Now it is not necessary for me to write to you about the ministry to the saints, for I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you may not prove to have been empty in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be; otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—in this undertaking. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures for ever.’
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 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, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
‘God loves a cheerful giver!’ But a basis of these two chapters (8 and 9) is that cheerfulness in giving comes through deep appreciation that God is the most cheerfully generous giver. And a core message of these two letters (1 and 2 Corinthians) is that God’s overflowing love is for all peoples, through the grace of Jesus Christ and the sharing of the Holy Spirit – so we are invited and expected to join in.
Useful as these verses and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 may have been for our churches to encourage weekly offerings, regular tithing or donations, Paul’s scheme was not designed to cover routine church expenses or new development projects.
Paul calls it ‘ministry (diakonia) to the saints’. In today’s verses 9:11-14 and Romans 15:25-27 he explains that, through their generosity enabled by God, and in company with people from other regions, they will meet financial needs of poor Christians in Jerusalem; they will cause the recipients to give thanks (eucharistia) to God which will mingle with the gratitude that motivated the givers and the bearers of the gifts; and they will lead these Jewish Christians to give glory to God because Gentile (other ethnic) Christians have proved their commitment by confessing the gospel of Christ and generously sharing (koinonia) with them and all others.
What would be equivalent schemes today?
One might be: the kind of work boosted by URC General Assembly in 2016 to enable local churches, individuals and synods to respond to issues of the Israel/Palestine situation with informed prayer, grace and solidarity. Another: to share in the growth of understanding about persistent white privilege and black suffering in society and in church life, and work to achieve fairness and equity, mutual respect and dignity for all. The URC’s programme officer for global justice and partnerships can guide your interest or involvement in a range of existing and potential schemes.
Bountiful God, we join in thanks for the blessings of your grace in Jesus Christ reaching out through all strands of humanity and every aspect of creation. Please inspire our participation in partnerships, to share the life of Christ in fullness for all, and to you be the glory. Amen.
The Rev’d Bernie Collins, retired minister, member of Avenue St Andrews URC, Southampton, and convenor of the Assembly Mission Committee