Thursday, 13 November 2014

"More blessed to give...?"

Entirely of their own accord, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 2 Corinthians 8:4

I once heard a story - a true one, apparently - about a minister using a sermon to tell his congregation off about the level of their giving. So what's new? you say. Isn't this pretty normal? "Come on," says the preacher, "we need to do more to bump up the church's income!"

Only... it wasn't like that. No - the preacher was telling his congregation off because they were giving too much. Yes, really. They were mainly quite poor people, but such was their love of God that they were giving so generously that there was a risk they would leave themselves seriously short. The Bible says that "God loves a cheerful giver", of course - it's better not to give at all than to give grudgingly or grumblingly. But perhaps a time had come in this case when the people were giving over-extravagantly, and the minster felt he should ask them to stop. Whatever next!

Something like this seems to have happened in Paul's experience. The "they" he is speaking about in our verse were Christians in the Macedonian churches, probably Philippi and Thessalonica. He was keen to collect money from such Gentile churches in order to help the Jewish mother-church in Judea. The Jerusalem-based Christians had, for reasons we aren't told, fallen on hard times and needed help.

And Paul was bowled over by the sheer generosity of the Macedonian churches. He didn’t need to beg them for money for this fund - no, they had begged him to be included in the project (even though they too were dirt poor). 

 A challenge to us all.

But, believe it or not, it's not really money I'm thinking about, important though our financial giving is. I'm thinking more about our overall attitude towards service for God.

I have a little joke I’ve trotted out sometimes over the years. When there's a job needing to be done in the life of the church, and we make the need known, I have sometimes said, "Please form an orderly queue at the end of the meeting" - knowing, of course, that that is extremely unlikely (to put it mildly) to happen. All right, not very funny really. But you get the point.

How wonderful it would be if there was a little queue of people volunteering to serve! "Yes, I'd just love to help out in Sunday School... the youth work... the music group... the stewarding... the grass-cutting... the coffee-making... the setting out of chairs... visiting the house-bound... I don't know if I'm really qualified, of course, but I'm just delighted to offer myself..." (I even have this dream of finding people queuing up for the prayer-meeting - "There's a prayer meeting tonight! - right, great, mustn't be late!")

Much more likely, I’m afraid, is the response Isaiah the prophet didn’t give when God asked him “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And what was that? “Here am I. Send him.”

I'm not saying this to pile guilt on us. Not at all. Of course, we're living in days when everyone is frantically busy and often it's desperately hard to do even the things we really like doing. But could it be that some of us have got into a wrong mentality? A mentality where our knee-jerk reaction is to say "Not me! Oh no, I couldn't do that! That's for someone else to do"? - without even pausing to think and pray. Could it in fact be that God is calling me to get involved?

Here are two great Bible principles.

First, it is a joy and privilege to serve God in the building of his kingdom. What greater use of our earthly lives could there be than doing work which results in the love of God being spread more widely?

Second, it is through service that we grow. Why are some Christians, even those of many years' standing, spiritually flabby and slack? Often it's because they have never rolled up their sleeves and taken on the discipline of some specific work for God.

Why not read the whole passage, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, and ask yourself the question: Is there any area (I stress again not necessarily to do with money) where I need to take a leaf out of the Macedonian Christians' book? Is it time to discover the joy of giving?

Lord God, help me to be a cheerful giver in every area of my Christian discipleship, remembering how Jesus gave his all for me. Amen.

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