Zebra in a tree

This blog post is based on a sermon I preached on Sunday 26th March 2023. The reading is 2 Corinthians 8:1-15.

What do you think is the best way to raise money? Is it someone completing a marathon and getting others to sponsor them? Is it a bake sale, full of delicious cakes? Or perhaps a flower festival?

Well perhaps Paul didn’t choose any of these options. For his fundraising campaign he chose to write a letter instead. The passage that we’re exploring today, in 2 Corinthians 8, is part of that fundraising campaign – he is raising money for the Christians in Jerusalem who are in desperate need.

Now, writing letters for fundraising is something that I do know a bit about. If you didn’t know, my job is fundraising for a charity. I am a Trusts and Foundations fundraiser so I spend most days writing applications for funding to organisations and other charities who give out money, to persuade them to give money to our charity.

So today, I thought we could have a look at Paul’s fundraising, see how it compares to the fundraising techniques I use today and decide: is Paul a good fundraiser?

The Corinthian church – A lapsed supporter

The first thing that we can look at is the context. Paul’s fundraising campaign does seem to come out of the blue. It pops up in the middle of his second letter to the Corinthians, although it had been initially introduced in his previous visits and letters to the Corinthian church. And some people argue that 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 may actually have been a separate letter because they are such a jump from what Paul has been talking about in chapters 1-7 all about repentance, forgiveness, and resurrection life.

What I think this shows us is that before launching into his fundraising campaign, Paul had some work to do. Since his last letter to the Corinthians, they had kind of drifted away, fallen out with Paul in some ways and stopped doing many of the things that he had taught them previously. So, Paul has taken the time to rebuild this relationship and reconnect with the people of Corinth, before bringing up the topic of fundraising.

In my job, I would probably call the Corinthian church a lapsed supporter. This means they’ve supported in the past but have since stopped supporting. And with these supporters, we have to rebuild that relationship, remind them of who we are before we launch into asking for funding – just as we’ve seen Paul do.

The grace of giving

So now we can talk about the actual fundraising. But, you might have noticed that Paul doesn’t actually mention money at all. He doesn’t tell that what to give, how much to give, or even tell them much about what they are giving to. When I am writing a funding application, leaving out these important details would be a big no-no. These are really important pieces of information that really impact why people give, and what we want to give to.

But the way that Paul manages this, is through talking about grace. He speaks about the grace of giving, and the grace that has been given to the Macedonian church that has led them to display great generosity. In this context, Paul talks about grace as something that God does in and through Christians – because to him, this project is far bigger than just a fundraising campaign – it is God working through each of the people who make up the church. It is God uniting the church – Jews and Gentiles – to show that they are all one Church. It is not possible without God.

And no fundraising campaign is ever really just a fundraising campaign. No fundraiser is just raising money for the sake of it. All fundraising has an aim – whether it is to bring food to those who are hungry, or make sure that everyone who needs a Guide Dog can access one, or to find a cure for cancer. But even from here Paul is going one step further, because to him the giving itself is just as important as the outcome that it will achieve.

The Macedonian church – Social Proof

So, if Paul doesn’t mention money at all – what does he talk about? Well in this passage, we see him telling the Corinthian church all about what the Macedonian church has done – how generously they have given to the fundraising campaign. He says:

“In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.”

2 Corinthians 8:2-4

And I would see this as a great example of social proof, a fundraising technique where we point to what other people have done, or are doing, as a way to build up something that other people want to be a part of. This is a powerful technique and there has been research that has found that we are much more likely to give, and give larger amounts, if we know that other people who are like us have given to that cause too.

And in Paul’s case, we see him point to the Macedonian church and how generously they have given to the fundraising campaign. And you can just imagine the Corinthian church starting to think – ooh, if they’ve given so generously to this campaign, maybe I should give something too. I don’t want to feel left out, I want to be a part of that.

Jesus – The Opinion Former

Another fundraising technique that I think we can see in Paul’s fundraising campaign is the diffusion of innovation model which looks at how we spread new ideas across a group of people. So this could be people starting to use a new product, or in this case, people starting to get involved in a fundraising campaign.

But one significant factor in this model, is opinion formers. These are the people who push an idea out to a wider audience. They are the people who others look up to. If they start to do something new, or use a new product, or wear a new style of clothes, people take notice, and want to get involved too.

And who could be a better opinion former than Jesus? Of course, Paul can’t point to Jesus’ involvement in this fundraising campaign specifically, but he can point to the generosity of Jesus. He says:

“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 Corinthians 8:9

Through Christ’s generosity, through his becoming poor – we have been so mightily blessed. We have become rich, not always in monetary terms, but in the blessings that we have received and the future that we have been promised. And this example of Jesus’ generosity should inspire us and spur us on to be that generous to others around us. To give up what we have to bless those who do not have.

The Goal is Equality – Fundraising Ethics

But Paul is careful not to suggest that we should give so much that we find ourselves in need of help. In fact, he specifically clarifies this. He says:

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality,”

2 Corinthians 8:13-14

And this is the final part of Paul’s fundraising campaign that I wanted to touch on today – the ethics. Because Paul does show real care for the Corinthian church, for the people he is writing to.

Now, the ethics of fundraising is a big topic and I think it’s a bit sleep-inducing for a Sunday morning, so we won’t dig too deeply into that. But essentially there are different models within fundraising ethics that come from slightly different stand points. There are those who believe that for the most part the ends justify the means – the most important thing is raising as much money as possible to make the biggest difference. Then there are those who believe the community is the most important thing, ensuring that the dignity of the beneficiaries is first and foremost. Then the third category is the one that I think Paul would fall into, which is donor-centric ethics, those who think the needs of the supporters are the most important thing.

And this fits in perfectly with what Paul has already shown us about his views on giving. He sees giving itself as an act of grace, and cares just as much about this act of giving as he does the outcome. So it makes sense that ensuring the wellbeing and experience of these “supporters” is more important to him than raising as much money from them as possible. What he describes is so much more reflective of family, just as the church should be. We support the needs of the church, and when we have need, the church in turn can support us.

So, is Paul a good fundraiser? Well in my job we would usually measure this based on how much money was raised, or how many new supporters were recruited. But we don’t have this information for Paul’s fundraising campaign – in fact we never hear about this collection after it gets to Jerusalem.

But everything that Paul teaches about generosity still applies to our giving today. So perhaps we can judge Paul’s fundraising skills based on how his teachings inspire you to give today. Do Paul’s stories about the Macedonian church lead you to want the same grace that they received? Do you want to be like them, to give like them? Does his reminder of Jesus’ generosity spur you on to be generous to those around you?

Does Paul inspire you to give generously? Because that is what makes him a good fundraiser.

Let’s pray

Dear God, thank you for all that Paul teaches us about generosity. May his fundraising continue to inspire us today, to be open-handed with our money and to seek out those in need. May we receive the same grace that the Macedonian church experienced, and may you work through us when we give generously: whether to the church, to charity, or to other people. Amen.

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