November 15/16, 2014
Jason Meyer | 2 Corinthians 8:10-15
And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”—2 Corinthians 8:10–15
What we supremely value here at Bethlehem is the gospel of the glory of the blessed God(1 Timothy 1:11). The word blessed there means “happy.” The word glory means “the glow of his greatness.” Why does the gospel make the infinitely happy God look so gloriously great? I normally write a sermon so that the gospel message is the high point of the message. Today I decided to start with the gospel. As we saw last week, the gospel grace of Christ is the root, and generous giving is a gospel bud that has blossomed into a bright flower. The flowering of generosity proves the connection to the life-giving joy of gospel grace. Generosity flows from being greatly gripped by the gospel. Therefore, it is my conviction that a call to give and a call to believe the gospel should be inseparable and almost indistinguishable.
Let us soak in the beauty of the gospel for a moment. It is peculiar kind of beauty, isn’t it? It is a shocking, take-your-breath-away kind of beauty. It is a shock to the system like walking outside in –40 degree weather. You breathe it in, and your system can’t take it, so you cough. It has a confrontational quality. It cannot be ignored. It is a shock to the system like sticking our finger in an electrical outlet—it comes to us with the force of electric shock. Why? The jolt of gospel joy comes from a double shock wave. Think about sin as the first shock wave. Sin itself is shocking according to Jeremiah 2:11–13:
Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
What is sin? At its root, sin is rebellion against God. We have all believed that our way was better. We have rebelled against his rule and authority and have belittled his glory and beauty. Sin is the stubborn, stiff-necked refusal to drink deeply of the infinite delights of God. Sin is a double evil: we forsake the perfect fountain, and we think the broken stuff we build would be better.
The worst part is that we know our wells are broken. We never have enough. We spend our whole lives looking for a satisfying drink of something, but it never works. Yet we foolishly and stubbornly keep trying, saying, “Maybe this time.” It will never work. It is impossible to be satisfied without God. St. Augustine said it well (from St. Augustine’s Confessions):
We also carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.
We are commanded to regard the evil of trying to satisfy ourselves apart from God as appalling and shocking (Jeremiah 2:12). Try to understand this evil from God’s point of view. I will try to paraphrase God’s perspective. God asks, “Do you really think you can dig a deeper hole? Do you really think you are going to find enough water to fill up the hole you are digging? Do you really believe that you can find a better fountain than the perfect and supreme source of satisfaction that I am? Are you serious? Look at what you built. Your well is broken. It won’t work. Your whole life will be one long, inevitable, and perpetual failure.” This is spiritual suicide. Our actions are both shockingly sinful and stupid.
What would make sense at this point would be judgment. We deserve wrath. Shocking sins deserve swift punishment upon the sinner. But God says, “I will show you. I will send my Son, not to condemn you, but to save you from your sins.” God does not do what we would expect a holy, righteous, just, perfect judge to do. He does not pour out wrath on the sinner, who deserves it, but on his Son, who is perfectly righteous. Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Sinners are rebels who by definition do not deserve anything good from God. Yet God sends the greatest possible gift. God himself gave himself for us and for our salvation. He took on flesh so that he could be a suitable sacrifice as sufficient payment for our infinite debt.
Is the good news still shockingly good? What God has given us in Christ is mind-blowing and life-changing. He was glad to send his Son because he loved this world filled with such shocking sinners. Jesus was glad to go to the cross. The Bible says Jesus went to the cross for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2). Are you shocked that he paid the debt of your appalling sin? Your very life made a mockery of God as if he were a joke, but God says, “I will show you ... by sending my Son for you.”
The first shock wave is that we commit a crime like that, and the second shock wave is that God responds by sending us a gift like that. It doesn’t get any better. The sacrifice of Christ is the greatest gift imaginable. It is not only the greatest actual gift of all time, but also the greatest possible gift. No one could conceive of a greater gift than God himself giving himself as a payment of infinite worth to save his enemies from infinite wrath and eternal torment and giving them everlasting, ever-increasing life and joy instead. The wrath that we deserved was poured out on the perfectly righteous Son so that justice was satisfied and we could receive a right standing with God.
If you are amazed by this great gift, then you will understand why we went to the North metro and the South metro. We can’t keep our joy to ourselves. We want to shout that gospel to ever sinner in every corner of the globe, starting with our own neighborhoods—North, Downtown, and South. We don’t get excited about buildings or mortgages for their own sake, but as the means we use for a movement of the gospel. We get excited about buildings only in relation to the gospel. We want a building as a power plant from which the shock waves of gospel grace can go to the South metro.
