And You Shall Rejoice

1 “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God.

“And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. 11 And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.– Deuteronomy 26:1-11 ESV

Moses has finished reviewing all the rules and regulations intended to govern and guide the lives of the Israelites. Now, he provides them with instructions regarding the first harvest they will enjoy in the new land. Moses opens this section with the word, “when.” There was no question in his mind as to whether the Israelites would occupy the land. It was God’s will and it was going to happen. One generation had delayed the promise through their disobedience, but what God had ordained was going to happen. And Moses wanted the people to understand that God’s faithfulness was going to require an expression of gratitude on their part.

Once they settled in the land and began to cultivate it, they were to follow Moses’ instructions: “you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 26:2 ESV). Essentially, this would be the first of the firstfruits. The offering of the firstfruits was to be a regular occurrence in Israel and was intended to accompany every single harvest. But this command from Moses seems to be a unique offering that was specifically tied to the very first harvest in their new homeland. It was to be a special occasion, marking their official inheritance of the land of promise.

At this point in the their story, not only would the houses and towns be theirs, but they would reap the benefit of the fruit of the land. Back in the early chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses had told the people what God was going to do for them.

“The LORD your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-11 NLT

And, because God is a promise-keeping God, the day was going to come when they would feast from the vineyards, orchards, and fields they had inherited as part of that promise. When they did, Moses told them they would need to express their gratefulness to God by offering Him the firstfruits of all they had harvested. This offering would not only be an expression of thanksgiving but a demonstration of their faithfulness. By giving God the first and the best of their harvests, they would be displaying their trust in His ongoing provision of all their future needs.

As part of the process of offering God the firstfruits of their harvest, the people of Israel were to recite the following phrase: “A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous” (Deuteronomy 26:5 ESV). This would be a direct reference to Jacob, who is referred to as an Aramean because he spent much of his early days in the region known as Paddan-aram. It was there that he married his wives and began his family. Eventually, Jacob would end up in Egypt, a guest of his long-lost son, Joseph, who had become the second-highest-ranking official in the land. When Jacob and his extended family arrived in Egypt, they were just over than 70 in number, but by the time they left some 400 years later, they would have numbered in the millions.

A significant part of the firstfruits offering was the importance that they recognize and remember all the suffering that had proceeded God’s deliverance. Their arrival in the land of promise had been prefaced by four-centuries-worth of trials and difficulties. But their ancestors had cried out and God had heard them and sent them a deliverer in the form of Moses. And Moses himself reminds the Israelites of what God did to free them from their bondage in Egypt.

“…the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Deuteronomy 26:8-9 ESV

And it was their remembrance of God’s gracious actions in the past that was to drive their display of gratitude in the future.

“‘And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.’” – Deuteronomy 26:10 ESV

Their giving of the firstfruits of their harvest would be a form of worship. It would honor God for all that He had done and prove their commitment to trust Him for all their future needs. He was and is a good God. He had kept His promise and delivered them to the land just as He had said He would. And as long as they continued to rely upon Him and reverently worship Him, He would continue to meet their needs for generations to come.

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

Advertisements

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

Self-Denial vs Self-Sacrifice

1 “Cry aloud; do not hold back;
    lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek me daily
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
    and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
    they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
    and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
    will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
    and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
    and a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
    from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
    and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
    or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 58:1-14 ESV

Something is wrong with this picture. In this chapter God is going to paint a somewhat confusing image of His people. On the one hand, He describes them as transgressors of His ways. They are disobedient and rebellious, failing to live up to the standards He had provided through His law. And he pulls no punches in pointing out their guilt.

“Tell my people Israel of their sins!
   Yet they act so pious!” – Isaiah 58:1-2 BNLT

There is a palpable dissonance in the outward behavior of the people of God. At times, they appear to be enthusiastic seekers of God. From all outward appearances they seem to be genuinly excited about growing in their knowledge of God. They even display a certain allegiance to God, in the hopes of winning His favor.

