November 1/2, 2014
Jason Meyer | 2 Corinthians 8:1-7
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. 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. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.—2 Corinthians 8:1–7
The Lord has been stirring us with a vision to “fill these cities.” I spent four weeks preaching a series of sermons all under that heading. We spent time learning about the need to spread and speak the name of Jesus, and doing so by the Holy Spirit’s power. Where do we want this filling to take place? A good guide is Acts 1:8, where it names several places. First it names Jerusalem, our equivalent of which would be the cities and suburbs that make up the Minneapolis metro. Then it names Judea/Samaria, which in our context would be the cities in our nation, the United States. Finally it says the name of Jesus must go to the very ends of the earth.
I made the case that our three campuses are three missile silos for church planting. We want to be a spreading movement and not a stale museum. Our Treasuring Christ Together (TCT) network has 14 churches. This is an exciting month for TCT because there are two church-planting proposals coming to the elders this month. Kempton Turner is bringing a proposal for East Saint Louis, and Jonathan Parnell is bringing a proposal for a neighborhood-focused church plant in the Twin Cities.
In terms of the ends of the earth, we just spent two weeks trumpeting the call to be globally focused. We have around 100 global partner units on the field and 100 in the Nurture Program, our incubator program that prepares people to go to the mission field. Two weeks ago, we had 81 people at our three missions gatherings (called Missions at the Manse), which included forty-two people who were not currently global partners or in the nurture program. We are estimating that eleven families and three singles will leave for the nations in 2015. I am getting so excited thinking about Daniel and Jessica Souza going to South America, and Andrew and Sara Knight starting a college ministry in Sheffield, England. The Lord is calling, and our people are responding in faith so that the earth will be filled.
Pray in the Holy Spirit, as Jude 20 tells us. Invite the Holy Spirit into your prayer life and ask him to bring our global partners to mind more. They also need people to come alongside them with practical support like our Barnabas support teams.
Last week we said that God owns our lives. Let’s stop asking God, “What should I do with my life?” Let’s say, “God, what should I do with the life you own?” If he calls you to go, you go. As you do, you trust that he will take care of you wherever you go.
This week I want to say it this way: Suppose that he calls you to stay and support and help send others well. Again, let’s stop saying, “What should I do with my money?” Let’s genuinely ask God, “What should I do with the money that you own?” He calls us to use his money, given to us to steward for a time, for the filling of the earth with his glory.
And it will be filled with his glory. God will supply both goers and senders for the filling of the earth with glory and the funding of that filling. For example, next year’s budget needs to factor in an extra $150,000 for growth in global partners we are estimating we will send out next year.
I hope that makes our budget important and exciting, rather than boring. Let me explain two types of giving and how they often work here at Bethlehem.
Our church and missions budget is formed on the basis of proportional giving, often called tithing or giving a proportion of your income, commonly 10%. The main budget at Bethlehem is met through regular, proportional giving from members and others.
Another type of giving is called sacrificial giving. Sacrificial giving is usually connected to a specific need. Right now there is a specific need at Bethlehem, namely a building for our South Campus. In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul asked for sacrificial giving in order to help the poor saints in Jerusalem. Filling takes funding.
That is why returning to 2 Corinthians seems so providential today. Filling these cites will require funding. That is why I titled this series on 2 Corinthians 8-9 "Funding the Filling." Chapter 8 and 9 represent the most sustained call for financial generosity anywhere in the Bible. We are going to walk through them in two parts. I will give four sermons on chapter 8 (called "Funding the Filling, Part One"). Then we will have several Advent sermons, Christmas, and our January topical sermons, after which, in February, we will have four sermons on chapter 9 (called "Funding the Filling, Part Two").
I briefly want to mention how Funding the Filling Part One and Part Two are tied together. Remember this phrase: prepare to launch. “Prepare” will be our focus during Funding the Filling, Part One. “To launch” will be our focus in February when we walk through Funding the Filling, Part Two. In other words, Part One is the preparation phase and Part Two is the launching phase. I will give you a picture to try to describe what I am saying.
Naturally when you hear the word “launch,” you may imagine a space shuttle. But if you had to execute that launch yourself, the word “prepare” might come to mind. No one just walks up and launches a space shuttle. You have to prepare. It must be positioned and equipped and checked and double-checked.
Let me describe it using the details. In order to get an object to orbit the earth, you must get it to travel at over 17,000 mph. The space shuttle itself is fairly light, weighing in at less than 100,000 pounds, but with the fuel, external tank, and rocket motors needed for the lift off, it weighs in at approximately 4.5 million pounds. It must also be loaded onto the mobile launcher platform. Then the Crawler/Transporter takes the space shuttle vehicle and the mobile launcher platform to the launch pad and precisely places it on the launch pad pedestals. The precision is extremely important. Because of the explosion in Virginia on Tuesday and the Virgin Atlantic crash last Friday, all of this stuff is really in the news right now.
