must do, but what you should do in response to what Christ has done for you. He then moves from the example of generosity of the Macedonian church to our supreme example of generosity in verse 9.
Paul sums up the fact that Christ willingly left heaven, clothed himself in humanity, becoming a helpless baby born in a stable, living his life here on earth not for himself but for the Father, and then willingly gave his very life so that believers could experience the richness of eternal life with God. This is the very message of the gospel. Jesus generously gave himself so that we might experience what we could not apart from him. As one commentary put it “giving is not just one part of Christianity. It belongs to the very nature of the gospel itself. When anyone realizes what Christ did for his sake, his life will begin to flow in the direction of others.”
So, why do we give?
Because of what we have received.
As a believer you received the grace of God…
…although you didn’t deserve it
…despite the fact that you will, in many ways, squander it and waste it living for yourself.
So, how do we give?
In the way we have received.
Generously, despite what someone else deserves, and with the gift being more important to you than the way that the other person uses it.
So, what do we give? What does generosity giving look like, how is it measured?
Generous giving is measured by what you have, not what you don't.
2 Corinthians 8:10-12 (ESV) 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.
Sometimes, people use their situation as a reason not to give generously.
It sounds like
“I’ll give when my situation improves”
“I would be generous if I just had a little more.”
“ I will be generous, after this car is paid off, after this raise, after the first of the year, etc…”
Or my favorite is, “well if I had the kind of money they had, I would be a lot more generous than they are.”
We are always more generous with other people’s money. There is an old baptist joke that has the preacher ask everyone to stand for the offering. Then reach into the back pocket of the person in front of them and with their wallet, give as generously as they would like.
This reason focuses on what we don’t have right now and uses that as a reason to delay generosity.
However, what keeps many of us from generous giving, even more than ‘waiting for a better situation’, is that we are far more concerned with what we do not have than what we have. The world has us wrapped up in what we are going to buy next, right? Or what we are going to upgrade to next.
New phone came out; time to upgrade.
Computer slows down; time to upgrade.
New screen technology comes out, time to upgrade.
The next car, the next house. We are a people consumed with what to buy next.
For me, this thinking creeps in, sometimes in the most harmless of places. Amazon has a feature where you can create various ‘wish lists’ and then put things on them. There, right beside the buy it now and checkout button, is a little button that says, add to my list. Before I knew it, I had multiple lists going!
Think about that for a minute. Here is something I want, but I can’t afford it right now. I will put it on a list, so the minute I get some extra money, I know exactly where it is going. It is hard to be generous with what we have when we are constantly focused on spending what we don’t even have yet.
Evidently, from what we gather from these letters, the Corinthian believers had started talking about and thinking about this collection for the saints a year before this letter. Paul says they desired to do it. That is, they weren’t just willing, but they were excited to do it.
I can even imagine them making commitments based on what they thought the following year would bring. A year has gone by, their excitement has prompted other churches to join and give. Now, Paul is saying, generosity is not about what you thought you would have, or what you think you should have, it is only concerned with what you currently possess. The word ‘has’ in verse 12, in the original language implies ‘in your possession’ literally, ‘in your hand’.
Thinking about what we will give one day, or what we could give if we had more is the quickest way to kill generosity and paralyze your giving. The question of generosity is ‘what will do with what you have now?’. Paul says here that your willingness and generosity are acceptable to God according to what you have, not what you do not have.
We find a great example of this principle in the life of Jesus.
Mark 12:41-44 (ESV) 41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Jesus uses this encounter to teach his disciples an important kingdom principle-
The percent is more important than the sum.
Many rich people put in large sums. The religious leaders for example made sure to tithe of every bit of what they earned or grew. So, the sum was great in comparison to others, but the percent was the bare minimum they could get by with. Giving a large sum doesn’t automatically mean you are generous, just like giving a small sum doesn’t automatically mean you are not generous.
The poor widow, dependent on others for her livelihood, managed to get two small copper coins to her name and although an insignificant amount in the eyes of the rich people, and a laughable amount in comparison, to God, her two coins were more than all the rich people put together.
So, how do we make the shift?
How do we become generous givers?
How do we become Godly stewards with our finances?
By understanding that generosity is not controlled by our emotions.
Generous giving is managed by your minds, not your emotions.
2 Corinthians 9:1-7 (ESV) 1 Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia (a-kai-ya) has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.
6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Here in this teaching, Paul applies a few negatives concerning the way they are to give.
Not as an exaction-another translation says ‘not affected by covetousness’. That is not expecting something in return.
Not reluctantly- that is begrudgingly (with a sour, reluctant mind)
Not under compulsion- out of necessity compelled by response to external factors (i.e. law, commands)
Paul says it should rather be…A willing gift- the English word gift here literally means ‘a blessing’. A ready blessing.
Generous giving is an act of the mind first. Not giving for what you can get, not giving reluctantly, thinking about what you could do with it or why you should keep it, and not under compulsion, concerned only with the fact you think you have to give.
But, Paul says ‘ each one as he has decided (or purposed) in his heart.’
Don’t get hung up on the use of the word heart here. For the Jewish people the heart was the seat of not just emotions, but of it was considered, the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites. Paul is saying that what we give is controlled not by how we feel, but by what we have made up our minds to do.
I think, for many, we dismiss generosity as a feeling. We excuse ourselves from the responsibility because we don’t feel generous, or we don’t feel like we have the gift of generosity. We don’t feel moved to be generous.
The overall message Paul is trying to make is that if we decide that we are going to give generously, that is, we make that our objective or aim, not only is it not based on an emotional response, but I believe he teaches that the emotions will even follow, when we act on the decision.
Think about it like this.
How many of you have seen one of those videos where they show starving children in a third world country or abandoned pets where they ask for money? Maybe a Sarah McLachlan song plays in the background. During that moment, you may begin to feel like you should give, you get emotionally involved, you think, I am going to give to that, or I am going to get involved, and then the commercial ends and you quickly forget about it. That’s what happens when our emotions manage our generosity. Paul wants the Corinthian believers to see that their giving needs to be managed by their minds, their decisions, not their emotions.
-For God loves a cheerful giver.
What is Paul talking about? The word cheerful, used only here in the New Testament, also carries the idea of prompt or willing.
Should we be happy about generously giving? Absolutely, but what comes first?
We feel happy about giving so we give generously, or we decide to be generous and in giving we find that happiness?
If we take everything Paul has said so far, I believe the second is much closer to what Paul means when he says God loves a cheerful giver.
God loves a giver that has purposed in their mind to be generous and then happily follows through.
In essence, when talking about generosity, we are talking about stewardship, and in dealing with the topic of stewardship, there are many places in scripture that we could go. For inJesus talked more about the topic of money than almost any other singular topic. The Old Testament contains God’s commands to the Israelites concerning their resources and the stewardship of them, and the Wisdom literature of scripture is full of comments on stewardship. p. ip. p. .
Are you called to be a generous giver? Does this responsibility belong to you? There are three questions to ask yourself.
Am I a believer?
Do I have any resources at all?
Do I have the ability to decide to be generous?
If the answer is yes to those questions, then yes, as a member of the church you are called to be a generous giver as part of your stewardship.
It is one of the core values of the church.