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We most often think of Paul as a missionary or evangelist (that is, when we don’t think of him as a misogynist, a charge that is easy to make but not necessarily fair), but how often do you think of him as a fundraiser? It may surprise you to learn that significant portions of the letters of Paul preserved in the New Testament have to do with a collection he is making to benefit the church in Jerusalem.

Because of a severe famine in Palestine in the 40s or 50s, the Jerusalem church is in pretty dire straits, and Paul, possibly to create goodwill and smooth over his sometimes rocky relationship with Peter and James, makes a point of collecting funds from the churches he has planted in Asia Minor (Western Turkey) and Greece. A major reason for the trip to Jerusalem that ends in his arrest and eventual transfer to Rome is so he can deliver the collection.

The apostle spends a good deal of time and ink in his letters encouraging his churches to contribute to this offering. He addresses the subject as explicitly as anywhere else in 2 Corinthians 8:1–7, in which he extols the Macedonian churches—Philippi, for instance—for their generosity and promotes a little friendly rivalry to get the Corinthian fellowship to pony up as well. He writes, “Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking” (v. 7). Nothing wrong with a little soft soap if it’s for the good of the team.

Paul also uses the phrase “generous undertaking” to describe the offering in verse 6, but that’s kind of an anemic translation. The original Greek word Paul uses is charis, which is most often translated as “grace.” How does that change the way you read these verses? “We want you to excel also in this grace” (v. 7). “Titus . . . should also complete this grace among you” (v. 6). Paul makes a similar point in verse 4: the Macedonian churches were “begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this grace.”

Do you think of tithing or other types of giving as forms of grace? Are you like the Macedonians, who “voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means” (v. 3)? Do you experience “abundant joy” at the prospect of giving, and does that joy overflow in a wealth of generosity (v. 2)? Or do you think of giving as an onerous obligation, a burden that you meet not with joy but resentment? Do you run to bring your offering, or do you drag your feet? How would your attitude toward giving change if you looked at it not as an obligation but as grace?

Spirituality is great, but it can be kind of insubstantial. Real ministry, the kind of ministry that makes a difference in people’s lives and in the life of the world, requires concrete commitment—of time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears . . . and money. As your pastor and a professional minister for the last thirty years or so, I experience being on the receiving end of an offering as a matter of grace, and it humbles me and evokes gratitude. But as a giver of offerings myself, I recognize that grace inhabits the act of giving just as much as the act of receiving. I pray that you too will know the grace that comes from generosity and sharing in ministry to the saints.

May God bless the one who gets and the one who gives . . . with grace.

Grace and peace,