Pentecost 6 – July 1, 2018

“Generosity” – 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15

Pentecost 6 – July 1, 2018

Introduction – Karma?
Do you believe in karma? Do you know what karma is? It’s kind of defined as, “What happens to a
person happens because they caused it with their actions.” Our western way of saying it is, “what
goes around comes around.” Karma seems a bit superstitious and destiny driven – you do good to
others, and good will be done to you; you harm others, and it will come back to bite you! Is that your
understanding of the way things happen, and why things happen? Is that your motto?
It almost seems like Paul is talking karma language in 2 Corinthians 8:14 – “At the present time your
plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.” You do
good, and good will be done to you. Karma is an important part of many religions such as
Sikhism, Hinduism and Buddhism. But karma isn’t part of our Christian faith at all.
You see, v. 14 is spoken / written with intentionality: you supply their need, you be generous, on
purpose, with love AND when you are the one in need, that love and generosity and care will be
splashed on you with the same deliberateness and compassion. No destiny, no fate, no luck involved.
Just real care for genuine reasons.
1. Context of 2 Corinthians 8
Let’s consider the context of this chapter and the reason Paul wrote those words. Paul is writing in
response to a great famine that took place in 41 A.D., during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius.
It seemed to have hit hard especially in Judea, and around Jerusalem, and the brothers and sisters –
that is, the fellow Christians – were suffering and distressed and hungry in that famine-stricken area.
In this chapter, Paul is commending the generosity of the Macedonian churches. Those would be the
ones in northern Greece – Philippi and Thessalonica. In comparison, the churches in Central Greece
– like the Corinthians – were not quite as generous. They didn’t give so freely from their plenty to
the Christians in need.
So, Paul is pointing to the example of the Macedonians and encouraging the Corinthians to be just as
2. Unpacking the example
Let’s unpack some of the phrases that Paul uses to describe the generosity of the Macedonians.
“in a severe test of affliction”
When the Macedonians demonstrated their generosity, they actually had their own problems. It
wasn’t like they were on top of the world, like the stock market was up, or like they struck oil or
gold. No, they were experiencing their own persecutions and problems. But even in those
circumstances and at that time, they were willing to give.
“their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity”

Who would think of that as a math equation? Joy + poverty = generosity? Anything plus poverty
usually does not equal generosity. When you’re poor there is generally nothing to give. However,
generosity is not so much about the quantity of the gift given as the attitude with which it is given.
Jesus, Himself, made an example of a poor widow who put two small copper coins into the temple
offering box. He said that she had been more generous than those who had given from their
abundance. She must have had joy in her giving. Her heart was “all in” the gift that she was giving.
In chapter 9, Paul would write that God loves a cheerful giver. (Oh, and the Greek word for
‘cheerful’ is ‘hilaron’ – the root for our English word ‘hilarious.’) That’s joy. Would Paul have
written “give until you laugh”?
There are a lot of superlative adjectives in Paul’s description – abundance of joy, extreme poverty,
overflowed, wealth of generosity. How could people be so full of joy, how could their generosity
overflow, when their poverty was extreme? Paul has more to say…
“gave beyond their means”
Paul further describes the gift of the Macedonians. Not only did they give “according to their
means… [they gave] beyond their means.” In today’s terms, “according to their means” would be…
well, the Credit Counselling Society says: 35% for housing, 10% for food, 15% for transportation,
10% for debt, 10% for savings, 5% each for things like utilities, education, medical, clothing,
entertainment. That’s already over 100%, so giving “according to your means” would be literally the
leftovers, if there are any! But despite all that, the Macedonians saw the need of the Jerusalem
believers and scraped together some financial help, and then some more. They still had food in the
fridge so they gave beyond their ability… sacrificially.
“of their own accord / entirely on their own”
When it came to the opportunity to help, Paul didn’t command the Macedonians to give, and he
didn’t tell them how much to give, and he didn’t lay a guilt trip on them. If the gift has been
commanded, then it would not be a gift but a requirement, a debt, a payment. The people just gave of
their own, from their hearts. That’s one thing that I appreciate about our churches. State churches in
Europe are supported by taxing people who want to identify with a certain church so that they can
have family baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals. They HAVE to give through their
taxes… it’s required! Some churches or organizations guilt people into giving. Some churches here
in Canada require that their people tithe – a full 10% of their income in order to become a member, to
belong, to participate. We don’t command people, we don’t require people, we don’t prescribe
amounts. Like the Macedonians, we allow people to give entirely on their own, as God has blessed
them, with a cheerful heart for God’s mission. God is more interested in the attitude associated with
giving than the amount.
“begging us earnestly for the favour of taking part”
This phrase underlines even more that there was no compulsion involved in their gift. Instead of Paul
begging them to help, they were the ones begging to help. They considered it a privilege to share and
they saw a value in just helping others in need. They saw a need and they wanted to fill it. WOW! I
know that some of you are like that – not necessarily begging to help, but certainly always willing to
help, whether it’s giving of your time to help out with Vacation Bible School, or giving baking for a
funeral, or giving money to a library half-way across the world. It does give a person a sense of
partnership and accomplishment when you can earnestly assist and give to a situation of need.

