Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15
Generosity is a pretty cool thing, isn’t it? There are people out there in this world who will give you things if you really need it. You hear it a lot in various churches and ministries if those who are being generous see it as vitally important the ministry continues in that place.
I think of some friends of mine who run a camp in New Brunswick which shares the Gospel of Jesus Christ with children from native communities. Over the last number of years they have had what looked like significant challenges which threatened the future of their ministry. Things like the breakdown of vehicles, boats, tractors, all of which require significant funds to repair. Just a couple days ago there was an email that came out from my friends saying the engine in their truck has died and they need someone to help with transportation because they can no longer use the truck.
Now, as of this moment, I haven’t heard of anyone stepping up to help, but I know that so far many of their prayer requests have been answered over the years. So I join them in prayer that this problem will be overcome and they can have an amazing summer with the kids who will spend the time with them.
Generosity of people who believe in the mission of God, whether it be in churches, camps or some other ministry somewhere in the world, it’s the generosity of others who do so much in helping people do the work they feel called to do.
Let’s face it, there isn’t a lot of money to be made in ministry and mission. Which is good! Because the church should not be a place to make a profit. Churches which are perceived as being flush with cash are often churches which struggle because people think everything is already paid for by the bags of cash being held in the bank.
When a church does find itself suddenly somewhat rich givings pretty much always go down. I’ve seen it in a number of communities. I understand why it happens, but it’s rarely a good thing.
Often when a church inherits a sum of money, they put it in some sort of fund for a “rainy day”. The world is falling apart around us, poverty,drugs and alcohol are just a few examples. Not to mention that people have completely forgotten about the church in general society.
So givings drop, the bags of money get spent, and then one day someone looks at the bank account and realizes the church is in huge trouble because the reserves are getting low and we can’t expect everyone to start giving again right away. It just doesn’t work that way. Especially since our churches often have far fewer people now than before.
In our reading from 2 Corinthians today we hear Paul talking about generosity.
This is our final look at 2 Corinthians for a while. But Paul has taken us on quite the journey over these 6 weeks. He’s talked to us about being a people who are consoled by God. He’s talked to us about the importance of unity and forgiveness. He’s talked to us about treasures and how we are just clay jars, but can be molded into God’s image. Paul has also talked to us about our faith walk, that we walk by faith and not by sight, trusting in the guidance and love of God. Last week we heard Paul talk to us about reconciliation. It’s this love of Christ which keeps us together, but more importantly it is God who reconciles us to Himself.
Paul has given us a lot to think about over the last six weeks, and he’s not giving us a week off today either. After all he has shared with us over the last few weeks and the importance of this live-giving relationship with God and with one another, Paul gives us one more important push.
He wants us to show our faith.
For Paul, a life in Christ is one of receiving the incredible gift of God’s grace, and then sharing that grace with others in a life of servitude. First to God, then to one another.
In order to be a servant of God we must be willing to give our complete selves to this relationship. That is, all our life, and everything we have.
So Paul is pushing the church to give all it has to a life in Christ, but to also consider what it is doing with what it has.
In other words, is the church being generous? Are followers of Jesus being generous?
Paul lifts up the example of the Macedonian church. He says, “their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (2 Corinthians 8:2)
When I read this, it brings me back to the early church as described in the book of Acts. It’s quite a radical reading given how the world functions today. It says this in Acts 4, starting at verse 32,
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32-37)
People shared everything they own for the betterment of others. No one was rich or poor, they simply shared to make sure everyone had what they needed.
Speaking of generosity!
Paul himself would have been a recipient of this extravagant generosity, which was shown as an act of love for one another.
When Paul was converted, he went to live with the Apostles for a couple of years before he went out on his own to preach and plant churches. He knew what it meant to live in a community where generosity was not necessarily expected, but it certainly seemed natural.
Paul seems to be encouraging the church in Corinth to consider something similar in it’s life together. And he’s holding up the Macedonians as something to strive for. It seems as though the Macedonians were a poor nation but when they shared what they had with each other, they found themselves to be far less off than they might have otherwise considered themselves.
