Giving Until It Lowers Our Lifestyle
2 Corinthians 8:1-9
. . . . 2 Corinthians 8 deals with an offering Paul was receiving for the believers in Judea (1 Corinthians 16:13 and Romans 15:2528). While this chapter focuses primarily on a special relief offering, Paul’s words help us grasp some of the principles and promises of all Christian giving.
Pauls fundraising methods have much in common with those of today. But notice that although he has plenty of intelligence about practical matters, he brings everythingthe gift itself, the motivations for giving, the remarks about the “fundraising committee,” the allusions to the reactions of the recipients, even the “Jewish-mother-guilt trips” which he lays on the Corinthiansinto the service of glorifying God.
Here are EIGHT principles for Christian giving from 2 Corinthians 8:
- Giving is an act of grace (v.1).
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.
Paul looked upon the Macedonian’s giving as a grace (note vv. 1, 6, 7, 9, and 9:8). A person cannot be generous apart from God working in their heart. We are by nature stingy and self-seeking. If we want to become generous givers, we must ask God to make us generous people. Christian giving flows from the heart, the expression of love to Christ for His full and free salvation.
- Giving has very little to do with your prosperity and very much to do with your joy and gratitude (vv. 2-3).
Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
Christian giving does not depend on material circumstances so much as spiritual convictions. The believers in Macedonia were poor and going through suffering; yet because they loved Christ, they wanted to share in the offering. They did not say, “We must keep this for ourselves!”
The Indians of both North and South America grew a special type of corn that we still produce today. We call it popcorn. It is different from other grains because it explodes into fluffy, white “blossoms” when exposed to heat. Ordinary corn placed in a skillet and brought to 400 degrees Fahrenheit simply dries up and gets hard. But not so with the popcorn! The high temperature creates within its moist substance a gas that expands and breaks open its tough outer shell. This allows the pure white pulp to burst forth into an edible treat that is many times the size of the kernel. And it is the eating delight of young and old alike.
The parallel to the Christian life is clear. When trials come, many believers shrivel up and become embittered. Others, however, are like popcorn–enlarged by the fires of trouble bringing blessing to others.
The Macedonians though suffering were willing to give that others might be helped. (cf. Widows mite in Luke 21:1-4). Ungrateful people give little (cf. Judas speaking against the woman with perfume – Luke 7:36-47). Joyful people give much (God loves a cheerful giver – 2 Corinthians 9:7).
Our attitude in giving is crucial. 1 Corinthians 13:3 says, If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Giving must come from joy and gratitude.
- We are sometimes called to give beyond what we are able and to give without being asked or nagged (v. 3-4).
For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability, entirely on their own. They urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.
Despite trials and poverty the Macedonian churches were generous beyond their means without being nagged (entirely on their own). They even pleaded for the privilege of giving.
Church leaders should not have to plead and push to get people to give, yet many of them do. In fact, church leaders have a reputation for taking your money:
Mother: Quick, Henry, call the doctor. Johnny just swallowed a coin.
Father: I think we ought to send for the minister. He can get money out of anybody.
Church leaders need to back off and find God’s method of helping people find the grace of giving. People need to discover how to give out of a heart full of joy.
- Giving is an act of devotion to the Lord (v. 5).
And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with Gods will.
In the Old Testament kings used to require tithes and offerings from their subjects. The king owned the land, the people used it, and the king received tithes (a tenth) of the profits. Every time that the people gave to their lord, they were reaffirming their devotion as subjects to him.
God is our King. God owns everything (Psalm 50:12). We are His stewards, i.e. managers. God as owner gets a “cut” of everything that we make as His stewards. This “cut” is called tithes and offerings. Every time that we give, our giving should be an act of devotion to the our Lord. See Deuteronomy 26:1-11 for the proper attitude. We place ourselves in the offering plate first, then our money.
- Giving is a Christian virtue that we should grow in and even excel in (vv. 6-7).
So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But just as you excel in everythingin faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for ussee that you also excel in this grace of giving.
Paul again compliments the good qualities of the potential givers. The Corinthians were enriched with many spiritual blessings (v. 7), and Paul urged them to have also the grace of giving. For us to profess to be spiritual, and yet not give faithfully to the Lord in giving, is to deny what we profess. Faith, preaching, witnessing, studying the Biblenone of these is a substitute for the grace of giving.
And we are called not just to mediocre giving, but excellent giving. Frankly, that’s asking quite a lot. Jews were used to tithes and offerings that amounted to about 24% of their income. For Paul to tell the Corinthians “see that you excel” is to at least equal the amount that the Jews gave!
