Big Idea: The proof of love is generosity.
We live in one of the most expensive cities in North America. In fact, we rank 32 out of 449 in terms of cost of living. Congratulations. There are only 31 cities in the world you could have chosen that are more expensive than this one. And you picked one of the more expensive neighborhoods within that expensive city!
I remember someone saying that New York City is a great place to live — as long as you have someone following you around with a wheelbarrow full of money. Well, it’s cheaper to live in Toronto by a factor of 18.6 percent — meaning the wheelbarrow only needs to be 80% full of money. But I didn’t see anyone arrive with a wheelbarrow.
The fact is that we are stressed about money. A recent Globe and Mail article says:
A lot has gone right for the economy in the past decade, yet the evidence is mounting that Canadians are worried sick about money.
People are losing sleep over their household finances and their physical and emotional health is suffering. “I keep Kleenex in my office all the time,” said Shannon Lee Simmons, a financial planner in Toronto whose clients typically come in to talk about such things as the soaring cost of housing, crippling debt levels and an inability to save for retirement. “People cry often.”
So when we read a passage like the one we just read our defenses go up. For one thing, we’re broke! For another thing, if we had extra money, which we don’t, the church may not be the first place we’d go to get rid of it.
Which is why this passage is important for us, even in overpriced, overstretched Toronto.
I don’t know if you picked up on it, but Paul, who wrote the passage we just read, knows that he’s tackling a very sensitive topic when he talks about giving. A year before, the church in Corinth had begun to put money aside to help the Christians in Jerusalem. It seems that they had become a little slack in finishing the project. That’s why Paul writes in verses 10 and 11:
And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. (2 Corinthians 8:10-11)
Talking about money is always delicate. It was then and it is now. Wells Fargo found in a survey that Americans fear talking about their personal finances more than they fear talking about any other topic, including death, politics, and religion.
And yet Paul goes there. Why? Because their giving is a barometer of their spiritual condition. Remember that the Corinthians had fallen out with Paul. Their falling out with Paul was probably the reason that the collection for the church got put on the back burner. Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to get the church back on track. And the challenge to give is part of getting them back on track.
In fact, Paul says something shocking a few times in this passage:
I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. (2 Corinthians 8:8)
So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men. (2 Corinthians 8:24)
But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. (2 Corinthians 9:3)
Their renewed giving is both evidence that they’re back on track spiritually and a means by which they grow.
In fact, it’s interesting. When Paul says he wants to prove the earnestness of their love in 8:8, he uses the same word that’s usually used to speak of a legitimate child. So Paul’s saying that he wants to prove the legitimacy of the Corinthians’ love. You can claim that your love is legitimate, but way to prove the legitimacy of your love is by your generosity.
I have a pastor friend who’s noticed that the first sign that someone is getting on board with the church is their giving. The opposite is true as well. The first sign that they are checking out of the church is when they stop giving. If you want to know where you stand in your love for God and others, the real test is how much you give. That’s why it’s so important.
But this is getting personal! It’s getting uncomfortable. It reminds me of the preacher paid a visit to a farmer and asked, “If you had 200 dollars, would you give 100 dollars to the Lord? “Sure would,” said the farmer.
“If you had two cows, would you give one cow to the Lord?” “Yeah, I would.”
“If you had two pigs, would you give one of them to the Lord?” The farmer replied, “That’s not fair. You know I have two pigs.”
Paul knows that this is how his readers will feel. So how do we get there? How do we move from being cash-strapped and stressed to proving the genuineness of our faith by how we give?
Two lessons from this passage will help us.
First: Choose Your Models Carefully
If you ever run a race, one of the most important decisions you will make is what pacer you pick. Once you know your ideal pace, you can fall behind that pacer and relax into the race knowing that you’re on track to reach your goal.
When it comes to money, who is your pacer? For most of us, the natural answer is those around us. We’re continually comparing how others live and allowing that to form our spending decisions.
