What Makes A Great Offering?
What Makes A Great Offering?
2 Corinthians 8
One of the major ministries of Paul’s third missionary journey was the taking up of a special “relief offering” for the poor Christians in Judea. Once before Paul had assisted in this way (Acts 11:27–30), and he was happy to do it again. It is significant that it was Paul who remembered the “forgotten beatitude” of our Lord: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
But Paul had other blessings in mind besides the material assisting of the poor. He wanted this offering to strengthen the unity of the church as the Gentile churches shared with the Jewish congregations across the sea. Paul saw the Gentiles as “debtors” to the Jews (Rom. 15:25–28), and the special collection was one way to pay that debt.
This offering was also evidence to the Jewish believers (some of whom were still zealous for the Law) that Paul was not the enemy of the Jews or of Moses (Acts 20:17ff ). Early in his ministry, Paul had promised to remember the poor (Gal. 2:6–10), and he labored to keep that promise; but at the same time, he hoped that the generosity of the Gentiles would silence the jealousy of the Jews.
Unfortunately, the Corinthians were not doing their part. Like many people, they had made promises, but they failed to keep them. In fact, an entire year had been wasted (2 Cor. 8:10). What was the cause of this serious delay? The low spiritual level of the church. When a church is not spiritual, it is not generous. Another factor was the invasion of the Judaizers, who probably siphoned off as much money as they could (2 Cor. 11:7–12, 20; 12:14).
Paul knew that it would be difficult to get the Corinthians to participate, so he lifted his appeal to the highest spiritual level possible: he taught them that giving was an act of grace. Paul used nine different words to refer to the offering, but the one he used the most was grace. Giving is truly a ministry and fellowship (2 Cor. 8:4) that helps others, but the motivation must be from the grace of God in the heart. Paul knew that this collection was a debt owed by the Gentiles (Rom. 15:27) and fruit from their Christian lives (Rom. 15:28); but it was even more: it was the working of the grace of God in human hearts.
It is a wonderful thing when Christians enter into the grace of giving, when they really believe that giving is more blessed than receiving. How can we tell when we are practicing “grace giving”? Paul indicated that there were a number of evidences that appear when our giving is motivated by grace.
1. When We Give in Spite of Circumstances (2 Cor. 8:1–2)
a. The Macedonian churches that Paul was using as an example had experienced severe difficulties, and yet they had given generously. They had not simply gone through “affliction”; they had experienced a “great trial of affliction” (2 Cor. 8:2). They were in deep poverty,which means “rock-bottom destitution.” The word describes a beggar who has absolutely nothing and has no hope of getting anything. Their difficult situation may have been caused in part by their Christian faith, for they may have lost their jobs or been excluded from the trade guilds because they refused to have anything to do with idolatry. But their circumstances did not hinder them from giving. In fact, they gave joyfully and liberally!
b. No computer could analyze this amazing formula: great affliction and deep poverty plus grace = abundant joy and abounding liberality! It reminds us of the paradox in Paul’s ministry: “as poor, yet making many rich” (2 Cor. 6:10). It also reminds us of the generous offerings that were taken at the building of the tabernacle (Ex. 35:5–6) and the temple (1 Chron. 29:6–9).
c. When you have experienced the grace of God in your life, you will not use difficult circumstances as an excuse for not giving. For that matter, are circumstances ever an encouragement to giving? ILLUSTRATE Grace giving means giving in spite of circumstances.
2. When We Give Enthusiastically (2 Cor. 8:3–4)
a. It is possible to give generously but not give enthusiastically. “The preacher says I should give until it hurts,” said a miserly church member, “but for me, it hurts just to think about giving!” The Macedonian churches needed no prompting or reminding, as did the church at Corinth. They were more than willing to share in the collection. In fact, they begged to be included! (2 Cor. 8:4) How many times have you heard a Christian beg for somebody to take an offering?
b. Their giving was voluntary and spontaneous. It was of grace, not pressure. They gave because they wanted to give and because they had experienced the grace of God. Grace not only frees us from our sins, but it frees us from ourselves. The grace of God will open your heart and your hand. Your giving is not the result of cold calculation, but of warmhearted jubilation!
