All We Are Saying, Is Give Paul a Chance
People say things all the time. Sometimes they are right on the money and sometimes not so much. Consider these predictions that didn’t quite turn out the way the speaker thought.
- “Who the heck wants to hear actors talk?” — M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
- “Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” — Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.
- “Ours has been the first and doubtless to be the last, to visit this profitless locality.” — Joseph Ives, after visiting the Grand Canyon in 1861.
- “What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?” — The Quarterly Review, March, 1825.
Sometimes the past has something to say to us and sometimes it doesn’t. In this post and in our next one in the “giving series,” we want to hear what St. Paul of the past said about giving and see if it has anything to say about life today. And to do this, I would like to divide Paul’s comments into five sections: the obvious, the surprising, the not-so-surprising-at-all (all of which we will cover today), and then we will wrap things up next time by looking at the quite unexpected and the astonishing.
First, the obvious. Paul believes Christ-followers ought to give. Even more than that, he wants us all to “excel in the grace of giving” (2 Cor. 8:7). Now Paul doesn’t harp on this idea as he talks to his churches, but it is quite clear that Paul believes that giving is part and parcel of our discipleship to Jesus. We can see this in 2 Corinthians 9 where Paul lays out this general principle (verses 6-7): “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” I don’t think there is any doubt. Paul believes we should give and give generously, but that is kind of obvious.
Second, the surprising. Think back on appeals you have heard about why we should give. Most of the appeals I have witnessed have focused on the need. Some have stressed obedience. Some have concentrated on the blessing one gets in giving. Some focus on how giving is a loving and good endeavor. And many have spoken about tithing as a biblical mandate. Paul is great at giving the rationale behind his commands, but his reason here is quite surprising. Paul’s whole basis for giving is found in Christ. Ask Paul why we should give, and he would quote one reason to you (2 Corinthians 9:9): “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” There are two things to note here. First, Paul was so centered on Christ that he would do anything to imitate what Jesus did in his own life. I have no doubt that Paul was so consumed with being like Jesus that if he had learned that Jesus played ice hockey, he would sign up for skating lessons that very afternoon. Ask Paul why we should give and he would smile and say, “Because Jesus gave and we want to be like Jesus.” For Paul, that’s all that needed to be said.
But there is another equally important reason that we must not miss. Paul believes deeply in giving because giving is a tangible way we show our gratitude. For Paul our response to all that Jesus has done for us is best summed up in one word: gratitude. Our lives ought to overflow with thanksgiving, and everything we do ought to have as its root motivation, our gratitude. Had Paul been John he might have said, “We give because he first gave to us.” Make no mistake: giving is one of our primary ways of saying thanks. When someone asked a certain rhetorician what the chief rule of eloquence was, he replied delivery, delivery, delivery. Augustine turned that on its head and said that the chief rule of Christian living was humility, humility, humility. Paul took it a step further. The first and only true response to Christ is gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Why should we give? It is our way of expressing our deep gratitude for all that Christ has done for us. And just in case we might miss it, at the end of Paul’s most celebrated passage on giving, he concludes with these words (2 Cor. 9:15): “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” There it is. Giving is all about gratitude for what Jesus has done for us. And that is rather surprising.
Third, the not-so-surprising-at-all. Paul is rather bold when it comes to collecting money. In fact, he is almost enthusiastic about it. I know some people who love fundraising. They are not only very good at it, but feel it is their spiritual gift. Paul would fit into that camp, with one huge caveat. Paul is very bold and enthusiastic about collecting money for others (we will talk next time about how Paul feels about collecting money for himself.) We see this in 2 Corinthians. 2 Corinthians 8-9 is the longest discussion and most passionate appeal about giving that Paul ever penned, but it is all about collecting money to take to Jerusalem so that the church there can find relief in the midst of a terrible famine. And here, we see that Paul is not shy in calling for the Corinthian church to give to this need. And when the Corinthians think about rescinding their promise to give, Paul (graciously and politely and loving) gets in their face so that they will give because Paul sees it as of critical importance. He even sends an advance team to finish collecting the money so that it gets “done.”
But note all that Paul says here about why we should give. He urges the Corinthians to give the gift graciously and not “grudgingly” or under compulsion. He calls them to “abound in every good work.” He reminds them of the example in the Old Testament (“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.”). And he pulls back the curtain so they can see that their gift will not only supply the needs of God’s people, but will result in “many expressions of thanks to God.”
See, Paul is not shy when it comes to collecting money for others. He delights in collecting money to meet real needs. He enjoys any expression of love that might draw the Jewish church and the Gentile church together. He will proclaim equity and love and grace. And he will speak forcibly for the cause of Christ even when it concerns money. Maybe that is not so surprising, but it speaks volumes about how Paul saw the church. We are called to push aside our own self-interests and serve one another; and in Paul’s way of thinking, that cannot be divorced from giving. When it comes to collecting money for others, Paul is very adamant: our calling is to give. Paul just calls it something else. He calls it love.
In 1962, Decca Recording Company decided not to offer a band a recording contract saying, “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” The band’s name? I think it was something like The Beatles. People say all sorts of things that sound wise at the time, but foolish in retrospect. Time will do that do you. Paul makes some wild statements here about why we should give. What do you think? Was he incredibly wise and insightful or are his words now obsolete and outdated? I get the sense that to miss out on what Paul is saying here is to miss out on one of the biggest opportunities ever.