Audio Library

Graced to Give – 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 (Part 1)

Second Presbyterian Church
George Robertson
November 5, 2017

 

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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 by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

 

In his commentary on 2 Corinthians, Dr. Roy L. Laurin tells of a Christian businessman who was traveling with a missionary in Korea in the 1940s. Beside the road he saw an odd sight. A young man was pulling a plow while an older man held the handles. Amused, he took a snapshot. He then asked the missionary if the two men were really that poor that they couldn't afford an ox. The missionary explained that they were poor but that they had not always plowed that way. The missionary said, "These men are Christians. When their church was being built, they were eager to give something toward it, but they had no money. So they decided to sell their one and only ox and give the proceeds to the church. This spring they are pulling the plow themselves." Silent for a moment, the businessman eventually commented, "That must have been a real sacrifice." The missionary answered, "They did not call it that; they thought themselves fortunate that they had an ox to sell."

 

This is a picture of the way Paul encourages the Corinthian church to give. The Corinthian church was the most dysfunctional church in the New Testament, but Paul’s response to them in his letter is “grace to you.” When we realize God’s grace, we cannot help but respond with generosity. All our generosity – and all our obedience to any of God’s commands for that matter – is motivated by the grace found in the gospel.

 

Let’s take a moment to review what this gospel is that could motivate such generosity. It is sometimes helpful to think of the gospel in five key concepts: Grace, Man, God, Christ, and Faith.

 

Grace – Heaven is a free gift. We cannot earn it by anything that we do.

Man – All people are sinners. All have fallen short of God’s standard. There is none righteous. (Romans 3).

God – God is love. God is also just. The Bible says that God is light and in him there is no darkness (1 John 1:5). This means that God cannot “sweep sin under the rug.” Sin must be punished.

If we look at just these first three points, we realize there is a problem. However, we have a hope and a solution to this problem…

Christ – Christ was fully man and also fully God. That means he could pay the debt for our sin, and he could also he could earn the righteousness we need.

Faith – Now that Christ has done the work for our salvation, we need to receive it. This is what we call faith. We receive Christ’s salvation simply by admitting that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves and that only by placing our faith in Christ we can be saved.

 

This is the gospel we are talking about that motivates generosity and any other pursuit of obedience in the Christian life. This is why we talk about being gospel-centered church. With this in mind, let us look at the marks of a gospel-centered giver.

 

Generously (1-7)

By means of the Macedonians’ sacrificial example, Paul urges the Corinthians to the same generosity. Although the region of Macedonia previously prospered because of gold mines, by the first century, the economy had crumbled. The province had suffered from wars, invasions and Roman domination. In contrast, Corinth was prosperous. So what produced such generosity in the Macedonians?

 

Joyful (1-3)

True generosity is an expression of joy. These Macedonians were overjoyed with the fact that they had been saved, and they expressed it with their giving. In other words, grace is the full explanation for giving. It was grace that saved them from their sins and grace that conquered their selfishness and made them joyfully generous.

 

But notice the ironic explanation of how this grace which brought joy was mediated to the Macedonians. It was through trials. The result of that suffering was not depression but triumphant joy.

 

Is it not ironic that when Christians are comfortable they tend to be the unhappiest and complain more frequently? It was true of the Corinthians. They were never persecuted and yet they cause Paul more trouble than any other church in the New Testament. It is also true that when Christians are wealthiest they tend to be the stingiest. The Corinthians were prosperous but were giving nothing to the relief of their brethren in Jerusalem. The Macedonians, on the other hand, gave extravagantly without any provocation from Paul. God’s Word and Spirit had opened their hearts and they gave.

 

This same phenomenon of the greatest generosity among those who can least afford it is still seen today. Though Americans are 450% richer than they were in 1916, they are giving less than they ever have in history. In fact, American Protestants were most generous during the Great Depression of 1933 when they gave 3.2% of their income to their churches. In 1916, they gave 2.9%. Today we give 2.6%.

 

When we are faced with trials and suffering, we tend to ask God, “why are you doing this to me?” That suffering feels like God’s hands around our throat. In reality, that suffering is God’s embrace to us to draw us closer to him. Suffering produces joy in the one who looks to the Lord for his strength, because it always makes him realize God’s nearness (1 Th. 1:6). It also produces generosity because it makes him remember what is truly important.  

 

When we know how much God loves us, we respond with joyful generosity. Instead of asking what we must do, we will, like the Macedonians, ask “what can we do?”

 

Relationship (4-5)

Generosity also flows out of relationships created by grace. In our definition of the gospel, we said that God is love, and love is a desire to be united. These Macedonian Christians knew the love God had for them, and it produced a love in them that desired to be united to God and to others.

 

This relationship with God causes us to seek out what God is doing in his creation and find ways that we can be involved. It also motivates us to be united to our fellow church members and our neighbors, asking questions like “what is it that burdens them?” and “How can I be united to them in relieving their distress?”

 

These new Christians were so overjoyed at having received the Gospel from brothers in Jerusalem that they begged for the opportunity to give to their relief. Paul makes it clear that this kind of giving is God’s will. The proof that we have given ourselves to the Lord is that we give ourselves to each other. The Spirit-filled believer is one who extends himself in generosity out of joy for his new relationship with the Lord and with the Lord’s people.

 

Blessings (6-7)

The third impetus to generosity is the blessings we receive by being related to Christ and his Church. The Corinthians had apparently forgotten these blessings. Titus had informed Paul that the controversy over the immoral man had shelved the collection effort in Corinth, but notice Paul does not pressure or command the Corinthians to give.

 

Even though they had maligned his name, Paul responds to the Corinthians with this greeting: “grace to you” (2 Cor. 1:2). Again, in chapter 7 Paul reminds them of the many blessings they have in Christ: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).

 

What are these promises? Paul has just finished telling them at the end of chapter 6:

“God said,

                        ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,

                                    and I will be their God,

                                    and they shall be my people.’” (2 Cor. 6:16)

 

Paul also points to the blessings they possess as a particular people, praising them “in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you.” In other words, the Corinthians are so blessed with theological knowledge, the ability to express it, ability to work hard, and the love of their pastors for them, they have no excuse not to be generous.

 

It is the joy of knowing we have been saved, the relationship God creates with us and with others, and the many blessings he pours out on us that motivate us to give. When these gifts are before us, we won’t look to a percentage or to an obligation, we will give freely out of all that has been given to us.