2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-14

5th Sunday after Pentecost – 6/27/2021

If there is one topic almost everyone is eager to talk about, it is being rich or getting more prosperous. Our culture is obsessed with it. A vital feature of every news broadcast is the reporting of the value of the stock market and what you and I need to do to grow our net worth. We are obsessed with the lives of the rich and famous. It used to be that we talked about millionaires. Now, being worth a million hardly even registers as being wealthy. Today, the truly admired and elite are the billionaires!

At the top of the heap is the founder of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos. Forbes says he is the wealthiest man in the world. Earlier this year, even during the economic downturn of the world's COVID-plagued economy, it was reported that Bezos became the first person in history to acquire a net worth of over 200 billion dollars. Such wealth is unfathomable. According to Business Insider's 2018 calculations, when Bezos had a mere 130 billion dollars, his $80,000 was comparable to the average American's $1. (Kiersz, Rogers, and Hoffower, Feb. 2021).

You and I can genuinely be impressed, but can we be equally impressed with Jeff Bezos' giving? Well, he could be more impressive on that score. Other billionaires, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, are far more notable. But ought you and I to be wowed by even their millions of dollars given to various charities? We have our Lord's words, "To whom much is given, much is expected." The charitable giving of the world's wealthiest people should be enormous. They have more to give.

The biblical model of great giving stems not from great wealth but from great poverty. We heard from St. Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians a few minutes ago not about great wealth but the "wealth of generosity" (v. 2). Impressive giving is sacrificial giving. And giving stems not from some sense of obligation but from a deep-seated joy to participate in the grace of giving.

There is something much more important for each of us to think about today than Jeff Bezos' giving, or for that matter, anyone else's giving. The apostle Paul turns the spotlight on our giving.

Now, I've gone and done it, haven't I? The minute I said we would look at your giving and mine, no doubt some of you were thinking, "Oh, now you are getting too personal, pastor!" I know how preachers operate. Sooner or later, you always get around to my money in teaching and preaching. "I have it, and you want it!"

Yes, today I will also talk about your money and mine. But more precisely, I will speak to you about giving away our money. Now, I'm not doing this because that's what preachers always do. I am not doing so because we are currently experiencing a shortfall in meeting our congregational budget, which we are. But I will talk to you about giving your money and mine because God wants us to discuss that. After all, I didn't pick out this text. It's the appointed text for this day, which someone else picked out long ago.

For Jesus and Paul in our text, giving away our money is essential because of what it reveals about our hearts. Elsewhere, Jesus says, "Where your treasure (pocketbook) is, there your heart will be." In other words, how you and I spend our money—what our check register shows—indeed reveals where our hearts are—what we regard as crucial in our lives, what we value most, and what gives us the most pleasure. And here, the Lord and His apostle bring up the subject of giving away our money because they want us to learn to enjoy the grace of giving.

As far as our worldly minds are concerned, there is a real radical thought process going on in our text. We daily deal with money, whether it be spending, investing and saving, or even giving it away. But it does not even enter our minds to think of giving our money away to meet the needs of others as itself being a gift of God's grace. Yet, that is what St. Paul calls it. Four different times he refers to the giving of what we have for the sake of others as the grace of God—the grace and the communion of the service to the saints—and again, this grace.

Grace is an attitude of undeserved favor toward someone else. In other words, if someone is gracious toward us, it means that they are favorable toward us without any merit or prompting on our part for that favor. We know we are recipients of grace when someone gives us something or does something simply out of their love for us, not because we have somehow asked for it or in some way earned it.

However, we are not accustomed to thinking that our giving is a grace received from God. When we let go of some of our hard-earned money to be placed on the offering plate or given to some charitable cause, grace is not precisely the word that comes to mind. Instead, we think of giving as something we do. Perhaps we see it as a good deed that earns us brownie points with God or someone else. We may see our giving as an obligation. Or, at best, we see our giving as an act of our grace but not God's grace.

However, if we honestly examine the character of faithful giving as Paul presents it to us, we are forced to see faithful giving as something that can only be ours through God's grace toward us. In other words, the ability to give, as described here, can only come from God's gracious giving to us.

The context of this text was a massive fundraising effort among Gentile congregations to send aid to Christians in Jerusalem and Judea.

Judea, you see, had been under a severe, ongoing drought. On top of this, the Christians residing there were experiencing escalating persecution from the Jews and increasing disfavor with the Roman rulers, making it harder and harder for the average Christian to make a living. The Christian church there needed some real support if it was ever going to survive.

During his missionary travels, Paul was trying to encourage the congregations that had sprung up in these areas to take up an offering for their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ living in Jerusalem. On an earlier visit he had made to them, Paul had already encouraged the Corinthians to make arrangements for such an offering. But, like many projects begun in our churches today that go uncompleted, the Corinthians had seemingly put the gathering of the offering on the back burner. As a result, in this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is encouraging them to finish what they had started.

Paul identifies seven distinct characteristics of true giving using the example of the giving of the Macedonian Christians, which would include such cities as Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.