If this gospel is what we have been given, how then shall we give to spread the gospel? Does this text have any instructions for us?
I would like to remind everyone that I did not write 2 Corinthians. We are clear on that, right? However, sometimes I am preaching through this book, and God’s providence is so kind that I just thank God, and then I pray, “God, can you help people see that you scripted this and I didn’t?”
Here is the main point—and thus the main application for us. Verse 11 is the only imperative (command) in all of 2 Corinthians 8–9. “So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have” (v. 11). I have titled the sermon according to this verse as the main point: Finish what you started.
Paul has a giving equation for finishing what we have started: Eagerly give what you have for the sake of fairness.
And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.
The Corinthian church actually started the collection for the Jerusalem church (1 Corinthians 16). But Paul says that persevering desire is really the proof of genuineness. Was this a flash-in-the-pan desire, or will it persevere to completion? Are they still as ready to complete it as they were ready to start it? This point is the point Paul stresses most: Attitude is what counts. He points out in verse 10 that they were the first to start the work and “to desire to do it.”
Paul now zeroes in on this concept of desire or attitude or readiness with a word (prothumia) that he uses four more times in 2 Corinthians.
So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.—2 Corinthians 8:11
If the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has.—2 Corinthians 8:12
And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our goodwill.—2 Corinthians 8:19
Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year.—2 Corinthians 9:1–2
This eagerness has been a major thread of this discussion, so it shows up with other words or phrases. The Macedonians gave eagerly of their own accord.
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.—2 Corinthians 9:3–4
What explains this eagerness? They gave themselves to God first, so when they gave themselves to the offering they did it by the will of God.
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 9:5
Paul goes on to add in verse 7 that the Corinthians excel in eagerness. This first point emphasizes that attitude is what counts. The next point adds further depth to this point. It is the attitude and not the amount that counts.
So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.
Paul is clearly not trying to foster competitiveness and comparison among the churches. He says that attitude matters more than the amount. Readiness, not the amount, makes the gift acceptable. The Macedonians received grace to give not just according to their ability but beyond their ability. Paul does not say , “Give beyond your ability like the Macedonians.” The only test that matters is readiness or eagerness of heart. Give what God enables you to give cheerfully and eagerly. Don’t be ashamed if some can give more. Don’t let the amount you have to give make you feel inflated or deflated. The Corinthians don’t need to wait longer so that the gift itself will get bigger. They can give now, and they don’t have to wait to try to buy more time to make their gift more impressive.
This point is so important in the rest of the Bible. God counts differently than we do because we can only look at the sum total, not the source of the heart.
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”—Luke 21:1–4
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.—1 Corinthians 15:3
You could give away everything and gain nothing. If there is no love, the gift is not acceptable. It counts for nothing.
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
Fairness can mean “equality,” but it has a specific meaning here. When Paul speaks of fairness, he does not ask the wealthier Corinthians to give to the poorer Macedonians. He simply asks the wealthier Corinthians to do their fair share. They should simply give what they could and not worry about what they couldn’t.
He also does not want some people to be extra burdened so that others can have extra ease. Do you see that in verse 13? Paul closes that gate shut and tells them not to go down this road. “For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened” (v.13).
Here is what he is saying. He does not want the Corinthians to impoverish themselves so that they take the place of the Jewish Christians. This is not substitution. They are not taking the place of the Jewish Christians and suffering poverty for their sake.
Therefore, we will turn to what Paul means by “so that their abundance may supply your need” in verse 14. Paul does not envision a debtor’s ethic that says, “You are giving now so that they can give to you later.” He is comparing the Corinthians’ physical riches and the Jewish believers’ spiritual riches.
Romans 15:27 is the best commentary on this perspective:
At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you.
Therefore, Paul’s reference to “the present time” (v. 14) is not merely a reference to “now,” as opposed to a few years ago. He is talking about the present age of salvation history. It used to be that God worked among the Jews as his people. They were the rich root of the promises made to the Jews. The Gentiles were like wild olive trees that have come to participate in the richness of the root. They have these spiritual riches—all God’s promises are yes for them in Christ, who was a Jew. The Gentiles received spiritual riches from the Jews, so now the Gentiles can provide physical riches for the Jewish Christians.