3. When We Give as Jesus Gave (2 Cor. 8:5–9)
a. Jesus Christ is always the preeminent example for the believer to follow, whether in service, suffering, or sacrifice. Like Jesus Christ, the Macedonian Christians gave themselves to God and to others (2 Cor. 8:5). If we give ourselves to God, we will have little problem giving our substance to God. If we give ourselves to God, we will also give of ourselves for others. It is impossible to love God and ignore the needs of your neighbor. Jesus Christ gave Himself for us (Gal. 1:4; 2:20). Should we not give ourselves to Him? He died so that we might not live for ourselves, but for Him and for others (2 Cor. 5:15).
b. The Macedonians’ giving was, like Christ’s, motivated by love (2 Cor. 8:7–8). What a rebuke to the Corinthians who were so enriched with spiritual blessings (1 Cor. 1:4–5). They were so wrapped up in the gifts of the Spirit that they had neglected the graces of the Spirit, including the grace of giving. The Macedonian churches had an “abundance of deep poverty” (2 Cor. 8:2), and yet they abounded in their liberality. The Corinthians had an abundance of spiritual gifts, yet they were lax in keeping their promise and sharing in the collection.
i. We must never argue that the ministry of our spiritual gifts is a substitute for generous giving. “I teach a Sunday School class, so I don’t have to give!” is not an explanation—it’s an excuse. The Christian who remembers that his gifts are gifts will be motivated to give to others and not “hide” behind his ministry for the Lord. I have met pastors and missionaries who have argued that, since they devote their whole time in serving the Lord, they are not obligated to give. Paul argued just the opposite: since you are wonderfully gifted from God, you ought to want to give even more!
ii. Paul was careful that they understood that he was not ordering them to give. Actually, he was contrasting the attitude of the Macedonians with that of the Corinthians. He was pointing out that the Macedonians were following the example of the Lord: they were poor, yet they gave. The Corinthians said that they loved Paul; now he asked them to prove that love by sharing in the offering. Grace giving is an evidence of love—love for Christ, love for God’s servants who have ministered to us, and love for those who have special needs that we are able to help meet.
c. Finally, their giving was sacrificial (2 Cor. 8:9). In what ways was Jesus rich? Certainly He was rich in His person, for He is eternal God. He is rich in His possessions and in His position as King of kings and Lord of lords. He is rich in His power, for He can do anything. Yet, in spite of the fact that He had all these riches—and more—He became poor.
i. The tense of the verb indicates that it is His incarnation, His birth at Bethlehem, that is meant here. He united Himself to mankind and took on Himself a human body. He left the throne to become a servant. He laid aside all His possessions so that He did not even have a place to lay His head. His ultimate experience of poverty was when He was made sin for us on the cross. Hell is eternal poverty, and on the cross Jesus Christ became the poorest of the poor.
ii. Why did He do it? That we might become rich! This suggests that we were poor before we met Jesus Christ, and we were—totally bankrupt. But now that we have trusted Him, we share in all of His riches! We are now the children of God, “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Since this is true, how can we refuse to give to others? He became poor to make us rich! Can we not follow His example, as did the Macedonian churches, who out of their deep poverty abounded in liberality?
