Reasons for Generosity

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
2 Corinthians 8:1-16
September 17, 2023

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, September 15, 2023

At the beginning of worship

Let me tell you a story… When I was a pastor out west and a leader in the Presbytery of Utah, I spent a lot of time traveling back and forth between Cedar City and Salt Lake City. On this particular evening, I was tired and ready to get home. I’d gotten up before dawn and caught the 6:45 AM flight to Salt Lake where I spent the day in meetings. 

Finally, heading home at 9 PM, relief came as the gate attendant called my flight. I, along with 20 or so others, headed out onto the tarmac to cram into a SkyWest Airline cigar. Even someone my size must duck to get inside. 

There are three seats to a row on these planes. I sat on the side with a single seat. Stashing my briefcase, I pulled out a book and began to read. The plane climbed into the night. 

When we reached our cruising altitude, the flight attendant handed out peanuts. I tore into my bag and shook them into my mouth, downing them in no-time as I continued to read. Then the attendant brought us drinks. I stopped reading to lower the tray and when I did, I noticed the young girl, maybe three years old, sitting across the aisle, looking over at me. 

She smiled. “Here,” she said, holding out a peanut. I smiled back. For a split-second I thought about shaking my head, “no.” After all, this peanut came from the hands of a toddler. But then I thought better of it. I took the peanut and said, “Thank you.” I thought I’d throw it away, but she watched me intently. Throwing all health advisories out the window, I popped the peanut in my mouth. She beamed, dug down into her bag, and offered me another.  

Scripture tells us, “A little child shall lead them.”[1] I’ve discovered that to be true in so many ways. I was glad I didn’t squelch her willingness to share. Today, as we continue through 2ndCorinthians, we’ll talk about generosity. I suggest it is not only good for us to be generous but to also be gracious. 

Before reading the scripture 

Today, Paul makes another drastic shift in his letter, covering a new topic. The eighth and ninth chapters of 2 Corinthians is essentially a fund-raising letter. Paul encourages the Corinthians to step up to the plate and participate in the global church. 

Paul, who’s known for his precise Greek wording and grammar, struggles here. One scholar refers to this section as “labored and tortured Greek.” He goes on to compare Paul’s obvious discomfort to his own dislike of asking others for money. Interesting, Paul does even use the word, money.” Instead, he talks about grace, service, the deed, and partnership.[2]

This is not the first time Paul has mentioned giving to the Corinthian Church. At the end of 1st Corinthians, he speaks of the collection for the saints, and that they set aside something each week. This way, when he visits, they will be ready to make their offering.[3] It sounds like they had agreed to this, but then reneged on their promise. 

Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-15.

An example of sacrificial giving

In the early part of the 21st Century, Mrs. Chang, a Chinese-American Christian from Los Angeles, attended a meeting of the Chinese Christian Council held in Nanjing. 

On Sunday, the delegation split up and attended churches around the region. Mrs. Chang visited a church in a poor farming area. She was asked about her church in America and told the congregation about the building project they’d embarked upon. At the end of the service, she was called to come up front. They surprised her with an envelope containing the equivalent of 140 American dollars, telling her to use it for her congregation’s new building. 

Of course, that much money wasn’t going far in LA, but it represented a true sacrifice by poor Christians. Their joy at being in fellowship with a Christian from another country “welled up in generosity, and they gave beyond their ability.” It also served as a reminder to the church in Los Angeles at what true sacrifice entails.[4]

Poor giving analogous to the Macedonians in our text

That poor church on the outskirts of Nanjing sending a gift to its well-to-do sister church in California is analogous to the Macedonians supporting the saints in Jerusalem. And while those comparatively rich Americans in Los Angeles may have felt reluctant to accept this gift, to do so would have destroyed the self-esteem of those who gave and perhaps discourage future acts of generosity.  

Jesus gave first

As Paul reminds those in Corinth, “our Lord Jesus Christ, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” The foundation of our faith is that Jesus has given to us, even when we are unworthy. Therefore, if we want to be more like him, if we want to grow into Christlikeness, we too should be gracious and generous.

Paul’s fundraising

In the early and mid-fifties (I know some of you remember the fifties, but I’m not talking those fifties, but the fifties of the first century), the Apostle Paul devoted a significant amount of time and energy to raise funds for the suffering saints in Jerusalem.[5]In Macedonia, to the north of Corinth, he found a receptive ear. Like many Christians of the era, the church in Macedonia was poor. 

Macedonian giving

Furthermore, the Macedonians had been through some kind of ordeal; perhaps they had faced strong persecution. But when they heard the need of their fellow believers, they gave generously, begging even for the privilege to give. Listen to this again—they begged for the privilege to give! That’s certainly not an attitude we see today and from Paul’s surprise, I don’t think it was common in the First Century either.  

An additional reason that this gift by the Macedonian Christians is so special is that its destination is Jewish Christians, many of whom still maintain their bias against Gentiles. These Jewish Christians aren’t overly excited about having Gentiles in the church. This is an example of someone truly giving from the heart and going against what might be their self-interest. In a way, they’re like the Good Samaritan.[6] They don’t have to help; after all they’re poor and of a different race of people.[7] No one expects them to pitch in, but they do! 

Paul didn’t have to run this campaign

Furthermore, Paul doesn’t have to help those in Jerusalem. After all, they have often tried to thwart his efforts to reach out to the Gentiles. In a way it’s almost as if they are helping their enemies. Of course, this is Christ-like living as Jesus demands we pray for our persecutors and love our enemies.[8] And what better example of love than gracious giving to your enemies during their time of need?   

