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Reverend Phil Price  
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“The Apostle Paul Asks for Money”

2 Corinthians 8:7-15
June 28, 2009
     

          Over the past few months the Deacons of our church have been encouraging all of you to give generously so that they might generously redistribute your wealth to the needs of the wider community and this congregation.  As they have done so, how have you felt about their requests?   This week’s epistle reading is right on the money in helping us all to understand why being generous with our wealth is grounded in faith.

          Please listen for how the Spirit is addressing us this morning through God’s word found in Paul’s Second Letter to the Church at Corinth chapter eight verses seven through fifteen found on page 172 of your pew Bibles.

          7Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. 8I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15As it is written,

“The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

This is God’s Word to us…

          Billionaires, of the one thousand one hundred and twenty-five human beings alive today who are members of this exclusive club; how many are truly generous with their abundance?  From Oil Sheiks to Dot Com Gurus to WalMart Executives, billionaires are a group of people we love to hate.  Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule even among billionaires.

          One truly generous billionaire is Saint Oprah.  Few people complain about Oprah’s $2.5 billion net worth.   After all, growing up in rural Mississippi, her mother was so poor that her grandmother made dresses for Oprah from potato sacks.  She was molested as a child, skipped two grades in elementary school, did part-time television broadcasts in high school, and was a talk-show megastar by age 32.  In other words, Oprah’s ghetto to glam rise is as unlikely as it is meteoric.

          But the striking difference between Oprah and some of her billionaire compatriots is her unmatched reputation for generosity.   For example; she rewarded her entire staff and their families, over 1,000 people, with paid Hawaiian vacations in 2006.  She has funded the college costs of some 250 African-American young men.  She covers the administrative costs of Oprah’s Angel Network so that 100% of the hundreds of millions of dollars in donations go directly to poverty alleviation for the World’s poorest.

          So why does Oprah choose generosity?  Quite simply, she remembers her roots.  She gives to causes that would have made her childhood easier and happier.  She is the cultural model of moving from poverty to riches to poverty alleviation.

          Yes, giving to others can and does take on forms other than strictly financial means.  You’ve heard it all before, how we are all to give of our spiritual gifts, our skills, our talents, our prayers and our time.  But the apostle Paul in this particular reading is not addressing a need to donate spiritual gifts, skills, prayers or time.  Instead, Paul is very directly talking about money; cold … hard … cash!  

          Have you ever noticed how whenever money comes up in church, be it from the apostle Paul or the current pastor, the first question that goes through our mind is: how rich is “rich”?  Accompanied by its partner: how needy is “in need”?  But in asking these questions or at least allowing them to cross our mind have we missed the possibility that God has already put us in a position of provision?  To put it more plainly, do we need our hands out or our wallets out?

          This is the theme of 2 Corinthians 8.  Paul begins chapter eight by saying that despite their poverty, the Macedonian Christians had generously funded the church in Corinth (vv. 1-6).  So now Paul is asking for money.  He’s asking the Corinthians, recent recipients of charitable giving, to return the favor on behalf of the church in need in Jerusalem (v. 7).

          Most obviously this passage is about giving.  But at a deeper level it is also about perspective.  Does the Corinthian church get it?  Do they remember where they came from and where they are now?  Do they have a healthy perspective of how much they actually have compared to others?

          As far as Paul saw it, there were two main reasons that the Corinthians needed to remember their roots and give: first, their congregation was blessed by those who gave to help them in their hour of need.   When Macedonia had more than Corinth, they bankrolled their siblings in Christ.   Now that Jerusalem was in greater need than Corinth it was their time to share the wealth.  

          But Paul wasn’t pulling a Robin Hood style fundraiser.  Historically, the Corinthian Christians’ abundance was not abundance as most would define it.  Rather, Paul was appealing to financial comparison.  Regardless of what the Corinthians had, it was at least more than what the Jerusalem Christians had.  Essentially what Paul is saying here is that those who have more than others share with those who have less; period.  Paul calls it a “fair balance” (v. 13).

