I am running a little behind on the most recent chapters of The Generous Soul. If you missed the first installments, follow these links to read:
Below, you can read Chapter 6. Thanks for your patience. At the end of this chapter you have the option to buy the Kindle version through Amazon.
becoming missional givers
“Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”
2 Corinthians 8:2 (NIV)
“See that you also excel in this grace of giving.”
2 Corinthians 8:7 (NIV)
You want to know what’s wrong with our waterfront? It’s the love of a lousy buck. It’s love of a buck, the cushy job, more important than the love of man!
Father Barry (Karl Malden)
On the Waterfront
I am not by nature a generous person. I’m more what you might call, “generous by degrees.” I tend to be fairly generous with some things, but not so generous with others. For instance, I’m OK with giving money to someone who lost a job, buying Christmas presents for kids who are not going to have gifts on the 25th of December, giving an offering for a guest speaker, or a family who lost everything in a house fire. On the other hand, do not ask me for a SweeTart; that’s where I draw the line. I’m not likely to share a Snickers with you either. There are some things I’m just not sure God would ask this child to do.
A couple of years ago, I was invited to speak to a group of pastors in Oklahoma. The leader who invited me, John, picked me up at the airport and we started a multi-hour ride back to the city where the event would be hosted. Pretty quickly he noticed my roll of SweeTarts and mentioned his affinity for, I believe, the blue ones. It grieved me to no end that he was worming his way into my candy stash. It was only with the greatest personal suffering that he received a few of those tantalizing discs of Dextrose, Maltodextrin, Malic Acid, Calcium Stearate, artificial flavors, Blue 1 Lake, Blue 2 Lake, Red 40 Lake, Yellow 5 Lake, and Yellow 6 Lake.
I mean, c’mon. I would have bought him an apple.
It was during one of these services that a painting called “The Seventh Day” was offered. It was one artist’s conception of the day God rested and was, ostensibly, his idea of what Eden looked like immediately after creation. I had just received my income tax return and was flush with all the cash a teen could hope to have at once. Believing I was prompted by the Holy Spirit, I stood and offered five hundred dollars for the artwork. I have it until this day.
On another occasion after I accepted Christ, God seemed to be leading me to give some things I had accumulated. One item a very nice pair of boots that I had purchased during a phase then worn once or twice. These were given to a friend at church who liked boots. Another thing was a very nice, very expensive radio-controlled Corvette, which would run up to 30 mph (actual speed, not scale). I gave it to different church friend who liked electronics. Around this same time I also took from the cash I had on hand and purchased a suit for my Father and, I believe, some clothes for my Mother.
But for every time I have given joyfully from my possessions there have been others that I gave grudgingly or not at all. It is an ongoing battle. While The Arcade Fire may have overstated their case in their song, “City With No Children,” the waffling generosity described seems unusually apt for me: You never trust a millionaire quoting the Sermon on the Mount. I used to think I was not like them, but I’m beginning to have my doubts, my doubts about it.
An anchor text for missional giving
Second Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 can form an anchor teaching for what it means to be a missional giver. As the text unfolds, the missionary/preacher known as the Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, is reminding the believers in the ancient city of Corinth of an offering for needy saints in Judea. It was an offering he had previously mentioned to them and for which they were supposed to be preparing themselves. Paul himself would not be coming to receive the money; he would be sending a team led by Titus.104 Paul encouraged the Corinthian believers to prepare the offering ahead of time so that it would be obvious their giving was both planned and willful. He did not want it to look as if he had browbeaten them into submission.
In order to challenge them to a sacrificial level of giving, the apostle introduced the Corinthians to the Macedonians who were believers in another part of the Roman Empire. Macedonia, which included the biblical cities of Berea, Philippi and Thessalonica, had once been a wealthy region but had fallen on hard times after the Romans took control of the gold and silver mines. The ensuing poverty was extreme, described by the Greek word ptocheia, which denotes abject poverty; that which has literally nothing. The people were in imminent danger of real starvation. There were many poor people in the Roman Empire due, in part, to high taxes, high rent and high food prices. As if this was not bad enough, it was worse for followers of Christ. Neil Cole adds, “During a time of prevalent emperor worship, it was common for Christians to be virtually unemployable in the marketplace.”105
This passage is the longest continuous teaching on giving in the New Testament. Drawing from the examples of the Macedonians and Corinthians, a biblical foundation is formed for missional giving. Upon this foundation, missionary managers, with the Spirit’s power, can align their money and possessions with the activity of the King.
