The Graciousness of Grace – 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Audio for this sermon can be found HERE

As we jump into chapters 8 and 9, which function as sort of a unit on their own – it may seem at first like Paul has totally shifted gears, but he hasn’t. He is still unfolding the features of what it really means for someone to shift from an Old Covenant law-based mindset – to the New Covenant grace-based mindset.He is bringing that idea to bear on a very practical issue which was pressing in the Corinthian Church. He is going to bring home this shift into grace-based thinking and living – in addressing an area we just all love to hear about:Financial giving. But take heart. Before you all reach for your wallets – These 2 chapters aren’t at all what most of us might think about when it comes to Biblical teaching on giving. I had an old sales manager who used to say that all salesmen and their customers were Siamese twins joined together at the wallet. And to hear some teaching today on the topic of giving, one might think that is true with Believers and The Church. But it isn’t.You are all well aware we don’t even take up an offering here each week – but have that box at the top of the stairs – leaving it up to you. We don’t talk about this topic much. And given the spiritual importance of giving, maybe we should more. Maybe I’ve been remiss in resisting it. But given the abuses of it in the modern Church, I’ve intentionally avoided it. Perhaps to our detriment.What do I mean by referring to the spiritual importance of giving? Let me set this up by pointing out a couple of things that really help frame the discussion for us – drawing on what would have been more evident to the first readers.Please note – this is all backdrop. Not the main picture – so don’t get lost before we get to the text. Under the Old Mosaic system, the Jews were required by law to give financially and quite substantially – as part of their God-appointed worship. A number of times God instructs the Israelites about this:Deuteronomy 16:16–17 ESV“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.Yearly tithe: 10% of all crops, produce, livestock & income. Annual 1/2 shekel tax for every citizen – 5%?Sacrifices connected with sin and thanksgiving offerings“Free-will” offerings as each one felt moved All these tithes and offerings were for 2 purposes: 1 – To support the Temple and those who labored in it – the Priests. To maintain the right worship of God publicly and lead the people in knowing and living before the Lord. 2 – As a surplus for the poor who were truly in need of assistance. Widows and orphans without family or those truly indigent without means to contribute to their own support. We see these same core ideas again in the New Testament. The same 2 main purposes – supporting the local assembly and the staff it takes, and having supplies for those among us in need. But! with this major difference: There are no compulsory tithes or offerings for Believers today.None. God has set no percentages or flat amounts for those in the Church to give to local assembly.That said, we also need to notice something curious in Jesus’ teaching:Matt. 6:1WHEN you GiveMatt. 6:5WHEN you PrayMatt. 6:16WHEN you Fast Notice Jesus’ wording here. He considers 3 things as simply normative for the Christian. He doesn’t say “if” in any of these- but “when”. They are each a given. And each deserves to be given their own treatment – which we cannot do today. But you get the point. Financial giving is assumed by Jesus as normative for us. What does that look like for us under this New Covenant today? That is what is outlined for us in a series of principles all the way through Chap.s 8 and 9. I can only breeze over some of them briefly this morning on my way to zeroing in 8:1-15. The Principle of GRACE in giving (8:2) Our focus this morning.The Principle of JOY (8:2) A joyful heart is a generous heart. The Principle of PRIVILEGE (8:4) New Covenant giving is not exaction – but the honor of contributing to Christ’s cause and people. The principle of SPIRITUALITY (8:7) Paul sees giving liberally as exercising a spiritual gift on par with faith, preaching, teaching and revelation. And, it is the challenging of covetousness and materialism in us.The Principle of SINCERITY (8:8) Not giving as an investment to get material payoffs – but to bless out of love.The principle of EQUALITY (8:13) Taking how God has providentially blessed you at this moment, to make up the lack for those He has providentially left with less.The Principle of FAMILY (8:14-15) Seeing needy brothers and sisters in Christ as true family in need.The principle of PRIVACY (9:7) That how much you give, when and how is a matter between you and God, and not for public scrutiny.The Principle of CERTAINTY (9:8, 10-11) Exercising true faith that God honors and repays as He sees fit.The Principle of ENRICHMENT (9:11) That there are spiritual benefits for my own soul for material liberality in Christ’s cause.The principle of WORSHIP (9:13) That God is glorified by others for your generosity toward their need. Your giving results in their worship of Him. All these and more can be drawn directly from these 2 chapters. But as I said, my assignment is just 8:1-15. Let’s focus our attention there, and see how this shift in topic, is not a shift in theme, but an expansion and application of living under the New Covenant. Back to the situation Paul was writing into.The Corinthians, had given ear to the “super-apostles”, and a legal rather than a grace-based mindset had crept in. And whenever this happens, it manifests itself in this way: We get stingy. We get stingy financially AND personally in how we extend grace to others in their sin & brokenness. Sky reminded me Friday night of a conversation she had in sharing the Gospel in college. When Sky asked the other person what grace was – she replied: “It is something you earn.”And we can unconsciously begin to deal with others on the basis of: “they don’t deserve grace.” When the very essence of grace is – that we become the beneficiaries of what we don’t deserve. Otherwise, it isn’t grace. Paul is after his audience, and the Holy Spirit is after us to grasp this very, VERY important principle:Our attitude toward giving of our material resources and grace toward other’s sins, is directly proportional to our sense of being fully graced and lavishly given to – in Christ.You get this when you look at the passage as a whole. 