I wonder whether, deep down, I think of giving as a privilege or as a responsibility that at times is a burden I’d rather not have.
The head of the Charity Commission has recently warned charities not to "hound" people for money. The reputation of the sector has been hit by scandal and charities have been told they need to work hard to recover their reputation. Aggressive fund-
With such news items hitting the headlines it is hard for us not to be affected. While we may still give we may well find our attitudes beginning to harden – as others want to prise open our purses we may well react by trying to hold on to "our" money.
Paul wrote quite a long section in this letter to the Corinthians about money and how to use it. We have already spent a couple of weeks on this subject and now we return to it for one further look. Undergirding what Paul had to say was his conviction that Christian giving was to be gospel giving – it was a response to the wonderful generosity of God who gave us his "inexpressible gift".
If you like we could express the nature of Christian giving this way:
"We give because he first gave to us."
This type of giving is held up to us as the norm for the believer. The quotation of Ps.112:9 in v. 9 is, after all, not a description of the LORD but a description of a God-
"As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’"
Sometimes when we read the Bible we can get so caught up with the detail that we forget to stand back and catch a glimpse of the wider picture.
If for a moment we simply cast our eyes over the passage and note the type of words that Paul employed we should be able to gain some appreciation of just how he views how divine and human generosity fit together.
There is an inclusiveness and an extensiveness to what Paul has to say:
There is a richness and a fullness that Paul expresses in a variety of different words. We have already noted his reference to God’s "inexpressible gift" but look at these other words he uses – their cumulative effect should not be missed:
A little earlier in the letter Paul had referred to the ability and willingness to give as a grace and as a grace which could be excelled in. In this his views are in harmony with what we find elsewhere in the Bible.
Examples of OT Generosity
When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt the LORD told him to build the Tabernacle which was to serve as a mobile place of worship. The Tabernacle was the place where the LORD promised to meet with his people.
The instructions for the construction of this Tabernacle were detailed and precise. Tents, curtains, frames, stands, utensils – everything was included. The LORD gave specific men the necessary skills for completing the task but they still need the raw materials so they could get on with this impressive project. It was the people who supplied what was needed:
Many years later when the Israelites were well-
Then the leaders of fathers’ houses made their freewill offerings, as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and the officers over the king’s work. They gave for the service of the house of God 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of bronze and 100,000 talents of iron. And whoever had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the LORD, in the care of Jehiel the Gershonite. Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly."
A few verses later we find David at prayer and there he refers to the manner in which these gifts had been given:
v.17 "I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you."
If we move forward some 250 years we come to the reign of King Hezekiah. The people of God had turned away from the LORD allowed the Temple to fall into disrepair and the priests were unable to serve because of lack of support. Hezekiah introduced a number of significant reforms including for the priesthood.
As David before him, Hezekiah led from the front and was willing followed by the LORD’s people:
Generosity in the NT
As we turn the pages of our Bibles and arrive in the NT we find pretty much the same story.
Jesus in his teaching commended giving. He was critical of the Pharisees who gave in order to receive plaudits from others but assumed that his followers would be people who gave to the needy:
It was of Jesus who spoke so approvingly of that old widow who gave so little in the world’s estimation but so much in God’s.
In the Acts of the Apostles Barnabas’s generosity is noted. This "son of encouragement" sold a field and gave the entire proceeds to help the needy (Acts 4:36-
Again and again in Paul’s letters we find allusions to the generous spirit that was at work in the heart of the believers. We’ve previously referred to the way in which Paul held up the Macedonians as being exemplary in this whole matter of generous giving. Writing to the church at Philippi (which is in Macedonia) Paul expressed his appreciation for their financial partnership with him. He described their giving in glowing terms. Their gifts were:
"a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God". (Phil.4:18)
The Galatians too, before they became guilty of some serious backsliding, had exhibited a remarkable generosity of spirit:
Gal.4:15 "For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me."
So as Paul writes now to the Corinthians about generosity he is not saying anything really new. He does however want the Corinthians to know he appreciates what they have done in the past as he refers to their previous generosity but he also wanted to encourage them to keep on giving and to give in the right way with the right motives and expectations.
Motives and Expectations
Paul continues by declaring that God loves a cheerful giver. We shouldn’t use this as an excuse to reduce our giving on the grounds that we are more cheerful giving less rather than more. No, Paul’s intent is to encourage all of giving to be done in a cheerful manner. If we struggle with that then it is our attitude that must be worked on and not the amount we give!
In encouraging cheerful giving Paul also states a general principle: generous sowing will be rewarded with greater yields, more abundant harvests.
Now, on occasion, some have interpreted this in a woodenly literal way and tried to turn this whole procedure into a sure-
We must take care with this kind of thinking. The promise that God makes here (if promise it indeed be, since the text actually says the God is able, not that he always will) concerns a harvest or a reaping that he determines in this specific context. And the harvest that is mentioned is not a harvest of money at all!
The bountiful return is described as follows as:
All sufficiency in all things at all times
So that you might abound (not in wealth) but in every good work
The enrichment that Paul alludes to then is not an enrichment in terms of this world’s material goods and well-
In the Acts of the Apostles Simon the Sorcerer offered monies to Peter and John hoping to buy the ability to pass on the Spirit and was roundly condemned for thinking that he could "buy" God’s favour in this way. We mustn’t imagine that we can use our giving to do something similar and somehow oblige the Lord to give us what we want. The kind of giving Christians are to engage in is what I have called gospel-
Such giving is, according to Paul, wonderfully productive but we must not imagine that it is up to us to decide what that outcome is to be. Once again Paul explains just the kind opf productivity he has in mind.
The generous giving of the Corinthians proves productive in a number of different ways:
Under God it can lead to grace that allows for further generosity as we have already seen
Under God it leads to the positive relief/help of the needy
Under God thankfulness and praise to God is generated in the heart of the recipient
Under God the love the recipient has for the donor increases and is expressed in longings and prayers for their well-
What a wonderful economy of grace this is! All are benefited and God is made the subject of thankful praise and worship!
Once again there are no losers in God’s way of doing things – only the accuser of the brethren who finds once again that the gates of hell can never, no never, prevail against the church.
To God be the Glory!