4. When We Give Willingly (2 Cor. 8:10–12)
a. There is a great difference between promise and performance. The Corinthians had boasted to Titus a year before that they would share in the special collection (2 Cor. 8:6), but they did not keep their promise. Note that in 2 Corinthians 8:10–12 Paul emphasized willingness. Grace giving must come from a willing heart; it cannot be coerced or forced.
b. During my years of ministry, I have endured many offering appeals. I have listened to pathetic tales about unbelievable needs. I have forced myself to laugh at old jokes that were supposed to make it easier for me to part with my money. I have been scolded, shamed, and almost threatened, and I must confess that none of these approaches has ever stirred me to give more than I planned to give. In fact, more than once I gave less because I was so disgusted with the worldly approach. (However, I have never gotten like Mark Twain, who said that he was so sickened by the long appeal that he not only did not give what he planned to give, but he took a bill out of the plate!)
c. We must be careful here not to confuse willing with doing, because the two must go together. If the willing is sincere and in the will of God, then there must be “a performance also” (2 Cor. 8:11; Phil. 2:12–13). Paul did not say that willing was a substitute for doing, because it is not. But if our giving is motivated by grace, we will give willingly, and not because we have been forced to give.
d. God sees the “heart gift” and not the “hand gift.” If the heart wanted to give more, but was unable to do so, God sees it and records it accordingly. But if the hand gives more than the heart wants to give, God records what is in the heart, no matter how big the offering in the hand might be.
i. God sees, not the portion, but the proportion. If we could have given more, and did not, God notes it. If we wanted to give more, and could not, God also notes that. When we give willingly, according to what we have, we are practicing grace giving.
5. When We Give Responsibly (2 Cor. 8:13–24)
a. Paul did not suggest that the rich become poor so that the poor might become rich. It would be unwise for a Christian to go into debt in order to relieve somebody else’s debt, unless, of course, he was able to handle the responsibility of paying the debt back. Paul saw an “equality” in the whole procedure: the Gentiles were enriched spiritually by the Jews, so the Jews should be enriched materially by the Gentiles (see Rom. 15:25–28). Furthermore, the Gentile churches at that time were enjoying some measure of material wealth, while the believers in Judea were suffering. That situation could one day be reversed. There might come a time when the Jewish believers would be assisting the Gentiles.
b. Who does the equalizing? God does. Paul used the miracle of the manna as an illustration of the principle (Ex. 16:18). No matter how much manna the Jews gathered each day, they always had what they needed. Those who tried to hoard the manna discovered that it was impossible, because the manna would decay and smell (Ex. 16:20). The lesson is clear: gather what you need, share what you can, and don’t try to hoard God’s blessings. God will see to it that you will not be in need if you trust Him and obey His Word.
c. Our motive for giving is God’s spiritual blessing in our lives, but our measure for giving is God’s material blessing. Paul made this clear when he wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter, “Let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” (1 Cor. 16:2). Paul did not lay down any mathematical formula, because grace giving is not limited by a tithe (10 percent). Grace giving is systematic, but it is not legalistic. It is not satisfied with only the minimum, whatever that minimum might be.
d. Since it is God who does the “balancing of the books,” we cannot accuse Paul of teaching some form of communism. In fact, 2 Corinthians 8:13 is a direct statement against communism. The so-called “communism” of the early church (Acts 2:44–47; 4:32–37) has no relationship to the communistic political and economic systems that are promoted today. The early Christians (like many Christians today) voluntarily shared what they had, but did not force people to participate. The entire program was temporary; and the fact that Paul had to take up a special collection to relieve their needs is proof that the program was never meant to be imitated by later generations of Christians.
e. Grace giving is a matter of faith: we obey God and believe that He will meet our needs as we help to meet the needs of others. As the Jews gathered the manna each day, so we must depend on God to “give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). We must not waste or squander what God gives us, neither must we hoard it. In the will of God, it is right to save. (The Jews saved Friday’s manna to eat on the Sabbath, and the manna did not decay [Ex. 16:22–26].) But out of God’s will, the wealth that we hoard will harm us rather than help us (see James 5:1–6).
f. Beginning in 2 Corinthians 8:16, Paul suddenly turned from a profound spiritual principle to some practical counsel on how the special collection would be handled. The Christian who shares with others must be sure that what he gives is managed honestly and faithfully.
g. Grace giving is not foolish giving. Even in a local church, the people who handle the funds must possess certain qualifications. Paul was very careful how he handled money entrusted to him, because he did not want to get the reputation of being a “religious thief.” The churches that contributed to the collection chose certain representatives to travel with Paul, so that everything would be done honestly, decently, and in order.
