Sunday, August 14, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Summer Bible Series
2 Corinthians 8
It’s nice to be back. I’ve got to give a special shout out to Josh, Michael and David who spoke the last three Sundays while they were in the middle of their busiest time of the year: camp season. They did double duty and they did it beautifully! Thanks guys!
While they were working extra hard, I was on vacation! I spent 5 days on my motorcycle, then a week at the Oregon Coast with most of my kids and grandkids, where the major activities included building a hot tub on the beach, of being buried neck deep in sand. Then we spent 3 days in Central Oregon for an extended family reunion. My mom had six kids: my five sisters and me…and that led to this! There were 90 of us—which is most, but not all of my mom’s descendants. It was a blast seeing my big wonderful family!
Corey mentioned Rooted, our ten-week small group discipleship experience that we would like everyone to have—especially if you are relatively new to Life Center. People ask how to get connected at Life Center and it’s as easy as 1-2-3.
I’ve been through Rooted twice this year and the relationships I formed and experiences I had are amazing. Rooted will launch on September 27 and we have limited spots—it’s going to fill up very quickly. If you don’t get signed up right away, you’ll be waiting until winter or spring! So get after it!
Speaking of great opportunities, we hosted the Leadership Summit here on Thursday and Friday. It was fantastic! I’m planning on showing some of it during the course of the year. Mark your calendars now for next year: August 10-11, 2017! Also on Thursday, I turned 65. Medicare! Senior discounts! Woohoo!
Speaking of money—that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Don’t worry—you’re going to love it! For our Summer Bible Series, we are working our way chapter by chapter through 2 Corinthians; we’ve arrived at chapter 8. In chapters 8-9, Paul writes about an offering he is collecting for the poor in Jerusalem. It seems that the church in Jerusalem—the mother church from which all others sprang—had fallen on hard times. A famine in the mid to late 40’s had left the Jerusalem church destitute, and Paul brought famine relief from the Gentile church in Antioch.
Acts 11:29–30 The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
At that time, the leaders of the Jerusalem church asked Paul not to forget them.
Galatians 2:10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.
Paul spent the next several years soliciting funds from the Gentile churches he started across the Roman Empire, including the church in Corinth.
Romans 15:25–26 Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem.
Macedonia and Achaia were in what is modern Greece: take a look at this map. The Macedonian churches (N. Greece) would have included Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea; the Achaian churches (S. Greece) would have included Athens and Corinth. So Romans 15 was written after the collection was complete and Paul was on his way to deliver it. But 2 Corinthians was written before it was complete and Paul is writing to inspire the Corinthians to be generous. And that is the first point.
- An inspiring example of generosity. 1-7
2 Corinthians 8
1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. 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. 6 So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
Look again at verse 1: “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.” Paul is going to describe their amazing generosity, but at the top he attributes it to God’s grace. Human beings are naturally selfish. I am—I am my own selfish pig.
ILL: When I walk on the beach I collect agates. I have buckets of them. I found a couple small ones on this trip. My granddaughter Ruby asked for one, and I gave it to her…but reluctantly. I secretly wanted it back! What is wrong with me? I’m selfish.
That’s human nature. Paul attributes the Macedonians’ radical generosity to the grace of God. God changed their hearts—He still has some work to do on me! In verses 2-5, Paul describes their radical generosity:
- It was unexpected generosity.
2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
These Christians were in a very severe trial—perhaps they were facing persecution—and they were experiencing extreme poverty. Literally, “down to the depths” poverty, or we might say, “rock bottom poverty.” We usually don’t expect generosity from people in those conditions. Usually, we think, they’re just trying to survive.
But God’s grace had filled their hearts and “their overflowing joy welled up in rich generosity.” These deeply poor and troubled people gave generously and joyfully! Not what you’d expect…but that’s what God’s grace does.
Here’s some interesting information. Forbes recently published research done by the Chronicle of Philanthropy on how Americans’ giving habits changed from 2006-2012. How did the Great Recession affect our giving? Look at this chart: Those with the most are giving 4.5% less, and those with the least are giving 16.6% more! Not what you’d expect. Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, explained that lower and middle income people are “very sensitive to the needs of other people and recognize that these years have been hard.” She also said that religious faith is driving much of the generosity. That’s what God’s grace does. God’s grace makes the most unexpected people radically generous.
Don’t ever think that generosity is only for the wealthy! Don’t make the mistake of saying, “Someday, when I have more, I’ll be generous.” If you aren’t generous now, you may never be. You may always be waiting for more. Don’t wait! God’s grace makes the most unexpected people radically generous. It was unexpected generosity.
- It was sacrificial generosity.
3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.
They went above and beyond; they gave as much as they were able and then gave more. They determined what they could comfortably contribute and then gave even more. When you leave your comfort zone—this is when giving becomes an adventure! I think of Luke 21, the story of Jesus watching people give their offerings at the Temple. The rich put in large gifts, then a poor widow put in two pennies.
Luke 21:3–4 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
She put in all she had to live on—what an adventure! How would God provide for her?
