The Grace of Giving
The topic that Paul brings up in our daily reading today from 2 Corinthians 8 is my least favorite topic in the Bible, At least, it's my least favorite topic on which to preach and teach-- GIVING. The internal problems experienced by the church in Corinth had caused them to stop their giving. That is always the way it works right; get mad at how things are going at church, and you start leaving the ol’ checkbook at home. Paul encourages them to get back to this business of giving, something in which they had once been strong:
And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. (8:10-12)
Paul is collecting a gift from the Gentile churches to relieve the suffering of the Jewish church in Jerusalem. This is important not just because of the great need that exists; this is also a chance for Gentiles and Jews to declare solidarity in the gospel. So Paul encourages the church to give, “But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2 Cor 8:7).
Every time I preach on money, I get this vision of some televangelist in a white suit with slicked back hair and a painted on grin. I hear Ray Stevens singing, "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show?" I think of Jim and Tammy Fay’s air conditioned doghouse and Christian amusement park. And I hear people grumbling that “All this church is interested in is in getting my money?” I make my living (and a pretty good one) because people at my church give liberally. And every time I mention giving, I worry that people might think I have ulterior motives. (“Tuck must be getting that iPad and needs more money”). Yep, money is my least favorite topic on which to teach.
But was Jesus’ favorite topic! According to one writer's count, one of every six verses in Jesus teaching (you know, the stuff written in red letters) is something about money and material things. Sixteen of Jesus’ parables deal with use of money. Jesus probably spoke about money and material things more than any topic other than the kingdom of God.
This emphasis is carried over in the rest of the New Testament as well. There is more said about money than is said about heaven and hell combined! Five times more is said about money than about prayer. (Really? Really). By one preacher’s count (granted, you always must look with suspicion at the preacher’s count), something like two thousand verses deal with money, possessions and material things. The only thing mentioned in the New Testament more is love. Caveat: Most of the verses and teaching about money and material things are warnings against loving it and the encouragement to share it with others. Like love (the other favorite Bible topic), money only works when you give it away!
OK, why am I so reluctant to teach on money and giving? Paul encouraged the Corinthians to “be strong also in the grace of giving” (2 Cor 8:7, NCV). We do want to be strong in grace, right? So maybe I should get a white suit and slick back my hair? Maybe not.