A Faithful Thing

Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. – 3 John 1:5-8 ESV

Once again, John refers to Gaius as his “beloved.” He will use this term repeatedly throughout his letter. And while this word carries romantic connotations to a modern reader, the Greek word John used could better be translated as “dear friend.” It was a term of endearment that expressed the closeness and warmth behind their relationship. John had a deep and abiding affection for Gaius. It could be that Gaius was a disciple of John’s, much like Timothy had been to Paul. In his second letter to his young protege, Paul referred to Timothy as “my beloved child” (2 Timothy 1:2 ESV). And he expressed his deep longing to see him again.

I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. – 2 Timothy 1:4 ESV

The apostles developed strong attachments for the local flocks to whom they ministered and the men they trained to carry on the Gospel message. While we’re not certain of the exact nature of the relationship between John and Gaius, it’s quite evident that they were close.

It seems that Gaius had shown hospitality to some itinerant evangelists who had visited their local fellowship. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul mentioned evangelists among the “gifts” Jesus had given to the church.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. – Ephesians 4:11 NLT

An evangelist, by definition, was “a bringer of good tidings. The Greek word is euaggelistēs and it derives from another Greek word, euaggelizō, which means “to preach the Good News.” Both words stem from the Greek word, aggelos, which means, “angel, messenger, or one who is sent.”

An evangelist was a messenger of the Gospel or the good news concerning Jesus Christ. These individuals expanded the work of the Great Commission by taking the Gospel to places the apostles had not yet been able to reach. And when they had visited the local congregation where Gaius was a member in Asia Minor, he had shown them hospitality. And John compliments him for his generosity and kindness, describing his efforts as a “faithful thing.” The New Living Translation accurately renders John’s meaning by describing the efforts of Gaius as an expression of his faith in God.

…you are being faithful to God when you care for the traveling teachers who pass through, even though they are strangers to you. – 3 John 1:5 NLT

It is likely that John had in mind the parable Jesus told regarding the final judgment. In that story, Jesus describes those who are blessed by the Father and who would inherit the Kingdom. And He provided the reason why:

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. – Matthew 25:35 NLT

But the recipients of this fantastic news respond with amazement, asking, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing?” (Matthew 25:37-38 NLT). And the King in Jesus’ story answers their question by stating, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:40 NLT).

Gaius had graciously provided food and shelter to strangers, the divine messengers of the Gospel who had shown up in their community. And these men had testified about Gaius’ kindness before the entire congregation. When John had received news of Gaius’ actions, he had been thrilled. The actions of this selfless servant of God were exactly what the Gospel was all about. The body of Christ was meant to function as a self-contained organism where the needs of all were met. God had equipped His church with all the resources it needed to survive and thrive. And the apostle Paul had reminded Timothy that those whom Jesus had gifted to the church as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, were to be well taken care of.

Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” – 1 Timothy 5:17-18 NLT

These individuals had no source of income. They were totally dependent upon the generosity of the local churches to care for their needs. And Gaius had been one of the first to step up and welcome these men with open arms and a heart of generosity. But John encouraged Gaius to extend his generosity by equipping the evangelists for the next phase of their ministry.

You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. – 3 John 1:6 ESV

These men were divine messengers and they needed to be treated in a manner that reflected the honor and respect due to God. He had sent them and He expected His people to provide for them. And John emphasizes that “they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles” (3 John 1:7 ESV). These men were ministering on behalf of Jesus. It was in His name and according to His commission that they made their way from town to town, bearing the Good News to those who had yet to hear it. And John emphasizes that the only financial support these men could expect to receive was from the church and not from Gentile unbelievers.

The church was to care for its own and Gaius had illustrated that truth in a way that had gained John’s attention and admiration. He was proud of his “dear friend.” And he encouraged Gaius to keep up the good work, reminding him, “we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth” (3 John 1:8 ESV).

Some can go. Others can give. God calls certain individuals to serve as pastors, teachers, evangelists, and missionaries, and that calling requires them to dedicate themselves to the full-time use of their gifts and resources for His service. The apostle Paul spent his entire adult life answering the call given to him by Jesus on the road to Damascus. And he was grateful for the support provided to him by local congregations of believers, like those in Philippi.

