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Giving Gracefully

Date: Jan. 17, 2021

Author: Bob Henkins

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Key Verse: 2 Corinthians 8:9

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 through his poverty might become rich.

I’m not sure if you know it or not, but this fall will be the 10th anniversary of us purchasing our Bible house. I still can’t believe that it has been ten years since we bought the building. If you remember, it was the fall of 2011, not quite four years after our fellowship established an independent UBF chapter at IIT, when, with the help of M. Daniel, we purchased the Bible house. I can still remember the early days when we first went through the building with the boarded-up doors (which by the way is the picture on our Facebook page) and all the garbage scattered across the floors. And there was black and green mold covering the walls which was so nasty that we had to wear masks and it irritated my skin. A year later we finished the renovation of the second floor, and it was then that Dan and Viola’s family became the Bible house’s first tenants. Then in the summer of 2016 we finally finished renovating the whole building and we could host all kinds of events and have lunches there every week. It has truly been a blessing to our ministry. It’s hard to remember what our fellowship was like without it. And then last November, by the grace of God, and our sacrificial fellowship members, we paid our last mortgage payment. Thankfully, a heavy burden has been lifted off our shoulders.

The reason I bring this up is because all this wouldn’t have been possible without the sacrificial giving of our precious fellowship members and co-workers. Our Bible house is evidence of God’s grace working in people’s hearts and that’s a beautiful thing. In our passage today, Paul talks about a similar instance in which God’s grace was seen by the sacrificial giving of the Macedonian church.

Our passage starts off today in chapter 8. Let’s take a look at verse 1. “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.”

In this verse, Paul is referring to three churches that he visited on his second and third missionary journeys from 49 to 57 A.D. They were located in the Roman province of Macedonia, which was in the northern part of Greece, in the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. Paul was amazed by the generosity of these churches even though they were in difficult times. Verse 2 tells us, “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” What Paul meant by a “very severe trial” was that Macedonia and Achaia area were hit really hard by a series of unfortunate events through history so that the area never really recovered and fell into extreme poverty. They experienced more than eighteen years of war from 48 to 30 B.C. as Rome went through three civil wars first between Caesar and Pompey, and second between the forces of Mark Antony and Octavian (Augustus) against the leaders of Julius Caesar's assassination, Brutus and Cassius and then third between Octavian (who now went by the name Augustus) and Antony turn against each other. In addition to this, because of those long years of war, the second Roman emperor Tiberius oppressed them with a heavy burden of taxes to pay for all those wars. Thus, after being ravished by war and heavily taxed the area never recovered.

Now what amazed Paul was, when the believers in those three Macedonian churches heard about the dire situation of the Jerusalem Christians, because of war, famine, and persecution they gave a generous offering even though they didn’t have much themselves. Not only did they give generously, but they were also super joyful about it. Usually when people run into difficult times, they become anxious, worrisome and complain to everyone about their situation. It’s difficult for them to think of anyone but themselves. But the Macedonian believers were different. They had overflowing joy in the middle of their severe trial. Even in extreme poverty, they made a generous offering giving no impression of being poor, instead, they appeared to be rich.

How was this possible? It was because they experienced the grace of God. That is why Paul talked about the grace God had given them. Here “grace” is to receive something that we don’t deserve. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us and forgave all our sins and made us precious children of God (Ro 5:8). That is the real meaning of grace. When the Macedonian churches received the grace of forgiveness, they experienced the love of God who did not spare his one and only Son but gave him up as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Then they could participate in the offering generously with overflowing joy. They didn’t do this with their human effort, but it was the grace of God working in them, and the fruit of the Holy Spirit. That is why Paul called their offering grace.

In verses 3-5 Paul reveals the attitude of the Macedonian believers. Take a look, “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.” In these verses we can find several distinctive characteristics. First, they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. It’s amazing that they didn’t calculate the minimum possible requirement and offer grudgingly. They gave as much as they were able and even more. Second, they took the initiative to give. They came to the decision to give on their own. No one forced them. It was done out of a willing decision. That is how they could have overflowing joy. Third, they considered it a privilege of sharing in the service of God’s people. Usually those who raise funds for a cause will plead for donations from others, but the Macedonians pleaded to participate in giving themselves, considering it a privilege. Here we see that offering is not only giving to God, but it also has the meaning of sharing fellowship with others. It is a great privilege to share the grace of God with others.

