The Grace of Giving - 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 - "excel in this grace of giving"
(I preached this message at Pine Baptist Church in Pembroke Pines Florida on September 4, 2011.)
In October 2008, www.emptytomb.org published the following data regarding giving in a report "The State of Church Giving through 2006". In 1916 Protestants gave 2.9% of their income to churches; in 1933, in the worst of the Depression, 3.2%; in 1955 after America began to experience affluence, it was still 3.2%; in 2006 Americans were 569% richer than in the Depression, after taxes and inflation, but were giving 2.6% of their income to their churches.
"Giving has not kept up with income” the report said....The Great Depression and World War II help to explain the down turn in giving in the mid-1930s. No such national disasters help to explain the decline in giving since the 1960s.”
According to a research project, "4 Key Findings from STATE of the PLATE" released in March of this year (2011), "Since the recession started in 2008, churches have been learning to navigate troubled financial waters that are unprecedented in our lifetime…"
The report indicated that 43 % of churches saw increases in giving in 2010 while 39% reported a decline in giving in the same year. The remaining 18% saw no change. The smaller churches those under 250 people in attendance saw more decline in giving than larger churches. Churches in the west coast and southeast states were hit the hardest. 46 % of churches in those states saw a decline in giving, the downturn in giving is forcing some churches to down size their staff or programs. Some churches have closed or merged with others.
I received an email this week from a pastor who said his church is going through a major financial crisis that threatens to put them out of their building very soon unless the favor of the Lord intervenes. Thursday I learned of another church in Broward whose property was foreclosed on and their members are now attending a sister church. These are difficult economic times for many of us, if not most of us.
Let me make a disclaimer at the outset of this message. This is not a message about fund raising. I give you this information as a backdrop for what we will look at this morning in 2 Corinthians 8 on the subject of giving. I don't want to minimize the challenges churches are facing. I don't want to trivialize the difficulties that many of you might be facing personally as a result of the current economic crisis.
But I am going to suggest to you that there is a greater issue at stake here than paying the grocery bill and mortgage payment, or churches meeting budgets and maintaining programs. And it is this, making sure we understand God's provision for us in the matter of giving. I hope you didn't miss what I just said. I said, "God's provision for us" in the matter of giving.
Let me ask you a question? Have you ever been given a gift and felt hesitant to receive it because you felt undeserving? Perhaps you felt the person giving the gift could not afford to give you the gift. Remember Paul's words to the Ephesian elders Acts 20:35? He reminded them that Jesus said '''It is more blessed to give
than to receive.'" (emphasis mine) That sounds counterintuitive doesn't it? Most of us would associate blessing with receiving rather than giving. I think that Paul's doctrine of "grace giving" in 2 Corinthians 8 explains how it can be more blessed to give than to receive.
In this letter, Paul once again addresses the Corinthian church regarding an offering he was collecting for the church in Jerusalem that was undergoing very difficult economic times including a famine. That is the context of 2 Corinthians 8:1-15.
Read with me our text this morning that includes words of encouragement and instruction to the Corinthian church as they prepare to participate in that offering.
"We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 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. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favorof taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 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. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 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. 10 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. 11 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. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (ESV)
I remember reading about the economic problems in Russia after the fall of the Communist regime. One of the serious problems was a shortage of food. But the problem was not a lack of food. The problem was with the “delivery system” of the food. You see, food was rotting and spoiling in warehouses because of the failure to get the food to the consumer.
It was a delivery or distribution problem not a lack of resources. Could I draw a parallel here? Lack of giving is usually not a shortage of resources. If I understand 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 correctly it is more a failure of the “delivery system.” We are going to see that grace giving takes care of the “delivery problem." And according to chapter 9 it takes care of the resource problem as well. 2 Corinthians chapters eight and nine, in my opinion, is the greatest passage in the Bible on giving. This passage gives us one of the most remarkable stories of giving in the Bible, the giving of the Macedonian Christians. Paul uses the Macedonians as an example in challenging the Corinthian church in their giving to the famine stricken Jerusalem church.