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. – Philippians 1:3-5 NLT

But not every congregation followed the example of Gaius and the Philippians. Paul had to admonish the church in Corinth, reprimanding them for their lack of support for his ministry.

Don’t you realize that those who work in the temple get their meals from the offerings brought to the temple? And those who serve at the altar get a share of the sacrificial offerings. In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it. – 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 NLT

And Paul made his point perfectly and painfully clear.

What soldier has to pay his own expenses? What farmer plants a vineyard and doesn’t have the right to eat some of its fruit? What shepherd cares for a flock of sheep and isn’t allowed to drink some of the milk? Am I expressing merely a human opinion, or does the law say the same thing? For the law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.”[ Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this? Wasn’t he actually speaking to us? Yes, it was written for us, so that the one who plows and the one who threshes the grain might both expect a share of the harvest. – 1 Corinthians 9:7-10 NLT

God had sent these workers into the harvest. Now, He expected them to be compensated for their work. Their sacrifice was worthy of remuneration. Their efforts to spread the Gospel and to build up the body of Christ deserved the generous support of those who had benefited from their work. Those who had been blessed were to be a blessing to others. And Gaius provides a tangible expression of faithfulness to God by exhibiting gratefulness to the servants of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


The Motivation to Give

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. – Philippians 4:14-23 ESV

Paul was grateful, and he expressed that gratitude to the Philippian church. They had lovingly and generously reached out to him in what they believed to be was his time of need. Paul didn’t want his admission that he had no needs to come across as ungratefulness or to offend his brothers and sisters in Christ. They had seen Paul in trouble and had reached out in love and concern.

And Paul wanted them to know that he was appreciative because not every church had been as kind and caring. Not only had some of the places in which he had preached failed to give toward his ministry, that had rejected his message. While Paul had been in Macedonia and Thessalonica, it had been the Philippians who had donated toward his ministry and provided for his needs.

Yet Paul, always trying to keep their minds focused on what is truly important, reminds them that their eternal reward is of far greater importance value than any temporal benefit he may have received from their gift. God was going to reward them for their generosity. He would bless them for their willingness to sacrifice on Paul’s behalf. The gift was not the important thing. It was the condition of hearts behind the gift.

The generosity of their gift had left Paul well-supplied and in need of nothing. But,  more importantly, their gift had been “a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18 NLT). Paul was blessed, God was pleased, and the Philippians were fruitful. What more could Paul ask for?

And Paul wanted the Philippians to know that the God who had met for his needs through them would be faithful to do the same for them.

“…this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:19 NLT

God loves a cheerful giver. And God expresses His love for that giver by generously meeting their needs. Paul expressed this very same idea to the church in Corinth.

Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 NLT

Paul was not preaching a prosperity gospel. He wasn’t suggesting that we should give to get. Personal reward should not be the motivation behind our generosity. That is a totally self-centered and selfish approach that does not gel with Scripture. But it is important that we understand that gracious, selfless giving is proof of the Spirit’s work in our life. It reveals His presence and power.

But if the things we do are motivated out of a desire for reward and recognition, we will never enjoy the blessings of God. Jesus made this perfectly clear in His Sermon on the Mount.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” – Matthew 6:2 NLT

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. – Matthew 6:5 NLT

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. – Matthew 6:16 NLT

Paul expressed his thanks, but he didn’t want the Philippians to mistakenly assume that it was the nature of their gift that had earned them a reward from God. He didn’t want them to think that God was now somehow obligated to them or owed them a blessing. It was their love for Paul that was important. The gift was simply an expression of that love. We can all give, pray, and fast, expecting God to reward us for doing so. But if we don’t do it out of love, our giving, praying, and fasting have no value in God’s eyes.

Paul was able to declare that God had met each and every one of his needs. And Paul knew that God would continue to do so. God Almighty wasn’t reliant upon the Philippians to meet Paul’s needs. He could have sent an angel to minister to Paul. But God allowed the Philippians the joy of knowing what it is like to be used by Him. They got to experience the blessing of being His hands and feet. And their sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading, as evidenced by their gift to Paul, was meant to remind them that God was at work in them. And this brings us full-circle to a statement Paul had made earlier in his letter to them.