They fast. They pray. The offer sacrifices. In other words, the display all the right evidence of being faithful followers of God. But then, God reveals the disconnect between their actions and His judgment against them. Even they can’t understand why God seems so upset with them. From their perspective, the were doing all the right things to win God’s favor and earn His assistance in time of need. They even ask God:

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” – Isaiah 58:3 ESV

They are at a loss as to why God would ignore such obviously righteous behavior. So, God explains His evident inattention and inaction.

“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
    you keep oppressing your workers. – Isaiah 58:3 NLT

It was all about themselves. Their fasting was nothing more than an outward display of righteous-looking behavior that was intended to win brownie points with God and impress other men. And Jesus addressed this kind of hypocritical fasting.

“When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward” – Matthew 6:16 NLT

They were fasting to get noticed. And all the while they fasted, they were taking unjust advantage of the people who worked for them. Their outward display of morality had a certain inconsistency about it that God found unacceptable. Everything they did was intended to impress. But God was having none of it. He could see into their hearts and knew full well that they were simply going through the motions. They were expecting God to reward their actions, but Jesus made it clear that the only reward these kinds of people were going to get for their efforts was the praise of men.

Fasting was intended to reflect a repentant and remorseful heart. It should have been an outward display of their inner desire to turn from all other things in life and seek God only. But their brand of fasting was meant to satisfy their own selfish desires. Their fasting wasn’t a reflection of a changed heart. It was simply meant to change how others thought about them.

And just so they don’t miss His point, God points out the difference between their kind of fasting and His.

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” – Isaiah 58:6-7 NLT

God expected a change in behavior. He demanded that their outward displays of self-denial be true reflections of a heart that was selfless rather than selfish. They were fasting to get God’s attention and to garner His help. But God had no intention of responding to their hypocritical charade. Going through the motions and feigning a false commitment to God was not going to cut it. Seeking His assistance while remaining unwilling to follow His commands was not going to cut it.

But if their fasting became sincere, and their display of humility were to reflect a truly repentant heart, they could count on God’s assistance.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
    and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
    and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
    ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.” – Isaiah 58:8-9 NLT

He would show up in a big way. And their fasting would bring about significant change in their own lives. Fasting that is accompanied by true self-denial that puts the will of God and the needs of others first, brings about true godliness. It also brings the favor and glory of God. He steps in and answers us when we call. He delivers the salvation we desperately need.

At the end of the day, God is far more interested in self-sacrifice than self-denial. Giving up food for a season is nothing when compared to sharing your food with the needy. Fasting from buying new clothes means little if you are unwilling to clothe those who have nothing to wear. Giving up something you enjoy for a predetermined period of time bears little merit when compared to giving what you have to care for those who have nothing.

Near the end of His earthly life, Jesus taught a timeliness lesson to His disciples. It had to do with the end times, during a period known as the Great Tribulation. There will be those on earth who find themselves persecuted for their relationship with God Almighty. And yet, there will be those who step in and provide these individuals with food and shelter. And Jesus announces that these gracious individuals will be blessed by God for their generosity. He claims that their actions to help the helpless were just like they had been extending the same courtesies to Him. But they will ask Him:

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’” – Matthew 37-39 NLT

And He will answer them:

“‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’” – Matthew 25:40 NLT

And God tells the people of Judah that, if they will practice true fasting, sacrificing themselves for the well-being of others, He will reward them.

your light will shine out from the darkness – vs 10

The Lord will guide you continually… – vs 11

You will be like a well-watered garden – vs 11

you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities – vs 12

“the Lord will be your delight…” – vs 14

I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob – vs 14

Physical fasting accomplishes little, if the heart is not sincere. But selfless sacrifice is always in keeping with the will of God and always brings with it the rewards of God. Going through the motions may impress others, but it will never impress God. Jesus provided His disciples with the key to receiving the reward of God.

