June 28, 2015 Text: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15
Dear Friends in Christ,
I’m going to describe a congregation for you. It’s one from about twenty-five years after Jesus rose from the dead. The people lived in poverty. Civil wars had decimated their country. Then the Romans came out and finished the job. They had high taxes. Most people had very little to live on. The small congregation was not welcome in the town, and the members may have been unemployed, ostracized or even beaten.
Now this church would seem to be a prime candidate for another congregation’s help, for someone to show them generosity in their great need. And you would be wrong. Paul had started congregations in Macedonia – you know them as the Philippians and Thessalonians – and even Paul didn’t expect any generous giving from them. He knew the tough conditions they lived in. But when Paul got up a collection for the church in Jerusalem, which was living under even worse conditions, these Macedonian churches gave willingly. They gave joyfully. They gave generously. They gave to fellow believers they had never met and probably would never see. Paul called this gift of money an act of grace. These churches . . .
“EXCELLED AT GENEROSITY”
Now I’m going to tell you of another congregation. This one too is from the early years of the church. It was in a good location. Some of the members had money and were well known in the community. Some were knowledgeable and gifted speakers. This congregation had started a collection for the church in Jerusalem nearly a year earlier. They had a plan. They set aside money every week so that they would meet their goal when Paul sent Titus to collect it.
Doesn’t this place sound like a church that would be generous and giving? Well, once again you would be wrong. This congregation, the Corinthians, needed some encouragement from Paul. They had fallen behind in their collection. They had slacked off. The giving was irregular and then went away. You’ve caught the irony haven’t you? The poverty-stricken congregations gave generously, more than they could; the richer congregation failed in this act of grace; they let their giving wither.
In our text, then, St. Paul challenges the Corinthians to excel at generosity. He gives them the Macedonians as a congregation to emulate. The Philippians and Thessalonians could be guiding models for other churches. Give joyfully. Give as an act of grace, not because you feel forced. Give because it has become second nature to you. Excel in generosity.
What does someone need to be a really good pianist? Some answers could be: a good teacher, practice, goals, a love for music, devotion to the task, talent.
To excel at something means you have to have a reason to practice, to give yourself to the task and to study. Paul gives the Corinthians that reason: Jesus.
Jesus is incredibly rich. All of the heavenly glories are His. He is God himself, eternally worthy of all praise and honor. Yet, He became poor for us. On that first Christmas, he humbled himself and became one of us. He lowered himself to be born. He left no doubt He had come in poverty – a barn, a royal line yet a poor family, visiting shepherds instead of a palace guard. He became obedient under the law for one purpose: to make us rich. He became obedient even to death on a cross to give us the riches of being forgiven and restored to God’s family.
In the state of Mizoram, India they have been excelling at generosity for over 100 years. Back in 1910, the women of Mizoram would save a handful of rice from every meal and give it to the church. This helped the church to grow. Today this tradition continues. And the generosity extends beyond the rice. They give their tithes, fruits and vegetables and other items that can further the mission of the Christian Church there. Today in Mizoram state, in the northeast of India, over 95% of the people are Christians and the churches are growing and self-supporting. They have excelled at generosity that started with a handful of rice. In the You Tube video I watched you could see their joy as they served their Lord and Savior.
Jesus’s act of grace on the cross is the reason for these Christians to excel in generosity. It is our reason as well. We are so blessed in Jesus that our generosity can be second nature. Paul urged the Corinthians to excel at generosity and we are encouraged to do the same.