The title of our series – A Generous Life – is what’s referred to in literature as a double entendre, which means it can be understood in two ways. (Often one meaning of a double entendre is innocent and the other is risqué. In the case of our series title both meanings are scandalously grace-filled – but neither is risqué .)
- The first way to understand it is what we spoke about last week – The life of Jesus was the most generous life ever lived. In his unpublished essay on the Trinity, Jonathon Edwards writes, “God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself, in perfectly beholding and infinitely loving, and rejoicing in, His own essence and perfection.” Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, left this “cocoon” of infinite perfection and with humility and generosity condescended into human history. And Philippians 2 tells us that, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (vs. 6-8).
- The second way to understand our series title is that you and I have access to a holy capacity to live a generous life. We see this in 2 Cor 8:1,“the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia.” It was not born out of their own strength or power – it was God blessing and enabling them (and us) to become outrageously generous.
Today we will begin to work through 10 Principles of Generosity that are found in these two chapters. (Found in last weeks notes here on the Southside blog – and in the study guides, which are also available for download here on at the blogsite, or there are hardcopies in the lobby.) We will work through two principles per Sunday for the next five weeks. (Gene will be here next week.)
Before we get to todays principles, I’d like to provide a little bit of background:
First of all, notice the geography…
Macedonia is to the north of Corinth.
A commentator describes Macedonia as, “a splendid tract of land, centered on the plains of the gulf of Thessalonica…Running up the great river valleys into the Balkan Mountains, it was famous for its timber and precious metals. The churches of Macedonia had been planted by Paul on his second missionary journey.
I think it’s important to notice that Paul is seeking to motivate the Corinthians through a bit of competition. In the south, Macedonia was referred to as the “barbaric North” and the Greeks and Macedonians had a lengthy history of political rivalry.
And Paul was probably writing 2 Corinthians from Macedonia.
Corinth was a prosperous double-ported Roman outpost and colony of approximately 200,000 people that sat on a narrow strip of land (isthmus) between the Aegean Sea with the Ionian Sea (within the larger Mediterranean Sea).
Corinth was cosmopolitan in nature, and not unexpectedly, Corinth became notorious for luxurious and debauched living. Some commentators liken it to San Francisco during the California gold-rush days.
We know from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians that they were a pretty carnal church. They took the grace of God for granted, tolerating immorality in their midst and some were also getting drunk at their gatherings. One commentator states the Corinthians were, “undisciplined extremists…setting a poor example for their pagan neighbors. They also did not take kindly to [Paul’s] authority.”
What we have in Corinth is a young church that was not yet disciplined – financially or otherwise, and Paul is seeking to teach them by showing them the example of the Macedonian churches. Churches that were so exemplary in their financial stewardship and generosity, that they are mentioned four times in the New Testament as exemplary churches. They represented the kind of church that we here at SBF aspire to be.
Both the Macedonian churches and the church at Corinth were struggling under an economic recession that’s not totally unlike the one we are experiencing. But the Macedonians were suffering far more painfully than those who lived in Corinth. The economic downturn hit them, apparently, much harder.
So in chapters 8-9 Paul has 10 principles for them. We’ll look at the first two today.
Money is one of the ways that we show that we belong to Jesus and understand His life and message. Throughout the course of the Gospels Jesus talks about money approximately 25% of the time. In Mathew 6:21 and Luke 12:34, He says that where our treasure is, our heart is. In other words, our hearts are reflected in our finances. And Paul is saying that generosity reveals the grace of God.
So, the principles that we will look at today are:
- Generosity is a work of Gods grace. (2 Cor 8:1-6)
- Generosity is both a work of God’s grace and a choice. (2 Cor 8:7)
Let’s look at them one at a time…
1. “Generosity is a work of Gods grace.” (2 Cor 8:1-6)
1 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 5 and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 6 So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well.
I observed an equation in verse two. It’s counter intuitive…
A great ordeal of affliction + abundance of joy + deep poverty = liberality.
This leads me to a hypothesis (or proposition): Any circumstance that includes great affliction and deep poverty, wherein we place our joy and comfort in the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, will result in liberality.
If we place our joy and comfort in the god of money, and that god was crucified through an economic downturn, and showed few signs of resurrection, we have no reason for joy and generous liberality.
If, however, our God is Jesus, then, our source of joy and generous liberality is still alive and well. Where there’s root, there’s fruit…
John Piper sums up the spiritual dynamics of this text by saying: Grace comes down, Joy rises up, and Generosity flows out.
