Over 25 years of leading the local church, I have been involved in more stewardship drives and building campaigns than I care to remember. I’ve taught about the spiritual practice of giving in multiple contexts and have tried many ways to weave together a coherent biblical theology of giving.
2 Corinthians 9
The one text I come back to again and again is 2 Corinthians 9. The apostle Paul wrote this while traveling across Asia and Macedonia and heading toward the city of Corinth in Greece. He had one primary objective for this particular trip. He was collecting money from all the churches that he had planted amongst the Gentiles in order to help the church in Jerusalem that was suffering from a famine.
This act of generosity from Gentile believers toward Jewish believers would serve two purposes. First, it would provide physical relief for their immediate suffering caused by the famine. That, in itself, was enough reason to give. Second, it would provide healing for the growing tension that was rising between the ethnic groups in the church. Many of the Jewish believers were opposed to the idea that Gentiles could be included in the church without first conforming to the Law of Moses by circumcision and following their dietary laws. Paul was collecting this offering to demonstrate to the church in Jerusalem that the Gentile believers cared for them, in the name of Jesus. Paul was longing for a unified church that accepted the Gentiles as equals.
Paul’s argument in 2 Corinthians 9 is brilliant and beautiful. Simply put, he reminds the people that God is the God of abundance who scatters abroad, gives to the poor, and whose righteousness endures forever. Then he says in verses 12-13:
“for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others,”
Relationships and Generosity
My experience with congregations is that people who give generously are the people who have built relationships with the people who are in true need around them. Our stewardship isn’t about parking lots and roof repair. It is about people and making sure that all people experience the abundance of the good news of Christ.
I think of one family in particular in a church I served. He was a successful business man and she was a successful medical professional. They were comfortably affluent and were dutiful church goers. Then one day someone invited them to visit Haiti. For the first time in their lives they were connected to people who were in real need, yet were filled with the love of God. The Holy Spirit entwined this affluent family with that village in Haiti and they were all transformed.
A fire was lit in their hearts through relationships.
The family’s view of their work was completely transformed. They were no longer in business to make money. They were in business to fund the ministry of the Good News of God’s Love in the world. They dedicated the profits of the business to fund both locally and globally focused ministry. They continually returned to Haiti to accompany their friends along their journey. Most importantly, this family mobilized their congregation to be actively involved with their neighbors, both near and far, to live out of God’s abundance and make sure no one goes without.
As I witnessed this happening I found myself joining the Apostle Paul in his final words in 2 Corinthians 9:14-15, “they [and I] long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that God has given you. Thanks be to God for God’s indescribable gift!”