Missional giving is empowered by grace106
Six times in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 the word grace is used in conjunction with financial giving. This sacrificial, beyond all means giving has for years been called “grace giving” by preachers and teachers. However, I believe the better understanding is that missional giving is empowered by grace. The Corinthian believers are called upon to “excel in this grace.” It is grace that empowers the Macedonians to give out of their poverty and grace that empowers the Corinthians to give from their plenty. When our giving is empowered by grace, as with salvation, boasting has no place to stand.
It is grace that justifies, grace that glorifies, and grace that sanctifies. The attitudinal journey from owner to manager is part of the sanctification process and is smothered in the undeserved goodness of God. The further step of giving as Jesus and Paul commend is also empowered by God’s grace. Missional giving is not birthed from my own “can do” attitude, but is a humble participation in God’s mission.
Missional giving is expressed by generosity107
Twice Paul commended churches for their generosity, the church at Corinth and the churches of Macedonia. Though both were giving to the same offering, the former were giving from a position of relative financial strength (8:14), while the latter were giving out of a dearth of resources. He described the condition of the Macedonian churches as “extreme poverty” in “a test of severe affliction” (2 Cor. 8:2; ESV). The giving, however, is described as “a wealth of generosity.” Like the widows discussed earlier, these destitute believers gave much more than they should have been judged able. This is exactly how Paul described it to the Corinthians, “they gave according to their means and beyond their means.” We are not told the specifics of how they were able to do this, only that God graced them to do so (2 Cor. 8:1).
Generosity almost always requires that we give more than we think we should or can. It rarely means that we pull out all our bank statements, reconcile the books and make a decision based on asset liquidity. Generosity can only be a reality in our lives when we learn to hold things with a loose grip so they are always available for Kingdom purposes. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.”108
It should not be surprising if most believers struggle with generosity; it would, after all, fit with the writings of the New Testament. Paul warned about the dangers of wealth accumulation and provided the antidote. The rich are to set their hopes on God rather than their riches; be rich in good works, not only money; and, be generous and ready to share.109 Regarding this text, Blomberg writes, “A key to preventing material possessions from becoming an idol is to give generous portions of them away. Our heavenly reward will more than compensate for what is ‘lost’ in the process.”110 While Blomberg calls giving “a key” to battling materialism, I believe generosity is the singular best way to consistently dethrone mammon. Materialism cannot maintain a hold on us if we are always giving away the substance of its godhood. When we continuously reject possessions as master, they return to the proper status as tools in God’s kingdom.
Missional giving is generated from freedom111
Remember all those televangelists weeping for us to “Send money or fifteen television stations are going off the air!!”? What about those pleas from other leaders about bills that need to be paid, mansions that need maintenance, jets that need fuel or miracles that God is just waiting to send your way? How many times have believers written checks out of guilt (or felt guilty for not writing the check) not really hyped up about the “need” in the first place? The New Testament warns against this very kind of high pressure, veins and eyes bulging, sky is falling kind of manipulation.
There could scarcely be a greater need than to help those in a famine, yet Paul says of their offering, “I am not saying this as a command” (2 Cor. 8:8; HCSB). Later he says, “Don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure” (2 Cor. 9:7; NLT). Giving under guilt or pressure takes away the joy of giving. The opportunity itself should be all the “need” a missional giver needs.
Missional giving is accompanied by joy112
The Macedonians were in the throes of financial crisis. To juxtapose two adjectives, these believers had a wealth of poverty. The only thing they had plenty of was nothing. They were not being asked to appear on CNBC’s Squawk Box to offer financial advice. They knew firsthand what Groucho Marx humorously described in Monkey Business, “Oh, I know it’s a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.” In spite of this, when the Macedonians found out about the saints in need, they begged Paul and the others to allow them to participate in that ministry opportunity! No excuses, no hand wringing, not even a good old, “That sounds awful. I wish I could help, but I don’t have anything myself.” They pleaded with Paul to allow their involvement.
This joy is a prelude to the better known phrase, “God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7). The word from the original language indicates hilarity; exuberant joy. This joy comes from a heart abandoned to God; a heart not burdened by the idolatry of mammon. A primary reason so many have so little joy in giving is because they are giving their god away. When the Lord is God, giving is part and parcel of walking with Him. When mammon is on the throne and we are forced to part with it, there is severe separation anxiety. Those who serve Jesus are brought closer through missional giving; those who serve mammon worry over the absence of their god.
