The Grace of Giving

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 6/27/2021

Good morning everyone. It’s great to be back in the pulpit this morning. When Covid-19 struck about a year ago, pastors buttoned down the hatches and took every measure (reasonable) to ride out the storm. And then there was a kind of a socio-political storm that in many ways is only just beginning. It’s good to have people like Silas McCormick, Eric Radecki, and my father-in-law step in to preach. If we don’t unplug, we fizzle out!

The church in every age has faced extraordinary challenges. Imagine being part of the 1st Century Church. In Jerusalem and throughout Judea, they battled against the entrenched, religiosity of zealot Jews. In the Greek provinces, they battled against the ethereal spirituality of Pagan idolaters. In the Roman power centers, they battled against the overt hostility of the godless state. Were it not for God’s Holy Spirit, the early Church would have been extinguished in her infancy. But God’s power came on the Church at Pentecost and God’s Spirit has not (and will not ever) relent.

The Church didn’t just face socio-political-religious challenges. The Church faced practical, real-world challenges—like famine. As the Church in Jerusalem was scattered by persecution, the entire Roman empire was seeded with Christians. Christians scattered along ancient roadways, and trade routes, and ended up everywhere! But back in Jerusalem, the believers who remained, were afflicted with hunger.

In places like Macedonia, in the Greek empire, there was extreme poverty. But in other places, like Corinth, there was extreme affluence. Given access to food and water, people can tolerate/survive most any circumstance. But when there is drought and famine—that is different. In the 1st Century world drought and famine were catastrophic.

So in the book of Acts, and Romans, and 1 Corinthians--the Apostles marshalled the Big “C” Church to respond. In Romans 15:25-29 Paul writes the church at Rome: “25 Right now I am traveling to Jerusalem to serve the saints, 26 because Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 Yes, they were pleased, and indeed are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual benefits, then they are obligated to minister to them in material needs. 28 So when I have finished this and safely delivered the funds to them, I will visit you on the way to Spain. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ." Then he says pray for these believers, pray for this collection, let’s love these people.

In 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, Paul seeks to mobilize the Corinthians. He writes, “Now about the collection for the saints: Do the same as I instructed the Galatian churches. 2 On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save in keeping with how he is prospering, so that no collections will need to be made when I come. 3 When I arrive, I will send with letters those you recommend to carry your gift to Jerusalem.”

While it’s tempting for the Modern Church (which is also the most affluent Church in the history of Christendom) to kind of “spiritualize” everything, to want to “let go and let God,” and pass off responsibility . . . What we see here is the early Church mobilizing herself, and disciplining herself, and exerting herself to respond to crisis in a personally costly practical way. If they didn’t excel in giving today, the Church could become extinct tomorrow!

Now in 2 Corinthians 8 Paul is following up with his appeal in 1 Corinthians 16. I think sometimes we pastors wince at talking about money—the days are evil—there are a lot of shysters out there. The root of the German word “Shyster” is heist. There have been shysters in every era of the church, robbing God’s people blind. Church leaders who representing their cause one way, while in actuality running a sham operation! To combat this, Paul sent letters of recommendation to guide the church who they could trust or not.

But make no mistake about it. Paul didn’t wince talking about money. The Church tomorrow thrives or fizzles based on the disciplined, steady, sacrificial, generosity of God’s people today. Whether it’s famine that threatens the Church, or Religiosity, or Spirituality, or Overt Hostility… generosity is a game changer.

The affluent Corinthians had the means, they claimed to sincerely love God, and love God’s Kingdom, and care about God’s people in Jerusalem… but they weren’t following through in a disciplined (weekly), steady (faithful), sacrificial (personally costly, above-and-beyond) manner.

In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul gives the affluent Corinthians an inspirational nudge. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 he writes, “We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that was given to the churches of Macedonia: 2 During a severe trial brought about by affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” *The very people (the Macedonians) who had the greatest excuse not to give—because they were undergoing severe affliction—because they lived in abject poverty themselves—were overflowing in profound generosity, and excessive joy!

Paul doesn’t stop there. In 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 he says, “3 I can testify that, according to their ability and even beyond their ability, of their own accord, 4 they begged us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints, 5 and not just as we had hoped. Instead, they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us by God’s will.”

The poorest people in the Kingdom of God gave voluntarily, of free will. Not only that, they begged to give to this crisis. They considered it a privilege (not a duty, not an obligation, but a privilege!) They didn’t just do what might be expected, they exceled, they went above and beyond! They saw generosity as a profound response of worship, of self-giving, of self-sacrifice, or honoring God! They were saying, “We can’t wait to get in on this!”

We’d like to believe that growing affluence leads to growing generosity—but this was no more the case in 1st Century Corinth as it is in modern times. The more affluent we become; the tighter we become. The more impoverished; the more generous and looser we become.

If I’m reading 2 Corinthians 8:6, it was the Macedonians hope that their example of faith might spur the Corinthians to greater generosity. Their hope is that Paul “. . . might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you.” “Imagine if the Corinthians were as responsive as the Macedonians! Paul, send Titus back there to finish what he started! Send him to take up that offering!”

This isn’t guilt. This isn’t shame. This is iron-sharpening-iron! This is the church exceling in giving! These are believers trying to outdo one another in good deeds, in generosity and sacrifice with the desire to first love God but then aid their brothers and sisters in Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 8:7-9 Paul issues this wonderful appeal: “7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, speech, knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love for us—excel also in this act of grace. 8 I am not saying this as a command. Rather, by means of the diligence of others, I am testing the genuineness of your love. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

What if Corinth… what if the Modern Church... were to be infected with the same Spirit as the Macedonians? What if the generosity of the Modern Church, or a Lakeside, were to be awakened? What if Christ’s ethic of self-sacrifice were to govern our generosity? How abundantly rich, how excessively joyful, we might become!

As we read these verses, it’s fitting to ask, “What is our present crisis? What is the most pressing, urgent, catastrophic need… existential threat facing the big “C” Church?” There are indeed believers (worldwide) facing drought and famine. There are incredible Christian ministries, like (IDES—International Disaster Emergency Services) responding to acute needs. Unlike any time in history, the world’s governments, and social agencies, corporations—are mobilized building wells, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving medicine to the sick, bringing justice to oppressed groups and individuals.

I believe Amos 8:11-13 describes the single, greatest threat to the survival of the big “C” Church. Amos the prophet warned of another kind of famine: “Look, the days are coming—this is the declaration of the Lord GOD—when I will send a famine through the land: not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. 12 People will stagger from sea to sea and roam from north to east seeking the word of the LORD, but they will not find it. 13 In that day the beautiful young women, the young men also, will faint from thirst.”

Is it of concern that a whole new generation of beautiful young people are spiritually dying, for want of ever-quenching, ever-refreshing, living-water of the Holy Spirit? Is it of concern that so many beautiful young people hunger not for the Word of God, hunger not for the will of God, hunger not for the Bread of Life, indeed, do not so much as contemplate the name of Jesus Christ?

Is this “famine of Amos proportions” (A Tsunami of Secularism?) something we affluent Lakesiders would voluntarily, of free will, respond to? Is it a crisis we’d beg for the opportunity to share in, and lend our dollars? Is it of such urgency we’d count it a “privilege” to give in a disciplined, sustained, sacrificial, Christ-honoring, bar-raising, iron-sharpens-iron kind of way? This is OUR time! OUR moment!!

Is 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 what were all about? “7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, speech, knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love for us—excel also in this act of grace. 8 I am not saying this as a command. Rather, by means of the diligence of others, I am testing the genuineness of your love. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 

Parting thoughts as we pick this up next week: "10 And in this matter I am giving advice because it is profitable for you, who began last year not only to do something but also to want to do it. 11 Now also finish the task, so that just as there was an eager desire, there may also be a completion, according to what you have. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 It is not that there should be relief for others and hardship for you, but it is a question of equality. 14 At the present time your surplus is available for their need, so that their abundance may in turn meet your need, in order that there may be equality. 15 As it is written: The person who had much did not have too much, and the person who had little did not have too little."

Scripture Verses

2 Corinthians 8:1-15; Romans 15:25-29; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; Amos 8:11-13

Worship Playlist

Glorious Day by Passion

Bigger than I Thought by Passion

Cornerstone by Hillsong

Study Questions

  1. The impulse for generosity seems to have its source in God's grace to the believers at Corinth. How has God's grace to you motivated your generosity toward other believers in need?
  2. Generosity is not commanded; but encouraged because of Jesus' example. Where will you practice generosity this week?
  3. Who has challenged or encouraged you in generosity? Who have you challeged or encouraged?

Apply It!