LESSON 8
THE MINISTRY OF GENEROSITY
(2 CORINTHIANS 8:1-15)

Copr. 1998, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.  All Scripture references are to
the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984
International Bible Society,  unless otherwise noted. Quotations
from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes
the teacher uses a blackboard.

INTRODUCTION: This week our lesson is about giving.  Since this is
not a natural impulse of the unconverted heart, let's see what
lessons we can learn about giving.

I. MACEDONIAN EXAMPLE

     A. Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-4.  If you were to summarize these
     four verses in one word, what word would you suggest?
     (Giving.)

          1. These four verses are about the Macedonian church
          giving to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem (see
          Romans 15:26). How does it make sense for Paul to start
          out v.1 by saying "we want you to know about the grace
          that God has GIVEN the Macedonian churches?"

               a. I thought they were giving in Macedonia and not
               getting! (Being generous towards the poor is a gift
               from God.)

               b. Do you have that gift?

               c. How do you get it?

     B. In verse 2 Paul tells us that three factors came together
     to cause the Macedonians to give to the poor saints in
     Jerusalem.  What are those three factors? (Write on
     blackboard: 1. Severe trial; 2. overflowing joy; and, 3.
     extreme poverty.)

          1. If you were a fund-raiser looking for potential
          donors, how many of these three factors would be on your
          list? ("All right, we want to raise a million dollars for
          the school.  Let's ask those former students who are
          experiencing severe trials in their lives and who have no
          money."  Is this what you would expect to hear? No!)

          2. Have you heard the saying, "Charity begins at home?"
          Assume your family is "extremely poor" and suffering a
          "severe trial."  Would you be giving to other poor
          people?

               a. Is the saying "charity begins at home" contrary
               to the Bible?

                    (1) How does Mark 7:10-13 fit into this
                    discussion?

               b. What do you think Paul means when he says (v.3)
               "they gave as much as they were able?" (The giving
               was proportional to their wealth.  They were not
               judged on the absolute value of their gifts, but
               rather on their ability to give.)

               c. There is a general feeling (which I share) that
               the local churches in North America are sending so
               much money "up the chain of church administrative
               layers" that the local church is being strangled
               for funds.

                    (1) What, if anything, does the "Macedonian
                    example" teach us on this issue?

                    (2) How important is it that the Macedonians
                    were contributing to the poor saints as
                    opposed to administrative functions of the
                    church?

                    (3) By saying that 10% of our income should be
                    sent "up the chain of church administrative
                    layers" are we suffocating or encouraging the
                    kind of generosity towards the poor
                    demonstrated by the Macedonians?

                    (4) If we were going to use a formula for
                    sending money to higher levels of the church,
                    would it make more sense for the local church
                    to "tithe" its total receipts to the higher
                    levels of the church instead of having each
                    member send up his entire tithe?

                         (a) Is this "tithe on tithe" to higher
                         church levels a Biblical principle? (See
                         Nehemiah 10:38 and Numbers 18:26.)

     C. The questions I have just been asking about altering the
     formula for what is "sent up" to "higher levels" of the church
     reveals a certain attitude. How does that compare with the
     attitude of the Macedonians towards giving? (Verse 4 says that
     they "urgently pleaded ... for the privilege" of giving!)

          1. If you question the formula, does that mean you need
          a new, more "Macedonian-like" attitude?

          2. Or can you be generous and questioning at the same
          time?

          3. Would it be reasonable for the Macedonians to question
          sending their money to the poor in Jerusalem since they
          were in "extreme poverty?"

     D. Do you think the church members in Macedonia knew the
     members in Jerusalem? (Probably not.)

          1. Does this make the generosity of the Macedonians more
          or less remarkable?

     E. We need to look more closely at the attitude of the
     Macedonians, so let's turn to that next.

II. JOY

     A. We agree that "severe trials" and "extreme poverty" are not
     the logical ingredients for generosity.  What about this third
     factor that Paul mentions in 2 Cor. 8:2: "overflowing joy?"

          1. What kind of joy do you think the Macedonians
          experienced?

          2. How was it possible for them to experience it?

     B. How many of you would be happier if you won the lottery?
     What if some unknown relative gave you five million dollars?
     We talk about being "healthy, wealthy and wise." While being
     wealthy might not be our main goal, it is a rare person that
     would not "enjoy" more money.

          1. Was the "overflowing joy" of the Macedonians connected
          to wealth?

     C. Read 2 Corinthians 8:5. Paul says the Macedonians did not
     "do as he expected." What do you think he expected? (He was
     probably like us, we do not look for liberal giving among
     those in poverty.)

          1. So why did the Macedonians give so generously? (Verse
          5: "they gave themselves first to the Lord.")

               a. Does this giving themselves first to the Lord
               have anything to do with the "overflowing joy"
               mentioned in v.1?

