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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

2 Cor 8:1-15     audio

I was talking to some friends last week about their church. It’s in a fairly wealthy part of Sydney and they need to do some work on their buildings. So they need to raise funds to pay for what will be a reasonably large project. But they said they can’t ask people for money because whenever they mention money people are offended. It’s one of the taboo subjects, even though they’re people with lots of money who could easily afford to give to a building fund.

But of course that’s a pretty common attitude isn’t it? We get uneasy when the conversation gets around to money. Well, money itself isn’t a taboo. We’re all happy to talk about money as a general concept, usually related to how little we have or how much more we need. But try asking someone how much they earn, or how much they have in the bank, or invested for their retirement or how much their next overseas holiday will cost and you’re likely to find them a bit embarrassed or even indignant. ‘It’s none of your business what I earn’, seems to be the attitude. ‘That’s my business and no-one else’s.’

Well that may be so, but God is good. He doesn’t let us get away with such idolatry. He’s put 2 chapters in Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians just for our benefit; to shake us out of the misapprehension that what we earn is our business and only ours. He wants us to see that our personal finances are the result of God’s blessing of us, so they’re not ours alone. No, they’re first and foremost the Lord’s.

But notice how he does it. Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to contribute to a special collection he’s taking up for the Church in Jerusalem. The Christians there are under severe persecution. Many would have lost their livelihood as a result of becoming a Christian. Then there’d been a severe famine in Judaea which made things worse. So they’re in great need of financial support. But he begins by pointing to the way another group of Christians has responded to those needs.

1 The Example of the Macedonians:

Like the Christians in Judea they were experiencing extreme poverty and severe affliction. In fact the implication is that they were so poor Paul wasn’t even going to ask them to contribute. He knew how hard it was for them. If you look at the account of his travels in Acts 16 & 17 you’ll see that he was driven out of Philippi, then Thessalonica, then Berea before ending up in Athens. So he wasn’t going to ask them for money.  But he hadn’t taken into account their motivation.

The trials they were undergoing hadn’t cowed them. In fact the opposite: they’d resulted in abundant joy. This small taste of sharing Christ’s suffering had resulted in them wanting to go further in being joined to Christ. Now they wanted to minister for him as well. So, v.4, “They begged for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints.”

He says they responded with an overflowing wealth of generosity (2-4). They gave according to their means and beyond. They begged for the privilege of sharing in this ministry. They weren’t going to let Paul get away with going on to Corinth without them being able to contribute.  

But notice that this response is actually preceded by a more important response. He says they gave themselves first to the Lord. Their desire to contribute arose from a deep commitment to Christ. As we’ll see in a moment, they recognised all that Christ had done for them and so they gave all they had to him. This has to be the source of any reform of our actions doesn’t it? We’re not asked to give to God’s work because it’ll make us worthy of God’s love, or out of a fear of bad Karma. That’s not how the gospel works, is it? No, we receive credit not by virtue of our own actions, or our generosity, but by virtue of the death of Christ counted to us as a gift.

But then in response to that gift of life, we’re called to give our whole lives back to Christ. Not to earn credit, but as a response of gratitude and love; as a sign that he’s now lord of our lives.

The Macedonians understood how much Jesus had done for them and so they willingly gave themselves to him, heart and soul, mind and strength. And in turn, they gave themselves to the apostles, as those who had brought the offer of this great gift to them. Part of their response to the joy of the gospel was to want to serve with the apostles by supporting them in their work.

But that’s just the Macedonians. There’s in fact a much greater example to follow as we think about the whole issue of giving. That’s Jesus Christ himself. Let’s think about his example.

2 The example of Jesus Christ

To say Jesus was rich is an understatement, isn’t it? Phil 2 points out that he wasn’t just rich, he was God, the second person of the Trinity. But at the same time he loved us, his fallen creatures.

And he loved us so much that he wanted us to share in his glory as God’s Son. Paul puts it like this: “so that by his poverty you might become rich” (8:9). Phil 2:6-7 says: “He didn’t regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself.” Why? So we might be exalted along with him to God’s presence in eternity.

2 Cor 5 tells us that it’s the love of Christ that’s the motivation for us to share the gospel with others. Christ’s love is so great that people need to hear about it. But Christ’s love is equally a motivation for us to support those who are in need. If Christ could willingly give up his position as the Lord of the Universe, as the Son of God, coequal with the Father, for our sakes, how can we even think of holding back our petty possessions from those who are in need?

3 The Case of the Corinthians

Well, that brings us to the Corinthians. There’s one word to describe them here: abundance (8:14). This is one of those places where you realise the similarities between the Corinthian Church and us. They were apparently a wealthy church, well-educated and enjoying all the material blessings that God provided.

What’s more, they were spiritually rich (8:9). They had every spiritual gift you could imagine. They had good teachers. They were well taught. They had much to be thankful for. Much more so than the Macedonians.

So he goes on to say in the next passage (8:24) “show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.” Their generosity, if it shows itself, will be the proof of their love and the genuineness of their faith.

