2 Corinthians 8.16-9.5
One of my all-time favourite books is called 'Watching the English' by a British woman called Kate Fox. She studies people and cultures and has written a book aiming to expose the reasons behind the often strange habits of the English people! It's a funny and light hearted book which is why I like it - for example as part of her research for the book she deliberately bumps into people just to see if they would say sorry to her - which of course they mostly did!
One topic she writes about is money!
"I find that the times and places considered appropriate for money-talk in English culture are few and far between, and that a degree of squeamishness and embarrassment about money is common even in those situations which are regarded as appropriate."
She quotes an American giving advice to anyone doing business in the UK: "it is best to do all financial negotiation in letters or emails. The English just can't talk about money face to face, you have to do it in writing." She also describes amusing descriptions of what happens when foreigners ask someone who is English how much they earn, or the cost of something they own.
She concludes that that there is a "deep seated but utterly irrational distaste for money-talk of any kind" that leads us to "becoming tongue-tied and uncomfortable. Some of us cover our embarrassment by joking, some by adopting a blustering, forthright, even aggressive manner... You will not often see an English person entirely at ease when obliged to engage in money-talk."
Well, as we continue to work our way through the book of 2 Corinthians we are obliged to engage in money talk, because that is what this section of the book is all about! I do hope, however, that you won't find this talk too painful!
Turn with me to page 817 and back to 2 Corinthians chapter 8.
Before we dive into the text, we need to make sure we understand what is going on here.
You'll need your handout and at the top of the page you'll see I've written down 'The Collection for God's People in Jerusalem'. For a large period of Paul's ministry he was involved in organising a collection from the churches he'd planted, for their fellow-Christians in Jerusalem who were in desperate need because of persecution and famine.
This is first referred to in Acts 11:27-30. At this point Paul is in Antioch and hasn't yet began travelling round planting churches:
"During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world….The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul."
What was the significance of this? Clearly Paul sees a need and wants to meet it. But there is also a deeper significance. In Galatians 2.10 Paul is talking about the agreement among the apostles that the good news about Jesus was for everyone in the whole world and in the context of that realisation it was agreed that Paul, as he planted churches among non-Jews would "continue to remember the poor (referring to those in Jerusalem), the very thing I had been eager to do all along". That's Galatians 2.10.
When I got married my wife and I opened a joint bank account. Why did we do that? Because we were now family and we wanted to express that in the way we organised our finances. Well in the same way, Paul knew that in Jesus people all across the globe were now like family - brothers and sisters in Christ – and he was keen to express that by collecting money for God's people who were in great need in Jerusalem.
Let me quickly run through the background to this collection and the church in Corinth. I'll let you look up the reference at your leisure – just keep an eye on what is going on at Corinth:
'2nd journey' Paul spends 1.5 years establishing the church in Corinth (Acts 18.1-18).
They gave for the poor in Jerusalem and promised more in the future (2 Cor 8.10). Paul returns to Jerusalem (Acts 18.22).
'3rd journey' Paul writes 1 Corinthians from Ephesus in response to news he's heard from them (eg 1 Cor 1.11) and a letter he received from them (eg 1 Cor 7.1).
1 Cor 16.1-4 - Instructions to put money aside on Lord's day for the collection for God's people and send it with approved men.
"Now about the collection for the Lord's people: do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me."
1 Cor 16.5-9 - Planned to visit them after he had been to Macedonia so he could stay for a longer visit.
Paul hears about problems in the church and changes his plans. He came direct from Ephesus with Titus (before he went to Macedonia). This second visit was 'painful' (2 Cor 2:1, 13:2). The promised collection was not ready.
55 AD While Paul is in Macedonia he tells them about the generosity of the Corinthians and their response is amazing (2 Cor 8:1-9). Titus visits Paul there and brings news from Corinth (2 Cor 7:5-7, 8:16-7, 12:18) including news that the promised money is not ready! Paul writes 2 Corinthians from there ahead of his visit.