I think I have made my point. Preparation is everything. All of the necessary preparations need to be in place before the launch. In the same way, Funding the Filling Part One is preparing and positioning ourselves for the launch of our campaign to build a South Campus building on the land we own in Lakeville along I-35.
You might say, “Ok, I kind of understand the idea and the need for preparing to launch, but how does that translate to our situation?” Here it is. Funding the Filling Part One is going to culminate in a call for you to consider a one-time sacrificial gift to radically reduce our current 5.7 million dollar mortgage. Why do we want to do that? We are preparing to launch a building campaign for the South campus. This first phase is important. I think people want reassurance that we are taking our previous mortgage seriously before launching out in a new endeavor in which we might need to get a different mortgage.
Take the space shuttle analogy I gave you. Not doing phase one would be equivalent to trying to launch a space shuttle without having the fuel, launching platform, and rocket motors. That would be an unsuccessful launch, to say the least.
People have been begging us to give to the existing mortgage. They have some extra cannonballs that they want to put in the Bethlehem cannon to blow a hole in our previous mortgage. Up to this point, we have not given people a chance to give directly to the mortgage. We are changing that now in Funding the Filling Part One. There are some that have said that they want to make paying down the previous mortgage the first priority before giving to a future endeavor. We care deeply about that perspective because our goal is 100% participation.
So here is the plan over these four weeks that will be Funding the Filling Part One: First, this week I am giving an overall orientation to Funding the Filling. I am already beginning to share that perspective right now. I will also unpack the apostle Paul’s overall paradigm for giving from 2 Corinthians 8 (which I will do in just a moment).
Second, next week (November 8-9), as I continue preaching on 2 Corinthians 8, we will have an insert in the bulletin that says, “As God pours out grace, I gladly intend to give a sacrificial gift on or before December 31, 2014 toward reducing Bethlehem’s current mortgage of $5.7 million. This gift will be over and above my regular proportional giving to Bethlehem. After giving myself first to the Lord, the amount I prayerfully intend to give is $_________________.” I am going to ask you to take that bulletin insert home when you get it next week and earnestly pray over it during the week following (November 10-14).
Third, in two weeks (November 15-16), we will have our regular mid-service offering for the church and missions budget, and I will preach the third sermon on 2 Corinthians 8. However, we will close the service by passing around the offering baskets, and my hope is that, as an act of worship, people will put the bulletin inserts from the previous week, on which they have prayerfully written the amount of their sacrificial giving, in the offering basket.
Fourth, in three weeks (November 22-23), we will have a service where we will give thanks for the money that has been given and pledged toward the mortgage. We will announce the total amount committed via the bulletin inserts, prayer, and sacrificial giving that people put in the baskets the week before. We will corporately thank the Lord, and I will preach the fourth sermon on the final passage in 2 Corinthians 8.
This four-week plan is a central part of Funding the Filling Part One. I will be saying a lot more about these things in this sermon and in the sermons to come. But now, I want to turn our attention to 2 Corinthians 8:1-7. I want to spend some focused time on the first two verses, because they show us Paul’s paradigm for financial giving and three essential elements within that.
Here are the three elements of giving that I am praying will come to life for you:
First, Paul talks about how grace comes down in verse 1. As a result, gladness wells up (v. 2a) and then, generosity flows out (v. 2b).
The main point of the text is that God’s grace alone creates glad-hearted giving. Here is my plan for walking through this text with you. First, I will show each element of the paradigm from the verse and then show how each element is also woven throughout the rest of 2 Corinthians 8-9. These three elements of the paradigm are not isolated elements; rather they form a cohesive paradigm that Paul keeps referring back to in his discussion. These elements are emphatic because they keep popping up everywhere.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia . . . —2 Corinthians 8:2a
The word “grace” shows up in these two chapters eight times. Paul calls it, “the grace of God” (8:1), “this act of grace” (8:6, 7; 9:19), “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (8:9), “all grace” (9:8), and “the surpassing grace of God” (9:14). It occurs once somewhat incognito as a wordplay because Paul says the Macedonians begged earnestly for the “favor” (or grace) of taking part in the relief of the saints (8:4).
What happens when grace comes down? We are ready for the next element of the paradigm.
