During my years as pastor I took a great interest in matters of Christian financial stewardship. I always believed God’s people could and should do better with giving. Developing faithful and generous stewards is a part of what we are called to do.
In retirement, I have been able to give more time to this ministry which I call Stewardship Matters, and I have been consulting with churches/districts to help spread the word about authentic Christian financial stewardship, starting with the teaching of the tithe and to an understanding of generosity as a demonstration of our gratitude to God.
In doing so, I have read and re-read 2 Corinthians 8-9 (the story of the offering being collected for the saints in Jerusalem), along with other texts that tell the whole story. I have been struck with several observations.
The first mention of this offering to the Corinthians is in chapter 16:1-2, “Now concerning the collection On the first day of every week each of you is to put aside and save…” The Sabbath weekly offering has its basis in Paul’s urging the faithful to bring their gifts as a part of worship, and this designated offering was on behalf of others.
The Macedonians had the right priority for their trust. “First, they gave themselves to the Lord and then to us.” Devotion to God was their primary focus, but they also trusted the leadership and were willing to follow their directions, so much so that they “gave themselves […] to us.”
People sitting in our pews need confidence in the leadership of the church. If they sense that the leadership has prayed and discerned about some new ministry and they trust the leadership, they will submit themselves to the direction the leadership is taking the church. But woe to those leaders who try to lead when confidence is lacking.
Might it be that one reason for weak offerings is not only that there is a lack of vision and sense of mission, but underneath is an unspoken mis-trust of leadership? Perhaps there is a lack of transparency with our finances through failure to communicate the financial condition of the church. One small suggestion: when the annual audit is completed, ‘blow the trumpet in Zion’ and let the people know. Announce it in worship, put it in the bulletin, in the newsletter and on the website. Hearing this builds confidence.
However, the most amazing piece of my study is this: In spite of all the “heavy ordeal of affliction and extreme poverty” the Macedonians were enduring, they had joy. In spite of all the rich resources the Corinthian had, joy is not listed. The Macedonians were an example of generosity in the midst of extreme poverty and persecution, while the Corinthians, in apparent affluence, were not.
There is no mention in any passage that attributes joy as part of the Corinthian church. I don’t want to oversimplify the Corinthians “easy” life, but as Paul writes, it is striking that to one he attributes joy and to another he does not. He seems to find joy and generosity where one would not expect it.
Is there a real connection between Holy Spirit joy and Holy Spirit generosity? Could it be that these fruits of the Holy Spirit converge at the offering plate? If so, then we can see that giving really is between me and God, in the sense that when that relationship is healthy and secure, then our giving will be a reflection of that. Proportional giving will be at a level that reflects a gratitude that comes from the heart. It is a spiritual matter.
My nephew, Larry, served as pastor of a church near Washington DC, and had a new, recently converted family in his church. They had come from an unstable family life to one that reflected the transformation that comes from God. One Sunday, Larry preached on the tithe and giving as God asks. The husband came through the line at the close of worship and thanked him for this message. His gratitude came through with unexpected words, “Pastor, we’re not only going to tithe but we are going to give a hell of a lot more!” You can’t fault him for his gratitude!