2 Corinthians 9 – Cheerful Giving

Read 2 Corinthians 9

In a number of ways, 1 Corinthians 9 almost feels like a rehashing of the previous chapter.  Many of the same themes are present as Paul continues to talk about the same collection that is being taken for the church in Jerusalem.  Yet, where Paul was talking about the amount of giving in chapter 8, his focus shifts specifically to the attitude and heart of the giver here in chapter 9.

Paul points out in chapter 8 that the eagerness of the church in Corinth to give to this cause is a test of the sincerity of their love.  He then encourages them to give as they are able and even to go beyond that in some cases.

Here Paul points out once again that this is not a Law, and no one should give reluctantly, but rather, it should be done with a cheerful heart.  He draws on some themes from the book of Psalms here as well.  God does not desire sacrifice, the Psalmist writes in Psalm 51.  Rather, God desires a contrite heart, something that He would never turn down.

More important that the amount that is given is the attitude in which it is given.  In a world driven by money and material wealth, that is not always an easy thing for us to do.  We feel as though we have earned this money through our hard work, but what we fail to recognize is the blessing of God to bring us here in the first place.  God “supplies seed to the sower…”; He is always the primary mover in these things.  Everything that we have comes from Him and so, in an expression of thanksgiving to Him we give, joyfully thanking God for the blessings He has given us and trusting that He will continue to provide for our every need.



2 Corinthians 8 – Giving Ability

Read 2 Corinthians 8

This is the first of two chapters in which Paul addresses the practice of giving with the church in Corinth.  At this time, a collection was being taken for the church in Jerusalem who had come under a good deal of persecution from the Jews.  While they had remained faithful to the Gospel, it seems they had lost everything else and were quite poor.  And so, picking up on the themes of his parting words in 1 Corinthians 16, he urges them to prepare for a collection when Titus comes.

The Old Testament paradigm of giving was set forth in the law of Moses, giving a tenth of what you made and also giving the first fruits of what you had.  Whereas this sounds pretty stringent and binding, it is, like so much else in the Law, a description of what it means to live out our love for God by putting Him first in all things including material wealth.

But what Paul doesn’t do here is rehash the Old Testament Law about giving 10% of everything.  Instead, he commends the churches of Macedonia who gave as much as they were able and in some cases beyond their means as well.  Notice that there is not an amount associated with it, some number that they had to reach, but rather a recognition of the love that they have shown through their giving.

There are a number of religious denominations that claim to be Christian out there today who claim that there are number values associated with return blessings.  Only once you reach them will God bless you.  These are false teachings, heresies that distort the message of Scripture and God’s heart when it comes to giving.  God does not want your money; He doesn’t need it.  God wants our hearts, to place Him first in all things.  This is why Paul calls this giving a “test of the sincerity of your love.”  It is not the amount that matters, but the “earnestness, the joy, and the heart which matters as we give what we are able… and beyond.



1 Corinthians 16 – Final Instructions

Read 1 Corinthians 16

Today’s reading seems to be a great deal more context specific than the rest of the book.  As we talked about at the end of the book of Romans, however, even these parting words are a part of Scripture and are therefore useful and instructive to us.

Especially at the beginning of this chapter, Paul lays down some of the groundwork that has become the foundation for Christian giving practices throughout the last 2,000 years.  For him, giving was not always arbitrary or spontaneous, but rather a part of the Christian life as a response to the grace of God that is in Jesus Christ.

Spontaneous giving is not bad; certainly, Paul is not suggesting that.  However, when Paul picks up this topic again, we will see that giving is grounded in the Christian life and therefore is something we are intentional about, especially when it comes to giving back to God.

Now, this may seem oddly self-serving coming from a pastor.  It is important for us, and especially for me, to be truthful and honest when it comes to what Scripture says about this.  Paul, actually, did not receive money from the church.  In fact, he was a “tent maker,” holding a job for some time in order to fund his own work.  So when he speaks about this, he is not talking about it from some self-interested point of view but rather as a continuing application to what it means for us to live in our freedom in Christ.

No longer do we have to live, concerned for what we need, God will take care of us.  We have been freed from those concerns.  No longer do we need to hoard our possessions to take care of ourselves.  We are freed from those concerns.  God has shown time and again, His faithfulness and provision in all things and so, as we turn to Him in faith we also trust Him with our lives knowing that He who has created all things is more than able to care for and provide for all that we need.