But the Corinthians weren’t like the Macedonians. Yeah, they said they were going to give, but they’ve yet to do so. I’m sure they don’t want to hear from Paul about it. Whoever went out to the mailbox and found the letter with Paul’s return address probably mumbled, “Oh, it’s him again.” It appears, from what Paul writes later in the letter, some in Corinth have accused him of profiting from his ministry.[9]

Paul is offended by such accusations, While the Macedonians supported his ministry, Paul had been self-sufficient while in Corinth.[10] Yet, Paul feels the need to encourage the Corinthians to help those in need. Of course, their giving doesn’t just help those in Jerusalem, it helps the giver become more Christ-like.

Paul desires Corinth to give, but doesn’t demand it

Paul wants the church in Corinth to give, but he’s not going to demand it. In verse 8, he tells them he won’t command that they give, but he is going to test and see if their love is genuine. Here is a church that excels in most things—faith, speech, and knowledge—but do they also excel in love and in generosity? Love and generosity are the tell-tale signs of a Christian. 

Paul doesn’t try to make them feel guilty by saying that God has given it all to you so the least you can do is give back something. That’s true. However, we can never repay God; we can never out-give God. Paul knows he’s balancing on a tightrope here as he tries not to sound too judgmental, while encouraging the Corinthians to give. It’s hard. 

By throwing up the example of the Macedonians and by reminding them of the gift of Christ, it’s hard for those in Corinth not to feel some pressure. But, as Paul reminds them in verse 12, he wants them to be eager to give. Paul wants them to have a grateful heart. Too often we give for the wrong reasons. Instead of being grateful for the privilege, we grumble inside, feeling it’s an obligation.

Biblical principle behind Paul’s ask

Paul goes on to remind the Corinthians of a Biblical principle. We’re to give based on our abilities. Going back to the law given to Moses, the Hebrew people were reminded that giving should be proportional. That’s the foundation of the tithe.[11] Those who have more, give more; those who have less, give less. Everyone gives! When I ran building campaigns, we used the motto “not equal gifts, equal sacrifices.”  

Paul closes this section of the letter with a quote from the Book of Exodus. Drawing back to Israel’s experience in the wilderness, Paul reminds them that everyone was given what they needed in the form of manna. Those who did not have enough manna, after their morning collections, found they had enough and those who had more than they needed, found they only had what they needed.[12]

The Corinthians were rich, at least in comparison to other first century Christians. Paul wants them to step up to the plate and live out their faith. They were proud Greeks who were wealthy through trade. The Macedonian’s, while poor, had also been looked down upon as distant cousins to the true Greeks.[13] But like the Samaritan, they showed generosity.  


Although I know Paul didn’t want to shame the church in Corinth to give, I’m not sure he succeeded. It’s hard not to feel a bit guilty when you’re blessed, and others are not. But Paul isn’t trying to scold; he wants to remind us of God’s abundant love and generosity. He wants us to live in God’s abundance.   

Yes, it is true; we can’t out-give what God has given us in Jesus Christ. But we can joyfully participate with God, helping those who are in need and sharing the love that we’ve been given. And in doing so, we become more Christ-like.  Amen.  

[1] Isaiah 11:6

[2] N. T. Wright, Paul: A Biography (HarperOne, 2018), 308.

[3] 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. 

[4] Heiko A. Oberman, ‘Begging to Give” The Christian Century, (June 13, 2003.

[5] C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1973), 217.

[6] Luke 10:25-37

[7] For a discussion of the differences between Gentile and Jewish Christians and this collection, see F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 321-2

[8] Matthew 5:43-44.

[9] 2 Corinthians 12:14-17.  See also 1 Corinthians 9:3-15.

[10] Paul had stayed with Aquila and Priscilla during his first visit to Corinth and worked with them in the tentmaking business. See Wright, 212. 

[11] Leviticus 27:30-33; Deuteronomy 14:22-29; 26:12

[12] Verse 15 is a paraphrase of Exodus 16:18. As Paul has done elsewhere in this letter, instead of quoting from the Hebrew text, he quotes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew text. 

[13] Alexander the Great’s father, Philip, was able to be considered a Greek after he had conquered much of the Peloponnese cities to the south. See Anthony Everitt, Alexander the Great: His Life and His Mysterious Death (2019).

Brown Knapweed

5 Replies to “Reasons for Generosity”

  1. Kids, beyond the baby stage are generous without guile. And have an fine-tuned sense of fairness.
    I chuckled reading the bit about the peanuts on aircraft. For nowadays you wouldn’t get them from the airline. Where once they were a staple and with Delta almost a State marketing tool.
    I remember reading quite some time ago that a person on a long haul overnight received a pillow from the attendants that hadn’t been cleaned and died from anaphylaxis. When after it was discovered that no amount of cleaning would remove peanut dust.

    1. I had never thought of peanut allergies (but I haven’t flown since March 2020, when I came back from a trip at the beginning of COVID). And I’m old enough to remember the airlines giving cashews.

  2. I like the way you worded your motto for a building campaign: “not equal gifts, equal sacrifices.” It’s an important distinction.

    1. Thanks. It was important to get a buy-in of everyone, and even the small gifts encouraged those with more to give more, at least from my experiences.

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