Monthly Archives: June 2021

Giving

How do you feel about about talking about money? Some don’t like it, others assume its fundraising and they’ll be asked to contribute. Yet Christians often hesitate to mention giving – as I am doing now. (And not only am I not asking for money at the moment, I make a point of seldom doing so.)

Money is personal, private. Yet so are most of the issues that faith deals with. – and many of them we need to talk about because they are controversial, Christians taking a view, even a stand, that is not generally agreed. More than that: we may dislike a world in which everything has a price, but the fact remains that Christians will be judged by whether their spending matches their faith talk.

So what can we learn from 2 Corinthians 8:7-15? Paul is reminding this congregation about a collection for poor Christians in Judea which they had started, but seems to have got “stuck”. He says some important things:

v8,9 the generosity of Jesus in becoming poor for love.

v13,14 a question of equality – perhaps reversing in future.

Giving is important, but it is important that giving should be an act of love (not like shutting up demanding children, or escaping the charity collector who makes you feel guilty). We give, because Jesus teaches us generosity, because we have enough to be able to give thanks to God by offering back some of his generosity to us.

There’s more, though. v12 talks about giving proportionally. I have often found people with the least to be generous. Problems are found with those who have good incomes, who try to give the minimum. Giving proportionally means a fixed part of your income – so more if / when you have more income, less if you earn less. You might like to make the calculation. How much do you (or your household) earn? If you add up your regular giving, what proportion is that of your income? The Old Testament expected 10%, my church organisation suggests 5% to church, allowing for other giving (and perhaps the social welfare aspects of taxation) – but it gets less than 3%, and suffers as a result.

This project of Paul’s was very important to the Church. It brought together Gentile and Jew, helping create a unity. It still does – and we should think about giving to Christian causes and charities. Nobody else, outside faith, can be expected to support them, yet they bring together brothers and sisters in Christ.

I haven’t asked you for money – I’m not going to. But please take seriously the Christian faith, which deals with many very personal areas of life, and has instructions (yes, instructions) about your view and use of money. You need to give some away, regularly, in proportion to your income. Doing so will help you to recognise the generosity of Jesus, and help you be part of his family.

Value

What’s the most valuable thing in the world? Gold, platinum, plutonium? Health, a brain that works? As Paul argues with the Church in Corinth (in 2 Corinthians 6:1-13), who rather prefer other teachers, he urges the value of grace, and the need to do something about it NOW. Not when we feel like it, or get around to it . . . but NOW.

That remains very relevant for us, as does

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; .

2 Corinthians 6:3,4

Some translations talk about “God’s servants” – as we all are; older translations use the word “ministers”, which again we all are, despite our different gifts and functions, as all serve to commend the gospel and make Jesus known.

Paul lists 9 trials in the next two verses – most of them we escape. But why did he have such a hard time? The same old reasons:

  • because people didn’t like being shown up
  • because the spiritual battle concentrates on opposition (who would you target if you were the devil? – the effective or the weak?)

We may not have such a dramatic list of hardships, but need to remember that both our taking the opportunity of God’s grace, and our service / ministry of sharing the good news of Jesus, will attract temptation, opposition, and unfair criticism. Paul’s response is not to withdraw, or appeal for pity. He understands what is going on, and finds fulfillment in the struggle.

in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;

2 Corinthians 6:6,7

define how it is to be done, and the next three verses see a paradox. The response is varied, but there are opposites in evidence. Yet this is nothing more than following the leadership of Jesus, who experienced the same acceptance / rejection, fame / infamy, acceptance / rejection.


This part of 2 Corinthians is very much a part of Paul’s struggle in the first century with the Church he founded, which tended to divide into groups and find other teachings more attractive than true Christian faith. Yet it remains appropriate for us. The appeal not to waste the grace of God, but to act now – that is vital when so many put off making decisions or commitments. The encouragement to serve by commending Jesus, even though it brings spiritual opposition – here is explanation and encouragement for the work we must set about together.

There is no comfort blanket offered here, only the most valuable thing in the world (free), and the way to use it successfully.

