Posts Tagged With: giving

2 Corinthians 9: A Vision of Abundance

“There is only so much” or “There is enough to go around” — which do you tend to believe?

“The early bird gets the worm” or “There is enough to share” — which one tends to describe how you see material resources?

“Get your’s while you can” or “It is a blessing to share” — which is it?

The American worldview certainly holds that there is a limited number of resources and we are in competition with each other to get those.  Of course, that belief shapes our perceptions and then we accept it to be unquestionably true.  And if we count our needs in millions and billions of dollars, maybe this view is true.  But when we think realistically, isn’t there more than enough to go around?

Walter Brueggemann, a favorite author of mine, calls this belief the “myth of scarcity.”  Americans seem to believe it, but so did many in Israel in the Old Testament.  That is why the rich got richer and the poor poorer and the prophets railed against social injustice.  The prophetic imagination of seers like Micah dared Israel (and us still today) to believe that we lived in abundance.

He will judge between many peoples
    and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.
Every man will sit under his own vine
    and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the Lord Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:3-4)

Hoarding is not necessary, because each can have his own.  Brother does not need to compete with brother because we both can have more than enough.  Jesus feed five thousand and there was still twelve baskets of bread to spare.

It is this same vision that guides Paul in today’s passage.

Someone who sows sparingly will reap sparingly as well.  Someone who sows generously will reap generously.  Everyone should do [give] as they have determined in their heart, not in a gloomy spirit or simply because they have to, since “God loves a cheerful giver.” And God is well able to lavish all his grace [gifts, including material resources] upon you, so that in every matter and in every way you will have enough of everything, and may be lavish in all your own good works, Just as the Bible says: “They spread their favors wide, they gave to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” The one who supplies “seed to be sown and bread to eat” will supply and increase your seed and multiply the yield of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way in all single-hearted goodness, which is working through us to produce thanksgiving to God.  The service of this ministry will not only supply what God’s people so badly need, but it will also overflow with many thanksgivings to God. (9:6-12)

As the Corinthians get ready to receive Paul who will be looking for the contribution they had previously promised to give to the famine relief efforts in Jerusalem (9:1-5), Paul exhorts them to view this with a vision of abundance, not the myth of scarcity.  So too for us.  Anytime we are called upon to give to provide for those who are under-resourced at the time (notice that this passage is not talking about giving to meet the budget of the church) we will need the same perspective.  We can be “cheerful givers” because the anxiety of competing for the same dollar does not need to rule our hearts.  God is able to pour down blessings on us in such a lavish way that we will have everything we need (of course, “need” and “want” are two different words).  We can also be cheerful givers when we acknowledge the result of unselfish living: “thanksgiving to God.” The myth of scarcity makes us turn others into competition and weigh the perceived right others have to our money.  A vision of abundance makes it easier to melt our selfish hearts and uncurl our greedy fingers, and that is when praise and thanksgiving are born.  

Today is Labor Day in America, a day we celebrate the worker, the most important cog in the machine of capitalism.  Ironically, we celebrate the day by not working (and I am super cool with that!)  We work to provide for ourselves and for others.  Instead of turning this procurement of resources into a competition, can we dare to trust that God will provide all that is needed and that he might be using us to provide for others for a time?

When have you been surprised by how abundant God’s material blessings truly are?

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2 Corinthians 8: Keys to A Generous Spirit

We are now solidly in the section where Paul beseeches the Corinthians to imitate the generous giving of the Macedonians.  This is likely referring to the collection Paul was accumulating for the famine-striken Christians in Jerusalem.  Paul’s pitch rivals anything I have ever heard in any church capital campaign!

It is this line that catches my attention today:

The abundance of grace that was given to them (the Macedonians), and the depths of poverty they have endured, have overflowed in a wealth of sincere generosity on their part. (8:2)

I am wondering if these are the two most important elements to being a generous giver.

When we become truly aware of how much grace and how many gifts have been given to us by God, a grateful heart is produced. Maybe gratefulness far outweighs expendable income as a key motivator for lavish giving.  

It appears the Macedonians knew what poverty was like.  They must have had some lean years themselves.  They could relate to the plight of the Christians in Jerusalem.  Maybe empathy and compassion goes much further towards producing a generous heart than pity or an intellectual sense of responsibility.  

What do you think creates a generous spirit?

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1 Corinthians 16: Intentional Giving

We know from history that Judea was suffering from a famine at this point in time.  The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and the surrounding area were suffering from a famine.  For the Christians their problems were only compounded by the growing animosity between Jews and Christians and how this cut them off from the normal infrastructure of life.