          Compared to the over one thousand billionaires in the world not many of us feel rich.  But what happens when we play Paul’s money comparison game at home and abroad?  According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest information, the median household income is just over $50,000 for the average household of 2.54 people.  So if we apply Paul’s “fair balance” approach to American churches, we might say that all homes which live on less than $50,000 per year put your hands out, and all those that see over $50,000 per year put your wallets out.

          So what of the other 94% of humanity?  As residents of the information age, the rest of the world has become our time’s Jerusalem church.  One estimate of global household income puts the median at $10,000 per year when rounded up.  Again, applying Paul’s “fair balance” would mean that all households living on less than $10,000 per year can put their hands out while those of us living on more than $10,000 per year needs to get our wallets out.

          Granted, this isn’t exactly what Paul meant by a “fair balance,” especially when we don’t all share Christian faith.  The point is more to jar our perspective.  Should we be hands-out or wallets-out people and compared with whom?  Does our congregation reflect the circumstances of Corinth or Jerusalem?  If given only two options, are we rich or poor?

          Continuing our education, unemployment, new family member, saving for a down payment; we can all point to times in our lives when we have enjoyed far less than we have now.  Paul is telling the Corinthians and us to “remember our roots!”  Remember your times of need so you will remember to meet the needs of others.

          The second and far more important reason Paul offers for us to remember our roots and give is as applicable to ancient Corinth as it is to today’s Magic Valley, namely the generosity of God’s gift of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection.  Paul writes, “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (v. 9).

          Jesus was “rich” according to Paul because before Jesus was born in a manger he pre-existed with God as God.  Our spiritual roots lie in the impoverishment of Christ who emptied of divinity came to live among us as a human, die a human death and ascend to divinity once again.   God’s sacrificial work in and through Jesus turns our act of freely giving our financial resources to the needs of others pure gospel.

          Paul reminds the Corinthians not only of how others helped them in the past, but of how Jesus Christ himself is the supreme example of the kind of sacrifice to which Paul is now calling them.  How then could they refuse to send an offering to those in need in Jerusalem?  Paul asked for money then and preachers have been ever since; so why is this necessary?  Why do we need someone meddling with our money?  Why do we need to continue preaching about generous giving in our abundantly wealthy churches?

          For the same reason Paul did.   He knew it’s hard to visualize the need of others unless someone draws us a picture.  When a mother shows her baby a new toy, the child may coo with delight.   But if she then puts the toy behind her back the baby literally thinks it has disappeared forever.  Developmentally babies do not yet grasp object permanence—the idea that something out of sight still exists.

          Most people lack a similar sense of object permanence with regard to money.  The sins of excessive comfort, self-justification and plain old fashioned greed cause many of us to forget how dramatically rich we are.  And consequently we treat the needs of others as out of sight … out of mind.

          Regardless of our varied financial circumstances, we all have the same spiritual heritage—rags to riches; Jesus’ poverty on behalf of our affluence.  And in that redistribution of spiritual wealth, we find a foundation for redistribution of actual wealth.  We remember our roots and look to follow Jesus in granting care to the poor from the blessing of our riches.  

          No matter how challenging this teaching of Paul’s may be it also contains good news.  First, we are blessed when we give.  Most people who give to relieve the plight of others report a sense of spiritual wholeness and satisfaction.  When Paul addressed the elders at Ephesus, he closed his message with a word about giving by saying; “In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).  

          Second; when we give willingly, we provoke the love of God.  Paul says in chapter nine of 2 Corinthians that “God loves a cheerful giver” (v. 7).  My prayer for all of us is that in all our giving we remember both the generosity of Jesus’ sacrificial love as well as the wisdom of Paul who said, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance” (2 Cor. 8:13-14).

          Amen.

SOURCES:

Census.gov & nationmaster.com

 

 

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