2 Corinthians 8:1-15
by Teresa Coulthard
Do you remember your grandparents? Do you remember them telling you any stories about their life… back in the “good old days” – back before you were born? When I was growing up, I was very fortunate to have lived close to both sets of my grandparents. The one set of grandparents, my mother’s parents, were very dedicated church members at their local, rural community church about 2 miles away from their place. My grandfather was one of the Elders at the church for as long as I can remember, and my grandmother was the organist and choir director there for 27 years. They never missed a Sunday. I remember them telling me stories of them attending church during winter snowstorms – back in the good old days… back before I was born ….
They lived on a small dairy farm south of Stratford. Their LONG and narrow gravel driveway stretched back between two fields, and opened into a yard where the buildings were clustered – an Ontario cottage house, wooden drive-in shed, and painted red barn. During winter snowstorms, the driveway seemed to disappear underneath a sea of white snowdrifts that rippled across the fields.
I remember them telling me a story about a snowstorm one Sunday. They said that there was no way their car was going to make it down the drifted-in laneway or unplowed road to church without getting stuck. But they were not going to miss church! So they did the next best thing… they both bundled up in warm clothes, trudged through the snow drifts from their house to their shed, opened the door, climbed up, huddled together, and drove their little, old fashioned, open air tractor all the way to church. Yep, they drove the tractor to church. There were no heated tractor cabs back then. Not even the dream of a tractor cab. All I can say to that is … WOW. That’s dedication!
I enjoyed all of the times I was able to see my grandparents at church, as well as all of the visits and sleepovers at their place over the years. Behind parents, I would have to say that grandparents are quite often the most influential people in a child’s life. In my experience, my grandparents were a wonderful source of unconditional love in this busy, sometimes impatient, world. And I adored them.
So, when my grandmother died when I was 15 years old, you can imagine the sense of grief and loss I felt… that the whole family felt. My grandmother was the first “unconditional love” person in my life that died. I couldn’t believe how painful it was to realize I would never see her again. I was devastated… We all were, my grandfather especially …. He was lost without his constant companion, partner and dearest lifelong friend.
In an effort to help grandpa with his grief and loneliness in the weeks and months that followed my grandmother’s death, my brother, sister and I each took turns staying overnight with grandpa at his house on the weekends. Even though it was a sad time for all of us, I loved when it was my weekend to stay with grandpa. I loved having one-on-one time with him. And, of course, on Sunday mornings, grandpa and I would go to church together.
I can remember getting ready for church… Grandpa always wore a light brown, three piece suit with shiny black dress shoes and a black fedora hat. And he always had a sealed, white envelope ready to take with him, too.
And I can still remember having the same conversation about an offering with him every Sunday as we were getting ready for church. Keep in mind, as a fifteen year old, I didn’t have much money. The only money I had was from occasional babysitting jobs or from my allowance for doing chores at home.
So each Sunday I would say to him, “How much should I give as an offering, Grandpa? Is this enough?” And each Sunday he would give me the same answer, “Give whatever you can, Teresa. Just give whatever you can.” I didn’t know what he meant by that. I was confused. – God meets us wherever we are…. but does not leave us there. God always leads us forward….
So, from age 15, fast forward through 30 years of NOT going to church. Yes, 30 years later I found myself sitting in one of these pews over here… and I found myself asking the same questions – “How much should I give? Is this enough? How much do I need to give? How much do I have to give? How much are other people giving?”
Now, I knew that it would not be polite to ask anyone these questions, so I tried comparing an offering with something I knew. So I thought, “How much does a ticket to a movie theatre cost? Should I add in the price of popcorn or not? And a drink? Is that enough? Is that too much?” And on and on it went.
But the one thing I notice as I look back on all of those questions is the sense of duty and obligation and reluctance that I was feeling about “giving” and about my offering. I was giving because I felt I HAD TO, not because I WANTED TO. Because it was EXPECTED. I did not have a good attitude toward giving. My heart was not in it… But God meets us wherever we are – and uses love and grace to lead us forward…
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church he started in Corinth a few years earlier was about that very same thing – about their attitude toward generosity and giving.
In his letter, Apostle Paul talks about three groups of people – the Jerusalem believers, the Macedonians, and the Corinthians.
The Jerusalem believers he refers to are the Jewish people in Jerusalem that have heard about Jesus, his teachings, and the story of his life, death and resurrection and had decided to become followers of Jesus… referred to as followers of The Way. But when these Jewish people started following the Way of Jesus, they were no longer allowed to go back into their own Jewish synagogues, they were thrown out of their families, their businesses failed because their former friends and neighbours refused to do business with them. They were shunned. They were ostracized. They were on the brink of starvation.
