Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Cheerful Giver

On February 24, an F3 tornado came through Appomattox, Virginia, doing massive damage and killing one person. Among other volunteers, my denomination’s state convention contributed money, materials, and manpower in order to help rebuild. Disaster relief is something that our Virginia state convention does well. Even when I went to Mississippi to do relief work after Katrina, people recognized my denomination for its great contribution to the effort. This month, my church is collecting a special offering to fund our Virginia ministries, and I’m encouraging my people to give generously. Because of our denomination’s giving program, when I place my dollars in the plate at my local church, I know I’m helping with anything from disaster relief and prison ministry, to church planting and poverty relief. If you attend a church, then it’s likely that your congregation has some similar system in place to help those in need.

From the very beginning of the church, giving was part of the way God’s people worshiped. Still today, God calls believers to give in order to support your church’s local and distant missions. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul was taking up an offering for those in Jerusalem who were suffering from famine. While God calls all believers to contribute their time and their talents, in this case, the apostle encouraged them to give of their treasures. He sent messengers to the church in Corinth to prepare the offering so that he could receive the voluntary gift it when he arrived. In the same way, your church takes up a collection to meet its own budgetary needs like electric bills and salaries, office supplies and building maintenance. But your church also needs your contributions to help with the evangelism and mission needs of people a world away.

In verses 6-7, Paul tells believers how they should give. Instead of holding back from God or giving grudgingly, he reminds them that there is a proper attitude for giving. “The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Notice that Paul doesn’t enforce legalistic rules like tithing ten percent, but simply leaves it up to conscience and an appeal to joyful generosity.

Paul then reminds Christians why we are able to give at all. In verses 8-11, he says:

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us;

The only reason we are able to give at all is because God has provided us with blessing. Because God has planted seed in our lives, He expects us to then be like Him and sow seeds into the lives of others. We do this by giving of our love, our selves, and our resources. The result of such generous giving is that many people will give thanks to God.

When Paul took up his collection, he wanted the people to know where their money was going. He said the offering was “for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God (verse 12).” He wanted givers to know that their money was going to care for fellow believers. Your church probably provides a detailed accounting so that every giver can know where their money is being used. When you can see your offering at work, you can give thanks for the good work that’s done.

Paul finishes this section of his letter by reminding his readers not to give out of false motives or for self-glorification. In verses 13-15 he says, “Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” While people do the giving, it’s God who gets the glory and the thanks, because without God there would be nothing to give in the first place.

Paul knew how important giving was, because he knew the teachings of Christ who said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-20).” Instead of keeping all their blessings for themselves, he encouraged believers to invest in heavenly things by sharing.

For a long time, just like everybody else, I kept family pictures in these old things called picture albums. Just like everybody else, I also kept them in shoeboxes and old suit cases and the like. These would keep my pictures safe, I told myself. Until the basement flooded and the albums and boxes filled with Lydia’s baby pictures got ruined. Now, I can’t think of the last time I actually printed out a picture. It’s all stored digitally, so it’s safe. “But couldn’t something happen to your disk?” you may ask. Sure it could—that’s why the best, most important pictures are on in Cloud storage like Dropbox and Google Drive and Facebook. First, it makes it easier to share those pictures than they would be if they were printed on paper and in an album in my house. This way, countless people can see my pictures whereas before only a few could see them. Second, when I share them, they’re also kept from the possibility of damage, because if something happens, I know other people have them. So it is with all our treasures: the more we hoard them, the more vulnerable they are. The more we share them, the more they bless others and the more they are kept safe. So the next time the plate passes at your church, I hope you’ll remember to share your treasure just like you share your pictures on Facebook, so that everyone can enjoy. I pray you’ll give cheerfully, “for God loves a cheerful giver.”

No comments: