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A Generous Work Completed

In about six weeks, countless Americans will make New Year’s resolutions—to keep in touch with friends, to eat better, to lose weight. The number of gym memberships will soar in January as people resolve to make this year a healthier one. Unfortunately, by February very few will have continued either the gym membership or the exercising.

Sometimes eager desire alone is not enough; we need discipline to finish. Nevertheless, enthusiasm for the right thing is a good place to start, and the Corinthian Christians had begun with a strong enthusiasm for giving. Paul commended them for their promised “generous gift” (v. 5), and had boasted about them to other churches. In fact, their enthusiasm was so great that it inspired the churches in Macedonia to give as well.

Paul admits that there was no need for him to write to Corinth about their desire. But Paul recognized that desire sometimes needs more to turn it into action. In sending a delegation to Corinth ahead of himself, Paul was not correcting wrong behavior but providing opportunity to bring their original desire to full completion. Out of pastoral care, he sent a group in advance so that his boasting “should not prove hollow” (v. 3).

But there was another reason for Paul’s actions, and it had to do with our attitude in giving. Paul knew human nature; if their desire had in fact fallen short of full completion, his arrival would prompt not only embarrassment but quite possibly resentful giving. On the other hand, Paul’s emissaries could ensure that the Corinthian collection “will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given” (v. 5). Generosity in giving is an important mark of the body of Christ, but God wants our giving to be genuinely generous, not grudgingly offered.

Apply the Word

Perhaps this passage has sparked a desire in you to give generously in service to the church. Today’s passage encourages us to see that desire come to completion. Follow God’s leading to make a pledge to give generously, whether of your time or financial resources or other acts of service.

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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