The Grace of Giving
November 26, 2017 Speaker: Kit Johnson
Passage: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9
This weekend marks a transition in our calendar from Thanksgiving to Christmas, though of course many people already jumped to Christmas a month ago.
I don’t know that we think about it all that often, but these two holidays complement each other well. For a Christian, Thanksgiving ought to be focused on God’s gracious gifts. And the Bible consistently teaches that thanksgiving should produce a spirit of giving, which is an important part of Christmas. Jesus gave himself when he left heaven to be born into the world, and we give gifts at Christmas in order to follow his example.
Therefore, as we transition from one season to another, I want to study a passage that brings together thanksgiving and generosity and grounds both of them in the incarnation of Christ (read). You probably picked up on the fact that Paul was collecting an offering, and he is urging the Corinthians to participate.
This offering was for Christians living in Jerusalem who were facing deep poverty. The early chapters of Acts indicate that there were many poor people in the Jerusalem church and that some had made great financial sacrifices to meet those needs. Paul was now calling on the Gentile churches to help. It is important to recognize at the outset that this was a benevolence collection.
But more was at stake than simply meeting a financial need. Typically there was great tension between Jews and Gentiles, and Paul wanted to send a clear message regarding the oneness of the body of Christ (Rom 15:25–27). This offering was a statement from the Gentiles that they were spiritual children of the Jerusalem Church and that they were thankful for how the gospel had sounded out to them from Jerusalem.
Paul had been working on the collection for sometime. He mentions it in 1 Corinthians 16:1–4, and he urges them in vv. 10–11 to finish what they began a year ago. It seems that the Corinthians were initially excited to participate in the collection, but there interest waned because of the conflict that had come up between them and Paul. Therefore, in 2 Corinthians 8–9 Paul urges them to finish the collection.
In so doing, he gives us valuable instruction regarding how we ought to give in light of our gratefulness to God.
Therefore, I want to begin by emphasizing that this text is not ultimately about giving; it is about the grace of God.
The Grace of God
You see this immediately in v. 1. Paul is going to tell the story of how the Macedonian churches contributed to the offering. But ultimately, Paul wasn’t telling a story about the Macedonians, but about “the grace of God bestowed on the churches.” God’s grace produced the Macedonian generosity.
And grace continues to be a theme throughout chs. 8–9. The Greek word for grace, charis, occurs 10 times in chs. 8–9, and 5 of the uses are in our text. Not all of the occurrences refer to God’s grace (v. 6). Notice that Paul describes giving as a grace. This isn’t how we normally think is it? Most people want to hold onto their money, not give it away. Therefore, when Christians are eager to give, it is evidence of the grace of God at work in them.
And folks, it is so important that we begin this discussion with the grace of God and the fact that giving should be a response to his grace. Maybe you have always thought of giving as a mere duty. You grudgingly give your 10% to the church, and then you eagerly spend the rest on yourself. That’s not the kind of generosity God describes here.
Or maybe you don’t give much at all to the church or to others. Once in a while you throw a 20 in the offering plate, but for the most part, you spend your money on yourself. Giving is not a priority, and you don’t plan your finances with an eye toward generosity. God is saying to you in this text that you are missing a grace of God by being selfish.
The foundation of this passage is that a Christian appreciates the grace he has received and that grace produces a generous spirit. As a result, the Christian is eager to invest in God’s work and God’s people, and he is thankful for the opportunity to lay up treasures in heaven and to bless a brother. God’s grace must be the foundation for joyful and generous giving.
Paul follows by describing how God’s grace had produced this spirit in the Macedonians.
The Example of the Macedonians (vv. 1–5)
Acts 16–17 tell us that Paul established churches in the Macedonian cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, though there may have been others. We learn 4 things about these churches in vv. 1–5.
The Macedonians were persecuted and poor (vv. 2–3).
The Macedonian churches endured a “great trial of affliction.” Acts tells us that these churches were persecuted from the beginning. Paul was run out of Philippi after being imprisoned. Then he went to Thessalonica. After only a few weeks an angry mob persecuted the church, and drove Paul out of town. He then went to Berea, and the Thessalonian mob eventually came down and again drove Paul out of the city.
The Christians in these communities only knew a costly kind of Christianity. It was probably because of this persecution that they endured “deep poverty” (v. 2). In fact, they were so poor that Paul did not originally ask them to participate in the collection. First Corinthians 16:1 states that Paul planned to collect the offering from the Galatian and Corinthian churches. It says nothing about Macedonia. But v. 4 of our text indicates that the Macedonians heard about the collection, and they begged Paul to participate. Therefore, these people were so poor that Paul didn’t even ask them to help.
But notice secondly…
The Macedonians were committed to Christ and his mission (v. 5).
God always seems do his greatest work in a context of hardship, and the Macedonians are no exception. Philippians and 1, 2 Thessalonians indicate that these were among the godliest churches Paul established. And Acts 17:11 says the Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica.
And our text indicates that these churches were deeply devoted to God (v. 5). First and foremost, these churches were committed to the Lord. They had the mindset of Philippians 1:21, “to live is Christ.” I’m not here to get rich or to enjoy every temporal blessing. I am here to serve God.
