2) We give generously AND we give eagerly.
What if we give generously, but it feels like the money is being pried out of our hands because we give begrudgingly? What if we give but there is no joy and we feel coerced by God or God’s people to give. You could say, I did it. I gave. I had right actions. Why did Paul say in 1 Cor 13 – if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, but do not have love, I gain nothing? Because genuine love is always more than action. Paul didn’t hold the Macedonians up as examples of love just because they gave generously. He held them up because their giving was the overflow of abundant joy in the grace of God. Actions alone that do NOT flow from our joy in God’s grace is not a loving action. And if our actions are not loving, then to God, they are worthless. The heart behind our actions is important.
2 Cor 8
4 they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints, 5 and not just as we had hoped. Instead, they gave themselves especially to the Lord, then to us by God’s will.
The Macedonians gave in two relational ways. The money was not first. First they gave themselves especially to the Lord. And then they gave themselves to us by God’s will. First, the self is given up to God. I am not my own, I have been bought with a price. I belong to God. I am a steward of all that God gives to me. Second, the self is given up to the people of God. I am not my own. I belong to God and then to the people of God. I am the servant of all. Only then, they overflowed with generosity to minister to the saints who were suffering.
This giving was not simply mechanical. The Macedonians begged Paul insistently for the privilege to give. Nobody was prying money from their hands. The giving was passionate. Giving for them was so much a part of their joy in God’s grace that they begged to give. Did you ever wonder why they had to beg? This probably reveals that Paul might have tried to stop them from giving since he knew they were poor. And they were saying, No, Paul, our joy will not be complete until it overflows to meet the needs of others. Please, let us give. They begged insistently and eventually Paul relented. Okay, if you insist, give. I can’t hold you back.
2 Cor 8
7 Now as you excel in everything—faith, speech, knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love for us—excel also in this grace. 8 I am not saying this as a command. Rather, by means of the diligence of others, I am testing the genuineness of your love.
Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to be like the Macedonians in their generosity. They excel in this grace of giving and now Paul issues a challenge to the church at Corinth. If you say you love your brother or sister in Christ at the church in Jerusalem, show it through your giving. Paul even says that he wants to test the genuineness of their love. We can easily say we love someone, but if someone we love is in desperate financial need and we don’t want to help them, then our words “I love you” are nothing more than that–words. When your family member is in financial need, you give money and you don’t even think about it. You don’t think twice. You get out your checkbook. How much do you need? Because you love them. There is a relational connection. It’s much harder to give money when it’s outside of the family, isn’t it? But that is precisely what is going on here. Saints are giving to other saints in another church.
2 Cor 9
6 Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Clearly, the Macedonians generosity was not a dying to self sort of giving. It’s not like they really wanted the money to buy an Apple Powerbook and so they had to kill that desire in order to fork over the cash. We mustn’t think that their generosity was a struggle against their honest desire to keep the money. When the impoverished Macedonians beg Paul for the privilege of giving money, it’s not like they didn’t know the value of money. They were poor. That money could have gone to food for that evening’s meal. So it was a sacrifice to give. Their self-denial is not for the sake of some sterile, joyless, death-to-self act of duty. They are giving up the pleasure of extra food for the joy of sharing God’s grace with others. These people are so full of joy in God that giving—even out of poverty—is not a burden but a blessing. Joy in the Lord affects the amount of our giving–we give generously–and the eagerness with which we give. We give eagerly, passionately, we beg God for the privilege to give.
Each person decided in his own heart how much to give. They were not coerced. There was no guilt trip laid on by a church leader. Church shouldn’t never coerce people to give. I have no idea how much people at this church give. At the same time, churches can make the opposite mistake and not talk about finances at all because even the mere mention of the topic seems to place a certain amount of pressure. There is a pressure that comes straight from the text, which I think is healthy because it is from the Lord. It’s quite another thing if I say, there is a building fund and I STRONGLY encourage every member of this church to contribute $5,000 each because we want to expand. How much you give is between you and God. But it is our responsibility as the preachers of this church to teach what is in the text and it’s your responsibility to wrestle with what the Lord is speaking to you individually.
