– God’s economy is different than our economy. In God’s economy, the sufficiency of some serves or ministers to the deficiency of others. Equality is the goal. This is true of both spiritual giving and financial giving.
The question at the heart of our scripture passage this morning is: Why does God want us to be generous in our giving? In other words, why does God want us to give away our hard earned surplus of produce and money? When we listen to stewardship sermons every year, we might think that God wants us to be perfect communists – which would mean we share everything equally between all of us. That is not really what God wants. On the other hand, God also does not want us to be perfect capitalists – which would mean that our income would be equal to the value we contribute to society. Both economic models fall short of God’s grand design. God wants much more for us than for us all to be well off materially.
In our passage from second Corinthians, Paul teaches us three truths about why God wants us to give to those in need out of our surplus. These three truths give us important motivation to give. Before I list the truths, let me attempt to answer the question, “How could God intend to give us more, if we freely give to those in need?” I want to answer this question first, because I don’t want anyone to misunderstand my message. I am NOT preaching that if you give freely, God will grant you even more material wealth than you could imagine. God does not want us all to be wealthy, upper class, people. In fact, I don’t think God is concerned much with economic class.
If you look around our town and our country, you will find there is no shortage in the necessities of life. I am talking about food, clothing, shelter, and things like that. On the global scale, even our poor people are doing OK. It may not feel like that to us, but it is true. Now, our people may be materially secure, but I think many of you will agree that there is an intense spiritual hunger among our people. If nothing else, our people are hungry for spiritual food. Our people’s hunger can only be satisfied by the bread of life; that is, a relationship with Jesus Christ. But it seems that many people don’t know this very simple fact. Or if they know it, they don’t really believe it to be true.
A common attitude of us western Christians (that has been around for hundreds of years) is that we’ve got the stuff that everyone else needs. If people just receive what we give them and work hard, we can all be middle class. In today’s world, this attitude is thinking that everyone in the developing world needs our money, our religion, and our know-how so that they can become like us. But this attitude ignores the fact that all of us in the western world need the spiritual resources that appear so abundantly in the developing world. This is where faith in Jesus is transforming cultures in a big way.
In a few weeks, on the 14th of July, I will be travelling to visit our sister church, the Chirimba Presbyterian Church in Malawi, Africa. You might be wondering what this has to do with this sermon on giving. I’ll explain this to you as we examine the three reasons why God wants us to give generously to those in need, that Paul reveals in our scripture this morning.
The first reason that God wants us to give generously to those in need is that – God wants us to accumulate spiritual riches rather than material riches. This is clear from verse 9, where Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Obviously, Jesus was NEVER materially rich. The son of a carpenter from Nazareth, he was dependent on the generosity of others during his ministry. Scripture tells us that others supported Jesus. We read this in Luke chapter 8, “The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” Jesus’s ministry was funded by the generosity of these women, among others.
Paul knew that the riches of Christ are spiritual riches. Through Jesus, we have an eternal life in good standing with God, which is more valuable than any amount of money. Jesus gave freely of these spiritual riches. He did not have to come to earth and submit to the cross for us. Jesus clearly explains that God wants us to store up spiritual riches instead of material riches. Jesus calls them “treasures in heaven” in Matthew chapter 6. Jesus says for us to store up treasures in heaven by giving to the needy, so that our heart may be in heaven.
The second reason that God wants us to give generously to those in need is that – God wants us to give so that we don’t get distracted by our possessions. After all, everything you own, also owns a little bit of you. You have to manage all your stuff. It can get quite complicated. Whether your possessions are material, like tools and property, or your possessions are financial like stocks and bonds and mutual funds… everything you own takes some amount of time and energy to manage. Even just thinking about it takes time and energy. I just brought up the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 6 where Jesus tells us that by storing up our treasures in heaven, and NOT in earth, our heart will be in heaven. That is, the center of our being will be focused on heavenly things, rather than on earthly things.
In our passage today from 2 Corinthians, Paul tells the Corinthian church that he wants to test the sincerity of their love. He wants to test the Corinthians by telling them to give generously to his collection for the needy in Jerusalem. Paul says that the response of the rather wealthy Corinthian church as compared to the Macedonian church’s generosity will indicate how much love the Corinthians have for Jesus. If our main goal in life is to perfect our relationships in Jesus Christ, then we must not be distracted by our stuff. In 1 John chapter 4, John writes, “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.” Jesus did not spend much time managing his stuff. During his ministry, he had only what he needed to live and to do the job he was called to do.
