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In Your Heart

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. [2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV]

This Sunday is Commitment Sunday, where you will be asked to turn in your commitment cards to help fund our 2023 budget. Because of this, I want to share a twist on a Biblical view of giving from this passage in 2 Corinthians. In this scripture, Paul finds himself in a dilemma. He needs to spur the Corinthians into giving—giving to an offering that he was putting together for the church in Jerusalem. He had been boasting to the Macedonians about how generous the people of Corinth were in giving to this offering. Yet, it appears that they had begun the offering but had not finished it. And this could be a potentially embarrassing situation, for Paul was soon to come to Corinth and there just might be a few Macedonians who would be a little curious about these generous Corinthians. How would it look if the offering was not all there?

We can look to 2 Corinthians 9 to see what approach Paul took to encourage them to give. His words are intriguing because he didn’t beg or use guilt.

I was listening to a pastor at another church read this scripture and he changed one word from the traditional reading that I was accustomed to. And that one word has always stayed with me. He read it as “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a hilarious giver.” That’s what he said. It startled me. It wasn’t what I expected. A “hilarious” giver. I had heard cheerful giver used there. But a hilarious giver? Looking at the Greek word, I guess I could see how someone might translate it that way. Is there really any such thing as a hilarious giver or even a cheerful giver?

Paul was writing about the kind of giving that frees you, that cuts you loose from the use of money to gain friends and influence people to get what you want in return. Without that freedom, giving always has “strings attached.”

In this time of Paul’s writing, it was customary that relationships were arranged by the transfer of gifts or favors in exchange for honor, praise and gratitude. In a society where banks did not loan money, the patronage system was a necessity. The person accepting the gift would be forever committed to the benefactor. The poor often times had no choice but to accept such a relationship. You could actually buy and sell relationships. Accepting a gift from a patron bound you to the benefactor and defined who you were or whose side you were on, by which benefactor you selected. Money back then was used as a power chip to control and influence. Sounds like things haven’t changed much since then.

The giving that Paul writes about is not a giving with “strings attached,” rather it is a giving that cuts you free by grace through Christ. It is not a giving that is bound by obligation or bound by a notion of looking at what I get out of this. It is a giving that goes beyond boundary and limits and finds where can grace abound more. A giving that will help people that you may never meet.

As you give without compulsion, not reluctantly, you may discover a special serendipity that Paul points out—joy. Joy that approaches hilarity. It's a joy to discover what Christ reveals to us—that the way to abundant life is not to hang on to it, but to give it away, to spread the seeds and let grace abound and grow in this world. It is in this spirit that I hope you would consider your giving for 2023—that we give as Paul says, deciding in our hearts to give—and give hilariously!


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