Paul in this passage gives us a better model. He calls the Corinthians to imitate the Macedonian churches — the churches of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. These were not rich churches. In fact, Paul speaks of their extreme poverty in verse 3. But despite their poverty, look at how they gave:
- with an abundance of joy (8:2)
- with a wealth of generosity (8:2)
- according to their means and beyond their means (8:3)
- begging for the favor of giving (8:4)
- they didn’t just give money, but they gave themselves first (8:5)
The Macedonians, who were poor, were excellent givers. The Corinthians, who were rich, were lousy givers. Paul wants the Corinthians to get a new pacesetter. he wants them to learn giving from a better example.
If you think that’s a powerful example, Paul ups the ante even more. “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 by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Do you know who’s better at giving than the Macedonians? Jesus. The Macedonians just gave money. They did it well, but it was only money and their hearts. Jesus gave his life.
Have you ever looked at the table up front? On the left side, we have what Jesus gave: his life. On the right side, we have what we gave: our offering. Who gave more? Paul says that what Jesus gave motivates us in our giving. Because he was so generous with us, it’s only right that we respond with generosity. The old hymn got it right: “Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
We can learn from Jesus’ generous spirit. He denied himself for the sake of the saints, and we can too.
So who’s your model for giving? Find someone who’s more generous than you and copy their example. Don’t learn your money habits from the world. Learn your money habits from those who are the most generous and sacrificial with their money. Paul says in verse 7, “see that you excel in this act of grace also.”
Scott Lewis attended a conference where Bill Bright (evangelist and founder of Campus Crusade) challenged people to give one million dollars to help fulfill the Great Commission. This amount was laughable to Scott—far beyond anything he could imagine since his machinery business was generating an income of under fifty thousand dollars a year.
Bill asked, “How much did you give last year?” Scott felt pretty good about his answer: “We gave seventeen thousand dollars, about 35 percent of our income.”
Without blinking an eye, Bill responded, “Over the next year, why don’t you make a goal of giving fifty thousand dollars?”
Scott thought Bill hadn’t understood. That was more than he had made all year! But Scott and his wife decided to trust God with Bill’s challenge, asking God to do the impossible. God provided in amazing ways. With a miraculous December 31 provision, the Lewises were able to give the fifty thousand dollars.
A few years later, they passed the one-million-dollar mark in giving.
Who’s your model? Find someone who gives beyond their ability and begin to copy them.
Second: Trust Kingdom Economics
Paul teaches us a little about kingdom economics in chapter 8. This makes no sense to us, but it makes perfect sense when God gets involved. For instance:
- Giving benefits you (8:10). How in the world does giving away what I could use for myself benefit me? It makes no sense to us — and yet it’s what the Bible teaches over and over. You need to give more than others need to receive. “It’s more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). When you give, nobody benefits from that giving more than you.
- Even giving a small amount is important if the heart is there (8:12). It’s tempting to think that our gifts don’t really matter because we don’t have a lot to give. Paul corrects this. Paul mentions two things that make a good gift in verse 12: readiness to give, and proportionality. If you give willingly and in proportion to what you have, then your gift matters no matter how big or small it is.
- Hoarding leads to scarcity, and generosity leads to abundance (8:14-15). If you refuse to give, you’re going to be just like the ancient Israelites we read about in Exodus. God provided them with daily bread, manna. But we read, “whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack” (Exodus 16:18). If you want to live a life of scarcity, keep all your money to yourself. If you want to lead a life of abundance, then become a generous person. I’ve seen this over and over again. It’s how God works.
We’re going to return to this again next week. It’s not because the church needs money. It’s because you need to give. You need to give more than the church needs to receive from you. It’s how God has created the world. How do you prove you love God and others? By being generous beyond your ability. And those who discover this secret find a joy and a freedom that you can’t get any other way.
Let me leave you with this today. We serve an amazingly generous God. Have you ever thought how much generosity is at the very heart of who God is? That’s what we’re going to celebrate in a few minutes when we come to the table. God isn’t just generous, he’s lavish in his generosity. “Self-giving love is the Trinity’s signature” (Roderick Leupp).
We are never more like God than when we are generous too. Generosity is the sign that we’re beginning to understand how the gospel works. When we discover this, it changes everything.