Missional giving is guided by purpose113
Craig Blomberg believes this offering was a “relief offering” for believers victimized by a famine which scourged Judea. Prophesied by Agabus in Acts 11,114 the dearth reached its worst around 46 AD. This offering would be guided toward those still suffering in the famine’s aftermath.115
Missional giving does not prefer a scattershot approach to biblical stewardship; it takes a guided, purposeful approach looking for needs and opportunities that will bear Kingdom fruit. This Macedonian/Corinthian offering was not a “missions offering,” as twenty-first century American believers would think about it, but it was an offering in support of the mission of God, part of which is ministry to saints by saints.
There is also a tendency among missional givers to eschew giving toward wasteful, poorly managed, or inefficient organizations. Believers will be judged according to how we manage the resources God has entrusted to us. As a result, missional givers look for opportunities where the result is not inhibited by waste. The theme of the parables is that God is displeased with those servants who act wickedly, who mismanage resources or who are wasteful. Organizations that have become the end rather than the means make poor Kingdom investments.
Missional giving is relational before financial116
Paul writes that this type of giving was to God first and then to his team. This giving was not simply about the money; the Macedonian gifts to the Judeans in need was a result of giving themselves to God and to the ministry. Our relationship with God precedes (and should compel) our financial obedience. The actual giving, though, brings more joy and more satisfaction when a relationship exists between giver and receiver. (Not to mention importance of accountability.) This aspect of missional giving is based in community. The motivation to give springs from the relationships involved—what was important to God and Paul was important to the Macedonians and it was this relationship Paul hoped would help motivate the Corinthians to missional giving.
This communal aspect has been experienced by believers in churches for years. When a pastor or missionary is sent out from a local body, there is a much closer tie than when there is only an organizational relationship. Needs are much more quickly understood and have more thorough responses when the persons are known, or, in the case of Paul, the go-between is well known by both parties.
My parents are both retired and living on a modest income. Recently they decided, for the first time, to track their expenses by going on a budget. My sister and I spent a few hours reviewing their finances and then sat down with pencil and paper for a few more hours’ work. It was during this process that my parents demonstrated they are indeed missional givers.
Mom and Dad have supported various missionaries since I was a child; most of them we had in our home and our church at one time or another. By now I would guess some of those ministries had been blessed by their consistent love gifts for more than three decades, gifts which continued as my parents passed from the “income earner” status to “fixed income” status.
After finishing the budget process, having squeezed every nickel dry, I looked at my parents and said, “OK, here’s what you need to understand. At this point, to increase your spendable income you have two choices: either increase your income or cut your giving somewhere.” They both realized I would never suggest they stop giving to their local church and understood I meant the extra giving to the missionaries and ministries they had long supported. Almost at the same time, they said, “We aren’t cutting our giving.” The sustained relationships they enjoyed meant more to them than the money did. Each of them had given themselves to God and to those in need.
Missional giving is a test of love117
Paul did not play the “Apostle card” on them as he had earlier in his first letter. He did not want them to give simply because he was encouraging them to do so. They needed to express their love through offerings. The principle Paul was instilling in them was much more important than handing down an Apostolic cyclical demanding twelve baskets of wheat from every person. By establishing generous giving as the test of true love, Paul set a measure that would last beyond his ministry with them and indeed his lifespan. As such, missional giving is a test of our love. If our giving is a reflection of our love toward God and His kingdom, where would we rate on the “Love-O-Meter”? Explosive? On Fire? Molten? Cold? Clammy? Sad? Perhaps worst of all: Lukewarm.118
The apostle John wrote to a group of young believers about the potential objects of our love. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”119 The opportunity to give is a test of love; it is a test of who we love more, Jesus or the world, God or mammon.
Missional giving is rewarded proportionately120
Though not always portrayed in the same words, there is a sowing and reaping principle throughout the Bible that has to do with giving; it is not isolated to the church at Corinth. The writer in Proverbs observed, “There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty” (Prov. 11:24; NKJV). The psalmist wrote, referring to a righteous person, “He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor” (Ps. 112:9; ESV). Another verse serves as a forerunner to the action of the Macedonians, “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed” (Prov. 19:17; NASB). The Lord Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the same measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38; ESV). Paul’s word to the Corinthians regarding their giving opportunity was that whoever sowed sparingly would reap sparingly, and whoever sowed bountifully would reap bountifully.