Acts 6 – Deacons

Read Acts 6

Many agree that this beginning narrative was the founding of the role of “deacon” within the Church.  Deacons are called to serve and oversee the physical needs of both the church and the community in which they serve.  For many churches, this has defaulted to overseeing the budget process and making sure that the churches finances are in order.  It has also meant the creation of funds that are specific for benevolence.  To be clear, none of this is inherently bad.

However, there has been a disturbing trend within the Church in North America that often creeps its way into how deacons operate within their churches.  We don’t always like to get our hands dirty in the work, believing that others are more suitable, more equipped, and have a “special calling” to go and ‘do ministry,’ whether local or abroad.  Instead, we are content to just throw money at these people or ministries.  It makes us feel like we are helping and participating without having to put any skin in the game.

This mindset has crept into our deacon boards who have often taken the position that, as long as the finances are in order, we are doing our job well and are ready to respond when a need arises.

While this is all well and good, and we should be ready for such needs, I wonder if we have maybe gotten a bit lazy in matters such as this.  I wonder if, instead of waiting for problems to come to us, we should be going out and meeting people where they are?  After all, Jesus’ commission to us was to “go into all the world,” not wait for the desperate and desolate to come to us.  Acting in this way could redefine and reinvigorate the Church’s witness.



Acts 5 – Giving Everything

Read Acts 5

The story of Ananias and Sapphira comes on the heels of chapter 4’s conclusion that the believers had all things in common and because of this, no one among them was needy.  How this came to be, apparently, was through the selling of possessions and pooling their money.  It is a testimony to them living out Jesus’ teaching to love one another and to care for those that are marginalized.  In fact, most of the early church was made up of those on the fringes of society who have found both healing and redemption in Jesus’ name.

So when this couple comes to them, pretending to be a part of them, and yet still holding on to selfish motives, Peter calls them out.  It isn’t that what they did in principle was wrong.  In fact, Peter tells them that the money was theirs to do with as they pleased.  Indeed, it was the principle of the matter; true benevolence is a matter of the heart, not founded on empty actions or lies.  God doesn’t truly care about money, He wants your heart.

Remember the story of the widow’s mite in Luke 21?  Her offering amounted to throwing a penny in the offering plate, but it was honored by Jesus because of her willingness to give everything she had.

Contrast the beginning and end of this chapter.  A couple lies about their giving and winds up dead.  Peter and John continue preaching the Gospel, fully determined to spread the news about Jesus.  They hold nothing back, wind up in prison and are flogged for teaching about Jesus in the synagogue.  Yet here they have found true life and even rejoice in the persecution “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”  What a stark difference!



Mark 14 – Why the Waste?

Read Mark 14

Admittedly there have been times in my life where I have seen people do things or give money where I wondered, “why waste time/money on that?”  Like the disciples, we think we know where other’s priorities should be and what they should be doing with the things God has blessed them with.

However, Mary’s actions here, Jesus points out, have a much deeper significance than what they saw on the surface: preparation.

In the sequence of events unfold here at the end of Jesus’ life, there is a great deal of parallelism between His sacrifice and the Passover feast.  What we don’t get here is that, when the Priests prepared for these events, there was a considerable amount of preparation and washing that needed to take place so they would be clean.  There was also specific things that needed to be done by each family to prepare the Passover meal which included what needed to be done to the Passover Lamb.

Jesus Himself is our Passover Lamb, the one who would die and whose blood would cover our sins and grant us eternal life.  Jesus functions in the position of the priest, performing the sacrifice before God in representation of all humanity.  In both cases, Mary’s actions serve as preparation for what was about to take place.

It is important for us to be willing to open our eyes to a bigger picture.  We don’t always know what God is up to when we see people do things that we wouldn’t necessarily agree with.  Why give so much to a university when you could give to the church or the poor?  What if that money went to a scholarship for someone who came to know Jesus through a campus ministry?  It wouldn’t seem so wasteful then would it?



Mark 12 – The Greatest Gift

Read Mark 12

Sermons on giving and tithing are probably the most difficult sermons to preach and to hear.  I think that, at least on some level, they seem somewhat self-serving coming from the pastor and that can often get in the way of how we listen and hear the Spirit moving in that time.  Jesus takes on this subject, though, without hesitation, and does not flinch at pointing out the truth in giving: it too is a matter of the heart.

Watching all of the people giving their offerings, Jesus reflects on what He sees.  Many people giving large sums of money.  Their offerings would have made loud noises as coins were placed into the containers.  Many would have known what they were doing and the large amounts that they were giving.

