Summary: From Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we can discover and learn three qualities of a successful giver. Successful givers are generous. Successful givers have a positive attitude about giving. And successful givers are secure.
It had been a hard winter in the Rockies. The snow piled deeper and deeper. The temperature dropped below zero and stayed there. The rivers froze. People were suffering.
After a long, hard day, a rescue team in a helicopter saw a cabin nearly submerged in the snow as they were returning to their base. A think wisp of smoke came from the chimney. The rescue team figured that the people in the cabin were probably critically short of food, fuel, and medicine. Because of the trees, they had to set down about mile from the cabin. They put their heavy emergency equipment on their backs, trudged through waist-deep snow, and reached the cabin exhausted … panting and perspiring. They pounded on the door and a thin, gaunt mountain woman finally answered. The leader panted: “Ma’am … we’re … from … the Red Cross.” She was silent for a moment and then said: “Well … it’s been a long, hard winter, Sonny … I just don’t think we can give anything this year.”
We have become accustomed to people constantly asking us for money. The computer recording asking us to support a certain candidate or charity. Endless pop-ups on our lap tops. The appeal letters in the mail. TV … radio … the church. The Girl Scout or those people dressed in white who stand in the front of the store. It seems like everyone has their hand out sometimes, doesn’t it?
The Apostle Paul was not afraid of conflict or controversy. He dealt with such hot button issues as immorality, false teaching, and division within the church. He dared to tackle the most controversial subject of all … money!
Apostle Paul traveled all over the Middle East preaching and teaching the Gospel. He also had his hand out. He took up collections in every church he visited for the persecuted and suffering church in Jerusalem. Usually the mother church supports the mission churches, but the situation in Jerusalem had become so dire that they needed help from the smaller churches. So Paul went from church to church urging them to give whatever they could to support those in need in Jerusalem. Paul’s instruction to the church in Corinth about giving still applies to us today.
Paul begins by motivating the Corinthians with a success story: “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches” (v.1) … such as those in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Brea. There’s nothing like a success story for motivation. When you become a salesperson for Mary Kay or Shakely or Amway, they continually send you to conventions where you sit and listen to success story after success story … pumping you up with the notion that if they could do it, you could do it … so that you’ll get out there and sell, sell, sell!
One little boy was boasting about his big brother. “My big brother always watches out for me … takes me to ball games and movies … and always gets me something cool for my birthday.” His friend, who was listening intently, exclaimed: “Wow! I wish I could be a brother like that!” That’s the reaction that Paul was looking for when he told the Corinthians about the contributions of the Macedonian churches. “Wow! We wish that we could be churches like that and give like the Macedonian churches.” And, interestingly enough, that’s supposed to be our reaction and our desire today.
From Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we can discover and learn three qualities of a successful giver. First of all … a successful giver is generous. Paul describes the poverty of the Macedonian churches as “he kata bathos.” The NIV Bible translates “he kata bathos” as “extreme poverty” but a more accurate translation would be “rock bottom poverty.” It means they were so poor they couldn’t get any poorer … and yet they gave what they could.
It reminds me of my trip to Cuba. I met people there who were “he kata bathos” … rock bottom poor… but they always offered us something to eat or drink as their guests … even if it meant they had to do without later. And it was considered an insult or very poor manners if you refused their gift. Sometimes poverty can make you mean and miserly. “If I give what little I have away then what will I or my family do? We’re just surviving here … getting by.” The future is uncertain and it’s certainly understandable that you might want to cling to every little bit of what you have.
Or it can have the opposite effect. “…. For in a severe test of affliction, their [the Macedonian churches] abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part” (v. 2). The Macedonian churches responded to the need of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem because they knew what it was like to be poor … rock bottom poor … and how precious and valuable and important any help or contributions could be. Their circumstances helped them to relate to the circumstances of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. And, even though what they gave as individuals may have been small, when combined with all the other gifts from the Macedonian churches, their gifts meant all the world to their suffering brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.