Years ago I had a lovely and well-meaning parishioner try to teach her teenage grandson about giving cheerfully. She insisted that he give the $5 in his pocket in the offering plate one Sunday morning. After church she asked him whether or not he was happy he gave his only $5. Being a teenager – an honest and candid teenager – he told her no, he’d rather have his $5 back. She told him she had planned to give him $10 for his effort, but only if he had given joyfully – after all, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Since he was unhappy with his decision she withheld the $10.
While I appreciated the woman’s intention, I think she completely missed the point of joyful giving. People don’t learn to give joyfully through extortion (as Paul clearly understood in this text). People become joyful givers by practicing the art of giving. First, by giving what they can give comfortably. Next, by pushing themselves a little bit in faith by giving just a hair more than is comfortable. Then by giving beyond their comfort zone in faith and trust – and because they begin to believe that there are recipients who are in greater need than they are. Only through practicing the art of giving can they begin to learn compassion for the recipient, and only then can they begin to experience the joy of giving. When they see through experience that their giving brings as much joy to them as it brings to those who receive it, giving becomes a blessing to all involved.
Paul understood that the church in Corinth was on the cusp of joyful giving. He gave them advance notice that the recipients to whom they promised a gift were coming to receive the gift. He encouraged those who were able to gather the gifts they were to give so that when the recipients arrived they would be prepared with their gift. First the giving. Second the joy of discovering their compassion for the recipient. Third the joy of becoming cheerful givers. Paul knew just how to bring this community into the joy of giving and executed the plan flawlessly. What stage of giving are you at today? Are you ready to push yourself to the next step? Pay attention to how your own giving practices bring joy to your life. You might be surprised at just how awesome joyful giving can be!
2 Corinthians 9:1-15
Now it is not necessary for me to write you about the ministry to the saints, for I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you may not prove to have been empty in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be; otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—in this undertaking. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!