ILL: When I was in college, I had a van that I used in my youth ministry. I believed that God asked me to give it away and trust Him. I was making $65 a month as a youth pastor—enough to put gas in my van (but not buy insurance) and not enough to buy another one. I needed that van, but I gave it away, and said, “Ok, let’s see how you provide, Lord.” The short version of the story: in the next 12 months, people gave me not 1, but 3 cars—one I gave away, one I sold, and one I kept.
Sacrificial giving—going beyond your comfort zone—is an adventure!
It’s honestly been a long time since I’ve given beyond my comfort zone. I’m at a stage in my life where I’m giving more than ever—not just dollar amount, but my giving percentage is the highest it’s ever been. But I make enough that I can give more and still be comfortable. That’s why stories like this impress me.
ILL: At the Leadership Summit, we heard the story of a British couple, Phil and Wendy Wall, founders of WeSeeHope. On a trip to South Africa, they fell in love with an AIDS orphan and wanted to adopt her, but after months of trying, it fell through. They were heart-broken, but God spoke to them and said, “Do you only want to love one?” So they started WeSeeHope to support these orphans. Phil organized a large event to raise money. But God said, “You’re not going to ask for anything; you’re going to give.” Phil and Wendy went to bank and cashed out their life savings in 10 pound notes. They gave each person at the event 10 pounds and challenged them to turn it into 100 pounds for the ministry to orphans. That was 16 years ago since they gave away their nest egg, their life savings. Would you like to ask them, “Any regrets?” I guarantee they’ve received far more than they ever gave. But their story still challenged me: what would I do if God asked for my life savings?
This verse challenges me to get out of my comfort zone and give “beyond my ability.” It was unexpected generosity, sacrificial generosity, and…
- It was self-initiated generosity.
Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.
“Entirely on their own”—that is, their generosity was self-initiated—no one had to ask or prompt them. They urgently pleaded for the privilege of sharing! They begged to help! Imagine how different the world would be if we all had this grace of generosity! Can you imagine: we hear of a need and we’re all begging, “Let me help! Let me help!” Pick me! Pick me! They didn’t feel forced or obligated; they wanted to give. And this is precisely the attitude God wants.
2 Corinthians 9:7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
We’ll talk more about this next week: give what you decide, not reluctantly or under compulsion. Give what you decide—self-initiated.
One of the most common complaints about churches is that they’re always asking for money. It is true. We do. Unfortunately, some pastors use unscrupulous methods to pressure people to give. I hope you never feel that way here. But here’s the reality: $100 worth of ministry costs about $100. It costs money to do God’s work. Pastors have to ask for that money. But what if we didn’t have to ask? What if God’s grace so filled our hearts that we were all begging to give. “Let me help.” Entirely on their own. Lord, let it be true of us! Let us be eager, willing and cheerful givers.
It was unexpected generosity, sacrificial generosity, self-initiated generosity, and…
- It was whole-person generosity.
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 exceeded expectations by giving themselves first to the Lord and then to Paul and the apostles. They gave more than money; they gave themselves, their heart, their lives.
ILL: I love the story of the church in the bush in Africa passing the plate. Actually, it wasn’t a plate—they passed large woven baskets because people didn’t have money, so they gave chickens or produce. One young boy was so moved, he wanted desperately to give something, but he had nothing to give. So he climbed into the basket—he gave himself.
This is what God really wants—not your money, but you—your heart, your life, your all. Paul assures the Corinthians that it’s not their money he’s after.
2 Corinthians 12:14 Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you.
What I want is not your money or possessions but you—God wants your heart. It’s possible to give money without giving your heart.
ILL: I remember a time when I was a new Christian and my mom and sisters and I were all going to church together, but my dad wasn’t. My mom wanted to give an offering, and to my surprise, my dad agreed. My dad gave money, but not his heart, his life. God wanted his heart.
Friends, God doesn’t want your money; He wants you. And I don’t want your money, I want you. I want you to know God and love Him with your whole heart. I want you to experience the rich and satisfying life God has for you. I want you to know that you are loved, forgiven and accepted by God. I want you to give yourself to the Lord. That’s what I’m pulling for—not your money, but you. That’s what God wants.
Paul shares the inspiring example of the Macedonians’ generosity: it was unexpected, sacrificial, self-initiated and whole-person generosity. And all this was the result of the grace of God in their lives. Look at:
6 So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
Paul sent Titus to help them finish what they started: to gather and give their offering. And he encouraged them to excel in this grace of giving. I believe that God wants every person to excel in the grace of giving—He wants us to be radically generous. Learning to be generous is a matter of spiritual growth and maturity. It’s about becoming more like Jesus…which leads to the next point.
- The ultimate example of generosity. 8-9
8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For 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.
Paul makes it clear that he is inspiring them, not forcing them; but he also challenges them by comparison: here’s how the Macedonians did, let’s see how you do! Achaia (Corinth) and Macedonia had a long history of political rivalry. This would be like Paul writing today to Republican Christians and citing the example of Democrat Christians! A little friendly competition! This is not manipulation, but a challenge to be your best. Paul must have known this kind of motivation would work with them.
