July 7

Giving Can Be Contagious (II Corinthians 8-9)

Daniel Watts

It was time again for the Spring Swing, an annual Every Generation Ministries event with golf, a banquet, a silent auction, a live auction, and an opportunity auction.

It’s always a time of great celebration. A wonderful community of people who love Jesus and love children gather to celebrate God’s love for His church and His love for children.

When the event got large, a tremendous number of people were involved, and we wanted to say thank you. One of my hobbies is cooking, so we hosted a thank-you dinner for the volunteers featuring a five-course Italian meal. It went so well that—just for fun! —at the next year’s auction, we decided to include a dinner for five couples cooked by the president of EGM (me!) and served by staff.

When it came time for the live auction, the auctioneer started the event by auctioning off a $100 bill. My fourteen-year-old son was sitting next to me.

The bidding quickly went over $100 and finally settled at $600. Everyone thought that was awesome… except my son who was completely baffled. He leaned over to me and said, “Dad, Dana is an accountant and a smart business guy. Why did he just pay $600 for a $100 bill?”

Shortly thereafter, my dinner came up on the auction block. The bidding began at $500, and I was sure it was going to die ugly at the gate. However, the bidding got rolling, and before you knew it, the bidding was over $5,000. Three families just kept going.

Everyone was laughing and celebrating as the bidding continued. I was about to have a heart attack because I am not a professional chef. Finally, the bid went to $7,500, and then the auctioneer looked over to me. “Daniel,” he asked, “would you cook three dinners if each family gives $7,500?”

I couldn’t speak. I just nodded my head and mumbled something that he took as yes. As the auction continued, a patriarch of one of those three winning families leaned over to me and whispered in my ear, “It better not be Chef Boyardee!”

I smiled. The dinner was just an excuse to give to the ministry—and encourage my hobby.

Back to Caleb’s question, though. Why did Dana pay $600 for a $100 bill? It was a way of saying that we were giving to God, not shopping for a deal. That opening transaction reminded all of us what the evening was about. We had the opportunity to give generously to God, to join Him in expressing—through His people—His love for children around the world.

As John Stott put it, “We can all be stimulated by greater generosity be hearing about the generosity of others." In this case, we were seeing the generosity of others!

Unfriendly Competition

Unfriendly competition

The idea of friendly competition is sprinkled throughout 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, but before we look at what Paul wrote, we should note the nature of friendly competition as opposed to unfriendly competition.

Several places in the Gospels, Jesus clearly expressed His thoughts about competition and comparison:

The disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
He called a little child to him and placed the child among them. And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4 NIV)

The disciples were looking for kingdom status, and Jesus reminded them that childlike humility is essential for entry into the kingdom of heaven. In fact, Jesus responded to their question by changing the issue of status to the issue of entrance.

The kind of competition and comparison that elevates one person over another, that reduces the status of one person while exalting another, is not kingdom-of-God thinking. In the kingdom of God, the first are last, and the great are the least.

Think back to the Mark 10:35-41 where James and John had approached Jesus with a request: Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory (v. 37 NIV).

The brothers were looking to advance their status among the disciples. (Their request was something like asking the president of the US if you and a friend could have the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense cabinet positions. Those assignments would elevate you in relation to the rest of the cabinet members.)

The other ten disciples understood the nature of the request and were indignant. Reminding the disciples that this kind of competition was practiced by the Gentiles, Jesus made it clear that competing for status has no place in the kingdom of God.

This is certainly true regarding giving.

Ministry, Not Competition

Giving can be contagious

When you live in another culture for ten years, you start seeing your own culture from the outside and notice some characteristics you’d never thought much about before.

I noticed, for instance, the competitiveness of American society. As football icon Vince Lombardi put it, “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.” He pretty much summed up the value our society places on winning.

This competitive spirit is also evident in the evangelical church. Christian philosopher and writer Dallas Willard, for instance, spoke about the ABCs of ministry success: attendance, budget, and campus. The more people, the larger the budget, the bigger the campus—these are the misplaced markers of success. And these are the points of silent competition among pastors.

