Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you.
II Corinthians 9:13-14
Two men were marooned on a desert island. One man anxiously paced back and forth, frightened, while the other man kicked back and relaxed, sunning himself. The first man said, “Aren’t you worried that we’re going to die here?” “Nah,” said the second man, “we’re fine.” “How can you be so sure?” the first man asked. “Well, you’ve got to understand,” the second man replied, “I make $100,000 a month and give generously to my church. My pastor will find me, believe me, he will find me.”
That story is a playful and perhaps deserved jab at how giving is often perceived. But in today’s Scripture the apostle Paul raises sharing with the poor to the level of worship. He reminds us that generous giving is not something we do just for others or for ourselves, but giving is something we do foremost for God. By giving to others we participate in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We worship.
Paul presents giving as worship when he calls caring for the poor “ministry”. The Greek word translated in today’s Scripture as “ministry” is the word from which we get our word “liturgy” (Greek: leitourgia). Leitourgia is a word used in Scripture for worship, specifically the priests offering prayers and sacrifices to God. Eventually the word leitourgia was applied to the Lord’s Supper.
The apostle Paul wants readers to know that sharing with the poor should be seen as gifts offered up to Christ as a “ministry” of worship. It intimates that giving is not just an act of philanthropy, but of religious service. Jesus taught as much in saying, “just as you did it to one of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). “It is to God Almighty – how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving.” (Mother Teresa, Nobel Lecture, December 1979)
In September of 1997 I visited one of Mother Teresa’s homes for the dying in Calcutta, where I saw a sign that read: “The hands that care for these dying people must be clean and holy, for they are caring for the body of Christ”. Caring for others is a way of showing love to Christ.
This season of Advent many appeals for giving are based either on the needs of others or on the benefits to those who give. That has its place and is important, but sharing with others is also a ministry to God and an act of worship. When you take time to sit with a grieving friend, take groceries to an out-of-work neighbor, tutor an inner city child, or put money into the deacon’s fund, you are offering up worship to Jesus Christ. By giving you are entering into God’s flow of grace and worshipping. Giving becomes a way of saying “thank you” to God, and a way of deepening our trust in Him as the ultimate Provider.
People sometimes ask if the Corinthian Christians eventually followed through in giving to the needy in Jerusalem. There is indication in the New Testament that the Corinthians did follow through, as Paul later writes, “they were pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Romans 15:26-27). There is other light put on the Corinthians’ giving by Clement, a later bishop of Rome. Writing to the Corinthians in A. D. 95, shortly after the New Testament was completed, Clement describes the Corinthians as “more gladly giving than receiving”. He adds that they were “content with the provision that God has given…a deep and rich peace was given to all, and an insatiable longing to do good, and a plentiful outpouring of the Holy Spirit was upon you all.” (Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians) That’s what the grace of God can do; even the Corinthians joined in the worship of God through giving!
- How might understanding giving as worship shape your thinking about giving?
- Think of a way you might give this Advent season that would be your way of saying “I love you Jesus!”