One of the greatest paradoxes of life has to be that giving is better than receiving. Giving just does not come naturally to us. My son Theodore definitely finds it a lot easier to receive something from me than to give something to me!
In recent years however, because of a book called The Go-giver, a movement has come about in the secular world called the go-giver movement. It builds on the idea that the more you give, within the context of your personal and business life, the more you will have. Here is a secular idea that prosperity gospel preachers surely must have caught on to!
I received this Go-giver book after completing a company programme on commercial excellence. I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed the book, which, through a fictional story, espoused the idea of being authentic, building networks and creating value as the keys to success – qualities that resonated with me in the context of my work within a bank.
While the book was written around the praise-worthy idea of giving generously of oneself to others, it is built on the foundational concept that doing so is the recipe for ultimate personal success. How is the Christian concept of giving different? 2 Corinthians 8 shows us that the source and motivation of Christian generosity is different.
Radical generosity is borne of giving oneself to God
We see in this passage that the early Christians were marked with radical generosity. In verses 2 and 3, it is striking that Paul said of the Macedonian churches, ‘In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity’ – generosity that exceeded even their ability! It may be very confusing to see the words ‘trial’, ‘joy’, ‘poverty’, and ‘generosity’ in the same sentence, but this is what was described of the early Christians. Their radical generosity, despite poverty, we are told, was borne out of the fact that they had given themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God to Paul (verse 5).
How can we as Christians give generously and cheerfully as exhorted by our worship leader each Sunday? We must first give ourselves to God and to His will – by cultivating a daily relationship with the Lord Jesus and having our desires shaped by his Word, we will find such radical generosity built into our very desire.
Giving is a grace that is begotten by the gospel
In Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian church to excel in the grace of giving (verses 8 and 9), he appeals to their knowledge of the gospel. For they ‘know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for their sake became poor, so that they through his poverty might become rich’. In case we might be mistaken, here, we are of course not referring to material riches, since we also know from the passage that the Macedonian Christians were very poor. Instead, Paul’s appeal is in reference to the Christians’ knowledge of Jesus’ emptying himself of his divinity (spiritual richness) and taking human form, humbling himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on the cross (Phil 2:6-8), so that Christians everywhere through faith can have access to every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3).
If you find yourself asking why Christians should be known to excel in the grace of giving, look no further than the gospel. We give not because we are commanded. Instead, giving is a grace that we grow in as we relish the beauty of what Jesus has done for us (given to us!) in the gospel.
Christian generosity is other-centred in meeting the needs of others
Finally, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church on the topic of Christian giving, we see in verses 13 and 14 that he appeals not ultimately to the Christians’ desire to receive further material blessing, but instead points them to see that Christian generosity is the means by which everyone’s needs in the wider church can be met at all times. Paul’s final appeal only makes sense if he had known that this other-centredness was a mindset shared by his Christian brothers and sisters in Corinth. He was confident in this as he knew it was borne out of the shared grace in the gospel, of which they had all partaken.
Do you see a Christian brother or sister struggling to make ends meet? Let’s all strive to excel in this grace of giving, seeking earnestly to meet the needs of our neighbour.
Before the ‘go-giver’ movement was even popular in secular business circles, Christians were paradigms of what it means to live a life marked with the grace of giving. Jesus Christ was the ultimate ‘go-go-giver’, if I may coin that term – he gave his very self to us (his Spirit), that we may, according to our various means, give generously (and cheerfully) in turn to others.
– Tan Jiahan