Title: Grace Illustrated: A Genuinely Generous Church
Text: 2 Corinthians 8.1-15
CIT: Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to complete their gift of giving to the churches in Jerusalem.
CIS: The grace of God is being displayed through your faithfulness in finishing the task.
Introduction: An Outline of Paul’s Concern for the Poor Believers in Jerusalem…
From infancy, the apostolic fathers have had concern for the poor in Jerusalem. Why? Who knows for sure? I suppose it could be that there was a form of persecution that arose against the Jews who converted to Christianity. It just might have been that many of the Jewish leaders pushed the Jews to reject the new Christians by forcing them out of business. It seems feasible, seeing that many thousands were converted in those first couple of years after Christ had been resurrected. Maybe they had become victims of social and economic ostracism, excommunication, and other forms of economic sanctions.
You might recall in Acts chapter 6, the first major disturbance in the church arose from the concern that many Gentile windows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of the food. The apostles then organized the church with deacons to oversee this matter. My guess is that this took place within the first couple of years of Christendom.
It was some time within that same time frame that Paul would be converted. He would have been an eye witness and maybe even party to the impoverished plight of the Christians; however, three years after his conversion he would witness it 1st hand and up close when he traveled to visit the brothers in Jerusalem. You might remember, so fresh was his conversion that the apostles weren’t sure if he was safe or not!
Harold Hoehner suggests the date of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection in 33AD. Assuming that to be the case, the Deacons would have been appointed in 35 AD, which would be about the same time Paul got saved. Give or take. That would mean by 38 AD, he was seeing their suffering 1st hand. And it would always be in the back of his mind.
Paul left and returned to his home in Tarsus, where Barnabas found him and brought him to Antioch to disciple the new believers there. From there, Paul traveled on his 1st MJ (Acts 11.27-30), from Antioch for the sole purpose of helping those suffering in Jerusalem. 27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. So, Paul is involved in mission work from the beginning. This experience would be foundational to his philosophy of ministry and mission. And, would therefore teach his new converts about this mission.
At the end of Acts 12, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch and are quickly commissioned by the church to begin this mission work as a Church Planter. It was after this MJ that Paul returned to Jerusalem for his 3rd visit. According to Galatians, it had been 14 years since his 1st visit to Jerusalem as a Christian. His purpose was to attend the 1st Church Council meeting to address the issue of the Gentiles getting saved. Did they have to become Jews 1st? Paul and Barnabas would be expert witnesses to give testimony to all that had been going on.
Look with me at Galatians 2. You see in v1 that Paul mentions that “14 years” I referred to a moment ago. He speaks of the leaders, in v9, let’s pick up there: 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Galatians 2.10;
This would be a theme that would permeate Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. We see it again in 1 Corinthians 16. Turn there:
16 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. (I don’t know of a reference in Galatians to this. It must have been something he was doing while with them.) 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me. (We’ll look more closely at these fellows next week)
Now, roughly a year after he writes 2 Corinthians, Paul tells the Romans that he has collected this offering and is carrying it to Jerusalem: Romans 15.22-29;
Paul’s Plan to Visit Rome
22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. 29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
So, what we’re studying today, and what we’ll look at over the next couple of weeks, does see fruit. Paul is making his appeal here and from Romans and Acts 24.17, we see he was successful. He testifies before Felix there: 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult…
Transition: I hope you see through this particular story of gifts and offerings that Paul was always concerned for the poor in Jerusalem and what should be done to help them. I think it would be helpful to understand the context of the poor as being poor Christians suffering for their faith.
- Saints – Jewish Christians (both Hebrew speaking and Greek speaking Jews); converted Jews who were targeted.
- Poor – very poor and in need
Now, let’s look closely at what he says to the Corinthians about this special offering. Rd 2 Corinthians 8.1 – We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 1st, a note here before we truly dig in: note the word grace. It appears 5 times in these 1st 9 verses. And 10 times in these two chapters. Paul calls this offering the grace of God. Hence, the title of today’s message: Grace Illustrated.
Now in the next 14 verses, we’re going to identify 11 characteristics of a genuinely, generous church. That’s right: 11 characteristics of a genuinely, generous church. I’ve divided this passage into three parts – the typical Greek/Hebrew triad, identifying 11 characteristics within these three main illustrations made by Paul. These 3 examples will be identified as:
- An Example of the Generous Church: Macedonia (1-7) where we’ll see the 1st 6 characteristics
- An Example of the Genuine Giver: Jesus (8-9); where we’ll see 2 more characteristics
- An Example of the Gospel: Fairness (10-15); the last three characteristics.
t.s.: let’s begin with the 1st section: An Example of the Generous Church
1. An Example of the Generous Church: Macedonia (1-7)
exp.: look at v 1-2a; 1st, characteristic:
- A Generous Church doesn’t let affliction stop them from giving
exp.: v2; a severe test of affliction; πολλή: many or much or great; persecution; for this to apply to us, we might need to substitute the word persecution with affliction or struggle. For sure, we’re not suffering as they did, be we do struggle and we do have barriers in our struggle that make us think we can’t give. 2ndly,
- A Generous Church doesn’t let accounting stop them from giving
exp.: v2b; Sure, it may look like you can’t on paper; however, God doesn’t limit his work of grace to paper and ink! Extreme poverty; Gk is βάθος or depths; bathysphere – a deep sea vessel which finds it’s success in the depths by creating an equal and opposite amount of pressure. The deeper it goes, the greater the pressure. These people weren’t just poor – they’d been cast into the ocean and were drowning. Have you ever heard the words drowning in debt. Luke 5 – “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Romans 8 – 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 11 – 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
You get the idea. These people were in deep, extreme poverty. #3…
- A Generous Church doesn’t let ability stop them from giving
exp.: v3; for they gave according to their ability; or means; this is more from the stance of the individual – because individuals are bringing their gifts together. However, how many times have churches chosen not to do ministry and mission because they didn’t have it in the bank. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me that they don’t run their houses finances that way. Well of course you don’t – you’re not a church, you’re a family. I’ve also heard I don’t run my business that way. Can I say it again: Of course you don’t! You’re a business and not a church. AND, A Church isn’t a business. God doesn’t call us to do things we can do because we have the money! God doesn’t usually call us to do things that we can do on our own. He calls us to bring him glory – and he glorifies himself when he does through us what we can never do alone. #4…
- A Generous Church begs for the opportunity to give
exp.: v4; There is a passion here, a deep desire to participate in what God is doing. Do you have a passion for ministry and mission? Or is your life consumed with just you? #5…
- A Generous Church gives themselves first to God
exp.: v5; – and then of themselves from there; the service of the church to the world is an overflow of the service we give to God. #6…
- A Generous Church displays giving as a part of their personality
exp.: v6-7; a church’s personality should display: faith, speech (logos), knowledge, earnestness, love and grace. Think about this for a moment: What words are used to describe the personality of a church? Of our church? Giving pours out of a church that displays these characteristics in it’s personality – through in faith, in word (logos), in knowledge, in earnestness, in love and in grace. Act of grace. All of these characteristics within a church’s personality are seen through Acts. Faith is what you do, in word (logos) is what you live, in knowledge isn’t just head and earnestness isn’t just the heart. Love isn’t just words and in grace – all actions.
t.s.: yes, the Macedonian churches were a great example of generosity. Now, Paul transitions from the generous to what is genuine.
2. An Example of the Genuine Giver: Jesus (8-9)
exp.: rd v 8; if you have to command it, it’s not genuine!
- A Genuine gift is not commanded, but proven
exp.: v8; have you ever had to tell your child to apologize to another one of your children; I’m sorry; if has to be commanded…then it’s probably not genuine. 2nd,
- A Genuine gift is sacrificial – Christ
ill.: one of my favorite passages on sacrificial giving comes from 2 Samuel 24.24; 18 And Gad came that day to David and said to him, “Go up, raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” 19 So David went up at Gad’s word, as the Lord commanded. 20 And when Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him. And Araunah went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground. 21 And Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the Lord, that the plague may be averted from the people.” 22 Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. 23 All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the Lord your God accept you.” – 24 But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”
app.: If we want to be a generous church – and BTW: I think we are, and you want to be genuine about it all – you’ve got to give sacrificially.
t.s.: An Example of the Generous Church: Macedonia (1-7) where we’ll see the 1st 6 characteristics; An Example of the Genuine Giver: Jesus (8-9); where we’ll see 2 more characteristics; And finally, An Example of the Gospel: Fairness (10-15); the last three characteristics.
3. An Example of the Gospel: Fairness (10-15)
exp.: Paul presents these last few verses in the form of Directives; rd v 10; I give my judgment or my opinion: here’s what he’s saying…
- Finish what you Started; and more than that;
- Finish Strong; rd v 11-12; finish what you started and finish strong; finally,
- Finish so that there might be Fairness in Sharing, which is a picture of the Gospel (rd 13-15)
ill.: he quotes an OT passage to make it clear; in the western world, we think of fair and unfair, but I don’t think that’s what this means; it only appears here in these two verses; when it appears with other words, like compound words, it has the idea of equality and justice. Our society doesn’t put you to death for speeding! Neither do murders simply pay a small fine. The punishment fits the crime – justice or equality.
app.: What a beautiful picture of the gospel! God takes our sin, which has a stiff penalty by the way, and places on Jesus. He takes the righteousness of Jesus and places it on us. To me, that doesn’t seem very fair, but it really is a great deal.
t.s.: God has blessed us tremendously, that we might be a blessing to those in need. That’s why we give…
Conclusion: the truth is: You and I are in deep need ourselves. Desperate need. Because of our deep spiritual poverty, you and I can come to 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. Let me offer you Christ today…
2ndly, let me encourage you to give your life away. They gave themselves, 1st to the Lord and then to us. Once you’ve given your life to Christ, let him use you to bless others.