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.In these 9 verses, GRACE appears 5 times. That’s a big hint as to the Holy Spirit’s emphasis. All that is about to be said about giving revolves around grace! Not quotas, obligations, tithes, percentages, taxes or anything else. Grace. Grace must inform how we handle our money – especially in regard to living and carrying out the agenda of Christ in the world – through the Church. Grace. Let’s look at the text.2 Corinthians 8:1 ESVWe want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia,Paul’s first thought is this: He wants us to hear about the way salvation had come to those in Macedonia where he was. And isn’t this the way we think of grace first – in terms of salvation? That we as lost sinners deserve only God’s wrath, and He not only shows us mercy in not punishing us for our sins – laying our guilt on Jesus – but shows us grace in lavishly giving us fountains of blessings we don’t deserve! Adoption as His own children; Eternal life; The indwelling Spirit; The Promise of the resurrection; Prayer; Fellow Believers; The Word – etc. There’s an excitement in Paul’s voice, as he recounts the way these people responded to the Gospel. When someone is suddenly endued with great stores, they want to bless others by it.When you FEEL rich, you get generous.If you FEEL poor, shortchanged or self-made (not graced), you will not be generous. And we know well enough that feelings are not a measure of the truth, but they are the response to what we think – deep down.So here. Having been so overwhelmed by the Gospel of grace regarding their sin, their first impulse was to give to “the saints”. Note too, that Paul does not look to they themselves as the source of this great impetus. This is “the grace of God which has been given in the Churches of Macedonia.” He recognizes such an outpouring as a work of God in their hearts, independent of him. Such hearts come from God, not from begging, pleading, cajoling or arm twisting.2 Cor. 8:22 Corinthians 8:2 ESVfor in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.Now look at the convergence of 2 unlikely things here. The abundance of their joy in the wonder of salvation – coupled with their extreme poverty – overflowed in a wealth of generosity! The joy of understanding the true nature of grace received in Jesus Christ – inevitably overflows into a generosity of soul, both materially and spiritually. And these two are tied together in such a way that they can help us understand when we might be slipping back from a grace-based mind-set. Remember this law-keeping focus was a core part of what the super-apostles had been bringing into the Church. And it can be so subtle and nearly unconscious, that we can easily fool ourselves into thinking we are grace-based, when in fact we’ve backslidden.Side-note: Why law- keeping is so natural. Because our fallen souls love, love, love to think of ourselves in ways that absolve us from needing a salvation that is completely free and beyond our ability to impact by being good in some way, or at least better than some others. Ever since the Fall when we first tried to be Godlike, we have shared this inward compulsion to think well of ourselves. To think we can undo what we’ve done at least in SOME regard. We so want to contribute in some way, or at least not be SO bad that everything has to be totally a gift received without any merit or work on our behalf. Nothing is so foreign to our fallen nature than this.But when we really see ourselves as totally “graced” we become joyful and generous to others. When we are still law or works based in any way, to that degree, we are stingy toward the needs of others, materially and spiritually.This really is an amazing spiritual barometer.Let me show you this dynamic in what we had read for us in Luke.Jesus gets invited to dine at a Pharisee’s house. And while eating, a woman the text says was a “sinner” – meaning she had a public reputation for being loose – shows up with an alabaster box of perfume. This would have been pretty expensive, and was probably either a gift from a paramour, or purchased with her ill-gotten gains. She stands behind Jesus, sobbing so much, that her tears wet His feet. And lacking another means, she tries to dry them with her hair, begins kissing His feet, and then breaks this expensive box to spread perfume on Jesus’ feet.The Pharisee is pretty indignant. This is unseemly. And he says to himself that if Jesus really were a prophet – He would know this gal is unsavory and reject her actions. When all at once Jesus says to the Pharisee, Simon, I have something I need to say to you. And Simon says: Say it. So Jesus tells the parable of a loan-shark that had 2 clients. One owed him the equivalent of a little less than 2 month’s pay, and the other almost 2 year’s worth. But the loan-shark for some reason canceled both their debts. So Jesus asks: “Which of them will love him more?” Simon guesses right – the one who was forgiven the most. Now you have to get the scene. Jesus is still talking to Simon, but the text says He looks at the woman while talking to him and says: I came into your house, you didn’t even show me the common courtesy of offering me water to wash my feet – while she washed them with her tears. You