Summary: 2 principles of Biblical giving: We should be giving generously in response to god’s generosity towards us and we should give according to our means.
I want to talk today about one of those taboo subjects of our age. Money. Well, money itself isn’t a taboo. We’re all happy to talk about money as a general concept, usually related to how little we have or how much more we need. But try asking someone how much they earn, or how much they have in the bank, or invested for their retirement or their next overseas holiday and you’re likely to find them a bit embarrassed or even indignant. It’s worse than asking a woman her age! ’It’s none of your business what I earn’, seems to be the attitude. ’That’s my business and no-one else’s.’
Well that may be so, but God is good. He doesn’t let us get away with such idolatry. He’s put these 2 chapters of Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians here for our benefit; to shake us out of the misapprehension that what we earn is our business and only ours. He wants us to see that our income is the result of God’s blessing of us so it isn’t ours alone. No, it’s first and foremost the Lord’s.
But notice how he does it. Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to contribute to a special collection he’s taking up for the Church in Jerusalem. The Christians there are under severe persecution. Many would have lost their livelihood. Some have been affected by a severe famine in Judaea. And as a result, they’re in great need of financial support. But he begins by pointing to the way another group of Christians has responded to those needs.
1 The example of the Macedonians:
A. Their Context
Their context is extreme poverty and severe affliction. Just like the Jerusalem Christians, they were poor and under persecution for their faith. In fact the implication is that Paul wasn’t even going to ask them to contribute. But he hadn’t taken into account their motivation
B. Their motivation:
The trials they were undergoing hadn’t cowed them. In fact the opposite. They’d resulted in abundant joy. This small taste of sharing Christ’s suffering had resulted in them wanting to go further in being joined to Christ. Now they wanted to minister for him as well. v.4: They begged for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints. They saw the sharing of material wealth as service, ministry.
What’s more, notice what the root of this motivation is: v.5: they gave themselves first to the Lord. It was their total commitment to Christ that led to this sacrificial action.
C. Their response:
was an overflowing wealth of generosity (2-4). They gave according to their means and beyond. They begged for the privilege of sharing in this ministry. They weren’t going to let Paul get away with going on to Corinth without them being able to contribute.
But notice that this response is actually preceded by a more important response. He says they gave themselves first to the Lord. Their desire to contribute arises from a deep commitment to Christ. As we’ll see in a moment, they recognised all that Christ had done for them and so they gave all they had to him. This has to be the source of any reform of our actions doesn’t it? We’re not asked to give to God’s work because it’ll make us worthy of God’s love. That’s the sort of attitude you’ll find in some other religions. I remember when we went to India a number of years ago, it was explained to us that beggars survive in that culture because to give to someone in need is good karma. i.e. you built up moral credit by giving to the poor. But that’s not how the gospel works, is it? We receive credit not by virtue of our own actions but by the death of Christ counted to us as a gift.
But then in response to that gift of life, we’re called to give our whole lives back to Christ. Not to earn credit, but as a response of gratitude and love.
The Macedonians understood how much Jesus had done for them and so they willingly gave themselves to him, heart and soul, mind and strength. And then in turn, they gave themselves to the apostles as those who had brought the offer of this great gift to them. Part of their response to the joy of the gospel was to want to serve the apostles by supporting them in their work.
But that’s just the Macedonians. There’s in fact a much greater example to follow as we think about the whole issue of giving. That’s Jesus Christ himself. Let’s think about his example.
2 The example of Jesus Christ
A. His Context:
Well to say he was rich is an understatement, isn’t it? Phil 2 points out that he wasn’t just rich, he was God, the only Son of God, part of the Trinity. But at the same time he loved us, his fallen creatures. And that of course was his motivation.