The big issue in the early church was whether personal distinctive trumped unity in Christian identity. There were Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles. What mattered more—the first word or the second? Were the differences more decisive so they were divided: Christian Jew or Christian Gentile. Or were the things they shared more decisive so they were united: Christian Jew and Christian Gentile.
We could face a similar issue right now. You hear about our current mortgage, and you hear about building a South Campus building. You may say, “Who cares? That is North campus debt, and that is a South campus building. I am part of the Downtown campus.”
I want to start by looking at where we have been. We are one church on three campuses. It was not always this way. When I was here as a student 13 years ago, we witnessed the Lord bring abundant fruitfulness. The question was now how to manage it. Should we just keep growing bigger and bigger here and have to build bigger buildings? There was a push to practice what we called "growing without growing."
I was not here for some of the pivotal things that the Lord did here between 2002 and 2010. They began to call it “going without going.”One could leave the Downtown campus and go North (10 years ago) or South (eight years ago) and not leave Bethlehem.
I want to say thank you for the unity and equality I have already witnessed. I want to thank the people that went North in 2002 and continued to steadily and sacrificially contribute to the 6.5 million dollar building Downtown, a building that was not their primary campus. I would also like to thank the South and Downtown people for contributing for the North Campus building and the mortgage that remains. I want to thank the North and Downtown campus people for the part they played in buying the land that we own in Lakeville.
How then shall we be unified? Are we one or three? Let us be the best of both by making a clear distinction between “anchor” and “allegiance.” We are anchored in one of the three locations, but we must not confuse our anchor with our allegiance. Our allegiance is first to Christ, the head of this church. He has purchased our unity. Under Christ our allegiance is to this local church, and as part of this local church, we are anchored in one of three locations. Since we are one church and three locations, we must talk and act in such a way that the one-church reality stands out even more than the three-locations reality. In other words, both are true. We are one church on three campuses, but we need to watch which reality is more dominant in our minds. Which one rises to the top in your experience when you think about Bethlehem?
I want to thank the South campus for being such a patient people. I want to thank the South campus setup and tear-down crew especially for the incredibly faithful and consistent work they have done for these eight years. Doing church out of a suitcase is difficult.
But sympathy does not motivate me as much as spreading does. We look at our South Campus, and we want them to have all the same opportunities to fill the South metro and multiply ministry as the North and Downtown campuses do. A building is like a megaphone that amplifies our message of the gospel so that more people can hear it, and more people can be saved and nurtured and discipled. We want all our campuses to be equally amped up to spread the gospel grace of Christ.
Paul cites from Exodus 18 ...
And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake–like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’ ” And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.—Exodus 18:14–21
God is the giver. People may gather, but they only gather what God has first given. We are ultimately dependent upon God. It is shameful that people can use money in such a way that it makes much of them. I sometimes did not like getting gifts from certain people because they always came with strings attached. It was a “you owe me now” kind of game. God gives us financial resources not to use to make much of ourselves, to show how much we have, or to have power over others. He gives us resources to use to make much of him. We only give what he has given us. We give what we have, not what we don’t have. Do not look at the amount of your gift and feel shame if it is smaller than other gifts. Do not look at the amount of your gift and feel smug if it is bigger than other gifts. Remember the widow’s mite.
Here is Paul’s comparison with old-covenant manna and new-covenant money. The hearts are different so the way that God ensures equality is different. In the old covenant, it was forced equality. In the old covenant, people’s hearts were hard, so God himself had to accomplish the equality or fairness supernaturally. In the new covenant, God has changed the hearts of his people so that they willingly and eagerly carry out the equality themselves without it being forced or coerced.
At the end of the year, God will not intervene by making some of our money get moldy or smelly and filled with worms. He wants us to be cheerful, worshipful givers. Therefore, let us eagerly give now in sheer, sweet adoration of what God has given us in Christ. We give in simple assurance that our God will supply all of our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). We are going to sing the song “Father of Lights” to confess this truth: all we need, you supply. We will sing the song one time through. The offering baskets will be passed, and we will gather them and take them up to the front. Then we will respond in worship by singing the song one more time, and I will close the service with a prayer of consecration. It is a prayer that God would bless and consecrate our hearts and that as we have given ourselves to him, he would enable us to cheerfully complete our intention to give by pouring out grace. Next week, we will gather together and give him thanks for what his grace accomplished among us.