It is so easy to speak of love and so difficult to live it out. If we reflect for a moment about what has been a consistent theme of St. Paul’s in 2 Corinthians, the passage this morning will become even more outrageously challenging to us.
2 Corinthians 1:4 – God “comforts us in our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
2 Corinthians 2:15“For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
2 Corinthians 3:3 “clearly you are an epistle of Christ.”
2 Corinthians 3:6 – God “has made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant”
2 Corinthians 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body; according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
2 Corinthians 5:14 “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”
2 Corinthians5:18“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
2 Corinthians5:20“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us.”
Paul’s message, then, is that we are the presence on the earth of Jesus Christ, who brings consolation, reconciliation, and salvation to the world through us.
Therefore, when Paul calls upon the Corinthians to share their material blessings with other Christians, he is asking them to do this as the presence of Christ, as God’s own ministers who God has sent to love the world in His name.
Jesus Christ Himself is our pattern, who “though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (verse 9.) This is the Master who has sent us as His disciples into the world to minister as He Himself would, this Jesus who gave up His heavenly riches and became poor that we might become rich. What else was the public ministry of Jesus other than one continuous act of self-sacrifice to the Father for the good of others?
And this is the same ministry to which you and I are called. We cannot claim that since we are not perfect like Jesus that this call doesn’t apply. Paul and the Corinthians weren’t perfect, either.
The fact is, that God has called you and me to take some of the material and financial riches with which He has blessed us and give it to brothers and sisters in Christ who are poor. This is not simply an option: it is the royal Law of Love that is binding on every Christian. Paul even invokes the Old Testament call for God’s people to love and provide for one another: “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered too little had no lack.” The only way this was true is that some of those who were rich shared with some of those who were poor. And not just a few mites here and there that we would scarcely notice, but enough to truly meet the needs of the poor among us.
Remember: it is all God’s. He has given you your riches, as well as the incomparable riches of His Son.
Every time I read 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, it shames me. Paul paints a poignant portrait of the Macedonian church who gave to the poor as Jesus did. These Macedonians rebuke us still, 2000 years later, for they gave when they were in the midst of affliction themselves (verse 2.) We can’t use the excuse of our own situation to absolve us of the commandment to give alms.
They gave, furthermore, out of their own deep poverty (verse 2.) They gave
according to their ability, and even beyond (verse 3)! They begged Paul to accept their gifts and the right to minister to the saints (verse 4), and they gave freely (verse 3), generously (verse 2), and joyfully (verse 2.) They were able to do all of this only because they had first given themselves to the Lord (verse 5.)
A lot of times I hear Christians inAmericause the excuse that they are not rich enough to give to the poor because they are barely making it themselves. Now for some this is true. But for most of us, it is either not true or it is true because we have wasted so much on ourselves that we don’t have anything left over to give.
How is it that in a time when Americans are richer than any people who have ever lived before that we are unable to give God His tithe (yes, a literal 10%), when other Christians who have been much poorer have found it possible? The average Christian who is actually giving to a local church gives about 2% of his income. In 2004 the average household (consumer unit) spent $43,400 a year, including:
$13,900 on providing housing for themselves
$2400 on eating out
$2200 on entertainment
$1800 on clothing and its care
$580 on personal care products
$460 on alcohol
and $290 on tobacco (this is much higher per person for those who do smoke)
But only $1000 on God and charitable organizations all together.
With such an attitude, how will we ever feel as if we have enough “left over” to give to the poor? Maybe the problem is that we see the money that God gave us to give back to Himself or to the poor as the dregs, what is left over. Biblically speaking, the tithe is the firstfruit; it is to be the first and the best of what we have, and we are to make sure it is given. Likewise, to be in a position to give to the poor requires faithful and wise stewardship on our part.
Let’s put our riches in perspective. In 2004, the median household income in theU.S.was $43,389. If your household makes more than that, you are rich even by American standards. When measured against the rest of the world, that top half of Americans would easily be in the top 10% worldwide, and when measured historically, that top half would easily be in the top 1% richest people who have ever lived.
There’s no use in arguing about it, most Americans are the rich by almost any standard, especially a biblical one. We can’t measure our riches by how much we have left over, precisely because we may have spent more than we needed to in the beginning. It is not right to say that after I have bought the bigger house in the better neighborhood, as well as the nicer, newer car, as well as the entertainments and adornments throughout the year, that I have nothing left and can’t give to the poor. Of course you don’t have enough left: you prodigally spent it all!
As one who skims below the average household income, I don’t exempt myself or others in this category. All of us as Christians are to consider the example of the Macedonians.
Paul’s comment, ultimately, on the giving of the Macedonians was this: that the grace of God was bestowed upon the Macedonian churches (verse 1), for they had learned that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Prayer: Thank you, Father, that You were not stingy in sending Your only Son to us in love. Thank you, Jesus, that You who were rich became poor for our sakes. Teach me to love You so much and to share in Your heavenly riches that I will desire more to share Your gifts with others. Teach me to be willing to deny myself that I might give to the poor and in so doing find blessing in being made like You.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to consider carefully God’s call on me to give more of what He has given me. I resolve to meditate on ways I am spending too much on myself, and I resolve to find one practical way to spend less on myself that I may spend more on another.
© 2011 Fr. Charles Erlandson
CC Image courtesy of Librarian by hmerinomx on Flickr.jpg
Category: Give Us This Day