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Provoking Generosity

For the Apostle Paul, generous giving was a matter of spiritual life and death. | Read: 2 Corinthians 8–9

This passage is the longest sustained theological discourse on financial stewardship in the Bible. Paul vigorously entreats the Corinthian church to give generously to the needs of Christians in Jerusalem. His words give churches an important theological framework for teaching and practicing financial stewardship. Try reading these two chapters aloud alone or in a group. (Paul’s letters were most likely circulated and read aloud to congregations.)

Pray: Psalm 24:1

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” Meditate on this verse and be reminded that we are not owners but stewards of all that God has given us. Ask the Holy Spirit to loosen the tight grip of ownership so that we can become more faithful stewards of all of life, trusting God to whom we belong. ‘

Study: Four lessons from Paul

1. Examples can inspire generosity.
Paul tells of Macedonians giving beyond their means in the midst of affliction and poverty (8:2–3). But he is not so much affirming the generosity of the Macedonians as he is affirming the grace of God that has been granted to them (8:1)—their giving is an example of God’s grace in action. He lifts up this example of generosity not to induce guilt but to inspire generosity.

One of my childhood memories is of my mother putting money in several envelopes before we left for church on Sundays. She had envelopes for her tithe, the regular offering, the thanksgiving offering, missions and the building fund. We were an immigrant family of modest means, but I will always remember her expression of joy as she prepared those offerings. 

Every congregation has stories that can inspire generosity. These stories of God’s grace need to be told appropriately and often.

2. God is the source of generosity.
Paul is not asking the Corinthians to give as if they were the initiators of generosity. God is the abundant provider who gives the Corinthians more than enough in order that they may be generous (9:8). Giving generously is a matter of trusting God. This argument is striking, because it is not the way we would go about asking for money. We would focus on the needs of people in poverty or children afflicted with hunger and disease, appealing to the compassion of the givers. But nowhere in these chapters does Paul describe the dire need of the Jerusalem Christians, thus tugging at the heartstrings of the Corinthians. Rather, his appeal for generosity is based upon God’s compassion. We are called to give because Christ gave himself for us.

3. The goal of generosity is to glorify God.
Generosity benefits the giver: “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity …” (9:11). But God’s glory is the ultimate goal. Our acts of generosity are acts of “obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ” (9:13). Unless we live the faith, our confessions of faith are empty words. A life of generosity testifies that we are created in the image of a magnificently generous God. The gratitude generated as we practice generosity brings glory to God, as do the enriched relationships between the giver, the receiver and God (9:11–12).

4. Generosity is a sign of our freedom in Christ.
Paul is careful to emphasize that his appeal for generosity is not a command; the Corinthians should not give reluctantly or out of compulsion. But freedom without direction and discipline inevitably is co-opted by selfishness and greed. In Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, God has freed us from bondage to money and material things so that we can live generously.

Remember: 2 Corinthians 8:9
“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

Live: Beyond our own needs
Paul appealed to the Corinthians to give to a ministry outside their own needs. For Paul, their response was a matter of spiritual life and death. How can we today become more generous in giving for needs beyond our church walls?

Kevin Park is an associate for theology in the PC(USA) office of Theology and Worship. This article is part of Invitation to the Word, encouraging Presbyterians to read, study, pray, remember and live Scripture.

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