October is almost here—have you started your Christmas shopping yet? You’d better get started now if you want to snatch up those hard-to-find gifts for the 2014 season. You know how difficult it is to get those hot items, once the Christmas shopping season has really begun. For creative ideas[i], you might get someone an iPad foosball game ($100), a natural wooden wrist watch ($120), or a Gummy candy maker ($40). According to Amazon[ii], princesses Anna and Elsa from Disney’s Frozen will be big this year, as will Lego’s Minecraft the Village and Funko Pop’s Dancing Groot. But you’d better get started now, because this is the kind of giving that really matters—isn’t it?
The Bible talks a lot about giving, but not once does it mention the kind of consumerism that our American culture displays. “God loves a cheerful giver,” says the apostle Paul—but what kind of giving does he mean? What are the specific situations in which you have been called to give?
In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul invites believers in Corinth to give. There are a lot of reasons to give to support God’s work. Sometimes we give to provide for the needs of the church’s general operating expenses like salaries, electricity, office supplies, and so on. Other times we give to a special project like building a church building, paving a parking lot, or purchasing a piano. We might give to support the work of missionaries serving locally or abroad. We could give to help the poor, fund someone’s seminary education, or dig wells in developing nations. All of these are great reasons to give.
Paul’s purpose for asking the Corinthian Christians to give was to provide the needs of believers in Jerusalem who were living in poverty. You might think that the Gentile Christians in Greece would feel little reason to give to relieve people all the way in Israel—but on the contrary, they gave with gusto! Paul even created a little healthy competition between the Churches in the northern Greek region of Macedonia and the southern region of Achaia. Each one knew that an offering was being collected in both places. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians in Achaia, he reminded them not to disappoint.
Paul knew that it wasn’t enough just to ask people to give. He knew that all our good intentions will amount to nothing unless we have a plan for giving, and time for preparation. In 1 Corinthians 16.2, he asked the believers, “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.” So each week when they came to church, they would take up a collection. It’s interesting to note here that their giving was on the first day of the week, and not the last day of the week. In other words, their giving was in anticipation of how God would bless, and not in response to the way God had provided. Their giving was done in faith, not solely in gratitude. In 2 Corinthians 9.2 we read that they had been taking up their collection for a solid year, in preparation for Paul’s visit. In verse 5, we find that this gift was something that the Corinthians had promised to give, and so they were fulfilling a commitment to God. In the same way, we should give regularly, systematically, and faithfully to God’s work.
A lot of people say, “I can’t afford to give.” We need to remember that God wants not only our treasures, but also our talents and our time. But in regards to financial giving, God’s word spells out some principles to guide us. Verse 6 says, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. ” Jesus put it another way. In Luke 6.38, He said, “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure-- pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return." In God’s economy, when you invest in His kingdom, you will receive a reward back. So, it has been rightly said by many preachers that you can’t really afford not to give.
Strangely enough, it’s the wealthiest Americans who tend to give the least and the poorest who tend to give the most. According to The Atlantic, “The wealthiest Americans donate 1.3 percent of their income; the poorest, 3.2 percent. What's up with that?”[iii] I think it’s because those who struggle the most understand other people’s struggle the most, and have the most desire to help. In 2 Corinthians 8.1-5, Paul says that God’s people who were in poverty still gave liberally to help those who were in need. With which category do you more identify—the ones who hold back or the ones who are eager to share?
Just as important as whether you give is the manner in which you give. Verse 6 tells us, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” I’ve heard preachers prophesy divine disaster for people who refuse to tithe. I’ve heard clergy cajoling people to give out of a sense of guilt. But God would rather not have our money, if it’s given for the wrong reasons. God wants us to give out of faith and a pure heart, cheerfully rather than begrudgingly throwing our dollars into the plate.
Verses 8-11 give God’s promise for all who faithfully give to His work:
The Lord promises that those who give generously and sacrificially don’t need to worry about where their next meal is going to come from. Instead, God will take care of them above and beyond their need, giving them even more so that they can be generous the next time. Matthew 25.23 says that those who are faithful in small things will be trusted with greater things, and this is true of our financial stewardship. God promises to provide for those who are faithful in giving to Him.
This year as you begin to think about your pre-Christmas shopping list (and believe me, those Christmas ads will be coming sooner than you think), let’s remember the kind of giving that God’s word invites. Instead of the greatest new gadget or a can’t-live-without-it toy, let’s be generous in our giving to God. This fall, as you’re bombarded with fund raisers for the school and Girl Scouts and everything else, let’s remember where the priorities for our giving lie. As you give, keep in mind the final verse of 2 Corinthians 9, which says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” Let Jesus be your model for sacrificial giving—the One who gave everything so that we might live! Yes—let’s give like Jesus!