Sermons

November 22/23, 2014

Funding the Filling: Thanks Be to God

Jason Meyer | 2 Corinthians 8:16-24

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 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 good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord's sight but also in the sight of man. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.—2 Corinthians 8:16–24

Overview and Thanksgiving 

We spent four weeks in September and October on the vision of “Fill These Cities.” We then corporately turned our attention to global focus for the last two weekends in October. In November, we started a series entitled “Funding the Filling: Part One.” It is a four-week series walking through 2 Corinthians 8. This is the fourth and final week of that series. I say “part one” because 2 Corinthians 8 cannot be separated from 2 Corinthians 9. These two chapters together give us the most sustained vision of financial giving in the entire Bible. Therefore, part two of “Funding the Filling” will happen when we jump back into 2 Corinthians in February. Next week we start Advent, then January is taken up with our topical themes of the word and prayer, ethnic harmony, sanctity of life, and small groups. We will walk through 2 Corinthians 9 in four sermons starting the second week of February. Allow me to recap with you where we have been so we can all be on the same page.

I hope it has been refreshing that this series has felt more like a gospel campaign than a giving campaign. No gimmicks. No guilt trips. It has been anything but slick. I hope some of the bumbling and stumbling is even endearing. Along the way, I have learned some things about communication at a large church. Some of you did not feel ready to put your intent-to-give cards in the offering basket at the end of the last week’s worship services. Some of you missed the first sermon that explained the order, and some forgot the card. I wish that I had made the instructions clearer on the bulletin insert about what was going to happen and when. If I had it to do over again, I would probably just have everybody use the tear off portion of the bulletin so that you didn’t have to remember the cards at all. We sent out an email on Monday to try to fill in some of the gaps, explaining how you could still include your intent to give as part of the tally for this week.

The total tally of intended giving is 520 responses totaling $1,135,638. Let me say five things about that amount. First, this giving is by God’s grace and for God’s glory. He gets the thanks.

Second, this amount is intended giving, not actual giving. Why did we do two steps here instead of just actual giving? Paul said that “everyone must give as they have purposed in their heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). I wanted everyone to have a moment in the context of corporate, family worship where you could purpose an amount in your heart. We are dependent upon the Lord for pouring out provision so that we can meet or even exceed that amount. He is faithful. He is able to make all grace abound to us so that it will come to pass before year’s end.

Third, what if you missed the chance to be part of the intent to give tally? Here I would encourage you by pointing out the difference between intent to give and actual giving and receiving. Anyone can give to this endeavor on or before December 31. Some may have missed the tally for intended giving, but everyone can be part of the tallying for actual giving. Some have already given. We have already received over $100,000 in actual giving.

Fourth, hear me say very clearly that the attitude counts more than the amount. God loves cheerful givers gripped by the gospel. In fact, the number that I care about is the number of Bethlehem families who gave, not the total amount we gave. Even if it is two pennies, the goal is 100% participation. We would like all of Bethlehem members and regular attenders to be cheerful givers who are gripped by the gospel and believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Giving to Funding the Filling also says, “We are part of this movement with you to Fill These Cities.”

Fifth, our giving of what we have is always first and foremost a giving from what we have already received. I am not speaking merely of material riches, because the same principle holds true in an even greater way when we think about our spiritual riches in Christ. A call to believe the gospel and a call to give cannot be separated. I love the way Randy Alcorn puts it in the Treasure Principle“As thunder follows lightning, giving follows grace." 

That is why I have stressed that all glad–hearted giving is gospel–rooted giving. The flower of generosity only blossoms when connected to the root of gospel grace. Giving that is disconnected from the gospel is like a cut flower—it may look pretty for a while but it will only wither and die.

Let’s think more about God’s giving to us in the gospel. Last week we said that the gospel makes the happy, exuberant love of God look glowingly great. I want to add another layer of texture and color to that painting today.

We know that God owns us by virtue of being our Creator. He is the Master of everything. He owns it all. According to Romans 1:21, our sin is clearly evident in how thankless we are. We don’t see everything coming from him. We do not see the depths of our dependence. We have the delusion of independence because we do not see the true depths of our dependence. We have the mark of our Maker in that we are made in his image.

