I believe that people give because they carry the image of God – they have in them a divine piece of DNA which radiates grace. Rationally, it seems foolish for people to give £30,000,000 to a commercial fund-raising site because Honorary Colonel Sir Tom is walking up and down his garden. But when we see a need, and are inspired by a person, our default is an urge to give. Even if we often find reasons not to give, (I’ll do it later, I haven’t got enough myself, I don’t know how to give) there’s something in us that wants to join in with the generosity.
This tendency to give, although sometimes buried deep, is, I think, fuelled by God’s grace. God’s grace overflows outrageously to us and when we feel it, we want to be part of it.
In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul describes this phenomenon when he explains how and why he is carrying a fat cheque from the poor churches in Macedonia to the church in Jerusalem (which is suffering in a famine). Paul has form in this; he is often seen carrying funds from one church to another across the Middle East.
He frames the generosity of the churches as an act of sharing in God’s grace (2 Corinthians 8:1; 9:15). The churches think of their giving as a demonstration of God’s grace. They get to take part in grace; they want to experience the ‘privilege of sharing in this service’ (2 Corinthians 8:4).
Part of their reason for giving is rational – Paul wants there to be equality so that those who have some care for those who have less (2 Corinthians 8:13). It is also about being able to participate in and demonstrate God’s grace at work in the church and in world. In fact, in this case it was a church which was poor giving to a church which was hungry.
Some churches are able to play a part in wonderful acts of grace at the moment as they host foodbanks or telephone the elderly and the lonely. Many individuals are also ‘sharing in this service’ through their work or through their diligent prayer.
A response that every church can make is to copy the Macedonian churches and give to those who are in need. Currently, some churches are in major financial difficulty while others are flush with cash as they no longer rent property. But either way, this is not about the church’s individual finances – it is about leading the body of Christ into sharing in an act of service together. Giving people a chance to respond to God’s grace by sacrificially serving one another.
For church leaders, I recommend inviting the church to make a one-off offering which is collected and then given away in its entirety. You could choose to give to a nearby charity with which the church has links that is struggling to raise funds just at a time when its workload has soared. Or you could give to a church or charity serving the poor in the developing world. Or both.
Paul recognises in the Corinthian church an ‘eagerness to help’ (2 Corinthians 9:2) and I think people in our congregations are eager to help too. Some are easily able to do so, others less so and this gives them the opportunity to join together with their church family and share in a kingdom act of grace. We may be surprised at the generosity of our people.
As if anticipating the critique of this strategy, Paul ends chapter 9 (verses 8-15) with a description of what happens in the supernatural when we give in the natural: grace abounds, we have everything we need, a supply and increase in the store of seed, a harvest of righteousness, being made rich to be generous, thanksgiving, confession of the gospel, prayers rising up… the list is abundant.
We carry the likeness of God and God is full of grace and generosity; let’s reflect his likeness and participate in his grace by handing our congregations an opportunity to give – and may that which seems foolish reveal God’s Kingdom among us.