December 3, 2007

"I Can't Afford it"?

One of the reasons I enjoy reading the apostle Paul is because I find that he wrestled with so many of the challenges that face me in my own pastoral ministry – what to do with wayward members, how to organize church leadership, how to relate to the government, and so on. This week, I found particular help in reading, from 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, how Paul motivated a financially comfortably people to give their money away (the same task I am undertaking during this month of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering).

Paul was asking the churches to give of their substance to relieve the persecuted and impoverished saints in Judea. The Corinthian church had given generously in the past (as have you to things like Lottie Moon, to your church's own missions projects, to the poor, etc.). But they had grown a little too comfortable (and, perhaps, so have some of you). It is easy, when you have a fair amount of money (and, in the grand scheme of things, all of us Americans do) to feel good when you give a nice sum to the missions offering, or to the relief of the poor. But is that what God really desires? Is God more pleased with the middle-class American’s hundred dollars…or with the widow’s two copper coins? You know the answer. But apparently the middle-class Corinthians did not. They needed to be reminded. They needed to be slightly embarrassed by realizing that churches and Christians much less prosperous than they were giving far more. That is what Paul tells them in 8.1-4:

1Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints,

Notice just a few things about the impoverished Macedonians:

1. They gave even though their circumstances were difficult. They were being persecuted (v.2). Wouldn’t it have been easy for them to roll over and die when it came to the special offering? Wouldn’t it have been easy to say: ‘Someone should send an offering to us!’ But they didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They gave. And, no matter our circumstances, so can we.

2. They gave more then they could afford. I admit – I am not, in my flesh, inclined to give like this. But the Macedonians were! They gave “out of the poverty” (v.2); they gave “beyond their ability.” Did that mean that they starved themselves? I don’t think so. But they did, perhaps, change their family budgets around so they could give. They did without some things so they could give. Perhaps they used part of their savings, or sold some of their possessions so they could give. Are we willing to do the same?

3. They begged for the opportunity to give. They must have said something like this to Paul: ‘Don’t you be afraid to ask us for money. We know we’re poor. We know we don’t have a lot. But don’t you even think about robbing us of the joy of storing up treasures in heaven.’ Where are the Americans saying things like that? Where is the church saying to their elders: ‘Please, please have another special offering. We desperately want to give our money away!’?

The Corinthians hadn’t been so generous lately. But after hearing about the generous paupers in Macedonia, they must have been a little embarrassed. Now my goal with this article is not necessarily to embarrass anyone. But if the shoe fits, wear it. If you are Southern Baptist, you have a chance this month (and every other month, too!) to give to the worthiest cause on the planet – the spreading of the fame of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Many of you God is also leading to feed the poor; to care for the orphans; to perform a dozen other beautiful acts of generosity in His name. Will you give like a middle-class Corinthian, or like an impoverished Macedonian?

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