That’s hard for us to imagine, isn’t it…. what the brink of starvation might feel like. Especially for us here in Canada, land of plenty, as we celebrate on this Canada Day. I have never missed a meal in my life that wasn’t by my own choice… But that was not the case at all for these Jerusalem believers – they were on edge of survival.
The second group that the Apostle Paul talks about is the Macedonians. These Macedonians are members of some churches that he started in Northern Greece, in Macedonia. The Macedonians were also very poor people – having just recently survived the horror and destruction of a civil war in their region. They were grateful the war was over and they were grateful to be alive. But their crops were destroyed and hunger, if not starvation, was a real and present danger for them, too.
The third group that Apostle Paul mentions is the Corinthians… or as I like to call them – the “Carousing Corinthians”. Corinth was a wild city – a city with no morals. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, bribery, drinking, gambling, brothels – you name it, it was there. The Corinthians worshipped money and anything money could buy. Which is why it is so surprising that Apostle Paul was even able to establish a church there a few years earlier in the first place! It was a miracle! Or more accurately – it was the grace of God!
Apostle Paul had a special place in his heart for these “converted” Corinthians… these church-goers had undergone a huge transformation, a huge change of lifestyle, and a remarkable change of heart to become members of a new faith community that Apostle Paul had gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ.
So, Apostle Paul was writing to this new church he started in Corinth – to encourage and advise them about many things – and one of these topics was generosity. Let’s listen again to what he has to say…
8 Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters [in Corinth],[a] what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. 2 They are being tested by many troubles [such as a recent civil war], and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.
3 For I can testify that they gave [to the suffering Jerusalem believers] not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will [we did not ask or expect them to give]. 4 They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem [who were on the brink of starvation].[b] 5 [The Macedonians] even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do…
7 Since you [Corinthians] excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us[c]—I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving.
8 I am not commanding you to do this…
10 Here is my advice: … Last year you were the first who wanted to give [to the Jerusalem believers], and you were the first to begin doing it. 11 Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. 12 Whatever you give is acceptable – if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.
Did you notice that Apostle Paul never says anything about how much to give? And did you notice, as well, that Apostle Paul talks a lot about their attitude toward giving? In fact, he is very passionate about it. Why is our attitude toward giving so important to him, I wonder?
When I look back to the time I started attending this church about 10 years ago now, my attitude toward giving was anything but eager… I felt reluctance, obligation and duty, maybe, but I certainly was not eager. So how do we get our reluctant attitudes to change? How do we get from where I was, with a sense of obligation, to where Apostle Paul encourages us to be… to be able to give with eagerness and abundant joy?
It all starts with the grace of God and gratitude…
When I first returned to church after NOT attending church for many years, I could not see how blessed my life was at that time… all I could see were all my problems. I didn’t count my blessings because I didn’t think I had very many to count. I thought that everything I had was what I had earned and what I deserved through my own hard work. I could not see that all that I had – were gifts from God. Gratitude seemed like a foreign concept to me. But God meets us where we are and uses love and grace to change attitudes and open hearts.
Very gradually, over time, something began to change for me. I can’t say how or when or even why… But the first time I noticed a difference was when I was getting my offering ready for church. I was surprised to find myself thinking that I actually WANTED to give. I WANTED to help out somehow. I wanted to give whatever I could… Hey, that sounds familiar! That was what my grandfather was trying to teach me all those years ago,… back when I was 15 years old. “Give whatever you can, Teresa. Just give whatever you can.” God meets us wherever we are and uses love and grace to change our attitudes and open our hearts…
Has anyone heard the saying that “Money is the root of all evil”? That is actually a misquote! The actual quote from the Bible says, “the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) See the difference? Money, itself, is not evil… in fact, money can be used to do a lot of good in the world. Money only becomes the root of all evil if we allow it to be the NUMBER ONE thing in our life… if we worship money – rather than worship God.
Generosity is a spiritual practice… it is something that we learn by practicing – by doing. It is not something we are automatically good at. And generosity isn’t just about money, it is about spending time, helping out, getting involved, sharing knowledge, offering encouragement and being there for each other.
The gift of the grace of God leads to gratitude.
Gratitude for all that we have been given leads to a spirit of generosity.
Generosity leads to giving to others in need.
Giving leads to an open heart, compassion and understanding for others.
Giving leads to abundant joy and a desire to help make God’s world a better place for all.
The G-Words: GRACE OF GOD, GRATITUDE, GENEROSITY, and GIVING…
God desires this for us. May it be so for all of us. Amen.