“When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:18 NLT

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 To Get.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“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. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.– Matthew 6:1-4 ESV

Jesus has just dropped a bombshell on His listeners: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ESV). And as disconcerting and discomfiting as His words may have been, He was simply trying to explain to them about the true nature of godly righteousness – that alien, outside-of-yourself kind of righteousness that comes from God and can’t be manufactured, only faked. But how easily we trade in God’s view of perfection for man’s. How quickly we forget about what God expects of us and lower our standards. That is exactly what Jesus was confronting among the Jews in His audience. They had long ago traded internal holiness for external piety. They had learned to settle for the praise of men rather than the praise of God. They were stuck on a horizontal plain, viewing righteousness from a purely human standpoint, measuring themselves by comparing themselves with others. So, Jesus starts off this section of His message with a warning. He uses the word, “Beware.” In the Greek, it is prosoche, and it means “to beware, take heed, be attentive to.” Jesus used this word a lot.

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” – Matthew 7:15 ESV

But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. – Matthew 10:17 NLT

“Watch out!” Jesus warned them. Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” – Matthew 16:6 NLT

Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.” – Luke 20:46 NLT

In essence, Jesus is telling His listeners to be perfect and to be careful. His use of the word, “beware” is designed to get their attention and to warn them to listen carefully to what He is about to say. Just as He had in the verses above, Jesus is trying to open the eyes of those sitting on the hillside, using stern words of warning to make His point.

If you recall, the word, “blessed” that Jesus used repeatedly in His opening remarks, really refers to the approval of God. So, those beatitudes or blessings could read like this:

Approved by God are the poor in spirit

Approved by God are those who mourn

Approved by God are the meek

Approved by God are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Approved by God are the merciful

Approved by God are the pure in heart

Approved by God are the peacemakers

Approved by God are the persecuted, reviled and slandered

We are to seek the approval of God, not men. We are to seek the reward of God, not men. Those who do will be part of the kingdom, be comforted, inherit the earth, be satisfied, receive mercy, see God and be called His Son, and enjoy a great reward in heaven. Jesus is speaking of the vast difference between man-made versus spirit-induced righteousness. Jesus says they are to beware of practicing their righteousness before other people. In other words, their motivation should not be recognition. Those who seek to do good things so that they will be deemed good people by those who see them, will have all the reward they are going to get. They’ll get the praise of men, but not the approval of God. That kind of man-pleasing, praise-seeking righteousness will get you no reward from God. Why? Because it is not the kind of righteousness He requires.

Now Jesus gives us three examples from real life. The first has to do with alms-giving, which was giving to the poor and needy as an act of mercy. The Greek word is eleēmosynē  and it refers to “a donation to the poor” and was sometimes called, “compassionateness.” Jesus is accusing His audience of giving to get merit, rather than giving out of mercy. Their giving to the poor was motivated by a desire for recognition. That was the reward they sought, and Jesus tells them that they will have the reward they seek: The praise and approval of men. But they will not receive the one reward they so desperately need: The approval and blessing of God.

The kind of man-made righteousness that Jesus is describing is done only to receive the praise of others. It is done to be seen and to garner recognition and reward. But Jesus tells them that, when you give, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. In other words, keep your giving private. So private, that it will be like one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing. What a different mindset. Instead of seeking recognition, seek to keep your actions hidden. Do what you do, in secret – concealed, private, and hidden from the view of others. But know this, God will see what you are doing, and reward you – in His way and according to His own timing.

Jesus is not suggesting that there is anything wrong with alms-giving or charity. But anyone who thinks they are righteous because they give has missed the point and misunderstood what godly righteousness really is. In fact, giving in order to get recognition isn’t righteousness at all. At least, not according to God’s definition. And throughout this portion of His message, Jesus will emphasize that our greatest concern should be what God thinks and how He views our actions. In fact, Jesus will repeatedly emphasize that, when we give out of mercy, not in search of merit,  “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” While no one around us may know what we have done, God will and, more importantly, He will know why we have done it. He will know the motivation of our heart. And that is still the key behind what Jesus is trying to teach here. This is all about the heart. Giving to get noticed is about the head. It’s about ego, pride, self-esteem and measuring our worth by what others think of us.

