2 Corinthians 8:1-9
Question we’re asking tonight is – what makes us generous? We’re thinking about giving money. As you’ve probably heard we’re thinking about the general costs of St Barnabas and also our children’s worker role. We’ve got a gift day next Sunday.
By the way – if you’re a visitor let me be clear this appeal for money doesn’t apply to you. This is for us regulars.
But visitor or regular – the question for all of us is – what makes us generous?
In this passage Paul is organising a collection for Christians in Jerusalem who are short of food – and he wants the Corinthians to give to that. So this isn’t giving to your local church – this is giving to relief work – but I want to focus on the underlying motive for giving - whatever you are giving to.
And so our question is - how does Paul encourage the Corinthians to be generous?
Now there are some things he could have said – but doesn’t. They are good things to say – other parts of the Bible say them.
So he could have said – look at the need, people are desperate for food. I could talk about the needs we have and what we’ll lose if we don’t increase our giving. That would be an appeal to our emotions and empathy.
He could have said – look at the strategic importance of giving – look at what it will achieve – how it will unite the Gentile and Jewish parts of the church. I could talk about the work Nic does as our children’s worker – the opportunities that have opened up with local schools. That would be an appeal to our mind and reason.
He could have said – you are obligated to give to other Christians – you’re family. I could say the same. I don’t know if you’re aware of this – but the Bible talks about churches being responsible for looking after their leaders. So 1Timothy 5 says “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour especially those who work is preaching and teaching. The Scripture says – the worker deserves his wages.” That gets repeated elsewhere.
I’ve been slow to get this actually. I thought Christians were to give money away – but what you gave to – didn’t matter that much. It could be a Christian relief organisation, or a friend who was a missionary, or your church. But I’ve realised the Bible says you’re responsible for your teachers. So I say this as a member of SBD – we are responsible for our staff. I think that means – the priority in our giving is our church. To talk like that would be an appeal to our conscience – to do what is right.
But – while there is a place for those reasons, an appeal to emotions, or reason or conscience - here Paul focuses on a different reason for being generous. In a word it’s what the Bible calls ‘grace’. As you may know grace is underserved favour – it’s getting something good – when you deserved the opposite. Paul thinks it’s at the heart of generosity.
He talks here about what you could call gracious giving – or generosity that has grace at its heart. First of all he gives a model of this gracious giving looks like.
- Gracious giving – a model, v1-5
Paul starts by telling the Corinthians about some other Christians – in Macedonia. Now they were in extreme poverty. When they heard about Paul’s collection - they could easily have said – sorry Paul, things are really tight - we can’t help.
But instead they have welled up in generosity and gave beyond their ability.
Not only that but they were eager to give. v4 READ.
Normally people beg for money. But this beg for the privilege to give money.
Lastly v5 READ.
Often people see giving as just a horizontal thing - person in need – I give to them.
But Paul says the Macedonians gave themselves first to the Lord – they saw their giving as a vertical thing between them and God. They see themselves and all they have as belonging to God. And from that attitude they give. It is extraordinary, rich, generosity. Notice – v1 – Paul calls it – the grace God has given them.
I said a moment ago that the thing about grace – is that it’s undeserved. You can’t demand grace – can’t have any rights to grace. But grace chooses to give anyway.
Because of that grace when someone acts in grace – it makes you ask – why are you doing that? Because there’s nothing deserving about it – you don’t have to – it’s just the giver choosing – to give. So it’s a bit mad. It doesn’t make sense.
And the Macedonians are like that – they are generous out of their poverty – begging to give – beyond their ability –– it’s extraordinary. It’s a bit mad – this grace driven generosity.
I heard a story of Christian businessman travelling in Korea passed a field – and in the field a young boy was pulling a plough – and an old man held the handles. This bloke thought it looked funny – so he took a photo of it.
Then he said to the guide he was with – I guess they are very poor. His guide said – well, these two men are Christians. When their church was being built, they wanted to give something – but they had no money. So they sold their ox – and gave the money to the church. This spring they are pulling the plough by themselves.
That’s a bit mad isn’t it – I mean it’s wonderful – beautiful – but a bit crazy. That’s what the Macedonians are like – Paul is saying look at them – here’s a model gracious giving.
However, they aren’t just a model – Paul also says they are a mark of being genuine. That’s the second thing we’re going to think about – gracious giving is mark of being genuine.
- Gracious giving – a mark of being genuine, v7-8
End of v7 - v8 READ.
Paul is saying is – I want to test whether you’re sincere and genuine – by comparing you with this model from the Macedonians.
At first that sounds a bit weird – sounds like he’s playing them off against each other. But Paul isn’t setting up a competition – it’s more he sees the Macedonians as a model of giving. So it raises the question – how will the Corinthians do – compared to the model.
Or to put it another way Paul sees this gracious giving as a mark of being a genuine Christian. So he asks – how will the Corinthians do with this mark or test?
A while ago I was on holiday in Turkey – and I wanted to get the kids a present. Went to the market on the last day – got Greta a skirt – but found Jacob harder. Then I saw a stall with football shirts – we support Arsenal – I wonder if have they got an Arsenal top. Turns out they had every top – found an Arsenal shirt – it was a bit odd - the colours of the badge were a bit dubious – stitching was unusual – the stall owner saw me looking at it – genuine Arsenal shirt. Genuine item. I got it for Jacob – mainly because it was funny – it obviously wasn’t genuine – if Puma (who make their kit) had a trademark – it wasn’t on this shirt!
