In Paul’s time, there was a social stigma associated with the giving of gifts. Those who gave were regarded highly for their abundance, while those who received were regarded lowly for their need. Paul wanted to build unity between churches and communities of varying regions and culture, so giving was essential for the survival of all the communities. It was a tricky business collecting and distributing offerings in such a way that the communities could communicate and commune as equals.
Paul’s idea – indeed, Jesus’ idea – was that all give out of their abundance and even beyond their means, so that every giver could feel the pinch, and also the joy of faithful giving. He also encouraged the receiving of gifts so that every recipient could feel the pinch and the joy of faithful receiving.
It is not so different today. There is a clear distinction between the haves and the have-nots. There is such a stigma attached to poverty, that people who truly need help sometimes refuse the help so as not to be labeled. With the downturn of the economy several years ago, food banks reported families that were once generous donors had become food bank recipients. In the sharing of these stories, food banks knew that they would strike a chord among other potential donors. Everybody has an idea of what it might feel like to be a donor, and then become a recipient – a dramatic shift of power and social status. God’s challenge is for us to be faithful givers and receivers of the abundant gifts God gives every person, whether it be money, time, or talent. All faithful giving and receiving comes with pain and joy; the pain is fleeting, but the joy endures.
2 Corinthians 8:1-15
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you.
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. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 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. 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— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 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. 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.”