2 Corinthians 8:13-15
This week I am discussing the sin of greed. Last time I suggested that greed (along with a myriad of other sins) might be masked in our misunderstanding that we might score points with God by doing or by adding Christian spirituality to our already together life. We might think we are on the right track, but sin lurks underneath and we don’t even know it. Jesus taught the young ruler of Mark 10 about his particular sin, which was greed, and although it could have been something else, this story gives us occasion to examine greed.
It seems to me that it is impossible to be greedy if one is generous, that is, a person who joyfully, sacrificially, and worshipfully gives to those things that are close to the heart of God (you might want to listen to my sermon, “Greed and Generosity” from March 16 for a full explanation of this concept). If you are generously giving, you won’t be greedy. The two just don’t coexist! So how do we practice generosity? I am convinced that the underlying power for breaking the chains of the seven deadly sins, including the sin of greed, is found in the cross. Paul makes this perfectly clear in 2 Cor 8:9, which is the central verse in his excursus on generosity.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2Co 8:9 ESV)
Jesus joyfully (Heb 12:2), sacrificially (Phil 2:5-8) and worshipfully (Mark 14:36) gave his life for us; actually he generously gave his life for us. With his generosity ever before us, how can we be anything but generous for him. And when we are – the chains of greed are broken.
There is a concept of generosity in this passage that is often overlooked, that I would like to explore. I call it relational generosity.
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2Co 8:12-15 ESV)
This passage introduces an element that might be missed – fairness. This term requires that we consider relationships, because it refers to how one person relates to another person. In these verses, Paul discusses fairness in generosity. The idea is that generosity is not determined by the amount – because some can give more than others. If the same amount were required, some would be eased and others burdened and that wouldn’t be fair. Rather, generosity is determined proportionally and according to circumstance. In this context, Paul is nurturing a relationship between the Jerusalem church and the Gentile churches in Macedonia. It is significant to remember that the Jerusalem church originated the Gospel. Shortly after its inauguration, the Jerusalem church sent out teachers and missionaries. It hosted convocations that protected doctrine (Acts 15). James, the lead pastor, sent a letter to teach the Gentile believers. We might call this spiritual generosity. On the other hand, the Gentile churches had money. They could contribute to the poor in Jerusalem. They could take up a collection and have Paul deliver it, which is financial generosity. Here is relational fairness. The Jerusalem church gave what they could give. The Gentile church gave what they could give. They both were generous to the ministry of the Gospel – the Gentiles by giving financially, generously, to the poor in Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem church by giving spiritually, generously, to the Gentile church. This is an example of relational fairness.
In the modern local church, this principle might be practiced as we give generously in order to promote fairness in relationships. Some of us can give more money than others. Others can give more time and share their own unique spiritual gifts. But everyone gives generously – and that promotes fairness.
But I want to remind us that generosity is nurtured in fellowship with others in the body of Christ according to voluntary fairness. In the KOG, fairness is not legislated. Obedience to God is always from the heart (see Romans 6:17). If it is by law, people will only participate to the extent they are required. But if it is by grace, we have the privilege of giving beyond what is required and that spells GENEROSITY.
Because Jesus was generous for us, we can be generous for him, personally (joyfully, sacrificially, and worshipfully) and relationally (voluntary generosity). Instead of greed, let’s practice generosity.