Wednesday, November 30, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-30 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (6): Strong-arm tactics?

Generosity (6): Strong-arm tactics?

In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. 24 Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.
2CO 9:1 There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. 2 For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. 3 But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we--not to say anything about you--would be ashamed of having been so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.      (2Corinthians8:22-9:5)
There is a funny inconsistency in this passage. In the middle of these seven verses Paul says: "There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints"... But then he does!

This passage gives the clear sense that Paul is strong-arming the congregation -

  • He's sending two guys with big reputations along with Titus.
  • He's challenging them to show "proof of your love" so that the "churches can see it."
  • He reminds them that he has boasted about their enthusiasm.
  • He warns them that they must be ready as they had said they would be.
  • He tells them that they could embarrass him.
  • He sends the Titus-team to make sure the arrangements are finalised and to prepare them so that the giving is not haphazard and by-the-way, but deliberate and focussed.

For many of us, our first response would be: "This is not cool! Paul is using every trick in the book (guilt, peer-pressure, shame and authority) to cajole them into being generous!!!

But we have to remember where the congregation has been. There has been gross immorality in the congregation, they've been divided into camps, they have been taking each other to court, they have been fighting over spiritual gifts and they have been abusing Holy Communion and some, according to Paul, have died (struck dead) because of the severity of their sin and divisiveness.

Where strife has been generosity fades. When we're licking our wounds from brokenness and discipline, we tend to be self-centred rather than other-centred.

Generosity matters. It is the antidote for crippling self-centredness and narcissism. It's what is needed when our egos are bruised and diminished.
Paul knows this. He is shamelessly pushing the congregation. He is pushing the congregation - pushing very hard - to get them to health again. He is challenging them to be better than they were. Pride, Arrogance and Selfishness got them into trouble - generosity will get them out.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-29 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (5): Decently and in Order

Generosity (5): Decently and in Order

I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. 17 For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. 18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. 19 What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honour the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. 20 We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. 21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.      (2Corinthians8:16-21)
Paul is now making practical arrangements for the Corinthians to offer the gift they had promised to assist the suffering Church in Jerusalem. From the book of Acts we know that this was quite a significant and unifying gesture in the broader church and in Paul's careful arrangements here, we see some good clues around handling money:
  • Paul sends Titus who is known, trusted and loved by the congregation.
  • He then indicates that Titus will be accompanied by a brother (we think it is Barnabas) who:
    - is highly regarded
    - is specially chosen by the wider church for this task.
  • Paul also makes the motive clear: to honour the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.
  • He indicates a desire to "avoid any criticism" and "do what is right" in the eyes of God and the people.

Handling money in the church is an area that can often go wrong and often very badly so. Paul very deliberately walks a high road in working with other people's generosity.

  • Work with trusted people who are recognised by the wider community
  • Be clear as to why we are doing this
  • Do things transparently and responsibly

This should always be true when we handle other people's money.

Giving is something that we should take seriously.

  • We must take the giver seriously. We should be clear about the need and the reason we are asking them to give.
  • We should have a good process with checks and balances and high credibility to protect both the giver and the recipient.
  • We should take the receiver seriously too:
    - We should not create dependence.
    - It's good to give through an intermediary to reduce the sense of indebtedness.
    - We should make the glory of God the clear motive rather than pity.

During this Christmas Season we will be confronted with many needs. We can be generous in a haphazard fashion or we can be focussed and deliberate like Paul was.

Friday, November 25, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-25 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (4): The Principle of Equality

Generosity (4): The Principle of Equality

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, 15 as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."      (2Corinthians8:13-15)
This is a difficult aspect of generosity.
The gaps between the "have's" and the "have not's" can be complicated. They can have historical and political roots. They can be based on culture, class, language, gender, race, and geography. There are compelling studies in some big cities where two children growing up 1km away from each other can have vastly different futures simply because of their family of origin or the schools they attend.

In our own country there is talk of compensation, land distribution and restitution. I am not smart enough or wise enough to weigh in on these difficult and complex challenges from an economic or political angle. I can only approach these challenges from the truth of Scripture and Paul helps me by placing the quest for equality in the context of generosity.

