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The Greatest Gift- They Gave Themselves 1

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Church Offerings

The Greatest Gift:  They Gave Themselves 1

2 Corinthians 8:1-5

       How do you give anything to anybody?  Remember what we have been learning, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything!”  The way that you give anything to anybody reveals something about your heart!  The way you give in church reveals something about your heart!

       We are in the second message of a four message series on “Church Offerings.”

In the first message, we dealt with The Problem with Prosperity Preaching.”  We pointed out that peasants primarily populate the pages of the New Testament, while many of the people who populate the pages of the Old Testament are rich!  From this, and other considerations, we concluded that God wants to bless His people with prosperity and how we handle that prosperity is up to each of us.  God is not ultimately concerned with our financial status, but with the condition of our hearts.  God doesn’t mind us having riches, but He doesn’t want riches to have us!

       This sermon was the background for the passage of Scripture that I want to begin to explore today.  In the eighth chapter of Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, he deals with the collection of an offering.  This collection of funds was taken up among Jesus-group members in Achaia on behalf of Jesus group members in Jerusalem.[1]  “This collection was like the customary Israelite tithe collected for the poor.”[2]  “Paul solicits these funds first of all because the pillars of Jerusalem asked him to (Galatians 2:10) and, second, because these Israelite Jesus groups knew about tithing and supporting the poor.”[3]

       The reason for their giving was to help the original Saints of Jerusalem!  Our giving helps both Saints and Sinners.

So, although we often have trouble talking about money, it is important that we understand about offerings and money, and these givers are excellent examples for us all.


(Notice with me please 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.)

       In this passage of Scripture, we have one of the most comprehensive texts on giving in the Bible.  We must come to realize that giving is a part of our worship of the Lord, as well as a barometer of our spirituality.  The truths found in these six verses require all of our attention.

(There are five important principles talked about in this passage of Scripture.  We only have time to cover the first four principles.  Principles are cross-cultural and trans-cultural, whereas methods are situational.  Now, the Gospel must be enculturated, i.e. the never-changing Gospel must be interpreted into our ever-changing culture.  For example:  the principle of blood atonement never changes, but the time of the worship service changes in each locale and culture!  So, let’s consider these important biblical principles of giving!)

I.     Principle Number One:  They Gave Graciously (vv. 1-2).

The churches of Macedonia were operating by the grace of God.  Grace in this instance being defined as

grace 5485 charis “of the desire to give alms roused by the grace of God.”

“The word charis means ‘favor,’ something another person needs because it is either not available at all or not available now.  Patrons are the usual dispensers of favor, thereby setting up relations of generalized reciprocity.  But family members and friends do endless ‘favors’ within their social groups.  And the God of Israel, like a patron, dispenses favors on His people, most notably through the death and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus.  The first witnesses to this divine benefaction were to be found in the Jerusalem Jesus groups, from whom the gospel of God was transmitted.”[4]

It was God’s unmerited favor towards them which issued into their own desire to help others, and they realized how blessed they were through God’s grace.

       Do we recognize how blessed we are?  If we do, we should be motivated to help others physically and spiritually because of God’s grace towards us!


       We are blessed!

·        Our last stewardship survey (1990), which was done by Church Growth Services, stated that our average household income was $4,000 higher than the average household income of the city of Akron.  In addition,

·        Our median household income was higher than the city of Akron, Summit County, the state of Ohio and the United States as a whole.

We are financially blessed!

       Beyond that, if we are never financially prosperous, we have many intangible and spiritual blessings which are due to the grace of God.  Because of the grace of God, we sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus and are blessed with every spiritual blessing.  In Christ we have:

   substitution--Christ died for us,

   representation--Christ died as us,

   redemption--Christ purchased us and set us free,

   justification--we are just as if we had never sinned in the sight of God,

   reconciliation--we are brought back into right relationship with God, through Jesus, the Christ,

   regeneration--we are born anew,

   sonship (which includes daughters)--adult spiritual privileges,

   sanctification--set apart unto God, and

   glorification--the full outworking of Christ’s life in us.

