“I am not commanding you to do this. But I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of the other churches. You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. Here is my advice: It would be good for you to finish what you started a year ago. Last year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin doing it.” (2 Corinthians 8:8-10, NLT)
When it comes time to assemble something, my wife insists on reading the instructions. Every time. On everything. Modern instructions include illustrations for guys like me to show exactly what the words intend. I appreciate the helpful drawings through each step of the process because the words are often inadequate. I need a picture to accompany the words.
Evidently Paul felt that the Corinthians church needed a point of reference. In the first eight verses he used the Macedonian congregation as an example, calling to their attention their enthusiasm for the offering. And a fine example it was. But the most significant point of reference followed in verse nine where he directed the Corinthians to the ultimate example of generosity — Jesus Christ.
As an act of grace expressed in love, the pre-incarnate Christ left the glories of heaven and limited his liberties for the sake of human kind. Yes, he was rich, but was willing to give up his own rights for the sake of others. Through his self humiliation, we find ourselves made rich by his sacrificial death on the cross.
Like the Macedonians’ generous act, Jesus gave voluntarily out of his poverty for the sake of others. His earthly life was not characterized by extravagance. He was, by all reports, an itinerant, homeless prophet who never owned anything more than the clothes on his back. Yet none of that limited his willingness or availability to give. He gave first, he gave his best, and he gave his all. No one took his life from him. He gave it willingly. (John 10:18)
Paul used these two examples versus issuing a command because compulsory giving is never our best foot forward. Many have reduced giving to an act of rote obedience that is measured by the tithe which usually ends up making 10% the ceiling, not the floor, and even then fussing about whether it should be given on our gross income or our after tax take home pay. Anytime we obey without love we will live as legalists satisfied to meet the minimum required. Legalism is concerned with how little one can give and still be “ok” with God.
But our relationship with Christ is not a legal relationship. It is a love relationship. And love does not live by nor seek minimums.