Examples of Generosity

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

II Corinthians 8:1-15

“We want you to know, brothers and sisters about how sacrificially the churches in Macedonia have given to our special offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem… 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”

When I read from Paul’s letter today, did you feel like you had opened up a stewardship letter? A fundraising letter?  Or a letter from any of a number of wonderful ministries doing good work?  We get those letters at the Kirk as well. Sometimes we receive a letter or email from denomination or a seminary or a conference center or even disaster relief services asking us to raise money for a good cause or special offering. And we pass on the request to you.

When I read Paul’s letter today, did you hear “fundraising”—someone is asking for my money? I did. And for good reason. That is exactly what this is. A fundraising appeal to the Christians in Corinth.

Earlier, Paul had attended a called council meeting with the leaders in Jerusalem. They were trying to sort out if and how Gentiles would be welcomed into the church. This was all new to them. These Jewish Christians had not faced this issue before! They came to a compromise. Out of the debate and discussion, Paul had agreed he would raise some money for the church in Jerusalem.

The church had been struggling financially… there had been a famine. People were hurting.

Paul saw this as an opportunity to strengthen those ties. They could show  their gratitude for what the mother church had done for them.So Paul agreed to help raise money from the new churches to help them.

So for months, Paul had been asking all the missionary churches to do what they could to send money to Jerusalem. Each church offered a pledge of support including the churches that Paul had founded in Corinth and the province of Macedonia (Greece and Turkey today).

Corinth was a relatively wealthy city, right on the major trade route – and it seems that the Corinthian Christians responded generously to Paul’s plea—at least at first. The problem is, they never followed through on their pledge. Maybe it was because of how strained their relationship had become. Remember the tearful and angry letter Paul had written. It is hard to raise money when you are mad with the person asking for the money! But things were better now and Paul is writing to ask them- to encourage them- to give as much as they can… to finish what they started.

He lifts up the Christians in the Macedonian region as an example for them to follow. Paul has been living with them awhile and they have made a significant impact upon him. I think he is overwhelmed and astonished by their faith. And it was not just talk. It was tangible. They put their money where their mouth was.

These congregations (3 of them) had not only done what was asked in raising money for the poor saints… they begged to do more! That was amazing by itself. Who  begs to give more than expected?! I’ve never had a letter from any of you after a stewardship season asking if you could do more! “Please, let me do more!”

But what really amazed Paul is that this came from people who were suffering… really suffering for their faith… They were already being persecuted for their faith and this had an impact on their family finances.

One minister described the situation this way: “Christians could not work, could not buy or sell or trade for goods. (They could not sign contracts or do business) They were not allowed to participate economically, socially or politically, and as a result they found themselves in deep poverty.

Or the way my Momma from Alabama would have said it was this: As a result, these people were poor. Dirt poor.

Dirt poor except in one thing. They excelled in one thing that those rich Corinth lacked: they excelled in generosity which was not a result of a fundraising letter or pressure or appeal… but was a fruit of their faith.

About the same time as Paul would write this letter, he would also write to Christians in Galatia. He would talk about the about the fruit of the spirit. He was contrasting it with the works of the flesh. Guess what he included?!

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, GENEROSITY, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.”

The Macedonians may not have had much materially speaking, but they had an abundance of generosity. He saw it when they begged to give more to others.

I think Paul was impressed and moved by their generosity. And Paul wanted the Corinthians to know about them. They were an example to follow.

I sort of know how Paul feels. One of the benefits of going on mission trips over the years to very poor parts of the world is that one is exposed not just to poverty, but one is exposed to the riches of faith. I’ve yet to be on a mission trip to a third world country where I was not humbled by the faith and generosity of others who had little or nothing. Some of you have seen this in Haiti, in Honduras, in Guatemala.

My most moving memory of this was on my second trip to Zambia, Africa to a little village called Mwandi. I had been there in the late 80s leading a trip for the Medical Benevolence foundation to help repair a dilapidated hospital in remote Africa. On the first trip we were there to remove wasp nests from the hospital rooms and to do some painting. I’ve never seen a village or hospital so poor. Still haven’t.There was no running water… people got water directly from the Zambezi river which meant they were vulnerable to water born diseases. There was no electricity—surgery in the hospital was done by hooking up lights to a car battery. Food was scarce. I’ve never seen such extreme poverty.

