A Generous Life #1 (of 6) 2 Cor 8:9

I. INTRO

Summit #1 is next Sat (01/14).  We are holding our first of three summits.  I want to invite everyone 13 years of age and older to come and participate in this process.

If you’re new to the church it’s a great time to jump in to help shape what SBF will become in the next season of fruitful ministry.  (My role is as a facilitator and coach – your role is to shape the future through prayerful dialogue with God and one another.)

Today we begin a 6-week series on A Generous Life.  (There are study guides available in the lobby and also available for download here at our blogsite.)  Why a series on A Generous Life?

The answer is both simple and profoundJesus Christ lived the most generous life ever lived.

The whole Bible – both the OT and NT, was written to point to Jesus.

We call this a Christ-centered, or gospel-centered view of the Bible.

Again, the whole Bible was written with God’s redemption through Jesus Christ in view.  The OT points to the coming of Jesus and the NT extols the coming of Jesus.  We want to see Jesus and worship Jesus in every text of Scripture.

Because of the generosity of Jesus Christ one of the gospel graces is generosity – and there is a connection between generosity and stewardship.  So this series will be about becoming generous stewards of God’s grace.  But the last thing we want to say is that Jesus lived a generous life and now you should too.

No, we want to explore the generosity of Jesus.  What we really want – and need – is to enter into His generosity.  It is the generosity of Jesus, by grace through faith, that changes us and empowers us to be generous.

Our passage for today, which was read, is 2 Cor 8:9.  This will be our foundational passage for the series.  Our aim is to engage in a gospel transformation of the soul in and through the sacrifice and provision of Jesus Christ.

Here’s the way pastor and author John Piper says it: “Seeing and savoring the supremacy of Christ frees us from the slavery of sin for the sacrifices of love.”

Living in and for the gospel is counterintuitive[1]…here is how pastor and author Tim Keller has said it: “Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving it all away.  And those who receive His salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit they are weak and lost.”[2]

Each of us has three primary areas of stewardship in Christ: We’ll refer to them as our time, our talents, and our treasure.  There are other areas of stewardship that we are responsible for as well:  We are responsible for our primary relationships, our bodies, our sexuality, and to care for creation.

Again, it’s not about what we should do – the renegade Catholic priest, who initiated the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther speaks about a great exchange… “Learn Christ and Him crucified. Learn to sing to Him and, despairing of yourself, say, ‘Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness, just as I am Your sin. You have taken upon Yourself what is mine and have given me what is Yours.’”[3]

“For our sake [the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

An overview of 2 Cor…

In 2 Cor 8-9 Paul is seeking to mobilize the Corinthian congregation to participate in an offering for the church members in Jerusalem…

You will notice that Paul never uses the word money, in 2 Cor 8-9, instead he calls it “grace,”  “generosity,” “blessing,” or “partnership.” He speaks of the “grace of giving” as one of the highest Christian virtues.

With this series we are not aiming at your wallet, we are aiming at your heart.

This series is NOT intended to ask you to give more – it’s intended to show you how.

Paul had quite a rocky relationship with the church at Corinth.  There were actually (at least) four letters that were written.  What has been canonized as Scripture are letters #2 and #4.  (#3 was, apparently, a letter of severe rebuke.)

Chapters 8 and 9 of this epistle concern the offering for the poor saints at Jerusalem.  It took between 8-10 years to accomplish; involved thousands of miles of travel; at least 10 collectors involved. An earthquake, crop failures, and persecution contributed to their needs at Jerusalem church.

II. BODY

With that in mind let’s dive into our passage for today – just one verse – 2 Cor 8:9, which is the foundational passage for our series on Generosity… 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 through His poverty might become rich.

Today we want to ask and consider four questions:

  1. Do you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ?
  2. How was Jesus rich?
  3. How did He become poor?
  4. How do we become rich?

Let’s look at them one at a time…

1.  Do you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ?

What does it mean to know?

Ginōskōa knowledge grounded on personal experience.[4]

Paul is confident that the Corinthian church understood (i.e., was well-taught) in the area of the gospel of grace.  This is where the North American Church struggles today…

What is grace?  There are 10 ten occurrences of the word “grace” (charis) in chapters 8-9.