And because of that, Paul says that they also gave themselves “to us.” In other words, they understood that Paul was an apostle, and they got behind his mission, and made it their own (Phil 1:3–5). It’s clear throughout Philippians that this church saw itself as a significant partner in Paul’s mission, and even though they were poor, they gave as much as they could to him.
This is instructive because the fact that you are not called to vocational ministry does not mean that the Great Commission shouldn’t be a central priority for you. As you think about your future, your career, your retirement, and your finances does the GC take priority in your planning? You shouldn’t just tag on if it conveniently fits your other plans. No, as you look ahead, one of your top concerns ought to be how can I best participate in the GC?
And I want to emphasize that this kind of commitment is essential to proper giving. If we ignore Macedonians’ commitment to God and his mission and just focus on what they gave, we are going to miss the purpose for their sacrifice and the reason it was a grace and not a burden. And this foundation is essential for us as well. If your giving is not based on a heart for God and his mission, you probably will never make it the priority you should, and you certainly won’t find joy in it.
Therefore, before you jump ahead to what you ought to be giving, you need to first consider what is in your heart. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). So if you are spending all of your money on temporal things, you probably don’t just need to change how you give. You probably need to examine what you love. Is Christ really more important to me than temporal pleasure? Do I really believe that Christ satisfies above all else? Is my life really about the Great Commission or about worldly ambitions?
This brings us again to the example of the Macedonians.
The Macedonians gave sacrificially (v. 3).
We already talked about the fact that these churches were facing “deep poverty,” as v. 2 says. Frankly, we have no concept in our culture of deep poverty. Sure there are lots of people in America who can’t pay their bills, but that’s usually because they think they have to have things that they don’t really need. We’ve had a number of people come to our office claiming they don’t have money for food while they text on a smart phone worth several hundred dollars.
That’s not what we are talking about here. We are talking about people who are struggling to have the basic necessities of life. And yet v. 3 says that they were still eager to give. In fact, it says that they gave “beyond their ability.”
Now, I want to be clear that Paul does not mean that they gave irresponsibly. Jesus condemned people who gave so much to the temple that they had nothing left to provide for aging parents. And 1 Timothy 5:8 says that if someone does not provide for his family, he is worse than an infidel. If you give the money for your house payment to someone and then can’t pay your mortgage, you aren’t obeying Christ; you are being foolish.
Rather, the idea is that they gave more than could have been reasonably expected. This contribution didn’t come out of a surplus that was just sitting in the bank. It probably required significant adjustments to life. Maybe they decided to cut out meat for a month and to give their meat budget. Or maybe it meant wearing worn out clothes for a couple more months. We don’t know the specifics, but we know it was costly.
As Americans we just don’t have much of a concept of what this means. We think that we are really sacrificing if we only have one car, or if we don’t have money to go out to eat. We can have 10 pairs of shoes in the closet, none of which are truly worn out, and we really believe we need a new pair.
This past spring we saw in 1 Timothy 4 that God wants us to enjoy his gifts, so I’m not saying we should feel guilty about having nice things. But we need to be very careful to guard our perspective and to make sure our satisfaction is really in Christ. And then we need evaluate our giving patterns. Do you use your money like someone whose treasure is in heaven? What can you sacrifice to see God’s mission go forward and to bless his people?
Notice one other thing about the Macedonians.
The Macedonians gave joyfully.
Joy is a dominant feature of vv. 1–5 isn’t it? Paul didn’t have to beg these people to participate. Remember that Paul wasn’t even going to ask them because they were so poor. But v. 4 says that they “implored us with much urgency” that they could participate. And v. 2 says that they gave out of “the abundance of their joy.”
And I guarantee that they found more joy in how they invested their money in ministry than they ever would have found spending it on themselves. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver.” There will always be one more thing you have to have.
But there is tremendous joy in using my money to partner with Tanzanian pastors who are taking the gospel to people who have never heard and in knowing that someday I’m going to worship with them in heaven. There is joy in peering into this room on a Wednesday night and seeing it packed with kids who are hearing the gospel because of how this church has partnered together in ministry. And there is far more joy in blessing a needy person than there is in eating a big steak or driving a fancy car.
Maybe you are sitting there thinking, “I’m too poor to give.” I would respond, “You are too poor not to give.” You are missing a grace of God that brings great joy.
And so in vv. 1–5 Paul describes the example of the Macedonians. He follows in vv. 6–7 with…
The Call to Give (vv. 6–7)
I’d like to challenge us with two ideas from these verses. First…
We must see giving as a grace.
Notice again that both of these verses describe giving as grace. That’s not natural is it? We are all naturally selfish, so we naturally want to spend our money on ourselves because we can’t seem to shake the lie that one more thing or just a little more security will make me happy.
But Jesus himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We need to train ourselves to really believe this, especially over the next month. And we need to teach it to those around us, which means that spoiling the people we love isn’t the grace giving of this text.
