Generosity Motivated by the Grace of God
Every week you are given the opportunity to give your gifts and offerings for the assistance of those who are in need. This custom is based on 1 Corinthians 16:2, “On the first day of the week, let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.” But do you know why you put money in the collection bag? Would you be able to explain it to your own children or to someone coming to church for the first time? What is the motivation for our giving?
As Reformed Christians, we stress that we live each day by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The same must be said of our giving. Right after Pentecost we are told great grace was upon the company of those who believed so that there was no needy person among them (Acts 4:33-35).
The apostle Paul expands on the motivation for our giving in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Note how often he connects grace to the practice of giving for the needs of others. God’s grace manifests itself through the generosity of the saints. For example, in 2 Corinthians 8:1 he writes, “Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia.” These churches work out what the Lord by his grace is working in them. In verse four the same Greek word for grace is used. Translated literally it says, “begging us with much urgency to show the grace (of God) and the communion of service to the saints.” Verses 6 and 7 continue to relate giving to grace, So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. But as you abound in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us – see that you abound in this grace also. The act of giving has its roots in the undeserved favour shown to us in Christ. Thus we read in verse 9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Every one of us needs to hear, understand, and put into practice what the Holy Spirit teaches us. It should be imprinted on our hearts as adults. It must be impressed upon our young people, by the instruction and example of their parents, so that they do not use their money frivolously on things that serve themselves and their own pleasures. Therefore in this article we will look at the concrete principles for financial giving that are laid down for us in 2 Corinthians 8:1-9.
When Paul arrived in Corinth on his second missionary journey, he preached the gospel, and a number of citizens came to faith in Jesus Christ. The Corinthians were filled with enthusiasm for the Lord which spilled over in a love and devotion for fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. When they heard from Paul about a need among the brothers and sisters in the church at Jerusalem, they purposed to make a contribution to help the needy church there. With the assistance of Paul and Titus they developed a plan for giving. Paul advised them to make their contributions for the saints on the first day of the week – in the public worship service. The Corinthians’ zeal and enthusiasm moved other churches to contribute as well.
The Proper Manner of Giving
After Paul left Corinth, however, the relationship between Paul and the church at Corinth went through a severe crisis. The church as a whole bought into the criticism of a few members. They challenged Paul’s authority as an apostle and his ability to preach. Since he was involved in organizing the collection of money for the needy saints in Jerusalem, they stopped contributing. The negativism and harsh criticism of a few became such a destructive force – it poisoned the congregation in its attitude toward an officebearer of Christ. It also contaminated their outlook on giving. That can happen. When members of a church are not happy they will use their “giving” – or the lack of it – as a form of protest. But that’s a totally wrong approach.
Paul wrote a painful letter in which he expressed his disappointment and sorrow. Happily, the result was a changed attitude. This in turn brought Paul to write what he does in this letter. He reaffirms his office and at the same time he reminds them of their obligation to “come through” on what they promised to give to the saints in Jerusalem. Paul devotes two chapters of his letter to this issue, urging the Corinthians to complete the project they have begun.
The Macedonian Example
Paul encourages the Corinthians to follow the example of the Macedonian churches. These churches, which included the church at Philippi, Berea, and Thessalonica, were exceptionally generous. Their response was truly amazing and it was not just in reply to this specific need. The church at Philippi was known for its generosity. From the very beginning members of this church drew the connection between the grace of God they had received and the kindness and mercy they were to show others. Coming to faith in the Lord Jesus, Lydia opened her home to Paul and his fellow-workers during their stay in Philippi (Acts 16:15). The saints in Philippi showed their deep affection for Paul’s ministry even after he departed from them. More than once they sent a gift to provide for the apostle’s needs (Philippians 4:15, 16). And now when another church is in need the Philippians, along with the other Macedonian churches, give generously and liberally.
It is all the more striking that the churches of Macedonia gave freely, willingly and eagerly for the support of the needy in Jerusalem when we consider that they were experiencing financial difficulties of their own. Joining the church of Christ did not put them in good stead with fellow citizens but created hardship and persecution. Paul speaks about a “severe test of affliction” and about their “extreme poverty” – which could have served as excuses for not giving. After all, if times are tough and you cannot afford much how can you be expected to contribute to the needs of others in your own church, let alone elsewhere? Today, we might consider it totally unnecessary that such people should give.
Rather than coming with any excuses the Macedonian churches let their poverty overflow in a wealth of liberality. They didn’t just give as much as they could. They gave more than they could and they did it because of their overflowing joy in God. They rejoiced in the Lord who had taken them out of darkness and had given them life. The Lord promised to take care of all their needs, even in the hour of their affliction. They have received an unfading hope and a glorious inheritance. Thus they approached the whole subject of giving with gratitude filling their hearts.
Charged, as it were, with the electricity of joy that came from hearing the gospel of God’s grace they had it in their hearts to help others. That’s what overflowing joy in God does to children of the Lord. You give yourself completely to those things which honour the Lord and advance His work. Listen to what we read in verse 5, “and this, not as we expected, but first they gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.” Roused by the grace of the Lord the Macedonian churches gave themselves to the Lord; they consecrated their lives to Him, to his service and to the well-being of His church. Having been graciously saved through the death of Jesus Christ – they could not do anything but give themselves to Him and his service. If God so loved the world that He gave his Son to deliver them out of their trouble, how could they refuse to show the love of Christ to others in dire need?
The churches in Macedonia have given themselves to the Lord. As a consequence they seek to help and work along with the officebearers of Christ in whatever possible way the Lord allows them. They offer themselves to Paul and Titus and the other men in leadership, personally supporting, encouraging and praying for them. Finally, by extension, they gave their money so the people in the church in Jerusalem could benefit as well.
