How Can We Help?
(2 Corinthians 9: 1-15)
It’s that time of the year again, that time when it seems as if everyone has their hand out for a donation to a no doubt worthy cause. It ranges from the mailouts that fill your mailbox from national organizations seeking a donation to their cause to phone solicitations to running the gauntlet when you venture out to the grocery store, big box store, or the mall where the bell ringers are strategically placed hoping for some spare change or folding money as you look down appearing to check your phone for a message. And then you go to church only to be hit up again for the annual giving of Christian good will, your one-and-done contribution for the year to show that you and your church really cares. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that those one-and-done charitable drives don’t serve a purpose and they actually do a lot of good in focusing attention on the need, but if you remember Jesus’ instructions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, tend to the sick, and visit the prisoner it was implied that this ministry was a continuing mission as the needs of the least of his brothers and sisters exists twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. You can’t give grudgingly and expect the suffering to go away. It won’t. You have to be a cheerful giver, giving out of your abundance from which you have been blessed and be a blessing to others you may never know or meet.
And it’s that cheerful giving that the Apostle Paul is talking about in our scripture reading for today. Paul had sent out a plea to the churches that had been planted far from Jerusalem, some which were started as a result of their fleeing the persecution the new Christian church was experiencing in Jerusalem, seeking financial assistance for the struggling Jerusalem church that was striving to meet the needs of the many widowed women who had children to support and no families to lend a hand. A need that was constant and continued to grow daily with no relief in sight. You can just imagine the discussions of their Administrative Councils complaining about the outreach letter. “We’ve got enough to do taking care of our own. Let them take care of their own problems, after all, wasn’t it said somewhere that God helps those who help themselves?” (Just so you know, that is nowhere to be found in the Bible.) The good news is that there were churches whose response was: How can we help?
The Apostle was writing to the Corinthian church, which was pretty well established and doing fine, but he may have felt they had become a little too comfortable and their giving was in danger of falling off. In response to his initial call for relief for the Jerusalem church he wrote to tell them that he was sending some representatives, Titus and two others, to collect their promised gift and he wanted to let them know it was appreciated and, at the same time, he didn’t want them to feel as if they were being forced to give anything, that they might resent the appeal. He starts by saying: It’s unnecessary for me to write to you about this service for God’s people. I know about your willingness to help. I brag about you to the Macedonians, saying, “Greece has been ready since last year,” and your enthusiasm has motivated most of them. Paul is a master when it comes to writing letters as you can see him using tact when he begins his letter, acknowledging their generosity and the example they have set for other churches motivating generous giving. He tells them that he is sending some brothers to them so that the bragging about the church in this case won’t be empty words, and so that they can be prepared, just as he kept telling others that they would be. He is subtly, or not so subtly, letting them know that he is sending Titus and a couple of the other brothers to pick up their contribution to the Jerusalem church just in case they haven’t quite yet made good on their initial pledge. And then he tells them that if some men from the Macedonian church should come with him and find out that they aren’t ready everyone would be spared the embarrassment. This is why, he explains, that he felt it necessary to encourage the brothers to come to them ahead of time and arrange in advance the generous gift they had already promised. To take the edge off, just in case anyone takes his appeal letter the wrong way, Paul says: I want it to be a real gift from you. I don’t want you to feel like you are being forced to give anything. He explains that the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount will also reap a generous crop. He’s referring to the harvest of believers that Jesus spoke of and the fruit to be produced by generous sowing. He tells them that everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart after prayerful consideration and that they shouldn’t give with hesitation or because they feel pressured. God, he says, loves a cheerful giver. And, just in case they might be feeling concern over not having enough to take care of themselves, Paul tells them that God has the power to provide them with more than enough of every kind of grace, and that that way they will have everything they need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. To underscore his point Paul referenced what the psalmist said in Psalm 112: 9 which says: He scattered everywhere, he gave to the needy; his righteousness remains forever.
The point Paul is trying to make is that through giving from the heart without hesitation or reservation, is that we will be made rich in every way so that we can give generously in every way and that such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through what we do in our service. He says that our ministry of this service to God’s people isn’t only fully meeting their needs, but it is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God. People will give honor to God for our obedience and to our confession of Christ’s gospel. They will do this, Paul says, because this service provides evidence of your obedience, and because of your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone. And, as a result, Paul says that these people will also pray for us and that they will care deeply for us because of the outstanding grace God has given us. He concludes by proclaiming: Thank God for his gift that words can’t describe!
Paul packs a lot into this portion of his letter to the Corinthian churches. He’s not only reminding the blessed churches to share generously in their blessing but that even the poorer churches, especially the poorer and struggling churches, can engage in missions in a meaningful way. The poorer and smaller churches in Macedonia which included Thessalonica, Berea, and Philippi had gotten the same appeal letter for the Jerusalem church and gave generously and sacrificially within their means with an attitude of joy and eagerness despite their difficulties and poverty. Paul is encouraging all churches to give with generosity and love as their central motivations. Paul realizes that people, good-hearted and well-intentioned people, may hesitate to give generously to God and His people if they are worried about having enough money left over to meet their own needs of their family or families. Paul wrote to assure the Corinthians, and us by extension, that God was, and is, able to meet the needs of those who give generously out of their abundance with the reminder that the person who gives only a little when they can afford to give more will receive only a little in return. He’s telling us not to let a lack of faith keep us from giving freely and generously. For Paul, a giving attitude is more important than the amount given and the person who can give only a small gift shouldn’t be embarrassed by the gift given when it is given out of love and charity. God is more concerned about how a person gives from his or her resources. And God himself is a cheerful giver when you consider all he has done for us. Nothing pleases him more than when we, who are created in his image, give generously and joyfully. It’s God who gives us the resources to use and invest for him even if that resource are empty rooms that no longer hold Sunday School classes full of noisy children and spirit-seeking adults. Those empty rooms can be turned into a clothes closet for the naked, a food pantry for the hungry, or a room full of tents, tarps, blankets, sleeping bags, and quilts for the stranger seeking shelter. We are proof that when we invest what God has given us in his work that he will provide us with even more to give in his service as is evident in our expanding ministry as more and more people in need come to us for assistance in meeting their most basic of needs. Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians and us is that God is the source of everything good. As believers we are called to be generous because of the example of the Lord of Life who gave all he had to give.
So, our goal as Followers of the Way of Jesus Christ is to make the stingy Christian an extinct species in God’s kingdom here on earth. Our generosity as Christians proves that a person’s heart has been cleansed of all self-interest and filled with the servant spirit of Jesus Christ himself. That’s why our simple and loving acts of generosity result in God being praised, in people thanking God that we exist. That is why we must constantly ask ourselves if our neighbors see the generosity of Jesus Christ in our actions? Do they see it in our church? Can they tell their friends to come see us because we are cheerful givers asking now questions and attaching no strings? How can we help?
Let us pray.
Gracious and loving God, take our lives and let them be consecrated, Lord, to thee. Take our moments and our days, let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take our hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love. Take our feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee. Yes, Father, move us by thy Spirit to use all that we have in your service to meet the needs of your wanting children. Let us spare no resource as we constantly look for ways to ease the suffering and despair of those who are without. Keep us mindful of the great sacrifice shown us by your Son, our Savior, by the life he led and the death he suffered so that we may live. Show us the way so that we may be ready to ask how we can help when we see the need of your children whether great or small. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.