On Paul’s missionary trip through Macedonia, he encountered people who were suffering a “severe ordeal of affliction,” and living in “extreme poverty.” (II Corinthians 8:2) If anyone needed help, it was these folks. Yet, Paul tells us, that when they found out about the suffering and famine in Jerusalem and the offering Paul was taking to meet those needs, listen to what they did: “… they voluntarily gave according to their means and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the favor of partnering in this ministry to the saints…” (2 Corinthians 8:3-4).
How is it that people can transcend their own crushing need to think of others? How can folks with concerns of their own care about the suffering of people far away? The answer is in verse 5: “… they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us.” (2 Corinthians 8:5)
Paul uses the story of the Macedonian faithful to spur the Corinthian church to give to this appeal as they had promised. The Corinthians were not afflicted, nor were they poverty-stricken. Paul says they excelled in everything! They were affluent and had plenty, but they lacked generosity because their faith stumbled. They could not give themselves first to the Lord, because they were hanging on too tightly to what they possessed. They were enslaved and unable to become Christ-like.
“First to the Lord” is the theme of our annual generosity campaign. It sums up at least two truths necessary to the discipline of generosity. First, as the Macedonians show, until our hearts and minds are given to the Lord, we will not be freed to give our time, talent, or treasure. Second, when we do give, scripture teaches us to give first to God. Before we make any other decision, we are called to give God a portion of what God has given – which of course, is everything we have. That sets a tone for a life turned to God and so, a life lived for God.
In the coming weeks, we will be inviting you to think about how we give ourselves first to God, and then to others so we can share God’s love. In the coming weeks, we will be encouraging one another to grow in our giving of the first fruits of our lives so we can evermore embrace what it means to be Christ-like.
Our growth in giving goal for this campaign is nine (9%) percent above last year’s actual general offering. That would supply an additional $94k to keep pace with escalating costs, and more importantly, to share God’s love more deeply and widely through our programs, our mission partnerships, and our efforts to invite people to be part of our congregation. You’ll hear more details over the next few weeks.
For now, pray. Pray that each and all of us together would deepen our faith and give our lives first to the Lord. If that happens, everything else will follow by the power of the Spirit.
Tim Olson, Lead Pastor