We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints — and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. 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.
I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’
Paul has set himself a tough task: fund-raising from a church that feels it is not rich for a project from which they will see no benefit. As so often with fund-raising, it has turned into a long term project (see 1 Corinthians 16.1-4 for its history). Paul’s slight exasperation that the initial enthusiasm seems to have waned does not sound at all out of date.
The task is doubly difficult because the fund is not for the Corinthians’ exceptional organ or their roof or even their Messy Church but for some congregation in another country. Lacking television and Skype, the potential givers will never see pictures of the country concerned or ever meet, even electronically, any of the church members there. And given all the other topics he is arguing about with the Corinthians, why would Paul judge it a good idea to bring up the sensitive topic of giving?
If you receive a charity fund-raising appeal in the post today, you might like to compare it with Paul’s pitch. At least one of them will be deeply theological. Paul’s collection from his Gentile churches for the church in Jerusalem matters hugely to him as a demonstration that, amazingly, Jews and Gentiles are partners in the Church of Jesus Christ who can both give and receive from each other.
Even more remarkably, Paul’s appeal brochure does not once mention money. He fails to attach a copy of the church accounts. He frames the whole argument in terms of God’s grace to us and the echoes of that grace in the hearts of Christians.
Thank the Lord for hard-working Church Treasurers and especially for those who are shaped by grace.
Thank you for all the gifts you have given me.
Help me to use them generously today, without growing proud of doing so.
Show me where I am still miserly.
Give wisdom, grown from grace, to those entrusted to deploy the gifts of others.
Make me think more like you, who gave everything for me.
John Ellis, former Moderator of the General Assembly and Secretary of Capel United Church in Kent