If you look carefully at the first part of chapter eight, you notice the emphasis on grace in this matter of giving. In fact, grace is so closely linked with giving that Paul in verse seven calls it an "act of grace" (ESV), or the "grace of giving" (NIV).
A number of years ago, Dr. Keith Bailey wrote, "The theological basis of stewardship is the doctrine of grace." I think that is probably why the New Testament says next to nothing about tithing. Now, I believe tithing is Biblical. I practice it and teach it and commend it to you. Jesus endorsed it, as did the prophet Malachi. But other than Jesus' endorsement little mention is made of it in the New Testament.
As Paul prepared the Corinthian church to participate in the offering he was taking up his emphasis was on the grace of giving, verse six. When we begin to talk about grace we begin to focus on what God wants to do through us. You see, "grace giving" depends on God. Isn't that what grace is all about? God doing in us and through us and for us what we cannot possibly do for ourselves?
That means that in "grace giving" God provides us with both the motive or desire to give and the means or resources to give. Did you get that? In "grace giving" God provides us with both the motive or desire to give and the means or resources to give.
Paul cites the Macedonian Christians as examples of grace givers. By looking at this passage, we can see the characteristics of grace giving in the lives of these Macedonians and in Paul's instructions to the Corinthians.
First of all, generosity, verse two, is a characteristic of grace giving. Paul described their giving as "a wealth of generosity on their part" (ESV), literally, "abounded to the riches of the liberality of them" (Marshall). Paul is not talking about the amount they gave. They couldn't have given a very sizeable amount because according to verse two they lived in "extreme poverty". As someone has said, it was a "deep down poverty." In other words they were "scraping the bottom of the barrel" due to the harsh treatment of the Romans who were exploiting their natural resources.
It was not the size of the gift Paul was commenting on. It was how generous they were with what they had. It was the "delivery system" that was so unusual. You see, God had done a work in their heart that released generosity in their giving despite their difficult economic circumstances. You see, generosity is a characteristic of grace giving.
Secondly, verse three, sacrifice is a characteristic of grace giving. Verse three, "they gave…beyond their means" (ESV) "beyond their ability" (NIV). It is one thing to give when you have plenty. It is another thing to give when you have next to nothing.
In Mark 12: 41-44 we are told that Jesus sat down opposite the temple treasury and watched people put their offerings in the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums of money. But a poor widow gave two small copper coins, two leptons. A lepton was a Jewish coin worth 1/128thof a denarius. One denarius was one day's wage of a laborer in those days. In other words, the widow gave a very small gift. Based on our minimum wage scale the widow put about 94 cents into the offering box. Jesus called this to the attention of his disciples and said that the widow out gave the rich. The reason for this conclusion is found in verse 44, "…they contributed out of their abundance (wealth NIV), but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." (ESV) This was very similar to the experience of the Macedonian Christians.
Alan Redpath has written, "They gave out of what they could not afford." It is one thing to give generously when you have plenty. It is another thing to give everything you have when you have very little. Grace giving has less to do with what you have than it does with what you are willing to live without. Sacrifice is a characteristic of grace giving.
Thirdly, willingness is a characteristic of grace giving, verses 4, 10-11. Evidently Paul did not have to do any arm-twisting to get the Macedonians to give. On the contrary, the Macedonians who lived in extreme poverty according to verses three and four, "Entirely on their own…urgently pleaded with us" (NIV) ("begging us earnestly" ESV) '...for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints."(NIV)
In verse ten Paul comments on the desire, the willingness of the Corinthians, to participate in this offering. He says that a year ago they were the first to "have the desire to do so." Then in verse eleven, he encourages them to follow through with this "eager willingness" ("readiness in desiring it" ESV). He goes on in verse twelve to say, "…if the willingness (or eagerness, readiness ESV) is there, the gift is acceptable".