Suppose in the spring you decided to plant some corn. Off to the Feed and Seed you go and pick up a fifty-pound bag of seed. Back at the farm (or the backyard), you begin to fret: “How much corn will I get?” The answer, really, is in how much seed you plant. If you plant a little, you will harvest a little. If you plant all fifty pounds, you will harvest a lot—enough to feed the family, give some to friends and possibly sell some as well. Ken Hemphill sees an Old Testament corollary in Hosea 10:12, “Sow righteousness for yourselves and reap faithful love; break up your untilled ground. It is time to seek the Lord until He comes and sends righteousness on you like rain.” He then notes, “God’s purpose in providing and multiplying our seed is not to make us wealthy but to give us a fruitful ministry of righteousness.”121
Hemphill touches on a key that is often overlooked. The reaping is a reaping of righteousness, not necessarily money. This is because in the economy of God, the financial act is qualified by its righteousness. This is seen in Paul’s use of Ps. 112:9 (“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever”) and his tie-in that sowing would “increase the harvest of [their] righteousness.”122 The sowing of a small righteous act reaps a small harvest; the sowing of a generous righteous act reaps a big harvest. The great benefit to us is that we do not always know where the harvest will spring up. In the life of one, it might be children who are given great influence in Kingdom things, in another it may be an exemplary marriage that models Christ and the church for all to see, in yet another it might be increased financial responsibilities and opportunities for supporting God’s work. Scripture says, “You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity.”123
Missional giving is sensitive to opportunity124
Pride tricks us into believing that we are generous because we give when we feel good doing so, but the New Testament connects generosity to giving when we have opportunity. A number of years ago, I had saved up some money to purchase something I wanted. Or maybe it was just something I was getting ready to want, I cannot remember specifically. It was nearing Christmas and a young, single mom we knew came across my mind. She had two little kids; I could only imagine how she was going to be able to buy anything for them. God put on my heart the money I had set aside, so I gave it all to her for Christmas. Later, she wrote me this note: “As soon as you gave me the $$ I was thankful, but when it turned out to be exactly the amount I needed to buy all the kids Christmas and pay off my daycare, I was thrilled!…God’s timing could not have been better! Thank you for letting God use you to teach me a lesson about trusting Him.”125
Missional giving is about being ready to give when opportunities arise. Whether a neighbor who needs groceries, a missionary who needs support, some kids who need Christmas, or a mortgage payment for a laid-off co-worker, God will bring opportunities before us when He wants us to give. Because missional giving is accompanied by joy, genuine opportunities are not seen as excessive, but as ongoing interactions with God. Mark Batterson warns about missed opportunities, “Who might be stuck in poverty, stuck in ignorance, stuck in pain if you’re not there to help free them?”126
Missional giving is centered in the gospel127
The result of the obedience on the part of the Corinthians is that these saints “will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for others” (2 Cor. 9:13; ESV). This giving was a direct result of the Corinthian believers’ relationship to the gospel of Christ. The power of the Good News led to their confession of its truth and obedience to it. This obedience to the gospel displayed itself in generosity to give in the period of trial.
Missional giving is always centered in the gospel. Anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ, yet is not obedient in the area of giving is not gospel centered; they may not even be gospel oriented. It is clear that not every disciple develops into Christlikeness at the same rate or along the same line; however, no one is a fully devoted follower of Christ until he or she is discipled into missional giving. While Paul did not command them in the specifics about this offering, he desired the Corinthians to “excel” in the grace of giving in the same way they had in other areas.
To be gospel centered is to demonstrate radically realigned priorities based on the person, work, and working of Jesus Christ. As we have seen, the worship of possessions cuts directly to the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ. We are yet guilty of worshiping mammon if in this area we remain or become radically misaligned.
In the parable of the sower (or soils),128 seed is distributed onto four types of landscape. The seed is portrayed as the Word, which has in its nature to bear fruit. Some of the seed is thrown on the pathway around and in the planting area, some lands in rocky soil and some on good soil. Some seed lands in a fourth area, “among thorns,” where, as explained by Jesus, “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful.”129 The application to missional giving is that materialism works against the gospel, so much so that a person who formerly bore fruit can cease doing so if the Word becomes choked out by cares of this world, love for wealth, and desires for stuff.
If it were only that easy
It would be great if we would just read a few verses, convert to being missionary managers, and commence with our missional giving. In truth, some will do so more quickly than others. Working against all of us, though, in addition to our own conflicting desires, the evil one has any number of temptations in his employ. Attention needs to be given to some of the enemies we will face as we pursue missional giving.
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