“And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.” 2 Cor 8:10-12.
Here is a simple yet powerful principle that governs not just giving, but many areas of life and our walk with God.
For the last year Paul had been speaking to the church at Corinth about a financial offering for the saints in Jerusalem. The Corinthians:
- Had a desire to be involved in giving (2 Cor 8:10)
- Were willing to be involved in giving (2 Cor 9:2)
- Had begun putting aside their material gifts (2 Cor 8:10); and
- Had stirred up the churches of Macedaonia because of their zeal and enthusiasm to be involved in giving (2 Cor 9:2). (Paul was cleverly promoting the Corinthians’ willingness to get others to join in on the giving).
So, they were well on their way to fulfilling what they had intended to do.
But lest good intentions fall short of good actions, Paul reminds them of a powerful principle of giving.
The completion of a commitment is better than the making of a commitment. Good intentions were not going to help the suffering and starving Christians in Jerusalem. But the Corinthians’ good actions would. Completion of the job beats desire every time (even as godly as the desire may be).
Finish What You Start
The other key part of Paul’s instruction is in verse 12, “it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.”
Paul has already covered some very challenged terrain in his teaching on giving, namely, the Lordship of Christ and it how it impacts our giving and the importance of abounding in the grace of giving. He has also elevated the ministry of giving by emphasising it is not done according to a commandment but as the outworking of love for God and others.
Now Paul gets very practical.
He discusses what is an acceptable offering to God.
In our zealousness and eagerness to be generous and respond to God’s call to give, we can, at times, lack wisdom in what we give. We can base our giving on comparison with others and an unrealistic expectation on the level of giving God will accept.
Paul says your giving “is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have” 2 Cor 8:12 (NLT).
The notion of acceptability has a temple worship feel to it. Israelites would bring an offering to the priest and the priest would cut the offering in two and inspect the offering to ensure it was “acceptable” – without spot, blemish or defect (Lev 1:3).
This sacrificial system was fulfilled in the Person and Work of Christ when He offered Himself on the Cross fulfilling both the roles of the High Priest and the offering itself. Peter says that we were redeemed “…with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:19).
Perhaps a simple but effective way to understand “acceptability” is by the phrase “fit to be brought into the Presence of God.”
Effectively, Paul says our giving is to be “fit to be brought into the Presence of God.”
What is a financial amount that is fit to be brought into the Presence of God?
One that reflects your current economic circumstances, or in Paul’s words, “what you have, not what you don’t have.”
This is incredibly freely.
Our giving is acceptable to be brought into God’s presence when it reflects our current financial commitments, obligations and circumstances.
What is Acceptable Giving To God?
This means in order for my giving to be “acceptable”:
- I don’t need to go into debt to give – debt is not my money, it’s the banks (or the creditors). Debt is what I do not have, not what I do have
- I do not need to give unwisely to the point of financial hardship
- I don’t need to commit money to God that is already committed to other areas – food, clothing, shelter. I can if I chose (based on a wise, considered decision with significant others in my life), but I am not obligated to do so
- I don’t need to compare my giving to someone else’s and be risen up in pride (because I give more) or feel condemned (because I give less)
- I can be inspired and exhorted to give generously (as Paul did to the Corinthians), but I do not have to be unsettled by unhealthy pressure to give beyond my means and beyond what is wise
- I may freely, generously and joyfully give to God – it’s a matter of my heart and it’s between God and me
- I can rest in the assurance of Scripture knowing that whatever amount I decide upon, that reflects my life and circumstances, given with the right motive, will be acceptable in God’s sight and bring Him pleasure.
The above are not hard and fast parameters, but simply guidelines that can define what I give when I understand the New Testament position on it.
Now as we mentioned earlier, the Macedonians went well beyond this.
They gave “freely” (verse 3), “willingly” (verse 3) and “beyond their ability” (verse 3), even in the midst of “a great trial of affliction” (verse 2) and “deep poverty” (verse 2). The gave in an abounding way, in fact, “according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing.”
This said, God wants us to know what is acceptable giving in His sight.
This frees us to steward what we do have and honour God with what He has entrusted us with to date.