When I was a children’s pastor and went to conferences, every attendee was always asked about the number of children in the program, the amount of dollars in the budget, and the size/quality of the facilities.

Then, after starting EGM, I attended networking meetings, conferences, and the like—and was asked these same three questions. I have to confess that, after twenty-seven years, Every Generation Ministries does not own any property… anywhere in the world. But we do have some nice pens and coffee cups with our logo on them.

The kind of posturing around the ABCs of ministry success and the status seeking it fosters are problematic in general, but especially in Christian circles. Of course, Paul was not at all encouraging this kind of self-promoting competition. Paul was advocating friendly competition, not competition that names a winner and labels the rest losers or competition that awards gold, silver, and bronze medals in church philanthropy.

This point may seem obvious, but American society does tend to elevate those people who appear to give the most. Churches in the States too often defer to those individuals who appear to give the most, thereby fueling unhealthy competition.

Paul’s goal was different: he was interested in friendly competition that would stir up a generosity that glorifies God.

This was exactly Paul’s motive when he used the tool of comparison in 2 Corinthians 8:8. Paul had already mentioned the Philippians’ poverty, their rich generosity, and their pleading to be part of the ministry of giving (vv. 2-4).

Now he challenged the Corinthians to give generously by comparing them to the Philippians and then to Jesus Christ Himself. Paul hoped these examples would inspire the Corinthians to give.

Paul probably hoped the Corinthian churches would beg to be part of the ministry of service to the Christians suffering in Jerusalem. For Paul, though, giving was much more than getting some money together for the work of the Lord; for Paul, giving was ministry. He wanted the Corinthians to give generously, abundantly, over and above any expectation:

There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord's people. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the [Philippians], telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. (2 Corinthians 9:1-2 NIV)

As an aside, did you notice the Pauline chuckler at the beginning of the passage? He wrote to the Corinthians, “There is no need for me to write.” The fact he was writing that he did not need to write—it makes me chuckle.

In verse two, Paul reminded the Corinthians that he had bragged to the Philippians about the enthusiasm—the zeal—with which the Corinthians gave. The Philippians had responded by giving generously. Paul’s own enthusiasm, combined with the Corinthians’ zeal, had spurred the impoverished Philippians to give generously (vv. 2-3), to give beyond both their apparent ability and beyond Paul’s expectations.

Now, turning the tables, Paul wanted the example of the Philippians to spur the Corinthians to follow through on the promise they had enthusiastically made earlier.

As proud parents often do, Paul had boasted to the Philippians about the Corinthians' eagerness to participate in the offering. That initial eagerness, however, had not translated into ongoing action. After Paul left Corinth, the collection effort once again came to a halt.

Now Paul was planning to travel to Corinth, and the Philippian delegates traveling with him would see that all his boasting was just hot air.

To prevent this from happening, Paul addressed these four points:

  1. He reminded the Corinthians of their initial enthusiasm and how it had stirred the Philippian churches to action (9:1-2)
  2. Paul suggested that the Corinthians might feel embarrassed and even ashamed should any Philippian delegates come and find them unprepared (9:4)
  3. He announced that some Philippian brothers would indeed be visiting soon (9:3, 5)
  4. And he reminded the Corinthians of the blessings that come when we give generously (9:6-15)

The example of the Corinthians’ enthusiasm had impressed the Philippians so much that they acted. And in return, Paul was hoping that the Philippians’ example would rouse the Corinthians in generosity!

This encouragement to generosity is characteristic of both the Road Well Traveled and our Road Less Traveled. Although motives may differ the goal of encouraging generosity that glorifies God remains the same. Next week we will see how this can happen today even across cultures and thousands of miles.

The Road Well Traveled: Christians can encourage each other in cheerful and generous giving.

The Road Less Traveled: Christians can encourage each other in cheerful and generous giving. 

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