. . . for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty . . . —2 Corinthians 8:2a
God’s grace comes into the deep springs of the heart so that an “abundance of joy” wells up in the heart. Notice a few things here about joy. This is joy in Christ, not joy in pleasant circumstances. Yes pleasant circumstances can cheer the heart. But that is not what Paul is referencing; it’s quite the opposite. There is a “severe test of affliction” that includes “extreme poverty,” and yet an abundance of joy is welling up. This is amazing. The “for” at the beginning of verse 2 is important because Paul is pointing to the origin of this joy, namely the grace of God. Gladness welled up, not because of favored circumstances but because grace came down. Therefore, only grace could stir up such a joyful response in the midst of affliction.
This joyful response matters much to God because it shows how great he is; it glorifies him because it is evidence of how joyful it is to know him. Paul tells us as much in 2 Corinthians 9:7 when he says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Again, God loves a cheerful giver because joyful giving shows how great God is. He is so great that it is a joy to sacrifice for his causes. In fact our giving and sacrificing could hardly be called that because the joy from it is such a gift. Jesus taught us about giving like this when he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This is giving like a Christian hedonist. It brings more joy to give than to receive. That very deeply reflects God’s heart. He loves to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11).
. . . have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.—2 Corinthians 8:2b
Notice that Paul calls this wealth of generosity an “overflow.” Do you know the experience of something that someone has to drag out of you like they are pulling a tooth? Elsewhere in his writings, Paul calls this an extraction, compulsion, or forced giving.
That is the opposite of an overflow. An overflow is something that bubbles up and can’t be held back; it just comes rushing out. It is the perfect word to describe the giving of the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8:2.
This “wealth of generosity” takes on many different descriptions throughout the rest of 2 Corinthians 8-9, but let me sum it up this way: Paul says he does not want to command them to give because then it would not be genuine love. “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others your love also is genuine” (8:8). And again, at the end of chapter 8, Paul returns to this idea when he says, “So give proof before the churches of your love” (8:24).
We return to the main point of the text then. When grace comes down, gladness wells up and generosity (coming from love) pours out. Or like I said it before, God’s grace alone creates glad-hearted giving. We could call it “grace-giving” because grace alone makes glad, generous giving. Grace-giving is the generous giving that grace births.
Therefore, grace-giving is glad-hearted giving. God, the greatest giver, gives one of the greatest gifts, namely grace. This grace causes gladness to spring up, and the result is glad-hearted giving. Paul calls the sum total of grace, gladness, and generosity, “this act of grace.” It is all an “act of grace” because it all originates with the grace of God. It is all from him, through him, and to him.
May it not be said that we have not because we asked not. Ask God to open the floodgates of heaven and rain down an outpouring of grace, gladness, and generosity in our hearts here at Bethlehem so that our current mortgage would be gone and we would be able to launch well in the Spring.
As I mentioned before, let’s call Paul’s paradigm “grace-giving.” It originates from an outpouring of God’s all-sufficient grace that causes joy to well up from the springs of the heart, and then an overflow of love comes pouring out like a stream of generosity. That generosity was not man-made or manufactured by oratorical flourish; it was not baited with just the right amount of irresistible incentives. It was just a clear call and the response of a heart gripped by grace and filled with joy.
We noted earlier that Paul uses the term “grace” eight times to describe this giving, and I want to emphasize now that Paul’s paradigm is very different from the world’s paradigms for giving. The world uses two different ditches: gimmick-giving or guilt giving.
Let’s begin with gimmick-giving. This is when your giving is motivated by how good you feel about a deal you are getting. You have all heard the commercials that use gimmick tricks to make you feel like you are getting a good deal, but it is a limited-time offer. “Buy this container of Oxy-clean! It cleans well. But wait, there's more! If you call in the next ten minutes, we will give you two containers of Oxy-clean and 10 rags and a free year-long subscription to the Jelly of the Month club. That’s a hundred-dollar value all for four easy installments of $19.99.”
Though we all know gimmicks well, we also understand being motivated by guilt. Guilt-giving is when your giving is motivated by how bad you feel because someone else doesn’t have what you do. People don’t want you to feel good about what you are getting; they want you to feel bad about something that you have been ignoring. “Don’t you know that every day this many kids around the world starve?” My response is, “Yes, we need to know about those needs, but let’s clearly communicate the need.” Sadly, someone will respond back saying, “But then what do you do when people don’t give the way you want? How do you get more giving? Do you show haunting pictures of children with dirty faces and tattered clothes? Do you show kids drinking water in the same puddle as cattle?” How far do you go? Some would say you go all the way. Put pressure on the will. We assume that the problem is lethargy so we just need to stir people up. Wail upon the will and get them to act. There is an undercurrent of frustration to it all. “What is wrong with you? Get it together. Stop being a selfish, miserly, cheapskate, dead beat! Don’t you care or have a heart at all?”
But God does not want a sad, reluctant giver. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” A giver should not feel that the compulsion to give comes from the speaker; it should not feel forced or coerced. The compulsion must come from God gripping the heart with grace so that the heart is filled with willingness and joy.
You see, the problem with both gimmick-giving and guilt-giving is that they take giving into their own hands by trying to create that response on their own. In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul is talking about how God creates this response of giving through his grace. Grace-giving emphasizes God’s ability, not the ability of man and a really persuasive presentation. It is 2 Corinthians 9:8 which says, “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.”
Notice that Paul distinguishes between two types of grace-giving. Look at verse 3 with me. “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.”
Two prepositions are really important. There is a kind of giving that is “according to your means.” This is often called “proportional giving.” The Old Testament called for tithing, the giving of ten percent of your income. 1 Corinthians 16 testifies to a “proportion principle” in giving because the Corinthians were to set aside money on the Lord’s Day “as each one prospers” (1 Corinthians 16:2).
Second, there is a type of giving that is “beyond your means.” This kind of giving is over-and-above proportional giving. For example, if in proportional giving you set aside ten percent of your income, then sacrificial giving is over-and-above that normal ten-percent giving that you do regularly. It may involve giving more of your income than your normal percentage, but it also involves assets, possessions, and reserve funds. This second type of giving is beyond normal giving; it goes beyond what one would expect. It probably feels a little risky. People don’t necessarily feel financially pinched in proportional giving, but in sacrificial giving, they will probably feel it a little. It feels like a risk because maybe you tap into the reserve fund, but you look at God and know that it is really not a risk because God will take care of you. Let’s look a little more closely at sacrificial giving among the Macedonians in this passage in our fourth application point.
Notice that the Macedonians were not giving because of gimmicks, and they were not guilted into giving in any way, either. First, the need, usually a specific need, was clearly communicated. Second, they gave themselves to the Lord first, and then by his will they gave themselves to the call to give (v. 5). Third, they jumped into giving with both feet; it says that they begged to give (v. 4). Fourth, they gave according to their means and ability, and they gave beyond their ability (v. 3).
But how? How did they give that way when things were not ideal for them at all? It says that they were in a “severe test of affliction.” They were able because grace has the power to overcome trying circumstances. Sacrificial giving is, by definition, not convenient; it defies circumstances, it hurts, and it feels like risk. What does grace do? Grace overcomes trying circumstances (they had severe affliction and deep poverty), but grace still produced an amazing abundance of generosity. That is why I titled this sermon “Funding the Filling - Amazing Grace.”
I would hate to have anyone leave this place with the mistaken notion that they are supposed to be amazed by the Macedonians. God is the hero of that and every story. He is the One that gave grace to the Macedonians; it was not their goodness or power but his that caused their glad-hearted generosity. He, the Giver, gets the glory. The 2 Corinthians 8-9 story of sacrificial giving is really based on a greater story of sacrificial giving. You can see that Paul goes right to the heart of grace-giving in 2 Corinthians 8:9, saying, “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 by his poverty might become rich.”
Friends, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is the thing to be amazed by. It is the greatest thing that has ever happened. Jesus is the gold standard of amazing grace. His grace-giving is not only the greatest actual gift in history, it is the greatest possible gift conceptually. It can’t get any greater than God giving himself. How could you give more than that? There is nothing greater one could even conceivably give. You could not conceive of a greater gift. Christ’s sacrificial gift is the very heart and soul of our celebration of Communion today. Let your eyes be drawn to the elements on the table. Look at the bread. It represents Christ’s sinless body, which was bruised and broken as a sacrifice for our sin. Look at the cup. It is Christ’s blood, which was poured out as the price that paid for all of our sins. What amazing grace that our sin is paid for!
Friends, don’t come to communion with any delusional thoughts that Christianity is about what you give God. You don’t come to the table by working or earning your way. You don’t buy God’s favor by fixing yourself up or trying to be good enough. We all fall short of our own low standards and disappoint ourselves, let alone God’s standard of perfection. The life and death of Christ on our behalf is our only hope of salvation. We have no hope without the cross and no hope without Jesus as our sin-bearing, wrath-swallowing substitute. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
I have read about people’s experiences in church. One lady said that she remembers that appeals for money were given with more passion and pleading than the sermons, scripture readings, and prayers. The overall impression was that nothing else mattered as much as money. Bethlehem, it will not be that way among us. How could it be? The outpouring of grace on the Macedonians does not even come close to comparing to the outpouring of grace that came from the cross of Jesus to many of us here. The grace poured out on the Macedonians is like the trickling drip of a water faucet compared to the towering downpour of the Niagara Falls of grace that forever covers us in Christ. Let that grace come down, gladness well up, and generosity overflow as we remember our Savior’s great gift of himself.