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Financial Generosity and Financial Integrity
A small number of rich philanthropists make the news headlines. They set up their trusts and endow them with massive budgets for charitable purposes. Don’t get me wrong what they do is very often good and good causes are supported. The world looks on and is meant to be impressed with the scale of these gifts. And yet most of these folk still have left at their own personal disposal far more wealth than we are ever likely to have. Their charity which involves huge sums of money just doesn’t seem to cost them that much after all. And why do they so often have to carry the name of their primary benefactor: the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the J Paul Getty Trust and the list goes on and on?
On the other hand the headlines are not filled with those thousands and millions of little people who regularly give their small amounts from their much more limited resources. The exceptions to this, I suppose, would be the Telethons where small gifts are actively encouraged in order to try to boost the final total and to beat last year’s record.
How should we think about such giving? And what are some of the things we should take into consideration when it comes to the matter of our own giving? After all we are so used to others trying to separate us from our cash with their sob stories, their harrowing pictures etc. that we can easily become sceptical when we hear another appeal for funds. We want to be responsible donors, careful donors, and soon we end up as reluctant or hesitant givers always looking for the scam.
How are we to navigate our way through these waters? What does this particular section of Scripture have to say about our giving – the privileges and benefits?
The Encouragement of Generosity
As we read through this section it is clear that Paul is in favour of generosity.
In the opening verses of chapter 8 he writes very positively about the way the Macedonian churches gave
He sets before us Jesus’ example of doing others good at great cost to himself.
He specifically refers to his careful plans for the administration of "this generous gift" (8:9) that he expects to receive from the Corinthians v.20
He will go on to write about "sowing bountifully" 9:6 and about the rewards of generosity 9:11, 13.
This is evident and something that we must keep in mind – generosity is something that is to be encouraged and we as Christians are encouraged to be generous especially as we too consider Jesus’ generosity towards us.
But not only is generosity encouraged in this passage, generosity is also shown to be encouraging. Let me show you that.
The Christians in Corinth had heard about the problems and needs of the church in Jerusalem some time prior to this particular letter being sent. As soon as they had heard they had wanted to do something to help out and had written to Paul about. This was his reply to their enquiries:
The Corinthian’s first response was so very good and they were very eager to participate and indeed, their enthusiastic response served to stimulate others too to be generous. Paul had obviously passed on word of the Corinthians’ desires and intentions to others, including the churches in Macedonia – in fact Paul talks about having boasted about the Corinthians!
The news of their intended generosity encouraged others too, the Macedonians were inspired to act as well.
But before aid was actually sent from Corinth something happened that caused the whole project to stall. Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians soured, as some new-
Paul referred to the generosity of the Macedonians, which had itself been encouraged by the zealous intentions of the Corinthians, to encourage the Corinthians themselves to follow through on their own resolutions. But he did not see any need of instructing the Corinthians about the graces of giving to meet the need of the saints – they had, after all, shown that they understood their role in such a ministry. All they need is a bit of a nudge to get on with it.
Paul had acted as he had, because he believed the Corinthian’s to be genuine in their desire to help the saints in Jerusalem. It was this confidence that had led him to boast about them as he had done to others. He adds now, that he would be humiliated if his boasting turned out to be vain. He adds, that the reputation of the Corinthians would be yet more adversely affected.
We’re not to see this as Paul trying to exert an unworthy pressure upon the Corinthians rather he wants them to be consistent and to carry out what they had freely said they would do. He acts in such a way that enables them to do so in the best manner possible – he gives them time so that preparations can be properly made. This will enable their gift to be a willing/joyful one and not as something forced at the last minute.
So far we have noted that Paul encourages generosity and generosity in turn encourages others but we have not yet tried to say what generosity actually is.
When it comes to giving it is not uncommon for folk to want to have clear cut guidelines of what is expected of them. We then find ourselves asking questions like "How much should I give?" or "What percentage of my income should I give?"
If we focus upon the amount of money we give we’re back into the world’s way of thinking and likely to be impressed more by large figures than by small. If we focus upon percentages we can fall into the trap of thinking that we’ve somehow done our bit and regard the remainder of what we have as all for us.
It is interesting to notice that the NT does not speak in terms of absolutes or of percentages.