We can tell from this letter and others that Paul had made it part of his mission to help the Jewish Christians by collecting money from Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Achaia in order to bring relief when he soon visited Jerusalem.  Paul is discussing this in this chapter.  As a matter of logistics, Paul recommends that the Corinthians set aside their surplus money each week in order to have a store of money for the collection when he finally does visit Corinth on his way to Jerusalem.

On the first day of each week, every one of you should set aside and store up whatever surplus you have gained, so that when I come I won’t have to take an actual collection. (16:2)

I am struck by Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians (and to us) to be intentional in their giving.  This isn’t spur of the moment.  This is not a plea to give what you can spare.  This isn’t “brother, can you spare a dime?”  This is planned, purposeful giving and sacrifice over a number of months.  That is a good example.

What big idea really sunk in with you as you read 1 Corinthians?  

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BONUS: An Introduction to the Corinthian Letters

I imagine the church at Corinth was not an easy church to lead.  Yet, the Apostle Paul went far and beyond to help them become what God would have them be as a church.  We likely only have two of the four letters we can tell Paul wrote this church (maybe three if our Second Corinthians is actually two letters combined).  We can tell from the way Paul starts many of the sections in First Corinthians that this letter is actually a response to some sort of correspondence from the Corinthian Christians.  Next maybe only to Ephesus, Paul spent more time in Corinth during his missionary journeys than anywhere else.  As challenging as the Corinthians were to Paul, he dearly loved them and that comes out in these letters.

Paul seems to be combating several issues in these two letters, each letter quite different from the other.

Holy living in an unholy culture:  Corinth was home to many temples, not all of which were likely in use at the time of Paul.  The most famous of these was the Temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, in which 1000 temple prostitutes once had served.  On the north side of the city was a temple to Asclepius, the god of healing.  This background of idolatry and sexuality will appear several times in the two letters.  This may be Corinth’s most recognized vice.  There is a now-archaic English verb, “to corinthianize,” which means to engage in lewd and indecent acts of debauchery, especially unbridled and indecent sexuality.  Paul’s instructions will be unequivocal: navigate through a sinful society with purity, abstinence, and consideration for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  This point is also what makes many people say 1 Corinthians is especially relevant for today’s world.

Airs of superiority amongst the members and the division that naturally would bring:  Wisdom was key to the Greek culture.  At least in some people’s minds, one’s value was attached in part to their intellectual development.  Education, philosophy and conventional thinking would have been held in high esteem.  As we will see early in 1 Corinthians, this attitude was clearly present in the Corinthian church as well.  This thinking also seems to have shaped how they thought about the spiritual gifts they had been given by the Spirit.  A pecking order of giftedness seems to have been causing a problem, as was their penchant to group off according to which religious teacher they preferred.  Unity will be the most recurring point in these letters.

Misunderstandings about the resurrection of the dead:  There can be no misunderstandings about this all-important idea fundamental to Christianity, yet it seems the Corinthians had many.  Paul will speak to the who, when, how, and what of the resurrection from the dead.

Encouraging the Corinthian Christians to give generously to famine-striken Christians in Jerusalem:  Situated at a main commercial nexus point between the Adriatic and Aegean Seas, there would have been a good bit of wealth in the city.  Paul will encourage his Greek brothers and sisters to use that wealth to show tangible love for the Jewish brothers and sisters who started this movement they are now a part of.

Having to defend this apostolic authority:  Paul’s response to this issue composes most of Second Corinthians.  This was an especially big deal as questions of authority would have undermined everything Paul had been working for in Corinth.  The emphasis on wisdom in Corinthian culture would have contributed to this as Paul was foreign, educated in non-Greek religion and philosophy, and he did not emphasize the charisma commonplace in Greek cultural leaders.  More troubling for Paul were false teachers posing as apostles who had come to Corinth since his departure who were turning the church against him.  They painted Paul as opportunistic, greedy for their money, unreliable, and unskilled.  Paul responds will great passion and fire.  For what it’s worth, Paul’s explanation of why he is competent to be a “minister of reconciliation” has been one of my favor sections of Scripture since first training for the ministry in undergrad.

So much of the Corinthian letters has to do with church life.  This may be where we see Paul’s pastoral heart best of all.

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Luke 12: Beware of All Greed!

