It's an odd phrase: "this Grace of Giving."
Paul uses the phrase in his second letter to the Corinthians. He uses it to describe an offering given by believers living in poverty. Then he uses it to encourage believers not living in poverty to also excel in this grace of giving.
It's natural to give out of abundance. When we have more than we need, we can give an enthusiastic gift to help someone meet their needs. It's a gift of gratitude. And it makes us feel good. It's a response to what we perceive as the grace of abundance.
But when we don't have enough, it's not natural to be generous. To give away some of what we need to help someone with what they need doesn't make sense. And yet, to do so is a gift of gratitude for what we do have. Sharing in each other's burdens is a grace in itself, even when the grace is by necessity, somewhat mutual.
Scripture says that for anyone to give away money, whether out of poverty or abundance, it is a "grace of giving."
Here's how he said it in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5: "We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us."
And then he challenged the Corinthian believers to follow their example by completing their own act of grace. He wrote in verse 7, "Since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving."
Today I want to report on our church's "grace of giving."
We concluded last Sunday's worship service with our fall "Generosity Offering." As I set it up, I told you that I would be content with whatever God led you to give.
I meant that personally, but also on behalf of the leaders of our church. I didn't ask their permission to say that. I just know it to be true. So I said that.
I even chose in the moment not to read my notes about where we stand financially as a church. I had planned to, but in the moment, not only did it feel unnecessary, it felt wrong. Not morally wrong, just less good than not reading it. So I didn't.
I just wanted God to provide however he wanted to provide.
I just wanted to invite our church to "excel in this grace of giving" as a privilege.
I just wanted to see what God would do if the offering was a grace given, not a burden imposed.
Here's how I see it: What you give is between you and God. But whether you give is between you and me.
I don't mean that as as "between you and me as your pastor." I mean it as between you and me as family. And between me and you as family. And between you and others in the church as family. We are in fellowship together, so we share the costs of being together.
And scripture says that the goal is equality. But not that we all give the same amount. It's that we all give what we are able.
Paul wrote in verse 11 that each person should give according to their means, and he explained in verse 12, "For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have."
He elaborated: "Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written [in Exodus 16:18]: 'The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.' ” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)
This has always been my desire as well.
And so, on Sunday I just left it between you and God. I didn't tell you how much we need.
Of course it's reasonable to let the church know where we stand financially.
On the one hand, you should want to know so that you can help meet the need. On the other hand, you should want to know that we are being responsible with what's already been given. As Paul wrote in verses 20-21, "We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man."
So, in an email a couple weeks ago, I explained where we stood. And then I included it as part of last week's blog post. I won't say it again here. You can go read it if you didn't the first time. But that was based on October financials. (Members may request financial statements anytime by calling or emailing the office.)
Last week we closed out November, so the picture is becoming more clear. We still have one month to go. But our November financials show a year-to-date loss of $33,457 — which really isn't bad considering our receipts are down almost $100,000!
But "not bad" isn't good enough. We want to live within our means, so to that end we have given opportunity to the church to meet the need, and to excel in this grace of giving.
So what came in?
At the end of the service I mentioned the need in general terms, said we would be content with whatever comes in, we spent time in prayer, we sang a song of joy, and then we concluded our worship service.
I heard one story of a couple who had come prepared with one check, and during worship they were prompted to write another check in the same amount. Double their offering. No person asked them to. And when the man told me about it, I didn't ask how much it was. I don't need to know. The Lord prompted them to give it, they obeyed, and I am filled with joy and satisfaction that they excelled in this grace of giving.
Others have asked me what we brought in. I know they gave, but I don't know how much. I'm content to know that they did. And I'm at peace knowing that the church is excelling in this grace of giving.
And I'm pleased to say that as of Tuesday's mail, our Generosity Offering has brought in $32,216.
We still need to meet our December expenses, but on behalf of the staff and overseers, thank you so much for excelling in this grace of giving. And to those who continue to prioritize the church in your weekly giving as well, I give special thanks.
God loves a cheerful giver. May he cause you to reap as generously as you have sown, having all that you need, that you might abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.