Leroy Coote, 9th May 2021
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As many of you know and have been a part of, we have just finished a series on the wonderful book of 1 Peter. This great book gave us the foundation for living as followers of Jesus Christ. This foundation is the grace of God expressed in what Jesus did on the cross. In response to God’s grace upon our lives, we respond by living holy lives. An aspect of holiness is our giving to God in terms of our finances. This is the main subject of the chapters of 2 Corinthians that have been read to us today and in them, the giving of our financial resources is seen as an expression of God’s grace to us in general. It is acknowledged that the basic tithe is 10% and what 2 Corinthians encourages is that the 10% tithe is a base and given that as Christians, we are recipients of God’s grace, part of our expression of God’s grace is reflected in our sacrificial giving in the plate or via direct debit. After all, what we have available to give is given to us by God anyway and a big thank to those who give already.
However, what I will say straight away, is that Paul provides some enormously helpful insights on the topic of giving as an expression of God’s grace. My prayer by the end of the sermon is that our giving is consistent with what the Bible teaches about giving in this passage but also, we all see giving as an expression of God’s enormous grace to us. Let us start by looking at the motive for giving which comes out of verses 1-8 of 2 Corinthians 8, and let me urge you to follow the passage in person or online so that you can follow what the word of God says.
Effectively, this passage is about the example of the Macedonian Churches which Paul wants the Corinthians to follow. What did the Macedonians do? Verse 2 tells us that in the midst of a very severe trial and their extreme poverty, their overflowing joy welled up in extreme generosity. The very severe trial described in verse 2 was the experience of Christian persecution in Macedonia on Paul and his team as well as the new converts to Christianity. However, in the midst of this trial, they experienced overflowing joy which expressed itself in extreme generosity. Why were they able to give with extreme generosity? Because verse 1 tells us that the Macedonian Church had been blessed with the grace of God. But how generous were they?
Verse 3 tells us that they were giving beyond their ability. This is because God gave them the ability to do this which indicates that God’s grace enables us to give a lot more than what we think is humanly possible. I wonder – do we give way beyond what we think is humanly possible? Given that they gave in a difficult context, where did the Macedonians’ giving go to? Listen to what is said in verses 4 and 5, “Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.” They gave not on their own but because they were motivated by the grace of God. And it appears that they were motivated to give in order to share in Paul’s service to the Lord’s People as mentioned in verse 4. But what did they give to? Two things. They gave to the Lord and… they gave to Paul and his friends. Both of which are mentioned in verse 5. That’s a lot of giving from the Macedonian churches so much so that they blessed the Lord himself and those who spread the gospel.
Paul then challenges the Corinthians in verses 6-7 on the aspect of how they should give. He tells them they should excel in it. The implication in these two verses is that the Corinthians have started the Macedonian process which is indicated in verse 6 through the words, “just as he had earlier made a beginning.” But it doesn’t appear that the Corinthians have completed their act of grace because Paul and his team have urged Titus to bring to completion this act of grace. Completing their act of grace appears to involve excelling in this grace of giving as mentioned in verse 7. How much do they need to excel in this grace of giving? Listen to what is said in verses 8 and 9, “8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” This passage is challenging for all who give. Why? Because the standard was what Jesus Christ gave. I pray that our giving involves the two aspects of: Giving to the Lord himself and … Giving to those who spread the gospel. I pray that we also excel in this.
However, what do we give? This is found in verses 10-15. As we look at these verses, what is clear from this is that the Corinthians are to actually give something. We start with Paul’s judgement on the Corinthians’ operations on this matter because it appears that the Corinthians are falling short on their collections to the point that it does not appear that anything is given. The end of verse 10 tells us that last year they were the first to give but also to have the desire to do so. However, it appears that the desire to give is still there but the actual giving has yet to happen. Hence Paul’s words at the beginning of verse 11 which say, “Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it.” But to do it according to their means. The reason I believe that this is in the passage is that Paul is trying to get the Corinthians to give something that is at a minimum according to their means and according to their means effectively means anything surplus to need as opposed to surplus to want.
So, how does this equate to other passages about tithing and Biblical percentages of what should be given? Given that those percentages are a minimum based on law and what the earlier part of the passage says about giving being an extension of God’s abundant grace, this means that our giving should reflect God’s generous gifts to us which as we know is bountiful. The Corinthians were a wealthy people and Paul challenged them to give according to their means as they have plenty. But there was a purpose in that amount and that purpose was equality in giving to God’s work as mentioned in my two sub-points earlier. What does Paul mean by equality? In this case, Paul spells it out in verse 14 when he says, “14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.” God graciously supplies all that we need so that God’s church can be financially equipped with all it needs from what God gives us.
