The Chinese Annual Conference (CAC) of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) entered a new chapter of her history with the adoption of Central Pooling. Apart from the structural changes, how can CAC churches work together in this transformational journey?
2 Corinthians 8:8–15 (NIV) describes an appeal to help other churches, where Paul exhorted the Corinthian church to be generous towards the saints in Jerusalem. This was evidently important to Paul as we see this appeal highlighted in his other epistles too. For Paul, the act of giving generously was a ministry, a tangible gesture of gospel solidarity and of love, between the Jews and the Gentiles.
From the Corinthian experience, we see three characteristics of generosity: gratitude, love and trust.
Firstly, the starting point of generosity is gratitude, which happens in the heart.
We can be generous because God is good. Paul wanted the Corinthian church to excel at giving. At the same time, he reminded them that generosity was not just about giving more, but about being grateful for the grace received through Jesus Christ. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). It is not about how much you give. Contrast this with the Macedonian believers, who were poor and could not give much. Yet, they had gratitude and “overflowing joy…[that] welled up in rich generosity” (2 Cor 8:2).
In Mark 12:43–44, Jesus contrasted the poor widow giving her only two coins with the rich people flaunting their wealth by throwing their money into the temple treasury. The widow who gave sacrificially was acknowledged as being more generous. No show, all heart and with all that she had. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7 NIV).
When God looks at your heart, what will He find? Will He see gratitude for the grace of Jesus? Or will He find a “show” of our offerings? Will Christ find grateful hearts here in CAC?
The second thing that about generosity is that it is “love in action”. By comparing their giving with the Macedonians’, Paul told the Corinthian church that he was “test[ing] the sincerity of their love” (2 Cor 8:8). In other words, if you are sincere and your love for God genuine, you will be generous.
We observe two things about love in action:
- Giving is voluntary. As an act of love, generous giving cannot be commanded. As the chief church planter, Paul could have “commanded” them to give, but he did not as it would then have become a tax.
- Love requires effort. The pledge to help Jerusalem was made during the previous year. It would amount to nothing unless the Corinthian church followed through and completed their act of giving. This is clear when Paul told them to “now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means” (2 Cor 8:11). The statement “now finish your work” is actually the central exhortation of the whole passage. Finish it. Complete it. Generous giving requires follow through if it is to be an act of love.
The third characteristic of generosity is trust. Generosity must be anchored upon trust in a God who is just and fair. We can give generously only when we are assured that the God we obey is trustworthy. When we give willingly out of what we have, the gift is acceptable (2 Cor 8:12). God is reasonable and does not expect us to give what we do not have.
Paul went on to state his desire that there may be equality (2 Cor 8:13). The Corinthian church had an abundance, and the Jerusalem church was in need. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Paul appealed to the richer church to do her part to bring about equality in the eyes of God. That is the economy of the Kingdom of God. Those who have more should help those in need. 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV) reinforces this Kingdom principle: “Each one should use whatever gifts you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
Paul also reminded the Corinthian believers that “at the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need” (2 Cor 8:14). The rich Corinthian church might have wondered what they might need from those poor Jews. How would they supply the rich? In the economy of God’s Kingdom, our abundance may be temporal. God may well use the people to whom we give today to bless us in future.
Beginning from the position of gratitude, let us follow through on our good intentions and make the effort to bless others concretely. Do not hold on too tightly to your resources. Steward them well and put love into action. Put your trust in the God who is fair and wants equality for all.
Has God spoken to us about giving to a certain area? Finish that good work of generosity. Complete it. May God, who is trustworthy, faithful and just, grant us the grace to do that.
At the 43rd Session of the Chinese Annual Conference, the Conference approved the setting-up of central pooling for CAC. Under this new regime, Conference costs, including pastoral remuneration and approved fringe benefits, will be shared by all 17 CAC churches. Here, the Rev Simon Cheo, Pastor-in-Charge of Changi Methodist Church, one of the churches in the CAC family, shares his thoughts on the biblical context behind central pooling.
Photo courtesy of the Chinese Annual Conference