Weigh it up

Paul doesn’t always write easy, straightforward letters (and we continue our reading of 2 Corinthians with chapter 5:6-17):

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:6

It seems that Paul is thinking of death – whether because of his age, illness, or opposition which might secure his execution. If in the past he as assumed (and wrote as if) he would be alive at the return of Jesus in glory, he now wonders about the other alternative. Not a favourite activity, but sometimes useful

So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

2 Corinthians 5:9,10

This is not to deny that we are saved by faith through grace. The Christian who lives by his belief is safe, but our life work as Christians will be judged. Paul explained it in 1Corinthians 3, using the example of a builder working to build on the foundation of Jesus:

11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15

For Paul, this is a motive for Christian evangelism. He then goes on to a great statement:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

2 Corinthians 5:14,15

We’re dead – not because of some disaster about to happen. Because Jesus died for us, we die to a selfish life. All life is now for him, under his direction. We don’t “get” this all at once. Even if we say we are committed, over time we discover there are still bits of ambition, or things we want for ourselves, that have nothing to do with Jesus – and do not fit in with a life now lived for the one who died for us. Our sense of judgement changes:

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

2 Corinthians 5:16,17

What makes a person amusing or boring; what decides our leisure activities, choice of work (employment, or volunteering); a new perspective. More than that,

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

2 Corinthians 5:20

We are not trying to make other people like us, nor even to introduce them to faith as we know it (so that they learn our worship, our church life). We are ambassadors – for Christ. The aim: that they meet Him, and come to live for him – but in the way He directs, according to their situation, ability, gifts . .

Paul doesn’t always write easy, straightforward letters. But he has some very important things to say!

All Talk.

There’s an awful lot of talk. Even if we are relatively alone, the chatter of the older, broadcast media is now amplified by social media. Sadly, a great deal of it is bad tempered and complaining, even abusive. Christian communities ought to be better, kinder – but the theory is by no means always realised.

When Paul says (in 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1) “I believed; therefore I have spoken”, he takes this further. The Holy Spirit reminds us that the grace we have received should lead us to speak in thanksgiving and praise. It is not something we are good at! (Well, I speak for myself, you may make your own assessment of those among whom you live and worship). Embarrassment at being thought “pious” – or just “odd” – tends to keep us to the social norm.

That social norm tends to grumbling and complaint. Of course the sun doesn’t always shine, and there are always some people who really face crisis, pain and trauma. But it is all too easy to concentrate on the negative, compare our lives with those who have more, and not less, and feel hard done by. Paul urges us to get a sense of proportion. What we experience now – including the problems: physical, mental and spiritual – is temporary, as we move on to the good things God has prepared.

So, what shall we talk about? Can we re-educate ourselves, not to a false and unnatural pretence, but to a focus on the goodness of what God gives, now and in the future? Can we make ourselves more available to those who suffer by being content in our own situation? Can we be witnesses to grace in our present time and place?

Practical Christian Living and Trinity

People might object that thinking about God, especially in terms of the Trinity, takes away from the importance of the gospel message and Christian living – but in Romans 8:12-17 we see practical instruction in Christian life with an account of the three Persons of the One God.

Paul continues the argument that it is no use doing as you want and feeding your own ambitions and appetites (even if that is to be religious or “good”). That way lies disaster. The alternative is a life powered and directed by the Holy Spirit, freely given to believers. In this way they become children of God – we might say “God the Father”, from whom every family is named (Ephesians 3:15). The ancient world knew about adoption, and took it very seriously.

In this way, as children of our heavenly Father, we share the benefits of Christ, the natural Son, and are given a place in that family.. Paul has been describing Christian life, lived not by moral effort, but by grace. It makes constant use of forgiveness to bring and keep us in relationship with the three: Father, Spirit and Son. The Trinitarian language is almost incidental and quite natural. At the same time, the effect is to create a life, supported in these different ways, but never torn between the different persons offering support.

Thinking of God can be confusing – our minds are too small. What we are given is a glimpse of wonder, to encourage praise, worship and thanksgiving. At the same time, we are told how this God brings us to share in relationship, both with God and with others. Relationships which we often get wrong, but which imitate the wonder of divine love.