Get in touch with the grace of God and let that motivate your giving.

       Now, I’m not saying that we feel financially and spiritually prosperous!  Many of us don’t think or feel we are blessed, because of our “psychology of entitlement.”

(But there are two very significant contrasts in these verses:)

1.     A Great Ordeal Of Affliction Versus An Abundance Of Joy.

ordeal 1832 dokime “1. in an active sense, a proving trial:  through affliction.”

It is in great affliction that we really learn to have joy!  Suffering and joy really go together!  When we have successfully withstood our tests, we will experience joy.  It is crisis that leads us to the cross, and it is at the cross that we find unconditional acceptance, a stable identity, and true joy. 


Paul said in

Romans 5:3-4, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.”

“Hope,” according to Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon, is the “joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation.”  Joy is not based on our circumstances, but on our view of our circumstances; and our view of our circumstances must be adjusted to the cross of Christ through Significant Emotional Events, crises, or suffering!

(There is another important contrast here.)

2.     Poverty Versus Liberality.

poverty 4432 ptocheia  “2. in the N.T. poverty, the condition of one destitute of riches and abundance:  deep, i.e. extreme poverty.”

Poverty, in this passage, is not the want of two cars or two television sets, or steak instead of hamburger.  Poverty, here, is the absence of the necessities of life, i.e. food and clothing.  You have a much better understanding of what Paul means here by “poverty,” because last week I covered the fact that most of the people who populate the pages of the New Testament are peasants who lived at the subsistence level!  What Paul appears to be describing here is below subsistence level, which many people did!

Yet, in spite of their affliction, the abundance of their joy and their poverty overflowed in the wealth of the liberality.

liberality 572 haplotes  “openness of heart manifesting itself by benefactions, liberality.”

Once again, we see that it is about the heart!  When the heart is right, the wallet is not tight!  Please note:

·        Affliction does not destroy joy!

Joy is not determined by one’s circumstances, but by one’s evaluation and response to those circumstances.


(Secondly,)

·        Poverty does not destroy liberality!

One’s financial status does not determine what is in one’s heart.  Furthermore, one’s financial status cannot determine one’s liberality.  Liberality is not measured by the amount that one gives, but by 1) what one gives in relationship to what s/he has to give; and 1) that attitude in which one gives!

       So, Paul describes their giving with the words “the wealth of their liberality.”

Therefore, we must rethink our giving in the light of these Corinthians.  Out of their joy and poverty they gave abundantly.  How are we giving out of our poverty?  How are we giving out of our blessedness?

(Let’s move on to the second important principle.)

II.    Principle Number Two:  They Gave Sacrificially (vs. 3).

They gave according to their ability, and they gave beyond their ability.  That’s sacrifice!  Personal sacrifice is not a value that is being taught any more in America.  What do we sacrifice for?  Very little!  What are we being taught to sacrifice for?  Very little!  At one time in our history we had exhortation and example to sacrifice for freedom, our country, our families, our church, etc.  To sacrifice means to give up something that is valuable to you for the good of others.

       When the Empress of Ireland, went down with one hundred and Thirty Salvation Army officers on board, one hundred and nine officers drowned and not one body that was picked up had on a life preserver.  The few survivors told how the Salvationists, finding there were not enough life preservers for all, took off their own and strapped them even upon strong men, saying, ‘I can die better than you can;’ and from the deck of that sinking ship flung their battle cry around the world - Others!”  That’s sacrifice!

       For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son and the Son so loved the world that He gave His life.  And now our Saviour calls upon us to follow in His footsteps and occupy until He comes again.


       Here, at The House of the Lord, we are asking for “equal sacrifice,” not equal dollars.  If we all gave ten percent of our income that would be equal sacrifice.  Even though we are calling this equal sacrifice, it is really equal duty, equal joy, and equal worship.  When you read through the Bible you see that the tithe belongs to God.  We all should do this!

      But we are also encouraging you to pray and ask God what you should give, over and above your tithes, to this ministry in terms of true sacrifice.

