The Heart of Giving
One of the few things I remember about my grandpa’s garden from when I was a boy is that he raised celery. If you’ve only eaten celery bought in the grocery store, you don’t really know what good celery is. Raising celery the old-fashioned way is labor intensive but it produces a vastly superior taste. And the heart of a fully bleached celery stalk is especially tasty. The heart of a watermelon is also the best part of that fruit.
Sometimes when we talk about an issue or a situation, we ask ourselves, “what’s the heart of the matter?” In other words, what’s the core of the issue or the real reason behind the situation? We’re looking for causes, not just symptoms.
In Luke chapter six Jesus contrasted good men and evil men by saying, “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” A man’s life gives evidence of what’s really in his heart. Solomon wrote, “Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it spring the issues of life.” The NIV says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
In Second Corinthians chapters eight and nine, Paul takes up the subject of giving. The context is a physical need, and the giving is financial. In light of the Scripture I just mentioned, what is the heart of giving? What is it that motivates God’s people to give to the needs of others?
That’s what we want to discover today from our text, II Corinthians 8:1-7. If you can find that text in your copy of the Scripture or on your phone app, I invite you to follow along as I read.
This text highlights several MOTIVATIONS evidenced by the Macedonian Believers that reveal to us the heart of giving.
The First Motivation is,
A Dedication to God
Did you catch what Paul said about the Believers in Macedonia? The reason for their generosity, in spite of their extreme poverty, was– “they first gave themselves to the Lord.” This motivation is at the core of genuine, biblical giving.
Christ-followers are not the only people who give generously. Many of the wealthiest people and families in the world give huge sums of money to their favorite causes. These people are often referred to as being altruistic. That simply means they have an unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.
Think about the giving of men like Gates and Soros and Bezos, and families like the Rockefellers, the Walmart Waltons, and others. Do they really have unselfish regard for others, a devotion to the welfare of others? Or do they have a specific goal or agenda in mind that motivates their giving? If they do, that isn’t altruism. That’s giving to get something in return or to accomplish what they think is best. Many times they give without regard for how the recipients of the gift feel about it and regardless of the impact it has on them.
Paul’s commendation of the Macedonian Believers emphasizes their devotion to God. We read that these Believers, unlike the wealthy, were giving out of their extreme poverty. They were at the bottom of the economic scale. And yet, they didn’t give grudgingly. No, they did it with overflowing joy!
What about you and me? What about our giving? Are we so dedicated to the Lord that we’re willing to give, even out of what we need? I don’t see this as a command, it is a record of what happened. But it was included in divine revelation for a reason. Much of the Bible is narrative, but we are to learn from what is recorded in it.
In the developed world there are organizations that study giving patterns. In one such study, researchers were challenged to state the results of their survey in 25 words or less. I assume they were surveying professing Christians because their answer was – “giving is down because we don’t love God as much as we love a lot of other stuff.” What does that reveal about our dedication to God?
In 2005 Thomas Cannon died. He was 79 years old. When he was three years old (1929) his father died, and he grew up in a three-room shack without running water or electricity.
As an adult, Thomas worked for the postal service but never made more than $25,000 a year. After retirement, he and his wife lived in poverty. Yet, over the course of his life, he gave away more than $156,000. Was Mr. Cannon a Christ-follower? The newspaper article didn’t give that detail, but very few people, even Believers, are willing to live like him and do what he did.
By giving themselves to God, these Macedonian Believers understood their obligation to care for God’s people. Remember, they had only the Old Testament Scriptures and perhaps a few recorded portions of the teachings of Jesus. But like Zacchaeus, they understood that a changed heart resulted in concern for the wellbeing of others, especially brothers and sisters in Christ.
The first motivation that reveals the heart of giving is a dedication to God.
Another Motivation (that reveals the heart of giving) is,
A Delight in God’s Goodness
Macedonia, at the time Paul was writing this, was being strangled by high taxes and regulations by Rome. Furthermore, we learn from Acts 17:5 and First Thessalonians 2:14 that these Believers were facing serious persecution. We have many brothers and sisters around the world today who find these twin pressures part of their daily experience.
Paul told the Corinthian Believers that their brothers and sisters in Macedonia were going through a severe test. His word choice here refers to the intense heat used in the refining of metals. Peter echoes the idea in his epistle writing of “…the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ…”
So how could the Macedonian Believers delight in God’s goodness? Not only were they living in poverty, but they were also going through intense persecution. Would you and I be able to delight in God’s goodness in similar circumstances? The answer to that question is found in the first motivation we looked at – dedication to God. They obviously realized two things. First, all they possessed belonged ultimately to God. And second, that what they had gained in receiving the Gospel far outweighed any material loss.