Rather, grace giving is rooted in an eternal focus and a heart for people. We must train ourselves by grace of God to realize my only hope is in Christ. Money will never make me secure, and it will never buy joy. And we must train ourselves to have a vision for those around us and to have compassion on their needs.
Learn to see giving as a grace. Find your joy in being a blessing and in advancing the mission of Christ. And when you put money in the offering plate or give a gift to another person, be sure to thank God for his blessing that gave you the ability to give.
The second challenge in vv. 6–7 is…
We must see giving as a necessary aspect of discipleship.
I’ve been talking about giving all morning as a privilege or a grace, but I also want to be clear that it is an obligation. This is clear in v. 7. Paul begins the verse by mentioning five gifts that the Corinthian church enjoyed in abundance. The point is that they have been abundantly blessed.
In light of the blessings they have received, Paul commands them to abound in the grace of giving. Paul’s point is that if a Christian receives blessing after blessing but never responds by giving to others, something is seriously wrong (1 John 3:16). God tells us in this verse that if God’s Spirit lives inside a Christian, he will produce generosity. Therefore, it is a problem if a Christian is not generous.
Maybe that person is just selfish. Maybe they have a false sense of their necessities. Or maybe they have lost sight of the source of all good things. Maybe they think that everything they have is by their own achievement; therefore, it is mine to use how I want to use it.
Regardless we must see the hand of God in everything we enjoy. If you are smart or winsome, God made you that way. God gave you the ability to work hard. He allowed you to be born in America where you could work to make something of yourself. On and on we could go.
Since everything we enjoy is grace, we must abound in the grace of giving. Is that true of you? How much money have you wasted this year with nonessentials, and how much have you given? Do you make giving to the church a priority in your budget? Do you have a vision for needy people and are you generous with them? Paul is clear that giving stands alongside these other gifts as a necessary aspect of discipleship. And so don’t wait until every duck is perfectly in a row before you give. Commit to this grace.
Paul then follows with the ultimate example of generosity. Notice in vv. 8–9…
The Example of Christ (vv. 8–9)
Verse 8 begins with an important qualification. Paul was not giving an apostolic command demanding that the Corinthians participate in this offering. This was a benevolence offering; therefore, there was no command of God saying how much they must give or that they must give at all.
But while there was no command to give, Paul adds that how they gave would be a testament to their love or lack thereof. It would say something very significant about their hearts either way.
He then follows with the ultimate example of selfless, free giving. Notice that Paul again uses the word grace. He has said that God’s grace was evident in the Macedonians’ participation. He has said that the opportunity to give is grace. And now he adds that Jesus demonstrated grace by forsaking riches to become poor.
We all know that Jesus lived a relatively difficult life on earth. He was born in a stable, he grew up in a humble family, and he had no home during his 3-year ministry. But these sacrifices only begin to describe Jesus’ descent into poverty (Phil 2:6–8).
Verse 6 speaks of the riches Jesus enjoyed before the incarnation. He lived in the glory of heaven with all the pleasures of being infinite God. But according to v. 7, Jesus temporarily restricted the full display of his attributes to take on the limitations of human existence. He experienced hunger, fatigue, cold, heat, and pain.
But these things were only the beginning. Verse 8 describes the depths of Jesus’ poverty. He died a humiliating death on a cross. And when he did so, he took on himself the judgment of God against my sins and yours. Folks, Jesus became poor in a way that we cannot fully comprehend. We think we are poor when we don’t have money for Disney Land. Therefore, we claim that we have nothing or very little to give. We just have no idea what it means to sacrifice.
Jesus became poor, and he did so that, “You through His poverty might become rich.” Of course, God is not saying that the gospel promises temporal wealth. Paul certainly wasn’t wealthy, and neither were the Macedonians. But if you are in Christ, you have a much greater wealth through the gospel. You are going to heaven. You are in Christ, and his Spirit has made you a new creation. You are rich beyond comprehension.
And so the obvious implication is that if Jesus gave so sacrificially to me, how can I possibly justify holding onto the things of this world selfishly? If Jesus left heaven to die on the cross for me, what right do I have to live with a greedy, materialistic mindset? I need to make generosity a priority. I need to invest in the advance of the gospel. And when I see a brother or sister in need, I must be eager to meet that need. Galatians 6:10 states, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
The message of this text is that, Christians must view the opportunity to give as a gracious gift, and they must give generously and sacrificially according to the pattern of Christ. Next Sunday we will talk more specifically about what that should look like, but giving must begin with the right heart. We all need to ask ourselves, “Do I appreciate the generous sacrifice Christ made for me, and do I reflect that by generously giving to others?” “Do I view giving as a grace, or do I hold tightly to the things of this world in a way that reflects a false hope in the things of this world?” We must fix our affections before we fix our practice.
Before I close, I want to go back to v. 9 and speak to any among us who do not know that they have a relationship with God. This verse summarizes the heart of the Christian message. Jesus became poor, and he took the punishment for your sin on the cross. There has never been a more generous act in all of human history. And now he offers you salvation as a free gift, if you will simply call on him for salvation. If you have never received that gift, I hope you will not leave today without speaking with one of us and getting that settled. You can leave today rich in grace if you will believe on Christ.