Read 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
My husband Rob and I lived in Jacksonville, Florida for a couple of years when we were first married. We were part of a brand new church there that met in a school gymnasium. It was a lot of fun. Everybody had to work together to make it work. We learned that some people are better at certain things than others. For example, one day they asked me to make the coffee. Back then I didn’t drink coffee, I didn’t even like coffee, so I really didn’t know how to make it. So that day nobody drank much coffee, because it was too horrible to drink. They said it could have cleaned off battery terminals. So nobody ever asked me to do that again.
That church was also where I first heard the analogy of Kleenex.
Maybe you’ve heard this before. I still think it’s brilliant. Pastor Wendt, from that Jacksonville church, had brought a box of Kleenex to demonstrate that you pull out a tissue, and another one pops up, and then another one, and then another one, and so on, and so on. This seemingly bottomless box of Kleenex is like God’s generous grace that’s always there, always ready, and there’s always more.
The reality is that a Kleenex box eventually does run out and you have to get a new box,
but God’s grace never runs out.
In the second letter to the Corinthians that we read from today, Paul is talking about God’s generosity and grace, but since Kleenex didn’t exist back then, Paul uses the example of manna. The last verse of our reading today is a quote from Exodus 16 when Israel was in the wilderness and complaining about the lack of food. God sends them manna, food that shows up on the ground every morning for the entire 40 years that the people of Israel are wandering in the wilderness. There’s always exactly enough. Those who need more can gather more, and those who need less can gather less. And God has even built in some paid time off in this manna because God wants to be sure they’re not working gathering food on the Sabbath, the day of rest. So whatever manna they gather on the day before the Sabbath lasts and is enough to feed them through the Sabbath. Paul is reminding the Corinthians about all this when he says:
“Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over,
and those who gathered only a little had enough.”
So the moral of the story is – only take one Kleenex at a time.
Do you know how you make a Kleenex dance? Put a little boogie in it.
But I digress.
The reason Paul is talking about manna is that he is reminding the Corinthians of a mission project that they had started back when they first heard about the Jerusalem church going hungry because of a famine. They were so enthusiastic at the beginning that they even inspired other churches to start collecting money for the Jerusalem church. So now the Macedonian churches have collected quite a bit of money to send, and Paul’s getting ready to head back to Corinth to get whatever the Corinthians have collected, but he’s heard from Titus that they’ve forgotten this project. Paul doesn’t want to show up in Corinth and have to get them to scrape up an offering in a hurry, so he’s reminding them in this letter, and encouraging them with some instructions about how to give.
Maybe what’s most interesting about what Paul says is that although he does give some how-to’s, he’s really telling them more about how to be, so that this isn’t just a one-time thing. Paul is encouraging them and us to be people who are so full of God’s grace and generosity that we abound and overflow with grace to the people around us.
Paul includes a bit of flattery:
“Since you excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us—I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving.” V7
But Paul doesn’t want them to give out of obligation. He says, “I am not commanding you to do this. But I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of the other churches.”
He’s saying that giving should be an act of love.
And then he reminds them why we give:
“You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.” V9
We give because the more we follow Jesus, the more we find ourselves being generous like Jesus, willing to risk in order to help someone else. More and more we find that is who we are.
So, Paul says, here’s how you can do that: Finish that offering you started for the Jerusalem church.
We don’t know why they’d forgotten about it, but it does sound like something we ourselves do. We are inspired by a message or a situation and we make a commitment, maybe even just to ourselves, that we’re going to give to that cause, and then we get busy with life and we forget. Early on in the pandemic last year, there were lots of organizations collecting money to help people who were struggling because of the shutdown, and we were inspired to contribute to those then. We had some fundraising here in Sterling for our local food bank, and I remember hearing a lot about the national organization FeedAmerica that supports lots of foodbanks, but there were many others.
We get inspired but then we forget. Paul is saying don’t forget.
Before we had online giving, Rob and I weren’t so regular about our giving because we would forget. We were not usually sitting in the pews when the offering plate was passed because we were up front leading worship, so we’d need to plan ahead or take care of it afterwards, but we’d forget. Now it happens automatically because we set up a monthly autopayment through our online giving.
Another thing Paul says is to “give in proportion to what you have” (v11). In other words, instead of saying everybody needs to give a specific amount, he’s saying those who have more can give more and those who have less can give less. Nobody should give so much that they don’t have enough.
“Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves.” (v13)
Paul is sending this letter because he doesn’t want anybody to be embarrassed or ashamed when he shows up to collect the money. I think Paul would have appreciated our decision to stop passing the offering plate. We decided initially because it is something we do that spreads germs, which is not the kind of sharing we want to be doing. But I think one of the reasons we’re continuing to not pass it is that the offering plate is a potential source of shame and embarrassment if you don’t have anything to put in or if you aren’t putting in as much as your neighbor, or if you’re here for the first time.
Giving shouldn’t be something we do out of shame or embarrassment. Giving should be something we do because we want to. Paul tells us (in v1-2) that the Macedonian churches were inspired to give out of their abundant joy in God’s grace. They are overflowing with joy, and that has resulted in overflowing generosity.
God’s grace is always available, like the tissues in the Kleenex box, or the daily manna. We can miss it, though, when we’re more focused on what we don’t have.
Last summer Rob and I went to Colorado and stayed in a beautiful cabin in the Rio Grande National Forest. On the patio of the cabin there was a rock garden with a fountain that was always flowing. There was always water in it because the system was set up to recycle the water and reuse it. It was continuously flowing, except for the three hours one day when the electricity went out during a storm. And then we noticed how much it had become a part of the environment there, and we missed the sound of flowing water.
God’s grace is like a fountain continuously flowing. It never stops, and so we can take it for granted and stop noticing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
You might be thinking – grace is not money, and money is not continuously flowing. That’s true, and that’s why Paul says to give when you have enough to share, and when that changes, others will share with you. Paul expects that there will be seasons of plenty and seasons of want for everyone, and that we’ll all get through those together by sharing with one another.
Why do we give?
- Because God calls us to, and because God is generous with us. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)
- Because our faith is not something we do in isolation. Writer Rachel Held Evans said that “following Jesus is a group activity.”
We use the word “tithe” when we talk about giving. In the Old Testament, a tithe meant giving 10% of your income (Lev. 27:30, Num 18:26). But in the gospel of Matthew Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for being legalistic about giving 10%. He says in Matthew 23:
“For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” (Matthew 23:23)
Paul encourages proportional giving, but he’s not endorsing a specific percentage. Instead he’s encouraging an attitude of generosity and giving that becomes a lifestyle. He says in 2 Cor 8:7 to abound in generosity, to overflow with it.
“You do so well in so many things—you trust God, you’re articulate, you’re insightful, you’re passionate, you love us—now, do your best in this, too.” (v7 MSG)
How do we abound in generosity? How do we keep that fountain of grace flowing in our lives?
- By having an attitude of gratitude.
- By being thankful for whatever we have.
- By accepting the grace that God is giving us and being willing to share it.
Sometimes our giving feels like it has strings attached, unfortunately, and some people have come to expect this. For example, so often when someone comes to the church asking for help, they will tell me that they are going to start coming to church next Sunday. They almost never do, and I don’t expect them to. It’s not required. But they think it’s required.
I’ve always felt bad about that. But I got to thinking this week that maybe it’s not about me or about us, it’s about them and God. God gives without strings attached, but that can be hard for us to believe. Our God is so generous that God gave us Jesus, God’s only son. And then Jesus gave himself for our sake, no strings attached. In the face of that unconditional generosity, it’s easy to feel guilty and inadequate. We can’t outgive God, and compared to God’s goodness we all come up short. That’s why God says,
“My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made great in your weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)
Despite our shortcomings, writer and pastor Eugene Peterson encourages us:
“Giving is what we do best. It is the air into which we are born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth. Giving is the way the world is. God gives himself. He also gives away everything that is. He makes no exceptions for any of us. We are given away to our families, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our enemies—to the nations.
Our life is for others. That is the way creation works. Some of us try desperately to hold on to ourselves, to live for ourselves. We look so bedraggled and pathetic doing it, hanging on to the dead branch of a bank account for dear life, afraid to risk ourselves on the untried wings of giving. We don’t think we can live generously because we have never tried.
But the sooner we start the better, for we are going to have to give up our lives finally, and the longer we wait the less time we have for the soaring and swooping life of grace.”
– Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses
It’s who we are.
Loving and Generous God, forgive us for our forgetting that giving is what we do best and that generosity is in our dna because we are made in your image. Forgive us for our fear of risking ourselves, and help us to live generously.
 Evans, Rachel Held. Inspired (series_title) (p. 206). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
 As quoted in Hibbs, Pierce Taylor (2021-02-17T22:58:59). The Book of Giving: How the God Who Gives Can Make Us Givers . Truth Ablaze. Kindle Edition.