While there many facets of grace.  This morning I’d like to look at three types of grace:

A.  Common Grace refers to the grace of God that is common to all humankind. It is “common” because its benefits are experienced by the whole human race without distinction between one person and another. It is “grace” because it is undeserved and sovereignly bestowed by God. Mat 5:45b – [God] causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  The fact that you’re breathing this morning is an effect of common grace.

B.  Saving Grace, or justifying grace, redemptive grace – or regenerating grace is a momentary action of God to bring about salvation into a previously unregenerated person – it’s an act of quickening the spiritually dead.  In John 3 Jesus had a conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus and told him – “…unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 1 Peter 1:3“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

C.  Sanctifying Grace – Think of saving grace as birth (or regeneration) and sanctifying grace as growth.

Sanctification says the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q.35), is “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole [person] after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

The concept is not of sin being totally eradicated, but of a divinely wrought [or, shaped] character change freeing us from sinful habits and forming in us Christlike affections, dispositions, and virtues (J.I. Packer).[5]

With saving grace, God implants desires that were not there before: desire for God, for holiness, for worship; desire to pray, love, serve, honor, and please God; desire to show love and bring benefit to others. With sanctifying grace the Holy Spirit, “is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).

Here now is my favorite definition of grace – “All that God is, lavishly poured into you.”

U2 song Grace –

Grace
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

Grace
It’s a name for a girl
It’s also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything

2.  How was Jesus rich?

Jesus preexisted in the context of a Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have dwelled together in infinite relational harmony for all eternity. Their mutual love is pure, infinite, and perfect.  Their love is never stained by conflict, or competition, or polluted by self-centeredness.

Authors and theologians, dating back to the 7th century (including C.S. Lewis and Tim Keller), have suggested that the Trinitarian relationship is like a dance, with each member deferring to and delighting in the other.[6]

3.  How did He become poor?

Jesus condescended to become a human.  One theologian said, “This humiliation had the effect of restoring the true human nature without degrading the divine nature…Majesty stepped into the mess.” [7]

Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase (called The Message) writes, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish” (John 1:14).

Jesus gave up the comforts and joys of Triune eternal companionship to enter into the messiness of living with sinful, broken humanity—the hypocrisy, violence, corruption, sickness, and greed. Jesus came to share a new vision, with new power for living with humility, compassion, mercy, and generosity.

Philippians 2:6-9 says “Jesus, 6 who, 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.”

4.  How do we become rich?

We become rich by being invited into the dance…

(Farewell Discourse) John 17:19-21 – 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

Here’s how one theologian sums up 2 Cor 8:9: “If this love of Christ, so magnanimous [generous] in its motive and so self-sacrificing in its execution, is an active force in the believer’s heart, how unnecessary, the apostle implies, any command to practice giving ought to be. What, without that love, might seem a cold moral duty has been transformed by it into a joyous privilege.”[8]

III. CONCLUSION

So 2 Cor 8:9, is the foundational passage for our series on Generosity/Stewardship… 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 through His poverty might become rich.

We will build our series on this verse…

Over the next 5 weeks we will consider 10 Principles of Generosity (two per Sunday):

  1. Generosity is a work of Gods grace (2 Cor 8:1-6)
  2. Generosity is both a work of God’s grace and a choice (2 Cor 8:7)
  3. Generosity points us to the sacrifice of Christ (2 Cor 8:8-9)
  4. Generosity is measured proportionally (2 Cor 8:10-12)
  5. Generosity enables a holy equality (2 Cor 8:13-15)
  6. Generosity necessitates godly stewardship (2 Cor 8:16-24)
  7. Generosity begets generosity (2 Cor 9:1-5)
  8. Generosity is about sowing and reaping (2 Cor 9:6-12)
  9. Generosity is an evidence that someone is an active, intentional follower of Christ 
(2 Cor 9:13-14)
  10. Generosity promotes the worship of Jesus as God (2 Cor 9:15)

Finally, I want to share with you my verse for the year…Proverbs 1:23:

“Turn to my reproof, Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.”

I am willing to ask for the Lord’s reproof in my life, so that He will pour out His Spirit on me and make His words known to me.  My prayer is that, as a church, Southside will do the same…


[1] I.e., contrary to what we expect.

[2] Gospel Christianity, Redeemer Pres NYC 2003.

[3] Treatise on Christian Liberty (The Freedom of a Christian), AE, Vo. 31.

