2 Corinthians 8:1-15 “Uprising of Stewardship”
The other day I was at the bank making a deposit. I waited patiently in line. Finally it was my turn at the teller’s window. I handed over the check and the deposit slip. The teller punched everything into her computer. The machine printed out a deposit receipt. The teller handed it to me and asked, “Would you like your balance?”
I replied abruptly, “Of course I want my balance! I would fall over where I am standing without it.” She did not laugh. She just looked at me with a scowl on her face.
We all do need our balance! That is what Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. You see, at the time of the Pentecost, that was at least two years before the writing of Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, everyone was giving all they had away. They were selling all of their possessions and had all things in common. Now, two years later, some folks were realizing maybe they should not have given just everything away. Now they had nothing to live on!
As we know, we have but three things we can do with our money: We can save it. We can spend it. Or, we can give it away. Yes, there are other things one can do with money. For instance, one can make a paper airplane out of a dollar bill or use a dime as a screwdriver. For the intent of Paul’s letter, let us just focus on giving, saving, and purchasing. Paul is writing the church in Corinth to say that these three things must be balanced in life.
This would lead us to believe that what the church was doing in Corinth with its money was out of balance. Corinth, by the way, is a very wealthy city in its time. It was the center of cross-shipment in Greece. By all accounts, the Corinthians were very good at spending their cash on lavish items.
Speaking of which, if any of you are old enough to remember that in 1974 the Chrysler car company started selling vehicles with something they called “Corinthian Leather.” The great actor Ricardo Montalban used to sell the Chrysler “Le Baron” convertible with “Corinthian Leather.” Sounds great, no? It turned out that “Corinthian Leather” was some kind of vinyl. It did not come from Corinth, not even Greece, but rather was manufactured in Newark, New Jersey.
I think that this is a great metaphor for the church in Corinth! You would think that the church there of all places would have its great ministries going on. Do not look too close. Corinth is not what it appears at first to be.
A little bit more context is needed in regards to what Paul is asking from the church in Corinth, too. You see, Paul was on a fundraising trip. He was not raising money for himself by the way. He is raising funds to help the struggling Christians in Jerusalem. He is going to make beneficence to the mother church that is in trouble financially. Since Corinth is the wealthiest church and Jerusalem is perhaps by this time the poorest church, Paul is thinking that it is only right that Christians should help one another financially. Shouldn’t wealthy churches help the poorer churches? That seems reasonable.
I am going to espouse a bit of prophecy here in my sermon about our own churches here in Hawaii. At the Aha Pai Aina this year, our churches statewide will engage a process of creating a new strategic plan for our churches. Some of you will probably recall that about ten years ago the same thing happened, and we ended up with the “New Creation Initiative” in our conference of churches. It is my understanding that over a million dollars was spent to conjure up this strategy. In the end the booklet that was created was filed under “N” in all of our respective church offices: “N” for “NOPE.”
Here’s the prophecy: the real issue among our churches is that we have very wealthy churches and very poor churches. Above them both we have a very wealthy Conference Foundation. Should we not be doing as a conference what Paul was attempting to do? Should we not be helping our poorer congregations?
At the last regular Kauai Association meeting, Inok Lautej of the Waimea Marshallese Church actually stood up and addressed this very issue. He asked Al Oliver, who was being highly paid as a consultant from the mainland to evaluate our churches, why it was that his Marshallese congregation received no help from any other church. He then pointed out that only the Waimea United Church of Christ has ever helped them in anyway. That embarrassed me when he said that! But, he hit the nail on the head of what is actually wrong! We are out of balance.
After Easter, after the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we saw a great uprising of Discipleship, Worship, Fellowship, but also Stewardship. The wealthier churches were stewards of the less wealthy congregations. Saint Paul and the churches in Macedonia, more specifically the church of Philippi under Lydia’s ministry (see Acts 16:11-15) were helping the less fortunate churches. Lydia was a wealthy business woman who gave her all to the ministry and supported Paul throughout his. (This goes back to last week’s sermon about women in the church, too.)
To be fair, not all believers in Corinth were tit-fisted with their cash. You will recall that Titus gave up his entire house for the church when the people were kicked out of the synagogue right next door. He does in fact give up his property for the ministry and joins Paul and Silas on the mission trip to Jerusalem. He is mentioned in the text for today almost as a way to embarrass the other Corinthians who have given so little towards the ministry. “Why cannot you be more like brother Titus?”! “Why cannot you be more like sister Lydia of Philippi; she was begging for this opportunity to help!”
Paul’s argument to the church in Corinth is one of “balance.” Again, we can do three things with our money. We can spend it. We can save it. Or, we can give it away. Which one of those comes first in Paul’s mind about our understanding of Christ’s ministry in this world? Let us re-read verse 5: “. . . .They gave themselves first to the Lord.” If we want to keep balanced with our money, then we must give first to the Lord.
Believe it or not, this idea of giving first to the Lord goes way back in the Bible to Genesis 14:17 and on. Abraham has just one the spoils of a great battle. He takes the first one tenth of his rewards and blesses the priest Melchizedek as a thanksgiving offering to the Lord. Right after that, Genesis 15, the covenant between God and Abraham is made. Today we call this “our tithe.” We take the first ten percent of our living and give it back to God. WE do this because we know that all of our living comes from God. This is balanced approach to stewardship.
In America it is really easy to figure out what our tithes should be. I just look on our tax form, find the line at the bottom of the first page that says Adjusted Gross Income, take that number and move the decimal place over to the left one space. Then, I divide that number by 52 weeks of Sundays every year. Some people have noted and chided me that my check amount always has pennies attached to it. I could round it off, but then it would not be the first ten percent! I have figured it down to the penny! Everything else in the world is figured down to the penny, so should my tithe.
If I miss one cent off my credit card bill, just one penny, you know that they will hit me with the minimum finance charge. I consider my tithe to God far more important!
This is again about having a balance in life. I should therefore talk about the other two things we can do with our money. We can save it. We can spend it. We have given the first part to the Lord, now we have these other two parts.
Please consider this simple statement: “You can spend what you have saved, but you cannot save what you have spent.” So, logically after our tithe comes the act of saving money. Spending is the last the thing we do with our money.
We are taught as children to do these things. Are we not? I remember. Gladys Okada in our Bible Study was told that when she got her money, she would wrap a shiny nickel into her white handkerchief for the Sunday offering. The rest would go into the piggy bank. So, if she as a young girl needed twenty cents for a purchase, she had it in the bank.
The Huffington Post reported last year that still the number one cause of divorce in our country is “money.” My guess is that if more couples had money saved up, there might be a lot less to fight about. Saving is just good stewardship. Saving money saves stress in our lives.
Lastly in this balance that we are supposed to have in our lives comes the issue of spending. As my wife will report to you, I so dislike spending money. I hate shopping. When I go to the expensive restaurant and I am eating my food, I literally see a pile of green money on my plate and imagine eating one dollar bills with each fork full.
I recently read that the average American spends in one year the same as thirty-six Kenyans. When I think that I might be spending the same as 36 Africans, I do not know what to make of it. Maybe there is something wrong with how much I spend?
We need to be balanced. The next time the teller at the bank asks me if I need my balance, I am going to say that through my faith I hope I already have it! That is the uprising of stewardship after Easter.