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. – Philippians 2:12-13 NLT

They were, and God was. Their gift blessed Paul, pleased God, and rewarded them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Imperfectly Perfect.

32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.– Acts 4:32-5:2 ESV

In these verses, Luke reiterates something he had stated earlier regarding the spiritual condition of the early church.

44 All who believed were together and held everything in common, 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need. 46 Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts, 47 praising God and having the good will of all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:44-47 NLT

Evidently, moved by the Spirit of God, the early converts to Christianity practiced a kind of communal lifestyle in which those who were better off assisted the needy within their number. We have to keep in mind that the size of the congregation in Jerusalem had grown exponentially in a very short period of time. On one occasion, they had seen nearly 3,000 people believe in the name of Christ (Acts 2:41). And we’re told that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47 ESV). Then, at the very start of chapter four, we were told that, as a result of the preaching of Peter and John, “many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand” (Acts 4:2 ESV). The church had grown from the initial group of 120 who had been gathered in the upper room on the day the Holy Spirit came. They now numbered in the thousands, perhaps as high as 10,000, if women and children are included.

These new converts were more than likely experiencing the early stages of persecution for their faith. It seems that the vast majority of those added to the number of the early church were Jews, and their conversions would have caused a great deal of resentment on the part of their fellow Jews. Many would have found themselves ostracized by their friends and families. Some could have lost their jobs. And when you couple this with the stagnant economic status in Jerusalem, caused by an recent famine, the number of the needy within the rapidly expanding congregation would have been high. But Luke records that the believers illustrated visibly the change that had taken place internally. They showed love for one another. He describes them as being “of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32 ESV), and this unity was expressed in their selflessness and generosity. Those who had were more than willing willing to share with the have-nots among them. Luke says, “they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32 ESV). This was not in response to a rule laid down by the apostles, but a reaction to the indwelling Spirit of God. They were moved by the Spirit to care for one another. And those who owned property were prompted by the Spirit to sell what they had and lay the proceeds at the apostles’ feet; a sign of submission and of their willing release of all rights to the money. Luke makes it clear that they didn’t sell their property, then dole out the proceeds as they saw fit. They liquidated their assets and turned over all the profits to the apostles. Again, this seems to have been a Spirit-directed effort.

And Luke describes the atmosphere surrounding the early church in very positive terms. He says that the apostles were preaching with great power. The church was experiencing great grace. And because of the generosity of the people, there wasn’t a needy person among them. And he provides us with a real-life illustration of how all this worked, describing the efforts of Joseph, a Levite from Cypress, who “sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles” feet” (Acts 4:37 ESV). This man must have had a reputation for generosity and compassion, because the apostles had nicknamed Him Barnabas, which means, “son of encouragement.” The selling of his land would have been in keeping with his temperament, and it is likely that he received much thanks and praise from the needy within the congregation for his efforts. And it can easily be assumed that the disciples spoke highly of his example of generosity. Joseph had not done what he did for the praise of men, but under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He had not been looking for accolades, but the fact that Luke knew and recorded his name, makes it clear that his efforts were not done in secret. The church knew what he had done and those whose needs had been met as a result, would have expressed their appreciation to him.

But in the midst of all this good news and Luke’s description of Spirit-led generosity and communal sharing, there appears a sudden and unexpected dark cloud. Chapter four ends on a high note, but chapter five opens up with the word, “but.” The nearly perfect atmosphere is suddenly marred by the stark contrast provided the story of Ananias and Sapphira. It is as if Luke wants us to understand that the early church, while Spirit-filled and directed, was far from perfect. Sin had not been eradicated. The presence of the Spirit in the lives of the believers had not eliminated their sin natures. The apostle Paul described the situation well.

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

And in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, we are provided with an illustration of just what this looks like in real life. This couple was a part of the early church. They had been among those who had believed in Jesus. But, like all believers, they had their old sin natures to contend with and, when they saw what Joseph had done and the recognition he had received as a result of his action, they determined to do the same. It is likely that their initial compulsion to sell their property came from the Holy Spirit. Based on Peter’s later accusation that they had lied to the Holy Spirit, it would make sense that they had been acting under the Spirit’s prompting, but had been motivated by the need for recognition and their own hearts filled with greed.

