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Last week we looked at the certain destruction and ruin the pursuit of riches brings. Instead of pursuing riches, we are to, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” The question that remains is what is your attitude about giving financially to the church? Is it a burden to you? Is it an obligation? Do you see it as a ministry to the saints? This morning we’ll look at something that folks may not want to hear about. In this passage from Paul, he repeatedly refers to giving as a gracious work.
In 2 Cor. 8:7-9 Paul says, “But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Paul begins by reminding them of how far the Lord had brought them in their Christian walk. Corinth had been known for its immorality. Temple prostitution was the norm. The people of Corinth took to listening to the wisdom of men. The Corinthians satisfied all their fleshly desires without condemnation until God intervened through Paul’s preaching. It had been a long journey, but they are growing in Christ. He says they abound. That word means exist in large numbers or amounts. He speaks of their faith, utterance (speech), knowledge, earnestness, and love. These are great qualities to have, but Paul doesn’t tell them they have arrived. They have yet to achieve perfection. Paul is looking at one aspect of their faith they need some help on, they need some guidance, they need some encouragement. He tells them, “See that you abound in this gracious work also.” Paul is talking about giving.
So often when we talk about money, we speak of affordability. Mortgage companies make a house payment affordable, credit card companies give you a minimum you must pay; you can pay on a new car for seven years; there are payment plans for court fines. When we think of the gracious work of giving in light of affordability, we miss the real point of giving. Giving is not about the haves and the have nots. We have been through this before, but maybe we still haven’t really grasped the opportunity and responsibility of giving. Perhaps you’ve convinced yourself that the Lord isn’t talking to you, that you are somehow exempt from this teaching.
I encourage you to take the time and read 2 Cor. 8:1-6. Let’s take a closer look at this example. Have you ever thought, “If I was rich then I’d be happy,” or “If this situation was gone, then I’d be happy.” When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the Macedonians were in a state of, “Great ordeal of affliction.” Ordeal means a prolonged painful or horrific experience. Not only were they experiencing a great deal of affliction, but they were experiencing deep poverty. Deep means an extreme point on a scale of extent. It means exceedingly great or very very. Keep these definitions in mind and read v. 2 again. Did you see the contrast? Even though they were going through all this horrible stuff, they had an, “Abundance of joy” that was expressed, “In the wealth of their liberality.” Abundance means a very large quantity, plentiful. Christian joy has nothing to do with outward circumstances. For the Macedonians, joy + poverty + affliction = wealth. There is no banker in the world that can do math like that, but that’s how the equation works in the Kingdom of God.
To say that Paul was pleased with the Macedonian believers would be an understatement. He uses them as an example of what the grace of God does in the hearts of believers. He’s not playing one church off of another. It’s not a competition to raise more money. The amount is not what Paul is after; he’s after the attitude or the spirit behind the giving. The problem with that though, is the spirit is hard to measure. At the end of the year, we don’t give a record of the spirit of your giving; we give a record of the amount of your giving. There is no measuring stick for attitude. Paul was no dummy, he knew people and he knew how money can be a wall between us and the unstoppable power of God. Paul tells us the really incredible thing in vs. 3-4. They gave according to their ability and beyond. Their giving was not motivated because of a surplus; there was no surplus. They had deep poverty. Paul didn’t badger them for money. They gave of their own accord and not only that; they begged him for the chance to participate. It was because of the grace of God in v. 1 that they were not only able to give, but able to give beyond their ability. Paul is encouraging the believers at Corinth to excel in this area like they excel in the areas of faith, speech, knowledge, and earnestness.
Paul knows the Macedonians provided a practical example of giving, but v. 9 provides our ultimate example. Paul’s not talking about material wealth because that’s not consistent with the Macedonian example. So Paul must be talking about spiritual riches. Riches that cannot be taken away. Treasure in heaven. Christ became poor by submitting Himself to the cruel and humiliating death He suffered because of us. 2 Cor. 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The 19th Century commentator Cornelius Lapide wrote, “Christ was made poor that we through His poverty might be rich. He took the form of a servant that we might regain liberty. He descended that we might be exalted. He was tempted that we might overcome. He was despised that He might fill us with glory. He died that we might be saved. He ascended, to draw to Himself those lying prostrate on the ground through sin’s stumbling block.”
Don’t think that if you’re a giver you can ignore the clear teaching of the rest of Scripture. We need to break out of the American church consumer mentality of what I can get from the church or what can the church do for me. As Christians, we need to be reminded that the church is the primary vehicle by which God accomplishes His work. We are not called to be lone rangers, but to partner together in a common goal to reach our community for Christ. You can’t use your service to the Lord as an excuse not to give. “I teach so I don’t have to give.” Etc. I encourage you to prayerfully consider this matter of stewardship in your life and ask God what you can do.