In the eighth and ninth chapters of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, he challenges the validity of the Corinthian’s love for God and His work in the earth. Not surprisingly, he lifts a standard set by the Macedonian Christians to ask his vital question, “How real is the love of the church of Corinth?” As believers we are quite used to the setting of examples to follow (e.g. Abraham’s faith and patience; “…as God, in Christ forgave you…”). What does surprise some, however, is that Paul used the subject of money for his challenge to prove our love. This really shouldn’t be surprising though, because one-third of all the parables and one-sixth of all Jesus’ teachings are about money and possessions.
He taught that God owns it all and we are assigned as managers or stewards. Thus, it is quite normal that Paul would use this concept of stewardship because God is looking for faithful sons to carry His name, faithful servants to carry His work, and faithful stewards to manage His affairs. Jesus said, “Do business until I come.”
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints…. So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. But as you abound in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us – see that you abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. And in this I give advice… but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack – that there may be equality. (2 Corinthians 8:1-14)
Paul’s two main points are: one, the poor church begged to give finances to God’s work; two, how real is the love of the Corinthians. The reading reminds us that there are three levels at which one can give: obligation, generosity and sacrifice.
OBLIGATION: David felt obligated at the threshing floor of Ornah to pay for what was freely offered because he knew men do not value that which costs little. Some pay their club dues, their bills, their doctor, barber or hairdresser, etc. but expect the benefits of church and ministry for free because they do not recognize the incumbent responsibility and obligation. If all the Christians in America lived on welfare subsidy and tithed, the American church would double its income! Obviously, the typical American Christian does not operate even at this level of thankfulness and love for God and His work.
GENEROSITY: This is a level of giving beyond obligation. In Paul’s challenge to wealthy Corinth, he used the Macedonians who had been taxed mercilessly and then plundered, yet never grew stingy. Indeed, they actually begged to give beyond what could be conceived as normal or obligatory, wishing only to give for the joy of it. This is truly a reflection of the life and generosity of Christ in them Who, for the joy set before Him, gave it all.
SACRIFICE: This level of giving is exemplified by the widow who gave her two mites to the Temple treasury. She obviously had a great love for God because scripture indicates she put her whole living into her offering. Although others gave more in substance, Jesus identified that they had given from their abundance but the widow gave more because it was all she had. Love is the only motive that could bring someone to such an action… portrayed most evidently in the One full of life, Who allowed Himself to be nailed to a tree and poured out His blood as a sacrifice in order to purchase eternal and abundant life for us and all those who find themselves poor in spirit.
It is these others who are yet to discover the abounding grace of God that the Lord expects us to do something for. They are, as yet, still unborn into the kingdom of God, and this involves our pocketbooks and wallets. At this sacrificial level of giving, the need of others becomes personally ours and we are compelled by the love of Christ (constrained, secured, held in place, straitjacketed). Love within us dictates our response. Indeed, in verse 7 above, Paul states that we are to grow ever stronger in the grace of giving and in the following chapter (2 Cor.9:6-15) again calls giving a grace of God and a proof of our obedience to the gospel.
Perhaps the following analogy helps to explain what keeps the modern church from growing in the grace of God to the level of generosity and sacrifice. Army medics are trained to treat only those who can recover. Out of need dictated by the rigor of battle, they are trained to leave a dying man and move on. You can imagine how hard that must be! To set this training and keep it on the battlefield, they are taught to never look in the eyes of a dying man. They are told that if they do, they’ll never be able to leave him.
Maybe that is our problem. We’ve never really looked into the eyes of the multitudes dying without Christ… little children, men, women… helpless and hopeless. As you approach Thanksgiving season, I challenge you to look into their eyes and prove your love through the excellence of giving.
-Walter Healy, Senior Pastor