Thus, it makes complete sense to read that God’s thankful people would want to wear the sign of God’s ownership on us. Isaiah 44:5 glories in our identification with the Lord. 

This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’ 

another will call on the name of Jacob, 

       and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ 

and name himself by the name of Israel.”—Isaiah 44:5

That fits comfortably within the realm of what could be called normal expectations. It was fairly common in the ancient world to have a master’s name tattooed on the servant. One scholar said, “Generally it was the owner’s name that was incised on the right hand.” It was true of hands, and it was even true of jar handles. “Hundreds of jar handles have been found in Israel from the Iron Age that are inscribed l’mlk, “belonging to the king” (The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament [Isaiah 44:5] Downers Grove: IVP, 2000.)

But it is at this very point that the gospel comes with the power to blow away all of our expectations. Five chapters later, God reassures his people that they are not forgotten and not forsaken. What is the proof of his love and commitment? “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”(Isaiah 49:16). This is shockingly unheard of. Never, ever, ever in the ancient world would one see the name of a servant tattooed on a master. That would put the master in the role of the servant. Who could imagine a master devoting his life to serve?

Christians can because that is the gospel. The Lord of all came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). It matches the three pictures we saw in the second sermon. This is the picture of 2 Corinthians 8:9. The grace of the Lord Jesus is the giving of himself. Because he was rich, for our sake he became poor so that we might become rich by his poverty. His royal robes are hidden behind his servant’s towel. 

It is the picture of Philippians 2:6. “Because of who he was, he did not regard equality with God as a thing to use for his own advantage.” He is not a grabbing God but a giving God. It is the very nature of God to be giving, not grasping. God has no needs. He does not wait for people to wait on him. He is overflowing as an all-sufficient, inexhaustible fountain.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.—Acts 17:24-25

Thanking God as Giver follows closely upon the heels of seeing God as Giver. It should be an eternal cycle: Divine giving leads to grateful thanksgiving, and divine giving leads to grateful thanksgiving. Do you see? The heart of the gospel is the greatest display of the heart of our God.

 

So now we are ready to think about how to thank God in the matter of giving. The focus in our passage shifts slightly from the faithful giving of the Corinthians to the faithful administration of the gift by Paul and his team. In the end, we will see that all of it is done by God’s grace and for God’s glory.

 

Here is the main point of the passage: the “therefore” in verse 24 shows us that it is Paul’s conclusion. The Corinthians can provide proof of love through faithful giving (v. 24). They can give faithfully because Paul has gone out of his way to provide proof of faithful handling of the collection (vv. 16–23). He urges them to join in giving thanks to God because the collection from beginning to end is all by God’s grace and for his glory (vv. 16, 19, 23). 

Let’s fix our eyes on three clear components of this passage: giving, handling, thanksgiving.

Giving Is Proof of Their Love and His Boast (v. 24)

By way of review, I mentioned in the sermon on 2 Corinthians 8:8–9 how important this word “prove” is. It means “testing in order to form a judgment or conclusion.” A person’s claim is tested and approved if they pass the test or disproved if they fail the test. This word carries a mega-ton of meaning in the flow of 2 Corinthians.

The Corinthians thought they were “testing” or “proving” Paul. “You seek proof that Christ is speaking in me” (2 Corinthians 13:2–3). Paul makes this emphatically clear at the end of the letter. Paul’s tearful letter was his way of proving the genuineness of the Corinthians. “For this is why I wrote, that I might testyou and know whether you are obedient in everything” (2 Corinthians 2:9).

The opportunity to give is a test of the Corinthians as it was for the Macedonians who passed the test. 2 Corinthians 8:1–2 emphasized that grace came down so that an abundance of joy overflowed out of a severe test, the same word, the noun form of the verb prove (8:2).

Paul now points out that the test is being watched by all the churches.

So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.—2 Corinthians 8:24

As I said two weeks ago, the Jerusalem church will also be part of the proof that results in praise and thanksgiving to God.

By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!—2 Corinthians 9:13–15

Paul is convinced that the Corinthians will pass the giving test. He is also confident that he and his associates will pass the handling test. He wants to share what he is doing to provide proof of their integrity and faithful handling and administration.