[4] It’s also a Jewish idiom (not slang, but a stylistic expression) for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.

[5] J.I. Packer. Concise Theology.

[6] See Tim Keller, The Reason for God, pgs 214-222. See also C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity pg. pg. 152. The idea of the relationship of the Trinity as dance may also be traced back to a 7th century theologian named John of Damascus who described the Trinity as Perichoresis (the same word we get our English word “choreography” from).

[7] Douglas McCready. He Came Down From Heaven: The Preexistence of Christ and Christian Faith, IVP Academic 2005: 81.

[8] R.V.G. Tasker. 2 Corinthians, Tyndale NT Commentary, Eerdmans 1958: 116.

Thoughts on Love

Speaking of Valentine’s Day… I’ve been writing quite a bit lately – working on a manuscript on the mysterious topic of intimacy. Today I was grappling with the ideas of love. As I worked through my notes I found some descriptions and definitions for the various Greek words for love. Here’s a sampling…

OT Theme – The Prophets, particularly Hosea and Ezekiel, described God’s passion for his people using boldly erotic images. God’s relationship with Israel is described using the metaphors of betrothal and marriage; idolatry is thus likened to adultery and prostitution.

EROS (ἔρως) –

  • Intense physical desire. It’s the same word we get our English word “erotic” from. The Song of Solomon (or Songs) is a passionate and powerful recounting of a man and a woman falling in love that includes the erotic aspects of their love.
  • In their book Holy Eros, James and Evelyn Whitehead speak of a different slant on eros than is typically defined in Evangelical circles…

Although we usually associate eros with the engines of sexual desire, it is much more than that: “It is an ebullient, eager, and sometimes disruptive energy that moves us again and again toward more life…the energy of eros also opens pathways to our passionate God.”
“The human journey is sustained by eros and grace.”
Eros names the vital energy that animates all creation.”
Eros lies at the source of our desires — for friendship and love, for fruitful work, for life in abundance.
“Grace names the healing energy that flows from our loving God, transforming the world through compassion and hope.”
Eros and grace embrace in the heart of God.”

  • The Whiteheads proclaim that the Holy One is involved in the affairs of humanity as they survey the Biblical themes of grace and divine extravagance. In a section on “The Body’s Romance with Eros,” the authors discuss the potencies of sensuality and sexuality; the movements of eros in energy and tension; our body image and the body sacramental; and the eros of pleasure as a pathway to presence and gratitude. It is so good to read about positive ways of thinking and practicing eros in everyday life.
  • The Whiteheads also connect the passions with hope, suffering, anger, and compassion. The vital energies of eros infuse us with the transformative power of hope, the ability to cope with suffering and pain, the chance to use anger as a spur to righteous indignation, and the call to love our neighbors and reach out to strangers.
  • In a section of the book titled “The Rhythms of Eros,” the authors deal with presence and absence as a means of honoring light and darkness; holding on and letting go as learning the rules of engagement; feasting and fasting as nourishing the Spirit; and shadows of eros with a look at ways vital energy can go awry. The Whiteheads are convinced that our erotic lives stir within us wonder, imagination, creativity, curiosity, and generosity. (I haven’t read the book yet – found an excellent review at this site.)
  • C.S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves describes eros as love in the sense of ‘being in love.’ He says this is distinct from sexuality, which Lewis calls Venus, although he does spend time discussing sexual activity and its spiritual significance in both a pagan and a Christian sense. He identifies eros as indifferent. This promotes appreciation of the beloved regardless of any pleasure that can be obtained from him/her. It can be bad, however, because this blind devotion has been at the root of many of history’s most abominable tragedies. In keeping with his warning that “love begins to be a demon the moment [it] begins to be a god”, he warns against the danger of elevating eros to the status of a god.

