Summary: As Christians, our life mission is reflected in part through our generosity; this is why we are called to return to God a portion of God’s blessings to us.
I am in the midst of reading a book written by a Chaplain of the Maine State Warden Service. In her book, Here If You Need Me, Kate Braestrup describes her encounters serving as the spiritual presence in the Warden Service, and raising four children as a single mother after the death of her husband. Late in the book, Rev. Braestrup describes a conversation she had with her oldest son about the love of Jesus Christ and what it is to follow Jesus Christ and seek to live as Jesus lived. As Peter’s mind is opened to the radical love of Jesus Christ in the midst of this conversation with his mother, he comes to this conclusion. “If I really take Jesus seriously, if I really am willing to give up everything I am and everything I have in the service of love, if I really am a Christian…it seems to me I would have to give my place in heaven to someone else, someone who otherwise wouldn’t get to go…Right, Mom?”
Needless to say, Rev. Braestrup’s response to her son’s revelation was stunned silence. What he is proposing is an extremely radical idea that is shockingly hard for any of us to imagine. My first response was that not even Jesus has done that. Jesus still sits in heaven, at the right hand of the Father. But one of the things Paul urges upon the Corinthians in this very passage we heard a few moments ago is that in fact Jesus did give up his spot in heaven for us. “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus’ sacrifice was not only on the cross, but it began in heaven when Jesus laid aside his glory and consented to come to earth. Indeed, Jesus has made a radical sacrifice on our behalf, and if we take Jesus seriously, we will do the same in our own lives. This is precisely the matter which Paul is pressing upon the Corinthians and all his readers, particularly related to generosity.
As Christians, our lives are marked by the way we reflect Christ. One of the questions I often have to ask myself is this one, “Am I living my life such that if I meet someone new today they will be able to recognize that I am a Christian.” Most of the time, my answer to this question is, “No,” which I am sure is true for many of us. You see, the way we live our lives reflects what we value, and this includes how we use our resources. I think it’s fair to say that for the most part, the way we spend our time and resources does not reflect to those around us our identity as Christians. Despite the messages that are thrown at us each day through commercials and advertisements, we do not exist simply to consume as much as we can and get as much pleasure as we can while we are here on earth. We have a higher purpose. We need to know and understand our life purpose—our vision or mission or calling—and then spend our resources in ways that are consistent with this purpose or calling. As those who claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives, we are to follow the example that he has set before us; to give of ourselves sacrificially in all ways.
The Bible tells us that we were created to care for God’s creation. We were created to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We were created to care for families and those in need. We were created to glorify God, to seek justice, and to do mercy. All of our gifts and resources should be devoted above all else to helping fulfill this calling on our lives. We are to use our resources to help care for our families and others—to serve Christ and the world through the church, missions, and everyday opportunities. As Paul reminds the Corinthians in celebrating the generosity of the Macedonian church, “they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” We have a life purpose that is greater than our own self-interests; it is our very commitment to the Lord, and how we spend our God-given resources reflects our understanding and commitment to this life mission. Every encounter we have with another person, even every action we take in our lives, is an opportunity to be a channel of God’s grace.
As Paul writes this second letter to the church at Corinth, he is appealing to their life mission as a way of urging them to generosity in the collection for the poor at the Jerusalem Church. And as an example for the Corinthians and all his readers, Paul lifts up the Macedonian church, which in the midst of “severe trial” and “extreme poverty” has pursued its life mission and been richly generous. Paul’s appeal for the collection for the church at Jerusalem, and more generally God’s call to generosity, is not just an option we might chose to engage in; it is a joyful obligation through which we might share God’s grace with others. As Paul tells the Corinthians, this is not a command. It is, however, a call. And our faith is measured by how we, in free will, respond to this call; particularly in this case to the call to generosity of giving.