The Grace of Giving

Out of the most extreme trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. (2 Corinthians 8:2; NIV84)

… see that you also excel in this grace of giving. (2 Corinthians 8:7)

These are the forgotten verses in these three chapters of 2 Corinthians. They are forgotten because we always use these other verses when we talk, and teach, about giving:

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. (2 Corinthians 9:6)

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

You will be made rich in every way, so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11)

Paul is sharing a serious concern of his with the Corinthians. There was a need, in Jerusalem, for resources, money, and food, and he asked the Corinthians to help. Here are his words from 1 Corinthians 16:1-4.

Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.

Paul’s work, through the Galatian churches, and the churches in Greece (2 Corinthians 8, quoted first, above), included a challenge and a calling for each church to give money to the believers in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Collection

This was a personal matter to Paul. In Galatians 2:10, he wrote of his conference with the leaders of the Jerusalem church, and their specific request to Paul and Barnabas to remember the poor.

James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:9, 10; NIV84)

He wrote, at the end of Galatians 2:10, that he paid special attention to this request. That’s pretty significant, since Galatians was probably Paul’s first letter. If so, that means that his plan, from the beginning of his second missionary journey, was to bless the Jewish believers with a collection from the Gentile churches.

But why?

I think Paul wanted all of the Gentile churches he planted to engage themselves in a semblance of unity with this collection. It’s safe to say that many in Jerusalem were not entirely supportive of Paul, or of the Gentile believers who did not practice any orthodox Jewish practices. Perhaps, though, if Paul brought this money to the Jerusalem believers, from the very people they had difficulty accepting, then maybe it could be a bridge building moment.

For whatever its worth, though, the collection wasn’t mentioned in Acts 21, when Paul finally arrived back in Jerusalem with all of the collected monies. Instead, what was mentioned was his humiliating and violent arrest. His intent, to possibly help unite the two factions of Christianity, didn’t seem to work at all.

Nevertheless, people gave. And they gave from their poverty.

Paul and Money

In 2 Corinthians, Paul engaged the Corinthians with the giving activity from the Macedonians. I’m sure he confused them.

From both 1 and 2 Corinthians, we learn pretty quick that Paul was dealing with people who did not understand him. In 1 Corinthians, he didn’t want their patronage, but he would’ve taken money to travel. That probably bothered them a bit, because it was strange. Orators, in the ancient world, took people’s money all the time. That was part of the reason for all of the problems Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians. He was not like a normal orator, though, and at one point, he told them he would rather face death than to take their money. Wow.

Taking their money would’ve bound himself to whomever was paying. And we’ve read enough about Paul to know he wouldn’t have ever limited himself like that.

And in 2 Corinthians, he still didn’t want their money, but now he asked for money to give to other people — people they neither knew or understood.

Paul was unique. No one else like him. But he was serious.

What God Gives Us

So it’s probably natural that when we teach about giving, we look to these passages first. Paul’s statements, about giving, are stout.

But the first statement, above, made all the difference to Paul. It was joy, matched with their poverty, that produced something special.

Their gifts and offerings outmatched Paul’s expectations, because of this:

… they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. (2 Corinthians 8:5; NIV84)

Whatever possessions owned by the Macedonians were given first to God. Now that’s interesting.

They transferred ownership of their stuff to God.

Giving became easy, then. Because it’s a whole lot easier to give away someone else’s money than your own.

But we are taught that giving is about our money. About our tithing. About our obligation and our duty. Paul wrote of something much, much deeper, though, because Jesus, on the cross, canceled any such obligations.

He wrote of people living life in the middle of God’s possessions, not of people living life in the middle of their own possessions, and then writing checks.

Paul was blown away by the Macedonians and their attitude toward giving. He taught the Corinthians what he learned. And it was this: giving is a miracle God performs in our lives.

God wants us to see with our own eyes his work in the lives of others. God could bless others in private, but chooses, rather, to partner with us. He could do all of this on his own, but he doesn’t. He allows us to see things no one else sees.

Because giving is a grace. It is the gift God gives us.

… see that you also excel in this grace of giving. (2 Corinthians 8:7)

And, again, my world has been rocked by this summer’s reading.

__________

This is the 56th post out of 90, and all are just based upon God’s spirit moving in me while I read the New Testament. Thanks for reading today.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s