New Testament Giving

Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost
June 30, 2024

I probably talk too much about stuff I see on the internet, but sometimes it connects. So let me share with you another one of my favorite social media accounts. It’s called Holy Nope, and it’s a guy named Austin, who is committed to sharing correct Christian doctrine online. My favorite videos of his are his short videos that show him walking out the door with his Bible. The audio always says, “It’s a beautiful day, I’m going to church, and I’m ready to hear the word of God.” And then he splices somebody else’s video onto his, and you see somebody preaching what this guy considers to be nonsense.

Now, I almost always agree with him, but not always (I’m not nearly as conservative as he is). Anyway, at his best, he shows video of Bible teachers who put their own videos on the internet. One great example showed him going to hear the word of God, and then listening to a woman who claimed that she visited heaven with regularity, and in the video in question wanted to tell her listeners what Jesus wears in heaven. She described his hairstyle, his footwear, his loose clothing, and—on at least one occasion—the cowboy hat he wore just to get a giggle out of her. The guy who makes these videos will listen for as long as he can stand it, then finally slam the door and say, “Nope!”

Another of Holy Nope’s themes—the one that’s pertinent to my sermon today—concerns money. In one video, he shows a woman who claims to be able to present people to God, but says, “I can’t take you to God empty-handed.” She then has somebody tell her that there’s actually a price for her services. People need to sow a seed of precisely $1500 if they want to be received by God. And here, Austin doesn’t just say Nope, he makes sure that people understand that the only way to approach God is empty-handed. Anybody who claims to be a mediator between you and God is wrong. Anybody who claims to accept a fee for prayer is a “ravenous wolf.”

And if you were listening to 2 Corinthians 8 a few minutes ago, you can probably make the connection between this illustration and this morning’s scripture reading. It’s a passage about giving and it sheds a lot of light on how the New Testament deals with how Christians should approach the subject. But first a little context.

Paul is concerned with the well-being of the Christians in Jerusalem, and he thinks Christians living in other parts of the world should care, too. It’s clear that each church governs itself and makes its own decisions. But Paul clearly believes that Christians are responsible for one another, no matter where they live and worship. And so he’s arranged for a special offering to be received in Corinth and sent off to the place where the church was founded (Jerusalem).

We’re used to this, aren’t we? We have received several special offerings since I’ve been here. Whenever there’s a tragedy or a disaster somewhere in the world, the possibility of a special offering is always open to us. And we have ways of getting the money to the people who need it. It’s fast and it’s safe. I always make it clear that, if anyone wants to get help to the people who need it, the church is the best way. 100% of the money goes to the intended recipients, and we help everybody—not just those who belong to churches like ours.

And to make extra-sure that those who need help get it as soon as the need arises, we also receive an offering every March that can be used in emergencies to fund agencies that can get there immediately. In the United Church of Christ, we call this offering One Great Hour of Sharing. In the Disciples church, we call it Week of Compassion. We send half of our special offering to one church and half to the other. Though there are two different names, the money all ends up in the same place and helps the same people.

Now, I’m not trying in this sermon to advertise for a special offering this church receives. My point is twofold: First, I just want to show you how much like the New Testament church we are when we do this. They also received special offerings to help people far away. And second, I want to emphasize how easy it is for us to do this, compared to how difficult it must have been for Paul and the Corinthian church to arrange to do something we take for granted. They couldn’t just say, “Hey, let’s take up a collection for our fellow Christians in Jerusalem!” It took lots of planning because, how were they going to get it there? They couldn’t just mail a check, because there was no postal service, and there were no checking accounts.

And so a lot of the Second Letter to the Corinthians is concerned with this offering, because it’s such a major undertaking. And in the passage we heard this morning, Paul is concerned that, with all the talk of how, the church might’ve forgotten why: Last year you heard that people needed help, and you were the first to start helping; they still need you, so finish what you started.

The most remarkable thing, to me at least, about how Paul handles this is how logical he is, how unemotional. In speaking on the subject of giving, his goal is to engage their heads, not just their hearts. He reminds them that giving is Christlike, and then simply says that anything they give is acceptable, as long as they do it eagerly.

Modern-day Christians are fond of the saying, “Give until it hurts.” Paul says the opposite… or if not the opposite, what he says doesn’t support this modern saying. “Don’t give what you don’t have,” is Paul’s advice; “In helping others, don’t hurt yourself.” In the end, he says, “If you give of your surplus to those who are hurting, then everybody will have enough.”

Please note what Paul doesn’t mention here: Tithing. In fact, Paul never mentions tithing as a way to support the church. Tithing is definitely an Old Testament concept. Jesus mentions it a couple of times, but only in reference to hypocrisy. It’s mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews, but only as a description of a specific situation under the old covenant.

When Jesus talks about giving, he stresses that it should not be put on display. A tiny bit given in secret has more integrity than a huge amount accompanied by much fanfare.

And here we have Paul giving very specific directions to Christians a lot like us, being asked to give in a situation that we regularly face: There are people in need—what can we do about it?

Getting back to Holy Nope—a lot of the people this guy features in his videos would describe themselves as spiritual, not religious. In fact, in most cases, they claim that religion is a bad thing, and that God only wants us to be spiritual. Now don’t get me wrong: God does want us to be spiritual. Spiritual is how we feel when we lose ourselves in prayer, or when we’re caught up in a beautiful hymn. But God also wants us to be religious. Religion at its best is how we organize ourselves to help people, and how we arrange to get our gifts from one location to another. Spirituality is good. And so is religion.

So, when it comes to giving, don’t fall victim to manipulation. Jesus’ advice is don’t do it just to make yourself look good in front of others. And Paul’s advice is to keep the broad picture in mind, help others without hurting yourself… probably because this won’t be the last time you’re called upon to give. We’re all one in Christ, so when we share, we’re loving our neighbors as ourselves.
—©2024 Sam Greening