GODíS GRACE IN ACTION
2 CORINTHIANS 8:1-24
Someone has said that God created all men equal, but that some are more equal than others. This is true in the area of finances and it was graphically illustrated in the case of the church at Jerusalem. The church at Jerusalem had come into some difficult times. A famine had come over the land that especially hit the believers there. Because of this, Paul has begun to gather money from the churches in Europe and Asia Minor to assist the needy Christians in Jerusalem.
There is a principle here that you need to see. It is the principle of Godís total concern with the world. People sometimes get the idea that God is only concerned with "spiritual things." That isnít true. Godís rule extends to every area of life. There is no division between the secular and the sacred. He is just as concerned with your going to work as He is concerned about your going to church.
We try to fit God into our little boxes and He doesnít fit. Go and look in your box. God isnít there. This means that God is interested, not just in steeples and faith, but also in the stock market and in finances.
The world has their own version of the golden rule that goes: He who has the gold rules. The Bible teaches us that God rules.
Paul had first approached the Corinthian church for this necessary financial need in his first epistle to them. 1st Corinthians 16 gives some very explicit instructions how they were to have a collection on the first day of every week and to lay aside the money for this special need.
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.
Some time had now passed and Paul was getting ready to come to Corinth and to take this financial relief fund to Jerusalem. But he has heard some disturbing news. He has heard that the collection is incomplete. He has heard that the Corinthians have not been very diligent in their collection plate offerings. He therefore writes this chapter as a corrective as he calls them to complete the work they had originally begun.
THE EXAMPLE OF THE CHURCHES OF MACEDONIA
1 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.
3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 5 and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
Notice at the outset that grace is the operative principle of this chapter. Paul begins in verse 1 by stating that he wants to make known to you the grace of God. What is grace? It is the receiving of those blessings and riches from God that we do not and never will deserve.
We usually think of grace in terms of Godís grace to us and that is certainly the source of all grace. But in this chapter, we are also to see the results of Godís grace to us. It is seen in our grace to others.
Paul is going to use the churches of Macedonia as an object lesson of the grace of God in action. These churches had received the gospel. They had heard the message of the cross; the message that told them God came near. They heard how Jesus had been sent from heaven to die upon a cross for our sins, how He had been buried and how He had been raised from the dead, thus defeating death and securing salvation for all who come to Him in faith and repentance.
These churches heard that message and they took it to heart. They received the free gift of God. They because owners of the grace of God. Now they had opportunity to extend that same grace to others in a very practical way.
Notice how this passage begins. It begins with an appeal to those who are brethren. The lessons on giving that we see in this chapter are directed toward Christians. They are directed toward those who have already received the grace of God.
If that does not describe you, then I have a bigger message for you today. The lessons that I am giving today are family lessons and they are not for you because you are not a part of Godís family. Instead of speaking to you about giving, I need to speak to you about receiving. You cannot extend the grace of God to others because you have not yet received and appropriated the grace of God for yourself. You need to know that Christ died for sins and that you can go to Him right now and trust in Him as the risen Lord and Savior. You do that right now; receive the free gift of Christ.
This passage is directed toward those who have received the grace of Christ. Because of what you have received, now you are called to extend that grace to others.
The Macedonian churches were not particularly wealthy. Indeed, the majority of those within these churches were on a level of poverty. They were poor when it came to money, but they were rich when it came to their liberality of heart and it showed in their giving.
Giving is to be in accordance with your ability. That is a matter of common sense, for you cannot give what you do not have. But in the case of the Macedonian churches, they gave beyond their ability. They impoverished themselves in order to give more than they were financially able.
Neither did they do this because they were being forced to do so. This giving was of their own accord.
Paul had called them to give that which they were able. That was appropriate and that is a Christian duty. The Bible calls for Christians to give in two areas:
l Giving to those who have spiritual leadership over you.
l Giving to those who are in need.
Paul called the churches to perform this second duty, but the Macedonians went far beyond that which was a mere duty. They went of their own accord and they gave sacrificially.
How were they able to do this? Verse 5 has the answer: They first gave themselves to the Lord. It is a lot easier to give away someone elseís belongings. The Macedonians had given themselves to the Lord and so it was a simple matter to take that which already belonged to the Lord and to give it to the Lordís work.
A CALL FOR COMPLETION
6 Consequently we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. 7 But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.
8 I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:6-9).
Now Paul moves from the example of the Macedonians to an exhortation to the Corinthians. He has moved closer to home. He has gone from preaching to meddling.
The church at Corinth was a wealthy church. They were well off financially, but that was not the extent of their wealth. They also viewed themselves as being wealthy in faith and in utterance and in knowledge. They thought of themselves as being spiritually mature. They had their theology down pat and they were good at vocalizing it. Paul says, "If that is the case, then show the riches of your faith and of your knowledge and of your theology by putting it into action."
