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Excellence in Giving

 2 Corinthians 8:7-24

Talking about giving!

It is sometimes difficult coming into the middle of a passage.
In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul has been speaking of the Christians from Macedonia who have given generously to the fund that Titus and he are collecting for the Christians in Judea and Jerusalem who are facing famine.

Now he addresses the Christians in Corinth.
He speaks of how they excel in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in eagerness (one assumes, to do the will of God).
He adds, oddly, that they also excel in being loved.
It is, incidentally, much easier to give when you know that the one to whom you are entrusting your money really cares for you. Financial consultants understand that, and so did Paul.
And he urges the Corinthian Christians, just as they excel in many other things, to excel in their generousity.

There are several things that I would like to draw out from this passage.

1. If you want to know what a person loves, look at what they give

We give to what we consider important, to what we love.
And if we think of money, then putting it the other way round, if you want to know what you love, what is important to you, look at how you spend your money.

I remember visiting one man who I knew was relatively well off. At the end of the visit he said, "I wasn't able to get to church last week because I've been ill. Could you put my offering in the plate". And he gave me 50p.

I am probably wrong for being judgemental. Maybe he gave very generously in ways of which I was not aware; or maybe he was in a difficult place financially. But I wanted to say to him (and I didn't have the courage to do so), "50p for the week - is that all that God is worth to you? Is that all the church is worth to you? Less than the price of your daily newspaper".

The Christians in Corinth claimed that they loved God and that they loved their fellow believers.
And they had begun to demonstrate it by their giving.
The previous year they had said that they were eager to give to bring relief to their brothers and sisters in need.

And Paul says that desire to give is so important. But now, , turn the good desire, the good intention, into practice. It is very easy, especially when it comes to money, to say that we will give, but when it comes to the crunch, we perhaps conveniently, forget to do it. But in this case, what matters is not the words, but the action.

"I am testing the genuineness of your love" (v8)
"Show them the proof of your love" (v24)

2. The second thing I need to say, especially after telling the 50p story, is that it is the heart that matters, not the amount that we give.

"For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has — not according to what one does not have". 2 Corinthians 8:12

There is the occasion when Jesus was in the temple and watching people as they put their gifts into the offering plate. Many gave large sums. But a widow put in only a few pence. And Jesus commends her, because he said that the others gave out of their wealth - for show, and she gave out of her poverty and put everything she had into the plate.

Paul is very clear here. He says that the Corinthians are to give in accordance with what they have. "Complete it according to your means" (v11)

It's not the amount you give, but the heart that matters.

3. Having said that, there are two principles that should shape our giving


There is an Old Testament law, which Jesus picks up on, which states that one way we recognise that everything that we have comes from God and belongs to God, is that we seek to try to give a tithe of what we get, one tenth of everything we get.

It is a good principle.

I know that we pay taxes and some would say that is part of their giving, but we also get back something for our taxes.

This is giving over and above our taxes.
It is a principal that Alison and myself have tried to practise all of our lives: the salary, recently it was money from my father’s estate, comes into our account and we immediately take out 10% and put it in a different account – and that is our giving account.

And tithing, giving one tenth of general income, has been a guideline which has shaped the giving of the parishes where I have served.

But in the New Testament tithing it is not a law. And nor is it, as some people say, a way to make God love you or to get God to bless you.

Yes, if you give to God, God will give to you. But probably not financially.
As someone said, “If you give 10% of your income away then I can guarantee you this. You will be 10% poorer”.

We do not need to give a penny, and God will still love you and bless you. He will love you if you give 50p or if you give £120000 - but if we do not give generously, even sacrificially, then we will miss out on so much that is open to us to receive from him, the Church of God and Christian brothers and sisters will suffer, the love of money will get an even stronger grip us, and we will never know the sheer joy of secretly giving.

Tithing is not a law because there are people who should not be giving a tithe. The Christians of Jerusalem and Judea suffering from famine were probably not tithing, although they were giving in many other ways – not least in sending out the apostles who proclaimed the good news.

There are many people who are struggling financially who should not be tithing. There are other ways of giving.

And there are also probably many of us who should be thinking about giving far more than a tithe. It is not so much how much we give that matters. It is about how much we are keeping back for ourselves.


Jesus speaks of tithing, but Paul does not.

He is addressing people who have money, and he is saying to them that your giving should be motivated by following the example of Jesus, and by the (and this is the second) principle of fairness.

"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." 2 Corinthians 8:13-14

Those who have present abundance should support those who have need, so that everyone should have what they need to survive.

The quote about gathering as much as a person needs comes from the time when God provided miraculous bread in the desert for the people of Israel. The manna appeared on the ground, and in the morning, they went out to collect - enough for each family.

And Paul also seems to be saying that if those who have money give to those who do not, then it will be, in time, for the good of all.

This is not a political statement. I am not saying whether it is better for the state to redistribute wealth by taxation, or if it is better to leave it to individuals. That is one of the factors that you will need to consider next Thursday. All I am saying is that, if the first guideline when we think about our giving is tithing, the second principle is fairness and the well-being of all.

4. We are all in this together, especially when it comes to giving to Christian brothers and sisters

Sometimes we use giving as an opt out from really caring.
We are not giving. We are buying peace of mind.

But what seems to flow through these verses is the sense that giving your money is just one part of giving yourself to another person.

That is why it might seem odd, in the context of giving money, Paul quotes the example of Jesus, who didn't have a penny to give, and yet he gave himself for us, ‘so that we might become rich’.
In the previous verses, Paul has spoken of the Christians in Macedonia, who 'who gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us' (2 Corinthians 8:5). And then they gave financially.
In verse 16, Titus chose to visit the Christians in Corinth - and remember that going on a journey then was far more costly than going on a journey now - because, Paul writes, of his 'eagerness' for you, because of his love for you.

Paul is not just asking for money from the Corinthian Christians for the Jerusalem Christians because it is a good thing to do.

He is asking them to give in recognition that in Christ, they are one people. He is asking them to become part of him in his love for the Jerusalem Christians, and through him, and Titus and the other two mentioned, to become part of them.

When we give to the church or to the Diocese or to a mission, it is not just a question of giving money because it is a good thing or we ought to: it is about recognising that we are part of the people of this church, of that mission, part of our Diocese. It is about opening our lives to others.

That is also why those to whom we give have a responsibility.

"We intend that no one should blame us about this generous gift that we are administering, for we intend to do what is right not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of others." 2 Corinthians 8:20-21

There is something here about financial transparency: we intend to do what is right 'in the sight of others'; and there is a recognition that even if we can hide fraud from others, we cannot hide it from God, from the 'Lord's sight'. And it is interesting that the very first disciplinary issue in the Church was not to do with sex, but with financial transparency, or lack of it.

The point is that when we give money to another - especially a believer - we are giving ourselves to them; and if they let us down with how they handle the money, they are letting us down personally.

But on the other hand, this is why giving is one of the glories of the Church.

It is not really about money, but about people.

Our treasurers do not just keep our treasures. They are, with you, our treasures.

Paul writes, we are making this collection 'for the glory of the Lord himself'. And he goes on to say that the Church, even with all its failings and wrong decisions and sinfulness; but the Church – you and me, the people of God supporting each other, being part of each other, caring for each other, sharing our gifts with each other, saying sorry to each other, growing together with each other - is the glory of Christ.


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