Series on II Corinthians, II The Directions of Paul for Giving, A The Model, Text:8:1-15.

Introduction

Stewardship means money to most of us, and our text is about money. But stewardship is a life that makes a difference. Jesus could not conceive of a person who would joyously love God and yet not give himself to serve others. He said Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not the things I say. In Matthew 15 Jesus feeds four thousand having already fed 5000 from a small boy's lunch of five loaves and two fishes, as recorded in Matthew 14. He says to his disciples, I have compassion on these people, I do not want to send them away hungry. His disciples say where can we get enough bread in this remote place? Now it’s their lunch time. Jesus says how many loaves do you have. They replied seven and a few small fish, and Jesus fed 4000 men besides women and children. The disciples didn't think they could make a difference and this was after they had already seen Jesus feed the 5000 from the small boy's lunch. What difference can your lunch make? In this study we look at the problem in Corinth and at the pattern, perseverance, and practice commended by Paul.

I The Problem

The Corinthian Christians had promised to send money for the relief of the poor in Jerusalem. Verses 6 and 7 and 10 and 11, So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. In his first letter Paul had warned  in 16:2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. They still hadn't complied, perhaps because of divided loyalties and the greed of false teachers who circulated among them. There are plenty of people who are interested in your wallet. In any case, the point of Paul's appeal is to get them to follow through on their original commitment. George Barna, a Christian pollster reported recently that church contributions would be down this year because of 9-11. But they have been declining since 1998! Perhaps the reason is the failure to follow through on commitments. He also reported that one third of all self-proclaimed born again adults claim to tithe their income, but only 12% actually do. The church budget is an obligation. We all promise that we will do our best to support the church in its worship and work. When we call a pastor we promise to support him. If we are honest most of us do not regard this obligation as equivalent to paying our visa or mastercard. The important question is, how does God regard it? Just in case you face that kind of situation, I'd like you to remember what Paul says here.

II The Pattern

Paul begins with a comparison of the Corinthian Christians to the churches in Macedonia. These were the churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. Macedonia was north of the Greek peninsula where Corinth was located.  These were people who received the gospel in much affliction according to Paul's letters . Furthermore the Apostle never said one word to them about giving. Yet they were a marvelous example. We see here four features of their generosity.

A They gave beyond their ability according to verses 1-3, And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. That is, they gave beyond their means. That's a paradox, a seeming impossibility. But what Paul means is that people usually estimate their ability to give on the basis of two criteria. First, what do I need now for my necessities, and secondly what should I lay aside for future needs and emergencies. That's justifiable. But the Macedonians didn't do that, they disregarded their present and future needs.

B Now sometimes people give above their means because of the pressure that is brought through coercion or extortion but we note here that not only did the apostle not beg them, but they begged him to be able to give, according to verses 3 and 4,  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. One might have said this is the last group that can afford to contribute to the cause. but they were the first.

C According to verse 5 they gave themselves first!  And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. Their heart was in this offering. They didn't do it in a meager, lame, or perfunctory manner. The gifts of money followed from their giving their hearts to the Lord and to His work. They realigned their priorities in life.


D Lastly, they gave as the Lord Jesus gave. This is implied in verses 8 and 9, I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 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 through his poverty might become rich. Paul urges the Corinthian Christians to give in like manner. They excel in many ways, but they need to excel in this grace. And the ultimate example is the Lord Jesus who gave Himself, who became poor so that we through His poverty might become rich. This is how the Macedonian Christians had given. They realized that true riches cannot be found in this world. One wonders why 33% of Christians who profess that they know they are going to heaven aren’t laying up treasure in heaven. What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own life.

III The Perseverance

From the example, Paul moves on to the practice starting in verse 10, and he reminds them in verses 11 and 12 of the importance of perseverance, Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. It is rather easy to make a promise to the Lord and then fail to keep it. It is our nature to make extravagant promises when we are emotionally moved and then when we get down to the practical issue of giving, to default. If we look at the example of the Macedonians and of Christ himself, then we become ashamed of our failure to follow through. We also fail to follow through because we think our contribution won't make any difference. But Paul tells us in verse 12 that there is a Biblical principle, “according to your means.” If the people had been setting money aside as Paul told them in I Corinthians 16, on the first day of every week , then there would have been a worthy gift as a result of their perseverance. It was a failure to do this that resulted in this appeal. There was not regular, systematic proportionate giving. Now remember, the Greek word for steward means a manager of the house. You wouldn't hire someone to manage your house who was not good at maintaining the accounts faithfully. That's what we should do, that's perseverance.

IV The Practice

Paul concludes with the practice that was to maintain equality in verses 13-15, Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.” They were to share so that everybody's needs could be met. In the household of faith there would always be some who needed help and some who could help. The illustration of verse 15 is taken from Exodus 16 where the Israelites were gathering the manna from heaven in the wilderness. This is how God fed them. Some gathered more and some less, but they divided it up so that all would have enough. In life some gather more and some gather less, but the Christian concern is that all have enough. Remember they only gathered for that one day. They could not keep the manna for it would spoil. They were totally dependent on God and on one another. What they gathered was God's and they could not gather only for themselves. This is the grace of God in action, and in giving.