Having dropped my eldest son at school this morning I had some errands to run, one of which included popping in on my mother-in-law to drop off a beautiful, sticker adorned homemade belated birthday card that was created by none other than my long-haired crazy 2 year old. The joy he found in sitting at our kitchen table yesterday, carefully picking each sticker from a pile of packets scattered across the room. Whole sticker sheets got peeled off and stuck to the front, back and middle of his shiny gold card that he had picked for his Nannie. He spared no sticker expense! I love that. He just kept sticking, kept giving. He didn't want to keep the stickers for himself, no, he generously stuck as many stickers as he could to the front of his card. A two year olds way of being incredibly generous with what he had. Needless to say, my mother-in-law loved her card and her face beamed in receipt of such a gift.
Having delivered the treasured birthday card we had a brief catch up in the doorway and before I left in the hurry of the day, Wendy encouraged me with such a great and hearty passage from the Bible - 2 Corinthians 8 v 1-9.
Here it is from The Message translation...
Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province. Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.
This was totally spontaneous, entirely their own idea, and caught us completely off guard. What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us. The other giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives. That’s what prompted us to ask Titus to bring the relief offering to your attention, so that what was so well begun could be finished up. You do so well in so many things—you trust God, you’re articulate, you’re insightful, you’re passionate, you love us—now, do your best in this, too.
I’m not trying to order you around against your will. But by bringing in the Macedonians’ enthusiasm as a stimulus to your love, I am hoping to bring the best out of you. You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich.
There is so much in the Bible about being generous. It is a command we are given and an example that is highlighted on so many occasions, this passage here in 2 Corinthians being just one of them and I think it's a particularly good one (if not a little challenging too!).
'Generous' according to the Oxford English dictionary is:
"Showing a readiness to give more of something, especially money, than is strictly necessary or expected."
Generosity and being a generous person isn't just about how much money we can throw at something out of the excess of what we have. It's about having a readiness in our hearts, a predisposition to give rather than hold onto, to give of more of our time, energy, resource, finance than is necessary. It's actually quite a tall order and the Macedonians Paul is writing about here in his letter to the Corinthians are such incredible examples to each of us.
There's a tough reminder and challenge that runs throughout this passage too.
The Macedonians that Paul is writing about were facing great difficulties and troubles. They had been deeply persecuted yet their joyfulness had not diminished. They had been left at absolute rock bottom, experiencing extreme poverty but their ability to be generous was still intact. The pressure they were facing didn't lead them to retreat, it led them to reach out.
What happens to your generous spirit when trials come knocking at your door?
Paul goes on in his letter say that the only thing that explains this sort of character is the Macedonians "had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us.... giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives."
What a challenge! What a great starting point!
The truth is generosity can feel hard at times. But ask yourself, why is that? Is it because we don't give ourselves unreservedly to God? Is it because we don't simply let the purposes of God flow and work in our lives?
I want to be a generous person. I want to be like the Macedonians Paul is writing about. When pressure comes my way, what will my true colours be? Will I batten down the hatches of generosity, take cover and hope for the storm to pass? Or will I fling wide the floodgates, embrace what God is doing, trust Father God and be ready to give more of my resources, energy, time, finance, than is strictly needed or expected? Paul urges us in this passage to 'do our best in this'. His heart isn't to condemn our previous attempts of generosity, rather to encourage us to be further inspired by the Macedonians and push for more.
Paul finishes by pulling our thoughts back towards Christ; he gave it all away, all the riches of heaven he willingly gave up so that every single one of us could become rich. How could we possibly come up with a valid excuse or reason not to endeavour to become more generous?
I just want to quickly go back to my earlier story of the sticker adorned birthday card. The card was a little garish; there were many odd stickers of eyes, octopuses, stickers of diggers with eye lashes, cupcake stickers, stars, however each were carefully chosen and intentionally placed. My little boy made a choice to stick each and every one and I think there is a touch of wisdom in this. Our acts of generosity and lifestyle of generosity needs to be like my little boy's sticker card; chosen, intentionally given, carefully considered yet at all times given in abundance.
Can I encourage you to embrace my little boy's sticker habits in the way you give?
Can I encourage you to follow the Macedonians example that Paul writes about to the Corinthians?
And can I urge you to fix your eyes on Jesus?
If we all do that I think we might begin to understand what generosity looks like in the kingdom of God and that way the whole world will be transformed.
Now that is pretty darn exciting if you ask me!