Paul doesn’t even give a command cf. 8:8, 10. His opinion is that for the Corinthians to give (and in context he means to give generously) is a good thing and in fact in their own best interests (though he does not see such giving to the Lord as a crude means of getting from the Lord).
The again in 9:5 he writes in terms of "a willing gift" rather than "an exaction" or a duty-
For Paul the determining factors for Christian giving are simple enough:
Awareness of need
Ability to give
The example of Jesus
Underlying the whole idea of relief of the saints is the principle of "sufficiency" that he brings out clearly with his quotation concerning the way in which the Israelites gathered manna in the wilderness – each ended up with what was needed.
Paul didn’t expect the Christians in Corinth to bring themselves into a position of hardship by their giving but he did look for any abundance they might have to be shared.
Further Paul adds that generosity is to be measured by what is actually given not by a mere intention to give. Nor is it measured by what we don’t have but by what we do.
Generosity calls for integrity in those handling the funds
Paul spends a considerable amount of time and space in making sure that everything he does with regard to money is done in a way that is open and above board.
If it was important then it is no less important now. The reason is simple:
1Tim.6:10 "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs."
Achan’s sin at Jericho involved taking for himself silver and gold that was devoted to the LORD for destruction – this sin led to the death of 36 Israelites at Ai and was to cost him his own life.
Elisha’ servant, Gehazi, ran after Naaman and lied in order to get some possessions for himself. He asked for some silver and some garments and received more than he asked for. But God was not pleased and Gehazi finished his days as a leper.
In the NT examples are also easy to find:
Judas sold his Master for 30 pieces of silver. He never repented but filled with remorse he committed suicide.
Ananias and Sapphira wanted the kudos of being generous givers but schemed to keep part of the promised money back for themselves. Their sin was against the Holy Spirit and this sin too cost them their lives.
Aware of all this Paul took careful precautions to ensure that gifts were handled well and not misused or misappropriated.
Specifically he involved men who were well respected by the churches to help in the receipt and transfer of funds being reluctant to take charge of the monies directly himself. This was already his pattern when he wrote earlier about his type of gift:
Now here Paul refers to three different individuals who he considers worthy of trust in such delicate matters. Two of these appear to have had a more senior role in the necessary administration while the third functioned in a more ancillary position.
The first of these men was Titus. He had been involved with the Macedonian churches and with their giving and proved himself there (8:6). He was also known to the Corinthians already (7:6-
But perhaps Titus might be considered too close to the apostle Paul – there can be no place even for an appearance of wrong-
A wide range of possibilities have been suggested concerning the identity of this anonymous brother. Popular suggestions include: Luke, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, Mark, Aristarchus and Apollos but we simply can’t be sure. We can be sure of two things: this particular brother was well-
In our church too we have systems in place to help us avoid any financial abuses: cheques are countersigned, finance statements are regularly produced detailing income and expenditure, an independent examiner looks annually at our accounting to ensure accuracy/honesty. We should pray too – giving thanks for an upright treasurer and pray for continued integrity in all of us who are involved in one way or another with church finances. Our trust must ultimately be in our Lord because even the best of systems can be circumvented or abused if a person has a mind to do so. The best of systems can diminish temptation but can’t finally remove it – we remain dependent upon the Lord’s grace.
To complete the team Paul is sending to Corinth he includes another un-
It is interesting to note again the degree of confidence Paul has in the good and serious intent of the Corinthians. Having begun a good work by their initial readiness to give he fully expects them see it through. He also fully expects them to prove the genuineness of their faith by responding with a generous gift which in v.20 suggests a sizeable one.
We like stories to have a beginning a middle and an end. So far we have seen the beginning and the middle but what about the end? What did in fact take place after Paul wrote his letter? Did the Corinthians show that Paul’s trust and confidence in them was warranted? Was their poor relief project restarted and did it come to fruition?
The answer is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, a letter written a year or so after 2Corinthians. Towards the end Romans Paul explains some of the work he had that had hindered him visiting Rome at an earlier date. This is what we read:
As one commentator has written when there is peace, trust and harmony in church life Christian giving flows generously but when they are absent so Christian giving dries up.
May the Lord make us and keep us generous and upright Christians.