It would appear that to Paul, one's attitude in giving was of paramount importance. He wanted the Corinthians to follow through with their giving but is concerned that the motive, an eager willingness, is behind the giving. Paul deals with this again in chapter nine verse seven where he admonishes them to give, "not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." It is the grace of God at work in our lives that creates eagerness, a willingness to give.
The fourth characteristic of grace giving is surrender, verse five. In fact we might say that surrender is the pre-requisite for grace giving. Surrender to God, that is. When you surrender yourself to God you will also surrender all that you have to God. Perhaps you've heard the slogan, "God does not have a man until he has his pocketbook.” The truth behind that saying is found here in verse five, "they gave themselves first to the Lord". You see, the greatest obstacle to giving has never been lack of resources. It has been the lack of a willing heart. In other words, it's a heart problem.
Jesus said as much, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth… but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is there your heartwill be also. (emphasis mine Matthew 6:19-21 ESV) In other words, your heart follows your treasure. And then he makes this observation, verse 24, "No one can serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot love both God and money." (Matthew 6:24 ESV)
Therein lays the tension. Jesus was emphatic about this. You cannot split your allegiance between God and your money. Alexander MacLaren has written, "These Macedonians did more that Paul had hoped for, and the explanation of the unexpected largeness of their contribution was their yielding themselves to Jesus. That is the deepest source of all liberality. If a man feels that he does not own himself, much less will he feel his goods are his own?"
As they surrendered their lives to Christ, the grace of God flowed through the Macedonians. As they surrendered their lives to Christ, God's giving heart flowed through them; God's giving nature was reproduced in them. It was as though God gave through these suffering, poverty stricken, Christians.
Number five, grace giving is always voluntary, verse eight. The defining motive behind grace giving is love. Paul did not want to "command" the Corinthians to give. He wanted their giving to be an act of love.
When a man and a woman commit themselves to marriage it is a voluntary act. They give themselves to one another whole-heartedly, completely, permanently and voluntarily, in an act of love and commitment. And all of this is motivated by their love for one another. The voluntary lifelong commitment they make to one another is the ultimate test of their love.
Paul points to the grace of Jesus Christ as the model of this voluntary sacrificial love. Jesus was rich, but He became poor "so that you by his poverty might become rich." (verse nine ESV) Grace giving is voluntary giving.
Dr. L. L. King writes, "He [Paul] could have called their attention to the fact that Jesus, the Head of the church, endorsed tithing. Also, in accordance with his own divine commission and authority as an apostle, he was entitled to command them to give. Instead, he chose to put the Corinthians to the test of love."
Dr. King continues, "Sometimes people have asked: 'If the Lord wanted us to give, why did He not leave a clear command and stipulate the amount? How gladly then would we do it.' Ah! There you have it. You want a command to make you do it. But Christ does not want to make us give. He wants us to give out of love for Him. He therefore, has made the motivation to give and the amount to give to be the test of our devotion to Him."
Sixthly, grace giving is proportionate, verses 11 and 12. In verse 11 Paul says we are to give "according to your means" or "completing it out of what you have" (ESV) or "Give in proportion to what you have." (NLT) And he repeats this in verse 12, giving should be "according to what a person has".
Earlier he wrote something similar in his first letter to the Corinthians 16:2, "On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper." (ESV) or "in keeping with his income"(NIV). This answers the question – "How much?"
Pastor David Petrescue writes,
"The New Testament does not teach tithing, although Jesus encouraged people to keep doing it. The New Testament teaches proportional giving. We are to give as we have been blessed, not with equal gifts but with equal sacrifice."("Your Money Matters", Alliance life 02-14-96)
Roy LaTourneau, was known as "The Dean of Earthmoving." Back in the first half of the 20thcentury he designed and built different kinds of earthmoving machines. He was known around the world as a leader in the development and manufacture of heavy earth moving equipment. As a committed Christian, he was tithing 90% of his income by the end of his life. I know of another Christian businessman, Stanley Tam, who legally made God the owner of his business so that all of the profits went to the Lord's work.
