By Pamela Lewis
A Reading from 2 Corinthians 8:1-16
1 We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4 begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints — 5 and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6 so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. 7 Now 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.
8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 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. 10 And 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 — 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has — not according to what one does not have. 13 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 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15 As it is written,
“The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.”
16 But thanks be to God who put in the heart of Titus the same eagerness for you that I myself have.
Pledging and giving of one’s treasure to our churches can be one of the most difficult aspects of a parishioner’s experience. The expectations for participating in the kingdom of God by giving money to our church can often collide with limitations of our financial resources.
In this chapter of his letter, and writing from Macedonia, Paul turns his attention to the issue of collecting money for the poor Christians in Jerusalem, which he had done during his third missionary journey. The Macedonian churches — at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea — despite their poverty, gave money, sometimes more than Paul had expected (v. 3a). In Paul’s eyes, this is the example of sacrificial giving, in that the churches gave first to God and then to Paul and those with him. Like many congregations in our own time, the Corinthian believers excelled in everything: speech, faith, knowledge, and earnestness in their love. But Paul wants them to raise their giving to the same level as these other qualities.
Rather than commanding, Paul is encouraging the Corinthian churches to put their money where their love is as a sign of their sincere commitment to Christ. Although there is no evidence that Christ was any poorer than most first-century Palestinians, he had put aside his glory to assume the “poverty” of becoming human so that we might become rich in receiving salvation and eternal life.
Paul’s final advice to the Corinthians is that they finish what they had intended to do, which was to collect money for the Jerusalem churches. We, too, can follow his principles for responsible and realistic sacrificial giving. We should fulfill our financial commitments, give in accordance with what we can afford (not to “give until it hurts”), and give so that equality can be achieved. As God gives to us, we can give to others.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Morristown, N.J.
The Diocese of Cape Town (Anglican Church of Southern Africa)