·        The Macedonians must have given up some grain or what little they had!

·        We must give up something:  a new car, a long vacation, a new dress, aluminum siding - whatever we have!

(Let’s move on to the next principle that we need to learn in these verses.)

III.   Principle Number Three:  They Gave Voluntarily (vs. 3).

They gave of their own accord.  No one had to coax them.  I can hear some of you saying, “Then why do we have stewardship campaigns?”  Because we have long since lost the spiritual value system of the Macedonians and must be taught, from a biblical perspective, the importance and principles of giving.  Our stewardship campaigns are designed to teach the principles of biblical stewardship.  In a sense, the Macedonians had an ongoing stewardship program, the teaching of the Apostle Paul!

       The point is:  no one had to beg the Macedonians.  They gave, because they wanted to.  This principle of giving runs throughout the Bible.  God never accepted anything from anyone that was not given voluntarily.

       We can see the same principle illustrated in the construction of the tabernacle:

Exodus 25:2, “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution.”

Exodus 35:4-5, “And Moses spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel saying, ‘This is the thing which the Lord commanded, saying “Take from among you a contribution to the Lord; whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it as the Lord’s contribution.”‘“


Exodus 35:29, “The Israelites, all the men and women, whose heart moved them to bring material for all the work, which the Lord had commanded through Moses to be done, brought a freewill offering to the Lord.”

       Likewise, in the next chapter Paul gives the Macedonians a powerful exhortation:

“Let each one of us do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Giving is a matter of the heart, i.e. the inner most being under the control of the Holy Spirit!  God does not want us to give under compulsion.  When we give according to the moving of the Spirit in our hearts, we give freely - we give cheerfully.  But when we give out of our flesh, i.e. the soul under the influence of sin, we give grudgingly - we end up feeling pressured and resenting it.

(So the Macedonians gave liberally, sacrificially, and voluntarily.  How else did they give?)

IV.   Principle Number Four:  They Gave Eagerly (vs. 4).

The Macedonians were begging for the honor of participating in the support of the saints.  Again, the word “honor” is the Greek word charis and stands for favor or privilege of giving service or ministry.  It is an honor to support a God-ordained, Bible-believing ministry.  Our attitudes ought to reflect the joy of being a part of such a ministry.  The word ‘participation’ is also interesting.

Participation 2842 koinonia “3. a benefact jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, as exhibiting an embodiment and proof of fellowship; joint-participation.”

One proof of our fellowship in a specific local body would be our giving.  How can we say that we are members of a local church when we are not jointly participating in the financial support of that local church?

·        When you are a member of a health club, your membership is proven by your dues or fees.

·        When you are a legitimate member of a local congregation, the proof of your membership is your eager, sacrificial giving.

In Acts 2, Luke describes the early community of the church as devoting themselves to fellowship/koinonia, having all things in common, and selling their property and possessions and sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

Then, “Luke reports two representative examples of this common practice of fellowship, or sharing of property and possessions.”[5]  The first example was the positive example of Barnabas, who sold a tract of land that he owned and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  The second example was the negative example of Ananias and Sapphira, who sold a tract of land, kept back some of the money, but pretended to give the full purchase price to the church.  God struck them dead for lying to the Holy Spirit.

So, the word koinonia and the concepts of fellowship and joint-participation are proven through concrete actions.

       However, the mode and manner of our giving is more than a proof of our membership in the local church, it is also a proof of our fellowship or joint-participation with Jesus, the Christ.  If we are in right relationship and fellowship with Jesus Christ, we love what He loves and support what He supports.

(Now is the Day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, now!)

Invitation

Call to Discipleship


----

[1] Bruce J. Malina & John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2006, p. 172.

[2] Bruce J. Malina & John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2006, p. 172.

[3] Bruce J. Malina & John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2006, p. 172.

[4] Bruce J. Malina & John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2006, p. 173.

[5] Roger Stronstad, The Prophethood of All Believers:  A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology, Sheffield Academic Press, New York, New York, 1999, p. 78.

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