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Support God's kingdom with your income

 

2 Corinthians 8:1-9
Bible Studies for Life, March 16

 

Christians do not hold an exclusive right to generosity. Like Warren Buffett, there are many generous people that are not followers of Jesus Christ.

We encounter them all the time. They give hours coaching little league sports teams. They work tirelessly to help refugees that have moved to the U.S. They take in stray cats and volunteer weekly at local animal shelters. They become foster parents. They volunteer in our schools. They help an elderly neighbor take out the trash. They mentor youth. And they give – generously.

Sure, there are studies that say residents in religious states like Georgia are more generous than residents in less religious states. Other studies, however, are giving a broader picture that according to some shows that religious folks are helping themselves with their giving more than they are helping others.

For example, one blogger wrote in response to last year’s National Study of American Religious Giving, “It turns out nearly 75% of charitable giving by all Americans … benefits places of worship and faith-based charities. A lot of the money isn’t helping the poor and less fortunate. It’s going to the church.”

While the blogger quoted above probably would not be interested in a discussion that explains how giving to our local churches supports children’s homes, food banks, counseling centers, disaster relief, and many other ministries along with paying the utilities for our facilities, his comments point to a major shift in our culture.

Increasingly, our culture is unimpressed with the amount or percentage religious people are giving. They are looking beyond the giving statements to the giving recipients. They are asking if our generosity is making a difference in the lives of people other than ourselves.

This cultural shift and the increased skepticism about religious giving is a great opportunity to rediscover the teachings of the Bible about kingdom generosity. Look at it this way. What makes an ordinary Christian’s generosity different from Warren Buffett’s generosity? Of course, his nearly $60 billion empire sets him apart from all but a handful of human beings on the planet. But this text in 2 Corinthians shows us two characteristics of kingdom giving that even $60 billion cannot buy.

 

Kingdom generosity reflects grace

In 2 Corinthians 8:1-9 the Apostle Paul instructs the church in Corinth about kingdom generosity. It is important to understand that he is not instructing them here about tithing. There is no mention of it, and the entire focus of this instruction is directed toward another area of generous giving – providing humanitarian support for impoverished believers in Jerusalem that have a severe shortage of food.

The motive that leads these Christians to give generously is grace. In the first six verses of this chapter he uses the word grace in three different ways. In verse one he speaks of God’s grace. In verse four he speaks of grace as a favor he is seeking. In verse six he speaks of it as the generous gift given by the Macedonians. Underlying each mention of grace is the foundation of God’s grace through Jesus Christ to the Macedonians.

Generosity can be found among atheists and among devout Muslims. One thing that sets apart kingdom generosity from all others is that it arises out of a life-changing experience with Jesus Christ.

In verse one, Paul speaks of God’s grace that has been given to those who are followers of Jesus Christ in Macedonia. While the money and time of a generous non-Christian and a generous Christian may look identical, their motives could not be more different.

The Gospel has changed us. We have entered the kingdom of God with a heart that has been born again by the Spirit of God, and we live out kingdom values.

Generous giving is not something exceptional for us. It is not a church or cultural tradition. It is normal, ordinary life for us because it flows from a heart that has been made alive and is being transformed into the image of Christ.

 

Kingdom generosity reflects the heart

In verse five, Paul says the Macedonians gave themselves to the Lord and then to them. Here again the kingdom generosity of Christians is in stark contrast to the generosity of non-Christians. Before the Macedonians ever gave money, they gave themselves.

I have already mentioned a number of acts of generosity that non-Christians do as they give their time and even give themselves to those they serve. What sets Christians apart here is that they begin by first giving themselves to their Lord.

True kingdom generosity does not begin with a teaching or a goal. It does not begin by giving our time, talents, or treasures. It does not begin as a means to share the Gospel or as an organized community service effort by church or small group. True kingdom generosity begins with a new heart that we generously give to our Lord.

At first, the Macedonian gift seems extraordinary: non-Jewish Christians giving out of their own financial limitations to their starving Jewish Christian brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Then we see that the passion of their hearts and the generosity of their gifts flow out of giving themselves totally, fully, and lavishly to their Lord first. Should we live differently?