Fourth, they gave themselves FIRST TO THE LORD. Here we must realize that offering is not just about our resources like money. It is giving of ourselves: our hearts, our labor, our time to God. What God really wants is not our money, but us. When Cain and Abel brought their offerings, God first looked at the person and then at their offering. God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s because Cain’s heart was not right with God. God wants us to have a personal relationship with him through offering. That is why God wants us to offer ourselves first to him and THEN they gave to others. In this way, they showed their loved for God and also their love for others. They gave to others according to God’s will, not willy-nilly. The way the Macedonians believers gave their offering, they personified our theme of 2 Corinthians “Strength in Weakness,” because their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

Verse 7 says, “But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” Corinth was a thriving city chief among the cities of Greece both commercially and politically. Trade flowed through the city from Italy and Spain on the west to Egypt and Asia Minor on the east. The Corinthian believers excelled in many areas. Now Paul asked them to excel in the grace of giving as well. There was a possibility that Corinthian believers might have been influenced by Greek philosophy in which they regarded spiritual things as good and precious, but material things were evil and worthless. So, they didn’t regard offerings as part of spiritual activity. They might have boasted about their faith, but they didn’t value material giving. However, Paul put the same value on material giving that he put on other spiritual activities. We need balance in our spiritual life. We have to make effort to offer materials to God as much as we struggle to excel in faith and knowledge. Material life cannot be separated from the life of faith. It is part of our life of faith. So, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21).

In verses 8 & 9, Paul said that he was commanding them to give because commanded giving wouldn’t be tithing but taxation. “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.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 through his poverty might become rich.” Paul wasn’t trying to order the Corinthians around against their will, but he hoping to bring the best out of them by encouraging their love by telling them about the Macedonians’ enthusiasm. He reminded them of Jesus’ example, rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich.

If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that I skipped over verse 6, that’s because I wanted to include in with verses 10-11 because it has to do with the same topic about finishing what you start. Take a look at verses 10-11. “And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.” Most people can start something, but a lot of people have trouble finishing what they started. Early on in my engineering career, one of my managers told me the 90/10 rule. He said, “Ninety percent of project engineers start out strong, but only ten percent finish strong.” Often times projects get close to done, but not really finished because a couple of things get left behind. So, he wanted to encourage me to finish my projects strong. Likewise, that’s what Paul is trying to do here and help the Corinthians to follow through and keep their word because they had pledged to help the year before. It’s easier to watch a message like this on the internet rather than go to someplace to worship because it requires less of a commitment. Frankly speaking, I’ve enjoyed this part of the pandemic because most days I don’t even have to change out of the clothes I was sleeping in. I can just roll out of bed, throw on Facebook Live and listen to the message. Compared to getting up early, getting dressed, driving over to the chapel, setting up all the equipment. This is much easier and less of a commitment, but in reality, ministry really happens when people commit their time, their money, themselves. You need all of it. People can say with their mouth, “I love Jesus”, but you really find out if people sincerely love Jesus when they give their time and money. There is a saying “Talk is cheap,” or “Put your money where your mouth is.” And honestly, there wouldn’t be an IIT bible house without the flesh and blood of people participating in ministry with us.

In verses 12-15 we can see the biblical meaning of offering. First, let’s take a look at verse 12 it says, “12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” The first thing we see here has to do with a person’s attitude in giving, that is they have to be willing. This connects to what I mentioned earlier about the Macedonian’s overflowing joy because they gave willingly. The willingness to give sanctifies the gift for God loves a joyful giver. (2 Cor 9:7) The second thing we notice is that we are to give according to our means. God was very particular about offering when He spoke about how we are to give. For example, in Exodus, we are to give based on how our, “heart prompts us to give.” (Ex 25:2). In Leviticus, “give according to your affordability” (Lev 14:30). In Ezra, “according to their ability” (Ez 2:69). In Acts, “people also gave according to their ability” (Ac 11:29). Each of us are to bring a gift (known as a freewill offering- Ezra 8:28) in proportion to the way the Lord has blessed us. God doesn’t want us to go into debt in order to give to him yet at the same time King David said, “I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Sam 24:24) There should be a balance to our offering. Paul encouraged them to offer willingly for God accepts the willing offering according to what one has, regardless of the amount of money. No offering is too small in the sight of God if it is given willingly and sacrificially. For example, a poor widow offered two very small copper coins worth only a fraction of a penny. But Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others because she gave out of her poverty” (Mk 12:41-43).

Paul further explained the meaning of the offering so that they may not be misunderstood. Look at verses 13-15. “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”” Through this we can see that Paul wasn’t trying to squeeze them for money, but rather teach them the concept of equality where those who have plenty can supply those in need. This is not forced like communism but done voluntarily out of love. This is one way we can follow God and love one another. This comes from knowing the grace of Jesus.

Most of the time people avoid talking about offering money because its and awkward and uncomfortable subject. Usually, this is because we’ve seen a lot of problems around the topic of money especially when its connected to ministry. Maybe people have been forced, coerced, or guilted into giving. Or maybe we’ve seen offering taught in a wrong way where you give to get more. Or maybe there is a trust issue because of abuse, where a ministry may not have used the offering in a godly way. However, when done properly, giving can fill us with the grace of God and build our relationship with other believers. Giving starts with CONVICTION which leads to COMMITMENT and CULMINATES in overflowing joy to serve. Through this we can learn how to use our money in a right way. We should not put our hope in wealth, and we should not be arrogant because of what we have. We should be generous and willing to share with others who are in need. In this way we can lay up treasure for ourselves as a firm foundation for our life (1 Ti 6:17-19).

In verse 9, we can see the giving example of Jesus. It says, “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 through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus didn’t go to the cross grumpy, stomping his feet, Jesus did it willingly. No one took Jesus’ life from him, but he laid it down on his own accord (Jn 10:18).

Through verse nine, we can learn three things about the grace of Jesus. First, the grace of Jesus comes from giving up his right and privilege as the Creator God. John 1:3 says, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” This verse tells us that Jesus is the Creator God. He is the Owner of all things. In heaven, he enjoyed honor and glory and praise from all creatures. However, he came down to this world as a human being, taking the very nature of a man. He was born in a manger, (Lk 2:7) and grew up in a poor family in an oppressed nation (Isa 53:2). During his life he had no place to lay his head (Lk 9:58). He gave up all his rights and privileges as God and made himself nothing for our sake (Php 2:6-8). Usually, people don’t want to give up their rights and privileges, but rather enjoy them for as long as they can. Grace does not come from such people. Grace comes through giving up rights and privileges.  Second, the grace of Jesus comes from his humility and service. In the world there is no grace because people do not want to serve others, but rather they want to be served. But in Jesus there is grace because “Although he was the Son of God, he came into the world not to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45). Jesus served all kinds of people, selfish people like Levi (Matthew), proud people like Nicodemus, wayward people like the Samaritan woman, powerless people like the paralytic, angry and rebellious people like the demon-possessed man, and ambitious people like his disciples. And Jesus served all of them with God’s love, prayer, and the word of God until they were changed into new people. Third, the grace of Jesus comes from his total sacrifice on the cross for our sins. His sacrifice paid the ransom for our sins. There is no grace where people only talk with no action, however there is true grace where there is sacrifice.

From Deuteronomy we learn that God is the one who gives us the ability to produce wealth. (Deut 8:18). Sometimes the truth is, often we are in need, because we squandering what God has given us. We tend to think that in lean times people don’t want to give, but more so, in times of plenty people don’t really want to give either. We tend to want to make excuses because we don’t want to let go. Therefore, we need God’s grace and his wisdom in the administration of the resources that he entrusted to us.

Usually talking about money is awkward and uncomfortable, but not so here because it is full of God’s grace. We are joyful to give. We are compelled. By giving we are sharing in fellowship with others, we invest in them. When we have plenty, we can back them up, and they can do likewise for us.

The grace of Jesus is truly marvelous. When we know and have experienced Jesus’ grace, we can offer ourselves to God, and share with others joyfully and willingly. But from time to time we easily forget this grace. Then we become stingy in offering to God and miserable. Therefore, I pray that we may always remember the grace of our Jesus in our lives and live willingly and joyfully loving God and loving others.

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