2 Cor. 5:17
Studies in Second Corinthians
THIS GRACE OF GIVING: II
Most of us have heard some fairly ridiculous but amusing — by accident or design — sermon themes. There is the preacher who, in fact, missed the whole point of this ninth chapter after choosing this rhythmic theme for his Sunday morning harangue: “Give! Give! Give! ‘Till It Hurts! Hurts! Hurts!”
However, we do not seek merely to repeat amusing stories. For this harangue is now typical of the way in which even so-called “conservative” Lutheran congregations and their church bodies have for some years now gone about collecting funds.
High Powered Hype
The collection agency. Let your fingers stop walking the yellow pages of your phone book under the heading “Fund Raising Organizations And Counselors.” Our local book lists three. The metropolitan books list many more. Fund raising is big business. Profession fund raisers promise a poor church (or church body — the WELS, for example) to change the members’ giving habits dramatically, in some cases doubling or better its income virtually overnight. Of course, one sooner or later finds out that they skim off the top 7 to 10 percent as their “service fee” whether the projected goal is reached or not.
And they use high powered hype to get inflated pledges out of people who never dreamed of giving one fraction of even the lowest amounts being suggested. This tactic includes using every available member to contact the others. Then they themselves undergo many a brainwashing session on what they should pledge in order to set the example. (Never take the first offer. Say, “You obviously have been giving this matter some careful thought, but we were hoping you would be one of those who would give ___,” — always a higher figure.) In short, v. 7 is used as a club of the Law: “God loves a cheerful giver . . .” and you’re not cheerfully giving nearly enough!
A large urban congregation in which this writer vicared had moved to hire just such an agency in order to pay for a new school. One of the few farmers left in the congregation, short on formal education but very long on Scriptural understanding, may have been well within bounds quoting the Song of Solomon 2:15 (If not, second Corinthians 9 covers his intent): “Catch the foxes; the little foxes spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes.” He quietly announced: “We are inviting the little foxes to come in and steal the tenderest grapes from our spoiled vines.” The motion failed. The fund drive was nevertheless oversubscribed. The school stands.
The whole of joyous giving is summed up in v. 5: “That it may be a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation.” The sainted Dean Norman Madsen loved to quote Luther on the “grudging” matter: “God does not need your dirty little Pfennig (penny).” And Paul was the last one to be talking work-righteousness when he answers the unspoken question: “Do you want God to love you? OK: God loves a cheerful giver.”
What’s the cause of our cheerfulness? Paul says, in effect in v. 8, that God gives us everything we ever had in the first place, spiritual and material. And in the second place He has never asked anything of us that He has not first given. Seed to the sower. Bread to the eater. And recall, as you reassess your own giving, all the positive words in this chapter breathing Gospel motivated reasons: “willingness – zeal – generous – bountiful – cheerful – abound – abundance – liberality – thanksgiving – glorify God – liberal sharing – exceeding grace – thanks be to God!”
So let’s get going again with a cheerful smile and a fat envelope. Over half of our new ILC building is paid for. Let’s praise God and pay it off soon. Wherever the Gospel is being taught and preached in its truth and purity, let’s support it cheerfully and liberally, avoiding the gimmicks, but rather mindful in spirit of all the positive words of Second Corinthians 8 and 9. In giving, God’s Word changes conservatives into liberals.
–Pastor Bertram Naumann