March 6, 2014 by Chris French
God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9.7), but what does it mean to give happily? The Philippian congregation begged Paul to allow them to help the Christians who were struggling financially in Jerusalem. When Paul allowed them to give they apparently gave so much that they had put themselves in a financial burden. They gave beyond their means. When Paul says that the Christians in Macedonia are in extreme poverty he’s not exaggerating (2 Cor. 8.1-5). Three civil wars had so demolished their economy that Caesar lowered their taxes! Because of the antagonistic nature of their fellow Macedonians the church was being harshly persecuted which very well could have compounded the Philppian Christians financial situation beyond even that of their countrymen. It is these people who astound Paul with their generosity. Their situation reminds me of the woman Jesus saw giving 2 copper coins. Everyone before her had put significantly more into the contribution, but Jesus says that she gave more than all of them because she gave everything she had to live on. This woman and the Philippians teach us that we need to give until it changes our lifestyle. The figure on the check you hand in Sunday doesn’t matter. What is important is what it cost you to give it. If you’re giving to the point that you can’t go on vacation this year you’re changing your lifestyle. If you cut out cable so you can give more you’re changing your lifestyle. Want to impress God? Trust Him so much that you give until you have to give something up.
Biblically, who should this money go to? You’ve got a couple of options, but let’s start with a warning from the Apostle of love.
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” – 1 John 3.17
Whoa! Every time I see someone that needs help and for whatever reason I stop myself from helping them John questions whether God’s love actually exists in me. That’ll sit you back on your heels! So obviously I have an obligation to help, but who should my sacrifice benefit? From the above example of the Philppian Christians it seems obvious that my generosity should be directed at the church. Time and again Paul rounds up money to take care of the needs of the church. Sunday when you give at Northport it goes in a pot from which our elders pull to tell the lost about Jesus, help the poor, and sustain the church, among other things. The second category that I’m commanded to be generous with is the poor. Wait, didn’t we just say that the money I give to the local congregation goes to help the poor? Yep, but from verses like 1 John 3.17 and others we need to realize that our generosity should be a spontaneous thing as well as planned. I need to work my budget around what I plan to give every week to support what the church does, but when I see someone in help my heart should so break that I take from my abundance and give to them.
This kind of generosity isn’t something God forgets. When Paul was writing to the Corinthian congregation he told them that he was swinging back by Corinth possibly with some Macedonian brothers and that they should have their pledge for the Jerusalem Christians ready. He didn’t want to guilt them into giving, he wanted it to be something they longed to do so he sent Titus to prepare their hearts to give until it changed their lifestyle. Check out his next words though:
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”
I do not believe in the prosperity gospel idea of giving God a lot of money so He will give me even more money. That hasn’t been true in my own life and I don’t see the apostles and 1st century Christians rolling in mountains of gold coins. I think his point here is that God uses your sacrificial giving to show you what is really important. It’s hard for me not to think that the pieces of paper in my wallet are not the most important thing because everything in our culture tells us that they are. God always juxtaposes our money with treasure in Heaven (1 Tim. 6.18-19, Matt. 6.19-20). Heaven is where we’re supposed to be storing up treasures and generosity is the road we use to do that.