True Generosity

Scriptures: Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Today’s message is going to focus on the passage in 2 Corinthians 8. (It’s actually going to extend a little more than what was read.) The first thing I want to do is I want to assure you that, even though this is a passage that talks about giving, this is not a sermon on stewardship. We not doing a stewardship drive under your noses.

Not that I’m afraid to preach on tithing. I’m more than happy to preach on tithing. I think it is a wonderful spiritual discipline, and I think that God calls us to be proportionate in our giving.

But today I want to focus on something else, and that is generosity and grace. Paul talks about giving as a grace. The word for grace in Greek, charis, literally means “gift.” So it is a gift for you to be able to give.

There is an opportunity for the church here in Corinth. To set a little background, the church in Jerusalem, of course, is primarily made up of Jews. And one of the things the Jews did was they took care of the widows and the orphans. It was commanded of them in the Mosaic law. But once someone became a Christian, then they felt more than free to cut off those kind of charities.

Now there were rich Jews who were converted, but persecution had been occurring, and there had been a famine in the land, and the church had really been suffering there in Jerusalem. There was a need. So out of this need, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, asked them to have a care for the church in Jerusalem. And there was a great response.

The church in Corinth had started off, one of the first to be willing to give. It was a rich city, and they were happy to do so. Unfortunately they got a little distracted. Our church never gets distracted, do we, with problems or arguments, or sometimes just ordinary life? But theirs did.

So Paul, as he is writing to them, wants to remind them of what it means to have true generosity. In verse one, which was not read, he speaks about the Macedonian churches. Now that’s a big word. Macedonia was actually a large region in the north, and it including the churches of Philippi and Thessalonica.

The thing about those church being Gentile churches is that a lot of their people were slaves. They were poor churches, particularly the church in Philippi. The Philippian church was truly poor.

But he notes that when they heard of the opportunity to give to the church in Jerusalem, he says in verses three and four, “Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” My translation says they “begged” for the opportunity to give.

I want you to think about that for a moment in the context of the church today. How often do we get a group of people that are begging to give to the larger church? Not too often.

We give to our local church. People raise an amazing amount of money in small towns, for repairs, for an organ, for stained glass windows, for wonderful things. They give generously, to local charities frequently, such as food pantries, clothing depots, and other kinds of mission opportunities. But oftentimes, we lose track of the larger church.

Paul had not lost track of it. The generosity with which they gave was amazing. Their hearts were so overflowing with joy and with a sense of being blessed, that even out of their poverty, they begged to give to the part of the church that was suffering.

So Paul kind of sets up a contest. (I really don’t like that, personally.) He says, “I’m not commanding you, but I’m going to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” Let’s see who can give the most. Though at the end he does say it’s proportionate – you give what you can.

And it’s the heart behind it that gives. He notes that the reason why what they gave was so laudable was not what they gave but why they gave. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you might, through his poverty, become rich.”

Elsewhere Paul talks about Jesus emptying himself, giving up all of the glory, all of the authority, all of the treasures of heaven, and coming down and taking on the form of a slave, and being obedient even unto death, death on the cross, for your salvation and mine.

Because God loved us so much, out of that love overflowed grace, to save each one of us, as we hear the word of the gospel and respond. Jesus came, giving up all those things, and he was born here on this earth, incarnate.

And he wasn’t born to a king. He could have been. He was born to a carpenter. And not just any carpenter. He was born to what’s called a tekton, or rough carpenter. I like to tell people that basically he built the frames of houses.

That’s what he did. He chopped down his own trees, he hauled them to sites, he made them into planks – two-by-fours or whatever they used in those days – and he built the frames of houses.

Then he gave up even more. When he was thirty years old, he gave up his home and the source of income, in order to spend three and a half years ministering to people, healing, teaching. Then the time came when he gave up the most. And he suffered terrible tortures, and died on the cross for you and me. That’s the kind of generosity that God has.

But it doesn’t even stop there. God’s generosity is so great. Because if Jesus had just died, it really would have been sort of a “so what.” But Christ was also raised again. He was raised that we might be new creatures, that we might have new life, that we might have the promise of eternal life, that there might be a point to our being saved. That’s the generosity of God in Jesus Christ.

This was the generosity that the churches of Macedonia were looking at, when they begged to give to the church in Jerusalem. They said, “How can we not, with a God who’s been so generous to us, respond by showing the same kind of generosity and overflowing love to somebody else in the body of Christ, for somebody else who’s a child of God? How can we not be ready to give whatever it might be?”

We talk about time and talent. Those are usually in the local church. But also there are gifts of treasure. And the Presbyterian church is what’s called a connectional church. We have a larger church, we have a presbytery. And one of the things they do is they have relationships with churches in other countries, for instance. Almost every year they send a team to Haiti, to a church that they’re partnered with there, and a school.

The church that ordained me into ministry, which was a much larger church, had its own relationship with a church in Ghana. About every third year they would send a team over. The people in Ghana, not as often, but they’d send somebody back to the church there in Pennsylvania.

And the point wasn’t to say, “Look what we did.” The point was to celebrate God’s goodness being made manifest. That church in Ghana, there was a school, and there was also a church made there. And people would walk a full day to get to church.

I don’t know about you, but yes, even as a pastor sometimes I have problems getting there with a thirty-minute drive, much less walking a full day. That’s how much it means to them, how much God’s grace means to them.

And this was the same kind of grace that the churches of Macedonia were experiencing. This was the same kind of grace that Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to remember, as he tells them to finish what you started. Yes, you got sidetracked, but now it’s time to get back on track, and to remember why you’re here.

You’re not here for your own purposes. You’re here to praise God and to worship God. You’re here to give back to God. You’re here to love one another and form the kingdom of God here on earth, giving people around us a foretaste of what it would be like in heaven if they join, if they would know Christ as their Savior.

Remember. Remember what you began. Finish it. Show that true generosity that only comes from Christ. And the gift is acceptable according to the willingness, not according to the size. Proportionate giving is always the kind of standard that you want to set.

True generosity, the gift of the Holy Spirit, goes above and beyond that even. That only comes when you have your eyes fixed on Jesus. Because without it, it’s too easy to get distracted by the things of this world.

So I want to encourage you today, not to give to your church – although giving is nice – but to remember what generosity, true generosity means, to think about what Christ did, to think about how much God loves you and me, having adopted us as His children, giving us an inheritance of riches that we cannot even imagine. And then out of that abundance of joy, give to others and share with others that same love, that same care, that same forgiveness, that same generosity.

When you do that, you will give God praise and glory, and you will be sharing the gospel with others, and the Lord God in heaven will be pleased at His good and faithful servants. May you be touched by the grace of God, even now.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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