But alms-giving was intended to be an act of mercy. It was giving to those in need, not so you could get something out of it. To give to those who do not have, just so you could have what you desire, is a twisted and warped way of life. It is ungodly and unrighteous. It reveals a love of self, but not a love of others. And Jesus warns, “Beware!” Don’t do it. That kind of giving is hypocritical, mere play-acting, intended to give the impression of mercy, but motivated out of the insatiable need for merit and men’s praise. And, Jesus says, practicing that kind of righteousness will get you exactly what you desire, but not what you need: God’s approval and blessing.

In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul wrote:

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

We did nothing to earn our salvation. And we can do nothing to earn a right standing before God now. Our acts of righteousness do not earn us God’s favor. We perform acts of righteousness because we have already earned His favor and have His Spirit living within us. It is the righteousness of Christ, credited to us by God the Father, that allows us to do “the good things he planned for us long ago.” We have been made new so that we might live new lives, motivated not by merit and men’s praise, but out of willing obedience to 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

Godly Giving.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“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. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.– Matthew 6:1-4 ESV

Jesus has just dropped a bombshell on His listeners: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ESV). And as disconcerting and discomfiting as His words may have been, He was simply trying to explain to them about the true nature of godly righteousness – that alien, outside-of-yourself kind of righteousness that comes from God and can’t be manufactured, only faked. But how easily we trade in God’s view of perfection for man’s. How quickly we forget about what God expects of us and lower our standards. That is exactly what Jesus is confronting among the Jews in His audience. They had long ago traded internal holiness for external piety. They had learned to settle for the praise of men rather than the praise of God. They were stuck on a horizontal plain, viewing righteousness from a purely human standpoint, measuring themselves by comparing themselves with others. So, Jesus starts off this section of His message with a warning. He uses the word, “Beware.” In the Greek, it is prosoche, and it means “to beware, take heed, be attentive to.” Jesus used this word a lot.

“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” – Matthew 7:15 ESV

But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. – Matthew 10:17 NLT

“Watch out!” Jesus warned them. Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” – Matthew 16:6 NLT

Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.” – Luke 20:46 NLT

In essence, Jesus is telling His listeners to be perfect and to be careful. His use of the word, “beware” is designed to get their attention and to warn them to listen carefully to what He is about to say. Just as He did in the verses above, Jesus is trying to open the eyes of those sitting on the hillside, using stern words of warning to make His point.

If you recall, the word, “blessed” that Jesus used repeatedly in His opening remarks, really refers to the approval of God. So, those beatitudes or blessings could read like this:

Approved by God are the poor in spirit

Approved by God are those who mourn

Approved by God are the meek

Approved by God are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Approved by God are the merciful

Approved by God are the pure in heart

Approved by God are the peacemakers

Approved by God are the persecuted, reviled and slandered

We are to seek the approval of God, not men. We are to seek the reward of God, not men. Those who do will be part of the kingdom, be comforted, inherit the earth, be satisfied, receive mercy, see God and be called His Son, and enjoy a great reward in heaven. Jesus is speaking of the vast difference between man-made versus spirit-induced righteousness. Jesus says they are to beware of practicing their righteousness before other people. In other words, their motivation should not be recognition. Those who seek to do good things so that they will be deemed good people by those who see them, will have all the reward they are going to get. They’ll get the praise of men, but not the approval of God. That kind of man-pleasing, praise-seeking righteousness will get you no reward from God. Why? Because it is not the kind of righteousness He requires.

Now Jesus gives us three examples from real life. The first has to do with alms-giving, which was giving to the poor and needy as an act of mercy. The Greek word is eleēmosynē  and it referred to “a donation to the poor” and was sometimes called, “compassionateness”. Jesus is accusing His audience of giving to get merit, but not out of mercy. Their giving to the poor was motivated by a desire for recognition. That was the reward they sought after. And Jesus tells them that they will have the reward they seek: The praise and approval of men. But they will not receive the one reward they so desperately need: The approval and blessing of God.