Once the members of the church have given to the church, what should happen with what is collected? It should be looked after which is my next point based on verses 16-24. A multitude of principles come out of this. Firstly, it should be administered by a multitude (i.e. – a parish council) hence, Paul’s commendation of Titus and the brother who is praised by all the churches. Secondly, the way that the gift is administered is to be done to honour the Lord and to secondly help other churches that he has planted. Thirdly, the gift should be dealt with in such a way that what is done is right in the eyes of the Lord and in the eyes of humanity. However, if used wisely for the purposes of gospel proclamation, then most people in churches are pretty happy with how money is used. Lastly but not leastly, the money needs to be administered by credible people as described in verses 22-24. But what do the churches want to see? Effectively, the grace of God as expressed in the giving of the Corinthian Church administered for the glory of God in order to spread the gospel.
However, we can only give graciously when we accept God’s offer of grace founded on Jesus’ death and resurrection for us and only then, can we become rich. However, once we receive God’s grace, what do we do with it? God’s grace needs to be expressed and its workings are found in verses 1-5 of 2 Corinthians 9. In verse 1, there is a reminder that the Corinthians were eager to express God’s grace in the giving of gifts. They were encouraged by Paul to use the grace God had given them to excel in this grace of giving. They had been touched by the grace of God because verse 2 tells us that they were eager to help. This eagerness was motivated by the grace of God. God’s grace has expressed itself in eagerness and enthusiasm to give generously which they are able to do because Corinth was a rich town back when this was written due to the extensive trade that came as a result of being a seaport. So, in essence, this gift was a prepared and gracious expression of generosity based on the abundance that they have been blessed with by God. This means that what they generously give is an expression of God’s grace to the intended receiver.
What then, does a generous expression of God’s grace look like? This is spelt out in verses 6-9. Paul starts by saying that whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. This means that if you sow a little, you will only reap a little. However, later on we will see what is reaped. But conversely, Paul says that whoever sows generously will also reap generously. You may ask, how does an agricultural analogy apply to a seaport city? It applies for the Corinthians because the sowing is actually their giving. Therefore, it means that the more generously they give, then the more generously they will reap. However, Paul does not want that to guide how much they give. He wants them to decide what they should give from a God–based motivation. Our giving should be based on what God desires from the heart. This becomes clear in verse 7, when we are told that each person needs to decide in your heart what to give. In the context of this passage, the heart of the Corinthians is motivated by the grace of God and that should motivate what they give and therefore, what they give should not be out of reluctance or from being under compulsion.
But why should you not give reluctantly or under compulsion? The end of verse 7 tells us that God loves a cheerful giver. Why does God love a cheerful giver? Because God himself is a cheerful giver – after all, we wouldn’t be saved if it wasn’t for God. He cheerfully shares his grace with us so that we can share his abundant grace with others and what is the result of being a cheerful giver. If you are a cheerful giver motivated by grace, God will bless you abundantly. So, in essence, we express God’s grace by being cheerful givers just as God is so that we are abundantly blessed by the cheerful giving God. Why? So that all of us as grace-filled believers in Christ, will abound in every good work that is motivated by the grace of God in order to build the kingdom of God.
The result of expressing God’s grace as a cheerful giver is found in the final third of 2 Corinthians 9 and it involves thanksgiving to and further blessing from God. This will become very clear as we go through verses 10-15. It appears from verse 10 that God will supply us with more if we are generous with what he gives us. He refers to God in this verse. God will not only supply seed to the sower and bread for food also known as needs. But also, he will increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. God will reward generosity and as a result will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. In other words, the more generous we are, the more God will bless us for our generosity. But there are other benefits. In verse 12, this generosity founded upon God’s grace doesn’t just supply the needs of the Lord’s people but is overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Thanksgiving to God on their behalf will be given by the recipients of their generous gift that are overflowing and abundant given the use of the words “many expressions”. But there is more because other will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ. The confession of the gospel of Christ means that they are obedient to God because of the grace of Christ. So, in essence, their response to the grace of Christ in this passage is obedience to Christ and generosity motivated by grace. And ultimately, one’s generosity is rewarded by thanks to God for this indescribable gift.
This passage presents for us a blueprint for the collections from churches from the giving to God’s church to the dealing with what is given. Our generosity to give is based upon our willing obedience to the grace of God without which we cannot be saved. This passage calls us to express God’s grace using the generous resources that God supplies. However, what is most important is the foundation of giving – the grace of God which was introduced at the start of the passage. How do we live out God’s grace? By expressing God’s grace cheerfully just as God cheerfully supplies us with resources so that we are equipped to do every good work that is motivated by God’s grace. And note that there is much thanksgiving to God as a result of our generosity. In essence, God starts it and through our obedience, thanks goes
back to God and the grace-laden giving cycle starts again with more abundance from God and there is evidence of this in our parish. May God bless us as we generously respond to his grace so that we can equip our church to partake in grace-laden good works from God’s perspective?