Danny E. Olinger
The theme of the Thank Offering this year comes from 2 Corinthians 9:15, where Paul exclaims, "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!" His gift is the gift of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Son was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that we by his poverty might become rich. God's gift of his Son is not only our salvation, but also the foundation for our giving and service to others. This leads Paul to praise and thank God.
The Corinthians had begun collecting money for needy believers in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1-4). The purpose of the collection was both to honor the Lord and to show eagerness in helping brethren in need (2 Cor. 8:19). Despite an enthusiastic start, however, the Corinthians were now lagging in their giving. Seeing their inconsistency, Paul sends Titus and an unnamed brother ahead to them. Through those emissaries, Paul urges them to be ready with the offering, so that his boasting to others in this matter will not be in vain (9:3). Paul also encourages them to give generously and cheerfully as those who have experienced God's generous and cheerful gift.
Paul points to the Macedonian Christians as prime examples of those who have given generously and cheerfully (2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:2-3). The Macedonians were poor, and yet they had asked to contribute to the Jerusalem collection and had actually done just that. Content with what the Lord had given them, they abounded in generosity. They gave not only their monetary gifts, but also their lives to others. The Macedonians were generous, knowing that their true wealth was found in Christ and serving others in his name.
Ironically, it was the Corinthians' early excitement over giving that Paul used to stir the Macedonians to action (9:2). The Corinthians had started out with a desire for spiritual excellence and had been blessed with sufficient material resources to give bountifully to others, and yet they struggled to do so. Instead of thinking about the generosity of God and what that should mean in their interaction with other people, the Corinthians too often thought only of themselves. Paul had earlier reprimanded them for their independent ways when he wrote, "Was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?" (1 Cor. 14:36).
The collection for the poor believers of Jerusalem, however, forced the Corinthians to think beyond the bounds of their own congregation. Participation in the collection expressed a loving concern for others in the church. For the Corinthians to fall short here in giving would be to return to selfishness, which would affect others adversely. If the Corinthians were focused on their own needs, congregations in other cities would have to give more to make up the shortfall. Giving less than their share meant that others would have to pick up the tab, a violation of the principle of spiritual fairness (2 Cor. 8:14).
Paul illustrates this principle of spiritual fairness by referring to the Lord's provision of manna in the wilderness (Ex. 16). When God provided manna, those who gathered much and those who gathered little had enough. Paul's point is that some in the church may have more and others may have less, but all are equipped to give. There is to be an equality of willingness to give and serve.
The issue, then, was not the amount of money given, but rather the commitment to the Lord and his church that giving reflects. Would they follow through with what they had promised to give? Did the Corinthians really understand the extent of God's generosity to them in the gift of his Son? If they did, they would not be indifferent to the needs of believers in other congregations, and they would be ready with the collection when he arrived.
Making sure that they understand what hangs in the balance, Paul addresses the Corinthians directly: "The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully" (2 Cor. 9:6). The illustration is of a farmer sowing seed. Any farmer who sows only a few seeds will reap a sparse harvest. But the farmer who sows many seeds can expect a rich harvest. Giving is like sowing. Minimal giving will never reap a rich harvest. The Corinthians might have less money if they gave more, but the spiritual blessings they would receive would make them richer.
However, Paul does not demand that a fixed amount be given. The distribution of gifts is a private matter, but God loves a cheerful giver (vs. 7). God provides us with enough both for our own needs and for sharing with others (vs. 8). Paul then describes the great reaping that he longs to see as a result of great giving (vss. 9-14). His desires for the Corinthians are great giving, great reaping, rejoicing, prayer for one another, and then great thanksgiving to God (vs. 15).
The Thank Offering provides an opportunity for us as God's people to sow many seeds, expecting that there will be a great harvest to the glory of God in the work of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Home Missions, Foreign Missions, and Christian Education. The triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-does not need our money. The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof (Ps. 24:1). However, God is glorified and the needs of his people are met through the giving of his church.
And, while I encourage you to participate in the Thank Offering, I would be remiss if I did not also use this opportunity to encourage you to give-as many of you already have-to the church for the Hurricane Katrina relief fund. Our willingness to give shows that we belong to Christ. Certainly, many non-Christians have also given to various agencies for the relief effort. However, we as Christians-those who have been blessed with the inexpressible gift of Christ-should be particularly marked by graciousness. Our giving should be voluntary and not compulsory (2 Cor. 8:3; 9:7), generous and not stingy (8:2; 9:6, 13), enthusiastic and not reluctant (8:4, 11, 12; 9:7), planned and not chaotic (9:7), wise and not irresponsible (8:11-15).
When we are focused upon the King of glory, who is also our crucified Savior, giving is not burdensome. It is what our hearts delight to do. Our lives are changed when we know intimately what God has done for us in the person and work of the Son. The Spirit at work in our hearts enables us to go in the opposite direction of our sinful nature. The fallen natural instinct is to horde, but we want to give; the fallen natural instinct wants others to serve, but we want to serve others; the fallen natural instinct craves the glory for itself, but we want Christ to receive the glory.
Giving our gifts and giving ourselves are concrete ways to acknowledge our thankfulness to the living God-our Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Consummator. For the Son of Man-who was rich with heavenly glory-came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Do we understand how great his preincarnate wealth in heaven was? Do we comprehend what the Son endured for our sakes in becoming man and taking our sins upon himself? Do these awesome truths leave us struggling for words, yet full of praise and thanksgiving for our God and willing to serve him in all things? Jesus' self-giving death for the forgiveness of our sin should mean everything to us, even more than words can convey. Our giving and service proceed from the inexpressible gift of the Son, and then return to God in praise and thanksgiving. Thanks be to our God for his inexpressible gift!
The author is the general secretary for the Committee on Christian Education. Reprinted from New Horizons, November 2005.