Jars of Clay: Generosity

jars - calendar

Generosity: Growing in the Grace of Giving
2 Corinthians 8:1-15

There is another post on this subject at: godmanchesterbaptist.org/web/index.php/gbc-news/why-a-widows-mite-turns-out-to-be-a-lot-more-than-i-thought

“In many respects western identity is established in material terms. We define ourselves by our relation to our material environment; perhaps more than our relation to other people (or even to God). That this has resulted in great material prosperity and great technological accomplishment we can readily acknowledge. But we note a dark side as well: Westerners invariably tend to endow material means with ultimate or final value. Owning a home, for example, is seen as one of the ends of life rather than as a means to other ends. Meaning is attached to accumulating an estate far beyond any conceivable use.

Communicating the gospel will then invariably reflect these emphases. On the one hand, it will tend to affirm the quest for achievement. It might emphasise that God loves us and seeks to help us realise our potential or our gifts (He "has a wonderful plan for our life"). On the other hand, it will encourage a practical no-nonsense kind of faith, a "faith that works"… it will in general affirm the goodness and value of the person and the created order. As a rule, Christians will feel the need of affirmation rather than of deliverance!”

Does this compromise the gospel itself? Is God the great "supporter of my goals," the assistant assigned to help me realise my potential? Is the call to give merely an affirmation of my duty within society? Is my giving just an expression of my goodness as a person?

Sloppy thinking about this crucial area of our Christians life will open the door for an invasion of self-serving materialism and self-congratulating moralism.

1. The smorgasbord of values.

We, of often, give a mixed message. Regular giving is a key Christian characteristic. It is an outward evidence of God’s grace in the Christ in our life (2 Cor. 8:7).

This smorgasbord approach to answering the question of how to give leaves the impression that there is an array of ways to give that we should pick the one that fits us best, whether "cash" on the one or "willingly" on the other, as long as we give.

But from the excellent Stewardship document on giving:

7. Know that people give to many things for a variety of reasons. Few have a well-planned or consistent giving strategy. Some give on impulse. Others are more cautious. Different kinds of appeals are effective with different types of givers.

9. Appreciate that faithful giving is a fruit of spiritual maturity. It takes time and much nurture to develop.

10. Do not engage in fundraising. People give to God, not to raise the preacher’s salary or pay the utilities. Don’t make church gifts “one more bill to pay” – a bill that can be skipped without late fees, penalties, or the need to catch-up. Emphasise giving as a joyful response to God’s generosity, not an obligation

Then

16. Do not make assumptions about what people give — most of the time you will be wrong.

17. Give your pastor access to members’ giving records as a matter of pastoral care, not power or privilege.

18. Keep alert for any changes in giving patterns – if giving stops without explanation, if an adult child starts writing cheques for their parents, if there is confusion about giving, if designated gifts replace general giving, etc. Notify the pastor of any potential pastoral care concerns.

19. Know your people and approach them where they are. Someone who has never given does not respond in the same manner as someone who gives faithfully, proportionately, and generously.

20. Understand the financial profiles in your community. If few people carry cash, a spur of the moment offering will not succeed.

The fact that Paul devotes so much of 2 Corinthians to the issue of the collection should be a reminder of the significance of this aspect of our Christian life. Nowhere is our materialism challenged more directly, and nowhere do we skirt the issues more often, than when it comes to expressing the genuine nature of our faith and the unity of the church through our giving.

Learning from the Macedonians.

The "generosity encouraged" in chapters 8 and 9 is not something that Paul adds to the repentance he has just outlined, as if the Corinthians have one more hurdle to jump in order to prove themselves "innocent" (7:11). Nor is it an aside from it, an optional "add-on" for those who are really serious about their faith.

Instead, their generosity in giving to the collection is to be an expression of the gospel itself in the lives of those who have already shown the kind of "godly sorrow [that] brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret" (7:10).

