Generosity Part I
- 6 June 2021
- Stuart Robinson
II Corinthians 8:1-9
In today’s gospel reading we are reminded of God’s generosity and grace in revealing himself to the Gentiles, the ‘wise men’ – the Magi, and then we see the Magi, in turn (referenced in Matthew 2) respond to God’s mercy and kindness in worship, and in adoration, and in sacrificial giving.
It is likely that you are very familiar with the story; the ‘wise men’ – scholars from the East, travel, if historians are correct, 1,000 kilometres across the Arabian Desert from their home somewhere near the Persian Gulf, to Bethlehem.
They are seeking the One whose star they have charted and tracked. And when they find him, the text tells us, they are overjoyed; they fall on their knees, and they worship the Lord, and they present him with their ‘treasures’. Matthew 2:10-12.
It is a sacrificial gesture:
In worship, they enthusiastically lay their all before the Messiah.
Roll forward 50 years or so and we find St. Paul urging the upwardly mobile, highly educated, articulate, and exceptionally skilled and gifted congregation in Corinth to do likewise: to excel in the gift of giving (II Corinthians 8:7); to enthusiastically lay their all before the Messiah.
Their motivation is found in God’s grace, and kindness, and generosity to them in Jesus.
The text speaks of Jesus – the Messiah (the one worshipped by the Magi) – as having laid aside his great riches (as Lord and King) in order to embrace the ugly consequences of our sin – so that we can stand before our Heavenly Father free and forgiven. II Corinthians 8:9 says, ‘he became poor so that you, through his poverty might become rich’.
Q. How then are they and we to express appropriate gratitude?
A. In worship.
That is, like the wise men, we bow before our Saviour and offer him our all.
One expression of worship is to financially underwrite mission – to further the work of the gospel by supporting ministry initiatives.
St. Paul had in mind (in II Corinthians 8) the struggling ‘mother church’ in Jerusalem – from which the church in Corinth originated.
Paul urges his affluent and influential friends in Corinth to give generously and joyfully to mission: to enthusiastically lay their all before the Messiah.
The little church in the region of Macedonia, whom Paul cites as an example, grasped the worship/mission connection straight away. They ‘gave themselves fully to the Lord’ (II Corinthians 8:5) and then to serving the people of God.
Even though they were small, persecuted, and utterly impoverished (II Cor. 8:2), they counted it an honour to give (even beyond their ability) to assist their sisters and brothers in Jerusalem.
The text says this: “Entirely on their own they urgently pleaded [!] with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people”. II Corinthians 8:4.
That is true worship.
That is excelling in the grace of giving.
That is not as uncommon as you might imagine.
Here is a true story:
Some years ago, Jane and I planted a little church in wealthy inner-western Pyrmont and Darling Harbour. Our aim was to reach the highly mobile international community who lived in towering, gated apartment complexes.
We invited people across Sydney to partner with us and were delighted – and a little taken aback – when just one group responded.
It was a very small, struggling church in SW Sydney – St. Mark’s Sadlier; they rose to the challenge.
Even though most of the parishioners had very limited incomes as they were pensioners in the main, these dear people from a public housing community – who had given themselves fully to the Lord (II Cor 8:5), enthusiastically contributed to the salary of our Chinese pastor.
They counted it an honour to give to mission – even though it appeared, and possibly was, well beyond their means. They gave regularly, joyfully, and sacrificially for over two years.
And the young man they sponsored, the Reverend David Yung and his wife, Jenny, went on to plant and lead other ministries – because of the excelling in the grace of giving by the Sadlier believers.
Barnabas (Acts 4:36) is an example of an individual excelling in the grace of giving.
So moved is Barnabas by the work of God in Jerusalem and the need for ministry to thousands of new believers, that he liquidates assets – he sells a piece of property, and hands the money he receives – in full – to the apostles to disburse as they see fit.
I put it to you that Barnabas excelled in the grace of giving.
This month we will focus on that theme of generosity and giving because it is a constantly recurring biblical refrain and because we need to continue in funding ministry.
Jesus himself spoke often about the use of our God-given resources.
It has been noted that 16 of Jesus’ 38 parables were concerned with how to correctly handle money and possessions as they can be so distractive, or worse – destructive.
In the Gospels, an amazing 1 out 10 verses (that is 288 verses) deal directly with the subject of money.
The Bible comprises some 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.
So, with that in mind, let us take this month to reflect on what it might mean for us as individuals and as a church to excel in the grace of giving; to joyfully use our God-given resources in the worship and service of our Lord Jesus.
May we pray?
Lord, may we excel – with whatever resources we may have, in the grace of giving.
Please use us in changing the world…that our offerings and service will be deployed in
reconciliation and relief ministry locally and globally.
May we be channels of your blessing and love.
For your Glory, alone.