Thursday, September 13, 2012

Homily 39: On Charity and Giving (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"As every man purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly or out of compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." II Cor. 9:7

Paul has just finished complimenting the Corinthians on their naturally charitable spirit, and he instructs them to be prepared to demonstrate their charity to some visiting Christians so that his "boasting" will not be "in vain" (vs. 1-5). Then he lays down some precedents about giving, two negative and one positive. The first negative is "λυπης", which is translated "grudgingly". The word means to do an action that causes grief or pain and thus results in annoyance or sour reluctance to do said action. Paul discourages giving based on such gloomy foundations. The second negative is "αναγκη", which is translated "compulsion". The word means to do an action out of constraint or imposition, whether by the law, duty, threat, or mere circumstance. Paul also discourages this giving out of dutiful necessity. The lone positive is "ίλαρος", which is translated "cheerful". The word means to do an action solely on the basis of joy and good cheer. It is this basis for giving that Paul encourages, and it suggests a very astounding thought: if we are to have true charity, then we must have true joy first.

It is a shame that "ίλαρος" gets translated as "cheerful," because the word today has more bad than good connotations. The exact image we generate in our heads is not completely certain, but I image that we picture some goofy-grinned imbecile who is too stupid to realize how horrible the world really is. "Cheer up" is often considered a cheap sentiment to hurting hearts, and to be known as "cheery" can be considered a backhanded compliment. Likewise, a "cheerful giver" seems highly unattractive, sounding like code for doing your duty while faking enjoyment. It is unfortunate, however, that it is unattractive, because it ought to be the most attractive thing. God is not looking for smarmy smiles  and syrupy souls (whether they be sincere or not). What He is looking for, what He asks for and loves, and He alone can give, is joy: abiding, unshakeable joy in God and His goodness and great love that he has demonstrated for us in Christ (Ps. 43:3-5; Ps. 100:1-5; Rom. 5:6-8).

God is not looking for "cheery" givers but joyous givers, givers saturated in the joy of the Lord, joy in His unbreakable promises and his unstoppable power to keep them in Christ (II Cor. 1:19-21; II Pet. 1:2-4). Thus comes the astounding part (and how we miss it today!): If you want to be more giving, more charitable to others (in whatever way), then do not ask God for money or means or a stronger sense of duty. Rather, ask Him for joy, joy unspeakable in your great God. Ask Him to fill your cup to the brim with joy, to fill your whole soul with its enduring substance. Ask Him for joy, and charity cannot help but follow, for joy is the only foundation for charity, even the very charity of God (Rom. 5:8; Heb. 12:2).

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012


  1. While I am one of the first people to hate being 'cheered up', I never had a problem with this verse. That said, your posts have been very timely for me lately. Thank you.

  2. Glad to be of service, ma'am. 8^)