Sermon / Feb 2, 2014 / 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 / Free & Joyous Response Part One / Macedonian Grace / Pastor Terry Defoe
1And now, fellow believers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
This morning, we begin a four-week journey of learning and Christian growth. As you’ve probably noticed by now, Mount Olive is beginning a stewardship initiative called Free & Joyous Response. We are the first congregation in the Central District of Lutheran Church – Canada to take part in this program, but many congregations in other parts of the country have done so. The number of congregations that have travelled this road before us is more than 20. This initiative takes us into God’s Word to see what it has to say about the Christian’s management of the resources God has given. In sermons, Bible Studies, bulletin inserts, letters and the like, this message goes out. This morning, in our first sermon on this topic, I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Holy Word.
In order to do God’s will, we need to hear what God is saying. Bill White of Paramount, California, writing in Time magazine, says this about the importance of careful listening:
Erik Weihenmayer is blind, yet 12 years ago, he reached the peak of Mt. Everest. Suffering from a degenerative eye disease, he lost his sight when he was 13, but that didn't stop him. On a mountain where 90 percent of (the) climbers never make it to the top — and more than 240 people have died trying since 1953 — Erik Weihenmayer succeeded -- in large measure because he listened well.
He listened to the little bell tied to the back of the climber in front of him, so he would know what direction to go.
He listened to the voice of teammates who would shout back to him, "Death fall two feet to your right!" so he would know what direction not to go.
He listened to the sound of his pick jabbing the ice, so he would know whether the ice was safe to cross.
Citation: Bill White, Paramount, California; source: Time (6-18-01)
The same is true of us. When we take a perilous journey, listening well makes all the difference.
Human beings in all times and places have basic needs. Those needs are both physical and spiritual. Let me give you some examples. It's important that we have hope for the future. When we have hope we can bear up under life's troubles and burdens. It's important to have meaning in life. It's important that what we do in life is recognized by others as being useful and worthwhile. As human beings, we have a need for reconciliation when relationships break down. Most importantly, we need to have our broken relationship with God restored. Once we are forgiven by God we can then forgive others.
A pastor I respect once said to married couples,
“If you’re going to have a fight, you need to have a good fight.”
Now, what in the world did he mean by that? He meant that, in a good fight, there is a good result. In a good fight, the parties lay all their cards on the table. No one gets hurt. In a good fight, there is forgiveness and reconciliation at the end of the process. People express their opinions, and with God’s help, work out a mutually agreeable solution to their grievances, and they walk away as friends. Their way of dealing with conflict brings healing, not further injury. Their way of dealing with conflict brings glory to God’s name and honor to the Christian church.
As human beings, as I mentioned a moment ago, our most important need is reconciliation with God. Our broken relationship with God must be restored, if our sins are to be forgiven, and if the door to heaven is to be opened for us. God meets our need for reconciliation with Him through his Son, Jesus Christ, the One who died on the cross for us and was raised from the dead for us. God delivers these blessings to us through his Word. He delivers them through Baptism and Holy Communion. God blesses us so that, we, in turn, can be a blessing to others.
God meets our needs – and blesses us – by his grace. The concept of grace is a fundamental Bible teaching. Grace is what makes the Christian faith unique among world religions. The concept of grace was central to the Apostle Paul's teaching. It shouldn’t surprise us to know that the Biblical concept of grace brought huge changes into the life of Martin Luther and was the spark that set off the Protestant Reformation.
Christian writer Donald Barnhouse says:
Love that goes upward… is worship.
Love that goes outward … is affection.
Love that stoops down … is grace.
God’s love stooped down to us in Jesus Christ. God’s love stooped down to us in the manger at Bethlehem, and at the cross on Good Friday. This is what grace is all about – it’s love for people who don’t deserve it. God’s will is that once we experience grace, we will then be gracious in our dealings with others. God’s grace isn't stern, or rigid, or cold-hearted. God's grace can warm the coldest heart. God meets our needs in and through His Son.
In our text this morning, the Apostle Paul describes a group of congregations called the “Macedonian” Christians – they were congregations found in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. In Second Corinthians, chapter 8, verse 5, the Apostle Paul says:
And they[that is, the Macedonians] did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us, in keeping with God's will.
Faith enables God’s people to give themselves wholeheartedly to the Lord. And that same faith enables them to give themselves in service to others. There is a basic Biblical principle at work here:
We are blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others.
Our love for Christ enables us to love others. God’s amazing grace enables us to be gracious and forgiving to others. In Paul's day, the Christian church at Jerusalem was what we could call the "mother church." It was the place where it all got started. But, by the time the book of Second Corinthians was written, the mother church at Jerusalem was in trouble. The Christians at Jerusalem were mostly former Jews who had left Judaism to follow Jesus. Many of them had been ostracized from their families. To make things worse, Jerusalem was experiencing a famine at that time. And on top of that, they were being taxed heavily – not just by the Romans, but also by the Jews.
