2 Corinthians 8:1-15
(watch here: https://youtu.be/raih4dGhYHs)
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 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. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a priest, a minister, and a rabbi who were talking about what they would like to have people say about them at their open casket funeral. The priest began, “I would like someone to say, ‘He was a righteous man, an honest man, and very generous.’” “I would like someone to say, ‘He was very kind and fair, and was very good to his parishioners,’” said the minister. The rabbi pondered it a little further and finally shared, “I would like somebody to say, ‘Look, he’s moving!’”
Nothing like a little Jewish sensibility to start the day off! Wouldn’t we all like a little extra time in this life when the end is near? Of course, time without any pain and suffering and with loved ones nearby. Death, in all its finality, can be a great relief to so many. But death comes to us all and it doesn’t hurt to reflect on how you will be remembered by those you leave behind. Indeed, it can add a helpful perspective on how exactly you’ve been living your life. Have you been selfless or selfish, kind or unkind, giving or ungiving, heartful or heartless with those around you? Have you been living a life worthy of remembering or worthy of forgetting? It’s good to ask yourself every now and then, “How do I want to be remembered and is my life illustrating those qualities?” It can really add some much needed perspective to life sometime. All too often we can get caught up in our own struggles and fight to survive. We forget that none of us is an island unto ourselves. No, each of us has a distinct impact on those around us. God placed each of us in this world at this distinct time for a very distinct reason or purpose. Each of us has something to offer this world and those around us. And we will be remembered by what we gave, not by what we took. Even in our ungiving we are giving to the world…nothing good, mind you. Selfishness, unkindness, heartlessness, are these what you want to be remembered for? Yes, reflecting on what you give to the world can help realign your priorities and goals in life. We all give something to someone in this world from the moment we were conceived to the day we die.
Congregations are no different than us. They, too, have something very distinctive to offer the world. The apostle Paul understood this all too well. Paul not only helped congregations get started and work through a variety of issues but he also helped them get a little perspective on what they give to the world. In his first letter to his congregation in Corinth, Paul was primarily focused on resolving issues that had arisen in its faith formation. The issues had caused great division within the congregation and Paul helped bring the people back together. In his second letter to them, Paul took a different approach to communication, one of encouragement and support. Paul loved his congregation at Corinth amidst its struggles and divisions and wanted it to succeed and thrive. And Paul was pleased with a number of its qualities. Over the last several weeks that we’ve dwelled in his letter, we’ve heard him encourage and praise their consolation and forgiveness, dedication and faithfulness. We’re closing out the series by looking at their generosity. At the start of the passage, we hear Paul lift up the generosity of several other churches in the area. And not their generosity of physical resources but rather their nonphysical resources…their joy and their love. “Their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” The churches were extremely poor in physical resources yet they found ways to share an abundance of their nonphysical resources of love and joy. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to do likewise. He knew they had a great supply of other nonphysical resources: faith, speech, knowledge, utmost eagerness, and the love and support of Paul and the other churches. They just needed a little encouragement to share in their resources. And not just share but generously share as the other churches were doing. Like people, they needed added perspective, a spiritual realignment so to speak. They had become too self-involved and Paul needed to encourage generosity.
And what better way to do it than to lift up the generosity of God! Sure, the Macedonian churches “voluntarily gave according to their means, even beyond their means” as Paul said but not because they felt obligated to. No, they gave so generously because they understood how much had been so generously given to them. They understood just how much was given through Jesus in his teaching and his healing and his dying and rising again. They understood the hope and joy found in faith and belief in our Lord and Savior. Friends, we have been entrusted with a great gift in Jesus Christ. I say ‘entrusted’ because God expects us to do something with what we know about the love of Jesus. God expects us to not only rejoice in his love but also to share in his love. We are to love each other as Jesus loved and continues to love us…generously! The world didn’t deserve his love 2,000 years ago nor does it deserve his love today. The world is just as broken as it always has been and yet God’s love somehow finds its way into the world. Is it something we’re doing? No, it’s because of the sheer abundance of God’s unconditional love. God so generously loves us that this old, broken world can’t help but allow for it. God’s love created this world, sustains this world, and will someday destroy this world. How can love do all that? Well, that is the mystery of God’s love…unfathomable!
Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “and my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (4:19) The grace and love of Jesus satisfies needs unlike anything else. You just have to place your trust in him and all your needs will be met. What other resource, physical or non-physical, can do that? What an amazing gift! What an amazingly generous gift! A little later in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul 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.” (9:8) Again, God’s blessings are abundant and generous. Some days you might not be aware of them or just how many ways God blesses you but that doesn’t mean his blessings aren’t generous. And in James, we hear, “if any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” (1:5) Our God not only gives generously but He does it without hesitation. We ought to give as He gives: fully, generously, and without hesitation.
Just as it did for the Corinthians so long ago, Paul’s letter adds perspective to our walk in faith. We are encouraged to console and forgive, to nurture the treasure of Jesus within us and give of it generously. And we are encouraged to be faithful on this walk of ours. After all, God faithfully and generously consoles and forgives us. Our God loves us so powerfully, so abundantly, so mysteriously and for that we give thanks. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen