“The Grace of Giving” (2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15)

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
June 27, 2021

“The Grace of Giving” (2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15)

Today let’s talk about giving. Yes, that’s right, giving–like we do when we put offerings into the offering plate. Usually that’s a subject we like to avoid. People become defensive or uncomfortable if the subject of giving comes up. They’ll make excuses for why they can’t give more. They instinctively reach for their wallets and hold on tight, so that no one can get in there. And they close their ears as well. People don’t like to have someone put pressure on them to put more in the plate, like this is just some money grab and that’s all.

Well, not so. If we talk about giving from a biblical perspective, it does involve the giving of money, but it’s not just about money. There’s more to it than that. You see, Christian giving is a vital part of Christian living. The grace of God transforms us in every aspect of our lives, including our pocketbooks and what we put in those offering envelopes.

The grace of God: That’s where our talk of giving begins and ends–with God’s grace, his giving. It’s about what he gives to us. God’s gracious self-giving leads to our giving of what he has already given to us. We are simply channels for his further giving. The grace of God is such that he is rich in the blessings he gives us. And God’s grace in Christ is so rich that he would have us all excel in “The Grace of Giving.”

So, yes, let’s talk about giving. St. Paul does, in our Epistle reading for today, from 2 Corinthians 8. In this passage, we see a church that is being encouraged to excel in the grace of giving, as well as a church that already is doing that. Most of all, we see the source and power for us in our church to excel in the grace of giving.

First, we should give a little background for our text, so we can follow who’s who as the story goes along. The background is that the church in Jerusalem was in great distress. The Christians there were lacking food. They were hungry and in need. Either they couldn’t get food or they couldn’t afford it. And we’re not sure if their lack of food was due to famine or persecution. Either way, there was this great need.

So a special collection was taken up across the churches of Asia Minor and Europe, in order to send relief to the saints in Jerusalem. That’s the situation which 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 addresses. Paul gives guidelines and encouragement for finishing up the Corinthians’ share in this offering. You see, the church at Corinth had begun to gather up their portion, but in recent months they had fallen behind. So now Paul is writing them to tell them to get on with their giving and to finish what they had said they were going to do.

So Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to excel in the grace of giving. He writes: “Accordingly, 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.”

The church at Corinth was an interesting congregation. On the one hand, they had been blessed in many ways. Paul mentions how they excel in various things. On the other hand, Corinth was a difficult congregation for Paul to deal with. Think of all the problems he had to address in 1 Corinthians: factionalism, immorality, bad worship practices. Even in 2 Corinthians, it’s apparent there are some who are trying to undermine Paul’s authority as an apostle. Even so, Paul does not give up on this church. He continues to encourage and exhort them. He points them to God’s grace and urges them to grow in that grace. “Don’t quit now!” he says about their giving, which they had let slide. “Get back on track! Get on with the task! God will help you to do what you need to do.”

So if God does not give up on a church like Corinth, he will certainly help our congregation to grow in the grace of giving. God is not going to give up on us. He will help us to grow, and even excel, in Christian living and giving. And so today I point you again to God’s grace, so that we as a church will grow in that grace. There is work for us to do as a congregation. There are people to be reached with the gospel, both here and around the world. We have neighbors who do not know Christ or are not following him. These needs call for our personal involvement and our financial giving. There’s work for us to do, and God will give us the grace to give of ourselves to do it, with our time, our talents, and our treasures. Think of all that we could do with an even greater commitment from all of us, as God helps us to grow in the grace of giving.

The church at Corinth was a congregation that was being taught to excel. And in our text, we also see a church that was already excelling in the grace of giving. Actually, it’s a group of churches that Paul refers to here, the churches of Macedonia. He writes: “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. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 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.”

Macedonia was the northern half of Greece. The churches there included Philippi and Thessalonica. Corinth was in the southern half of Greece, the region known as Achaia. So Paul encourages the Corinthians to up their game by using the example of the Macedonians. Paul is essentially saying this: “You Corinthians, look at your neighbors to the north, up in Macedonia. Look at what the grace of God has accomplished there. Those folks are not rich by any means. But how they have been giving to this offering! They’ve begged me to participate. I didn’t have to beg them. They wanted to get in on the action. They didn’t want to be left out when it came to the grace of giving. And they didn’t give just a few dollars. They gave themselves. They gave themselves to the Lord, and not just to a project. And because they first and foremost gave themselves, and gave themselves to the Lord, then their dollars have naturally followed, and in generous supply.”

“They gave themselves first to the Lord.” Did you notice that? The most important thing you put in the offering plate is yourself. If you give yourself to the Lord, then your offerings will follow accordingly. You see, we give ourselves to the Lord, not just to a budget. But even in a small congregation, if we all give ourselves and our offerings to the Lord, then the dollars will be there. Notice, the Macedonians were not wealthy. Paul even mentions their “extreme poverty.” But that was outweighed by what he calls their “abundance of joy” and “wealth of generosity.” So, out of our gospel-given joy and generosity, we will have enough money to support and even expand the work of our church.

So let’s talk about giving. Let’s talk about the source and power for our giving, which is God’s giving! Our power source is the grace of God in Christ Jesus. This is what empowers all our Christian living and giving. Grace: It’s a gift word. It is a giving word. Grace means a free gift, God giving us freely all of his gifts, purely out of his goodness, without any merit or worthiness in us. A good way to remember this is to think of the word “grace” according to its letters, G-R-A-C-E: “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.”

Grace, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” That’s what Paul is talking about here. He says: “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 by his poverty might become rich.” Yes, think of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He, the Son of God, enthroned in glory from eternity, set aside the riches of his glory. He came as a poor and lowly servant. He suffered hardship, loneliness, and rejection. He suffered agony and death for our sake. Although he had done no wrong, he paid the price for our sins. He took the mountain of debt that we owed and wrote across it, “Paid in full.” His holy blood was the price that set us free.

“So that you by his poverty might become rich.” Friends, think of the riches Christ has won for us! Jesus has redeemed us, in both body and soul. Our sins have been forgiven. Disease and death have been conquered. See the healing of the woman with the flow of blood and the raising of Jairus’s daughter for sneak previews of what is in store for us. New life now, eternal life forever–these are the riches God has freely given us for the sake of Christ. We are enriched beyond measure. God has blessed us richly in Christ our Savior.

God even blesses us to share in his character with the grace of giving. Our desire and ability to give generously with our offerings–this is a gift from God. God gives us the grace of giving, and so we give. God equips and enlivens us to give. It’s all by his grace. The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts through the gospel. Then that faith will produce its fruits in our Christian living and Christian giving.

Brothers and sisters, God will help you to grow in the grace of giving. So delight yourself in this grace, this gift of God that enables you to give. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” His grace is powerful and active. It changes you from the inside out. And so now you too will want to be in on the action, to share in the grace of giving.

Published in: on June 26, 2021 at 5:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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