An Irrational Generosity

When the sermon is about finances, the people in the pews tend to tune out.

A frequent critique from the skeptical is that the church only talks about money to mask efforts to increase offerings. Yet of all the topics Jesus discussed during his earthly ministry, the issue of resource management was among the most frequent.

To understand the way of Jesus is to understand generosity. Yet the scriptural understanding of generosity might surprise us.

In 2 Corinthians 8, the apostle Paul taught the churches in southern Greece about generosity. Honestly, there were a lot of other topics Paul had to teach them as well. There was so much dysfunctionality in the Corinthian church that Paul was forced to write multiple letters to address all their wrongdoing.

In order to teach the Corinthians how to be more generous, he used a startling example: he told them to act like the Macedonians. This would have been shocking because the two were rivals. While the nearby Macedonians were the descendants of Alexander the Great, leader of the powerful Greek empire, in Paul’s day they were feeble and poor. Corinth, on the other hand, was rebuilt by the Romans and had become one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

Yet even though the Macedonians lived in poverty, Paul states in 2 Corinthians 8:1 that the Lord provided them with grace. The Greek word for grace that Paul used here is charis. This word has a robust meaning; in its basic form, grace is unearned; it’s a pure gift. When reading about this grace to the Macedonians, we might think that God rescued them from their poverty. But this isn’t the case. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 8:2, we read that they were experiencing severe trials.

But despite their desperate situation, God’s grace led the Macedonians to give. Even though they were poor, they were wildly generous. This kind of generosity is an acknowledgement that,

“Our present sufferings are nothing when compared with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

The lesson to the Corinthians was that they shouldn’t be stingy with their wealth. But even if they were in the position of the Macedonians, it would’ve made little difference: All Christians, regardless of our present situation, are called to generosity. It is an elemental attribute for every follower of Jesus.

We are called to be generous because we are recipients of a most valuable gift. The charis of Christ dwells within us. It changes our view of eternity so it should be evident in how we manage our resources. As Jesus says in Matthew 10:8,

“freely you have received, freely give.”