Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” — 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
“Paul encourages the Corinthians to honor their commitment to participate in the collection his churches are organizing for the Christians in Jerusalem. He presents Jesus as an example of selfless stewardship and reminds them that Christians have received abundantly so that they can share abundantly.” — From Sundays and Seasons, Augsburg Fortress
Last November, I participated in a continuing education session where we constructed a theology on stewardship with Bishop Matthew Riegel, bishop of West Virginia & Western Maryland. In this session, we discussed how in the first century there was an understanding of proportional reciprocity. In first century Mediterranean culture, which is where the Gospel first was heard and spread, this proportional reciprocity meant that one was to say “Thank you!” to a gift by giving a gift equal to the proportion that it cost for the giver. While it was not a required action, to refuse to do so proved you to be ungrateful, and you would likely not receive such generosity the next time.
For the Christians, we understand that the gift which has been given is the promise of unending embodied life. This is the promise the Church holds dear. As it is a great gift, one should show a sign of gratitude. According to the etiquette understood during the writing of the New Testament, to give this sign of gratitude, one gives of themselves the proportional cost of the gift. The cost of unending embodied life was Jesus dying. The cost of the gift is the life of God incarnate. And so, what the proportion of that?! (One’s life is, of course, the most costly thing one can give.) For those who are at all familiar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this is the cost of discipleship.
This is why Paul mentions to the Corinthians, “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich,” (verse 9).
God’s motivation behind the gift given to you is that God loves you. This is a gift, not a reward. Even though we might be perfect at being grateful, God loves us enough to forgive us.
God continue to be with you!
Yours in Christ, Pastor Paul+