But Luke provides us with an insider’s view behind the curtain of the early church, revealing that, even then, there was a dark side. Then, as now, saved, but sin-prone, people made up the church. Ananias and Sapphira are not presented as wicked, sinful people, but as part of the local body of believers. Their story is intended to reveal the vulnerability and susceptibility of the early church to both external and internal attack. In the midst of all the unity and selflessness, they are presented as an example of selfishness and self-centeredness. External persecution, while always dangerous, is nothing when compared with the impact of internal compromise and spiritual deceit. At first glance, what Ananias and Sapphira did does not appear to be that egregious. Luke simply records that they “sold some property.” Then he writes, “He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest” (Acts 5:2 NLT). Like Joseph, they sold some property. Like Joseph, they gave the proceeds to the apostles. But unlike Joseph, they didn’t give it all. There is no indication that they were required to give it all. Their sin seems to be that they claimed to be giving it all. They gave the impression that they were donating all the profit from their sale to the communal needs of the body of Christ. And their little charade, rather than garnering them the praise of men, was going to bring down the judgment of God. And the new life of the church, marked by growth, unity, selflessness and community, was going to be darkened by death.  

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Giving Reaps Dividends.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! – 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 ESV

There is a certain segment of Christendom today that operates by the “give-to-get” philosophy that says God is somehow obligated to “pour out a blessing” on all those who give. And they use this very passage to teach that the more you give, the more God is obligated to give in return. But is that what Paul is teaching. Is he portraying giving as some kind of divine financial investment strategy that guarantees a low-risk, high-yield return on your giving? There is little doubt that Paul is teaching that those who sow or give sparingly will reap in the same way. And those who sow or give bountifully will experience a bountiful return on their investment. But what is the nature of that return? Is it more money? Is Paul guaranteeing a high financial return on your giving? If he is, then the motivation behind the giving becomes based on greed and avarice.

Paul’s emphasis is on giving and doing so freely and liberally. But the motivation is to be based on submission to the will of God and a recognition of His grace and generosity to us. Anything we have to give has been given to us by Him. Our giving is to be out of gratitude, not greed. It is to be out of love for the saints, not a lust for more wealth. Paul emphasizes that our giving should be done cheerfully, not because we expect a financial return on our giving, but because we are doing the will of God and participating in the care of the saints and the cause of His Kingdom. The point behind our giving is to be a dependence upon God, not money. Paul says, “God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others” (2 Corinthians 9:8 NLT). When we give, we are releasing our hold and dependence upon the very resources the world says are our hope and means of self-reliance. But Paul says that when we give, we are showing our dependence upon God. We are submitting our care to His divine will and ability to meet our daily needs. When we give generously and cheerfully, God will not let us go hungry. It is His grace that He will pour out on us, and not necessarily in the form of money. God has a far greater concern for us than our financial stability. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10 ESV). Notice what is being harvested: Your righteousness. The real benefit behind our giving is righteousness, not financial reward.

The other fruit produced from sowing generously is thanksgiving. And Paul extends the concept of giving beyond just the financial arena. “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11 ESV). When we willingly obey God’s prompting to give, whether it be of our money, our time, or our talents, we will find that God enriches us with even more of those same resources so that we might give more. The point is not that we are giving to get more of whatever it is we just gave away. It is that we might see the grace of God poured out on us and through us. That is what produces thanksgiving to Him. When we see God at work in our lives, using us and blessing us, we can’t help but be grateful to Him for His grace and goodness to us. And Paul goes on to say, “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Corinthians 9:12 ESV). In other words, our generous giving produces a crop of thanksgiving from those who are the beneficiaries of our giving. They will be grateful to us, but more importantly, they will show gratitude to God.  Not only that, “they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others” (2 Corinthians 9:13 ESV). Our giving results in their gratitude and God’s glory.  And it all starts with our submission to God that comes as a result of our salvation by God. Our generosity, in whatever form it takes, is a byproduct of our salvation. We love because He first loved us. We give because He has so graciously given to us.

Paul would have us remember that our giving is an expression of God’s “surpassing grace” upon us. And like Paul, we should be able to say, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 ESV). We are the recipients of God’s grace, His unmerited favor. We are the beneficiaries of His benevolent, sacrificial gift of His own Son’s death as payment for our sins. Our debt was paid by His sacrifice. God gave the greatest thing He had to give so that we might have life. It is because of that inexpressible gift that we are to give to others. And the return on investment? Our righteousness, increased thankfulness, and the glory of God.

