Published March 6, 2014
2 Corinthians 8:10; 9:1-5
Bible Studies for Life, March 23
Charity can be toxic.
Not my words, but I would agree with them. Bob Lupton, renowned in urban ministry circles, ministered for years in inner-city Atlanta and in 2011 Sarah Pulliam Bailey interviewed him for an article in Christianity Today.
She titled her interview “How Charity Can Be Toxic, Just in Time for Christmas,” and in it Lupton speaks to several challenging issues regarding Christian charity. The title alone should be a loud reminder that generosity, practiced unwisely, can bring harm rather than good.
Generous living and giving has become a popular theme among churches and ministries, and it should be. While previous generations of Christians gave generously, each generation of Christ followers needs to renew its commitment to kingdom economics. Generous giving is a wonderful expression of kingdom values from the worship service to the marketplace.
Expect to encounter
The text of 2 Corinthians 9:1-5 has rich application for generous living, and it begins with an expectation that we will encounter neighbors in need. Ask any pastor of a church located near a hotel, interstate exit, or impoverished community and you will learn that neighbors in need are daily encounters.
My church, Rehoboth Baptist, has all three elements nearby, and as I have shared with Rehoboth, it seems that God has given me a gas station ministry. At a local gas station nearby, it seems I encounter someone in need almost every time I go there. From people needing a place to stay to someone wanting $10 for gas, the needs are always present.
2 Corinthians 9:1-5 reminds us first that material needs are a constant reality for followers of Christ and for Christ’s churches. From believers in need to neighbors in need, the poor will always be with us (see also Mark 14:7).
This text shapes my personal finances by reminding me that whether God has given me much or given me little, not all that He has given me was intended for my own needs and comfort. Kingdom economics rule number one is that out of all God gives you, He intends to meet the needs of others with some of it. Do not spend it all on yourself.
Prepare to address
This text also teaches us to prepare to address needs. In verse 5, Paul tells the Corinthians to prepare in advance to give the gift they have promised to help purchase food for the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem. We give little thought to the fact that there is a process hinted at in these words.
The need had been verified, and it was legitimate. The means of getting the resources to Jerusalem were secured. And everything was to happen in a timely manner so that when Paul arrived with the Macedonians, the church in Corinth would not be embarrassed by their lack of preparation and their lack of participation.
Preparing to address needs permeates wise generosity. An illustration from Lupton’s interview will help us.
A church missions team went to Haiti and were moved when they encountered mothers holding babies wrapped in newspapers and rags. The team went and found blankets and brought them to the mothers and babies.
By most any standard, this effort was an act of generosity. I also suspect the team posted pictures and stories on Facebook and Twitter, lauding the opportunity to be generous.
The next morning the team returned to find the mothers still holding the babies in newspapers and rags, and they discovered that the blankets had been sold to the shops along the same street. The team was furious. See, the most pressing need the mothers had was food, food for their babies and food for themselves.
The team made a number of assumptions, and while well-intentioned, they simply sought to meet a perceived need without preparing to address the most pressing need.
Too often in our haste to feel good about doing something generous, we miss the real needs of those around us. While it is better to err on the side of generosity, preparing to address needs is fundamental to wise generosity. Kingdom economics rule number two is that we must prepare to address needs – especially systemic needs – in order that our generosity helps without hurting.
Commit to dignify
Finally, this text reminds us that wise generosity should lead us to commit to dignify. The Corinthian Christians displayed this commitment when they voluntarily gave out of their limited funds so that their Christian brothers and sisters in Jerusalem would not be reduced to begging on the streets for food.
The context here is important to express fully this commitment to dignify and to apply it to our context. Jerusalem was experiencing a serious shortage in food supplies. Overcrowding, double taxation, and famine had made life miserable in many respects.
Nearly two chapters of 2 Corinthians are devoted to addressing this humanitarian offering, demonstrating the seriousness of the need and the role of this church and others to participate in it.
Hunger and poverty today are just as real, but the root of them is different. In our commitment to dignify, wise generosity should lead us to empower those in need so that their dignity is restored and their dependence on us is diminished.
Kingdom economics rule number three is that wise generosity leads us to dignify those we serve by empowering them to meet their needs.
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