Because of this great need, and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul decided to take up a collection from among the Gentile churches for the believers at Jerusalem. Early in the process, the churches in Macedonia responded very generously to Paul's request. Despite the fact that they, too, were experiencing persecution, and despite the fact that they didn’t have much, they went out of their way to help their brothers and sisters in Christ at Jerusalem. As one Bible scholar says:
The poverty of the Macedonian Christians did not diminish their generosity. And their tribulation did not diminish their joy.
Paul was impressed by these Macedonian Christians because they were willing to give to people they didn't personally know. Because of their shared faith in Christ, the Macedonian Christians were willing to share of their material resources to help meet the needs of fellow believers hundreds of miles away. Now, in Paul’s second letter to the Christians at Corinth, he was asking if they would be willing to participate in this collection. It's as if Paul was saying:
The Macedonians, despite their poverty and the persecution that they have been facing, have been very generous in this matter. I would be pleased if you Corinthians would do the same. You are not facing poverty. You are not being persecuted. If the Macedonians can help out as they have, surely you can participate, too.
Now this is where things get interesting. We need to remember that the congregation at Corinth had caused Paul much grief in the past. Some of the members of that congregation had gone overboard with a misguided interpretation of spiritual gifts. Some of them had been using their gifts selfishly. To add insult to injury, some of the Christians at Corinth had misused the Lord's Supper and had brought disgrace to the name of Christ. Add to this the fact that the Corinthian congregation had split into competing factions. A previous letter from Paul had been strongly worded. But, now thanks be to God, things were returning to normal. The Corinthians were maturing in their faith. And Paul knew that an important expression of Christian maturity is generosity – a reflection of God’s own generosity in sending His Son as the Savior of the world.
9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor…
So here’s a question for you. Why do Christians give? Because Christ first gave himself to us. Why do we give? Because Christ, who had all the riches of the universe at his disposal, willingly gave it all up for us, when he came to this earth and died on a cross. Why do Christians give? Because God has graciously given us all things. And God blesses us so that we, in turn, can be a blessing to others.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the golfer Arnold Palmer. Christian author Brennan Manning says,
Arnold Palmer once played a series of exhibition matches in Saudi Arabia. The king was so impressed that he proposed to give (Arnold) Palmer a gift. Palmer demurred;
"It really isn't necessary, Your Highness. I'm honored to have been invited."
"I would be deeply upset," replied the king, "if you would not allow me to give you a gift."
Palmer thought for a moment and said, "All right. How about a golf club? That would be a beautiful memento of my visit to your country."
The next day, delivered to Palmer's hotel, was the title to a golf club – (in other words, A GOLF COURSE). (Fairways, greens,) trees, lakes, clubhouse, and so forth.
Citation: Brennan Manning, Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1986), p. 165; submitted by Brent Kipfer, Brussels, Ontario
Now, that’s quite a gift!
The Apostle Paul was vested with full apostolic authority – authority granted by the Lord Jesus Himself. Although Paul had that authority, he chose not to use it here. He didn't issue a directive ordering the Corinthians to give to the church at Jerusalem. Instead, he graciously requested their help. Paul's leadership style was to "pull,” rather than "push." He didn't push by means of the Law. When it comes right down to it, as I say, God blesses us so that we, in turn, can be a blessing to others. We can meet the needs of others in several different ways. We can offer them our time. We can offer our talents and abilities. And we can provide financial gifts. It’s important to note that whenever the Apostle Paul spoke to Christians about giving financially, he always said the same thing: “give proportionately, according to your means." Jesus Himself said, in Luke, chapter 12, verse 48:
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
God’s will is that our financial gifts are to be related to what we have, not what we don’t have. God’s will is that when incomes rise, gifts can increase. On the other hand, His will is also that when incomes decline, gifts decline as well. Our giving is to be motivated by God’s grace and not by the law. God's grace – his undeserved love – has provided us with everything we have. And that same grace prompts us, in turn, to give back to him – and through Him, to others. Speaking of a person without proper food or clothing, the Apostle James says, in chapter 2, verse 16,:
16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
The Apostle Paul said to the Corinthian Christians, in 2 Corinthians, chapter 8, verses 7 and following:
7But just as you excel in everything -- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving. 8I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…
The Apostle Paul encouraged the Christians at Corinth to put their faith to work through this offering. He reminded them of what other Christians had been able to do – with God’s help. And, in Jesus’ name, he encouraged the Corinthians to do the same. There were needs to be met in Paul's day. And there are needs to be met in God’s Kingdom today. The same Biblical principle is at work – we are blessed to be a blessing. May God grant it. Amen.
DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – We know that you have met – and continue to meet – all of our needs in Christ. Enable us to provide resources for work you have given us to do here at Mount Olive and around the world. Remind us of Christ's willingness to give up his riches for us, at the cross. Help us grow in the grace of giving, for our good, but most of all for your glory. May our response to your grace always be Free and Joyous. In Jesus' precious name we pray. Amen.