Generous Grace.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.   2 Corinthians 8:1-8 ESV

Paul had been overwhelmed by the reception of his previous letter, even though it had ended up causing the Corinthians some serious sorrow. That sorrow had led to their repentance and they had responded in grace, love and gratitude. Now Paul takes the opportunity to appeal to that same grace in order to enlist their help with a pressing financial concern. For nearly five years, Paul had been actively soliciting funds from the churches he had helped establish throughout Macedonia, Galatia, Achaia, and Asia Minor. This money was being sent to help Hebrew Christians living in Judea, where they were suffering from the effects of a famine as well as the poverty that came as a result of their conversions to Christianity. Many had lost their jobs, been ostracized by their families or were having a difficult time trying to do business with their Jewish neighbors. Paul was constantly requesting that the churches over which he had influence, would participate in providing financial aid to their brothers and sisters in Judea. And Corinth would be no exception.

Paul began by informing the Corinthians of the generosity displayed by the churches in Macedonia, a neighboring region. In referring to the Philippians, Thessalonians, and Bereans, Paul was adroitly using comparison to make his appeal to the Corinthians. He points out that their neighbors to the north “have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:2 ESV). And this was in spite of their own “extreme poverty.” Paul says, “they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will” (2 Corinthians 8:3 NLT). Not only that, they begged Paul for the opportunity to give. This was not the first time the Corinthians had heard about the need in Judea. Paul had raised this topic with them before in his first letter. He referred to it as the “collection for the saints” (1 Corinthians 16:1). But either the Corinthians had begun to give and then stopped, or they had never fully gotten behind the effort to begin with. Either way, Paul is now appealing to them to allow the grace of God to flow through them as it had done with the believers in Macedonia. Paul had a strong sense of community and unity when it came to the body of Christ. He wanted each congregation to understand and embrace their connection with and responsibility to the other fellowships located all around the world at that time. They were not to view themselves as independent entities, isolated and removed from the larger context of the family of God. They were to see themselves as brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing a common bond with believers all around the world. And Paul wants them to know that God desired to use them to extend His grace to the believers in Judea. Paul had even sent Titus to encourage their participation in this fund-raising effort. 

Paul reminds them that they are a gifted church. They excel “in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness” (2 Corinthians 8:7 ESV). Paul had told them in his first letter, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1:4-7 ESV). Now he wants them to add to their resume of giftedness this “act of grace.”  Paul tells them, “I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7b NLT). But he doesn’t want them to do it under coercion or as a form of compliance to a command. It must be done in love. Giving without love is ultimately self-motivated, in order to get attention. Or what is given is soiled with selfishness, regret and sense of reluctance. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus taught, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get” (Matthew 6:1-2 NLT). If you give in order to get praise, that is the only reward you will receive. That is what led Paul to write in his first letter, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3 ESV).

The giving of the Corinthians was to be an extension of the grace of God, flowing from Him through them and to the believers in Judea. God’s grace is anything but selfish and self-centered. It is an expression of His love. So in giving to the believers in Judea, the Corinthians would be showing the love and favor of God through their willing generosity. Giving was to be seen, not as an obligation, but as an opportunity to love others as they had been loved by God – generously, undeservedly, and graciously. In his first letter, Paul had sternly reminded the Corinthians, “What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 NLT). They had become arrogant and prideful, seeing themselves as spiritual superior and blessed by God. Paul scolded them, “You think you already have everything you need. You think you are already rich” (1 Corinthians 4:8 NLT). But all that they enjoyed had come from God. It had all be a result of the grace of God. Their giftedness was God’s doing. Their salvation had been the result of Christ’s death, not their own merit. The reality of their indebtedness to God should have created in them a sense of gratitude that manifested itself in gracious generosity. Their giving was to be a reflection of the joy they felt for all that they had been given. We love because He first loved us. We give because He has given to us. We bless others because He has graciously blessed us.

Genuine Generosity.