h. We should look for certain characteristics in those who will spend the money we give:
i. A God-given desire to serve (vv. 16–17). Paul did not “draft” Titus; the young man had a desire in his heart to assist in the gathering of the special offering. Too often in local churches, men and women are put on the Finance Committee who do not have a sincere desire to serve God in this way. Above all else, a person who handles the Lord’s money must have a heart that is right with God.
ii. A burden for lost souls (v. 18). We do not know who this brother was, but we thank God he had a testimony that he shared the Gospel. Perhaps he was an evangelist; at least he was known to the churches as a man burdened for souls. Local church nominating committees put the good “soul winners” on the Evangelism Committee or on the Missions Committee, which is fine; but some of them also ought to be on the Finance Committee or the Board of Trustees. Why? To keep the priorities straight. I have seen committees approve large sums for buildings and equipment who would not release funds for a soul-winning ministry.
iii. A desire to honor God (v. 19). Too often, financial reports glorify the church, or a group of special donors, and do not glorify God. There is no such thing in the church as “secular and sacred,” “business and ministry.” All that we do is “sacred business” and ministry for the Lord. When the church constitution says that the deacons (or elders) handle the “spiritual affairs” of the church, and the trustees handle the “material and financial affairs,” it is making an unbiblical distinction. The most spiritual thing a church can do is use its money wisely for spiritual ministry. We glorify God by using what He gives us the way He wants it used. If the people who manage church finances are not burdened to glorify God, they will soon be using those funds in ways that dishonor God.
iv. A reputation for honesty (vv. 20–22). Paul made it clear that he welcomed the representatives from the cooperating churches. He wanted to avoid any blame. It is not enough to say, “Well, the Lord sees what we’re doing!” We should make certain that men can see what we are doing. I like the way J.B. Phillips translates 2 Corinthians 8:21: “Naturally we want to avoid the slightest breath of criticism in the distribution of their gifts, and to be absolutely aboveboard not only in the sight of God but in the eyes of men.” Personally, I would not support a missionary or Christian worker who was not identified in some way with a reputable committee or board, or a reputable organization. I am not saying that all “free-lance” Christian workers are irresponsible; but I would have more confidence in their ministries if they were attached to a board or an organization that supervised their financial support.
1. Note the emphasis in 2 Corinthians 8:22 on diligence. If there is one quality that is needed when handling finances, it is diligence. I have heard of church treasurers who did not keep up-to-date accurate records of income and expenditures, and who handed in careless annual reports with the excuse that they were “too busy to keep up with the books.” Then they should not have taken the office!
v. A cooperative spirit (vv. 23–24). Titus not only had a heart for this ministry (2 Cor. 8:16), but he knew how to be a good “team member.” Paul called him his “partner” and “fellow helper.” Titus was not like the committee member I heard about who said at the first meeting, “As long as I am on this committee, there will be no unanimous votes!”
vi. Finance committee members do not own the money; it belongs to the Lord. The committee is but a steward, managing the money honestly and carefully for the service of the Lord. Note too that Paul saw the committee as special servants of the churches. The raising of this special “relief fund” was a cooperative effort of the Gentile churches, and Paul and the representatives were but “messengers” of the churches. The Greek word is apostolos, from which we get “apostle—one sent with a special commission.” These dedicated Christians felt an obligation to the churches to do their work honestly and successfully.
Grace giving is an exciting adventure! When you learn to give “by grace, through faith” (just the way you were saved—Eph. 2:8–9), you start to experience a wonderful liberation from things and from circumstances. Instead of things possessing you, you start to control them; you develop a new set of values and priorities. You no longer measure life or other people on the basis of money or possessions. If money is the best test of success, then Jesus was a failure, because He was a poor Man!
Grace giving enriches you as you enrich others.
Grace giving makes you more like Jesus Christ.
Have you discovered the thrill of grace giving?