Monday, May 20, 2013

GIving Until We Feel It: The Boundaries of Generosity (2 Corinthians 8 and 9)

(Part One: Giving Until You Feel It)
The important thing is to be willing to give as much as we can—that is what God accepts, and no one is asked to give what he has not got. Of course, I don’t mean that others should be relieved to an extent that leaves you in distress. It is a matter of share and share alike. At present your plenty should supply their need, and then at some future date their plenty may supply your need. In that way we share with each other, as the scripture says, ‘He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack’.


Let everyone give as his heart tells him, neither grudgingly nor under compulsion, for God loves people who give cheerfully. After all, God can give you everything that you need, so that you may always have sufficient both for yourselves and for giving away to other people. As the scripture says: “He has dispersed abroad, he has given to the poor; his righteousness remains forever." 

He who gives the seed to the sower and turns that seed into bread to eat, will give you the seed of generosity to sow, and, for harvest, the satisfying bread of good deeds well done. The more you are enriched by God the more scope there will be for generous giving, and your gifts, administered through us, will mean that many will thank God. For your giving does not end in meeting the wants of your fellow-Christians. It also results in an overflowing tide of thanksgiving to God.


Moreover, your very giving proves the reality of your faith, and that means that people thank God that you practice the Gospel that you profess to believe in, as well as for the actual gifts you make to them and to others. And yet further, people will pray for you and feel drawn to you because you have obviously received a generous measure of the grace of God. Thank God, then, for his indescribable generosity to you!”  (2 Corinthians 8:12-15; 2 Corinthians 9: 10-14)
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There are a number of things that are meant to be found in the midst of "giving until you feel it": A deeper relationship with Christ (8:14-15); a satisfying, sacrificial love for others (9:10); a maturing character in us (9:11); and a compelling witness in our city (9:13)

I wonder how many of us experience generosity in this way? If this happened all the time, wouldn’t we just always do it? Here’s the reality: Generosity is challenging because we don’t always experience these things. To experience the joy of generosity, we need a supporting cast of other virtues so that we truly flourish when we do this. There are “companion plants” that go with generosity. So, what do we need to plant with generosity so we can flourish in the midst of even the most sacrificial giving?

Generosity Flourishes With Stewardship

Sometimes when we give, we are robbed of the joy of giving because our generosity is at odds with our responsibilities. God has given us areas of life to steward; our generosity should not be at odds with that. If you have a family, for example, or you run a business with employees, you have a responsibility to them. Paul wrote, “Don't give what you don’t have,“ and “it should not leave you in distress.” God’s resources are limitless; ours are not.

When Paul addresses the church here, and he is basically saying, “Your church needs to survive too. Your city is your primary area of stewardship. Don't give to the Macedonians what you don’t have. Don’t put your own church’s future in jeopardy because of your generosity to other churches.” Generosity loves stewardship. Be sure you take care of what God has placed in your hand before you reach out that hand to others.

Generosity Flourishes With Honesty

Sometimes we are robbed of the joy of giving because our generosity requires us to look away from the reality of to whom or what we are giving. We know that even as we are being generous, we are assisting someone in their own self-destruction (think of those caught in the daunting cycle of addictions, for example).
  • We give without joy, and we get a little angry at a God who apparently commands us to enable others
  • We try to show love by helping but things keep getting worse, and we feel used
  • People around us get annoyed at our complicity rather that admiring the God who inspired us
Generosity does not demand that we ignore reality. God never asks us to shut our eyes to the real world. Generosity without boundaries = enablement. Generosity is a blessing when it contains honesty.
Generosity Flourishes With Inner Freedom

Sometimes we are robbed of the joy of giving because we don’t understand the grace and forgiveness God has offered to us. We give because we are trying to buy favor. We have a lot of sins against God and others, and we want to clear the red off the ledger. God, we assume, needs an Old Testament kind of sacrifice, so we put our money or time or energy on the altar over and over….
  • We give out of obligation, and we get a little angry at a God who just won’t let our sins go (or so we think). 
  • We become legalistic and judgmental when we think other people aren’t as serious as we are about repentance because they aren't "trying as hard"
  • People see through us; we are trying to buy God’s favor even while saying that salvation is a free gift.
We are trying to buy forgiveness (or favor, or grace) because we feel obligated to earn it. That kind of generosity is hard taskmaster. No matter what you give, it will never be enough. Generosity is a blessing when it flows from inner freedom.

Generosity Flourishes With Absolution

Absolution is release from obligation – there are “no strings attached.” Sometimes we are robbed of the joy of giving because we are actually making an investment. We think we are generous, but we are giving not because God’s reward will enable us to give more, but so God will fill our lives back up with riches that will make our gift worthwhile. It’s like playing a Heavenly Stock Market, with God as the Ultimate Broker. “You said that if I invest, you will guarantee a return on my investment, and it better be in cash, and be a lot. I’m taking a chance here.” When we attach strings….
  • We start getting tense and disillusioned when our bank accounts don’t overflow.
  • We say we were generous because we care about others, but we actually see them as an investment opportunity
  • People see that we are giving not because we care about others, but because we care about ourselves. “Oh, you gave my McDonald’s gift certificates because you thought someone would give you certificates for Stellas? No thanks…”
Generosity is a blessing when we give with no strings attached.

Generosity Flourishes With Humility

Sometimes we are robbed of the joy of giving because we are doing it for the applause of people. We look really good to others, but we are actually making an investment in our reputation.  We don’t believe that who we are as a child of God is sufficient, and meanwhile money buys admirers and friends...
  • We look like we are helping others, but we become kind of obnoxious if we aren’t noticed. 
  • We begin to view people as a means to an end. They exist to notice us!
  • People wonder why generous people need to be worshiped…and wonder if this generous God we speak of is actually that great of a God, because if He is anything like His people, He seems awfully needy and insecure.
Generosity is a blessing when it partners with humility.
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If you are experiencing joy as you "give until you feel it," generosity will probably continue to flow out of you. If you are not experiencing joy, take the time to be introspective and ask the Holy Spirit (and some trusted friends) to bring you to a place of honesty, humility, inner freedom, and the ability to be generous with no strings attached.

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