Then Paul says, “let your generosity match your faith, your speech, your knowledge, your
earnestness, your love.” In all these other things he was pointing to the example of the Macedonians.
Now, he compliments the Corinthians for their faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness and love. These
are some of the virtues that were obvious in their living out of their Christian faith. But the one thing
that they were lacking from their virtues tool kit was generosity. That would complete their Christian
living… to be generous.
Maybe you could identify something that is missing from your Christian life tool kit. Consider the
fruit of the Spirit that we heard about a month ago – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Perhaps it’s patience, or joy, or self-control that is
conspicuous in your life by its absence. Paul might say to you, “let your self-control match your love,
joy, peace, patience and kindness.” Think about that missing fruit, pray for God to develop it in your
life, practice it, and see it make a difference in your life and in the lives of others.
“last year you started this good work of giving, and your heart was in it… now finish your
Sometimes that’s a hard thing to do. It’s often easy to start a project. You’re enthusiastic, you see
progress being made, you have a vision. But somewhere in the middle you get bogged down. You’re
not as excited anymore. You encounter some problems that discourage you. You’re just spinning
your wheels and getting nowhere. I know what that’s like – I think I start quite a few things that I
don’t always follow up on and finish. But when I do, it’s very rewarding. That’s what Paul is talking
to the Corinthians about. You started giving last year, now finish it off and God will give you a deep
sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
3. The first priority
There is one verse that I left out… on purpose… because it doesn’t just unpack the giving of the
Macedonians, it unpacks the essence of their stewardship. Paul says “they gave themselves first to
the Lord.” They gave THEMSELVES to the Lord. They gave themselves FIRST to the Lord. That’s
First Commandment stuff – “You shall have no other gods before me. Fear, love and trust God above
all things.” You see, the help they offered to the Jerusalem Christians wasn’t just about writing a
cheque or getting an income tax receipt. This was about their dedication to Jesus, their commitment
to Jesus, their love for Jesus. They were “all in.” They gave the gift of themselves, in body and soul,
including their time, talents and treasures. They would say, “All I am and all I have belongs to the
Lord.” Without that as the foundation, the other giving lacks substance, is hollow and empty.
Then and only then did they give themselves to Paul and his missionary colleagues. Only then did
they become partners with Paul in his missionary efforts. Only then did they share in the service of
giving for the Jerusalem brothers and sisters with love and with joy… yes, cheerful givers,
hilariously cheerful givers!
And that’s where this is different from karma. They didn’t give with a “what goes around comes
around” attitude, expecting that when they were down and out on their luck, things were going to
turn around. No, they showed real care and compassion for these Jerusalem people who believed in
Jesus like they did. They shared real and compassion because these were brothers and sisters in
Christ. That’s something that Paul wrote to the Galatians: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to
everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” That’s intentional, deliberate
generosity and love, based on their love for and their faith in Jesus.

This was not a teeter-totter principle that Paul was advocating – the Jerusalem believers being
relieved while the Corinthian believers were made to struggle. No, Paul was talking about equality –
the word he used was ‘fairness.’ He wanted to make sure that both were supplied, both were looked
after, both were fed and cared for. That’s the story! That’s what Paul was writing about in chapter 8
(and also chapter 9).
4. What does your generosity look like?
Now that brings us to a pertinent question for each of us… What does your generosity look like?
Hopefully you, like the Macedonians, have first given YOURSELF to the Lord. That’s where true
God-pleasing generosity starts – giving our body and soul, our time, talents and treasures to the Lord,
our Lord. But then that generosity continues with our response to those in need.
If you’re like us, you get so many requests – and they come by mail, on the TV or radio, through a
gofundme effort, or seeing people with the cardboard “homeless and hungry” signs at intersections.
Now let me say that you can’t and probably shouldn’t help them all. In John 12, Jesus said, “The
poor you will always have with you.” That is, you can’t solve the world’s poverty problem on your
own! But you can be intentional. Remember first to give yourself, your God-given blessings to the
Lord, to spread the preaching of the Word. Then research, explore, see what requests seem
reasonable and urgent and maybe something that not a lot of others will support. Lots of people
support cancer, heart, alzheimers – they are in the news, they get the press. They get runs, and walks
and bikes to raise money. If that’s in your heart, if those things have affected a loved one, yes, go
ahead and give. But maybe you could also consider something completely different, and yet worthy.
Check out what % is spent paying staff / admin. Find out what is actually done with the money.
Be intentional, decide in advance so that you are not always or only responding to the “tyranny of the
urgent.” You know… “If you don’t give today, 20 children will die!” That plays on a person’s guilt.
When we get phone calls (not so much any more), we sometimes would say, “We have already
decided which charities we are going to support this year.” It wasn’t an excuse NOT to give… it was
the truth! We would be deliberate in who we wanted to be the recipients of our generosity.
5. The reckless generosity of Jesus
There is a song on the Christian radio station these days that describes the overwhelming, never-
ending, reckless love of God – a love that we can’t earn, that we don’t deserve; a love that pictures
God leaving the 99 sheep and intentionally chasing us down to lavish His love and grace all over us.
There is one more verse in 2 Corinthians 8 that we dare not ignore. Verse 9 also describes the
reckless love of God when it says, “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.” Of course,
this isn’t talking about monetary wealth and poverty. It’s talking about Jesus being divinely rich –
after all, His true home is heaven. But He willingly became poor – again not monetarily poor,
although He was that, too. No, as Paul described in the Christ-hymn in Philippians 2, Jesus emptied
Himself, became a human being, became a servant to us, was obedient to death on a cross – all so that
we might be forgiven, be saved, be rich in grace, have life! That is God’s generosity to us, and yes, it
also comes with superlative adjectives like overwhelming, overflowing, lavish, surpassing, all
sufficient. When Paul wraps up this entire thought at the end of chapter 9, he reflects one more time
on the grace of God and can only conclude: “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” May we,
like Paul, daily thank God for His overwhelming, never-ending, reckless and generous grace, and
may we, like the Macedonians (and hopefully the Corinthians, too) intentionally and cheerfully
extend and invest that generosity into the lives of those who are truly in need. Amen.

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