The goal is not for us all to become beggars, who travel around and preach, we all have different callings and jobs. Some of us are called to be single evangelists, and some are called to have a family and to be plumbers. Everyone has different needs according to their calling in life. The goal here is made clear when Paul reminds us that our giving is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. God is interested in how much we give relative to how much we have. And what we think we have to give is related to what we believe we need. The real application for us is to constantly be finding out that we “need” less and less and thus have more and more to give. In this way we will be less and less distracted by things we don’t really need.
The third reason that God wants us to give generously to those in need is – so that we will mutually support each other. Paul wrote, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’”
The church in Jerusalem started out as we read in acts chapter 2 as a commune. Each gave to the others as they had need. But when Paul was making his missionary journeys, there was a famine in Judea and they were in need. In our scripture today, Paul could have been thinking that perhaps sometime in the future, the church in Jerusalem would send money back to the Corinthians so they would be “equal.” However, I agree with some commentators who think this is unlikely, because Corinth was a quite wealthy and had a good climate. It is more likely that Paul is thinking that the church in Jerusalem has been supplying the church in Corinth with spiritual food, and the church in Corinth was supplying the church in Jerusalem with money to get physical food.
All churches in our world, regardless of what denomination, or where we are located, are interconnected. As globalization and world politics continue, there are bound to be some inequalities between the churches. I’m not just talking about churches that have money and churches that don’t. I am also talking about churches who are spiritually rich and those who are not.
This is one of the main reasons I believe that our partnership with Chirimba church in Malawi is important. I know that in the past, we have sent them money, and ministry supplies. I know that some members in this church have hosted visitors from Chirimba in their homes when they came to visit. I also recently learned that Chirimba church is 1500 members strong. They have three services on Sunday. I know that the number of members in a church doesn’t necessarily mean the church is spiritually healthy, but I intend to find out if Chirimba is alive in the Holy Spirit. My gut tells me that it is. My goal for going on a trip to Malawi is to see what spiritual resources I can bring back from our sister church. Our group is going to preach and teach and encourage the church in Malawi. I am sure we will accomplish our goal. But I cannot wait to see what stories I can bring back that might ignite our faith in this very congregation! I wonder how our brothers and sisters in Malawi live out their faith in Jesus? I believe that God wants those in Malawi to be just as generous in giving to us, as we have been generous in giving to them so that we may be equal. My goal is to give encouragement to Chirimba and to receive whatever spiritual gifts Chirimba church may have for Hillcrest church.
I need your help to accomplish my goal. I cannot do it alone. I am asking each of you to pray for me when I am gone on my trip. From our scripture today, we learned that God wants us to give generously for three important reasons. God wants us to accumulate spiritual riches, God wants us to focus on Jesus and others, and not get distracted by our stuff, and God wants us to mutually support each other. Here is a practical way for you to apply this lesson today, give up some of your time to pray. Please pray that God will mutually encourage all three churches in our international partnership, Pittsburgh, Malawi, and South Sudan. Pray that God will use spiritual riches from Malawi to supercharge our faith in Jesus and help us to see the Kingdom of God through their eyes.
Next week in the bulletin, I am going to give out a prayer guide, which gives everyone a basic idea of where I will be each day, and how to pray for me. Please, carve out 5 minutes a day to pray for my trip. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Simple is good. We like simple. It is as easy as “God, please help Aaron to not be too stubborn today so he can see what you are showing him.” I especially need these kinds of prayers.
So when you read scriptures and hear sermons about giving, please remember that no matter how much it may seem like more competition for your heard earned time and money, but God has your best interests in mind. God doesn’t just want you to be upper middle class with lots of money; God wants to give you abundant life. And true abundant life comes from loving Jesus and loving other people. Without this, all the money and status in the world is useless. This is why God wants us to give generously to those in need, according to what we have, so that through our giving and receiving, we all can accumulate spiritual riches, not get distracted by our stuff, and mutually support each other in our faith in Jesus our Lord.