When you go to a doctor for your annual check-up, he or she will often begin to poke, prod, and press various places, all the while asking, “Does this hurt? How about this?” If you cry out in pain, one of two things has happened. Either the doctor has pushed too hard, without the right sensitivity. Or, more likely, there’s something wrong, and the doctor will say, “We’d better do some more tests. It’s not supposed to hurt there.”
Similarly, when we hear preaching on money and giving, we may cry out in discomfort because either the pastor “pushed” inappropriately, or because there’s an issue in our lives that needs to be addressed. If the Great Physician started doing some “poking and prodding” into your finances and how you manage your money, would it be a painful experience for you?
In 2 Corinthians 8-9 Paul focuses on the money that was being raised to help poor Christians in Jerusalem. While we can’t say for certain, they were probably poverty stricken because of famine, persecution, and the harsh taxation policies of the Roman government. Paul is now challenging the Corinthians to “pull their weight” and excel in this act of grace giving as well.
Paul uses the Macedonian Christians (at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea) as his model for giving. These believers were giving to make a difference! They set an example for the Corinthians, and they set an example for us today. In this post I will focus on 2 Cor. 8.1-7 and share three of the seven ways to give in order to make a difference.
In order to make a difference in the financial advancement of God’s kingdom…
1 – Give Responsively (in response to God’s grace, vv.1-2)
These Macedonian believers did not give simply because they were nice people, or because they felt sorry for the Jerusalem believers. They didn’t give just to silence a guilty conscience. No, they gave because God gave (John 3.16)! They gave because of their experience of God’s amazing grace.
What a difference grace makes! By it we are saved. By it we are sustained. By it and because of it we serve, witness, sing, pray, and GIVE!
“But…!” There are no “buts” allowed. People who know Christ and have experienced His salvific grace, are to be people who give. Period.
Two non-factors that basically eliminate the “Buts!”
(1) Difficult circumstances (“in a great trial of affliction,” 2a)
These believers were tried and tested by affliction in ways that probably none of us ever will. The “fire of their furnace” burned hot. Their suffering was severe.
Like the crushing of grapes in a wine press or the pressure exerted in a heavy-duty vice, they were going through the hardest times of their lives. But, even in the midst of the “great trial of affliction” there was also “the abundance of their joy.” They counted it an honor and a joy to be so identified with Jesus that they were treated not unlike He was…with hatred and contempt.
Their joy ran so deep it was not being negated by their perilous circumstances. They took spiritual antibodies that kept them immune from the “poor me syndrome,” and they still gave!
(2) Limited resources (“and their deep poverty,” 2b)
There’s a huge difference between their true poverty and our potential debt-related poverty. Their poverty appears to be due to no fault of their own. Yours may be because of covetousness, greed, and financially-foolish decisions. It’s a shame when believers get themselves in such financial binds that their ability to give is greatly hindered.
Limited resources may affect the amount Christians give, but it should never affect the act of giving (see Luke 21.1-4).
2 – Give Generously (“overflowed…in generosity,” v.2)
In 1999 eastern NC experienced “the flood of the century” as a result of Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd (the saying was “Dennis was a menace but Floyd destroyed!”). Stretches of the Tar River, which runs through several counties, crested at 24 feet above flood stage! Water was everywhere! That’s the exact imagery Paul has in mind when he says that the Macedonians’ giving overflowed! Their “overflow” was a good thing, however, not a destructive one.
No matter how much money you actually own, you can be a generous giver. Generosity is not directly tied to the amount of the gift. A person can give a huge amount of money and be stingy at the exact same time.
By the way, my daughter Jena has been a waitress for nearly five years, working in four different restaurants. Guess which shift she least wants to work? Sunday lunch. You know why? Because so many of the “church crowd” are horrible tippers! Generally speaking, Christians should be the most generous people around because they are the beneficiaries of God’s phenomenal and eternal generosity.
“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” (2 Cor. 8:9).
3 – Give Proportionately (“they gave according to their means,” v.3a)
It doesn’t say they all gave a certain percentage. There’s no percentage mentioned at all. They simply did the best they could with what they had. Even while struggling financially themselves, they still gave as they were able (see this same principle in 1 Cor. 16.1-2).
There are four other ways to give to make a difference that are learned from this passage. My next post will deal with numbers 4-7.