- Giving is a thermometer of our love for God (v. 8).
I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.
Giving is an expression of love: Paul says, in effect, “Put your money where your mouth is” (v. 8). Martin Luther and John Calvin both taught that there is room to doubt someone’s standing with God if generous stewardship isn’t part of that person’s lifestyle: “The way a believer spends money is perhaps the clearest indication — perhaps like a thermometer — of the heart’s spiritual condition.”
If giving is a thermometer of love, then American Christians should be fearful about their spiritual welfare. A study by Empty Tomb, Inc., an Illinois research group says: “Between 1968 to 1995, giving to their churches by mainline Protestants fell from an average of 3.3 percent of personal income to just 2.9 percent, a 12 percent drop.”
OK, some will say, but those people never believed anything anyway! But hold on. For during the same 27-year period, church giving by evangelicals dropped from an average of 6 percent down to 4 percent — a whopping 33 percent plunge.
It’s a statistical fact that while typical church members (of all types) directed less than $20 a year to their churches for global outreach (including evangelism and social welfare) during the early 1990s, those same church members were spending $164 per capita on soft drinks, $657 on eating out, and more than $1,000 on recreation.
Paul is not adverse to a little competition among Christians. Note how Paul stirs up the Corinthians by presenting the churches in nearby Macedonia (v. 1) as a standard of comparison (v. 8).
Let’s do a little comparing too. In the study by Empty Tomb, Inc., the average contribution per household reported by congregations ranged from $386 for Catholics to $1,696 for Assemblies of God members. Baptist households gave an average of $1,154. Presbyterians were next with $1,085 per household, followed by Lutherans at $746 per household.
How do these figures compare with your household giving?
- Giving is an expression of imitating Jesus (v. 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 through his poverty you might become rich.
Here is a motivation for giving unique to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was rich, in that He had divine “glory before the world existed” (John 17:5) and was “in the form of God,” so that “equality with God” was available to Him (Philippians 2:6), yet for our sakes the Lord Jesus impoverished Himself (Phil 2:511), so that He might make us rich with the righteousness of God.
Jesus was an extremely poor man. Born and reared in obscurity, He lived and died to make repentant sinners eternally rich. A stable was His birthplace and a manger His cradle. For many years He worked as a carpenter in a poverty-stricken and despised village that bore the scorn of men as they asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Jesus began His public ministry at the Jordan River with no organization to support Him and no patrons to enrich Him. He preached without price and performed miracles for which He received no money. He even had to borrow a small coin when He needed one to make a simple illustration (Matthew 22:19).
How pathetic are Jesus’ words, “the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has no where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Occasionally He was invited into homes for meals, but many times He went hungry. He frequently slept under the open sky and once spent 40 days in the wilderness without food. This One who was both God and man constantly went about doing good. At the end of His life He was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver the price of a slave and was unjustly crucified. As He hung on the cross, He was finally stripped of His last remaining possession a seamless robe. His burial clothes were the gift of a friend, and He was laid in a borrowed tomb.
Paul says that Christians should imitate Jesus’ generosity in the more mundane way of giving.
- We are called to giving that lowers our lifestyle and raises others (v. 9, 13-15).
Jesus became poor that we might become rich (v.9). Jesus lowered His lifestyle, so that others could be raised. We are told to imitate Him in this. Have you ever made yourself poor, so that others could be rich? American Christians are usually shocked that I would even suggest such an idea, but here it is in Paul’s own words:
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”
As Christians we are called to not have “too much” so that other Christians would not have “too little.” Our giving must go way beyond where most Christians presently exist.
Do you wonder what happened to Paul’s Jerusalem offering? Romans 15:2627 seems to imply that Pauls efforts succeeded.
Let me conclude with a story:
A six-year-old girl insisted that as a new first grader, she should be allowed to take part in the offering and put something in the offering plate during the worship service of her church. Mom and Dad agreed wholeheartedly. Dad even gave her a dollar and explained that God loves a cheerful giver.
When the usher stopped beside the little girl and held out the offering plate, the little girls voice rang out in protest, “Hey, Mister! Dont you have change for a dollar?”
Her very embarrassed father leaned down and whispered something in her ear. The whole congregation heard her reply: “But, Daddy, Id be a cheerful-er giver if I could give SOME to the Lord and buy a candy bar, too!”
God wants cheerful givers who can impoverish themselves, if necessary, to build the kingdom of God. God calls us to joyful giving, excellent giving, giving that expresses our deep love for all that He has done for us.