Text: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, 9:6-15
As I mentioned in the announcements, we are in the middle of our annual stewardship campaign, when we prayerfully make our pledges for the year as to how we will serve the Lord in this parish with our giving. In the Scriptures we see that the ultimate purpose for our giving is to glorify God, with the added benefit that it helps us grow as Christians. When we give, it helps us combat that sneakiest of human sins: covetousness. Sometimes covetousness manifests as greed. Sometimes it manifests as stinginess. Sometimes it manifests as laziness. The list could, of course, go on. The other side benefit of our giving is the good it does for our neighbor. In particular, we see two primary practical aims of our giving: supporting the ministry of the Gospel, and helping to relieve those who are suffering. This can be summed up in two sections from our catechism:
First, we have the description of our bounden duty, based on the 2nd Office of Instruction in our 1928 Prayer Book:
Q: What is your bounden duty as a member of the Church?
A: My bounden duty is to follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in his Church; and to work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom.
Second, we have the Rule of Life the bishop has included in our diocesan catechism:
Every Christian man or woman should from time to time frame for himself a RULE OF LIFE in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel and the faith and order of the Church; wherein he may consider the following:
– The regularity of his attendance at public worship and especially at Holy Communion
– The practice of private prayer, Bible-reading, and self-discipline
– Bringing the teaching and example of Christ into his everyday life
– The boldness of his spoken witness to his faith in Christ
– His personal service to the Church and to the community
– The offering of money according to his means for the support and work of the Church at home and overseas
With that in mind, we will spend this morning looking at a case study from the bible on what giving can look like in our lives as individual Christians and as a local congregation of Christ’s body. Please turn in your bibles to 2 Corinthians 8, beginning at the 1st Verse.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches in Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints – and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you – see that you excel in this act of grace also.
We know from other places in the Epistles, including later in this book, that there was a famine in Jerusalem, and St. Paul had been raising money in the various churches for relief of the Jerusalem church. The Corinthians had evidently made some sort of pledge but had been somewhat remiss in following through on their commitment. St. Paul holds up as an example to them the Macedonian church.
Notice first, that St. Paul describes the Macedonians’ generosity as “the grace of God that has been given” among them. That is, their generosity is itself due to God’s gracious gift. God gave them a generous spirit; it wasn’t an affectation. It wasn’t a guilt-trip. It wasn’t a chore. It was good works overflowing from their justification. It was a good tree bearing good fruit.
But notice, also that it was a giving that was as sacrificial as it was eager. They were poor, they had nothing, yet they begged Paul for the blessing of having material participation in the work of the Gospel and the relief of the church in Jerusalem. How does this seeming paradox work? Well, verse five tells us that “they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” Just like any other good work, any other Christian virtue, the Macedonian’s generosity began by focusing on God. God gave them the grace of generosity, they responded by dedicating themselves to the Lord, God sent them to Paul and the ministry, and Paul was able to hold them up as examples for the Corinthians.
I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgement: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that a matter of fairness you abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply you need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
Though Paul is encouraging, and even urging the Corinthians to meet their promised generosity with action, it’s important to note that he is not laying on a specific command from the Lord. That is, Paul is not mandating how they give for the Gospel, though he does want them to be faithful to what they have promised before the Lord. He doesn’t want to them to be burdened. He doesn’t want them to give beyond what they are able. But he does want them to have the blessing that comes from obeying the Lord, the blessing that comes from being part of Gospel work, the blessing that comes from one member of Christ’s body aiding another.
And notice that St. Paul points them back to Christ, who gave everything for us. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty became rich.” He made us rich by giving us eternal life. He made us rich by making us adopted sons of God. He made us rich by making is co-heirs of his Kingdom.
Skip ahead to Chapter 9, verse 6:
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart., not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
And here we have the New Testament teaching on giving in a nutshell: cheerful giving, not reluctantly, not under compulsion, but as each has prayerfully decided in his heart. Again, we see that this generosity has its origins in God’s grace. The truth is, generosity is not always easy. Life happens, and we can be tempted to stinginess. This is when we turn to God for the grace to resist that temptation. We trust in him that he can and will take care of us, even in the midst of life’s trials. This is ultimately how we grow as Christians. We look to God and we step out in faith and obedience.
Continuing in chapter 9 at Verse 10:
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which though us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the Saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify because of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
And this is why we look to God. He gives the grace of generosity as well as the means to be generous. The more we give, the more God uses our gifts for spread of the Gospel. And the blessing ends up becoming reciprocal: we bless others, they bless us in turn, and God gets all the glory. Sometimes that blessing is material, sometimes it is spiritual. Often it is both.
And this goes beyond our individual gifts, but is also an aspect of how we use God’s gifts as a congregation. As we plan for the year ahead, we want to sow into other ministries. We want to sow into the Archdeaconry so that we can plant more churches and spread the Gospel to other parts of the city. We want to sow into clergy formation and seminaries so that ministers of the Gospel may be trained for this work. We want to sow into foreign and domestic missions, that the Word of the Lord may go out from Zion. We want to sow into children and nursery so that we can catechize and disciple the next generation. And we want to continue to sow into our charism as a parish that is known for proclaiming God’s Word, administering the Sacraments per Christ’s ordinance, and worshiping according the the transcendent beauty of our Anglican tradition.
Through it all, we look to God as the one who gives us the gifts that we give for his work and ministry. As we say in the Offertory Sentences, “All things come from thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.