didn’t greet me with the customary kiss of of friendship – while she repeatedly kissed my feet. And you didn’t anoint my head with oil to signify I was an honored guest, while she anointed my feet with precious and costly ointment. So here’s the deal: She has been forgiven much, and so she loves much in return. The implication for Simon being, you don’t think you need me very much – and so you don’t love me very much.Forgiven much, she loves much. She lavishes the perfume. Lavished her gratitude.The lesson is clear isn’t it? The less we make of or forget about the enormity our sin and the debt we’ve been forgiven, the less we make of what it took to secure our salvation from it. The less “graced” we understand ourselves to be, and the less graced we feel.Here is a profound paradox in the Christian life: The reason we must not ignore or make light of our sin, is so that we might more fully know and lavish in His mercy and grace, and love Him more. When we fail to do this, it isn’t long before we show how our hearts have unconsciously drawn back into some form of legalism – because we lose the joy and the desire to be lavish with meeting the needs of others, both materially and spiritually. The less we give out of a sense of having been given lavishly to. We see it in leading up to this passage. Ben preached 2 weeks ago how the Corinthians had become restrained in their love for Paul.In effect they had said: “yes Paul, you came at great personal expense to preach to us the unsearchable riches of Christ. We know you risked your life to do so and supported yourself while here – refusing our patronage. Yes, you labored night and day and taught us of Christ and how to apply the Gospel – but, you really don’t preach all that well. You really don’t fit into our social structure. You rebuke us for sin. So we’re gonna go with these guys over here.”AND, it’s why Paul had to remind them – as Jim preached last week – to forgive and reaffirm the brother who had been disciplined for publicly challenging Paul. “Sure – we’ve been forgiven all our sins and God continues to forgive us when we fall, but THIS GUY! Whoo-boy, we don’t know.” They were no longer gracious with grace. It wasn’t being freely and lavishly given.And a key tip off as to what was happening in their hearts is that they had stopped setting aside money to send with Paul to the needy saints in Jerusalem. Grace was no longer driving their motives, even though they claimed great grace in their spiritual gifts. You see how these things all tie together. If we only see these two chapters as good advice about giving, we will miss the real importance altogether.We never give or forgive in a vacuum. We do both out of the plenitude of the riches of Christ in having forgiven us.Back to our text.2 Corinthians 8:3–5 ESVFor 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.Note Paul’s words, neither deep poverty, nor great ordeals of affliction are hindrances to an abundance of joy and a wealth of liberality. Or even better, the first two will not prevent the last, if joy is the prevailing factor. How we need His joy in the hours of heaviness and darkness. The joy of the Lord truly is our strength.When salvation first bursts in on us, joy fills the soul and transcends all else. But this is only for a season. It’s not long before the harsh realities of life begin to clamor for their place in our thoughts and emotions.Sustained joy only comes from a sense of or the realization of – just how much we’ve been both given and forgiven.It is all rooted in being filled again and again with a sense of His grace – of His delight to pour out for our benefit no matter the cost to Him. And so the Macedonians begged for the privilege – (privilege here being the same word – grace) they begged for the gift of giving to Christ’s cause and people.The question is – do we still have that same impulse? Or have we stepped away from grace into something else?When the heart is warmed by the Spirit in contemplating the lavish way God has dealt with us in Christ, we get so filled with joy that a certain holy abandon takes place, then giving is not a matter of law and percentages, it is a matter of honor. One begins to look at giving as an opportunity of great privilege. The heart is freed from the concerns that ordinarily weigh it down in covetousness, and liberated so that it seeks out places and opportunities to bestow blessing upon others.And I can say I know personally of some here who groan at present because they cannot give what they wish they could. Their present circumstances pain them in this regard. And maybe there’s some others, who have become a little more Corinthian? 2 Cor. 8:6-92 Corinthians 8:6–9 ESVAccordingly, 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.So, Paul says to the Corinthians – when we saw this, we were reminded of how it went that way with you at the first – how you too wanted to contribute. And I have sent Titus to see if that is re-kindled in you. To stir it up again. To challenge you to get back to seeing yourselves as immensely – immeasurably graced so that you jump back in. And he emphasizes that this is NOT a command. It is an opportunity to check themselves to see if that grace-based dynamic is still operative, or if it has been stifled. And then he draws it all together in this massive reality that really needs to saturate their souls and ours: 2 Cor. 8:92 Corinthians 8:9 ESVFor 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 this statement works 2 ways.First, he is NOT asking them to become poor in order to bless others – but as 13-15 reveals – he is appealing to them only to give out of their surplus:2 Corinthians 8:13–15 ESVFor 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.”Secondly he is asking them to see how this dynamic is a central feature of divine grace itself. And if we are Christ’s – ought it not to occupy a chief