2 Corinthians 9:6-15
6 What I mean is this: the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop.
7 Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver. 8 God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. 9 As it is written, He scattered everywhere; he gave to the needy; his righteousness remains forever.
10 The one who supplies seed for planting and bread for eating will supply and multiply your seed and will increase your crop, which is righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us. 12 Your ministry of this service to God’s people isn’t only fully meeting their needs but it is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God. 13 They will give honor to God for your obedience to your confession of Christ’s gospel. They will do this because this service provides evidence of your obedience, and because of your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone. 14 They will also pray for you, and they will care deeply for you because of the outstanding grace that God has given to you. 15 Thank God for his gift that words can’t describe!
Thoughts on the passage:
The Catholic Church believes in the value of indulgences. Simply put, these are actions that have a positive spiritual value and are meant to offset our sins, which obviously have a negative value. Good acts, prayers, and acts of worship are all good examples of indulgences. In the late Middle Ages, this practice fell victim to corruption and abuse. Seeking to fund large projects like the building of cathedrals and the Crusades, the church began to sell indulgences. Money replaced action as a way to offset our sins.
If this sounds familiar to you, it might be because you attend a Lutheran church. Martin Luther’s break from the Catholic Church was rooted in no small part in his objections to this practice of indulgences. It betrayed his understanding of God’s unmerited grace and the idea that no action on our part could get us to Heaven, only the saving work of Christ. The abuses of the church merely served to highlight for him a deeper problem with Catholic theology. His pushback lead to the Protestant Reformation and the ending of the sale of indulgences.
Indulgences are merely one approach that the church has taken to talking about money. Unfortunately, it is not the only approach that I think has caused harm over the years. Many of us have probably heard the phrase “give ‘til it hurts.” We might also have been taught the concept of tithing, that is giving 10% of our income to the church. Pastor Marianne’s grandfather once told us of a sermon he heard where the pastor linked not giving to the church with stealing from God. Before you are too shocked, remember that many of these idea are tied directly to scripture.
The harm, that I feel is done by them, is not that they are concepts that are not connected to scripture, but rather they are concepts that damage how we think about giving. As Paul reminds the Corinthians, God loves a cheerful giver. Too often, our teachings about giving in the church do not engender cheerfulness, rather they bring up images of pain, legalism, guilt, and math. Now, some of us love math, but even the magic of the tithing is not rooted in the math of 10%, but in the mentality that accompanies it. When we merely teach people to give a specific amount, we are not helping them to be the kind of cheerful givers God desires.
Pastor Marianne and I have made a practice of tithing since we were married. We have always given at least 10% of our income to the church. I say at least 10% for two reasons. The first is that I like round numbers and so tend to round up, so it is easy to write a check for our offering. The second reason is because I do try and cheerfully give to the church, and to other causes. I do not want my giving merely to be tied to an arbitrary dollar amount or a sense that I need to give because it is my professional obligation. I tend to give more because I see needs in the church and I want to give to them as well. I give to the church because I see the differences that our congregation makes in the world and I want to be a part of it. I give because my money is a resource that I want to use to do God’s work in the world. I tithe because I believe that by giving 10% of my income to the church I am able to help the church do so many amazing things and that is something I want to support.
The tension between giving out of need and out of desire is a real one. There are times in my ministry when I know I have asked people to give out of a sense of need rather than desire. When we faced problems with the sewer last year, many people stepped forward to give. They were likely motivated by the clear need to do something about this problem in our church. I know that when I asked people to consider giving it was orientated out of that need. Unfortunately, giving out of need is not nearly as powerful as giving out of desire. God wants us to desire to give.
If you think about that for a minute, it makes a lot of sense. First, why does God need our money in the first place? God being God, already has all creation. God does not need a few pieces of paper to have more. Second, we all have seen that difference in our lives between giving out of need and out of desire. Have you ever guilted a spouse or a family member into giving you something? Maybe you made it clear you expected a nice meal for your anniversary or wanted a specific gift for Christmas? Your loved one might have done that for you, but the impetus would have been out of your need or wishes, not his or her desire. We all know that a romantic dinner is a lot more enjoyable when both people want to be there. We all know that a gift is that much more amazing when both the giver and the receiver are excited about it. It is no different with God.
God does not want our money. God wants a relationship with us. God wants us to be cheerful givers because that is a sign of our good relationship with God. Our giving is important because it is an indicator of that relationship. It is not a way to build up merit or atone for our sins. Rather it is a way for us to live out our relationship with God.
One other harm that we in the church have done is that we have often reduced our thinking about giving to money. Money is a wonderful thing. It gives us a clearly metric to measure by. It is versatile and can be used for so many different things. It is necessary because without mone power company does not turn the lights on. It is not however, the only way that we can give to the church or to God.
Our gifts are so much more than merely the dollars we place in the offering plate or have electronically given from our bank accounts. The pies people baked for the Turkey Dinner are an offering to God. The hours and hours that people spend on crafts for the Bazaar are an offering too. The ushers are giving their time to God when they come early to greet and hand out bulletins. The people who stay overnight for Family Promise are giving a gift as well. The prayers that people say on behalf of those in need are gifts too. Our whole lives can be an offering to God if we want to make them that way.
What inspires you to give to God? What gifts do you want to offer to God? Maybe I am biased, but I really believe that the church is a powerful vehicle through which to give our gifts to God. When we give through the church, we are able to have a huge impact in people’s lives. We help people through our Aid Program. We provide shelter to families in need through Family Promise. We give people a chance to grow in their faith through Sunday school, youth group, and our Connexion groups. These are just the tip of the iceberg of things that we do with our gifts. They are not possible without the cheerful giving of so many people. They are not possible without you.
What seeds has God blessed you with? How can you plant them to do God’s work in the world? God has blessed us in so many ways. God has given us so many resources at our disposal. Let us use these gifts and resources for God’s work in the world. Let us cheerfully give back to God in thanks for all that God has done for us!
Questions to Ponder:
What gifts has God given you to use?
How do you try and be a cheerful giver?
How have you experienced God’s blessings in your life?
O God, we give you thanks for the many blessings you have given to each one of us. Help us to remember all that we have and to see it all as ways that we can do your work in the world. Remove the feelings of legalism and guilt that might come when we think about giving to the church. Help us instead be cheerful givers who give out of our abundance to do your work in the world. Amen