You know, God first blesses us, not to reward us but to enable us to share generously, abundantly, with others. The enriching that ensues is a spiritual enrichment. And as we’ll see in chapter 9, our generosity will produce thanksgiving to God through us. So the blessing we receive from God as a result of our generosity is of a spiritual nature related to the glory it brings to God. Oh, and if he does bless you materially as a result, it’s only so you can give even more generously next time.

So how were they to respond? We’ve seen how the Macedonians responded, by begging to be included in the collection, but what about the Corinthians?

Well actually, if we look at the end of Paul’s first letter, they’d already responded to Paul’s appeal for the Jerusalem Church. There he gives them instructions about setting aside an amount each week. But it seems that maybe their initial enthusiasm is waning.

Does that happen to you? You hear a speaker at a dinner or a missions day and you’re inspired to give to that mission. But then as the weeks go by the initial enthusiasm begins to wear off? You’re no longer so sure you can afford to give away your hard earned cash? Well, maybe the Corinthians had similarly found the needs of the immediate pressing in on their well-intentioned promises of last year.

So Paul says they need to finish what they started, so that their eagerness may be matched by completing it (8:10,11).

What’s more he says they should give according to their means. 8:12: “Give according to what you have, not to what you don’t have.” I think he’s picked up on one of those universals of human character. We’re so ready to look at how well off someone else is and say that we don’t have that sort of wealth so we use that as an excuse for not giving at all. But no, he says, you give according to what you do have.

You could look at the great donation that Twiggy Forrest gave away this time last year, some $400 million dollars, and think, well that’s OK for him but I don’t have anything like what he has. And it’s true. We’ll never have the opportunity to do that much good. But we’re not asked to do that. We’re asked to give according to what we have.

If the Corinthians were honest about it, they’d realise that they were much better off than many others, like the Macedonians for example.

But he also tells them in the next section that they’re to give generously (8:19-20). 9:7: “not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” If you’re giving to God’s work, let it be generously, willingly, cheerfully, knowing that you’re giving to God’s people.

So here are 3 important principles for giving in the Christian context. Give generously and cheerfully. Give according to your means, according to how much God has blessed you already.

Finally he says give as a matter of fairness (8:14). His example is the provision of manna during the Exodus. Do you remember how they were told only to collect what they needed for the day? No one was to take more than their fair share? So everyone would have enough to keep them going?

4 What about Us

Well let’s finish by thinking about what this means for us.

As I just said we, like the Corinthians, enjoy a certain degree of abundance. We live in a rich country. Most of us are on good incomes. We lack for little.

We’re spiritually rich. We have a great heritage of evangelical teaching to be thankful for. We have a rich community of love around us. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing you can imagine. And we continue to enjoy his blessing year after year.

So that forms the first part of our motivation. The knowledge that God has provided and is able to continue to provide everything we need. That means we don’t need to hoard our possessions. Our security doesn’t hang on the size of our bank balance or our superannuation fund.

But secondly our motivation is to see God glorified. To bring thanksgiving to God for the way he provides for all of us, whatever our personal circumstances happen to be.

Our generosity with our material wealth will show the genuineness of our love and our faith in God, he says. Do we trust God to look after us if we give away a substantial part of our income? I remember thinking when I used to work as an engineer, how much better off my colleagues were because they weren’t giving away a tenth of their income to God’s work. But as I look back, I don’t think there’s anything we’ve missed out on that mattered. But I’m sure the money we gave away has made a huge difference to countless people who have heard the gospel through missionaries we supported, or through Tear Fund, or other aid agencies or through our local church.

Finally, we’re motivated to give just to see how God might bless us. As I said he won’t necessarily bless us with greater riches, though that might happen if he sees we can be trusted to be generous with them. But we should be watching out to see how he blesses us in other ways.

So what’s our response to all this going to be? Well, let me suggest that first, we should be following those 3 principles of Biblical giving that we just discovered. We should be giving generously and cheerfully. What does that mean for each one of us?  Well it might mean sitting down and working out how much of our income we’re currently giving and then thinking about how generous we’re being with what we’ve been given.

But remember we’re to give according to what we have, not to what we don’t have. In other words we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to others and using that as an excuse, nor as a trigger for guilt. Remember the story of the widow’s mite. She had little, but Jesus applauded her gift of 2 small copper coins because they represented, for her, a generosity towards God and others that the gifts of the wealthy didn’t come near. For some, a gift of $40 dollars might be far more significant than Twiggy Forrest’s gift of $400 million. So think about how God has blessed you and give accordingly.

And remember what happened with the manna. Those who had little, had enough; those who had much had only what they could use. Those who hoarded extra for the next day discovered that by then it was rotten and full of maggots. So trust God to provide for you, whatever happens.

Finally, respond with fairness (8:14). How can we share whatever wealth we have with others so they might share in some of the blessing that we’ve received; how might we use our wealth to make friends for eternity.

Let me encourage you to consider again what your level of giving to God’s work might be so that others might be blessed and so that his work might continue.

Contact Details

Phone: 0422187127
 
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