place in us?If the entire plan of salvation is built on lavish grace – how can it not be central to the Christian life? So the root of the giving heart, is not duty, law or precept, it is grace which flows out of having received grace.In light of this, how grotesque, garish and unseemly are most appeals for money in the Church?Most appeals seem to be void of such motivations. We tell men that if they give, it shall be given to them.And by this is meant only that if they give $10.00, God will give them that $10.00 back with something added to it. What a travesty of the beauty, simplicity, practicality and ministry this is meant to be. How desperately too do we need men and women who can be engaged in the work of dispensing such gifts responsibly within the Body.It is why we need spiritual, grace-based deacons in the Church.Here is an appeal to follow Christ in a most extraordinary way – this is not an attempt to get them to “invest” so that they can get a “many fold return.” Here the example is Jesus’ own. He left all that Heaven had. He cared nothing for position, power, reputation or material goods. His great and only concern, was to fulfil the will of the Father, concerning those who were the objects of the Father’s great love. And having loved them too – He then poured out whatever was necessary that they, that WE, might be brought into redeeming grace.It is the “readiness”, the willingness that is acceptable unto God. Why? Because such willingness is not from ourselves, but is a manifest token of His glorious work in us after the manner of Christ.Men and women of God should be people of a generous spirit. After all, look at what we have been given.And lastly, should anyone feel pressured in this – so that our giving really does issue from grace – he reminds them:2 Corinthians 8:12 ESVFor if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.This whole topic isn’t about the wallet – but about the heart. Some can do. Some can’t. Some can only do a bit. God is more pleased with the readiness of the heart – with the desire to bless.There are some who at times think – “if I can’t do something REALLY impactful, I won’t do anything at all.” And he is saying not to let such thinking creep in. God accepts our readiness to pour out to others. He looks to what we have – not what we don’t have. So what are we to do with all of this?1. Renew your gratitude into overflowing grace by regularly revisiting the magnitude of God’s grace in your salvation. NEVER, NEVER, EVER forget the depths of your sin. In fact, increase your knowledge of it. I know this is counterintuitive. And I am not asking you to walk around guilty all the time, but instead, to walk around grateful all the time.
Pull out that paper often that is marked “PAID IN FULL”. Remind yourself of the enormity of it – that it required nothing less than the blood of the eternal Son of God to discharge your debt. Be astounded again at how great it was – but – BUT, only do so as you look at the Cross at the same time, and see it fully paid. When is the last time you wept in joy over the reality of it? Each time you do, it will result in generosity toward the work of the Lord in the local assembly – that the deepest need of other’s souls might be met in preserving a place of public worship and the preaching of the Gospel and teaching of God’s Word in this community.Just last night, I had the privilege of preaching to a congregation in Secunderabad India, because your generosity not only pays my salary, but upgraded our technological capabilities in the midst of this Covid-19 crisis to allow for such ministry as an extension of this Church. For them and for those who must worship at home right now. And, it will renew in you generosity toward the resources of the local assembly to meet the temporal needs first of those among us in this assembly, and then in mercy to those beyond our walls. And it will make you lavish in forgiving one another their sins against you. 2. If providence finds you unable to give financially – give of what you have. Remember, as vs. 12 says: “for if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.”Be lavish in your prayers for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Be lavish with words of encouragement for other Believers.Be lavish in sharing the Gospel with those outside of Christ. Be lavish in forgiving those who sin against you. Be lavish in thanksgiving for all God has done, provided and promised. Let me tell you about Ruth Stewart. She was my older brother’s Mother-in-law.Ruth was a simple woman, who loved Christ. And when she died, alone in her apartment, I was asked to preside at her funeral. Abandoned by her husband to raise a large brood of children alone, she labored endlessly to provide a home for them. She was forever without means. And suffered numerous illnesses and accidents. Just before her funeral, someone told me something very few knew about her. Her tender heart toward others also in straits and in need of the Gospel, she began to read the newspaper each day – to read the police blotter. We don’t have that any more. Her focus was to find the names of those women who had been arrested and jailed for prostitution. And she would write those names down, then go and buy them a card. She would write to them, sharing the Gospel, telling them that they were loved and being prayed for and send it to them in jail. In her poverty and affliction – her joy overflowed in a wealth of generosity. And only eternity will tell of the thanksgivings that ascended to God because of it. For the price of a card, a stamp, and a few minutes of time. I want my share in being the means of others glorifying Christ Jesus. And I pray you do too. And the way there, is to be perpetually steeped in the wondrous, matchless, fathomless grace of God toward us in Jesus Christ.

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