“For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.” -2 Corinthians 8:3-5
“But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. 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 through his poverty might become rich.” -2 Corinthians 8:7-9
“Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.” -2 Corinthians 8:11-12
Giving is an area that many cringe when they hear of or are approached about. Perhaps it is because we are almost daily inundated with requests. Or maybe, it is also because of much abuse that surrounds this area in certain circles and teaching. However, if we back up a bit and reflect on the act of giving a few beautiful truths emerge.
First of all, if we are simply giving money to ease our guilt, it is easy to burn out or become annoyed when asked or approached. But a whole different mindset emerges when approached as the Macedonian church did in the first portion quoted above (2 Corinthians 8:3-5). Notice they didn’t give begrudgingly or sparingly, but generously, even beyond their capacity! And they did this on their own, out of their own desire and willingness because they saw it as a privilege not a burden. Instead of Paul urgently having to plead with them, they urgently pleaded with him for the opportunity to be a part of blessing others in need! And I believe the reason they had this attitude is because of what verse five says: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. When we first give ourselves to the Lord, then and only then are we truly able to give ourselves to others in accordance with the will of God. And in giving ourselves first to the Lord, he will lead and guide us in our giving.
I work for a non-profit mission organization that does not survive on sales but donations. A big chunk of my time is spent sharing the vision and ministry of ServeNow and even approaching or asking people to financially give towards the needs. It’s not always an easy job, because you can’t simply invoice people and sometimes you feel like a nuisance or inconvenience to people when you ask for gifts, while usually not knowing who may or may not give or when. A fundraiser’s dream and blessing are people who count it a privilege and are genuinely grateful to be a part of helping others in need. In fact, just recently, I sent out an e-mail with various opportunities for people to give and it was interesting to note two specific reactions. On the one hand, several people asked to be removed from our e-mail list. But there was one person who gave a donation with a little note that said: “Thanks for allowing me to take a small part in being a blessing to others.” He had the attitude Paul refers to here in Corinthians!
Secondly, let’s explore the second couple of verses quoted above (2 Corinthians 8:7-9). In this part, we see that giving is a grace that we are called to excel in. Giving should be a primary aspect of our character and lifestyle, because it is a key aspect of the very character and nature of God himself! Giving is actually a work of God or evidence of God’s grace at work in our lives. In fact that is why we give; because God himself is alive and at work in us, molding us into the image and likeness of His Son as children and representatives of him. When we give, it is therefore a reflection Him and His heart. Think about the core of the Gospel message: For God so loved the world that He gave… (John 3:16). Jesus modeled a life and lifestyle of sacrificial giving. He himself said that this is the essence of true greatness: For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45). Giving (yourself, your time, your talent, your resources, your energy, your effort, your best, your all) is the tangible, actual, expression, demonstration and outworking of love (God) truly dwelling and alive in your heart! It is one thing to say we “love” but the reality (or lack thereof) is seen in and through our giving. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-19).
Another important element is addressed in the third quoted portion (2 Corinthians 8:11-12). Many times we have good intentions, even initial excitement or willingness to do something or give something. However, I have found there is often a huge gap between interest and actual commitment; excitement and follow through, enthusiasm and action. Here, the apostle Paul exhorts those who expressed “eager willingness” to follow through and complete their act of giving…by actually giving! In other words, the willingness is the right attitude but without the actual follow through it loses its power, meaning and impact to make any real difference.
In the third passage above (2 Corinthians 8:11-12) Paul also addresses something that the founder and president of ServeNow is fond of saying and likes to put this way: God isn’t interested in what you don’t have or can’t give; but what you do have and can give! Even if it doesn’t seem like much, God accepts what is given willingly, cheerfully and in proportion to what one has, not what we don’t have or someone else is capable of. As our president also likes to point out, the widow who gave a mite wasn’t praised because she gave little, but because she gave all she had. Even the manner in which she gave was different than the rich people who “threw” in large amounts. She didn’t just toss it in flippantly, but put hers in worshipfully. Mark 12:41-44 records it like this: Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on. God see’s the attitude of the heart and takes the circumstances of each person into account.
Fifthly, giving is an act of trust. Many are fearful of giving because they lack trust in God. But 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 reminds us of this “law” Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever. Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
God will not abandon us in our need as we help others in their need. However, Proverbs 21:13 warns that Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered. It’s in giving that we actually receive; in blessing others that we are blessed. Proverbs 11:25 expresses it this way: A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. Jesus put it like this: Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” The way of the kingdom of God is opposite the way of the world. The world says greatness is found in being served and having servants; Jesus said those who are servants of others are the greatest. The world says I must “take what is mine” but Jesus says it’s in giving that we receive. The book of Acts records Paul saying to the Ephesus elders in his farewell address: In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
This is in fact the last point I will make in this blog. Our gifts and giving actually do as much for our own soul, life and heart than it does the one’s we give to! In fact, it not only results in worship being lifted to God, but prayers being lifted to his throne on your behalf! It is a much greater honor to be used by God as the answer to someone’s prayers; than the recipient of answered prayer. Your giving can be the “spark” that inspires praise and prayer in the lives of others! 2 Corinthians 9:12-15 in fact concludes this way: This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Choose a life of generosity, seeing giving as a privilege and an opportunity to reflect the very nature and character of God himself!