Achieving Excellence in Giving
Not long ago at Heralds of Hope, we were discussing the importance of our core values as an organization. We currently have seven core values that guide us but it’s hard to remember all of them. So, our Executive Director, Tony High, worked to condense them into just three main items. Then the rest were added as subpoints to those three.
One of our core values is organizational excellence. Under that heading are things like integrity, transparency, and this – “do it well and on time.” Do you find excellence and punctuality a challenge in your personal life? I do. Why is that? These two things are affected by my sense of value. The more important or more valuable something is to me, the more likely I am to strive for excellence and to complete the task on time.
In business, sports, the arts, and other fields many people pursue excellence. In most cases, they do it for financial rewards or public acclaim. As for punctuality, in those circles, if you don’t show up on time you’ll soon be looking elsewhere for work. Other people depend on you to fill your assigned role or place so the whole group can achieve excellence.
When I was a child, my siblings and I would sometimes do a task hurriedly just to check it off our list of chores. My parents would remind us that any job worth doing is worth doing right. They wanted us to learn to do our work well for two reasons. First, we serve the Lord through our work. And second, we find personal satisfaction and fulfillment in a job well done.
Is God satisfied with mediocrity, with our performing a task or rendering service just to say it’s done? No! Under the old covenant, God demanded the best animals as sacrifices and offerings and the finest materials for the Tabernacle construction. In Colossians chapter three, in the new covenant, after listing character qualities we Believers are to put on, Paul twice says, and I paraphrase, “whatever you do in speech or action, do it in the name of Jesus and do it with excellence.” As a Christ-follower no area of my life is exempt from this command.
Last week in our time together, we began a study from Second Corinthians chapters eight and nine on the subject of giving. My teaching from the first seven verses of chapter eight was titled The Heart of Giving. Today’s teaching is taken from the same chapter, but verses eight through fifteen. I’ve titled it, Achieving Excellence in Giving. So, listen as I read our text, Second Corinthians 8:8 to 15. Here is the Word of God to us.
Paul’s instruction provides the STEPS you and I can take to achieve excellence in giving.
The First STEP (in achieving excellence in giving) is,
Find the Pattern
Think about it; if you want to pursue excellence in any field of study or service or production of a product, where do you begin? You begin by finding a pattern to follow. That can be a plan like a blueprint, or it can be a person who is skilled in their field. Solomon wrote that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Very few things today are created from a brand-new idea. Usually, newer things are improvements on items or skills we already have.
So, what about excellence in giving? Where do we find a pattern for that? In our text, Paul points the Corinthian Believers and us to Jesus as the supreme example of excellence in giving.
If you go back to verse one of this chapter, Paul had told the Corinthians that he wanted them to know about the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia. He was talking about the gift they were collecting for the church in Jerusalem. Verse nine of our text begins with a similar phrase, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the gift of our salvation.
Paul goes on to show us the pattern of excellence in giving. “…though he [Jesus] was rich [in every way], yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” Let’s explore this sentence.
Jesus is the Creator of all things according to John 1:3 and other Scripture portions. He is also the sustainer of all things, Hebrews 1:3. In John 10:30 Jesus said, “I and my father are One.” Jesus is God incarnate, God in the flesh. That is the extent of His riches. He is God! He is all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere present, and eternal in existence. He owns everything and ultimately controls everything.
Yet, for our sakes, yours, and mine, He became poor. The classic Scripture passage on this is in Philippians chapter two. Even though He was equal with God, He didn’t insist on holding on to that richness. He could have, that was His right. But He voluntarily emptied Himself of His divine privilege and took on the form of human flesh. Not only that, but he became obedient to His father to the point of death, even the degrading death of the cross. And He did this, not for His brothers, like we’re being instructed here. Instead, He did it for us as His enemies – so that we could become His brothers. What an amazing gift!
Through His poverty, you and I are made rich. We are made heirs of God and heirs together with Christ! What He has becomes ours. If you remember from my previous teaching on the heart of giving, I said that one of the primary motivations that reveal the heart of giving is a dedication to God. That is what we see exemplified in the life of Jesus.
As in verse 5 of this chapter, His was an act of self-devotion. He gave Himself to the Father, to His will and plan. He wasn’t thinking about Himself. He was thinking about you and me and our needs. The Macedonian Believers understood and embraced the gift of God through Jesus. That’s why they could give even beyond their ability to the needy in Jerusalem.
If you and I are serious about achieving excellence in giving, we need to meditate more deeply on the pattern Jesus gave us through His life and ministry. According to First John 3:16 and 17, how we give to others is a test of our love for Christ. “By this we know love because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?
How will I ever be able to obey this command to lay down my life for my brother if I’m not even willing to open my heart and hands to meet his financial needs? Too often, I grasp tightly what God has given me thinking it’s mine. I find all kinds of reasons, good logical reasons, even Scriptural ones, I think, for not opening my hands or my wallet to meet the need. I find this text to be deeply convicting.
