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Wednesday, 19 March 2014

2 Corinthians 8:1-15 Giving: God owns it all anyway!



Giving is always a difficult subject for us to speak about particularly if you happen to be the main recipient of the Church’s giving. Probably for that reason I have had to gird up my spiritual loins and seek what the Lord would have us learn from this passage. I assure you that if it was not the next section of this letter I would not choose to consider it tonight. But here we go:

We will consider:

1. Giving is a grace given by God.
 
2. Giving is limited.
 
3. Giving is a pleasure.
 
Giving is a grace given by God:
 
Look again at verse 1, Paul is informing the Corinthian church about the Macedonian church’s attitude towards giving. We will consider their attitude in a moment but before we do we must consider their motivation to give. Paul tells us that their generous giving is in response to an act of grace given to them by God. God has given them the grace to give for the cause of the gospel, the recipients in this case was the church in Jerusalem who was in great need. The believers in Jerusalem were being mercilessly persecuted; they were not allowed to work and so were considered to be pariahs on society. Many were out of house and home and destitute. That caused the wider church to share of its comparative wealth in order to ease their burden. God had by His grace worked in the heart of the church and had given the members the grace to help their brothers and sisters in times of need and as we shall soon see. The Macedonian church was a fine example of giving sacrificially.
 
Considering their attitude to giving we ought to refresh our memories as to the Macedonian situation. Paul tells us that they were also suffering severe trials and were themselves extremely poor. They were being persecuted by the Roman occupiers and also by their own people simply because they were Christians. In fact they had every reason not to give because they had very little themselves and what they had they needed.
But
By God’s grace they gave anyway. Paul is using the Macedonian church as an object lesson for the Corinthian church to learn from and so we look at verses 8-9 in order to see how this works out. The testimony of the Macedonian church is both powerful and inspiring and Paul uses it to great effect in order to inspire his readers.
 
So what does he say?

 Firstly there is no compulsion to give.
 
 Secondly Paul wants to test their (our) sincerity of love.
 
 Thirdly there is a comparison to be made, the Macedonian example versus Corinthian (our) earnestness. Do we match up?
 
 Fourthly he reminds them of the gift of grace found in the Lord Jesus Christ. He became poor (poverty stricken) and then by His gift we became rich.
 
 Finally we need to go back one verse to see Paul’s urging for the Corinthian church (us) to not only excel in faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness and love for the saints but to excel in everything including the grace of giving.
 
The church is not compelled by Paul to give, in fact it is not and should never be demanded by the church; but each Christian in the light of what Paul teaches here should not only look to Macedonia for an example but learn from them and to be inspired by the gift of grace given to us all in Christ Jesus. He gave all that we might become rich in mercy and so He owns all that we have and are and so we like the Macedonians ought to give sacrificially in keeping with becoming more Christ-like!
 
Is this the motivation for your giving?
Giving is limited:
 
This might just seem like a paradox considering what I have just said. How can God own everything but yet our giving is limited?
 
The Old Testament giving requirement is a tithe or 10% of income. The people were expected to bring their gift to the place of worship regularly. That money was intended to pay the wages of the priests and to keep the place of worship in order and also to supply everything necessary for the enabling of worship. Interestingly when it comes to the New Testament teaching there is no such requirement. A tithe in not mentioned and neither is any other amount. We simply have passages like this one in front of us. These are our educators and it seems there is far more than 10% required by God. In verse 7 the Church in Corinth are commended for attempting to excel in everything. This is the key to what is expected from us, we are to give everything to God. I do not mean we are to empty our bank accounts; that might be the emphasis of some who in turn become financially rich by exploitation. That is certainly not what the bible teaches. Paul commends the church for excelling in everything, they gave as much of themselves as they could and that is the yardstick for giving also. Notice the example again of the Macedonian church (verse 3) they gave as much as they were able and much more than was expected; to the point of going beyond their ability. That is a great example of Godly giving; remember the great cost of His giving! But there is another twist to the story, look again at verse 5 the Macedonian church even surprised the Apostle Paul! They were an even greater example than he expected in that they firstly gave themselves to the Lord and then to the Apostles. The church submitted themselves to the authority of their Lord and Saviour and also to His church. In effect they were saying that all that they had belonged to the Lord. They limited themselves to giving everything and recognised that all that they had rightfully belonged to God; that is 100%; you cannot give more than that! We might say that the sky is the limit!
 
But there is another limit mentioned, this one is more practical and is a great encouragement to us and a guard against unscrupulous demands that some might put on us. It is found in verse 3; the Macedonian church gave as much as they were able. Their ability was dependent upon their circumstance. Paul thought that their ability was much less than what they gave because they set the bar higher than anyone might expect. That was their choice and it was dependent on their own commitments and also the urgency of the need as they saw it to be! They made their own decision to give and the amount that they gave and then they gave by God’s grace! The balance was all to Jesus I surrender and then they gave to the cause of the gospel as they had the ability.
 
That must always be our view to giving. It is far better to have a church rich in people who are sold out for Jesus than to have a healthy bank balance! Because those sold out to Jesus will make sure that none are impoverished. In fact Paul takes us back to the wilderness as the example. The manna was there for the taking, everyone was expected to gather in for their own needs but some needed it to be gathered for them, the total amount gathered was always just enough for everyone. None went hungry all were equal, their needs were perfectly met. Paul says that the mind-set of the church is that we ought to help each other out in times of need, see verses 13-15. Where some are poor the church should be helped, where others are rich they should out of their riches to ease the burden of struggling Christians. We should desire equality, not communism but equality!
 
Giving is a pleasure:
 
God was pleased to give His only begotten Son in order that sin might be dealt with and that sinners might be saved by grace. Ever since creation we have seen that our God delights in giving good things to His people, we are to be like Him and so giving should be our pleasure. It is now coming up to Christmas when we delight in giving presents to those whom we love. As we give our gifts we are simply being God-like! It should be the same for our giving to God and His people. Throughout the testimony of the Macedonian church we do not even get a hint of coercion or of them giving begrudgingly. They in fact gave happily! Their joy overflowed. We considered the inexpressible joy that Peter talks of in 1 Peter 1:8 in our bible study. We discovered that this is the foundational joy that we have as those who have been redeemed and born again; it is not a manic grin or even the joy that the Macedonians are displaying here. The joy spoken of here is the thrill of being involved with the work of the gospel. It was a delight for them to be involved in giving back to God something from the benefits that they had! They greatly rejoiced in Jesus as saviour and so were happy to do all that they could. They gave generously of themselves and their finances, they pleaded to be part of the giving process and so with overflowing joy they gave out of their own well of richness. It reminds us of the love that God lavishes on us in Christ Jesus 1 John 3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!”
Giving is God’s pleasure; it was the pleasure of the Macedonian church also. It is said that Jimmy Saville (who it turns out was a paedophile) gave 90% of all that he earned, even that is not enough, God owns all that we are and so we are to give all to Jesus. Paul urged the Corinthian church to give likewise and so also he urges us. Is it your great pleasure; are you overjoyed to give of yourself to the cause of the gospel? If you do then you are truly Macedonian and God-like. If not then you are purely a rebel and are displaying worldly tendencies, or worse are unconverted. 
Where do you stand?

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