The first is that these Macedonians gave even during severe trials amid much affliction testing. That contradicts what is commonly assumed to be optimal given the conditions! It is common to believe that people will be more willing to help others if they are not troubled. Nothing could be further from the truth in the eyes of the Macedonians. They were willing to give to others even though they were beset with problems, themselves—no doubt, persecution, and daily living challenges.

That is borne out over and over again today. So often, those going through the most difficult trials and challenges are the first to volunteer their time and money to help someone else or contribute to a church offering. Those who seem more trouble-free tend to be more stingy with their time and money. Could that be because they are too busy spending it all on themselves? In any case, Christian giving comes out of trials.

Secondly, Paul says the Macedonians gave out of their overflowing joy. Imagine that these people were not complaining that they had yet another project to give to but were joyful that they had another opportunity to share! Paul would later write: "Let each one do as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver" (II Cor. 9:8). It is common and natural in our fallen state to have to give again. It's simply divine to give cheerfully!

Again, Paul shocks the Corinthians and us with this third characteristic. After all, only those who can afford to give up some of what they have, like the Jeff Bezos of the world, are the ones who should be encouraged to give. But here we are told that the Macedonians gave not out of their wealth or excess but out of extreme poverty! They were quite literally giving until it hurt. They were joyfully willing to sacrifice to meet the needs of others, just as their Lord had done for them.

That, no doubt, made a big impression on the Corinthians. After all, Corinth was a very prosperous trading city. It is assumed that many of the church members there were wealthy, yet these poverty-stricken Macedonians were giving. What's wrong with this picture?

Could it also be a picture of us? How many of us give until it hurts, or are our offerings merely spare change?

The fourth characteristic coincides with giving out of one's poverty. Paul says the Macedonians gave according to their ability and beyond it. Here, the example of the widow's offering in the Gospel of Mark also comes to mind. She certainly gave beyond her ability. In total trust in God's grace to provide, she gave the temple treasury all she had. Both the example of the widow and these Macedonians show that one does not have to be well off to be generous. Often, the truest generosity is displayed by those who have the least to give.

Joining together the following two characteristics of giving, Paul says of the Macedonians, "On their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints." There was no arm twisting to get them to give. They didn't need to be persuaded to provide with the promise of receiving something in return. They gave voluntarily, entirely on their own. Paul notes elsewhere that he had considered bypassing the poor Macedonians when gathering the offering, not wanting to burden them further. They had enough poverty already. But the Macedonians didn't wait for Paul to ask. They pleaded with Paul to participate in the offering. They considered it a privilege to experience. They couldn't stand the thought of not being included in such a fantastic service to their brothers and sisters!

Just imagine how such an attitude toward giving would revolutionize how we do things here! There would be no need for fundraisers or continual reminders of shortfalls or needs in the bulletin or newsletter. We would all urgently bust down the church office door, asking where we could give!

Rounding out the characteristics of giving, Paul says, is that before they gave anything, they first gave of themselves to the Lord. They saw themselves as being used in service to the Lord before they saw their possessions as gifts to be used in service to the Lord.

In other words, using their possessions to serve the Lord and His people came naturally because they first saw themselves as Christ's representatives. They belonged to the Lord, so everything they had belonged to the service of the Lord.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is giving! Paul does not hold up the Macedonians to the Corinthians and us to shame us but to show us that such giving is not of this world. Instead, he wants us to understand that it is supernatural beyond our comprehension. The Macedonian example shows us that such a giving spirit is only possible by the grace of God. The good giver, God Himself, must give it.

All this—that is, understanding and living as though giving is a gift of God's grace—is God's will for you and me. Why?

First of all, because God does not want us to live in this world deprived of one of His greatest gifts, the grace of giving; like the Corinthians, besides God's chief gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, we also enjoy the blessings of having God's complete revelation in the Holy Scriptures to hear, read, and study; of being able to commune with our Lord in His Holy Supper regularly; and of having a family of brothers and sisters in the church to guide, protect, and comfort us. But without the grace of giving, the joy found only through the generous and sacrificial giving of our money, time, and talents would always elude us. There is no substitute for that joy.

Secondly, God and His apostle hold up to us the example of the giving of the Macedonians to "test the sincerity of our love." It's one thing to tell and sing to God how much we love him. We can do that all day long. But nothing expresses that love more sincerely and concretely than the generous and joyful giving of our money and time in service to the Lord and His church. That's genuinely putting our money where our mouth is!

Thirdly, when we excel in this grace of giving, it demonstrates how well we know the grace of God's blessing to us in Jesus Christ. After all, it is God Himself who is the greatest giver! He voluntarily gave up everything that we might lack. God became poor for our sakes, although He was rich in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus died a pauper's death so that we might have the life of a king. A person who truly appreciates God's gift to him cannot help but see his gift as a gift of God's grace to be enjoyed.

And finally, the grace of giving promotes equity among God's people. Those who have can meet the needs of those who lack. Those forced by their circumstances to be in need can learn the art of receiving graciously. If everyone had no needs, no one would understand the joy and privilege of giving. Conversely, no one would supply their needs if everyone were in need. The grace of giving promotes equity.

You and I don't have to be billionaires to give generously. We need to live by the grace of God and see giving as an act of His grace. Then giving will loom large in our lives. Amen.

More Sermons

Access more of our sermons