Paul says he isn’t commanding them to do this, but he’s testing their understanding of their faith. If they are as committed to Christ as they say they are, then there should be some sort of action happening, based in love, to share the blessings and wealth with others.
In verse 9 Paul lifts up Jesus once again as an example, “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
Who is richer than God? Who is richer than His Son, Jesus Christ? Yet Jesus gave up those heavenly riches and came to earth to live a poor life, depending on the generosity of others for his daily needs. Some food to eat, some place to sleep. A poor life that ended up in a corrupted trial that led to him losing his life in a terrible death.
And why did Jesus do this? So that we too would become rich. Not rich on this earth, but rich beyond our imagination through a relationship with God through him so we may have the full blessings of God for all eternity.
Jesus modeled generosity as well. Think of when he fed 5000 people with only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. How he took that meagre meal and turned it into a feast which was a blessing to all those people.
Think of how he took people in depressed lives, shunned and pushed away by society, and he took them and brought them to be equals. He didn’t push them away, he welcomed them to him, he lifted them up as examples, and he gave them a better life.
But even when they were challenged, Jesus has words for those people as well. In Matthew 5 Jesus said this,
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)
Jesus is telling his followers to go beyond generous even in the face of significant challenges.
Our generosity is a strong marker about our faith, our love of Jesus, and our trust in God.
So what does all of this mean to us today?
It means we need to live out what we believe.
If we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to this world to bring us into relationship with our Father in heaven, and that his sacrifice, his death on the cross was for our salvation… if we believe these things, then our lives and our actions are completely transformed.
It means we need to strongly consider what the Acts 4 church looked like and how we might be a reflection of it today.
When the Acts 4 church showed such incredible generosity to it’s members the church grew. In a way though, the early church described in Acts 4 had no choice but to live like this.
The people who joined the church in the very beginning were like the disciples. Many of them probably walked away from work and family in order to be part of this movement. They gave up what they knew in order to have this relationship with God. So the church was forced to share with one another, as more and more people, sometimes by the hundreds, joined the church every day.
Now, we don’t necessarily have that problem here. People aren’t coming to Carman by the hundreds… yet! But we do need to be continually reevaluating what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ.
If I call myself a Christian, how does my life show this? How does my life reflect the importance of my relationship with God? How does my life reflect the actions of Jesus as I am called to follow him?
These questions could be considered downright nasty when taken in the context of how the secular, profit driven, non-Christian world wants us to live.
Let’s consider the state of the world for a moment. We’re in the middle of what feels like a never ending election campaign in the United States. We’re in a race where hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to become president. And as the campaigns ramp up more and more every week, they will try and tear each other apart. In the end this is a battle of money and ego.
We also have the United Kingdom voting very narrowly to drop out of the European Union. And it seems like people voted because of a dream someone put in place as to what this utopia of an independent country might look like. Now that it’s looking like a reality, we’re starting to see some cracks, even within the first 24 hours of the decision.
By being in the EU, the United Kingdom was in a position to partner with other nations freely and easily for various causes. They could help out poorer nations. They could be involved with immigration, which is very important right now with all the refugees flooding into Europe. Sure it costed them plenty of money, but the world appears as though it was better for it.
It seems as though, and I’m no expert, but there was a group of people who were able to prey upon the fears of just enough people to get them to vote to leave.
Time will tell as to whether those fears were legitimate or not.
Which gives many in North America plenty to worry about as fear is a major platform in the United States election as well.
Not to mention the whole gun debate going on at the same time.
The world is preying on our fears and telling us to go on our own. To protect ourselves and forget about others. Me first above anyone else.
This is a common mantra which has led to many wars and many broken lives.
What does Jesus ask us to do? If we go back to Matthew 5, just after what I read earlier, we see Jesus say this,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5:43-45)
What can be more generous than loving someone we should not be able to love? What can be more generous than praying for someone else, even when we might prefer some other actions be taken?