Yet I am reminded of what Jesus says in Matthew 6, talking about our posture when we seek to be obedient to God through fasting, praying, and giving.  In each subject, those who do things publically, drawing attention to themselves “receive their reward in full.”  Perhaps, Jesus is thinking about Psalm 51, that the truer sacrifice is that of the heart.

Jesus points out the widow’s offering to His disciples, one given in humility, with no fanfare or self-promotion.  She gives all she has; truly the greatest gift anyone can give.

I wonder if there is any relationship here between the gift that this widow gave and that which Jesus was about to give?  His gift, that of His own life, came in a form not expected by the religious leaders and yet it was the greatest gift of all.  John writes, referencing Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this: that he/she lay down their life for a friend.”  Maybe, more important than tithing, is self-sacrificially loving our neighbor?



Day 337: 2 Corinthians 8-10; The Cheerful Giver

Paul has the dubious pleasure that I think every pastor throughout the history of the church has probably had at some point in time in his ministry, that of talking about giving.  You know… that awkward sermon that is given on the need for tithing and giving cheerfully when you “can’t afford” it.  Generally it is made more awkward by the fact that church funds are usually low, giving is down, and many of the church member blame the pastor and leadership.  It is an interesting paradox that churches often face as we are asked to give into a system that is clearly broken, and we are asked to do it joyfully.

Well, that might be a little bit more than what Paul is talking about here.  Paul has asked the churches to given gifts for an offering that he is taking to the church in Jerusalem who has suffered a great deal of persecution at the hands of the Jews.  They were, at this time, likely doing a lot more hiding and were probably very poor.  Chances are, the church in Jerusalem had been kicked out of the synagogues and many of the believers had been arrested.  It is entirely possible that they were meeting in houses or even in back alleys to worship, if they were able to meet at all.  Some of them may have lost much of their businesses, their homes, and perhaps even their families.  While Saul, now Paul, wasn’t persecuting them anymore, there were no doubt many that rose up to take his place.

Wisely, Paul approaches this from the angle of giving cheerfully, even drawing on Scripture like Psalm 112 to talk about the need and benefit of giving.  He doesn’t simply say that he needs money and then guilts them into giving by making them feel bad.  Instead, he talks about how giving is part and parcel to the Christian life, yet another part of the sanctification that is taking place within the believers.  Interestingly enough, Paul points out right away that it is a matter of the heart, not a matter of wealth or physical abundance.

Remember a long while back when we talked about the Shema and some of the meanings of the words “heart,” “soul,” and “strength?”  Let’s recap real quick here:

MIGHT – מְאֹדֶֽךָ – “Me’od” – power, strength, very, greatly, sore, exceeding, great, exceedingly, much, exceeding , exceedingly, diligently, good, might, mightily – Roughly translated… “me’od” means ‘muchness.’  If you have some sort of a spell checker, you will see that ‘muchness’ isn’t actually a word.  If we look at what we are loving God with so far, it encompasses all of our inward and outward being.  This word indicates then, all of the things that make up our lives.  For Hebrew people, one’s strength and power was related to his (and I say his because it was a patriarchal society) family, his wealth (money, flocks, herds, servants, etc), his house, his land, defenses, etc.  All of these things were to be used to love God completely and bring glory to Him.  While loving God with your exceedingly large biceps is a nice thing, this really means a bit more than that.

This is a direct quote from Day 53, we talked about the deeper meanings behind this command that really has become the overarching theme that runs throughout Scripture.  Not only are we to love God with our mind and our heart, and even by the things that we do and the interactions that we have, we are also supposed to be honoring God with all the physical things that we have as well.  Part of this is really understanding the nature of all we have as being first and foremost a blessing for God.  Our Heavenly Father is the creator of all things, He is above all things, and it is He who has blessed us with all that we have, great or small.  In this we need to make sure that our hearts are not for our things, but for the One who has given them to us.

The other part of this has to do with the nature of our hearts in this recognition.  Not only do we remember that all we have is given to us as a blessing from God, we are also to have a cheerful and open heart when we are giving back to him and to others.  Yes, it isn’t simply about the giving of things that Paul is talking about here, he is talking about the nature of our hearts both when we give and in our everyday lives.  We have not been blessed to be hoarders of our blessings.  Like the gift of grace in Jesus Christ, we are blessed to be a blessing, given to so that we can give ourselves as well.  This is both the attitude and the stance that we are to take as grow ever deeper in humility and thankfulness, giving generously and joyfully of the gifts that God has given to us.