Third visit for 3 months (2 Cor 13:1, Acts 20:2-3) before heading off to Jerusalem to deliver the collection and then begin his mission to Spain
With that in mind let's go through today's passage to make sure we understand it, before looking at 3 key lessons for today from these verses. So back to page 817 and we'll read it together:
"I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative."
Paul tells them how he is going to organise collecting the gifts for the poor in Jerusalem. Titus was coming to receive it. Paul underlines here that Titus really cares for the Christians at Corinth - just like Paul does – and was quite willing to go to them.
"And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honour the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help."
Paul was also sending with Titus another friend who was known for his gospel work and who had been chosen as a trustworthy person to make sure the money is delivered safely. The point here is not to try and guess who the brother is (probably Luke) but to notice that the group dealing with the collection were chosen by other Christians - rather than by Paul. Then nobody could say that he was not honest with the money. He reminds them that his purpose is for the collection to bring glory to God and help other Christians.
"We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man."
Paul wants them to be confident that their gift will be in safe hands and nothing dodgy will happen to it. He expected the gift to be a large and generous one and he wants them to know that both God and people would see that he is handling it in the right way.
"In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honour to Christ. Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it."
Paul also sent another friend whom the Christians recommended. This man also was very eager to help. Paul explained that Titus was acting on his behalf. He encouraged the Christians at Corinth to show these men the proof of their love by giving to their needs. We give towards the needs of others when we love them – he was proud of them for doing this.
If they did that, then all the Christians would know about it too.
"There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord's people. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action."
Paul obviously wants to avoid another situation when they may not have their gift ready. But he is careful not to offend the Christians at Corinth by what he says - he knew that they were willing to help. That is why he reminds them that he's been telling the Macedonians how eager the Christians at Corinth were to give, which in fact encouraged the Macedonians to give also.
"But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we – not to say anything about you – would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given."
What he says here is: Imagine I turn up with a Macedonian. It would be quite embarrassing if the people at Corinth were not ready with their gift! Therefore, he was sending Titus and the two other brothers to make sure that the gift was ready before Paul arrived.
Verse 5 is key to understanding this section. All these arrangements are to avoid the giving being reluctant or because they are being pressured to give. Paul wanted the gift they gave to be generous. He wanted them to give because they wanted to. He did not want them to give because someone told them to. Christians should give because they love God. They should not give because it is a duty.
So that's our text for this morning. Let's focus on three lessons for us this morning. Turn over and you'll see those on the back of the handout.
The first is a reminder that when we give, the reason we give should be to honour God
We see that at the end of v19...
" ...as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honour the Lord himself...."
Paul knew that if he arrived in Jerusalem with a seriously generous gift, it would glorify God, because serious giving shows that we take God and his work seriously. The Christian church often does not have a reputation for generosity - bishops living in luxury and sense that many have that the church is just after my money. However, when we live generous lives we demonstrate to a watching world that our God is a generous God.
Just a little bit earlier on in chapter 8:9 he said this:
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich."
He deliberately uses the financial language of poor and rich but he's not referring to how much money Jesus had in his bank account, so to speak. He reminds us about gift of God's Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave up the riches of his glory in heaven to come to earth as a man and die on a cross. Why did he become so poor by suffering so much? In order to make it possible for us to be forgiven and made right with God. In one stroke he became poor and we gained the possibility to become rich in spiritual blessings. Those who accept his gift no longer face punishment for their guilt and receive a new heart and a new status as accepted daughters, forgiven sons. It's a gift that is available completely free of charge to every one of us, but it was not without cost. Jesus gave so much for us - willingly, cheerfully, generously and sacrificially.
When we become his people we too become those who give. As well as using the money we have to care for our own needs and the needs of our family, we are to take care of the poor and those in special need, both in and outside of the church. We are also to support the work of the church locally and throughout the world.