Paul could have come on the scene and named a dollar amount to their giving. Or he could have set a percentage of what they were to give as was done under the Old Testament Law. But he doesnít do that. He doesnít do that, not so that they can give less, but so that they will demonstrate the sincerity of their love by giving more.
Jesus said it first when He said, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21). This begs the question. Where is your heart? It will be seen by locating your wallet.
Paul sets forth the example of Christ. He is the example of the rich man who became poor in order that we might become rich. He gave up all of the riches and the glory of heaven to come to earth and to walk our dirty streets and to die on our dirty cross to pay for our dirty sins. Why? That you might walk streets of gold and that you might be clothed in His righteousness.
Are you a Christian? Are you a follower of Christ? Then you are called to go and to follow Him in the matter of giving. He is the motivation for sacrificial giving because He first gave Himself sacrificially for you.
A NEED TO CONTINUE
And I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it.11 But now finish doing it also; that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability. (2 Corinthians 8:10-11).
Paul now brings a call to action. This call is based upon the principles that he has given in verses 1-9. This call is that the Corinthians might continue the work they had started and that they might bring it to completion.
There is a lesson here. It is that it is not enough to hear a sermon on giving and to think to yourself, "Giving is a good thing and I would like to start giving." You must also follow through on such a desire and then continue to put it into practice.
At the same time, Paul points out that this completion of the work is to be by your ability (8:11). He is not laying a guilt trip on them to try to get them to do more than they are able. He is calling them to complete their ministry in accordance with their ability.
A PRINCIPLE OF FINANCIAL EQUALITY
12 For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have.
13 For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality-- 14 at this present time your abundance being a supply for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality; 15 as it is written, "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack." (2 Corinthians 8:12-15).
In any given church, there are generally those who have as well as those who have not. There are some who, for one reason or another, will be financially better off than others.
Although the Macedonians had gone "above and beyond" the call of duty, Paul wants to make it clear that it is acceptable to give according to what a man has. Jesus graphically illustrated this point one day when He was in the temple with His disciples.
41 And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the multitude were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums.
42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. 43 And calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on." (Mark 12:41-44).
The issue in giving is not the amount as much as it is the sacrifice involved. The giving of this woman was sacrificial because it was out of her poverty.
The point is not that you are to make yourself poor in order to make someone else rich. You are not called to sell your car and start hitchhiking so that your senior pastor can drive a Cadillac.
This passage has been used to promote a sort of Christian communism. But there are some notable differences:
Mandated by the state
Accomplished by force
Giving out of a spirit of love
Bring everyone down to the lowest common denominator
Done to relieve affliction and suffering
The state owns the property
The people own the property, but use it to benefit others
Giving in Christianity is different from communism.
s This giving is voluntary.
s The giving is done out of a spirit of love.
s This giving is to relieve affliction and suffering.
s This giving does not negate the responsibility to work.
This last point is made in the strongest possible terms in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 where Paul says that if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.
Neither does Christianity mandate that we must all necessarily live on exactly the same financial standard. We do not all have to drive the same model car or own the same sort of house or wear the same style clothes. On the other hand, Christian living DOES call for a simplicity and a contentment of lifestyle. This is seen in 1 Timothy 6.
Paul goes on to show that God does not bring prosperity so that people can indulge themselves, but so that they can share with others who are in need.
17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.
18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Those who are rich are called to be rich in good works. This is the language of generosity and of giving.
A man had fallen into a swift river and was being swept along by the raging current. He began to tire and was in danger of slipping beneath the maelstrom. As he began to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Just then, a log floated by. He grabbed it and held on. And then he prayed, "Never mind, Lord."
Are there any logs in your life? Are there any things in your life that get in the way of you trusting the Lord? Money often becomes a major log jam in the life of Godís people and we need to learn to fix our hope upon Christ rather than upon the uncertainty of riches.
A MINISTRY OF FUND-RAISING
16 But thanks be to God, who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus. 17 For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord.
18 And we have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches; 19 and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness, 20 taking precaution that no one should discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; 21 for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.
22 And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things, but now even more diligent, because of his great confidence in you.
23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ. 24 Therefore openly before the churches show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you. (2 Corinthians 8:16-24).
Paul is planning on coming to Corinth, but his coming will be delayed. In the interim, he is sending Titus along with this second epistle to the Corinthians. Titus is not coming alone. He is accompanied by the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches (8:18). We do not know who is this other "brother." His name is not given and is apparently unimportant for us to know.
These two men were commissioned to travel to Corinth to oversee the ministry of fund-raising there.