There have been criticisms of Christian evangelicals as being so focused on personal holiness that they have been neglectful of social holiness….of acts of mercy, compassion, and justice. As I am studying this morning I am hearing the Apostle Paul speak to the Corinthians. He applauds their growth in personal piety- faith, exhortation, knowledge, earnestness in love…and also directs them to excel in the grace of giving and that their spirits be willing in the act. The point, as he references in verses 13-15, is not that one group should suffer (be hard pressed) so that others might benefit, but that it should be mutually supportive…..(equality) ….. one gives now to those in need so that those in need might flourish and later be able to give to others in need. It is to be a “paying it forward” cycle of sharing….Somehow the system seems to be breaking down in the way some have interpreted how we are do this as Christians and as a culture….Is a group that is flourishing supposed to give and give and give endlessly to individuals or groups that appear to be offering little in “paying it forward”. If the intended cycle becomes a one-way, dead end street, the process will come to a halt. It would seem then that benevolence is not simply giving unquestioningly, unceasingly, and increasingly. It is giving with an eye to truly improving the capacity of the recipient to provide for himself and his family and contribute to the wellbeing of his community, too. Should limitations be applied to benevolence toward a single individual or group? Are expectations of growth toward self-sufficiency and productivity acceptable? Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians for excelling in giving seems to suggest that they should.
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you[a]—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 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, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”
The principle at work here is one that I encounter regularly. As women grow in the life recovery program, they must begin to assume more and more responsibility for their own sustenance over time. They start out with little or nothing except a food stamp card. They are given clothing, shelter, supplies, entertainment, gifts, and more…..generously, lavishly, and lovingly. In time, they begin to earn small amounts of money with which they can begin tithing, paying off debts, purchasing small needs, etc. Eventually, they move into full time employment. At that point, in addition to tithing and paying off their debts, they begin paying a portion of the cost of their housing, transportation, and other miscellaneous needs. If they fail to make good choices…..choosing instead to spend money on pleasures and luxuries instead of covering their needs, they will have violated the point of the life recovery process….to learn to be good stewards, able to care for themselves and their children, and be productive contributors to society.
Sometimes they require several lessons in choosing wisely and the difference between a need and a want. When they fail to do that after repeated lessons, they find themselves with little being given any longer…..as the willingness to give diminishes if a sense of entitlement and a habit of continued poor choices begins to be evident. The point of the giving is to teach them to trust God’s provision, to be thankful to God for provision, and to honor God by growing in their own stewardship. We are giving and teaching them in order to equip them for self-sufficiency and productivity within their own family, work, and community sphere. We believe this is an appropriate and biblical view of giving. It is an expression of social holiness and responsibility that leads to personal holiness and responsibility that progresses to continued social holiness and responsibility. The two go hand in hand in a cycle of blessings. when it works well, God is glorified, the kingdom grows, and all God’s children have more than enough.
The United Methodist Church has been promoting the development of Circles, a community based concept that exemplifies this cycle. If you are not familiar with Circles, find a community Circles group near you and explore it.