He draws on the Old Testament story of the distribution of manna when he quotes "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little" from Ex16:18. The NIV Study Bible explains that often the elderly weren't able to gather enough, but that the young often energetically gathered more than was needed and would share (this was helped by the fact that stockpiled manna went mouldy!) Generosity would balance the scales.

When we have been blessed we should be generous.
Although it doesn't go mouldy overnight, earthly wealth is still temporary - it doesn't last into eternity.

For those of use who have been blessed with health, energy, education and wealth we should always remember, to whom much is given, much is required. Biblically speaking the challenges of inequality are best dealt with when the "have's" are generous.

Because who knows? Maybe one day the roles are reversed...

Thursday, November 24, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-24 [Treasure Cupboard] Gratitude

Dear EmmDev friends.
I apologise for the gap in the edevs - it has been incredibly hectic over the last ten days.

Today's dev is a re-work of something I wrote in 2012 and it springs out of the Thanksgiving Holiday in the USA. By way of introduction here's something I wrote to the congregation yesterday:

Thursday is "Thanksgiving" in the USA. My friend George has commented that it is quite a thought that an attitude of gratitude has been "instituted" through a public holiday, but that it is actually good thing.  If we adopt the attitude and not the holiday, then we don't have to worry about Turkey and cranberry sauce and can focus on simply being thankful. May I offer you challenge?

Take some time to make a list of 10 things that you are very grateful for and then take a moment to thank God in prayer. Then also list 5 people you want to personally thank (eye-to-eye or in writing) and then thank them.

It will do your soul a lot of good!!!


14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."      (Luke17:14-19)
Ten lepers came to Jesus as a group. Leprosy made them outcasts. So much so that they banded together to come to Jesus. They found their courage in numbers. One of them was a Samaritan and Jews usually hated them, but their leprosy even overcame their racial bigotry.

They ask Jesus for healing and He sends them to the priest who would certify them cleansed. On the way they are healed - Jesus honours their faithful obedience to His command.

Maybe the other nine (who we presume to be Jewish) simply regarded healing as their right. Maybe they saw Jesus simply as an instrument of God's blessing that was their right as children of Abraham. Maybe they would have made the appropriate thank offerings at the temple. They aren't necessarily "bad" men.

But the Samaritan sees deeper. He recognises that the healing is undeserved and that the Healer is more than an instrument in God's hand. He senses that there is something special about Jesus and, in an act of worship, throws himself at Jesus' feet.

One can sense Jesus' disappointment. He had hoped to do more than simply heal ten broken bodies - he had hoped to reach ten souls. Nine of them were healed in their bodies, but it seems clear that they did not understand undeserved grace.

Only one of ten realised that what he had received was not a right, but a gift. He alone realised that the Giver was even greater than the gift. He alone was healed in body and soul.

Gratitude reminds us that we are not God and that we have no "rights" to "demand." Gratitude connects us to the Giver!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-16 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (3): It IS the thought that counts

Generosity (3): It IS the thought that counts

And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.      (2Corinthians8:10-12)
Every Christmas, almost every parent finds some way of telling their children "It's not the size of the gift, but the thought that matters."

Paul is doing the same...

The Corinthians started well, not only by starting to give, but having the desire to give.

But one of the challenges with giving is that it is easy to start the process of giving, but much harder to see it through. There are many challenges to "finishing":

  • We get compassion fatigue.
  • The initial warm fuzzy we get from giving has faded
  • We lose the rose-coloured spectacles we first looked at the recipients with - we begin to see their mistakes and failures (their humanity)
  • The giving costs us more toward the end than it did at the beginning
  • It feels like what we're giving is so little and we wonder if it is effectual
  • Others give more than we do
  • We feel people are not grateful

Reading between the lines, the Corinthians were having trouble "finishing" and it seems they were discouraged by the fact that they had very little to give.

But Paul puts this into good perspective when he says: "For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have."

It really is the thought (willing attitude) and the finishing that counts!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-15 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (2): Because of Jesus

Generosity (2): Because of Jesus

So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But just as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us--see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.      (2Corinthians8:6-9)
This chapter and the next one are all about giving and generosity. The practical situation is a famine that left the church in Jerusalem in great need. Verses 1-5 looked at generosity as something that was prompted by grace, spontaneous and directed toward God.

