Let us pray: Dear Lord Jesus, how amazing and against our human understanding it is that to receive joy You embraced humility, suffering, sacrifice, pain, and even death. How amazing it is that Your poverty lead to the riches of heaven itself—for You and now by faith for us. Today teach us the truth of this amazing paradox. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO BECAME POOR SO THAT YOU MIGHT BECOME RICH!
TEXT: 2 Corinthians 8: 1-9, 13,14
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
“You don’t know what it’s like until you’ve lived through it.” Everyone has heard those words, usually when you’re young, from older parents or relatives. They are relating the upheaval of traumatic times and how it impacts them. When you’re young you listen, nod, act sympathetic and think they are being a bit melodramatic. But, later, when you actually experience similar situations you discover just how sage and wise their advice really was. Personal experience in the school of hard knocks really is the best teacher in life.
After doing over 100 funerals in my ministry I had a pretty good handle on what to expect and how to carry out my mother’s last wishes. But settling up her estate, well, I confess: I’m a greenhorn. So, I rely a lot on the lawyer as I do about my executor duties. My over-arching aim is to be faithful to my Mother’s wishes while also keeping everyone else happy. It’s a careful road to walk. Along the way I’ve seen snatches of people’s inner self, people I’ve known for years and years, and sometimes it’s magnificent and sometimes it’s not-so-pretty. Pettiness abounds. Greed is evident. Emotionalism is ever present. When I give certain items away to others I have to be aware of criticism I will receive for passing up a few dollars in a sale. But when I see the joy on their faces and think of how happy Mother would have been to see this person or that receive something special to them, well, it makes it all worthwhile.
We live in a crude, uncouth culture dominated by greed and the worship of the almighty dollar. By nature people are grasping, superficial, and very greedy. Everything is valued in money terms, even when it shouldn’t be. Today’s text addresses these large, often life-dominating issues. It addresses them in a positive, Christian manner. So, let’s look at St. Paul’s words under this theme:
GENEROSITY STEMS FROM A RECOGNITION OF BLESSINGS
The situation was this. Paul and Titus were taking up a collection to help the Christians in Jerusalem who were undergoing a severe persecution. They were in Greece and asked the Greek churches to help as much as they could. Paul is writing to the church in Corinth that he founded. They were “city people” whose disposable income was medium to high when compared to others around the civilized world. He uses the example of the Macedonian churches, “Hicksville” where people lead a hardscrabble existence, as an example of the right kind of attitude. Originally, Titus had mentioned this offering to those churches, but not to raise money from them (since they had so little) but rather as a point of information. However, those humble Macedonians had taken the need to heart. They apparently wrote and pleaded for the chance to help out. Paul was stunned! They had so little. And yet, they were adamant because generosity stemmed from a recognition of their blessings and in their eyes they had it all in Christ!
Listen again to how Paul phrases it: “Now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.”
What a magnificent group of folks they were! How different from most modern people today. How often does anyone run across people who plead for the opportunity to donate to a needy cause—especially when they, themselves, are poor and perhaps need it almost as bad as those they are trying to help!? And why did they do this? Paul tells us. He uses the word “grace” to describe such a giving attitude. They were moved by the love Jesus had for them in saving their souls. They were moved by His sacrifice on the cross, His life for their lives. God had been generous with His love and subsequent spiritual blessings to them and now they wanted to share what they had with other saints in need. These were the people you could count on when the going got tough. Where do such people come from? They come from the love of Christ filling empty hearts and changing lives for the better!
I love this section of the Bible. It shows the best of what being a Christian is all about. Note how Paul reminds the Corinthians of their special status, too. “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.” In other words, if you have it all, and they did, why not share it and show it for the glory of God and the benefit of someone in need? Why not use your time, talents and treasure to bring joy into another’s life?
Too often people equate generosity with the giving of money. Nothing could be further from the truth. Generosity is an attitude stemming from the recognition of your own Godly blessings and the loving spirit to share whatever you can when it comes to a specific need. I’ve known people who would gladly “cut a check” for something or other but would never dream of re-ordering their schedule to help, or of giving their valuable insight to the project. In essence, such people bought off their guilty conscience. Folks, that’s not generosity. No generosity is giving freely from the heart what is truly valuable to you for the express purpose of bringing joy into another’s life. And as Christians we possess this ability and the motivation for it when we focus on Jesus Christ. Note what Paul says next:
“I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
What gave Jesus joy in His life? Wasn’t it saving us? Wasn’t it enduring poverty, shame, suffering and death for us? Wasn’t it giving His all to us freely out of pure love? Jesus was the most generous person who has ever lived. He was also the most joyous. Since you and I are recipients of His all-encompassing love, His grace, being generous in spirit will bring us such joy, too. Scripture says: “God loves a cheerful giver.” How true. And such generosity always stems from a heart which recognizes and appreciates His manifold blessings. Amen