Yesterday, I presented a message from 2 Corinthians 8 regarding the calling to live generously. I also expressed how the prosperity "gospel" has infected western Christianity to such a degree that false hope and lies disguised as truth have made it difficult to discern the true Gospel for many. I normally do not post my sermon transcripts, but am posting most of it today for the sake of clarity.
As we continue through our series in 2 Corinthians, today we talk about the reality of broken finances – or at least a broken view of finances.
God unveils some amazing truths about himself through Paul’s writings, both to the church in Corinth, and amazingly to us today.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. - 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 (ESV)
As a lead in and foundational statement regarding a life of generosity, there’s this concept of grace. This is an amazing thing, when you contemplate it. Paul says “We want you to know about the grace of God among the church.”
I heard a story Pastor Tim Keller shared a while back about a woman in his church who came to have a discussion with him.
She said, “This grace thing – that’s a scary idea! She said ‘It’s good – scary, but it’s really scary.’”
Keller responded, “What is so scary about unmerited, free grace?”
She answered, “If I was saved by my good works, there would be a limit to what God could ask of me. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. But, if it’s really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace at God’s infinite cost, there’s nothing he can’t ask of me. And, that’s scary. Good – scary, but scary.”
You know, that’s why some of us are more comfortable being legalistic. It’s why Christians want to come to church and hear a “Just tell me what to do” sermon. It’s easier, isn’t it?
Yet, God’s grace – that overwhelming, unmerited, amazing grace, is the fulfillment of law, and is so very freeing.
Here’s the deal – we must see the act of giving as not bound in a legalistic setting, but freed by grace as God intended.
This is a major shift for many, for when this happens in your life, you will no longer be asking “What do I have to give?” when it comes to God and His church. You will begin to enjoy – yes, enjoy – the freedom of living with a generous, grace-filled heart.
This is what had happened to the Macedonian Christians. Look here – in their testing, their affliction, the severity of the persecution they were facing, their identifier became the “grace of God” that resulted in what? Abundant joy! Their extreme poverty didn’t define them. Their joy overflowed at such a level they were identified from there on out by their generosity.
You know, whenever a pastor or church leader begins to speak about money or giving, there always seems to be a collective groan that appears. You know why? Because the grace of God does not abound where legalism resides. Even if the church as a whole isn’t legalistic, or at least pushing against legalism intently, many of us find ourselves struggling with individual legalism.
Why? Because it’s the enemy’s strategy and legalism is EASY.
But, grace is greater.
These Macedonians appear to be the type of people that do the right thing, not looking for accolades – and yet, here we are two thousand years later, bragging on their obedience and longing to be like them.
For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints--and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. - 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 (ESV)
- The legalist asks “How much do you want?”
- The hoarder asks “This is all mine. What do you want now?”
- The cheapskate asks “What’s the minimum payment?”
Yet, the generous giver lives on a different plane apparently. The generous of heart begs for the opportunity to give.
I wish I could say that I’m guilty of that. I’m not. Why? Because, like you. . .I don’t think like that. Oh, there are times, maybe after a winsome video showing a hungry child needing a few bucks a month to eat and be clothed, but even then it’s a marketing strategy that begins with “Only so much a day. . .”
But in this passage we see something different. Something weird.
It’s the grace of God that abounds and changes perspective. There’s also something here that is often overlooked in messages focused on giving.
“They gave themselves first.”
Sometimes, we get this out of order, or miss this step entirely. This is where the truth is seen. This is the answer to the question “Does God really care about my money?”
You see, of all the Ten Commandments, which we all break easily, there is one that is broken most often, if not universally. It is this commandment that many feel they’ve done pretty well with, but in actuality have failed to obey. It’s the one about “not having any false idols.”
Richard Halverson once stated this “Jesus Christ said more about money than about any other single thing because, when it comes to a man’s real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index to a man’s true character. All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man’s character and how he handles his money.”
It’s about idolatry.God cannot be enthroned as primary in our lives until we dethrone the little gods that take our time, effort and even worship.
It’s interesting that when Jesus met the tax collector named Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus said that he would give back money he had taken wrongly and even pay back interest, Jesus replied “Today salvation has come to this household.” Yet, when Jesus encountered the rich, young ruler who would not dare part with his goods, Jesus lamented that the young man had missed the larger story.
It’s about the money, but it’s not really about the money.
It’s about the throne. It’s about the worship. It’s about the heart and a heart bound with legalism will create a pseudo-Christianity that is both unattractive and ungodly.
But, what about the prosperity gospel? You know, the one that says if you give, God will give back and make you rich and give you favor?
Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor/martyr from Germany stated, “The figure of the crucified invalidates all thought that takes success for its standard.”The prosperity gospel is a false gospel. It is a man-made, manufactured, manipulative pile of excrement that the enemy has concocted within the church that offers a lie as a truth.
- "Give to God and He’ll give you a Mercedes."
- "Give to God and your kids will be successful."
- "Give to God and you’ll get a promotion."
That’s not gospel – that’s idolatry.
That’s using God for one’s own good.
That’s selling God and his grace to those who will buy into anything if they think there’s a tangible return on investment that will give them money, power, influence, or some such status.
When we come to God for what we can get out of him, the gifts received are therefore elevated above the giver of good things. It’s like the kid who sees his parents not as protectors, nurturers, providers, but simply as human ATMs useful only for cash and “stuff.”
While that offends us, the prosperity gospel abounds.
And, it’s subtle, isn’t it?
Ultimately, a powerful passage that speaks so strongly about heart issues and attitude, is often mis-read and falsely applied to say that which it doesn’t say:
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." - 2 Corinthians 8:6-9 (ESV)
This is a calling out passage. The church in Corinth had said they’d give. They understood the need and for a moment – though just for a moment – the generous heart abounded there in Corinth.
Then, they stopped giving.
They forgot their brothers and sisters.
They changed their minds.
Paul is subtly, or not so subtly reminding them of their promise and he gives warning.
This is not a name-it, claim-it passage. This is an affirmation of the generous heart that results from the grace-filled giver.
We give because he gave.
We are free from slavery of that which we “own.”
Here in the states, our money still says “In God we Trust” but it seems to be a lie, doesn’t it?
What do you do with this? What does this change? Cheerful heart? Grace filled giver? Generous?
"He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."
Forever – that’s a legacy. That’s eternity. Generous disciples live and give in such a way that eternity is impacted for the Kingdom of God. Now, I love animals, but I just cannot fathom why a Christ-follower would give more to an animal shelter or cause than to the church (and not even this church) or ministry that is on the front-lines for eternity’s sake? People leave money in their wills to their cats? Really?
- Legalism keeps us thinking that “what’s ours is ours.”
- Prosperity gospel keeps the idol of self on the throne of life.
- Love of creation over Creator leads us to invest in that which does NOT matter.
Let’s refuse to allow the enemy any more footholds in our lives.