The manner in which these churches give is exemplary. For not only do they give generously in spite of their circumstances, they give of their own free will. Notice they do not give a tithe but they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. These people face extreme poverty and yet they beg Paul that they be allowed the privilege of giving generously. The Macedonians want to share the little they have with those who have even less. In this way too they may express their spiritual unity with brothers and sisters they have never seen and most likely would never meet.
Paul points the Corinthians to the Macedonians as a standard for their manner of giving. To facilitate this, Paul will send Titus, who has already helped the Corinthians set up a system for giving to the needy in Jerusalem. When Titus returns, the Corinthians are urged to finish up what they have promised to do in making a contribution to the saints. They have excelled in many ways – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in earnestness and zeal, and in love. Let them now excel in this gracious work of showing charity.
What set the Macedonian churches apart was that they first consecrated their lives to the Lord. Once you do that it will redefine your thinking, your use of time, and the way you use your money. When God’s people consecrate themselves to the Lord, they do not live for themselves or for their own pleasure but for the purposes of God. That’s when the church of Christ can function in a powerful and effective way. The Macedonian churches demonstrated the sincerity of their love for the Lord by their generosity in helping brothers and sisters in need. The church at Corinth is encouraged to follow suit. Moved by the undeserved favour of the Lord you and I are encouraged to be generous, liberal, joyful, and enthusiastic about our giving for the needs of fellow brothers and sisters. The willing spirit of the Macedonian churches was evidence of God’s grace. His grace prompts his people to view giving as a privilege – and so they give freely, cheerfully. In the last article of this series we will see how our giving is rooted in the grace our Lord Jesus Christ has shown us in becoming poor for our sake.
The Model for Giving
The exemplary behaviour of the Macedonian churches had its roots in and was far surpassed by the ultimate example of gracious giving as seen in the earthly ministry of our Lord and Saviour.
Paul says, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.2 Corinthians 8:9
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is infinitely rich in the presence of his Father willingly and voluntarily became poor at his incarnation. Jesus was born in a very humble setting, having a cattle trough as a bed, and being born to parents who were far from rich. He left the wealth of heaven behind to dwell in the poverty of a world under the dominion of sin. When he became a man he laid aside all his godly glory. He was willing to be treated in ways which are utterly and completely unthinkable. Christ who was rich became poor to such a radical degree. He was born into the world as a helpless and dependent baby. The eternal Son of God had to learn how to crawl, walk, talk, feed himself. He humbled himself and He did those things other children had to do too.
From Rags to Riches
Jesus selflessly made himself nothing to serve and to give his life as a ransom. He was willing to come down and be the suffering servant; to be despised, rejected, misunderstood and mistreated. Christ became poor so that we might be rich. The Son of God laid aside his divine glory and subjected himself to extreme poverty for our sake. He made us rich by taking the credit and debit cards of our sins and all the outstanding bills of our transgression and paying for them in full. He took upon himself the very heavy debt of our sins so that He might cancel the bond which stood against us. Through Christ we receive adoption as sons and daughters of the living God. As children He allows us to share in the inheritance of eternal glory.
This gracious work of our Lord Jesus Christ must drive us to our knees in praise and open our hearts and hands to each other. Those who know how Christ gave himself to us must give themselves to the Lord and to the needs of his people.
The Task of Deacons
We are not in the same circumstances as the Macedonians or the Corinthians. Today deacons, in their ministry of mercy, are to encourage the congregation to keep themselves focussed on the grace of God in their giving. That’s why a deacon must “hold the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9). He must have this doctrine straight so that he can teach the congregation to view giving from the right perspective.
Deacons are given to us to equip us for a very important part of our worship of God. Their entire ministry is to reflect the grace, mercy and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus gave himself to the most powerful and gracious work of saving those who had become completely destitute. The deacons, through the ministry of mercy, display the riches we have in Christ. Every time they stand up to collect they set before you the gospel of Christ’s incarnation, “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.” This is how deacons are to enter the homes of the congregation and speak about their work.
The way we use our money, our time and our talents is always a spiritual act; it is an act of worship. Our willingness and our attitude in giving for the church budget but also for the work of the deacons is a reflection of what lives in our hearts, and how we have given ourselves to the Lord. It shows whether we have truly understood to live by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Enhancing God’s Honour in Giving
Christian offerings for the poor have a place in every worship service. Ministers of the Word do well to direct the congregation to the connection between their giving and the grace of God in Christ. For example he may introduce it as follows:
“Let us worship the Lord by offering to Him of our financial resources. As we give let us remember this word of Scripture, “He who has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9).
“With glad and generous hearts, let us now present unto the Lord our financial offerings for the care of others in need.”
“In praise of our God who prospers our work and who daily attends us with his goodness and mercy let us present our offerings for the assistance of others in need.”
“You now receive the opportunity to offer unto the Lord your financial gifts. Let us acknowledge in our giving that we are returning to the Lord what belongs to Him. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).
The preceding is only a small sampling of the many ways in which the offering can be highlighted as an integral part of how we are to worship the Lord through Christian offerings for the poor. It serves a better purpose than negatively lecturing the congregation for their failure to give when the funds of the deacons are low and the church budget is not being met.
May the sincerity of our love for the God who gave us everything in Christ be reflected in our generosity and eagerness to give for the needs of others. Let us support the ministry of the Word and the ministry of mercy with glad and generous hearts. Let every one of us be a source of encouragement and help to others, giving evidence of God’s grace in us. As you excel in everything, see that you excel in this work of grace also (2 Corinthians 8:7).