Paul is talking about the trademark of a real Christian.
The Bible gives us a few marks of genuine Christians. Confessing Jesus is Lord, loving each other, obeying God. We don’t do them perfectly, we often fail – but having something of them – is the mark - we are Christians.
Well here Paul puts giving – gracious giving - into that bracket. It’s a mark of being genuine.
That has struck me. Because I easily think of giving as more optional or secondary thing – something that some Christians do but not all. But for Paul - it’s fundamental – it’s the trademark.
Now that doesn’t mean if we’ve never given anything away – we can’t be a Christian. And it doesn’t mean if we’ve given lots of money away we must be a really spiritual Christian. It doesn’t work in an absolute way like that.
But – as we’ll see in a minute – generosity is so fundamental to being a Christian – that in a real Christian there will be some sign of generosity. May take some time, may be messy - two steps forward one step back. But for Paul this is a mark of being genuine.
Now why is that? Why is Paul telling us about this model of crazy generosity – why is it a mark of real Christians? What is it about gracious giving that makes it so special?
This is the heart of what I’m trying to say.
- Gracious giving – flows from God’s grace to us, v9
You see how the verse starts with ‘for’ – could be ‘because’. In other words – v7 – give to others and v8 - this is a bit of test actually – for – because – v9 you know the grace of grace of Jesus.
In other words we give - because we know the grace of Jesus. Our giving flows from his giving to us.
Now what is his grace – or giving – like?
Well he says – Jesus was rich. He was very rich wasn’t he? In heaven Jesus was rich in glory and majesty. Rich in being worshipped by countless angels. Rich in his perfect relationship with his Father. He simply couldn’t be any richer.
But he became poor. He became poor as left being worshipped and became one of us, weak and mortal. He became poor as he lived with hostility and rejection. He became poor most of all as he died – took our sin onto himself – took God’s judgement - so he was actually cut off from God the Father – he became as poor as you could be.
We talk about a rags to riches story don’t we – well this is riches to rags.
Worship to mockery
Glory to humiliation
Perfect union with his Father – rejection by his Father.
Heaven to hell.
Riches to rags
And he did it “so that through his poverty you might become rich.” Because of what he’s done – trust in him and we’re made rich – rich in forgiveness – in having our all our wrong wiped away. We’re made rich as we’re adopted by God – and call him Father. Made rich as he gives us his Spirit and changes us. Rich as he makes us part of his family. Made rich with an eternal inheritance – one day to be with him in a perfect world.
So Jesus as the richest person in the world – as he dies for us he becomes the poorest – to make us the richest.
And here’s the thing – he didn’t have to do it. Nothing made him do it. We didn’t deserve it. He just chose to give.
That’s grace - that’s crazy, mad, illogical grace.
And Paul is saying - knowing that grace – receiving that grace - leads us to be gracious to others. Be gracious - for v9 - because – you know the grace of Jesus.
I’ve been thinking how to illustrate this and struggling – but it made me think of the film 28 days later. If you haven’t seen it then it starts with animal activists freeing some monkeys that have the rage virus - they are very angry monkeys. Once freed they attack humans – who get the virus and go mad with rage - and it spreads and unleashes a zombie type apocalypse – as rage spreads and humans attack and kill.
The rage virus spreads by blood - I remember a scene where one of the unaffected humans left - Frank the taxi driver – and there is a zombie above him – a drop of blood falls from the zombie – and Frank looks up and it lands in his eye - see him - change - as he goes mad with rage.
Now if you’re thinking what on earth has this got to do with 2Cor – fair point. But what I want us to get the idea of being infected by something – so you are then gripped by it.
That’s what Paul is talking about. Only it’s not rage – it’s grace. Grace is infectious – like a virus – so that when Jesus is gracious to you and crazily generous to you – you get infected – and you start to be gracious too.
We could say it spreads by blood - the blood of Jesus – who was so rich yet made himself poor as he poured out his blood – to make us rich. So when you trust in that blood – you get the grace virus - you are changed to be generous too.
That’s what happened to the Macedonians – that’s why they are so crazily generous. Because they’ve been infected by grace.
That’s why gracious giving is the mark of a Christian. Because grace is infectious – and so you show you’ve received grace from God – by displaying it in your life and showing grace to others.
There are lots of other things the Bible says about giving – there are other reasons given - appeals to our emotions, our reason or our conscience – but I think the heart of why we are generous is grace – and that is an appeal to the heart. Look at the grace of the Lord Jesus – if you get that – it changes your heart.
Maybe this week – maybe each day – you read v9 to yourself.
Or if you think about money or if you hear about a rich person on the news or walk past a big expensive house - say to yourself – I am rich beyond belief. What price can I put on forgiveness, acceptance by God, a place in heaven? I have infinite riches. And that has happened through grace - Jesus – the richest person in the universe – became the poorest. For me. As we dwell on that – pray that our hearts would be melted – by his grace. Pray that we would get the grace virus – go a bit mad as we give to others.