Peter Wiebe is a native of Manitoba and a graduate of Goshen (Ind.) College and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. He has served as pastor of Yellow Creek Mennonite Church, Goshen, Ind., Hesston (Kan.) Mennonite Church, Oak Grove Mennonite Church in Smithville, Ohio, and Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz. Peter has been married to Rheta Mae for 65 years, and together they have eight children, 18 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 2 Corinthians 8:12
Full text for today: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15
Our text for today talks about the spiritual struggles we all experience to some degree. In our hearts, we desire to be generous, and we recognize also the blessings that come from offering ourselves with our resources to the needs of others. However, we may find that there is also something burdensome about all the needs and the many calls for charitable giving during this particular season.
Paul can help us as we consider his request for a contribution on behalf of the Jerusalem churches. He suggests a model from the churches in Macedonia. It seemed evident to all that they had wonderfully experienced the “grace of God.” This blessing came to them because their commitment was first to the Lord, and then it followed that they were blessed with an excitement and a real joy in the exercise of generosity.
In our more than 65 years of married life, Rheta Mae and I have had two ways of discerning our giving practices. We have assumed that a tithe or 10 percent was always the minimum amount to give through our church offerings. Our lifestyle allowed us to always contribute to the church and also give to support many denominational ministries. We recognized that each year, God poured His grace into our lives and we could celebrate by blessing others as additional needs were presented.
The model of the widow of Zarephath challenged us to trust God. When the bank account seemed too low, and our own desires were waiting to be filled, we could accept that God would find a way of supplying our needs if we were willing to risk trusting Him. We wonder now how it can be that we still have enough for many years in retirement from a lifetime spent in church ministry.
Paul suggests in verse seven that generosity is a spiritual gift or virtue that needs to mature along with faith, speech, knowledge, diligence and love. These signs of spirituality also need the expressions of generous giving. In other words, we cannot be spiritually mature unless we grow in the grace of giving. And generosity of course is much more than monetary support. Generosity becomes a lifestyle and a living out of God’s own generosity to us.
Generosity connects us to others where it matters. The Corinthians are meant to experience their bonding with the Jerusalem church. It was through this church that they had received the good news of Jesus Christ. But the saints in Jerusalem were now suffering economically, socially, politically and emotionally. Persecutions had robbed them of all their means. A mature Christian response would allow them to share in God’s grace just like the Macedonians.
We tend to feel like we own and deserve our blessings. We believe that all our hard work and diligence has rewarded us, and now our money becomes a security on which we rely for the unknown future. Instead of being the conduit of God’s resources to others, we bank for ourselves and the uncertain future.
It reminds me of a story. A priest was assigned to host Mother Theresa on one of her many mission tours. He was delighted to have this privilege and anticipated rich conversations with her. However she was so involved with the poor that he was deeply disappointed. He then decided to buy a ticket to escort her home, expecting to chat with her en route. Mother Theresa learned of his plan and the reason for this expenditure. Her response to him: “If you have money to buy a ticket, then give the money to the poor, because you will learn more about Jesus from the poor than you can learn from me.”
During this season of Advent, we celebrate God’s self-emptying on our behalf. “To know Christ is to follow Him in life,” is the Anabaptist challenge from Hans Denck. God comes to us in blessings beyond measure as we share them with others.
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