The kind of man-made righteousness that Jesus is describing is done only to receive the praise of others. It is done to be seen and to garner recognition and reward. But Jesus tells them that, when you give, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. In other words, keep your giving private. So private, that it will be like one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing. What a different mindset. Instead of seeking recognition, seek to keep your actions hidden. Do what you do, in secret – concealed, private, and hidden from the view of others. But know this, God will see what you are doing, and reward you – in His way and according to His own timing.

Jesus is not suggesting that there is anything wrong with alms-giving or charity. But anyone who thinks they are righteous because they give has missed the point and misunderstood what godly righteousness really is. In fact, giving in order to get recognition isn’t righteousness at all. At least, not according to God’s definition. And throughout this portion of His message, Jesus will emphasize that our greatest concern should be what God thinks and how He views our actions. In fact, Jesus will repeatedly emphasize that, when we give our of mercy, not in search of merit,  “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” While no one around us may know what we have done, God will and, more importantly, He will know why we have done it. He will know the motivation of our heart. And that is still the key behind what Jesus is trying to teach here. This is all about the heart. Giving to get noticed is about the head. It’s about ego, pride, self-esteem and measuring our worth by what others think of us.

But alms-giving was intended to be an act of mercy. It was giving to those in need, not so you could get something out of it. To give to those who do not have, just so you could have what you desire, is a twisted and warped way of life. It is ungodly and unrighteous. It reveals a love of self, but not a love of others. And Jesus warns, “Beware!” Don’t do it. That kind of giving is hypocritical, mere play-acting, intended to give the impression of mercy, but motivated out of the insatiable need for merit and men’s praise. And, Jesus says, practicing that kind of righteousness will get you exactly what you are desiring, but not what you so desperately need: God’s approval and blessing.

In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul wrote:

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

We did nothing to earn our salvation. And we can do nothing to earn a right standing before God now. Our acts of righteousness do not earn us God’s favor. We perform acts of righteousness because we have already earned His favor and have His Spirit living within us. It is the righteousness of Christ, credited to us by God the Father, that allows us to do “the good things he planned for us long ago.” We have been made new so that we might live new lives, motivated not by merit and men’s praise, but out of willing obedience to 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

 

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.

Ministry For The Saints.

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. – 2 Corinthians 9:1-5 ESV

By now, it should be clear that the collection of funds for the saints in Judea was near and dear to Paul’s heart. It is a high priority for him, and not just because he is the one who came up with the idea. Paul truly believed in the reality of the body of Christ and the necessity of its corporate unity that extended beyond geographic and ethnic boundaries. Of all people, he had been privileged to experience the true nature of the family of God as he traveled around the world, witnessing the gospel transform the lives of people from every walk of life and every tribe, tongue and nation. He saw the wealthy and the wise come to faith in Christ, as well as the impoverished and uneducated. He had witnessed born-again slaves attending worship with their saved masters. He had seen the love of God displayed among those who at one time would have never associated with one another. The transformative power of the gospel was not speculative for Paul. He had seen it first-hand. And he longed to see every believer experience the full extent of its power by encouraging them to willingly submit to God’s will in every area of their lives. This included the area of giving.

So Paul continues to bring up the subject of the collection for the believers in Judea. Why? So he could brag to Peter and the other apostles in Jerusalem about how much money he was able to raise? No, so he could watch the Corinthians discover the joy of giving and the thrill of God’s blessing that comes through a life of obedience. Paul tells the Corinthians that he is sending Titus and his companions in order to ensure that they follow through with their commitment to give. It is not that he doubts them. He has already been bragging about them to the Madedonians. It is just that he knew human nature. And he was well aware that the enemy would be attacking them from within and without in an attempt to distract them from this God-given mission. It is one thing to say you will give. It is another thing to make it happen. They had committed, now Paul wanted to make sure they followed through on that commitment. To not do so would bring shame to them and do damage to the name of Christ.

