Summary: We grow into the grace of giving...by giving! Giving is a means of grace; in giving generously, we position ourselves to experience grace.
GIVING: OBLIGATION OR OPPORTUNITY?
October 17, 2010
2 Corinthians 8:1-9 (NIV)
1 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. 6 So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
I. The Problem with Giving
One Saturday I was working in the yard, and I came walking around the corner of my house. And there was a boy there, on a bicycle. He was wearing Scout uniform, and I’m guessing he must have been about ten or eleven years old. It didn’t take me long to figure out what he was doing. He was selling popcorn. Really, what he was doing was asking for a donation, and, in return, he would give me something that I didn’t necessarily want or need. He was involved in fund-raising. He had a multicolored brochure, a clear plastic bag with money in it -- sales he had already closed, I’m sure -- and a pen handy for writing up my order.
Now, I have to confess something to you. I once turned away a Scout who was selling popcorn door to door. And I have felt bad about it ever since, not because I wanted the popcorn but because I said ‘No’ to a child raising money for a good cause. So, on this occasion, I wasn’t about to repeat my mistake. I bought a box of caramel corn from this Scout. I didn’t even know him. I had to scrounge up the money to pay him. But, for the sake of the young man I once turned away, I made an order with this boy.
But here’s something else I need to confess. I didn’t want to do it. I did it out of guilt and obligation.
Now, there’s something patently unsatisfying about giving because you feel like you have to. Isn’t there? Whether the pressure comes from outside of you, in the form, say, of a duty imposed on you, or whether the pressure comes from within, in the form of guilt -- either way, there is no joy in giving.
We come up on Stewardship Season every year. We talk about the need for everyone to pledge their financial support for the church in the coming year. In fact, already this year we’ve received an estimate-of-giving card -- it came as an enclosure in our most recent newsletter -- and we’re asked to bring it with us next Sunday and place it on the Lord’s Table as a gesture of our commitment to the work of Christ through this church.
But what if we’re feeling pressured? What if we feel like we have to do this because, if we don’t, we’ll feel guilty for not doing it, and, even if we do, it won’t be because we want to, but because we feel like it’s expected? Is that healthy? Is it even spiritual?
II. The Possibility of Giving
Well, the Bible talks about this. In 2 Corinthians, chapter 8, for example, the apostle Paul is addressing a group of people just like us. And he’s asking them to make a financial contribution to a project that is very important to him. He is taking up a collection for the church in Jerusalem, a group of believers who, because of their witness to Jesus Christ, have been hard pressed by persecution and economic reversal. And he wants the churches on the edges of the Empire to contribute to this effort.
In fact, he starts off this chapter in 2 Corinthians by mentioning the ‘the grace that God has given’ to the churches in Macedonia. They’re poor, too. They are facing persecution and hardship as well. But look at what Paul says in verse 2: ‘Out of the most severe trial’ -- he’s talking about these churches in Macedonia -- ‘out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.’ In verse 3, he says they gave all they could, and then some!