Giving. It can be a sensitive topic and not one people like to bring up. However, as we’ll learn in chapter eight, giving is an important part of the Christian life. Through it, we show love, care, and concern for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and by it, we prove our genuineness of faith. As the Apostle James warned, faith without actions is dead (James 2), and giving is one of the actions we can do that show our faith. So let’s see what Paul has to say about giving in his letter to the wealthy Corinthians.
First of all, let’s take a look at some background before we jump into our text for today. As Paul traveled the known world witnessing and planting churches, he also made an effort to raise money for the church in Jerusalem. For the believers in Jerusalem were extremely poor and suffering. Many of the churches Paul planted—such as the Philippians and Ephesians—gave generously to the work in Jerusalem and Paul commends them for their act of love. As a bustling port city, the Corinthians had money with many of them being wealthy. However, because of the brief schism between them and Paul, they failed to give the donation they had promised. So now, Paul is encouraging them and imploring them to give as they originally pledged and to demonstrate their unity, love, and faith.
This is the setting and situation when Paul sat down and wrote II Corinthians 8:1-5:
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 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. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints--and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”
The Macedonians were a poor people--or as Paul wrote, they had “extreme poverty”--yet they gave generously. They did not withhold their meager finances when they learned of the need of the Jerusalem church. In fact, to Paul’s surprise, they gave to the collection for Jerusalem before they gave to Paul and his team!
On the other hand, the wealthy Corinthians hadn’t given anything to the relief of Jerusalem. Though they had much more than the Macedonians, they held more tightly to their money and Paul was pointing out this flaw. As he tells the Corinthians of the Macedonians’ generosity and joy in giving, the purpose was to inspire and encourage the Corinthians to do likewise. For if those who had little were willing to give generously then those who had much ought to be willing to give much.
Sadly however, the truth often is that those blessed with much hold more tightly to their earthly wealth and have a harder time parting with it. This was true for the Corinthians and is true for Americans today. We are blessed with an abundance of wealth, yet we tend to hold more tightly to our material possessions and earthly goods. We may give our expected 10% tithe but are not interested or excited about giving more. While looking about us and seeing the extreme poverty of those living in the world around us, we may feel compassion for them but do not feel compelled to give of our abundance. The starving children in Africa may pull on our hearts, yet we firmly believe that others should help their cause instead of reaching into our own pockets and contributing to their needs.
Giving is an act of grace. An act of unmerited favor, blessing, and abundance bestowed not because the recipient deserves it, but because the giver delights in blessing another. It is not done to be seen or commended by others, but because it’s an outpouring of what God’s done for us. Notice the example of the Macedonians. After receiving the gospel, they were filled with joy and gave generously though they lived in extreme poverty. Or as Paul put it, “they gave according to their means, and beyond their means.”
So what about us? Are we more like the generous Macedonians or stingy Corinthians? After receiving the grace and mercy of God, are we overjoyed to give back to the Lord’s work? Are we quick to extend this act of grace to those in need?
It’s important to note that in this day and age there are a plethora of causes, organizations, and ministries that need support and funding; however, we can’t give to all of them. While we are called to give generously, we are also commanded to be wise stewards of what God has given us. So we have to be careful and choose wisely which causes and needs God is calling us to contribute to and which ones we’re not, for we can’t support everything. But on the other hand, we must not use the excuse of wise stewardship as a reason to hoard our resources. We must give generously as God has given to us and allow the Spirit to guide and direct us to where we should invest in the kingdom work. May we truly heed this exhortation from Paul to the Corinthians:
“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.”
~II Corinthians 8:7
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