I’d like to share with you a story I came across years ago about a little boy named Chad.
Chad was a shy, quiet young fellow. One day he came home and told his mommy he’d like to make a Valentine for everyone in his class. Her heart sank. Each day as she watched the children walk home from school, her little boy was always behind them. They laughed and hung onto each other, but Chad was never included. Nevertheless, she went along with his idea. So she bought some paper, glue, and crayons, and for three whole weeks – night after night – Chad worked on his thirty-five Valentines.
When Valentines Day dawned, Chad was beside himself with excitement! He carefully stacked them up, put them in a bag and bolted out the door! His mom just knew he would be disappointed so she decided to bake his favorite cookies and serve them up nice and warm with a cool glass of milk when he came from school to ease the pain a little. It hurt her to think he wouldn’t get many Valentines, if any at all.
That afternoon she had the cookies and milk sitting on the table. When she heard the children outside the house, she looked out the window and sure enough! Here they came, laughing and having the best time as they walked down the sidewalk. As always, Chad was way back in the rear and walking a little faster than usual this day.
His arms were empty, she noticed, and she fully expected him to burst into tears as soon as he got inside. When the door opened, she choked back the tears and said, “Mommy has warm cookies and milk for you.” But he hardly heard her words. Instead, he just marched right on by, his face aglow.
“Not a one! Not a one” was all he could say. Her heart sank.
Then he added, “I didn’t forget a one – not a single one!”
I like Chad, don’t you? Do you know why? Because generous people are very attractive.
Would you consider yourself a generous person? When you pass away, will people say, “There lies a generous person”? The Apostle Paul today is making an appeal to some folks in Corinth in Greece to be generous toward the famine-stricken people in Jerusalem.
They had heard about the famine, the starvation, and the church starting to fall apart under hardship, and they pledged to help the poor. However, the offering was never taken, and now they seemed to be reluctant. We don’t know why. It could be there was financial hardship in their own lives. Perhaps the economy was not going well, or maybe they were caught up in the materialism of their day (Corinth was known for that), and they didn’t have anything left over to give. Paul is appealing to them to be generous givers – but not just for this offering. Their generosity was to be a lifestyle.
The dictionary defines generosity as liberal, magnanimous, openhanded. The Greek word for generous used here in Scripture means openhearted. You have a big heart and are pouring it out into other people’s lives. It’s just the opposite of fear and stinginess. We know Jesus liked the widow’s attitude as He watched her put two pennies in the offering. He even pointed to her and said, Now there’s someone special! For her, you see, giving was more important than a crust of bread or a sip of milk. God loves generosity.
The Apostle Paul offers us three pictures to consider when deciding whether we’re going to be generous or not, whether we’re going to live with open hands or a clenched fist through life.
The first picture is of God Himself.
God is very generous to us. Paul, at the end of this chapter, says “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift,” meaning Christ! In 8:9 he says, “You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich!” God withheld nothing to save us from our sinfulness and restore us into a relationship with Himself. He is a generous God.
God is our Creator. He is able to do anything. He holds this world in the palm of His hands. He causes it to spin on its axis and sustains it. He provides all we need.
I love it when Martin Luther, in the meaning to the first article of the Small Catechism, says, “I believe that God has created me and all that exists. He has provided me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work and all I need from day-to-day.” Paul is basically saying the same thing. “He gives seed to the sower; he waters the fields.”
God is faithful. He will provide abundantly. You will have everything you need to continue to be generous, He promises, because God is faithful.
We have this generous, able, providing, faithful God held up for us as we consider becoming a generous person of God, one who has tasted of His grace through Jesus Christ.
The second picture Paul holds up is of the people of God – you and me. Scripture tells us, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation” (II Cor. 5:17). We belong to God. We are people of God. Paul pulls this text from the Old Testament to give us a vision of ourselves as God’s people.
Whenever Paul quotes an Old Testament passage – and he quotes three here – you need to look at the whole passage. Go back to the Old Testament and look at it to get the gist of why Paul is using it. He is saying, You are God’s people. This is your goal in life now, and generosity is a vital part of it.
God’s people are, first of all, cheerful givers not grudging or grumpy or reluctant. God loves the cheerful giver. Paul gets this from Proverbs chapter 22 where it says this is how a righteous person of God acts. In the original Greek language, which the Corinthians used to study scripture, it does not say God loves a cheerful giver, but God blesses the cheerful giver. We’re not called to be stingy but cheerful givers. It is part of our makeup as God’s people.
Paul continues. You are all called to be righteous givers. He quotes Psalm 112:
“He scatters abroad; he gives to the poor;
His righteousness endures forever.”
This is not a reference to God, but to the person of God who acts generously and gives. It is a wisdom Psalm. Your giving is an act of righteousness. Your behavior reflects gratitude for God’s faithfulness in your life and the righteousness He has given you through Christ.
Paul also says we are faithful, obedient givers. He quotes Isaiah 55:10 as he says, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread.” (I will supply and multiply your seed for sowing.) God is promising Israel to save them from exile and use them as a part of His mission. Paul seems to be saying, You are a called people.