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me. – 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 ESV

Paul opens up this series of verses with the same words he has used throughout this section of the letter:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote… – 1 Corinthians 7:1 ESV

Now concerning the betrothed… – 1 Corinthians 7:25 ESV

Now concerning food offered to idols… – 1 Corinthians 8:1 ESV

Now concerning spiritual gifts… – 1 Corinthians 12:1 ESV

Now concerning our brother Apollos… – 1 Corinthians 16:12 ESV

In each case, it seems that he is answering a question from the Corinthians or addressing a concern he has regarding the affairs of the church. In this case, he is dealing with their role in assisting the “saints”. This is most likely a reference to the saints in Jerusalem and Judea. Luke describes the situation in the book of Acts.

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. – Acts 11:27-30 ESV

Paul had a strong desire to assist the believers in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas who were struggling through the time of famine. These believers, who were primarily Jews, were not only going without food, but were also having to deal with persecution from their Jewish peers because of their conversion to Christianity. Paul had written to the believers in Rome, “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Romans 15:25-26 ESV). He went on to say that the believers in Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to do it and even saw it as a debt they owed, “For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings” (Romans 15:27 ESV). 

In the early days of the church, there was a need for community and mutual care throughout the body of Christ. The new, fledgling churches were commonly made up of individuals from the less affluent segments of society. Many, after having come to faith in Christ, had lost their jobs. They had been ostracized from their families. Some of the churches to which Paul ministered on his missionary journeys were better off than others and he strongly encouraged them to use their resources to help those in need, both within their own fellowships, but in other churches located in other cities as well. Paul would write a second letter to the Corinthians encouraging them to get involved in the support of the needs of others, something they seemed to have a hard time doing.

Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. – 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 NLT

Paul was not above using a bit of shaming by comparing the seeming stinginess of the Corinthians with the generosity of the churches in Macedonia. These churches, while enduring their own “deep poverty” were joyfully and eagerly giving to meet the needs of the saints in Jerusalem, even begging for the opportunity to do so. Two times Paul refers to this as a “gracious work” and tells the Corinthians that generous giving is to be pursued with the same intensity and given the same priority as faith, speech, knowledge or even love. In fact, meeting the physical needs of others is one of the greatest expressions of our love for others.

So Paul tells the Corinthians, “On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once” (1 Corinthians 1:3 NLT). He provides them with instructions as to how to take up their collection, fully expecting them to participate in the support of the needs of the believers in Judea. He is not commanding them to do so, but he is fully expecting their willing participation. Why? Because it is the will of God and the evidence of the Spirit’s working within them. God has a heart for the helpless, hopeless, the needy and the destitute. In the book of Micah, the prophet records what God expects of His people:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

The greatest expression of generosity and sacrifice Paul could think of was that of Jesus Christ and His willing sacrifice of His life. “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 by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV). He gave His life so that we might live. He became poor, leaving the confines of heaven and taking on human flesh, so that we might become rich, becoming heirs of God Himself. 

The body of Christ is meant to care for itself. There is no room for selfishness and self-centeredness. God blesses some so that they might be a blessing to others. But even those who have little are able to assist those who have even less. This is not just about a redistribution of wealth and the creation of a socialistic society. It is about love. It is about generosity and a desire to express the love of God to those in need.

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7-9 NLT

The goal for Paul was generosity – genuine, heart-felt, Spirit-inspired, love-based generosity that expressed the unity and community for which Christ died. Paul longed to see the churches to which he ministered experience and display the kind of love that was found in the early days of the church immediately after the coming of the Spirit.

All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had…There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. – Acts 4:32,34-35 NLT

Genuine generosity. Godly love. Brotherly affection. Selfless sacrifice. Compassionate care. “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT).

2 Corinthians 9

You Give – God Gets the Glory.

2 Corinthians 9

As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of of Christ. – 2 Corinthians 9:13 NLT

For many in the church today, the word, giving conjures up all kinds of negative images. Some who once made going to church a regular part of their life, quit going long ago because they felt like all the church wanted was their money. And in the case of some churches, it would appear that building campaigns and fund-raising efforts have taken the place of the Gospel. Yes, there are times when churches need to grow and must depend on their congregation for the resources to make those efforts possible. But giving, while essential, was never intended to be the primary message of the church. It has always been an integral part of the believer’s experience, even during the early days of the church. But it would seem that the purpose behind giving was more practical and aimed at ministering to the needs of the growing body of Christ around the world.

Paul had no problem asking the various churches to whom he had ministered to give money toward the needs of the believers in Jerusalem. He asked boldly and he expected them to give generously. He wanted them to give willingly and not grudgingly. In fact, Paul told them “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully” (2 Corinthians 9:7 NLT). Giving was to be a decision between the individual believer and God. It was to be an expression of faith and a tangible picture of their love for God and for others. Giving is not a selfish or self-centered act, but something done in cooperation with God. “For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you” (2 Corinthians 9:10 NLT). This is not a promise of prosperity and riches if you give. Paul is not saying that God is obligated to bless you with a financial windfall if you give. He is simply reminding his audience that it is God who gives us all that we have. Just as a farmer must depend on God to provide the seed and, ultimately, the bread, so we are dependent on God to provide us with our jobs and even the capacity to work so that we might earn a wage. God enriches us so that we might enrich others. He is generous with us so that we might be generous with others. And when we give, not only are others blessed, He gets glory. “And when we take you gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. So two good things will result from this ministry of giving – the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God” (2 Corinthians 9:12 NLT).

Our generosity to others will cause them to glorify God. They may never know that we were the ones who contributed to their need, but they will know that God was behind it all. And when we give willingly and generously to the needs of others, it is practical proof of the reality of the Gospel in our lives. Generosity is not a natural outflow of the human heart. Because of sin, we are prone to selfishness. We tend to want to horde and are suspicious of those who might take what we see as rightfully ours. One of the first words every child learns to say is, “MIne!” Possessing comes naturally to all of us. Giving does not. Sharing is not a normal or natural trait for most children. It must be taught to and, in some cases, forced upon most children. And most of us still struggle with it as adults. But the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives should begin to change all that. The more we grow to understand the grace and mercy we have been given by God, the more we should learn to share what we have with others. Paul describes it “the overflowing grace God has given.” He has been overwhelmingly generous with us, providing us with the priceless gift of His Son. So He fully expects us to be generous with one another. All that we have, He has provided. He blesses us so that we might be a blessing to others. He gives to us so that we might give to one another. He meets our needs in order that we might learn to meet the needs of those around us. Which is why Paul tells us, “Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NLT). Give because you can. Give because you want to. Give because God has given to you. Give because it brings glory to Him. Give because it strengthens the body and grows the Kingdom. Give because you can’t out-give God. Giving is a ministry, not an obligation. It is a privilege, not a burden. It is a gift, and we should thank God for it.

Father, I want giving to become increasingly more a part of my life. I want it to be a joy to give. I want to see it as a privilege, not a burden. I want to give in faith, knowing that it is You who meets all my needs – not me. I want to learn to trust You for all my needs as I willingly, joyfully help meet the needs of others. I want to increasingly know from experience that I can’t ever out-give You. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Grace-Based Giving.

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. – 2 Corinthians 8:2 NIV

In this section of his letter, Paul began to address a topic that has always sent chills up the spines of most believers throughout the centuries: Giving. Yes, he brought up and encouraged the need to give. But not to build facilities or expand ministry projects. No, Paul was raising money for the persecuted and impoverished believers back in Jerusalem. Everywhere he went and to every church he encountered, he encouraged them to contribute toward the needs of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. The amazing thing is that many of the individuals to whom Paul was making this request were just as poor and equally persecuted. But he asked nonetheless. And even in the midst of their own troubles and trials, these people gave richly and generously – an out-flowing of their own joy in Christ. They were glad to give, even to people they had never met living in a land they would probably never see.

