Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Grace of Giving

2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15 Last Sunday in our adult bible class we were talking about various aspects of basic Christian piety:  prayers before and after meals, prayers at the beginning and ending of the day, a daily bible reading plan and daily devotion, doing good work in our vocation, worship and bible study on the Lord’s Day, and Christian giving.
            We talked more in depth about what Christian giving is because we are about to start 2 Corinthians and much of this letter deals with giving.  And we said that Christian giving has several important features.
Christian giving is first-fruits.  In other words giving for the work of the Lord is our first financial priority.  We said that it is proportionate—that it is reflective of the gifts that God has first given us.  We said that our giving as Christians is to be intentional—that we are thoughtful about what we give and have a giving plan.  And finally we said that it is sacrificial—that it costs us something significant, that we can feel it in the pocket book, and that we could spend much more on ourselves if we did not give so much to the Lord.
That is what Christian giving is from God’s perspective.  Those are some ways to describe and measure pious Christian giving. 
But what we hear today from God’s Word is where we gain a heart and mind and will for that kind of giving—that hearts and hands that are glad to give generously to the Lord come from his gift of salvation in Jesus and from the gift that he gives us when he allows us to share in his saving work in this world with our offerings.  The Bible says:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
            I want to take just a moment to explain what was going on in the early church.  Throughout Judea there was an extreme drought and over three years every harvest failed.  We know from ancient historians that millions died.  There were no helping agencies to bring relief.  If people were going to be saved from starvation, everyday people were going to have to do it.
And so throughout the Roman Empire, Gentile Christians came together to send financial aid to their Jewish brethren in Judea. 
These Gentile Christians who gave to those in need were not rich people—for the most part they were common folk-- and the Bible says in these verses that they themselves struggled under extreme poverty.  But in the midst of their extreme poverty the Lord gave them a gracious gift.  Do you know what that gift was?  The grace of giving. 
Their hearts were filled with joy that came with their life with Jesus and all they needed was a way, an opportunity, to let that joy overflow into the lives of others.  And so the Lord gave them a gift—the gift of giving—the gift of seeing how richly they had been blessed (despite their poverty) through the gift of sharing with others.
I want you to mark in your Bibles the contrast between “their extreme poverty” and their “wealth of generosity”.  Here’s the point:  Being of limited means was no impediment to their generous giving.  Paul shares this example with the Corinthians and with us here this morning to encourage us in our own giving. 
He wants us to ask ourselves:  Is there an abundance of joy in my heart for the life I have with Jesus?  Does that joy overflow with generosity towards supporting his work in the world?  Do I see my Christian giving as a gift that God has first given me, a privilege to work with him?  And if severe affliction and extreme poverty was no barrier to the Macedonians giving generously, what is holding me back from doing the same?  The Bible says that:
They gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—
and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
            In every aspect of a sincere, heartfelt Christian piety there are people, fellow believers, saints of God who we can look to as an example to follow.  That’s what Paul is doing here.  He is saying:  if you want to know what Christian giving looks like you need look no further than the Macedonians whose first priority was love for the Lord and his people. 
They begged Paul to give to this work.  They gave far beyond their limited means.  They regarded their gifts as a favor that Paul was doing for them!  They knew that their gifts were much, much more than money-- but a sure and certain sign of an entire life given over to the service of Christ and his Church. 
How about us?  When there is some financial need at Church do we hope and pray that no one calls on us?  If we do give, is it some small sum that really doesn’t stretch our faith?  And then, when we do give something, do we get all puffed up at the great thing we have done for God?  In our Christian giving, do we show that we are giving ourselves FIRST AND FOREMOST to Christ and his church?  We should.  The Bible says that:
We urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.  I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.
            The Corinthians were in incredibly gifted congregation.  God had showered them with material and spiritual blessings and in many, many ways they reflected that giftedness in their lives as individual Christians and as a Christian congregation.  Paul says that they “excelled” in everything related to their life in Christ. 
But there was still one more part of the life of faith that needed their attention and their commitment and that was their Christian giving and Paul wanted them to excel in this too as a sign of the genuineness of their faith.  Their giving proved their faith.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are a gifted congregation.  It is hard for me to even convey to you how blessed we are! 
We are in such a remarkable position in terms of location and facilities and opportunities and stability and peace and workers that the vast majority of congregations can only dream of.  God has blessed us and guided us and provided for us for a purpose:  that we would be a blessing to others—that we would trust this God who has blessed us in the past to bless us in the future—that we would help others in this community to know and love the Savior we know and love.
And that is really the key to this part of our Christian life.  There is, in the New Testament, no specific command regarding what the faithful child has to give to the Lord.  No command.  No law.  No rule.  There is only the sacrifice of Jesus, freely, completely, graciously, generously given for us that fills our hearts and minds and wills and changes everything for us, including how we think about money and giving.  The Bible says that:
You 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.
            The Macedonians knew it.  The Corinthians knew it.  We know it:  The incredible gift that God the Father has given to us in his Son.
Our Lord Jesus Christ who is the one, true and living God of the universe took upon himself our broken flesh, was born in a trough to peasant parents, earned his living by the sweat of his brow, had no place to lay his head, took upon himself every one of our sins:  our fear, our lack of trust, our grudging giving-- and carried that terrible burden to the cross and died under its weight with the curse of God upon it, stripped of every earthly possession and even his own life.
The One who was rich in every way became poor in every way so that in what theologians call The Great Exchange we could become truly rich.  And that is what each and every one of you are:  rich beyond human imagination.
You are sons and daughters of the living God of the universe.  Your sins are forgiven.  You possess the righteousness of Christ.  And you will live in an eternal home prepared just for you that the most magnificent earthly castle cannot begin to compare.  That is who you are.  That is what you possess.  That is your eternal future. 
And that is why you can open your mind and your heart and your hands and give generously to the Lord and his mission joyfully and generously, without fear, knowing that the God who has given you Jesus and eternal riches will not then withhold anything from you in this life—not the joy of giving a gift, not the comfort of receiving a gift.  The Bible says:
I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
            Throughout our lives and there are giving times and there receiving times.  God has ordered the life of the church in the Body of Christ in such a way that we all work together for the common good and for the salvation of the world—giving and receiving.
When we are children, when we are in need, when we are in our later years we may be more on the receiving side.  But even a small child can share and a person in need can give their thanks and appreciation and an elderly person confined to a nursing home can pray for their pastor and church.  We don’t like to think about being on the receiving side but that is one of the ways that God helps others grow in their faith when they care for us.
For most of us here today, we are on the giving side of life.  We have been blessed materially-- so that we can be a blessing to others by helping them when they have a need but especially so that they can come to know Jesus through the mission of the Church and we have nothing to fear in giving generously because they One who has given us Jesus will meet our needs.  Amen.

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