When you and I give to the needs of our brothers and sisters, we are following Christ’s example. So, the first step to achieving excellence in giving is to find the pattern, Jesus Christ.
The Next STEP (in achieving excellence in giving) is,
Follow the Procedure
Paul wrote in verse eight that he was testing the sincerity of their love by the diligence of others. He was holding up the example of the Macedonian Believers as a pattern for the Corinthians to follow.
Paul was writing to the Corinthian church, challenging them to finish what they, apparently, had begun earlier. It seems that the Corinthians had been the first to commit to raising funds for the church in Jerusalem, but they hadn’t followed through. Paul says, “it will be beneficial for you to finish the work you promised to do.” Why did he say that? So that others would follow their example. Someone once said, “the smallest, good deed is better than the greatest intention.” Paul could have used that phrase here.
He reminded them of their professed desire to begin this collection a year earlier, but they had never moved beyond that. It was still in the intention stage. Having good intentions is the beginning of the process but it’s not the end. One must follow through and carry out those intentions. Paul was urging them to make their “walk match their talk.” They had been quick to pledge and slow to fulfill.
The inaction of the Corinthians reminds me of the story Jesus told in Matthew 21. He said, “A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” The Corinthians were like that second son. They had said they were willing to give, but they hadn’t done it.
One time I was with a group of men, and we were talking about some of the financial needs at Heralds of Hope. One of the men said, “If I had a million dollars, I’d donate it to the ministry.” Another brother quickly spoke up and said, “What about the 20 dollars in your pocket?” You and I may have made a similar statement or had a similar thought at some point. It’s easy to deal with what is theoretical, but harder to deal with our realities.
Paul said their giving was to be based on what they had, not what they didn’t have. Yes, he had challenged the Corinthians with the example of the Macedonians who had given beyond their ability. But he also pointed out that the acceptability of their gift was based on what they had, not what they didn’t have. We can’t give what we don’t have. (You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip).
If you and I want to achieve excellence in giving, we must first find the pattern, which is the example of Jesus, and then follow the procedure, move from intention to action.
The Final STEP (in achieving excellence in giving) is,
Fulfill the Purpose
Look at verses 13 and 14. “For I do not mean that others should be eased, and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality.”
Achieving excellence in giving relies, at least in part, on knowing why you’re giving. The purpose, according to the text is equality. This word is used a lot today. But what does it mean?
Strong’s Concordance defines it as “likeness in condition or proportion, by implication, equity.” It is the state of being equal but also includes the element of justice. In Colossians 4:1 Paul wrote, “Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” He uses the same Greek word in this verse as used here in our text. Greek scholar, Mavin Vincent, points out that this isn’t necessarily equality of condition, but the brotherly equality growing out of Christian relationships.
Paul encourages the Corinthians and us to think about the possibility that roles could someday be reversed. Instead of the givers, we could be the ones in need, relying on our brothers and sisters for aid. It’s helpful to remember the words of Jesus; “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
I sometimes struggle with how to apply this concept of equality. What does equality look like? It may look like someone is living in poverty when in reality they just have different priorities than I do. I would never buy a new car, but I don’t want to drive a rusty junker either. Someone else may be content to drive a rusty junker even though they could afford something much nicer.
Someone may live in what I would consider substandard housing, but it may be that’s just the way they want it. You’ve probably seen what I’ve seen from time to time, several new, expensive vehicles parked outside a shabby-looking mobile home. My priorities are different than that. So, equality can be somewhat subjective.
When true poverty exists, it isn’t necessarily a reflection of a person’s character or motivation, or choices. Things happen beyond our control that can leave us in great need. A personal injury that results in lost employment, a property loss from wind, fire, or rain, a lawsuit, or any number of other situations. Jesus said we will have the poor with us always. I believe that is so we can learn how to achieve excellence in giving.
Paul closes this section by quoting a loose paraphrase of Exodus 16:16 and 17 where Moses was giving the people instructions about gathering manna. “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”
Much of the modern church has lost this concept of caring for our brothers and sisters. If a financial need arises, one of the first questions that are asked is, “did they have insurance?” I realize it’s prudent to have some minimum protection for your property and health given that expenses can quickly rise into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But it is impossible to foresee every situation and cover every contingency.
I commend those churches or groups of churches that have mechanisms or programs in place to assist their brothers and sisters in the event of catastrophic losses. It is encouraging to see the generosity of God’s people in response to human suffering.
Do you want to achieve excellence in giving? This teaching from Second Corinthians chapter eight has given you clear steps to follow in reaching that goal. First, find the pattern, His name is Jesus. Then, follow the procedure, don’t just talk about giving, do it! And give generously from what you have. Finally, fulfill the purpose, give to relieve your brother’s burden knowing that someday, most likely, the circumstances will be reversed.
Together, let’s take these steps that lead us along the path to achieving excellence in giving.