This brings us to our second principle of generosity…
2. Generosity is both a work of God’s grace and a choice. (2 Cor 1:7)
7 But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.
First of all, this verse is a summary (or synopsis) of 1 Corinthians – with a loving admonishment to share the grace God has given, or imparted, to them (“see that you abound”).
“When poverty-stricken Macedonians beg Paul for the privilege of giving money to other poor saints…it is an extension of their joy in God…They are denying themselves…but the joy of extending God’s grace to others is a far better reward than anything money could buy.
Three important points:
- Grace initiates all giving that glorifies God, otherwise we would take pride and praise for our support of others.
- This grace alone is the root of genuine joy. Otherwise joy is misplaced and dissipates when circumstances turn bad.
- Grace-given joy is always other-oriented. When our giving germinates in the soil of grace, it blooms in generous bounty to those in need. Such is the nature of true love.
What we find in our study of stewardship and generosity is that the seed-bed, the foundation of it all is grace.
The grace of God, first and foremost, is the power of God’s Holy Spirit that converts the soul. It is the activity, the moving, of God whereby God saves and justifies us through faith (see esp. Rom. 3:24; 5:15,17).
Therefore, grace is not something in which we merely believe; it is something we experience as well.
Grace, then, is a dynamic and experiential reality that empowers the human heart to look beyond its limitations and accomplish things that defy rational explanation.
Grace is the power that enables impoverished and suffering saints to give when, by all accounts, they should be the ones to get. Such was the operation of grace in the giving of these Macedonian believers.
If we attempt to live generous lives out of our own soul or self will, we cut off the very grace that was given through Jesus. “Soul grace” (we’ll call it) actually denies the deity of Jesus.
There is a prosperity gospel that is preached in many churches throughout North America. (It’s particularly said because this Americanized version of the gospel is being exported around the world.) Those who claim that God wants His people to be materially rich have missed the whole point of the gospel. Having said that, I believe there’s one area that they don’t go far enough in…
Their mantra is that, “we give to get – and we can never out-give God.” Is there truth in that? [Yes.]
What the gospel tells us, however, is that giving to get does not go far enough. We are to give to get, to give again – and again, and again…
GRACE GIVING (Version 2)
(This is our initial attempt to generate a formal statement regarding SBF’s stance on the stewardship of finances. Please read it and make any comments or ask any questions that would help you to better understand what the Bible teaches us about money.)
So what’s the deal with “tithing”? The word tithe simply means “one-tenth.” Under the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, the Israelites were required to give in such a way that it amounted to a little over 23% of their income. The first was 10% of all of their possessions (Lev. 27:30–33; Num. 18:20–21), which was given to the Levites for Temple Ministry. A second was taken from whatever produce was left after the first tithe was given. Jewish interpreters consider this to be a second giving requirement for feasts and sacrifices (Deut. 12:17–18; Lev. 27:30; Num. 18:21). Finally, another tithe was given once every three years to support the poor (Deut. 14:28–29). On top of these giving mandates were the voluntary freewill offerings given out of their own will and desire above and beyond their normal giving (Ex. 35:29; Lev. 22:23; Ezra 3:5).
When it comes to the New Testament teaching on giving, we begin with the understanding that the Mosaic Law no longer binds us (Rom. 6:14). This leads us to the question, “Should we still give according to the Old Testament system, or are we able to give less – or even more?”
Concerning this, Paul wrote, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:6–8).
As Christians who are no longer under the Law, we give because of the grace that God has given us. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul commends the believers in Macedonia for what is often referred to as “grace giving.” Paul describes the qualities of this benevolence as being generous (2 Cor. 8:2), willful (2 Cor. 8:3), directed by God (2 Cor. 8:5), shared (2 Cor. 8:6), active (2 Cor. 8:7), and motivated by love (2 Cor. 8:8). This kind of giving should not be done out of a “legalistic” mentality, but as the Lord leads you to give (2 Cor. 8:8).
It may be concluded that the Old Testament tithing system set a standard for giving, and that while we are no longer required under the Law to give, we are under grace—and our giving is to reflect this. We are not under compulsion to give; rather, we are to give cheerfully and prayerfully as God leads us. New Testament teaching places our giving in the category of an aspect of worship unto the Lord, which is why churches (usually) receive these tithes and offerings as a part of our corporate worship gatherings on Sundays. Additionally, many churches also make the option available to give privately via online debit cards, as that is now how many people handle their “crops.”
 An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity.