“Grace: Don’t Leave Home Without It.”
2 Corinthians 8:1-7
The other day I left my office at the church and went downstairs to the first floor to get a Diet Coke. I was sleepy and hot, so I thought a cold caffeinated drink would be perfect. I put my 50 cents into the machine (which you must admit is a god price for a Coke these days) only to have the quarters come right back out. I tried again and again with no luck.
At this point, an interesting thought crossed my mind. You must know that I was extremely disappointed that I could not get a drink so the thought crossed my mind, “This machine is the only think in the church that won’t take your money.”
I know that was a harsh statement that is actually untrue, but often time’s people see the church as existing to take our money and to make us feel guilty for not giving enough. This week we are beginning our stewardship campaign and will be studying three passages in 2 Corinthians about the offering Paul was asking the Corinthians to be a part of.
I want to be upfront and clear about something. I understand that there are lots of people who are having financial hardships right now. I have talked to some of you who are really struggling to pay the bills and to fulfill your church pledge from last year. I am not here to make you feel even worse about your finances. I am not here to simply tell you to give more money to the church. I want to spend the next three weeks talking about our motivation for giving. I want us to understand why Paul felt the Corinthians should give and why God thinks we should give. I hope you will understand that giving is not about how much is in your wallet, but what is in your heart.
Before I read the first passage that we are going to study, I need to give you some background about Paul and his dealings with the Corinthians. In our Bibles, we have two letters written to the Corinthians. We also know that Paul helped establish the church there and spent quite a lot of time in Corinth. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in response to a letter that he had received from Chloe’s household in order to address some problems that has come up after his departure. Some scholars believe there is a missing letter written to the Corinthians that we no longer have. Other scholars believe the missing letter is actually 2 Corinthians 10-13.
In this missing letter, the Corinthians took offense to Paul for several reasons. First, they felt that he hid behind his words. In other words, they believed that he was unfair in his letter and that he refused to show up in person to defend his letter. Secondly, and most important for our purposes, Paul did not take any money from the Corinthians for himself. He did take up money for himself from other churches in Macedonia, which made the Corinthians very upset. Paul did however; take up a collection from all the churches, including Corinth, for the struggling churches in Jerusalem. He ahs asked the churches to take up a collection when they would meet and then one of Paul’s helpers would come and collect it. This was probably Titus.
In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul begins to encourage the Corinthians, who are mad at him, to continue to give for the churches in Jerusalem. It could be that the Corinthians, in their anger, stopped giving or they could have just grown weary and uninterested in the project and stopped giving. Here is what Paul says,
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 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 (grace) of sharing in this service to the Lord's people. And they went beyond our expectations; having given themselves first of all to the Lord, they gave themselves by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 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.
You will probably notice from the outset, that Paul begins his plea for the Corinthians to give by using the example of who… the Macedonian Churches. The Macedonian churches would have been Thessalonica and Philippi which which was north of Corinth. There were already some hard feelings between Corinth and these churches over Paul, but Paul uses them as examples anyway.
He says that in the midst of their extreme poverty, due to their overflowing joy, they gave generously. Paul says that they gave over and beyond what he had expected them to give because they gave beyond their ability. Notice that Paul does not say that these church out gave Corinth or any other church. He does not even mention how much money they gave, just that they gave beyond their capacity to give.
This is a very important point he is making. These churches may or may not have out given other churches by dollar amounts, we don’t know. What we do know is that Paul does not use them as an example because of a dollar amount, but uses them as an example because they gave beyond what they were capable of. It was not what was in their wallet or offering basket, it was what was in their heart that Paul believed was important.
Paul then makes a second point about their giving. He says that they gave first to God and then to Paul. The reason they gave so much was not because they liked Paul and believed in the mission project, but because they gave to God first. This is an important point Paul is making to the Corinthians. Remember the Corinthians are upset at Paul and many may have stopped giving to this mission. Paul is arguing that the Corinthians giving should not be about whether or not they like Paul or whether or not they think this is a worthy mission, but they are to follow the example of the Macedonian churches in giving to God first and Paul second.
I am not suggesting that we blindly give our money (more on this next week). We should care about who receives it, but Christian Stewardship begins with our commitment to God first. We may not like a preacher or think a mission project is dumb, but that should NOT give us the excuse to not be faithful to God.
Paul then goes on to give a concluding statement. He says that they are to “excel in this grace.” What does he mean by “excelling in this grace?” If you look at these seven verses, he uses the phrase “grace” four times. The Greek word for grace is charis from which we get our word “charisma” or gifts for spiritual gifts. In verse one Paul tells them of the “grace” of God which is the story of the Macedonian giving. He says in verse four that they begged God for to take part in the “grace” of sharing. Then, Paul says the Corinthians should also take part in the same grace and that they would excel in it.
The kicked comes just before verse 7 that as they excel in other gifts or graces like faith, speech, knowledge, diligence, and love; they should excel in this gift as well. I actually think Paul is being sarcastic with the Corinthians because they think they are excellent is so many things, he is trying to use their arrogance against them here, but the point is the same. Stewardship is a gift that we develop. It is about the grace of God working in and through us and it is about allowing others to see the grace of God at work.
Giving is not just about the have’s giving to the have not’s. Giving is something that both the have and the have not’s participate in because in doing so, we participate in the work of God in the world by his grace.
A couple of years ago we hosted a soccer team from the Dominican Republic. This came about when I was in the Dominican Republic and met a guy named Samuel who had a dream to let young kids from the Dominican Republic travel to the US so they could see a world outside their small town. Samuel does not have much money and he lives off of the support of people like us who believe in his work.
When he was here, he and his family stayed with Tracie for the week. She cooked for them and gave them a place to stay. The evening before they were to leave, Samuel wanted to take Tracie out to eat to thank her for her hospitality so they went out. When it came time to pay, Tracie told Samuel that he did not need to pay, that she would get it. She was thinking that he does not have much money so her paying would be the right thing to do. She told me months later what Samuel said to her and I think it so profound. He told her, “You think I should not pay because I have little money, but when you don’t let me pay, you rob me of the chance to show you grace.” WOW. Samuel, despite living off of pennies, knew what it meant to give. In this tough economy, with all the pressures of life, I encourage you to heed the words of Paul and Samuel, “Don’t all anything to rob you of the chance to show grace.”