5.21.2014

God Loves a Cheerful Giver

I was asked to say a few words at our church's morning service last weekend for Stewardship Sunday.  Talking about money and giving in a church setting may seem fraught; appeals to dig deep into your wallet can feel tinged with embezzlement, guilt, or obligation.  It is not uncommon for churches to do this poorly, and/or in fear steer clear of the subject altogether. But in order to be true to the Bible, you have to talk about money, since, by some accountings it is the second-most talked about topic in the whole book (allegiance to God being the first). 

To play it safe, I let God's Word speak for itself, reading a section from Paul's second letter to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 9:6-15).  You probably know that Paul traveled a lot, setting up new churches and then writing letters from afar to support/instruct/encourage/correct them.  You may not know that Paul's ministry also involved pollinating money from one church to another.

You might think that his "Stewardship Sunday message" to the church in Corinth might appeal to the great need in other churches compared to their relative affluence.  After all, 1st century Corinth was a successful, worldly, and cosmopolitan city.  Its geography lent itself to abundance, in trade and in agriculture.  It celebrated sport, arts, and sexuality with an air of comfort and decadence.  The church there was socio-economically diverse, a testament to the equalizing force of the Christian message and a reminder that not all were of means.  Surely Paul would speak of redistribution from rich to poor, right?

He does no such thing.  He compliments congregations in other, poorer cities for giving generously, and notes that it was through Jesus' "poverty" that we "might become rich."  Most of all he speaks of God's abundance, overflowing and enabling and blessing and overwhelming. 

Mechanically, giving is about taking one group's resources and giving them to another group.  Usually, that means that resources go from a group that has more to a group that has less.  And usually that means that the group that has more now has a little less, and the group that has less now has a little more.  There is no disputing that.

But Christian charity is deeper than that.  This is, perhaps, not surprising, given the upside-down nature of salvation logic: God Himself, emptying Himself and descending to manhood, so that through (not in spite of!) His emptying and suffering we could be filled and blessed.  Still it is a marvel to read Paul's exhortation to the church in Corinth (and many, many other parts of the Bible) and realize just how wonderful and magical giving can be when we do it out of His absolute abundance rather than from our relative scarcity. 

That's a message worth speaking in churches and having ring forth beyond those walls.  Let's hope we can get that word out, and neither be afraid to speak it nor pervert it with appeals to guilt and manipulation.
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