S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 8:12 A gift is appreciated because of what a person can afford, not because of what that person can’t afford, if it’s apparent that it’s done willingly. 13 It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties, but it’s a matter of equality. 14 At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit. In this way there is equality. 15 As it is written, The one who gathered more didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered less didn’t have too little. (Ex 16:18)
O (Observation): Paul was great about getting the churches to support one another in his time. He reminded them that giving was to be done joyfully, and not out of obligation alone.
The outward focus is key here. Giving finances away to a place where you actually couldn’t really oversee the expenses was a challenge for sure.
Also note that Paul is not wanting folks to live in poverty so that others can live a plush lifestyle. He does all of this for the sake of equality. That when they are in need the others might give to them and support them.
A (Application): Over the last two decades the trend has been for congregations to retain more money within our individual churches, but less to larger missions work or to the larger denominational bodies. Paul focuses on the outward giving as important!
The ELCA has experienced this trend to be true. More money staying at the local level of the congregation and the congregation doing more local mission work, too. The trend is a struggle, since money given to our synod (our four-state region of GA, AL, MS, and TN) supports our staff who then support our congregations (think redevelopments, congregational vitality training, mission starts, etc). And in our region, half of all monies that go to our synod passes through to the ELCA, which then supports our candidates for ministry and seminaries, our teaching and worship resources, our global missions, etc.
All of this occurs not so that some might be more poor and others might be more rich. We do this so that we can share and come close to attaining equality.
A good example is this: The 2019 entering class at my alma later (Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary) will have all tuition paid for!!!! (They still need to cover housing and food and such, but what a great blessing!). I didn’t have that luxury, but perhaps you can start to see what Paul saw. You give now, so that you can receive later.
The church that receives a candidate for pastor with little debt load might have an easier time calling that pastor. If that pastor had a huge debt load, that pastor might need to seek a larger church that has more margin for pay, or a church that could work out short-term loan assistance. You can see how the challenge perpetuates.
In all, Paul encourages us to give, with no restraint. Except this: be joyful in giving, and know that this is for equality…you will receive.
P (Prayer): Lord, you make us joyful givers. Help us to celebrate this. Amen.