For Paul, the motivation behind their giving was as important as the gift itself. He didn’t want them to give under compulsion or with any sense of regret. He also didn’t want them to give expecting something in return. That is what he means by “not as an exaction.” The Greek word he uses is pleonexia and it means “greedy to have more” (“G4124 – pleonexia – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 11 Oct, 2016). Just a few verses later, Paul states, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV). But the motivation for our giving should not be to get something back from God. We do not give to get. We give because God has so graciously given to us. Our motivation is to be out of love for others and gratitude to God. Even to give expecting the gratitude and praise of the recipient is an improper motivation. Jesus taught us, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 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. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV).

Giving is a privilege. But it is also a responsibility. God could meet the needs of others in a variety of ways, but He has chosen to use us as the means by which He distributes His resources among His people. He blesses one so that they might be a blessing to another. He provides one with abundance so that they might share with those in need. Paul refers to this as “the ministry for the saints.” In his eyes, it was a ministry. It was a God-ordained mission of displaying the His love in tangible, practical ways. It was His plan for the body of Christ to minister to itself through selfless acts of sacrificial giving and the use of their Spirit-empowered giftedness.

Doing Right The Right Way.

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men. – 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 ESV

Paul was unashamedly and boldly asking the Corinthians to participate in a fund-raising effort that would be used to alleviate the suffering of the Hebrew Christians living in Judea. Ongoing persecution and the lingering effects of a recent famine had left them in dire circumstances, and Paul was doing all that he could to raise support from all the churches in Macedonia, Achaia, Asia Minor and Galatia. And the church in Corinth was to be no exception. He wants them to know the joy of participating in the gracious support of their fellow believers, even those whom they had never met. Paul was not commanding the Corinthians to give, because he did not want them to do so out of compulsion or with any sense of regret. But he was unapologetically claiming that their giving would be in keeping with the example of Christ Himself.  Paul reminds them, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9b NLT).

Paul knows that he is doing the right thing. But he has a strong desire to do it in the right way. He is fully aware that everything he does is analyzed and critiqued by his enemies. And while he wasn’t one prone to wasting time worrying about what men thought about him, he did worry about the potential damage his actions might do to the name and cause of Christ. That’s why he was taking special care to handle the collection of the funds in way that was above board and free from accusation by his enemies. He was sending Titus to collect whatever gift the Corinthians were able to provide. They knew Titus and had built a solid relationship with him. But Paul was also sending another individual, “the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 8:18 ESV). We do not know who this brother was, but evidently the Corinthians knew exactly who Paul was talking about. He was well-known and well-respected. He had a reputation for trustworthiness, and Paul indicates that he had “been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us” (2 Corinthians 8:19 ESV).

Paul wasn’t taking any changes. He knew that his efforts to raise funds for the Hebrew Christians provided a perfect opportunity for his enemies to accuse him of everything from extortion and greed to larceny and abuse of power. In the end, what Paul was most concerned about was the name of Christ. He did not want to do anything that might damage the reputation of His Savior or detract from the cause of the gospel. So he took extra precautions to ensure that his efforts were blameless and free from any hint of impropriety.

We are traveling together to guard against any criticism for the way we are handling this generous gift. We are careful to be honorable before the Lord, but we also want everyone else to see that we are honorable. – 2 Corinthians 8:20-21 NLT

It was Jesus who said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). Peter echoed these words when he wrote, “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT). As believers, we are to do what is right. But it is just as important that we do right in the right way. We must always consider the outcome of our actions. It is essential that we keep in mind that our conduct is always being analyzed by the lost around us. We are ambassadors for Christ and all that we do in this life is done on His behalf. We speak and act on His part. And even our right actions, if not done in the right way, can produce the wrong results and bring harm to the name of Christ. We cannot live with the attitude, “Who cares what they think?” Our conduct has consequences. Our actions speak volumes. Our every word and deed are potential testimonies that will reflect either positively or negatively on the cause of Christ. What we do matters, but how we do it does as well.

