Respond to the generosity of Christ
“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus left his throne in heaven and humbled himself to come to earth wrapped in human flesh and blood to be born here as our brother. His generosity was greater than any that has ever been shown. He humbled himself to death – not because of sins he had committed – but because of our sins. He endured the shame of the cross and the insult of the grave so that through him we might enjoy eternal life at his side in heaven. The generosity of Christ is immeasurable. But by that generosity we are saved.
“Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”
2 Corinthians 8:1-9
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. 6 So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Jesus loved to talk about money. In fact, he talked about money more than he talked about prayer or love or service or family or even heaven! You have to wonder why something Jesus talked so much about makes so many people nervous. Some insist that a church struggling to grow is a church that struggles with generosity. Generosity is nothing more than a willingness to share what has been given to us to the glory of God.
If you have already read your bulletin, you must notice that we have some very generous people in our congregation. Over $700 was collected from coins in baby bottles to assist in the work of New Beginnings - a program of Christian Life Resources geared to help unwed mothers spiritually, physically. You noticed that we have received a $50,000 and a $10,000 and a $100 donations toward the road project here at church. Generosity can be contagious. Generosity was contagious in Corinth as we shall now learn. St. Paul urges us to
Excel in the grace of giving
Notice the generosity of others
Respond to the generosity of Christ
St. Paul had spent seven chapters of this letter reminding the Corinthians of the gospel he shared with them. It was the same gospel he had proclaimed in his first letter to them. The gospel centers in the grace of God by which sinners are reconciled to God through the blood of Christ. Now that Paul is confident that the Corinthians understand this grace, he speaks to them about the grace of giving. The grace of giving is a by-product of saving grace.
There were several congregations in Macedonia: Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea and maybe others too. St. Paul noticed their generosity and he uses that to teach the Corinthians an important lesson about generosity and the grace of giving. The grace of giving – by its very name - is not self-created. It is a grace that God works in the hearts of believers. God motivates Christian to generosity in loving response to the generosity of Christ by which he gave up everything for our salvation. A God-pleasing gift is inseparably connected to the grace of God in Christ.
Notice the generosity of the Macedonian churches: “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” Their generosity is evident in 6 ways:
First, they gave in rich generosity. It was the attitude with which they presented their gift – not the amount – that caught Paul’s attention. There were not ulterior motives, no hidden agendas attached to their gifts. They weren’t trying to gain God’s favor or Paul’s favor either! There were genuinely thankful for what the Lord had done for them in Christ. They were grateful, even joyful, for these blessings in the midst of extreme poverty and persecution. Surely, we would agree that these Christians “excelled in the grace of giving.”
Secondly, they gave beyond their ability. There giving was extravagant, like the giving of the widow who put all she had in the offering at the temple. Some may call such extravagance “foolish.” Compelled by the grace of God, a grateful Christian can do no less! Paul reminds us that Christian giving is a joyful exercise of Christian faith.
Thirdly, they gave of their own accord. They didn’t present their gifts because Paul told them to. In fact, knowing their poverty, Paul may have discouraged them from giving. They gave because they wanted to. It was spontaneous! Spontaneity is a characteristic of sanctification. Offerings seen as obligations, call them dues or tithes or one’s fair share, are not offerings presented freely and willingly.
Fourthly, they begged to take part in the offering. The Corinthians considered it an act of kindness on Paul’s part to allow them to participate in the offering. They considered their gifts a “ministry” or “service” they were providing for others. Our offerings are a spiritual endeavor. It is a ministry we offer to God.
In the fifth place, they gave in response to a need. The need was clear. Fellow believers in far-away Jerusalem were starving. They saw an opportunity to express their Christian love and they responded accordingly. There is nothing wrong with giving to a need. However, the motivation for presenting the offering must always flow from the grace of God given to us in Christ. Giving a gift to meet a need is a way for Christians to exercise responsible giving. God’s people have a right to know how the gifts we present to the Lord are being used.
Notice also that they “gave themselves first to the Lord.” Later on in this letter St. Paul wrote, “What I want is not your possessions, but you” (12:14). You see, the Lord doesn’t look at dollars and cents. He looks at hearts. St. Paul is writing by inspiration of God and assures us that the Macedonian Christians had given their hearts to the Lord with their offerings as a fitting response to the grace of God that had saved them.
Christian giving is all about hearts. Hearts have experienced the pain of sin and shame, guilt and selfishness and worthlessness. Hearts have experienced the joy of forgiveness, peace with God and their neighbor and meaning and purpose in life by living each day for Christ. That’s where godly giving begins. Godly giving is all about attitude. Godly giving is fueled by the grace of God alone. Nothing more and nothing less than consistent preaching of the gospel opens hearts before anyone ought to open their wallet.
I urge you to excel in the grace of giving by noticing the generosity of others but most importantly respond to the generosity of Christ! St. Paul sent Titus to Corinth. He had been there before to work through some difficult problems. Now he would have the joy of watching the Corinthians excel in the grace of giving, just as they excel in everything.
The generosity of Christ worked a strong faith in the hearts of these people. Christ had so impacted the lives of the Corinthians that their speech reflected a heart that was devoted to Christ. They knew the grace of God in Christ. There was a spiritual maturity among the Corinthians that kept them focused on all that Christ had done for them. They were ready. They were chomping at the bit for the opportunity to respond to Christ’s love for them with a gift of love to him. They also had a love for their spiritual leaders who spoke the Word of God to them. They were ready to respond to the grace of God in Christ with their own gifts of love.
St. Paul wrote, “See that you also excel in this grace of giving.” Why? We don’t earn a place in heaven by the offerings we present to God. Why excel in this grace of giving? We have a lot of needs ourselves and may need the money we have saved up some day. Why excel in the grace of giving? There are others who have more money than I do. Let them give more. Why? Here’s why we want to excel in this grace of giving: “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” This is not a pass/fail test. This is a test to show you how incredibly wealthy you really are! This is a test to gauge your zeal for serving your Lord. The zeal with which we present our offerings verifies the genuineness of our love for Christ. Our offerings express our love for God’s grace that has been showered on us in Christ.
Clearly the motivation for Christian giving has to come from Christ. Consider the generosity with which he served us. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus left his throne in heaven and humbled himself to come to earth wrapped in human flesh and blood to be born here as our brother. His generosity was greater than any that has ever been shown. He humbled himself to death – not because of sins he had committed – but because of our sins. He endured the shame of the cross and the insult of the grave so that through him we might enjoy eternal life at his side in heaven. The generosity of Christ is immeasurable. But by that generosity we are saved.
So, notice the generosity of others. You can read about it in the bulletin. But above all respond to the generosity of Christ. As you do that, you will most certainly “excel in the grace of giving.”