GENEROSITY - GOD'S GRACE IN US
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, and his wife Priscilla Chan, gave a donation of US$970 million last year to the Silicon Valley Foundation, a charity that manages and distributes charitable funds. According to CNNMoney (Melanie Hicken, February 10, 2014), this gift made the couple the top US philanthropists for 2013. Their giving outstripped Bill and Melinda Gates who gave their foundation slightly over US$181.3 million last year. The Chronicle of Philanthropy also reported that Zuckerberg and his wife were the youngest donors on the The Chronicle’s list, which has a median age of 72. Why are these people so generous? “The Chronicle credits last year’s improving economy and booming stock market for the surge in donations” (Hicken, February 10). In short, these billionaires have wealth and they gave of their riches.
A “nice lady” according to USA Today (Melanie Eversley, February 04) walked into the Boone County Restaurant in Caledonioa, Illinois, and tipped three waitresses US$5,000 each. Amay Sabani, 25, Sarah Sckinger, 23, and Amber Kariolich, were organizing silverware and talking about student loans and their dreams of finishing school when their diner and benefactor asked for their names and started writing the checks. Sabani, apparently tried to return her check when she saw the amount, but the generous lady refused to take it back. “I want you to take these to help with school and everything else in life. God sent me here to help you.” If we take the woman’s words at face value, she gave in response to God’s prompting. As such, she was an example of God’s grace in humankind.
There’s another story to tell about generosity, but this time it’s from the Bible (2 Corinthians 8). This is the testimony of the Macedonian churches. They were extremely poor, but they demonstrated the riches of God’s grace in their lives through their extraordinary giving. I would like to highlight three important observations about this group of Christian believers, and their giving.
For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own. . ."
POOR BUT GENEROUS
In writing to the Christians at Corinth, the Apostle Paul compliments the “rich generosity” of the Macedonian Christians. Unlike the Christians at Corinth, who were rich, the Macedonians were very poor (2 Corinthians 8:2). However, their spirit and practice of giving were exemplary. For this reason, Paul wanted to use this level of generosity to encourage and challenge the Corinthians to give according to their means and blessings also (2 Corinthians 8:11). “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own. . .” (2 Corinthians 8:3, NIV).
GIVING TO THE NEEDY
The specific issue that Paul addresses in this Bible passage is the collection of money for the needy believers in Jerusalem. Now, it is important to note that this was a ministry started by the Corinthians, but they had not finished it. “Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means” (2 Corinthians 8:10, 11) . In the larger picture of Christian ministry, this is the mission to which God has called His Church—to help the poor and to provide for people in need. Jesus underscores this calling with the parable of the sheep and the goats at the end of time (Matthew 25: 31-46). The point of the parable is simple: When we do good to others, we are, in fact, doing it to Jesus. What makes the Macedonian Christians stand out in Paul’s letter? It was the fact that they wanted to be part of God’s mission, despite their extreme poverty.
GIVING ONE'S LIFE, FIRST, TO GOD
The example of generous giving by the Macedonian churches begs the question: “What motivated them to give of their all?” The answer, I believe, is wrapped up in their understanding and experience of the grace of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 8:1). They had a personal relationship with Jesus; they had tasted the goodness of God; and this grace—flowing freely within them—manifested itself in their willingness, and commitment, to give of themselves, first, to the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5). In essence, their acts of generosity were an expression of the grace of God in their lives. The giving of their monetary gifts was an extension of their giving to the Lord. Because they gave themselves, first, to God, there was no limit to what God could do through them. Stewardship, for them, had become a way of life—a life of continuous and generous giving to the Lord.