When you think about the most thankful people you know, those who delight the most in God’s goodness, are they the wealthiest people? Are they people who’ve had, what you might call, an easy life?
On one of my trips to Asia, I was invited to the home of a brother who was very active in the Lord’s work. When we arrived at the house, we entered a room that I assumed was just part of the family house. I learned later that this was their entire living quarters. He, his wife, and their son lived in a one-room apartment, about 12 feet by 12 feet. They share a kitchen and bathroom with the other tenants who live on the ground floor. All their earthly possessions, with the exception of the motorcycle, were stored in that room.
And yet this brother displays quiet confidence in God and delights in His goodness. I was blessed to make his acquaintance and deeply challenged by his godly example. I have much to learn from my brothers and sisters in the developing world.
So far, we have two motivations that reveal the heart of giving: a dedication to God and a delight in God’s goodness.
The Final Motivation (that reveals the heart of giving) is,
The Desire to Share
When a person is dedicated to God and delights in His goodness, then, the desire to share with others is a natural response. Paul writes in verse 4 that the Macedonian Believers. “…[implored] us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”
So, even though they were living in poverty, even though they were going through a time of intense persecution, they were begging Paul for the privilege of sharing in this relief offering for the church in Jerusalem. He further says that they went beyond their actual ability and gave more than they could really afford!
Keep in mind that the Jerusalem church was predominately Jewish and didn’t always look with favor on the Gentile churches. Normally, if you or I were treated poorly by someone we wouldn’t be eager to help them in their time of need. But this just reinforces the level at which the Macedonian Believers were dedicated to the Lord. By sharing in the need of their brothers and sisters they were sharing with the Lord Himself.
Four young men, Bible College students, were renting a house together. One Saturday morning an old, bedraggled man knocked on their door. He had a silvery stub of whiskers on his face. His clothes were ragged and torn. His shoes didn’t match. And he carried a wicker basket of “past their prime” vegetables he was trying to sell.
The boys felt sorry for him and bought some of his vegetables. Then he went on his way. But every Saturday after that he appeared at their door with his basket of vegetables. As the boys got to know him better, they began inviting him in to visit before continuing on his rounds.
They learned that he lived just down the street in an old run-down house. They discovered he could play the harmonica, that he loved to play Christian hymns, and that he really loved the Lord. So, every Saturday they’d invite him in, he’d play his harmonica and they’d sing together.
They became good friends, and the boys began looking for ways to help him. One day they collected a bunch of clothes and secretly left them on his doorstep. The following Saturday morning, right in the middle of all their singing, he suddenly stopped and said to them, “God is so good!” And they all agreed, “Yes, God is so good.”
He went on, “You know why he is so good?” They said, “Why?” He said, “Because yesterday, when I got up and opened my door, there were boxes full of clothes and shoes and coats and gloves. Yes, God is so good!” And the boys smiled and said, “Yes, God is so good.”
He went on, “You know why He is so good?” They answered, “You already told us why. What more?” He said, “Because I found a family who could use those things and I gave them all away.” This elderly man, in his poverty, had the desire to share with those less fortunate than him. And he had the joy of being the one God used to meet that need.
As you think about these motivations that reveal the heart of giving, they are simply a mirror of the life of Jesus. His dedication to His Father was such that He could say “I always do those things that please Him.”
His delight in the goodness of His Father is stated clearly in John 17 where He said, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
And finally, Jesus’ dedication to God and His delight in God’s goodness motivated Him to share eternal life with all who will believe in Him. In Ephesians, Paul writes, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Paul ends this text by urging Titus and the Believers at Corinth to follow through on the commitment they’d made toward the needs of the church in Jerusalem. He complimented them on their abounding faith, speech, knowledge, diligence, and love. And he closed by saying, “now, be diligent in giving too.”
Now you know the motivations at the heart of giving: a dedication to God, a delight in God’s goodness, and a desire to share. Join me in asking God to develop those motivations more fully in our lives.
Heavenly Father, help us to better understand the heart of giving so we can better represent you to our brothers and sisters and to those around us who don’t know you. May our dedication to you, our delight in your goodness, and our desire to share become part of our daily experience. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.