The Macedonian example outlines the contours of the "obedience" that the majority of the Corinthians demonstrate (1:24-2:6; 7:9-16). To fail to give generously is to expose the false nature of our professed faith!

The example of the Macedonians is instructive. In a radical role reversal of the world’s values, the abundance of their poverty, fuelled by the riches of their joy in God, led to a wealth of generosity.

We usually think of "fund raisers" as encouraging those who can afford to give to give more; in the Macedonian churches those who had nothing begged to give.

Why?

Paul’s answer is the grace of God. Indeed, the "also” (8:7) shows that giving is just as much a spiritual gift of grace as any of the other charismatic gifts the Corinthians had received.

Giving is not merely an expression of compassion for the needy. Rather, the spiritual gift of giving to others is the reflex of our joy in God’s gift to us in Christ. The Macedonians’ joy led to giving, not the other way around. For this reason, the collection is termed a "grace" and a "ministry!"

Giving is not motivated by trying to convince people of how "smart" and "responsible" and "enjoyable" it is to give. Not about trying to pay dues or make a wise financial investment!

Instead, we are savouring and seeking the kingdom of God. Only the greater treasures of the kingdom of God can free us from clinging to the competing treasures of this world (Jesus’ call to do some "comparison shopping" in Matt. 6:19-21).

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Why do we lack models of that kind of joyful giving.

Macedonian" giving that comes from a profound experience of God’s grace. As a result, we struggle against nominalism that chokes out voluntary, sacrificial giving as an unsavoury example of religious fanaticism.

What could be more "fanatical" in our day to live below one’s level of income for the sake of giving away as much money as possible? In today’s world, the Macedonians’ giving out of their poverty serves as a wake-up call in the midst of our self-satisfying slumber.

William Law (1686-1761): A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life: Law recognized that central to this concern for godliness is the issue of money. Like Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:9, Law’s call was to apply the cross to our money.

The Christian’s great conquest over the world is all contained in the mystery of Christ upon the cross. And the state of Christianity implies nothing else but an entire, absolute conformity to that spirit which Christ showed in the mysterious sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross.

Just as God calls the Christian to forgive his brother "seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:21-22, RSV), Law saw this "rule of forgiving" to be "the rule giving" as well.

In his words, "it is as necessary to give to seventy times to live in the continual exercise of all good works to the utmost”.

To spend needlessly on ourselves at the expense of others is to question our salvation itself. For Law, as for Paul in 8:8, the test of genuine faith was a willingness to give and the adoption of a lifestyle that makes giving possible.

“Either, therefore, you must so far renounce your Christianity as to say, that you need never perform any of these good works,- or you must perform them all your life in as high a degree as you are able. There is no middle way to be taken, any more than there is a middle way betwixt pride and humility, or temperance and intemperance.

This is indeed a "serious call." Law realized that he was living in a dangerous day. He saw clearly that the values of the secular world, "with its pull of sensuality, self-love, pride, covetousness, ambition, and vain” are the enemy.

It is a more dangerous enemy by having lost its appearance of enmity.

Spiritual warfare – strongman of the secular "Christian world" is money.

We must be careful here. Law’s call is uncompromising:

But it is by no means a summons to a self-destructive "sacrifice", not to “martyrdom”. The opposite is true.

Law’s "serious call to a devout and holy life" is serious call to be happy!

Christian faith teaches believers how to use everything God has granted them,

Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor," it is because there is no other natural or reasonable use of our riches, no other way of making ourselves happier for them….

Understood in this way, the Christian faith teaches believers how to use everything God has granted them, so that they "may have always the pleasure of receiving a right benefit from them"

Paul’s argument in 8:1-15 is based on the reality of the all-satisfying grace of God.

The Macedonians are no fools for giving out of their poverty.

But neither are they great religious heroes.

It is not Macedonians who are praised in this passage, but the God who brought about their giving by first having given them joy in himself in the midst their poverty in this world.

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