Handling Is Proof of Eagerness and Integrity (vv. 16–23)

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 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 good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.

This section has sometimes been called a letter of recommendation for Titus and the two other men. Before we look at each person, let us look at why Paul goes into these details in the first place. It seems that he is taking extra precautions for handling this collection with care.

We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.—2 Corinthians 8:20-21

 

Paul wants what is done to be beautiful in the Lord’s sight, but also in the sight of man. He does not want there to be any way to call the integrity of it into question. He has certainly learned that people will try.

He responds to a charge that he did not act with financial integrity:

But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit.  Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?—2 Corinthians 12:16–18.

Now let us look briefly at the three men Paul is sending. What you notice is that the main qualification is their eagerness. In fact, Paul points out that they are handling the collection carefully for two reasons: to show “the glory of the Lord” and to show the proof of their eagerness, which the ESV translates as “good will.”

For the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will.—2 Corinthians 8:19

First, Titus not only accepted the appeal, but he is going earnestly of his own accord. 

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord.—2 Corinthians 8:16-17

Notice that Titus is once again the face of grace, even though God is the source of grace.

Second, the brother who is famous for his preaching of the gospel is being jointly commissioned by Paul and the churches to show eagerness.

With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 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 good will.—2 Corinthians 8:18-19

The third person to be sent also has two qualifications.

And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you.—2 Corinthians 8:22

He has been tested and found earnest in many matters prior to this, and he is more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in the Corinthians.

You have every right to ask how we plan to handle this funding with integrity. I could spend all my time talking about the trustworthiness of the people tasked with receiving and handling the giving. Paul Johnson in particular is a marvel to me. He has been our main financial secretary for thirty-plus years. 

I especially love what someone shared when we honored Paul for his longevity on staff.

“I’m sure others will write about Paul’s longevity and tenacity, both of which are qualities I admire in Paul, but I am also impressed with his spirit. Paul has the heart of a servant. It doesn’t matter how busy he is—he will take time to answer a question you may have, like ‘How much has come in for the Circles of Prayer offering?’ even though he has received that question several times. Paul is always available. You can call him at home, and he’s just as cheerful as he is when you reach him at his office.”

We have also tried to be transparent with the way that we have conducted this call to give. For example, we have a list of frequently asked questions on our website, where we tried to address whether this money raised will completely go to mortgage reduction or whether it would be subject to an 80/10/10 split. Here is the question and the answer from our website:

Will the funds given to “Funding the Filling—mortgage reduction” be proportioned 80% / 10% / 10%, similar to how gifts to Treasuring Christ Together (TCT) are apportioned?

No, 100% of each dollar given to “Funding the Filling” will be given directly to mortgage debt reduction

Does this violate the spirit of TCT fundraising?

No. In our 2004 TCT defining documents, we allow for special efforts like “Funding the Filling.” For example, on page 24, item #9, we state: From time to time there may be special efforts made by the church in extraordinary giving so as to pay down dramatically whatever loan is outstanding. We will be in regular prayer about how often and how aggressively such efforts will be pursued.

Someone may wonder what our plan is going forward in terms of next steps. From the start of the first sermon on, we have tried to say that “Funding the Filling” is a call for sacrificial and increased proportional giving as we prepare to launch, positioning ourselves for the launch of a 2015 campaign to build a South Campus building on the land we own in Lakeville along I–35W.

The phrase "prepared to launch" means that any launch in 2015 is goind to depend upon how prepared we are to launch. The elders are going to be extensively evaluating where we are in the days ahead. We will update you as soon as possible.

We are now ready for Paul’s third point about why he is so thankful to God. Paul does not want the credit to go to Titus or to himself or to his associates or to the Corinthians. He engages in God-centered thanksgiving. He says it all happens by God’s grace and for his glory.

Thanksgiving: All Came About by God’s grace and for His Glory.

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you.

Grace is on display all over the place, even in the wordplay present in the word translated “thanks.” There are different words for thanksgiving in the New Testament. Paul here uses the word grace. Paul then makes it plain that God’s grace alone accounts for the earnest and eager care of Titus. God put it into the heart of Titus. Then he goes further in verse 19 by calling the whole collection “this act of grace.”

