(This is a post I wrote for onemoneydesign.com)
The largest discussion of Christian giving in the entire New Testament is found in 2 Cor. 8 & 9. I have always wanted to tackle this passage in an extensive way. Recently, I found the time to do just that. Rather than provide a lengthy commentary on the passage, I decided to break it up into principles in the same order that Paul himself presents the topic. I hope it benefits your walk with Christ and your desire to manage your money to His glory.
• Generous giving starts with grace: “We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.” (8:1, NIV) Paul’s in-depth discussion of biblical generosity begins and ends pointing towards God’s grace.
• God’s power enables our giving: “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity…they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.” (8:2-3, NIV) How does poverty overflow into rich generosity? This sounds contradictory…because it is. Biblical giving extends beyond empathy and humanitarianism because it is a process empowered by God–not limited by our trials, poverty, or ability.
• Sacrificial giving is willing: “Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service.” (8:3-4, NIV) Christ transforms the selfish sinner to one who urgently pleads for the “privilege” of giving generously. If such willingness isn’t present in our hearts, let us seek Christ in this place.
• Generosity follows surrender: “They gave themselves first of all to the Lord” (8:5, NIV) First we give ourselves to the Lord and His work, and then generosity follows. Much like the previous point, if we find ourselves ungenerous, let us give ourselves “first of all to the Lord.”
• Generosity is an act of grace: “This act of grace” (8:6, NIV). Once again, we are reminded that grace is where generosity begins, continues, and ends.
• Generosity is part of a mature walk: “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.” (8:7, NIV). We fool ourselves if we think we are mature Christians, yet lack generosity. Giving generously is a sign of maturity and “excellence” in the faith.
• Generosity is a test of our love: “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” (8:8, NIV) Paul said that he wanted to compare the love of the Corinthians by comparing their willingness to be generous to others. While that would definitely raise some hairs in modern churches, Paul had no problem using giving as a gauge for the sincerity of love. We usually interpret the notion that it is not a “command” as liberty to not give…which, sadly, reveals the sincerity of our love.
• Sacrificial giving was Christ’s example: “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.” (8:9, NIV) Generous, sacrificial giving is nothing more (and nothing less) than following the example of Christ Himself.
• There is a difference between wanting to give and actually giving: “Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it.” (8:10-11, NIV) How often do we say we would, could, or should give, but it never amounts to anything? The real test of our sincerity and maturity is found in what we actually give, not what we “desire” to give.
• Biblical generosity is according to means: “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.” (8:11-12, NIV) While we are called to sacrifice in order to give generously, it is not acceptable to give what we don’t have.
• Equality, not self-denial, is the goal of generosity: “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality.” (8:13-14, NIV) Equality, community, and relationship drive biblical generosity…not self-denial. The point is not for us to suffer so that others can be at ease. Rather, the church is to care for one another as loving members of God’s family. Following Christ means letting some of our “plenty” go out to those who are ”hard pressed”.
• Christian giving is part of God’s provision: The verse, “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little,” (8:15, NIV) is a reference to manna the Israelites gathered in the wilderness. This is a remarkable comparision. This equates God’s provision, miraculously falling from heaven, with our gifts sent to other Christians. Part of God’s plan to provide is through the generosity of His people one to another. Our gifts can be “manna”.
• Recipients of Christian generosity must have integrity: “We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.” (8:20-21, NIV) Financial integrity and accountability are essential before God and man. This includes caution, above and beyond efforts, and plurality (more than one person) to be without blame.
For more of my thoughts on giving, pick up a copy of my most recent book, The Secret of Generosity.