Generosity is part of the calling. If you know the gospel of grace and you’re one of God’s sons and daughters through Christ. God wants you to be radically generous, trusting Him all the way. This is how I glorify Him.
The third picture is a vision of people who are receiving help in Christ’s name. They are giving thanks to God because of your generosity. The question, you see, is not what do I get out of this, but what does God get out of it when I’m generous? He receives thanks and praise as people give thanks for what has been provided to them.
It becomes apparent then, that Paul is telling us this: As people of God, living under a generous God, with the possibility of stirring their hearts to give thanks to God and glorify God, we are to be generous with what He has given us.
Now, there are a lot of obstacles to generosity, I know. One is worry, for instance. We play the “What if?” game. What if the economy tanks? What if I get sick? What if I live too long and eat up all my savings? What if I lose my job?
There’s not only worry, but also greed. We can become captive to greed without even realizing it. It sneaks up on us. We want it all! Jesus, on more than one occasion, cautioned His disciples to beware of greed. Be on guard! We can become overwhelmed by greed.
Another obstacle to generosity is expectations. We compare ourselves to others around us to define what is enough. It defines our happiness and our self-esteem. Someone once said Americans of forty years ago would be shocked to see what Christians today think of as necessities. We define the basics the way the consumer capitalist culture wants us to, which has always been upward and fast.
Of course, materialism is another obstacle – the excessive concern for and love of wealth and possessions. It is the thought that I need this and I need that in order to be secure or to have a sense of significance before others, to feel all right about myself. We trust in those things instead of God who says we are precious and important in His sight. We don’t want to admit our captivity to possessions or perhaps just don’t realize it.
A narrow world view, a lack of awareness of the needs around us in this world, is another obstacle. We’re kind of sheltered, when you think about it, living in our nice little world here in America. Did you know the rest of the world considers us quite rich? We have most of the wealth. A lot of needs are out there and a lot of starving people are not making it. We sometimes find ourselves not seeing it anymore. We think everybody is living like us.
Finally, our hard knocks of life. Maybe you are facing financial difficulties. A catastrophe of some sort has hit that you hadn’t planned for, and you’re thinking to yourself, I can’t afford to be a generous person.
Paul would say, I know where you’re coming from because, you see, I went through financial hardships myself. As we read about Paul describing his ministry, we see him again and again talking about how he has learned to live with plenty and to live with want. What it means to be starving, to be thirsting. He knew what it meant to live hand to mouth, without a roof over his head. But he always believed Jesus’ words – it’s more blessed to give than to receive – and he wasn’t disappointed by them.
Paul’s testimony to us today is God has seen to his needs, and He’ll see to ours as well. He’s not just blowing smoke or waxing eloquently with some philosophy or clichés about giving. He is talking about what he saw at work in his own life. God is faithful and generous and will provide for our needs. Paul believed it, and he saw this very promise fulfilled in his life. God is able to provide us with every blessing in abundance so that by always having enough of everything, we may share abundantly in every good work.
May I ask you a question today? How much do you really trust God? You might say, Well, I trust Him with my salvation. I know that without Jesus Christ and what He’s done for me, I’d be lost. So I trust God’s provision for my salvation. I trust Jesus. Wonderful!
Do you trust Him with your hurts and sorrows? Absolutely! I am a person of prayer. I come to Him first.
Do you trust Him with your finances and your resources? It seems so much easier to trust Him with our eternities than with our daily living.
Today’s passage is an appeal to trust and share from what you have – no matter what your circumstances. Exercise generosity in your life. Our generous God is counting on us to be generous people in all circumstances.
Let me give you one last story about what this looks like. Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision United States, tells the story.
In 1987, the largest, single-day stock market crash since 1929 took place. In one day my wife and I lost more than one-third of our life’s savings and the money we had put aside for our kids’ college education. I was horrified and became like a man obsessed, each night working past midnight, analyzing on spreadsheets all that we had lost, and the next day calling in orders to sell our remaining stocks and mutual funds to prevent further losses.
I was consumed with anguish over our lost money—and it showed. One night when I was burning the midnight oil, my wife came and sat beside me. “Honey,” she said, “this thing is consuming you in an unhealthy way. It’s only money. We have our marriage, our health, our friends, our children, and a good income—so much to be thankful for. You need to let go of this and trust God.” Don’t you hate it when someone crashes your pity party? I didn’t want to let go of it. I told her I felt responsible for our family and that she didn’t understand. It was my job to worry about things like this.
She suggested we pray about it—something that hadn’t occurred to me—so we did. At the end of the prayer, to my bewilderment, she said, “Now I think we need to get out the checkbook and write some big checks to our church and ministries we support. We need to show God that we know this is His money and not ours.” I was flabbergasted at the audacity of this suggestion, but in my heart I knew she was right. So that night we wrote some sizable checks, put them in envelopes addressed to various ministries, and sealed them. And that’s when I felt the wave of relief. We had broken the spell that money had cast over me. It freed me from the worries that had consumed me. I actually felt reckless and giddy – “God, please catch us, because we just took a crazy leap of faith.”
This is what Paul is appealing to us to do. Trust God in all things. He is reliable. Take a crazy leap of faith, and be generous. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer