STEWARDSHIP, Part 3

Importance-of-managers

STEWARDSHIP IS MANAGEMENT

2 Corinthians 8:1-9

If the concept of “stewardship” is something you find difficult to understand, try using a different word, like “management.” As Christians, we have been given “every good and perfect gift” from God the Father. Regardless of where you work, or whose name is on your paycheck, if you are a Christian, God is the source of your income. Regardless of where you went to school, if you are a Christian, God allowed you to get your education. Whatever good things you have in life – your job, your talents, your marriage, your children, your income or wealth – they came to you from God the Father.

Our job as Christians is to “manage” those gifts so as to bring glory to God and bless others. This “management” (or stewardship) is to be deliberate and planned. Good managers don’t just happen; they learn; they learn by doing and by living. Ultimately, Christians learn how to be good managers of their various gifts through careful study and application of the Word of God.

Being a good manager was a big deal for the apostle Paul. He left a legacy – his writings and teachings – that demonstrate how seriously he took his job as a manager for God. His traveling companion/friend/personal physician/some-time biographer, Luke, also testifies to how diligently Paul tended to his duties of managing what God had given him. Part of those duties was seeing that needs among God’s people were being met. Chapter 8 of 2 Corinthians shows how Paul dealt with this in practical ways. Through careful and diligent planning, Paul had organized a massive relief effort for the needy believers in Jerusalem among the churches he founded in Galatia, Achaia and Macedonia. It was a Herculean undertaking and a dangerous one, as Paul found out in his travels to pick up the offerings from these various churches.

As we approach this chapter, we need to remember that at least a year prior to its composition, Paul had asked the congregation in Corinth to contribute to the offering week by week and to have a delegation ready to travel with him back to Jerusalem.

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 Corinthians 16:1-4)

As it turned out, after a year, the church had barely started on this relief effort. So Paul penned this chapter to prod them on. And it’s a good thing he did! Chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians contain the bulk of New Testament teaching on giving. There are NO rules for Christian giving, but there are principles. Some Christians teach that we should be tithing, but that’s not the rule for today. It may be a good principle for some to follow, but it’s not a rule. Instead of the tithe, we should be focusing on “grace.” In Paul’s teaching on giving, he never mentions the word “tithe” once, but “grace” he mentions seven times.

1. Dealing with a delicate subject, verse 1a

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know…

The Corinthians knew they were in trouble when Paul began a sentence with, “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know…” That is not a good phrase to read; it would be like hearing, “We need to have a talk,” from your wife as soon as you walk in the door after work. The Corinthians knew they were in trouble. Paul broaches a sensitive topic deftly. Even back then, talking about finances in church was just slightly less offensive than talking about sex, or kids making noises during the service.

It took Paul a while to get around to this discussion, and he probably didn’t want to. Matthew Henry comments:

How cautious ministers should be, especially in money matters, not to give occasion to those who seek occasion to speak reproachfully.

You have to read that sentence several times to understand what Henry is saying, and he’s 100% correct! Ministers have done a lot of damage in trying to educate their congregations in what stewardship and Christian giving is all about. Sometimes that damage is accidental, other times it’s planned, as ministers try to pry more and more cash from their people.

What we need to notice is what Paul wrote next.

2. It comes down to grace, verses 1b-2

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

What Paul wanted the Corinthians to know about was “the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.” What Paul is getting at here, as subsequent verses will show, is that he considered giving to be a grace. It is a grace of God. It is an attitude or disposition created in a believer by the Holy Spirit.

Paul is NOT saying that being generous is not normal. Lots of people are capable of being very generous, especially on the first Sunday of the month; especially when they are flush with cash. But these churches in Macedonia wanted to be generous in the midst of a terrible trial. They themselves were strapped for cash; they where having a terrible time, yet they wanted to give generously. That kind of generosity is NOT normal; it is not expected. This kind of generosity in a person or church can only be produced by the Spirit of God.

The Macedonian churches knew that in the midst of their problems, the Lord would never fail them. Because this was their conviction, their joy in Him was limitless. The contrast in this verse catches us off guard. Normally, the expected contrast would be between poverty and wealth, but instead, Paul introduces the contrast of abundant joy and extreme poverty. It’s hard to understand how, but affliction produces joy in the believer and joy and poverty produce a generous spirit.