If you make $20,000/year and tithe, you are left with $18,000 to live on. If you make $100,000/year and tithe, you are left with $90,000 to live on. That is why the New Testament teaches proportionate giving. That is why grace giving is proportionate giving.
G. Campbell Morgan commenting on 1 Corinthians 16:2 wrote, "The giving of the Christian man is to be personal; let every man. It is to be regular, upon the first day of the week. It is to be perpetually readjusted, according as God has prospered."
This is why tithing is not the focus in the New Testament. For some it would be too limiting. I believe God wants to demonstrate His grace in our giving by taking us well beyond the tithe. There is nothing wrong with the tithe as long it is viewed as the beginning not the end of our giving, the minimum not the maximum.
Lastly, grace giving is characterized by concern for others, verses 13-15. Paul is promoting a concern for equality or as the ESV translates it "fairness", in other words a concern that the needs of everyone are met. In verse 14, the contrast is between those who have "plenty" or "abundance" (ESV) and those who have a "need". In other words, the contrast is between those who have more than they need, and those who do not have enough. So Paul argues that it is appropriate for those who have "plenty", or more than they need, to supply the need of those who do not have enough. And he points out that the day may come when the shoe is on the other foot. When the need of the Corinthians will be supplied by the plenty of others.
This concept was practiced early on by the Jerusalem church. Acts 4:32-35, 32Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 3And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (ESV emphasis mine)
Friends, you cannot explain that kind of love, sacrifice and care for one another apart from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ at work in His body the Church! And that is what the text says "...great grace was upon them all."
I will never forget Father's Day of last year (2010). The leadership of this church had invited my family and I to come here so they could pray for us, and I could bring the morning message. Just six weeks earlier, on Mother's Day, May 9 my family was on their way to join me where I was preaching that morning, but they never made it and I never peached that Mother's Day sermon. While driving on Pine Island Road in Plantation, they were in a very serious automobile accident.
My son Christopher resuscitated my wife at the scene of the accident after he dragged her lifeless body from the car before the EMT's arrived. Three of my family ustained serious injuries. On that morning last June 20 here at Pines Baptist, three wonderful things happened. The church gathered around my family and prayed for us. Then I had the privilege to preach, my first love in ministry. And after the service Pastor Acosta gave us a love gift of $3,000 that had been collected earlier from you. Grace giving in action. Church, thank you again.
As I said at the beginning of this message through "grace giving" God provides us with both the motive, the desire to give and the means or resources to give. That means that each of us no matter who we are, or what we have can be participants in grace giving.
I close with this illustration and a final quote. In 1 Kings chapter seventeen, God sent the prophet Elijah to give a message to wicked King Ahab, "…there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word. (Verse 1 ESV) Then the Lord ordered Elijah into hiding by the brook Kerith east of the Jordan River. There Elijah camped drinking from the brook and eating food the Lord provided him flown in by ravens. Eventually, due to the drought, the brook dried up.
Who did God send Elijah to for food and shelter? To the wealthiest home? To the local philanthropist in the village Zarephath? No, to a widow who was down to her last meal. A widow, who in this drought stricken land had enough food for one last meal for her and her son. God asked her to supply the needs of His prophet. And she did, feeding him first as he requested. And just as Elijah had promised she and her household ate for many mofe days as God in his grace kept refilling the flour pot and the jug of oil.
You've heard the slogan, "You cannot out give God." It's true. The widow of Zarephath experienced it. 2 Corinthians chapter nine teaches it. But that is another message.
As Dr. A. B. Simpson founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance has written,
"In second Corinthians 8 we are first taught that giving is a grace. It is not a work; it is not something we have to do but it is something God will do through us if we will let him. Grace is something given to us not something we give but something we get."
Dr. Simpson continues,
"God does not require us to give as a hard exercise. He wants to give us the Spirit of giving. This then is something we must take as a divine gift, a grace of the Holy Ghost. It belongs to the essential qualities of holiness and right living and without it we cannot call ourselves truly sanctifies children of God."
2018 James P. McGarvey All rights reserved