Friday, July 19, 2013

The Grace of Giving

In the past several years, a willingness to give to my local congregation has not been a problem for me.  We make my budget; we get paid; I write the check and drop it in the plate.  Easy-peasy!  I never really miss the money we've contributed, and I don't know exactly where it goes.  We trust our elders to distribute it in an appropriate way.  For instance, our congregation supports four missionaries, gives to the Churches of Christ relief fund, and provides food for the hungry in our community.  While this kind of "put the check in the plate" giving is necessary, I've begun to feel that sharing God's grace through giving involves something more. 

When Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians, he encouraged them in giving by sharing what the Macedonian churches had done. 

Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.  2 Corinthians 8:1-7

Paul makes it clear that giving of our money is another way to be a conduit of God's grace.  The grace of God was given to the churches in Macedonia, and they gave to their fellow Christians both fervently and liberally.  This kind of giving seems to go above and beyond putting 10% in the offering plate on Sunday. By studying the Macedonians, I can learn how I can give in a way that spreads God's grace to others. 

Despite their own poverty, the Macedonians begged for the favor of being able to support the saints.  What made the Macedonians so fervent?  Perhaps they understood the grace of God.  Paul reminded the Corinthians that Jesus had given up everything for us.  He made us rich by becoming poor (8:9).  Rather than make us feel an obligation to give to his children, it should so overwhelm us with thanks that we give cheerfully.  

Does it really matter how I feel about my giving?  As long as I obey, does it matter what my emotions about it are?  Paul seemed to think so.  As he continued to urge the Corinthians to give, he told them that God loves a cheerful giver.  He even implied that that if we give grudgingly, we might as well not give at all (2 Corinthians 9:7). 

I don't give grudgingly, but I can't call myself a cheerful giver either.  The best you can say about my giving is that it is a habit.  Emotionally, it is very...neutral.  I've never begged to give, and I've never seen giving as a favor.  If I want to give more fervently like the Macedonians did, perhaps I need to start where they did. I can be more aware of the grace of God.  This month's blog posts have really opened my eyes to how much God's grace has been lavished on me, and how much he expects me to share it with others. When I take communion on Sundays, I can remember how much Jesus gave up for me. A painless home in the glory of heaven traded for a dirty painful death at the hands of those who should have hailed him as King.  

The grace of God also extends to the material blessings I have now.  Instead of viewing my house, my money, and my car as things I've worked hard to attain, I should see them as blessings from God that He intends for me to use in His service. 

Another trait that struck me about the Macedonians was their liberality.  Paul says they gave beyond their ability. The giving churches were able to do that because they had the realization that God's grace continues to pour out on us as we give.  

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, "HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER." Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God (2 Corinthians 9:8-11).

Again, I have to say that my giving falls short.  I've complained when special collections are scheduled for December because "Don't they know that is Christmas time, and my children have to have toys from Santa?"  I'm not suggesting that I should be giving 50% of our income and not be able to make the house payment.  In fact, Paul states that the goal of giving is not my own poverty (8:13); the goal is for other Christians to have what they need.  I am not lacking in anything I need; I may be middle class by American standards but I enjoy many more luxuries than Christians in other parts of the world.  

God appreciates my offering plate contribution, but maybe it's time for me to give more. I remember vividly the day I went to the bank to sign papers for a 401k rollover for a substantial sum of money, then I went to Wal-Mart and bought a $5 chicken for a hungry man outside.  The contrast shocked me.  Planning for our retirement is not wrong; hoarding our money while neglecting the needs of the hurting around us is.  I know I can give more abundantly, and I know that God will take care of me if I do.

After studying 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, I'm struck with the idea that perhaps I have more trouble with giving than I thought I did.  God doesn't frown at my biweekly contribution at the offering plate, but I believe he may be calling me to a greater giving that spreads God's grace to His children.  I want to give more cheerfully, more fervently, more liberally, secure in the knowledge that God will meet all my needs even as he uses me to meet the 
needs of others.  

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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