Friday, July 24, 2009

All Things at All Times

God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

                                      2 Corinthians 9.8

Getting to Give

I was a high school debater from a working-class suburb and without boasting I can say I was good. My partner and I sailed through the elimination rounds into the semis and finals to face off against elite teams from posh schools. Their snootiness hardly intimidated us. We were scrappy and sly and often outwitted them simply by pretending their smug barbs didn’t register. Fashion was where they got me, though. My church suits looked corny up against their preppy outfits. In sophomore year, I made it very clear all I wanted for Christmas was a corduroy sports coat with suede elbow patches. What joy when it landed under our tree! 

I never wore it. Two days before the holiday, the son of a family in our church hanged himself in jail and his parents couldn’t afford proper burial clothes. My folks brought the need to me, asking me to pray about offering my jacket to them. Getting to give to someone in need brings blessings, they said. I told them I knew that. But you’ve never had an opportunity to experience it for yourself, they answered. What could I to do? 

In 2 Corinthians 9.7, Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9.7) I gave up my sports coat, but I doubt I made God happy, as there wasn’t one iota of cheer in the gesture. It called for more grace than I possessed and having to do it hurt worse than losing the jacket. When I tell this story, after they quit laughing, people usually say, “How awful!” It was, I say, and it wasn’t. Although it took years to sink in, it taught me the delicate balance of grace and giving. If we’re light on the former, we’ll find no joy in the latter.

Ways and Means

We misuse a number of words as synonyms for giving when, in fact, they imply markedly different ways of distributing personal means. “Giving” suggests transfer of goods—“Here. Take it. It’s yours.” “Generosity” means volunteering wealth to those in need; not giving ‘til it hurts, but giving because it doesn’t hurt. “Sharing” is, well, sharing; giving a portion while keeping some for you. “Charity” springs from compassion. “Sacrifice” is doing without so others can have. “Contributing” is adding our part to a larger collection. “Doling” is concerned that each person receives his/her fair share.

Paul teaches us to give so that our ways and means synch up. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” In other words, it’s important we stay within our comfort zones. If we permit ourselves to be goaded into giving more than we feel moved to offer or more than we can spare, we rob giving of its joy. And this may surprise some people, but joyless giving displeases God. On the other hand, when we give wisely, according to our hearts and realistic abilities, we give happily. This makes God happy. He blesses us—not just with more to give, but also with more grace to give. Furthermore, He sustains our grace to give by seeing our needs are met.

Mangling the Principle

It’s true: the more we give, the more we receive. In verse 6 Paul writes: “Whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” But we sometimes mangle this principle by thinking giving more gets more. We go beyond our level of comfort expecting we’ll live more comfortably for it. Unless we’re obeying what God places in our hearts to give, however, we’ll soon discover this version doesn’t work very well. Why not? Because we’ve stopped giving and started gambling—and it takes all of a minute at a slot machine to figure out when we gamble, the house always wins. Giving to get isn’t cheerful; it’s greedy. Getting to give and trusting God’s grace for more to give bring cheer into the picture.

“God is able to make all grace abound in you, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every good work.” Just as we mature in our faith, our relationship with Christ, and our love for God and our neighbors, we also grow in the knowledge of giving. God provides “all things at all times” so we can “abound in every good work.” Anxiety and regret from overly zealous, immature giving take us off doing good work. As silly as this sounds, some Christians get so carried away with giving they don’t take care of themselves. They become worse than useless; they defeat giving’s purpose by creating need. “The Lord will provide,” they say as they sign away their mortgage payment. Then, when the bank seizes their home, they’re too disillusioned to see the Lord did provide and they gave it away. The reason God provides what we need when it’s needed is to free us of worry and care to give what we can to others. Means at the moment dictate ways we give. At times we can be cheerfully generous; at others, we must cheerfully share. There’s no excuse for giving too little; but there’s equally no excuse for giving too much.

(Tomorrow: Top Down)

Don’t forget: Online Bible Study this Saturday at 11 AM CDT. For more information, click on the link at the top of the right column.

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