…for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
—2 Corinthians 8:2
There is a typical scene you might see on a playground: a group of boys is playing soccer. They obviously only need one ball for this, but there are a pile of balls on the side, stock-piled. Some girls on the playground want to use a ball for their game, but the boys keep telling them they need all of the balls, “just in case,” and the girls are confused and mad at this ridiculous hoarding. This is also like the behavior we saw in so many large, rich companies in the recent past that held onto the extra profits they were making after our most recent recession began to turn around. Our government invested our money in many ways in order to stimulate the economy, intending that when the economy improved, such companies could hire more people or buy more raw resources to make more products, not so they could hoard resources for a rainy day, which was not doing anyone any good.
The Bible has a lot to say about how we use our money. Jesus told the parable of the rich man whose land was so abundant he had to build bigger barns, but it was clear that this man was hoarding his grain much like the large companies are hoarding profits, only for themselves. In Genesis, Joseph interprets the Pharaoh’s dreams of an upcoming famine, and urges the Pharaoh to store up the current abundance of crops to prepare for the famine, which is done, not for the Pharaoh’s household alone, but for the whole land. This action saves Egypt and many other lands because it was not done out of selfishness.
Paul holds up the generosity of the Macedonians not because they had an abundance to share, but because they joyfully offered up everything they could in service to God, despite having very little. The Corinthians had everything. Holding onto it just in case they began to experience similar persecution would not grow the church. Holding onto it would only help themselves, and only in the short term.
Holding onto what we have been given instead of offering it back for God’s use elsewhere kills our souls, our faith and our communities. Then there would be nothing worth holding onto. By giving generously there might be other disciples gathered into the body to support each other in hard times.
Too often we think we will not have enough for ourselves in an emergency if we give too much away. And yet, time and again the feeding of the 5,000 becomes a reality. We don’t know how it works, we just know that it does. When we share what we have in the midst of scarcity, everyone has more than enough of what they need. Our God is a God of abundance, not a God of scarcity.
Reflect: Think of a time that you thought there would not be enough to go around, but when everyone shared what they had to offer, there was more than enough for everyone. How might we remind ourselves to keep believing in a God of abundance rather than a God of scarcity?
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.
—2 Corinthians 8:7-8
Paul is proud of the Corinthians. He has boasted of their faith and understanding of Jesus’ teachings, of their generosity and eagerness to give more, to serve more. They have also weathered a storm within their community through their love for one another and are stronger for it. Now it is time to take that love and spread it further. If the Corinthians only have love for one another, it is not really following the will of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations. To only show love to one another would be hiding their light under a bushel basket, and that light of love was given to them to share with others. Now that they have resolved their internal conflict, it is time to show how that love and faith can heal other wounds in the world.
Paul wants the Corinthians to get out in the world and show love to others in their community, but he and the other apostles have also promised to take up a collection of funds for the church in Jerusalem, which is suffering from persecution. As we have seen in this and most of Paul’s other letters, the work they are doing as apostles could not have succeeded without monetary support from individuals and churches. They recognize their indebtedness to the church in Jerusalem, the very beginning of this dangerous ministry of love. Sometimes we think that the Holy Spirit will simply provide financial resources for ministry, like manna from heaven, and forget that we are part of God’s plan for the Spirit’s work in the world.
Prayer is meaningless without change in our own actions, just as Paul has already said in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Love is a concrete thing. When we say, “I’ll pray for you,” do we follow it up with acts of love, or do we immediately forget about what we prayed for, moving on with our everyday lives? Paul is asking the Corinthians to make their genuine love concrete – in their actions toward one another, toward those outside the community, and in support of other churches, both spiritually and financially.
It is all well and good for Paul to speak highly of the Corinthians’ generosity and faithfulness, but if they do not act in generous and faithful ways, it simply isn’t true. In this case, part of the church was asking for support in a trying time, and Paul was encouraging the churches he knew intimately to contribute to a love offering. These churches knew Paul to be a true and faithful teacher, so there was no reason not to follow through.
Love is such an overused word. How can we begin to use it only when we mean it? What does love even mean to us? Jesus talked about what it looks like to love others. Perhaps if we measure our daily actions against those concrete, earthy commandments, we will better be able to see if and what we truly love.
Reflect: Do you have any generous undertakings? Have you planned your giving for this year? If you line up the things you say are important in life, and your checkbook ledger, do they line up?
Notes are from A Heart for Reconciliation, by Megan Hansen and Michael Rinehart. Available on Amazon, it offerers daily readings through 2 Corinthians.
The texts for the six weeks in the Narrative Lectionary are as follows.
- 5/22/2016: 2 Cor 1:1-11, Consolation
- 5/29/2016: 2 Cor 2:1-10, Forgiveness
- 6/5/2016: 2 Cor 4:1-15, Treasure in Clay Jars
- 6/12/2016: 2 Cor 4:16—5:10, Walk by Faith not Sight
- 6/19/2016: 2 Cor 5:11-21, Reconciliation
- 6/26/2016: 2 Cor 8:1-15, Generosity