Well, some Presbyterians saw this and we got involved and long story short, a group of churches in Rowan County brought electricity to the village… others  helped to bring clean water… Over the years, new crops were planted. Lives have been saved and transformed.  All thanks to the generosity of people in churches who gave sacrificially of their time and money to make it happen.

But their generosity did not compare with what I saw upon my return to Mwandi a few years later.

I had returned about 10 years later to do more work along with two members of the church in Newton: Jim and his high school daughter, Laurel. Jim was a wine seller, a Calvin scholar and faithful elder in the church. Laurel at the time, was in high school. We spent a couple of weeks in that village. Laurel made friends with families in the village.

As we came to the end of our time there, Laurel came to us with a problem. In fact, she was crying when she explained her dilemma. Jim and I wondered “what was wrong?!”

This is what happened. One little girl who Laurel befriended came to her with a gift. It was a chicken. Her only chicken. She wanted Laurel to have it and take it home. Laurel says, “What am I to do?”

She was plagued with that mixture of guilt and gratitude. Grateful for the love behind the gift… but feeling guilty—“How can this little girl who has nothing, how can she give all that she has to me? And I don’t want to hurt her feelings? What am I to do?”  It is enough to make two grown men tear up.

What I really think hit all three of us is the same thing that impressed Paul as he lived among the Macedonians: their loving generosity… which came more than from “good hearts”… a generosity that was not a result of them calculating how much they could afford to give to that special offering or based on a decision that the recipients were worthy of their support.

No, their giving was based on something deeper. Paul said it was based on this:

“They gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God to us…”Paul saw in their generosity an outward and visible sign of an inner and profound faith. Generosity for Paul is a fruit of faith. And the Macedonians excelled in bearing this good fruit.

He urges the same for us.

Sometimes when I read Paul’s letters, I almost think he wrote them for me… and for us. You ever have that feeling?  I’m thinking he could write pretty much the same letter to us today that he wrote to the Corinthians. It might sound something like this.

“You know, you people, you American Christians excel in so much: you trust God,  you are educated and intelligent (maybe some of the smartest people around), articulate, some of you are very passionate, you love one another, you are very good organizers, you want what is best for your families… I just want you to do your best with generosity too. Excel in generosity!  Who knows?- others will be inspired through you! Others may be urged to become generous themselves.”

Generosity often impresses and inspires others.

I was inspired and impressed a couple of weeks ago after the bombings in Boston. I watched and listened to stories of incredible generosity. I have no doubt that God was working in the generosity of so many that very difficult day.  It’s sad that it takes a crisis or tragedy to bring it out of us sometimes, but it is there.

You remember some of the stories. There is the runner who literally took the shirt off his back to bind the wounds of a bystander. They were strangers. He didn’t calculate whether to give his shirt. He just did it! I love the story of the man who was having brunch and watching from his apartment. After the bombing, all the food came downstairs to share with those on the street. There were the runners who kept running to the hospital in order to give blood—after more than 20 miles of running! There was the woman who opened her home to 5 strangers for the night because they could not make it back to the hotel during the lockdown.

Even the Yankees and Red Sox embraced one another. Now that may be more than an act of generosity, which might be an act of God!

And with every act… every good and generous gift… people are inspired…maybe to be more generous themselves.

I’m hoping that when the world looks at Christians- at you and me and the Kirk… I’m hoping what they will see are generous people. You are here! I know you!

I would hope that if Paul were to come for a visit he might be inspired and impressed by us. He might even email his friends:

“That though times were sometimes tough… though the economy was slow… I can testify, that the members of the Kirk— even and especially in tough times gave generously of themselves— of things that are in short supply: their time and money – they were eager to share their gifts…  according to their ability and even beyond…”

I’d like to think Paul would be able to say “ I can testify that they excel  in many things… not the least of which is their faith – which anyone  can see is alive in their generous and giving spirit.”

Yes, that’s what I hope Paul would say… in his next fundraising letter…so that we too might be an inspiration to others and a bold witness to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.