Giving Ourselves First to the Lord (Malachi 3:6-12; II Corinthians 8:1-15)


You are about to become the recipient of my 34th annual stewardship of money sermon. I talk forthrightly about money to all the churches I pastor once a year because I believe that what we do or don’t do with our money is such a tell-tale sign of where we are in our relationship with God and with one another. Our money habits tell us if we are living by our faith in God or living out of fear or whether we are somewhere in-between, or whether we are living in a way that acknowledges God’s grace toward us or are oblivious to it, or whether God is our God or money is our god. If you want to know what you really believe in life, look at your checkbook and your daytimer. Those two things tell the story and do not lie to us. What you and I do with our money and our time says more about what we really believe and consider important than anything else.

I am glad to have the apostle Paul with us this morning as we talk about money. As a pastor myself, I find it so interesting to see how Pastor Paul talked to the church at Corinth about money, which gives us a framework for talking about it ourselves.

As far as we can piece together, Paul was taking up a collection from all of his churches to aid the poor Jewish Christians at the church in Jerusalem, who were going through some kind of crisis, probably one of the periodic famines that would hit the area. The church at Corinth had apparently made a pledge to participate in the collection, but they hadn’t fulfilled their pledge completely. So II Corinthians 8 is Paul trying to give them good reasons to fulfill that pledge. He’s inspiring and motivating them to actually give what they have pledged.


Reminds me of the story of the pastor who said one Sunday to his congregation, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that the Lord has come through for this church in a big way and provided everything we need for next year’s budget.” This brought people to their feet clapping and yelling and high-fiving each other and slapping each other on the back. When they all settled down and everything got quiet again, the pastor said, “Now the bad news. All that money the Lord provided for next year’s budget, which was on its way to the church, for some reason or another got stuck in all of your pockets. This morning we’ve got to work together to try to jostle it loose!” Paul is trying to jostle loose the money the Corinthian church had pledged.


Paul begins by telling them about the churches to the north of them in Macedonia, which would include the church at Philippi, to whom Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians. Those churches had come through for the collection in a spectacular way, even though they were economically in much worse shape than the Corinthians. The Macedonian Christians, Paul says, in spite of their poverty, had come through with a wealth of generosity, giving according to their means and even beyond their means, even begging Paul for the opportunity to share in the collection. Paul explains that they were able to do this because they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to Paul and his fellow church workers and the collection. It seemed almost like they had something akin to Jesus’ Garden of Gethsemene experience where they submitted themselves and their money and things first to the will of God, even if it conflicted with their own will. Once they gave themselves first to the Lord, they felt like the Lord was directing them to participate generously in Paul’s collection.

So how we should we read this? Is this Paul’s idea of peer pressure? Is he using one group of churches to inspire another, or to shame another into action? Paul is no doubt setting up a comparison of some kind.

Years ago I was with a group of 600 Presbyterian pastors at a national Presbyterian clergy retreat at the well known Snowbird Ski area and conference center near Salt Lake City Utah, where one of the speakers was Baptist preacher and college professor, Tony Campolo, who is entertaining and funny and serious, and something of a loose cannon. The planners of the retreat had come up with a particular theme for the retreat, but Tony decided we needed to be challenged more in the area of stewardship. He told us he had just received the previous week some statistics that showed that Presbyterians had the highest income per capita of all the Christian denominations in the United States, but they were among the lowest in giving to their churches when you look at giving as a percentage of income. Presbyterians, he reported to us, give to their churches an average of just 2 and ½% of their annual income.

That information inspired him, he told us, to take the old time hymn “I