Pentecost 6b

Preached: July 12, 2009

Our Giving Overflows from God's Grace
2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13, 14

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit open our hearts to live for Jesus 1 Corinthians 8.

We want you to know, brothers, God's grace, which has been given among the Macedonian churches, namely, that in great trial the overflow of their joy and their down-in-the-depths poverty overflowed into the riches of their single-mindedness. For according to their ability, I testify, and beyond their ability, on their own, with great urgency they asked us for this grace and this sharing in the service to the saints -- and not [merely] as we had hoped but they first gave themselves to the Lord and us through God's will. So we urged Titus that just as he first began so also he complete among you also this grace. Now as you overflow in everything, in faith and doctrine and knowledge and all eagerness and love from you to us, also overflow in this grace.

I'm not speaking this as an order, but through the eagerness of others to prove the genuineness of your love too. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, namely, that for you he, being rich, became poor, so that you may become rich by his poverty . . . For it's not to bring others comfort and you affliction, but from equality. In the present time your excess meets their need, in order that also their excess may meet your need, so that it may be equal. (1 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13, 14)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

1. Why was the Apostle Paul gathering a collection for the Jerusalem Christians?

Jerusalem, the Jewish capitol, the birthplace of the Christian church on Pentecost. In the Apostle Paul's day, though, many Christians in Jerusalem struggled. Following Jesus instead of the Jewish leaders brought crosses. The help and aid that flowed to widows and the poor from the Jewish relief rolls was cut off, in appears, for followers of Jesus.

At first it doesn't seem to have been too bad. Wealthy Jews had also become Christians. In brotherly love, they shared what they had. Widows were provided for. The poor had enough. But persecution not only scattered the Christians; it also seems to have taken away whatever wealth was among them in Jerusalem. So even when persecution died down, the Christian there struggled to strive, especially in times of famine or other crises.

So Paul gathered a collection for them among the Gentile churches in Galatia, and in northern Greece, called Macedonia, and in southern Greece, were Corinth was. Just as the Gospel had gone out from Jerusalem making these Gentiles spiritual rich in Christ, so now these Gentile Christians shared their material wealth to help their fellow saints in Jerusalem.

The Christian's in Corinth eagerly began contributing. They were among the first a year ago to have the desire to do so. But problems prevented them from fully putting this desire into practice. Divisions tore the congregation. Christians took each other to court, open sin was boasted about, the Lord's Supper degenerated into a selfish feast, and there were more problems. Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians to address these problems, and they took his words to heart. But in the meantime gathering the offering for their fellow saints in Jerusalem had fallen off.

So now in 2 Corinthians Paul writes to them again and in chapters 8 and 9 urges them to turn their attention again to this offering. He doesn't use the latest marketing techniques or the insights of social science and psychology on how to motivate givers. Rather he talks about God's grace -- God's grace at work among the Macedonia Christians that overflowed in their giving, God's grace in Christ that enriched the Corinthian Christians. God's grace. For you see, Christian giving overflows from God's grace.

That's as true today as it was in Paul's day. Our giving overflows from God's grace. That's the theme to keep in mind, dear friends. Christian giving, our giving overflows from God's grace. Therefore, before any money leaves your wallet or purse, give yourself to your gracious Lord. That's part one. And trust his grace with an undivided heart. That's part two. Then our giving as well will overflow from God's grace.

A. Give yourself to your gracious Lord

1. Why was the giving of the Macedonian Christian's so surprising?

Paul starts this section on the offering by talking about the Macedonian churches: “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2 NIV). “Severe trial.” “Extreme poverty.” We don't know the details. But consider what we do know.

The Macedonian churches would have included those in Philippi and Thessalonica. Do you remember what happened to Paul in those towns? In Philippi he and Silas were beaten and jailed for driving out an evil spirit from a slave girl. In Thessalonica the believers snuck Paul out of town at night because earlier that day a mob, rounded up by the Jews, had rushed Jason's house searching for Paul. Did such hardship and persecution continue against the Christians? Was this the severe trial?

And when Paul refers to their extreme, down-in-the-depths poverty, remember who's talking here. Paul knows what it means to be poor. He's not talking about simply seeing your retirement account shrink or an investment going bad. He's not talking about struggling to make the payments on your second vehicle or even wondering how you'll make the next rent or mortgage payment. He's talking about real poverty. Paul knows first hand what it means to be poor. As far as we know, he had no permanent home of his own. Most of what he did own must have traveled along with him. He had known hunger and toil and imprisonment. He's the one who refers to how poor the Macedonian Christians were. How deep their poverty must have been!

Yet out of the depths of this poverty they ask -- we could even say insisted -- to be allowed to contribute to the collection for their fellow saints in Jerusalem. They could have argued that they needed the help, that they ought to have been the recipients, not the givers. But instead “entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:3, 4 NIV). And “they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (1 Corinthians 8:3 NIV).

2. What was the secret to such Christian giving?

What was the secret to this Christian giving? Why did they so willingly, cheerfully, joyfully contribute to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem? The answer shines out from the Apostle's words: “They gave themselves first to the Lord” (2 Corinthians 8:5 NIV). And that, dear friends, is the key to our Christian giving as well. Before any budget is planned, any check written, any wallet opened, give yourself, yes yourself, to the Lord.

For you see, he first gave himself for you. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV). What grace! He, who is God overall, the eternal, almighty, glorious Son of the Father -- what riches belong to him! -- he took on himself your debt of sin, your poverty. Why? Because he wants to share his heavenly riches with poor, undeserving sinners, like you and like me. What grace! That's the grace from which our giving overflows. Why would we not surrender our very selves to such a gracious Lord, who has loved you so dearly that he suffered our hell on the cross and died for our debt to make us rich toward God? And if we are giving our very selves to our Lord, why would we withhold our money?

B. Trust his grace with an undivided heart

1. What does it mean to give yourself to the Lord?

But what does it mean to give yourself to the Lord? In a word, it means to trust him completely, and that brings us to our second part. Trust his grace with an undivided heart. Trust him with single-minded devotion. Trust him without duplicity, without having an angle, but rather with that simplicity that says, “Lord, I don't need to know how I'll make it to the next pay check. I don't need to know what earthly blessings or benefits you have in store for me. I don't need to know how it will all work out. I don't need to know, because I trust you, Lord.” And his grace, dear Christian, his grace won't fail you. For he has already given himself for you. What grace!

2. Describe the duplicity of our hearts.

Our giving suffers because of the duplicity, the doubleness, that still divides our hearts. Oh, we trust the Lord, but we also trust the comfort a regular income brings. We trust the Lord, but we also trust our own ingenuity and hard work to make a living. We trust the Lord, but we also trust dividends, investments, rental income, and compound interest to see us through our retirement. Do you see the damning duplicity that divides our hearts, dear friends? Confess your sinful duplicity. See it for what it is: a betrayal of your Lord in exchange for earthly wealth's empty promises of security. No wonder our giving so seldom overflows. For instead of fully trusting his grace, we have divided loyalties.

3. What does God's grace move us to do?

Confess, dear Christian, confess. For your Lord is gracious. He has already paid the debt of your sinful duplicity and the debt of all your other sins. He became poor to make you rich. “See, my soul, your Savior chooses, Poverty and weakness, too; In such love he comes to you. Neither crib nor cross refuses, All he suffers for your good To redeem you by his blood” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, “Oh, Rejoice, All Christians, Loudly” 45:2). What grace! His grace moves us to confess our duplicity and seek his forgiveness.

Such grace also moves us to trust him with undivided hearts, to trust him totally with our time, our talents, our treasures, our very selves. That's what we see in the widow's mite as she gives her last two coins. It wasn't the amount, or even the percentage in itself. Rather she gave totally trusting the Lord to take care of her. She demonstrated that trust by giving all she had (Luke 21:1-4). That's what we see in the Macedonian Christians as they give despite their heavy trials and deep poverty. They trusted their Lord and his grace. His grace would not fail them. Their giving overflowed from God's grace.

Or consider the story of the boy catching fish for supper. He wanted to give some to the Lord. So he brought a fish to the pastor. The pastor asked, “Where are the other fish for you to eat?” The boy answered, “They're still in the lake waiting for me to catch.” He trusted the Lord.

So also dear friends, trust your Lord. He will provide. He will take care of you. Trust his grace with an undivided heart. That's what comes first, before any talk of amounts or percentages or budgets or priorities. First trust his grace, giving yourself to your Lord.

4. How does God's grace change the way we look at our contributions and offerings?

Then the whole way we look at our contributions and offerings changes. We begin to see that the opportunity to give is in fact itself a gift from God's grace. That thought is so radical its hard to put into words without sounding incoherent. Our giving is a gift, not a gift from us but a gift to us from God. As you put your money in the offering plate, God is giving to you. I'm not talking about some blessing down the road. The very fact that you have the opportunity today to give to support his work both here in Hancock and around the world through the WELS, that opportunity by itself is a gift from God's grace.

That's the grace God gave the Macedonian churches. They had the opportunity to participate in the collection for the saints in Jerusalem, to celebrate the fellowship of faith they shared in Christ, to rejoice in the Gospel that had come to them from those early beginnings in Jerusalem. Don't miss out on this gift, this opportunity the Lord has given you to celebrate the fellowship we share in his Word as we support the true teaching and preaching of his Word through our offerings. What a gift it is to have this opportunity to give! What grace God has shown us by giving us this opportunity!

Our giving overflows from God's grace. So dear friends, drink in God's grace. Hear the Good News of Jesus. He became poor paying your debt of sin to bring you his rich forgiveness. Take to heart all the goodness and kindnesses of your heavenly Father. Trust him to take care of you. For filled with God's grace, we give ourselves to our Lord, trusting his grace with an undivided heart. Then our offering will be there as well, for they overflow from his grace.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313