We give to things that God cares about. Not because we have to, but because we now want to. Not in order to be accepted by God, but rather because he has accepted us. Christian giving is always a response to what God has given to us and giving like that honours God.
Secondly, We give to show our care for others
"What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honour the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help."
Paul knew that a gift from the gentile churches would show the Christians in Jerusalem that other Christians identified with them as part of God's world-wide family and were committed to them. Giving is by definition about being generosity in a way that that may not directly benefit us at all.
What about us? Do we give like that – for the benefit of others?
Giving to cover our needs as a church is necessary. Ask Rod if you're unsure what financial and other needs the church currently faces. Are you helping to meet them? I'm not just talking about financial needs either. Look around your - what needs do others in the church have right now? Can you cook a meal, lend a lawnmover (and yourself to cut the grass), or help look after a family overwhelmed with a tough patch?
However, we need to give not just for our needs to be met but to enable non-Christian people to hear about Jesus. That is costly – church growth is costly. So as a church are you giving to care for others in your community? What needs are there around us? How can we meet them? Can we partner with smaller churches in other places to see gospel growth?
We need to give beyond meeting our own needs. Which is also why the giving literature suggests that we don't just give to meet our needs here, but that half of our giving goes to world mission – because if we're really committed to God's agenda and God's glory then we've got to make sure we aren't being merely self-interested in our giving. Are you giving to support Christians elsewhere? Gospel work – ultimately that will meet people's deepest needs? What about development and disaster relief?
Are you giving to show care for others in the name of Christ?
Thirdly , The way we give should honour God
Why did Paul send a whole team of trustworthy people to collect and then deliver the money? Because he knew that the way we handle or our giving needs to be accountable and above board.
Paul knew that the Christian handling of money is seen by God, but it must be transparently honest and above board in the eyes of men also. He needed to be seen to be clean.
This comes from realising that the money is not his – he was just looking after it for the Lord and so it needed to be handled in a way that would honour him. Stealing it, losing it, wasting it, using it for a something other than the reason it had been given. None of those are right.
We should take this very seriously and we do. More than one person at every stage, trustworthy people like Jill Steer (a qualified accountant) administering our finances, audited accounts, treat property with respect.
Take an interest in this side of church life. Check out the accounts! If you have any questions or concerns about how we administer our finances, please raise them with Rod or church warden or Jill. our giving needs to be accountable and above board.
Finally our giving needs to be planned and organised.
Paul doesn't doubt their generosity, he doubts their organisation. So he says to them: 'Get organised! Be efficient! Finish the job!'
What about you? Do you have good intentions about your giving but are just not that organised? It does takes time and effort to plan your spending and keep control of it so you have some left over to give. Paul's suggestion is a good one - decide what you can give and start giving regularly. We do it at the beginning of the month so it's gone because we know at the end of the month it will be harder to find reasons not to give.
The reason we have a giving scheme instead of taking a collection week by week in services is to encourage planned, organised and generous giving. Do you give? If not, perhaps that a good next step on your journey of faith. Start small and built from there. Speak to someone in leadership for advice. Book plug - Money Counts.
May need help getting our finances in order. God knows – seen already that we give what we can. May be that you find the CAP Money course can be useful.
There's also a great example here of a Christian helping other Christians to grow in their faith. We do have a that British reserve about money to contend with and it is true that Jesus says our giving should be in private. However, could we not still talk about this with one other about and help one another assess how well we're doing in this area? Can we not help each other to grow in our generosity to others in response to God's generosity to us?
I need to finish. God has been so good to us in Christ so let's be like him. Look out for the needs of others and give your money, your time, your energy, your all so as to honour God.
Let us pray.
you have called us to be your people,
poured out your goodness on us,
and called us to be stewards
of all that you have entrusted to us;
give us grace to enjoy all your gifts to us,
and to handle them with integrity
because they come from you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen