May 6, 2018

Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week's session

Giving from a Generous Heart
Exodus 35:20-29; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

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The subject of generosity has great potential for debate. While in some churches and denominations the subject of money can spark competitive activity, in others the subject of money is taboo. Church traditions and cultural assumptions often shape these attitudes. One area of debate continues to be the use of money for church buildings versus for humanitarian aid.

The people in the book of Exodus lived in a closely knit community where God was the ruler and Moses was God’s representative. As a result, the people paid their taxes/tithes to God. So in Exodus 35:20-29, we see the Israelites coming together to build a tabernacle. This is somewhat similar to the cathedral builders of the Middle Ages.

The early Christian church seldom constructed buildings for worship. Offerings were mostly taken to support poor members and others in need. Paul’s appeal in 2 Corinthians may be related to a famine in Palestine, the needs of the Jerusalem congregation, and the desire to show gratitude to the mother church. One suspects that Paul especially targets the Corinthian church because of its conspicuous wealth.

Given that the New Testament rarely refers to church buildings, the Reformation leaders tended to shy away from large, elaborate structures. In some cases, the murals from pre-Reformation churches were whitewashed, and statues and ornaments were removed. Some older churches were destroyed.

In northern Europe, expressions of religious art inspired by historical, biblical events generally became a matter of private/special interest, or an occasional “frill” when times were good. Churches continued to be built, often as a way of bringing communities together. My home church, an impressive structure, was designed and largely constructed by members of the congregation.

Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians are somewhat like today’s pleas for foreign aid or disaster relief. That is, they are a matter of practical humanitarian concern. This may reflect a slight shift from the Old Testament focus on “fearing God” to the New Testament emphasis on “loving your neighbor.” But perhaps the two are not so opposed that beautiful buildings and humanitarian aid are always mutually exclusive.

  • Why might generosity and “cheerful giving” be “iffy” subjects in many churches?
  • Explain how there might be tensions between art/beauty in worship buildings and in appeals for humanitarian aid.

—Kevin McCabe,

© 2018

Kevin McCabe is a writer, teacher, and poet. He was formerly an instructor in Classics at several universities, and has also been the author and editor of two books on Lucy Maud Montgomery and a number of works on the history and literature of the Niagara Peninsula. Kevin is a member of Grace Mennonite Church in St. Catharines where he lives with his wife and two daughters.

This article supplements Adult Bible Study, a quarterly Bible curriculum for adults. Adult Bible Study provides in-depth, challenging Bible study from an Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective, written by an intercultural group of pastors, teachers, professors, and leaders across Canada and the United States. Sessions include daily Bible readings, resources for additional study, and free downloadable resources.

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