One of the best ways to acknowledge God (quarterly theme) and give praise to God (monthly unit theme) is with our “coined” lives. Giving to God in generous stewardship of finances can be a disciplined obligation and a wonderful privilege. But it is at its best when it is the overflow of a generous heart. Two ginormous figures from both testaments, Moses and Paul, stress generosity in our texts today.
God raised up a deliverer for Israel (Exodus 1-4), God defeated Egypt’s gods (Exodus 5-11), God redeemed Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 12-15), God led Israel through the wilderness (Exodus 16-19), and God gave his people his law (Exodus 20-24). (By the way, watch how Jesus, portrayed particularly in the Gospel of Matthew, retraces Israel’s steps.) Then God gave Israel instructions about worship (Exodus 25-40). These worship instructions occupy half of the book of Exodus (with the interlude of the golden calf incident and its aftermath). First we read about the instructions for building the tabernacle (Exodus 25-31), and then we read about its actual construction (Exodus 35-40). But to build a tabernacle takes money.
Israelite Community: Willingness
God commanded Moses to receive an offering from the Israelites for building the tabernacle (Exodus 25:1-9). When Moses informed the people that it was time to receive that offering (35:4-19), the people scattered from Moses and began to assemble their contributions. The key to whatever they gathered was their “willingness.” This word occurs four times in this short text and translates two different Hebrew words. The word willing in verses 21 and 26 is one of the words for forgive in the Hebrew Bible. It means to “lift up” or “bear up.” Their hearts were lifted up to give. The other word translated willing in our text (verses 22 and 29) means to be “generous” or “liberal.” The people were so willing that Moses had to shut down the offering (36:6, 7).
This willingness helped provide for the tabernacle, its service, and for the sacred garments (for the priests). This willingness would be expressed in terms of a wave offering (35:22) and a freewill offering (v. 29). This willingness would not be gender specific. Both men and women would contribute (vv. 22, 29). This willingness included the leaders (v. 27). This willingness would involve costly jewels such as brooches, earrings, rings, and ornaments. They probably were given these by the Egyptians when they left Egypt. This willingness would also involve linens, yarns, and animal skins. Some of the finer spices and oils were also brought for lighting and incense. This portable house of worship, funded by this generous offering, was to be beautiful, colorful, practical, and durable (acacia wood is very hard). A sign that hung in a coworker’s office read, “Holy shoddy is still shoddy.” If it is for the Lord it should be done with excellence, and when people are willing, excellence becomes an appropriate byproduct.
Corinthian Church: Cheerfulness
2 Corinthians 9:6-8
Fast-forward 1500 years to when Paul wrote a letter to a troubled church (1 Corinthians). Some fruit in the believers’ lives was borne based on that first epistle (2 Corinthians 2:5-11). After discussing the nature of ministry, Paul wrote the largest stewardship of finances section in the Bible. Chapters 8, 9 are totally devoted to this theme. Using the Macedonian believers as examples (8:1-7), Paul challenged the Corinthians to step up to the offering plate in their giving (8:8-15). He conducted this ministry of money with the utmost of integrity by building into it a system of accountability that involved others (8:16–9:5).
Paul applied the law of harvest (which he used in different ways in his writings, see Galatians 6:7, 8) to the principle of generous giving. Every farmer knows that skimpy planting leads to puny harvests. But lest anyone think that the way to receive is to give, Paul circled back to the principle of our lesson today. The best stewardship results from a generous heart—not giving to get. In fact, Paul took this a step further and with a higher motive. Giving should not be done reluctantly (literally, “sorrowfully,” or “pitifully”) or under compulsion (forced or of necessity). It should be done as a cheerful giver (the Greek word is where we get our English word, hilarious. In fact, the root of this Greek word is the word for propitiate). Give in happiness as a “saved” person. After all, God can bless in “all ways” (see how many times the word all appears in 2 Corinthians 9:8) to meet our needs when we give from a generous heart (see Philippians 4:19).
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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