I think there maybe no more timely verses for this world than these from today’s reading:

Watch out and beware of all greed!  Your life doesn’t consist of the sum total of your possessions. . . . So don’t go hunting about for what to eat or what to drink, and don’t be anxious.  The nations of the world go searching for all that stuff, and your father knows you need it.  This is what you should search for: God’s kingdom!  Then all the rest will be given you as well. (12:15, 29-32)

I don’t know a modern American Christian for whom greed and anxiety over money is not a temptation at least potentially.  That is what comes when you live in a culture focused on money and materialism.

I don’t think there are any great secrets to conquering greed, at least not in our context (maybe you know one?).  I only conclude that with prayer and accountability we have to raise this struggle to the conscious level and fight it aggressively.  Maybe we ask ourselves why we are purchasing what we do.  Maybe we regularly deny ourselves certain intended purchases and extravagances.  I know spending time in environments far less affluent helps considerably.  So too does the practice of sacrificial giving to others.  Another big help is what Jesus says here.  Get busy trying to advance God’s kingdom and little by little, over a lifetime maybe, the trinkets of this world become less attractive.  At least that is what I am telling myself.

How do you fight greed, anxiety about money, and the temptation to be materialistic?

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Acts 4: Giving to One Another

There was no needy person among them. (4:34a)

Really?

No one among the first few thousand Christians in Jerusalem had material needs?

Christians can’t say that today.  Of course, there are many times more Christians today than there was back then, and in many more impoverished areas of the world.  Still, that is an incredible claim.  Oh, for that to be true today!

How was that possible?  We have part of the answer if we back up a few sentences:

Nobody said that they owned their property; instead, they had everything in common. (4:32b)

This is the thinking that makes the lack of need possible: the realization that the material blessings that come our way are not our own.  We are stewards of God’s possessions.  We are conduits not swimming pools — blessings come in order to flow through us and out, not be collected for our leisure.  I need a new mind in this regard.  The feeling that makes this kind of radical care for the community of believers is in the sentence before this one:

The company of those who believed had one heart and soul. (4:32a)

A solidarity of spirit.  A unified soul.  A deep kindredness that has knit people together as one.  When that happens how could we let our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer in need?  I need a new heart in this area too.

Maybe that is the secret.  In only three chapters since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we have seen a sea change in these disciples.  They have a new understanding they did not have before.  They are now becoming known for harnessing extraordinary power to heal.  In this chapter especially we have seen a boldness they certainly didn’t have two months before.  Now they possess a sacrificial love for each other.  How did they do it?

They didn’t.  The Holy Spirit came upon them in a deeply transforming way.  Their new mind and the new heart came from above.

Come Holy Spirit and give us radical, giving love for each other!

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Acts 3: Giving to the Needy

He [a lame man] asked them to give him some money. . . . The man stared at them, expecting to get something from them.  “I haven’t got any silver or gold,” Peter said, “but I’ll give you what I have got.  In the name of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, get up and walk!”  (3:3-6)

We have all heard it a thousand times: “Hey man, can you spare a little change?”  More often these days I get an elaborate story involving a broken down truck several miles away and how there is a need for money to “fix my truck.”

Much ink has been spilled on the topic of helping the needy.  There are many different perspectives on whether to help or how best to help.  There is no need to rehearse the arguments here.

This is what struck me in this chapter instead:

You are the children of the prophets, the children of the covenant with God established with your ancestors when he said to Abraham, “In your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (3:25)

We are the “children of the prophets” who spoke about caring for the needy almost as much as they did singular devotion to God.  We have received a legacy from Abraham that includes a calling to give to or “bless” the nations.  Well, I know, actually this was talking about the Jews.  But we have been grafted into the olive tree of Israel, haven’t we (Romans 11:16-21)?  Spiritually, we are talking about our family history too, right?  So, giving is a part of our spiritual heritage.

And give to this lame man is exactly what Peter did.  However, Peter did not give the man what he was asking for.  Instead of getting what he requested, this man receives what he needs.  Money is a small blessing compared to healing and wholeness.  Maybe he was so demoralized by his ailments that he had given up hope for anything more than pity.  Maybe it was just easier to beg for denarii.  Regardless, in line with his heritage, Peter gave.

Peter also gave in such a way that God received the credit.  Peter and John were evidently receiving honor for the miracle (3:12).  But they deflected the attention from themselves back to the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob — the God of our ancestors” (3:13).  They gave to the needy and God received the glory.

Lord, give us compassionate, giving hearts — to your glory!

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