Generosity is a challenging thing to consider. It means living lives full of love for God and for others. It means examining closely those things we have in our lives and their relative importance to us compared to the needs of others.
It forces us to ask questions about just how much should we give? Both monetarily and otherwise.
I don’t like to preach on money. What you give to the church is between you and God. But, when we are talking about generosity and Paul’s push to be more like the Acts 4 church, where no one is in need, we should be asking God, “Am I giving enough?”
The kind of giving Paul is talking about is sacrificial. He is talking about giving more even though it means we have less.
This kind of sacrificial giving is one that needs a lot of trust in God and it needs a lot of prayer.
It needs trust and prayer for three reasons. One, we need to know what God expects from us when we give. Secondly, we need to trust and pray that what we give is being used wisely and is an act of showing our faith. And finally, we need to pray that what we are spending on money on today is what God wants us to spend it on. Are we being faithful with our possessions, or are there ways we can be more faithful with what we have?
These are questions we need to ask ourselves both as individuals and as a church. We need to pray that we are being generous with the blessings we have in our lives and in our church.
We also need to trust that God has a better plan for us than what the world expects us to do.
We’re only on this world for a fraction of time. We have all eternity to spend with our Lord, and we also want others to come along with us. Our family and our friends.
This reading is a fitting end for us as we look at the letter Paul has written to the church in Corinth. While it’s not the end of the letter, it’s a fitting conclusion to the themes we have explored.
The need for understanding that God has a great love for us, and will console us in our lives through a personal relationship with His Son Jesus.
The need for forgiveness and unity as we seek to share God’s love with the world around us. Which means we need to forgive those who oppose us and seek healing in all our relationships. Together we can do so much more in the name of Jesus than apart.
We also need to know that in our broken lives we have a treasure in this relationship we have with God. To find reassurance in the words of Paul when he said, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” and how God will mold us into His image when we walk with Him as the central focus of our lives.
We also acknowledge we are weak and need God’s strength in our lives. This is all part of trusting in God to guide us as we learn what it means to live lives of faith and “walk by faith and not by sight.”
Every day we make a decision to follow Jesus as Lord and Saviour in our lives. This is a decision which should and will impact our actions each and every day.
And how do these decisions reflect our faith. How does it exemplify the generosity Paul asks us to undertake? How do these decisions reflect the love of God we experience in our lives? How do these decisions show Jesus to others?
Paul has laid out significant challenges all through his letter to the church in Corinth. He has asked them to seriously reconsider what it means for them to call themselves the church, followers of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour.
Sometimes we forget that we aren’t unlike the early church at all. Church is no longer the most important thing in the community. No longer is faith in God something people aspire to explore and grow.
While many people still claim to be Christian, the reality seems very different as we see how people treat one another, not just globally, but also on our own streets.
As we finish looking at this letter of Paul, I think it still leaves us with many questions and challenges about what it means to associate ourselves with God, let alone what it means to submit ourselves to Him.
The world mocks our faith and paints us all with the same brush as people who are hateful towards some slices of society. It paints us as people who are cult-like in that we are being brainwashed by an ancient story which has no bearing on the world today.
As you might expect, I disagree. Strongly.
The church has more to offer the world today than it has in the last 50, maybe even 100 years, as the world pulls itself further into a narcissistic pit of broken lives and meaningless narratives of lost souls.
The church will be a place of healing and hope for many people as they begin to realize God has so much more to offer as He offers it in love like nothing else can love.
Are we the church?
Are we followers of Jesus Christ who have put our full trust in God and His promise to be with us in all things, good and bad, for all our time on this earth and for all time in His eternal presence?
And do we share this extravagant, generous gift with others who need it just as much, if not more, than we do?
We are the church.
We are children of God.
And we are called to share this love with others in sacrificial acts of generosity. May we be so bold to live this out each and every day.
And may God be with us as we do.