And Paul reminds the Corinthian believers that the giving by the Macedonians went far beyond what he had expected. They had even begged Paul repeatedly for the privilege of sharing in the needs of the believers in Jerusalem. They had not given out of their abundance, but had shared beyond what they could even afford. And their financial giving had been accompanied by an equally fervent giving of themselves to God and to the ministry of Paul. These people were committed to the cause of Christ and the well-being of the Kingdom. For Paul, giving was simply an expression or evidence of a believer’s love. He compared it to what Christ had done for them. “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NLT). When Jesus willingly, sacrificially took on human flesh and came to dwell among men, it was the ultimate expression of love and generosity. He gave up His divine rights, privileges and position as God, became a man and died a criminal’s death on the cross. He gave so that we might receive. He made us rich by providing for us eternal life – a gift we could never have afforded any other way. His selfless, sacrificial example should provide every believer with more than enough motive to give graciously and gladly to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul did not ask them to “give till it hurts.” He simply asked them to be faithful and to finish what they had begun. They key was that they should give eagerly and willingly, not under compulsion or out of some sense of guilt. “Give in proportion to what you have. Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly” (2 Corinthians 8:11-12 NLT). Paul was not interested in making the Corinthians feel guilty or encouraging them to give what they didn’t have or couldn’t afford. He was simply wanting them to share in the needs of the body of Christ globally. The concept of community and commonality was always on Paul’s mind and heart. The church was global, not just local. The abundance of a few was meant to minister to those in need. God’s provision for His people would take place through the body of Christ as believers faithfully shared with others what God had faithfully provided for them. There should be no need within the body of Christ. That had been the experience of the early church from its inception. “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need” (Acts 2:44-45 NLT). What a witness that must have been to the community around them. That kind of love and generosity was no more the norm then than it is today. This wasn’t some form of socialism, but simply a concrete expression of the love of Christ lived out in everyday life. It was a picture of the body of Christ ministering to itself selfessly and, at times, sacrificially, so that all might prosper spiritually and physically. That kind of love is contagious and gives evidence of the transformative power of the Spirit of God in the lives of the people of God.

Father, give me a heart of generosity. Let me see my abundance not as a special privilege to be spent only on my own selfish needs and desires, but as a resource to share with those around me. May the body of Christ today learn to live as a true community, giving generously and willingly to one another so that no one ever has need. May we mirror the generosity and grace of Jesus among ourselves and in front of a lost and dying world. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 11b


Generous Living.

“The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” – Proverbs 11:25 NLT

The true spirit of generosity is in short supply these days. Sure, there are still plenty of people giving money for worthy causes and writing checks to underwrite everything from political parties to homeless shelters, but biblical generosity seems to be something different altogether. There is a certain selflessness and sacrificial attitude that accompanies biblical generosity. It is not giving out of a surplus or for the tax benefits, it is having a heart of concern and care for those less fortunate and then doing something about it – willingly, gladly and generously. It is giving based on kindness, not coercion. “Your kindness will reward you…” (Proverbs 11:17 NLT). It is generosity that is motivated by compassion, not compensation. In other words, the truly generous person does not give to get. Yet, interestingly enough, God promises to reward those who give with blessings. They will prosper. They will be refreshed. Their willingness to give freely will result in a supernatural supply that allows them continue to do so. It reminds me of the old adage, “You can’t out give God.”

And the kind of generosity we are talking about here is not limited to money. We can be generous with our time, talents, energy, and other resources. Some people are generous with their possessions, making their homes, cars and other resources available to anyone and everyone, because they understand they are gifts from God to use for His glory and the good of others. Others give of their time, even though they are just as busy as the next person. They realize that people are more important than deadlines giving ourselves away for the good of others is more important than getting things done.

The opposite of generosity is stinginess, and stinginess is motivated by selfishness. The stingy person is unwilling to share because they are too self-consumed and self-centered to allow themselves to think about the needs of others. Stingy people tend to put their hope in their possessions. They fear losing them. They are convinced that if they were to share what they have, their worth would somehow be diminished. So they keep it all to themselves, hording their time, talents and treasures for their own use. But “riches won’t help in the day of judgment…” (Proverbs 11:4 NLT). “Be stingy and lose everything…” (Proverbs 11:24 NLT). “Trust in your money and down you go!” (Proverbs 11:28 NLT).

True generosity requires a regenerated heart. Only God can transform a naturally selfish heart into a selfless one. He alone can give us the capacity to give compassionately. Godly people are generous people. They are giving people. Because their God is a generous, giving God. They have a refreshing influence over others. Their generosity is contagious, spreading through the community and pointing others to the generosity of God Himself.

Father, You are a generous, giving God. You gave Your own Son so that we might have new life. You give us undeserved grace and mercy each and every day of our lives. Make us a generous people who gladly give of ourselves as a reflection of Your generosity to us. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men