But how bad had things gotten in the Macedonian provinces? Two hundred years before Paul set foot in them, Macedonia was swimming in the wealth produced by sales of gold and precious metals. Thanks to that abundance of natural resources, Macedonia was an extremely wealthy and prosperous area. However, the tide, as tides often do, changed. During Paul’s day, the Macedonian economy had deteriorated thanks in part to wars, barbarian invasions, Roman settlements, and cultural drift to the point where poverty had become a way of life in places like Philippi and Thessalonica.

Not so in Corinth. They had their trials, but their trials were of a spiritual nature. Materially the congregation there was prospering. In spite of their extreme poverty, the churches of Macedonia were lavish in their giving to the cause.

3. The real motivation to give, verses 3, 4

For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.

The generosity of the Macedonians was motivated by their desire to be a part of the team that was meeting the needs of the Lord’s people. The Greek structure of verse 3 is difficult, but the sense is that Paul himself was an eyewitness of their generosity. What he is telling the Corinthians is not second or third hand gossip.

Verse 4 has a number of important concepts relating to Christian giving:

(1) Privilege. The Macedonians understood what a privilege it was to share with fellow believers in need. The Greek word charis, “privilege,” refers, not to the gift, but to the act of giving. So, the grace of giving – the privilege of giving – has to do with the act of giving, not so much what is given.

(2) Sharing. The act of giving is connected with sharing one’s possessions with another. It implies fellowship with each other, rooted in fellowship with Christ. This is the giving that pleases God: when His children share with each other. Giving to anybody in need is always a good idea, but the supreme manifestation of the grace of giving is the giving that takes place within the Body of Christ.

(3) Service. Being part of “the Church” is far more than just having your name on membership roll. It is being a part of a group that is always reaching out to others with the love of Christ and by helping each other in humble service to the Lord. The local church is where this service begins; it is the place where we get to exercise our particular gifts of the Spirit and it’s the place where we can be the recipients of others’ gifts.

(4) The Lord’s People. Other translations use the word “saints.” We see how connected true churches ought to be. Saints meeting the needs of other saints is what the world is supposed to be seeing. The world should look in amazement at the loving concern believers have for one another.

4. More than money, verse 5

And they went beyond our expectations; having given themselves first of all to the Lord, they gave themselves by the will of God also to us.

The Macedonians were not just generous in giving to help the poor back in Jerusalem, but they went beyond all reasonable expectations. What does that mean? What were Paul’s expectations? Remember, the Apostle and his friends where traveling around to all these churches picking up offerings (money) for the mother church back in Jerusalem. So, Paul’s expectations would be simply receiving money from all these churches to bring back to Jerusalem. But in Macedonia, he got more than what he expected. They didn’t just give him a check, which they couldn’t really afford to do in the first place, but because the had “given themselves first of all to the Lord,” they gave more than just their material possessions to Paul. They gave joyfully. They gave enthusiastically. They gave to Paul as God had given to them.

We know from verse 8 that Paul is sort of “shaming” the Corinthians into carrying their weight:

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.

If Paul noticed what other churches were doing in His Name, is it reasonable to think that God also notices? How seriously would we take our “management duties” as Christians if we knew that God was comparing the sincerity of our love to others?

The Macedonians were dirt poor, but gave “beyond their ability.” But elsewhere in Scripture, Paul wrote this:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)

Is Paul contradictory with his advice to different church? Not at all! Paul is teaching exactly the same things Jesus tried to teach the rich your ruler:

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

Jesus was NOT giving advice to everybody here, just to this one individual who had been coveting material wealth instead of spiritual riches. Neither Jesus nor Paul would ever want any believer to sell everything, go into debt, yet give the proceeds to needy believers. That is NOT good management of the resources God has given you! In fact, that’s foolish.  God has given YOU resources, first of all for YOU, to help you live an enjoyable life. But He wants YOU, freely and without restrictions, to become shrewd managers of those resources, so YOU can help other believers who may find themselves in need.

No New Testament writer ever suggests Christians should be tithing. Paul gives no percentages as guidelines for healthy giving. Why not? It’s because the Lord wants His people to SHOW Him their love and faithfulness. As we help another believer, as one church helps another church, we are doing the will of God. We should all be giving exactly like the Macedonians gave: joyfully no matter what our circumstances are. Remember what Paul wrote in the next chapter:

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Why cheerful? It’s because when you give in church, you are using that act (of giving) to joyfully worship God in gratitude to Him. All of our giving should come from the heart; we should never, ever, allow our giving to decided according to some rule or percentage set by some finance committee. Our giving should be an outward manifestation of the joy we have in the Lord. This was how the Mecedonians showed their love: they gave beyond their ability.

 

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