God Loves a Cheerful Giver
God Loves a Cheerful Giver - Good Samaritan (11-12-2017)
One of my favorite bible passages is “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). I try to say it each day in the morning to remember that, no matter what happens, I should be joyful. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail, but the ideal of rejoicing, being joyful and having joy in our hearts is one of the most consistent themes in the Scriptures. It’s one of the central themes in today’s Epistle reading, the 18th Sunday, from 2Corinthians 9:6-11, [which is also assigned as the reading for the Feast of St. John the Merciful Almsgiver and Patriarch of Alexandria (+620)]
Before examining the reading, let us look at the context of the passage. St. Paul, starting in Chapter Eight, informs the Corinthians that the Apostle Titus and others are coming to receive and then bring their material offering of assistance to the Christians in Macedonia. Some 2,000 years later, the situation amongst Christians has changed little. Our stewardship offering not only supports our ministries to our members, but to non-members who come into contact with our community and to other parishes and people throughout our Metropolis of Chicago, the Archdiocese of America and throughout the world. In today’s reading, St. Paul articulates four principles of Christian giving.
The first principle of Christian giving is to “make up your mind” in one translation but “purposes in your heart (Greek ‘kardia’)” is a little more accurate (v.7). In other words, giving to God and neighbor is a matter of the heart, something deep within us. Christian giving, which is generous and sacrificial, requires forethought and planning. We must begin now for the next year to anticipate our income, consider the ideal of tithing, decide how much we will give, and then order our other expenses and obligations around our stewardship commitment. The Israelites were commanded by God to give their first-born to Him along with the first-fruits of their harvest. This helped reinforce the first of the Ten Commandments, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex.20:1-3) If we wait until the end of the year to see what is left-over, then we are not giving our first fruits and most certainly we have sacrificed very little if anything in our giving. We must make up our minds, we must settle it in our heart, and then give. It is much easier that way. The Good Samaritan in today’s Gospel from the Eighth Sunday of Luke (10:25-37), helped the man who was robbed because, as it says, “he had compassion” (v.33). The Greek here is ‘esplachnisthe’ meaning literally “from his guts” or deep down within him. My guess is the Good Samaritan also helped because he had “purposed” (Grk ‘proaireitai’) or planned ahead that if saw someone in need, he was going to help.
The second principle is “God loves a cheerful giver” (v.7). This could be one of the most important passages in the Bible. “God loves a cheerful giver.” In other words, we should feel joy in our heart when we give. As St. Paul says, we should not give grudgingly (the Greek ‘lype’ implies tears like we are crying when we part with our money), nor out of necessity, because we need to or we have to. Perhaps you have heard it said, “Give until it hurts.” However, in giving to God and His Church, we say “Give until it feels good.” So, if we cannot seem to feel good about our giving, it’s probably because we are not giving generously and sacrificially. I’m talking especially about our money and our material wealth, not just our time and talents. Our pain or discomfort may be due to the fact that we separate ourselves from God’s love when we give grudgingly or out of obligation. What do we think about the Good Samaritan? Cheerful or grudgingly with tears? Remember, God loves a cheerful giver.
The third principle is “Sowing bountifully leads to reaping bountifully” (v.6). In other words, the more you give, the more you get. As Orthodox we do not teach what some call the “Prosperity Gospel” that says if we follow God, that He will make us materially rich. Rather, our obedience to God’s commandments, including the commandment to give materially to Him and to others, will enrich us with spiritual gifts like wisdom, knowledge, and faith (1Cor.12:8-11). To emphasize the point, the Apostle Paul re-states this principle in the last verse 11, “while you are enriched in everything for all liberality” (v.11). In our generous and sacrificial giving, God will help us learn how to live with less, thereby cutting-off the passion of greed. The Good Samaritan gave bountifully and liberally, bandaging the man with his own clothes. Soothed him with his own wine and oil, put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, took care of him, paid the innkeeper from his own money. The Good Samaritan used his own time, talents and treasures to help the man who was victimized.
The fourth and final principle is that liberality or generosity we just mentioned is “produces thanksgiving to God” (v.11). When most people receive a gift, their immediate response is thanksgiving. When Christians receive help from other Christians, they not only thank the giver but they thank God for inspiring the gift. So, our gift to those in need and to the Church, helps build-up the faith of others in Christ our Lord. In addition, our giving mystically produces thanksgiving within our own heart. The man who was robbed by the thieves was undoubtedly thankful to the Good Samaritan for so generously and mercifully helping him. But we often forget that the Good Samaritan was undoubtedly thankful to God for the opportunity to help someone in need. Through generous and sacrificial giving, greed is crucified, and we are better able to be thankful for what we have and thankful for the opportunity to give. Glory to God! Doxa to Theo!
In conclusion, November is Stewardship month, focusing on completing our commitments for the current year and planning ahead or being purposeful in preparation for the coming year. As we hear a sermon about giving, remember, “God loves a cheerful giver.” So, when you read the bulletin, newsletter and mailings about stewardship, remember, “God loves a cheerful giver.” When you receive an email or a phone call to encourage your generosity, remember, “God loves a cheerful giver.” And when someone meets or talks with you personally to share the joy of giving sacrificially, and asks you to join them in supporting the ministries of the Church, remember, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Remember, the more you give, the more you get back; not so you can end up with more stuff but so that you can keep giving cheerfully. Don’t worry, God, “who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, [will] supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness” (v.10). Amen!