As part of your personal wrestling with the topic of finances, I want add another difficult teaching that we all need to process. God loves a cheerful giver. God loves a willing, cheerful giver, not a constrained or coerced giver. It might be possible to coerce a church into giving, but in the end, even if all the bills are paid, it would be of no value. If our generosity and faithfulness in giving is not the result of an overflow of joy expressing itself in love, then whatever money is collected will profit nothing. This reiterates the point of chapter 8: cheerfulness in giving not coercion. The statement, God loves a cheerful giver, is shocking if we think about its implications. I thought God loves all men in the same way. But he doesn’t. He loves all in that he gives life to all, and reveals himself in nature to all, and in Christ made atonement for sin that can be offered to all. But those who love him and are called according to his purpose and who cheerfully give because Christ has made them rich in love and joy—these God loves uniquely, in that he works everything together for their good and turns all their generosity into limitless spiritual blessing. Not so that they live comfortably, but so that they can excel in the grace of giving with increasing generosity.
I take that to mean that God is not pleased when people act for the good of another person’s good but don’t do it cheerfully. When people don’t find pleasure in their acts of giving or their acts of service, God doesn’t find pleasure in them either. He delights in cheerful givers and cheerful servants. If we are indifferent to whether we do a good deed cheerfully, we are indifferent to what pleases God. And what pleases God is when we delight to give. Give cheerfully, eagerly, passionately.
3) We give generously, we give eagerly and we give to increase God’s glory.
2 Cor 9:11-15 describes the great outcome when God’s people overflow in generosity.
2 Cor 9
11 You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God. 13 They will glorify God for your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with others through the proof provided by this service. 14 And they will have deep affection for you in their prayers on your behalf because of the surpassing grace of God in you. 15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.
The outcome of Christian generosity is fourfold: 1) the saints’ needs are met, 2) the gospel of Christ is preached, 3) the recipients of the gift give thanksgiving to God, and because of thankful hearts, 4) God is glorified.
It all begins with God’s inexpressible gift of Christ who became poor so that we might become rich. Then this good news that the Son of God came and died for our sins and rose again is preached. Because of what Christ did, the grace of God fills their hearts with joy, even amidst poverty. And out of this joy, love for other people is born. Not cheap love, but genuine love which is validated by their generous giving for saints in need.
God sees this and he loves it. He loved to see their cheerful giving so he responds with increased spiritual and material enablement to be even more generous. And the ultimate outcome of this remarkable generosity is that the recipients of this financial gift give thanksgiving to God for the surpassing grace he has put into the hearts of people who gave for their benefit. When thanksgiving rises to God from the heart, he is glorified. His glory is displayed in the world. Is it any wonder that the poverty stricken Macedonians begged Paul for the privilege of giving?
A few years ago, I went with Life Baptist WLA to Tijuana in Mexico to pass out food to families living in cardboard boxes over dirt floors. Across the border, just a few minutes drive north is San Diego and people there live in million dollar homes. The disparity was shocking. All of us need to have our bubbles burst by seeing people in poverty, even a couple of hours drive away. I remember we had a sharing time afterward and the only thing I could say was, it’s not fair. Why do they have so little and I have so much? God taught me a lesson. He is in fact fair because for what these people lack monetarily, God has more than made up for spiritually. The saints there at Centro Shalom, the church ministering to the poor kids in the neighborhood were so joyful. They were so happy to receive food and supplies. Their eyes lit up. And then young kids from the church, because they were blessed, would go out regularly into the community and distribute bags of rice or beans and bottled water. They carried this on foot and walked for miles in the hot sun because they were joyful in the Lord.
As the neighbors received these small blessings of food and water, there was such thankfulness on their faces. We prayed for these families. The gospel was preached. And God was indeed glorified. So God is fair. We eat our breakfast, lunch and dinner and say our prayers, but honestly, we are not that thankful because we have so much. And our lack of gratitude for God’s abundant provision robs us of spiritual riches. We are often thankless. We often grumble and complain that life is so hard. We seek our own glory instead of God’s glory. God is fair. We have material riches but we are spiritually bankrupt, aren’t we? While others may have nothing in the eyes of the world, yet they are spiritually abundant. They are thankful, they are generous, they desire to serve to meet the needs of others instead of hoarding for themselves. In their gratitude, the gospel is preached and God is glorified.
There is no application for this message because I want it to be between you and God. He may call you to rip up your credit cards if you are college student, or if you are older, God may prompt you to cut expenses and to live simply, or perhaps, He is calling you to make as much money as you want so that you can give away as much as you can in radical generosity. This last one is going to be extremely difficult because Money is a sinister Master. Our good intentions are often sabotaged by our own evil desires. Pray through these principles. The motivation for our giving is Christ. Jesus sets before us an example and by His Spirit, he empowers us to follow his lead in the area of finances. Once we have been freed from the master of Money, we can give generously, we can give eagerly and we can give for the glory of God.