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 good will.—2 Corinthians 8:19

 

Grace came down, gladness welled up, and generosity flowed forth in Macedonia. Paul calls the entire collection an act of grace. Now he points out God’s grace at work in producing excited, earnest people to carry the collection and faithfully administer it. These people that will carry the collection are themselves recipients of grace and reflectors of glory. Grace created the glad giving, and grace created the faithful, eager handlers to administer the collection. The result is the glory of the Lord. In fact, he goes further in verse 23. The collection is not just for the glory of the Lord. The people exist as the glory of Christ.

 

And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.—2 Corinthians 8:23

Why are these two messengers of the churches called the glory of Christ? There is a debate as to whether the two messengers are called the glory of Christ or the churches. It is really a moot point because these men are representatives of the churches. If they are the glory of Christ, then it follows that the churches are as well. Paul does not tell us why these two men reflect the glory of Christ, but I don’t think he has to because he has explained it in detail in 2 Corinthians 4:3–6. The glory of Christ is the message, means, and makeup of the church. The message of the church is the gospel of Christ’s glory, and the means of entering the church is God’s internal intervention. The light of Christ’s glory actually creates light so that we become children of light who shine like stars in the universe. These brothers only became brothers by the powerful intervention of God, who caused light to shine in their hearts so that they were converted by beholding the bright radiance of God’s glory on the face of Christ through the gospel.

God’s gift of grace means that our giving is first and foremost a receiving. What do we have to give that we did not first receive? We can’t take any credit. Every good thing given, every perfect gift, is from the Father of lights.

Conclusion

God’s Gift in Christ is The Proof of His Love

In high school, one of the most popular songs was “more than words.”

Saying I love you 
Is not the words I want to hear from you 
It’s not that I want you 
Not to say, but if you only knew 
How easy it would be to show me how you feel 
More than words is all you have to do to make it real 
Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me 
‘Cause I’d already know

More than words 

Now that I’ve tried to talk to you and make you understand 
All you have to do is close your eyes 
And just reach out your hands and touch me 
Hold me close don’t ever let me go 
More than words is all I ever needed you to show 
Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me 
‘Cause I’d already know

More than words

God’s love cannot be reduced to a mere promise of love. Those who doubt love need more than talk—they need action. People need tangible love, something to hold onto. Holding onto love means they need to see something and not just hear something.

So let us go back to the beauty of the gospel. In the introduction, we saw what God said, “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”(Isaiah 49:16). This is talk, not action. It seems like a lovely metaphor, but in the end it becomes neither lovely nor a metaphor. It becomes a shocking metaphor when one realizes that the word engraved is more specific than a tattoo. The word engrave involves a kind of cutting into the flesh with a hammer and a chisel or a spike.

Isaiah does not expand upon when or how this metaphor would become a reality. When would these words answer the doubts of God’s people? It happened in the Gospel of John. Look at how Jesus helps one of the disciples often known as doubting Thomas. What did Jesus do to answer his doubts? He told Thomas to look at the nail prints, to look at his hands and see love. See unconditional love.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.—John 20:24-31

That is my point. There is no giving on our part, indeed there is no thanksgiving on our part, without seeing and believing what God has given us in Christ. What is the greatest argument against feelings of being forsaken? It is the action of Jesus. He was forsaken. He said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He was forsaken on the cross so that we would never be forsaken. The final argument of God’s love is that action, and he wears the proof of that action forever. The wounds are eternal. The nail prints never go away. He wears them as proof that God is love. He says, “It is finished. I have paid for your sin completely.” He wears the wounds as compelling proof. We can say in response to such love, “My Lord and my God—Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! Your blood has washed away my sin, Jesus, thank you. The Father’s wrath completely satisfied, Jesus, thank you. Once your enemy, now seated at your table, Jesus, thank you.” We may say that our sins are so many that we cannot possibly come to him, but the wounds are the only argument we need. They prove his love. He showed Thomas that he might believe and so that we might believe. Look upon them and believe.

Closing Song: Jesus, Thank You

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