Formations 09.10.2017: Americans Step Up Their Giving

1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:16-24

Volunteers sort through donated clothing at a shelter in the George R. Brown Convention Center during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 28 in Houston, Texas. Photo by Brendan Smialowsk/AFP/Getty Images.

Hurricane Harvey made its first landfall on the evening of August 25 near Rockport, Texas. It was the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in the US since Charley in 2004. Three days later, FEMA Administrator Brock Long estimated that 30,000 people may need shelter, and as many as 450,000 may qualify for federal flood victim assistance.

With thousands of Texans displaced and dozens dead, Americans’ disaster relief efforts have shifted into high gear, both in terms of volunteerism and charitable giving.

Many organizations are at work on the ground in Texas. Religious groups have sent disaster relief teams. The American Red Cross, the United Way, and others have arranged blood drives, food and water distribution points, and accommodations for thousands of displaced people. In the months to come, massive rebuilding efforts will also become a concern.

At the same time, authorities are warning about giving scams. People should make sure they’re giving to reputable organizations. They should never give cash, and they should be wary of email links or attachments that may expose their computers to malware.

Whatever else Paul’s Jerusalem collection was, it was a disaster relief effort. The disaster may have had its roots in famine rather than storm, and it was almost certainly a long-term problem rather than a sudden catastrophe. Still, Paul’s efforts to help the church in Jerusalem may resonate with many of the concerns Americans are experiencing or observing today. How can our giving be most effective? How could I give more? How can I be sure my money is going where I want it to?

In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul urges the Corinthian believers to set aside a little every week so it will be ready when he visits them. In 2 Corinthians 8, he commends Titus to them as Paul’s envoy with respect to the collection. He further explains that he and his associates are taking pains to handle this large amount of money in an aboveboard manner.

These passages speak of two different plans: the Corinthians’ plans to raise their collection in an efficient manner and Paul’s plans for himself and his associates to handle these funds with integrity. These same two concerns are in play with Christians’ charitable giving today.

Nicole Chavez, Eric Levenson, and Steve Almasy, “Powerful Hurricane Harvey Makes Landfall in Texas,” CNN.com, 25 Aug 2017 <http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/25/us/hurricane-harvey/index.html>.

Emily Sullivan, “Don’t Fall Victim to Harvey Flood Scams,” NPR.org, 31 Aug 2017 <http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/08/31/547307482/dont-fall-victim-to-harvey-flood-scams>.

Laurel Wamsley, “Here’s How You Can Help People Affected by Harvey,” NPR.org, 28 Aug 2017 <http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/08/28/546745827/looking-to-help-those-affected-by-harvey-here-s-a-list>.

Discussion

• How is your church responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey?
• What are the marks of a trustworthy and effective plan for giving?
• How can forethought and planning help believers give more effectively?

Reference Shelf

Charitable Giving

[Alms refers to] voluntary acts of mercy, designed to meet the needs of the poor. Although there is no specific term for alms in the OT, there are innumerable expressions of concern for those in need. There are numerous exhortations to respond liberally to the plight of the poor or dispossessed (Exod 23:10-11; Lev 19:9-10; Deut 24:19-22; Job 31:16-23; Ps 112:5, 9; Isa 58: 6-12).

The apocryphal book of Tobit portrays Tobit as a model of piety and almsgiving (Tob 1).

In the NT the specific references to alms are translations of the term eleemosyne. The giving of alms is emphasized in the Sermon on the Mount. There, as elsewhere, such giving is treated as synonymous with righteousness (Matt 6:1-4). Here and in Luke 11:41 the emphasis is upon sincerity in almsgiving. In other passages as well, the moral obligation to give alms is asserted (Luke 12:33; Acts 10:2, 4, 31; 24:17).

Daniel B. McGee, “Alms,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 21.

Titus’ Delegation

As recounted at the beginning of this section, Paul apparently invested himself and his ministry heavily in the collection for Jerusalem. Its success mattered greatly to him. There’s a good chance coworkers convinced him that the best way to complete the collection in Corinth was to send with Titus these two respected apostles of the churches who were more independent of Paul than Titus. There’s also a good chance Paul could see the wisdom in this advice and agreed to abide by it. He appears to have liked these two brothers quite well since he says such complimentary things about them. Under other circumstances, he may have welcomed their participation in this project. But in the current circumstances they were necessary because of accusations against Paul that he considered unjust. While reconciliation had happened with the majority of Corinthians, all was still not well (see the commentary on 7:5-16). Consequently, Paul had to be extra careful to guard against further charges of deceit and manipulation, which irked him. To Paul’s credit, he appears to have set aside his ego (as we would call it) for the good of the collection. Many of us can appreciate how strong the temptation must have been for Paul to say, “I will not give in to their demands because I am not guilty of the things of which they accuse me!” Paul did not respond thusly, but the tension in the text suggests his frustration level was high. He would be glad, however, for what I will now say: he has given us a model to imitate. Our ego gratification is not as important as the work that God has given us to do. Many of us know situations where someone’s ego harmed the ministry to which she or he had been called. Let us resolve to imitate Paul in such matters rather than these others.

Mitzi L. Minor, 2 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009).

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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