Then Paul gives the ultimate example of generosity: Jesus. He gave everything for us. He became poor to make us rich. Paul is talking about Philippians 2 condescension: Jesus emptied himself.
Philippians 2:5–8 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
This is Jesus becoming poor for us so that we can be rich like Him. Paul points past the Macedonians to the ultimate example of generosity: Jesus giving everything for us. The gospel is about generosity. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. The gospel is God’s radical generosity, His complete self-giving to us. Radical generosity is sourced in the character of Jesus—it is who God is and as we become more like Him, it is who we are. Become like Jesus and you become more generous!
- If you are willing, do what you can. 10-12
10 And here is my judgment 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. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
Paul gives some specific advice: finish the work. You were the first to want to give and start giving; now it’s time to finish what you started. Let your eager willingness at first be matched by your completion of the task.
It’s easy to be inspired to do something, and when the inspiration wears off, you don’t follow through. All of us have done this. How many of you have:
- Started a diet but didn’t finish?
- Started an exercise program but didn’t finish?
- Started reading your Bible but didn’t finish?
- Started giving to God but didn’t finish? You petered out.
Paul’s advice is simply to finish what they started. Follow through! Git ‘er done! Turn those good intentions into action!
Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.
Notice the last phrase: give “according to your means.” Paul advocates proportional giving. Said another way: give what you can. If you have more, you can give more; if you have less, you may give less—just give what you can. If you are willing to help, the gift is acceptable, no matter the size. Just do what you can. So many fail to give because they think they can’t afford to do something big. What difference is my dime or my dollar going to do?
ILL: Just this week, I read this story:
Some years ago a woman was preparing a box to be sent to some missionaries in India. A child gave her a penny. The woman used this penny to purchase a tract—a small piece of literature that explains the gospel—for the box. Eventually the tract reached a Burmese chief and was used to lead him to Christ. The chief told the story of his conversion to his friends, many of whom believed. Eventually a church was established and over fifteen hundred people came to Christ. All from a gift of one penny. No gift willingly given is too small for God to use.
Paul says it is important to simply give what you can and if it comes from a willing heart, it is acceptable to God and He will use it.
- The goal is equality. 13-15
13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”
Why was Paul collecting this offering? “The goal is equality,” he says. The Corinthians’ plenty would supply Jerusalem’s need.
Was Paul advocating some kind of socialism, a leveling of rich and poor so that everyone has the same? Some scholars think so; many don’t. I don’t either. I think that Paul is seeking equity in meeting needs, making sure that the necessities of life are met. If someone is hungry and I have more than enough food, I should share. It’s that simple. There is a difference between equity of basic needs being met, and equality of supply. The first we can and should do; we should want everyone’s basic needs to be met and work for that. No one should have to be hungry, or thirsty or homeless. That’s equity of basic needs. But equity of supply—the idea that we should all make the same, have the same and be the same—is not equality but mediocrity. I don’t think Paul is advocating socialism.
He simply means that we share and share alike. If I have and you need, I share. And when I need and you have, you share. We are here for each other. We are generous. This is not communism, an enforced equality; this is Christianity, a volunteered love and concern that meets the needs of others.
Sometimes we take an offering to meet needs around the world. We just did that a couple months ago. But we also meet needs every day right where we are. You are God’s ministers, and His ministry is simply meeting needs in Jesus’ name right where you are. Give your life away. Be open for business every day this week and see how God will use you!
- How to handle an offering. 16-24
16 Thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. 17 For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. 18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. 19 What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. 20 We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. 21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.
22 In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. 24 Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.
Paul covers some administrative details: who is coming to collect the offering, how they were chosen, and how they should be treated.
In the midst of this (20-21), Paul gives an important principle for church leaders who handle offerings. We want to avoid criticism, so we take pains to do what is right in the eyes of God and man. One of the ways Paul did this was that he didn’t handle money alone; Titus was with him in this as were two other unnamed but respected brothers. Paul wanted all this to be above board and beyond criticism.
Friends, I want you to know that you can give at Life Center with confidence that your offering will be handled with respect, and that we will take pains to do what is right in the eyes of God and man. We have a church council of 9 church members who oversee and advise our staff on our finances. They look over and approve the budget, decide on major out of budget expenditures, and establish staff salaries. Each of these people serves 3 year terms, and each year 3 rotate off and 3 new members rotate in. We send in a monthly financial report to our denomination, which is a member of the ECFA, the Evangelical Council for Financial Integrity. Your offerings not only support our ministry here, pay for our staff and facilities, but also support many other ministries in our community and beyond. We give away between 15-20% of our income to support God’s work beyond our walls, here, near and far. You are the most generous church I know! Thank you!
My prayer today is that all of us will become increasingly more generous as we become more like Jesus.
 Belleville, L. L. (1996). 2 Corinthians (Vol. 8, 2 Co 8:11). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.