The section we are looking at today highlights two key aspects around this important passage about generosity...

Firstly, generosity is best accompanied by the attitude of sincere love. Although Paul could be accused of "nagging" them (he spends two whole chapters on this issue of giving) he repeatedly makes it clear that giving will be their decision.

Paul walks a fine line - he's reminding them and not commanding them. He's coaching them in the discipline of kindness and generosity.

Sometimes we don't give because we are distracted by all sorts of things - this is an attention deficit problem. Sometimes we don't give because our love for others has grown cold - this is a heart problem and it is a much more serious one.

Paul is saying: "I think you have an attention deficit problem, make sure it's not heart trouble."

Secondly, Paul reminds us that we learn generosity from Jesus who, "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor..."
Take a moment to consider just a few facets of His generosity:

  • A cattle trough in place of a throne
  • A feeble, finite, and fragile human body in place of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence.
  • The confines of time, space, hunger, thirst, fatigue and dependence in place of the glory at God's right hand
  • The cruelty of the cross compared to the worship of the angels

And Hebrews 12 tells us that He paid this price because it gave Him joy to do so because it would secure our salvation.

How do these two views impact your perspective on generosity?

Friday, November 11, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-11 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (1): Giving to God

Generosity (1): Giving to God

And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will.      (2Corinthians8:1-5)
This whole chapter has to do with a specific situation which serves to illustrate the principle of generosity. The specific situation was that there had been a severe famine and the church in Jerusalem was in great need. Paul had appealed to all the churches he was involved in collect funds to assist the church in Jerusalem.

From the clues we have, scholars have deduced that Paul had previously asked the Corinthians to collect funds to help with this need, and that they had made a good start. Unfortunately when the tensions began and the relationship came under strain, the generosity faded.

Paul now renews his request to them, and this chapter becomes a very helpful guideline to generosity and giving.

The Macedonian Churches were the churches in the northern part of Greece. These were the congregations at Philippi and Thessalonica. Paul had experienced major opposition in these cities, but the gospel had taken firm root and the believers, although persecuted, were devoted, faithful and generous.

We note three things about their giving:

  1. They gave generously in spite of their persecution and poverty. Paul attributes this to the grace and joy that they had received from the gospel. They were so grateful for God's abundant goodness and grace that they were super generous.
  2. They did not need to be nagged or pressurised - they gave spontaneously ("Entirely on their own they urgently pleaded with us...") They saw giving as a privilege and a form of service.
  3. They weren't giving to impress Paul but God.

Paul argues that the Macedonian generosity flowed from God's grace. If we want to learn how to be generous, the best place to start is God's generosity and grace. God's amazing grace grabbed the hearts of the Macedonians and transformed them - they became generous because they experienced God as generous.

The lessons of the Macedonians become three important questions for us:

  1. Have I let God's super generosity to me impact my wallet and my diary?
  2. Do I regard service as a duty or a privilege?
  3. Am I doing this for God or for others

These are important questions...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-10 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Good Reproof.... (2)

Good Reproof.... (2)

So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. 13 By all this we are encouraged.
In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. 14 I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. 15 And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. 16 I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.      (2Corinthians7:12-16)
It seems that Paul's "letter of tears" (which we don't have) had to deal with a very specific situation - one that involved a perpetrator and a victim.

But Paul is astute in relationships - he argues that his letters and calls to repentance were not because of this specific situation, but rather a test of the congregation's devotion to Paul and ultimately to Christ. (He says "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." 1Cor11:1)

Paul was delighted to discover that his reproof had been received well by the Corinthians. They had treated Titus well when he visited on Paul's behalf and this convinced Paul that they were sincere in their devotion.

This brings out one of the clear principles of leadership in the church: We have authority when we are under authority.

The bad teachers that had infiltrated Corinth were encouraging the congregation to follow them and discard Paul who had founded the church and built it on the solid foundation of Christ. They depicted him as a letter-bully (we'll see more of this later) and urged the congregation to ignore him.

But Paul's credibility won the day with the Corinthians and they showed great hospitality to Titus and paid respectful attention to Paul's rebuke.

This is often the acid test of leaders: are they willing to submit to the authority of godly leaders placed over them? And are they humble enough and willing to accept correction?

At this point the Corinthians have proven faithful...

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-09 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Good Reproof....

After a break for the month of mission, we return to our journey through 2 Corinthians.

Good Reproof....

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it--I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while-- 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.      (2Corinthians7:8-11)
It's hard to confront people when they are doing wrong. It's hard to challenge people even when it's for their own good. It's hard to tell someone that their pride is excessive, that their ways are too harsh or that they have dropped the ball. We call this a rebuke or a reproof and it's never easy to give one.

Just to recap: Paul worked in Corinth for a long time and then moved on to plant more churches. Some things went wrong in the congregation at Corinth and he had to write two tough letters to them (1Corinthians and a "letter of tears"). These reproofs were not easy - they're not easy to receive and they're not easy to give...

Paul indicates his own internal struggle: First he says "I do not regret it (causing sorrow by my letter)" and then he says "Though I did regret it -- I see my letter hurt you..."

A good rebuke or reproof brings Godly sorrow. It shows people how far they have wandered from God and brings them back to Him. A good rebuke doesn't harm the person but addresses the behaviour without devaluing the person. But even Paul's reproof was misunderstood although only for a while.

Paul makes it clear that a good correction brings "Godly sorrow" which brings "repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret." This is completely opposite to "worldly sorrow" which brings death.

I love Paul's description of the effects of truthful, loving correction:

  • It brings earnestness: We become truthful, not only in word but in action.
  • It brings eagerness to clear ourselves: we're motivated to do better - not just collapse in a heap of guilt and depression.
  • It brings alarm, longing and concern: We're more vigilant about the pitfalls, we long to be better and we're even more concerned about the things of God.
  • It brings readiness to see justice done. We become more concerned with what is right than about our comfort or what others think.

Paul argues that their gracious and Godly response to his reproof means that they have learned from their mistakes and are free of systemic repeating sin - thus proving themselves innocent in that they have been forgiven and "will go and sin no more."

This, surely, is the purpose of a good reproof.
(We'll pick this up again tomorrow...)

Friday, November 4, 2016

2016-11-04 [Month of Mission 2016] Being winsome to win some.

Being winsome to win some.

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.      (1Corinthians9:19-22)
To be "winsome" means "to attractive or appealing in appearance or character."

In this beautiful passage Paul talks about the price he is willing to pay in order that people may be reached with the gospel.

He talks about being willing to sacrifice status, comfort, simplicity and strength and being willing to embrace service, complexity, humility and weakness. He is willing to do all of this in order to reach others.

Paul is not the first to do this...
He walks in the footsteps of Jesus who sacrificed the glory of heaven and embraced the brokenness of humanity so that He could reach us and save us. And Jesus did this at the behest of the Father who gave His one and only Son...

Paul is not the last to do this...
Centuries of Christianity have been made possible by those who have given up status, privilege, and rights and have made sacrifices of time, talent and treasure to reach others.
They became winsome to win some.

And so must we...
Over the last month we have been served by the time and talents of those who have written our Month of Mission Devotions. They have inspired and provoked us. They have captured our emotions and engaged our minds.

And so we express a very big THANK YOU to our dev writers for 2016: Christopher Judelsohn, George Marchinkowski, Abraham Nkhata, Lentikile Mashoko, Lita Madaka, Matarofa Mutonganavo, Thembinkosi Nopapaza, Victor Letuka, Lungile Mpetsheni, Jackie Barker, Peter Langerman, Alan Cameron, Paul Neshangwe, Mukondi Ramulondi, Armando Sontange, Ruth Armstrong, Brian Smith, Christopher Mkandawire, Andries Combrink, James Gray, Eddie Germiquet, Lydia Neshangwe, Jerry Pillay, Douglas Bower, Glen Craig, Melanie Cook, and Dennis van der Spuy. I drove you crazy by limiting you to 450 words but you have been winsome. You have been faithful in serving God into the mission field with your time and gifts and we pray His blessing on you. May we all do the same!

This formally concludes the Month of Mission which is an initiative of the UPCSA Mission and Discipleship Committee.
PS: Theo Groeneveld writes a daily devotion Tues-Fri during school terms. If you would like to subscribe you can sign up at or you can reply to this email and ask to be subscribed.