Paul was unashamed to ask the Corinthians for money, but he was unwilling to do it in a way that might damage his reputation, hinder his ministry, or bring shame to the name of Christ. “We don’t want anyone suspecting us of taking one penny of this money for ourselves. We’re being as careful in our reputation with the public as in our reputation with God” (2 Corinthians 8:20-21 MSG). That is how we are to live. That is the attitude we must maintain. Our mission matters. So does our methodology. We must always strive to do the right thing, the godly thing, in the right way – blamelessly and above reproach.

 

Blessed To Bless.

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. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” – 2 Corinthians 8:9-15 ESV

Paul makes it clear that his call for the Corinthians to give to the needs of the Judean Christians was not a command. “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine” (2 Corinthians 8:8 ESV). He knew that if he commanded that they give, their doing so would be out of a sense of legalism, not love. Their giving would be grudgingly, not willingly. It would be accompanied by regret, not rejoicing. It was Paul’s sincere desire that their giving be based on their understanding of and appreciation for all that Jesus 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

Jesus sacrificed all that He had in order to pay for the sins of mankind. He gave His own life in order to redeem lost men and women, trapped in the debt they owed due to sin, and condemned to eternal separation from God. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul elaborates on the remarkable grace of Jesus and how it should motivate the believer’s life.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
     he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
     that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
     and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:3-11 NLT

The same attitude that Christ had. That is what Paul is calling the Corinthians to have. Humble. Selfless. Sacrificial. Obedient. Loving. And willing to finish what He started, to complete what He had been called to do – out of obedience to His heavenly Father and love for those He came to save.

Paul calls on the Corinthians to follow Christ’s lead and to finish what they began. A year earlier they had begun the process of giving toward the needs of the saints in Judea, but had evidently failed to finish the job. So Paul gives them a little friendly advice or counsel.

Here is my advice: It would be good for you to finish what you started a year ago. Last year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin doing it. Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. – 2 Corinthians 8:10-11 NLT

Paul was not asking them to “give until it hurts” or to give what they did not have. This was not about the redistribution of wealth or some form of socialistic economic equality. It was simply the love of Christ lived out in everyday life, as the body of Christ ministered to itself, one group sharing what it had with those who had nothing. The blessed being a blessing. As Paul had told the Philippian believers, the mutual care and concern of Christians for one another was to be nothing more than an extension of their relationship with Christ.

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. – Philippians 2:1-2 NLT

While reciprocity or payback should not motivate our giving, Paul points out that the day may come when the tables are turned. We may find ourselves on the receiving end of someone else’s generous and loving aid. When there are needs to be met, we are to give out of what we have – no more, no less. We are to give selflessly, even sacrificially, because we share a common bond in Christ. And in giving, we should be encouraged to know that, should we ever find ourselves in need, our brothers and sisters in Christ will be there for us as well. We are a family. We share the love of God. We have a common bond in Christ.

The principle at play here is the sovereign blessing of God on His people. Paul uses the Old Testament story of the Exodus as an illustration. When the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness, God had met their needs, including providing them with food to eat. In the evening, God provided them with quail. In the mornings, they found manna. And each day, the people would go out and gather the manna, provided to them by God. They were commanded by Moses:

Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.” And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. – Exodus 16:16-18 ESV

God had provided and no one had need. And there was no need for anyone to hoard. In fact, if they attempted to keep more than they needed for their own personal needs, it rotted. God did not want them depending on the manna for their needs. He wanted them to trust in Him. He gave them what they needed and no one had any need. No one went hungry. That same principle applied to the people of Corinth. God was meeting their needs. They had all they required to exist. There was no need to hoard or selfishly withhold the blessings of God for a rainy day. Whatever the Corinthians enjoyed by way of abundance had been made possible by God. And their excess was not intended for their own security, but for the needs of others. Just as our spiritual gifts are intended for the body and not for our own benefit, so our financial blessings are intended for the good of all. God blesses us so that we might be a blessing to others.

 

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.