On Sunday, our church unofficially announced a giving to help renovate the sanctuary. This message is meant to encourage us to consider our giving to this project when the campaign becomes official in the next few months. The passage for review is 2 Corinthians 8.1-14. Paul’s words about the attitude for giving were meant for the Corinthians then, but should still speak volumes to us today.
We are to be a people overflowing with generosity. (1-4)
Paul begins by writing to Corinth about the people in Macedonia. The Macedonian churches would include those in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea (basically the churches in Acts 16 and 17). He writes about the grace of God which, in this case, is about human purpose. God’s grace allowed the humans to give despite being afflicted. The Macedonian believers were able to find an abundance of joy despite poverty, and generously gave until their offerings were overflowing.
You may ask how this could be. Notice Paul does not provide details of how much was given (in fact, he doesn’t even use the word money in this passage, although it is obvious that he is referring to financial contributions). The reason Paul doesn’t focus on money is because the people of Macedonia were not driven by material matters, but by attitudes. Joy and generosity do not come from a factual reality, rather they represent attitudes about their reality. The same is true of poverty. Of course, poverty has been given a standard, but an understanding of poverty is partially dependent on what your experiences and expectations are and that can vary from culture to culture.
So the churches Paul mentions gave. But they didn’t just give from their leftovers, they actually gave according to their means – and beyond. And they did so not because they were forced, but because they wanted to do so. Paul uses the word “begging” here – not to get money, but to give it. The idea is that the Paul made known a particular need and the people responded in a way that was well beyond what Paul expected. We get the impression that he was trying to talk them out of it, but they “begged” him for the privilege to give. They wanted to bless others. Consider their attitude against their reality. The reality was that they did not have much, but their attitude was to bless others with what they had.
Principle: It is the attitude that counts, not the amount.
Why could they do this? Because they gave themselves first to God.
2. We are to be a people overflowing with excellence. (5-7)
Paul says that the response of the Macedonian churches was unexpected. Here is the truth, when people are doing things for God, they will exceed expectations. In verse 5, Paul says these churches gave themselves to God which, in turn, allowed them to be a blessing to Paul and others with him (e.g. Titus, v.6).
Having spoken of the great help these other churches provided, Paul now turns his attention to addressing how Corinth can help. First, he appeals to their excellence. It is important to know that Corinth was the capital city of Achaia. As such, they city was not only prominent, but many of its citizens were prominent. Furthermore, as a Greek city, they would take pride in themselves and thus Paul uses words that are true, but are also meant to gain their attention. If I were to paraphrase, it might sound something like this: “You, Corinthians, you are excellent in what you do – whether in faith, or in your great oratory skills, or in your understanding of philosophical matters, and even in your desires, you are excellent. So, be excellent in your attitude about giving for this is what God requires of you because He is working within you.”
It is at this point, Paul expands on their earnestness, or as we would say desire.
3. We are to be a people overflowing with desire. (8-11)
Many people consider desire a bad thing as if desire itself is sin. But that is not the case. Desire is God given and can be used to fulfill God’s plans. The key is what we desire. Let me provide two examples from both the Old and New Testaments to show that desire itself is amoral – that is, it can be used for good or bad.
Mark 3.13 – And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.
Psalm 37.4 – Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
On the other hand, we have the negative aspects of desire found in the following two passages.
James 1.14-15 – But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Genesis 1.6-7 – The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
When we look at Paul’s words in verses 8-11 of 2 Corinthians, we see him appeal to what was started in the people of Corinth. Verse 10 says that one year prior they had a desire to do what was necessary. Now, apparently they do not. Like many of us, they had good intentions, and according to verse 11 may have begun the work of sharing, but soon backed out. Thus, Paul reminds them of their previous desire and says that their intentions were not enough. It is now time to complete what you started! For desire without completion will lead to a great deal of wasted time and energy.
4. We are to be a people overflowing with abundance. (12-14)
In the conclusion of our passage today, Paul uses the phrase that each should give “according to what you have.” This instance of you is singular, meaning each person should give according to what s/he has. The language is similar to the words in verse 3, except in that case it was plural because Paul grouped the churches together. Here, Paul is referring to each individual of the church in Corinth. His point is this: The tithe is not enough for some. The example of tithing was established hundreds of years before Moses and the Law came into place, so it is a worthwhile standard even today. But the New Testament talks about giving of ourselves – not just what is expected, but whatever is required. The truth is that some must still rise to the level of tithe, while others can give more than a tithe. However, as I mentioned earlier, it is about our attitude, not the formula or dollar amount.
Remember, Corinth was the capital of Achaia and, thus, the city had a great deal more wealth than the Macedonian cities. But when we have an abundance, it is not for us to hoard, rather, some of the extra should be given to God for the benefit of others. You might recall the story Jesus told of the farmer who tore down his barns to build bigger storage houses (Luke 12.13-21). It is not that we should not save or that we must give everything away (unless God tells us to do so), but rather that what we have is not ultimately ours. As Jesus said in concluding the parable, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12.21).
What we receive in abundance is not for us, but for God. Our abundance is for the need of others – including others who may sit in this building in the future. Just like we have been blessed by having this building for the past 62 ½ years, we can now do our part to make sure it is ready for another 30+ years, at least.
Principle: Abundant receiving requires abundant giving.
I have mentioned attitude a couple of time. As we prepare to close, let me go back to verse 8. Paul says he does not command the people to give. If anyone had a case to do so, it would have been Paul. But like Paul, I cannot command you to give. But I can urge you to do so. As Paul says, our giving shows we think beyond ourselves.
I know we all only have a certain amount of money. And besides our regular tithing, we take up collections for Annie Armstrong, Reuben L South, Lottie Moon, Operation Christmas Child, and for gas money for two Kenyan pastors. Today, we are talking about another collection to help renovate the sanctuary. I am not asking us to give everything, but I am asking you to consider what you might give to help. People in the past, including some of you, have given so this building would be here, this carpet could be laid, these pews could be in place. The question for us now is: What will we give so it will continue to be a good place for worship?
This campaign which will start in a few months will need our commitment. We will need to be a people who are overflowing with our money because we are overflowing with God’s love. We will all need to make a sacrifice, but the benefits could bless this church’s ministry for years to come. And the truth is that the more we raise up front, the less money we will have to borrow later.
So, what can you do in the mean-time? At this time, all that the Finance Team, the Propery & Space Team, and myself ask is to pray over what you will give. Again, this will be over and above what you may be currently giving and for some the extra may not be much. For others, it may be considerably more. But we must all consider what we might sacrifice for the future of this church just as others had to sacrifice for us to be here today.
So, ask God what He would have you do. Then, when the time comes, be ready to do it because He is overflowing within you.