Paul’s Strange Reason for Why We Should Be Generous

by John Beeson September 4, 2018

Our doorbell rang. As rare an occasion as it was, I got up from the dinner table and walked toward the door. My step hitched halfway to the door as I realized it was likely a child selling something. Too late. I opened the door and a high schooler stood in front of me, fundraising for his baseball team.

Being asked for money makes me uncomfortable. 

There is something reasonable about being uncomfortable when we’re asked for money. The pang might speak to whether we are giving thoughtfully. But the reality is that, far too often, the twinge of discomfort points not to the worth of the cause, but to the grip our hearts have on our money.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us that God doesn’t want uncomfortable givers; he wants cheerful ones. The way to cheerfulness isn’t by willing ourselves to get there; it’s by reshaping our affections. 

Teaching Generosity to Messed Up People

2 Corinthians 8-9 contains the most compact teaching in the Bible on generosity. It’s odd that Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth is where we find the Bible’s playbook on generosity. It seems like it would have made more sense for Paul to write instructions about generosity to the more mature disciples at Philippi or Ephesus. Corinth was the church of misfits that seem hardly ready to learn a theology of stewardship. 

In fact, the Corinthian church was hands down Paul’s most troubled church. In his two letters, we discover a church with all sorts of problems. One member of the church was sleeping with his mother-in-law and no one batted an eye or spoke up. The way communion was celebrated at the time was in the form of a potluck meal held at the end of the time of the community’s worship, but at Corinth, those who were rich were separating themselves from the poor and not allowing the poor to eat at these meals. The church at Corinth was misusing the gifts of the Spirit and had even rejected Paul’s authority over them.

We tend to think about stewardship and generosity as something God calls us to once we’ve got it all together. But that’s not how Paul thinks about generosity. Paul invites the spiritually immature into generosity. Generosity is for everyone. Paul wants us all to experience the blessing of the grace that is generosity. He urges this church to step into God’s grace in this way.

Do you opt out of godly generosity because that seems like something for you when you’re more spiritually mature? Paul would say, “If I call the Corinthians to generosity, I call you to generosity.”

The Grace of Generosity 

After sharing the story of how God motivated the poor churches in Macedonia to give, Paul exhorts the church at Corinth to give. The first reason Paul exhorts the church to give is that giving is a grace. It’s to this mixed up, immature, and even rebellious church that Paul writes these words:

"Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace [participate in giving]. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also." – 2 Corinthians 8:6-7

Two times in these two verses, Paul refers to giving as a grace. He will hammer away at that word, using it a total of ten times in chapters 8 and 9. 

What is grace? Grace is unmerited favor; it is an undeserved gift. Giving is a gift. It is undeserved that we get to give. Giving isn’t firstly a duty, a burden, or an obligation. Giving is firstly a grace. You are missing out if you don’t participate in it. 

The Work of Generosity

God wants to give us a gift and our hearts reject it as a burden.

When I was a teenager, my parents bought me a guitar and guitar lessons for my birthday. I don’t think I asked for the guitar or the guitar lessons and, while the idea of playing the guitar was nice, the reality of practicing to achieve that end wasn’t so nice. I took the lessons and half-heartedly practiced. And then the lessons ended and my playing petered off to nothing. 

I can’t play a single chord today. I so wish I could. I would love to be able to lead my family in worship and our connection group in worship, or to be able to lead worship at funerals. I wish that I had seen that gift for what it was: a gift. Why didn’t I put in the time to learn how to play the guitar? Because I saw it as a burden, not a gift.

A lot of us play around with our generosity. We like it when the mood strikes, but it usually feels like a burden, so we give intermittently and haphazardly. We are not generous. But just as I wish I could go back and tell my teenage self what a gift playing the guitar is, how much greater is the gift of participating in the grace, the unmerited favor that is giving!

If we experience giving and generosity as fundamentally an obligation and a duty, we will never unlock the joy that God has for us in it. We have an opportunity to experience the unique delight of the heart of our God in giving. May we not miss out!