          2. Is a converted heart at the bottom of generosity?

               a. If so, why? (We realize that our Lord gave
               everything for us.  How, then, can we be selfish
               with others?)

          3. Notice the sequence here. First, the Macedonians give
          their hearts to the Lord.  Then, they give themselves to
          God's leaders. That leads to giving to Paul's project to
          help the poor in Jerusalem.

               a. Should we question whether our hearts are
               really converted if we resist the funding formula
               for higher levels of the church set by our church
               leaders?

III. THE APPLICATION TO CORINTH (AND US).

     A. Read 2 Corinthians 8:6-8. Is a generous heart in the same
     league as "faith," "spiritual knowledge" and "love?" (Paul
     puts them in the same category in v.7.)

          1. When we studied 1 Corinthians 13 we learned that if we
          did not have love, our Christian life was "nothing." What
          bearing does our giving have on the issue of whether we
          love?

               a. Does Paul teach in v.8 that the sincerity of our
               love is tested by our generosity?

                    (1) Consider how you would do on that test?

          2. Notice in v.8 that when it comes to giving, Paul wants
          to compare the Corinthians with others (most notably, the
          Macedonians). Why does Paul suggest that we are to
          compare ourselves to other people rather than Jesus?

               a. Should we compare our giving with that of others?

               b. Does the extent of our giving show how much (or
               little) we love?  If someone is in the same income
               bracket as we are, and gives more money, we can
               know they love more?

     B. Let's read on. Read 2 Corinthians 8:9-12. Why does Paul
     mention Jesus in the context of giving money to the poor?
     (First, we see that Paul calls us to compare ourselves with
     our Lord who is our perfect Example. Second, Jesus is indeed
     a perfect example of generosity because He gave up everything
     for us.)

          1. Did Jesus give us money?

          2. Although Paul is talking specifically about money, how
          important is it that we are generous with our money as
          opposed to say, our time? (Money is just one part of the
          picture of our generosity.  When we consider our own
          family we can see that giving money to our children is no
          substitute for giving them our time.)

               a. Consider how you would do on the test of giving
               your time to others?

     C. Do the Corinthians have a good track record on giving?
     (Verse 10 suggests that they started out right.)

          1. So why has Paul spent so much time talking about those
          Macedonians? Why not say to the Corinthians, "Good job.
          Keep it up!"(Something must have happened to the
          Corinthian project.  They started well, but v.11 tells us
          that they did not finish their giving project.)

     D. We have talked about how our giving is an indicator of our
     love. What does v.12 teach us is the most important factor in
     our giving?

          1. Is it the amount of money that we give? (If we are
          "willing," Paul tells us the gift is acceptable.  The
          absolute amount of the gift is not relevant because "the
          gift is acceptable according to what one has, not
          according to what he does not have.")

          2. Does our "willingness" to give come back to the issue
          of our love? (Yes! My study convinces me that our
          attitude is the most important element in our salvation.
          In discussing salvation we talk of faith v. works.  What
          we really need to talk about is our attitude!)

               a. How do we change our attitude? (Only the Lord can
               change our heart. Ezekiel 11:19 tells us that the
               Lord can remove our heart of stone and give us a
               heart of flesh!)

     E. Read 2 Corinthians 8:13-15. What is the goal of our giving?

          1. We were troubled in the first part of our discussion
          by the fact that the impoverished Macedonians were called
          upon to give to the poor in Jerusalem. What does Paul say
          about requiring those in need to give to others who are
          in need? (The goal is equality according to Paul, not
          giving to others so that they will have more than you
          have.)

          2. Financial equality is a foreign word for those of us
          in a free-enterprise economy. What should we do to
          implement Paul's advice on giving?

          3. In verse 15 Paul quotes Exodus 16:14-21, which
          describes God's gift of food to the Israelites.

               a. Does the fact that the "manna" that was horded
               became infested with maggots and began to stink say
               anything to us about hording money?

               b. What do we learn from the fact that:

                    (1) Any manna left on the ground melted?
                    (2) It was provided every day by the Lord?

                    (3) That God had a set amount for each person
                    to eat?

     F. Do we need to re-examine our giving? Is it possible that
     our hearts are not what they should be?  That we are lacking
     in love?  That we have not "caught the vision" of our Master
     who died for us?

IV. NEXT WEEK: "THE MINISTRY OF THE SAINTS." Study 2 Corinthians
8:16-9:15 sp;     to eat?

     F. Do we need to re-examine our giving? Is it possible that
     our hearts are not what they should be?  That we are lacking
     in love?  That we have not "caught the vision" of our Master
     who died for us?

IV. NEXT WEEK: "THE MINISTRY OF THE SAINTS." Study 2 Corinthians
8:16-9:15