PHILEO (φιλία) –

  • A brotherly/sisterly kind of love. Philadelphia is the city of “brotherly love.” While males and females can’t be non-sexual in relationships; we can be non-erotic. Phileo love is friendship love without the “weirdness” – and where we feel safe.
  • My take on the writing and speaking of (Vineyard pastor, author, and speaker) Ed Piorek is his different, and quite helpful, slant on PHILEO love… In attempting to define the Father’s love in the experiential sense we are focusing on his PHILEO – his demonstrated tender affection for us. The PHILEO of the Father for the Son is described in John 5:20. The ministry of Jesus apparently flowed out of a continual experience of his Father’s PHILEO. Within the intimacy of this relationship, Jesus could sense his Father’s presence and hear his Father’s voice, thus perceiving what the Father was saying and doing. Henri Nouwen also speaks to this as he defines prayer as listening for the voice of God who calls you his beloved.
  • C. S. Lewis on PHILEO – Friendship is a strong bond existing between people who share a common interest or activity. Lewis explicitly says that his definition of friendship is narrower than mere companionship: friendship in his sense only exists if there is something for the friendship to be “about”. He calls Companionship a matrix for friendship, as friendship can rise in the context of both. Friendship is the least natural of loves, states Lewis; i.e., it is not biologically necessary to progeny like either sorge (e.g., rearing a child), eros (e.g., creating a child), or agape (e.g., providing for a child). It has the least association with impulse or emotion. In spite of these characteristics, it was the belief of the ancients, (and Lewis himself), that it was the most admirable of loves because it looked not at the beloved (like eros), but towards that “about”—that thing because of which the relationship was formed. This freed the participants in this friendship from self-consciousness.

STORGE (στοργή) –

  • Describes affection and was applied especially to the mutual love between family members. In the New Testament, this word is used in the negative as astorgos, of steárgo (to cherish affectionately) and means hard-hearted toward kindred and is translated “without natural affection”(Rom 1:31 marg.), inhuman (2Ti. 3:3 RSV), unloving (2Ti. 3:3 NKJV) The word is also used in combination with philos. philostorgos (5387), “tenderly loving” (from philos, “friendly,” storge), is used in Rom. 12:10, rv, “tenderly affectioned” (kjv, “kindly affectioned”). (Vine’s complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words).
  • C. S. Lewis describes STORGE as affection and fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance. It is described as the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves: natural in that it is present without coercion; emotive because it is the result of fondness due to familiarity; and most widely diffused because it pays the least attention to those characteristics deemed “valuable” or worthy of love and, as a result, is able to transcend most discriminating factors. Ironically, its strength, however, is what makes it vulnerable. Affection has the appearance of being “built-in” or “ready made”, says Lewis, and as a result people come to expect, even to demand, its presence—irrespective of their behavior and its natural consequences.

AGAPE (ἀγάπη) –

  • Describes a unique type of supreme love involving a conscious and deliberate choice to do good for another, a commitment based on the willful choice of the lover, not the qualities of the person receiving the love.
  • This word, interestingly enough, was used quite sparingly by ancient secular Greek writers. It’s original definition identified a kind of abstract virtue out of Greek thought.
  • Over the years, this word has been redefined to describe a different kind of love in relationship to God.
  • AGAPE love is a sacrificial love that reaches out to people who don’t deserve it – a love that puts the interests of others first – a love that forgives and starts over. AGAPE love means caring, forgiving, spontaneous, redeeming love, which is the essence of God’s nature.
  • AGAPE love may be best described in John 3:16, “For God so loved that world that He gave His only begotten Son…”
  • C. S. Lewis on AGAPE, or charity, is the love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance. Lewis recognizes this as the greatest of loves, and sees it as a specifically Christian virtue. The chapter on the subject focuses on the need of subordinating the natural loves to the love of God, who is full of charitable love. Lewis states that “He is so full, in fact, that it overflows, and He can’t help but love us.” Lewis compares love with a garden, charity with the gardening utensils, the lover as the gardener, and God as the elements of nature. God’s love and guidance act on our natural love (that cannot remain what it is by itself) as the sun and rain act on a garden: without either, the object (metaphorically the garden; realistically love itself) would cease to be beautiful or worthy. Lewis warns that those who exhibit charity must constantly check themselves that they do not flaunt—and thereby warp—this love (“But when you give to someone, don’t tell your left hand what your right hand is doing.”—Matthew 6:3), which is its potential threat.

An acquaintance of mine, Walter Hansen, says this — Much is made about the difference between friendship (PHILEO) love and divine (AGAPE) love, but this is overdone. The words are used interchangeably for Jesus’ love. For example, the sisters of Lazarus sent a message to Jesus to tell him, “the one you love (PHILEO) is sick” (John 11:3). Then the gospel writer tells us, “Jesus loved (AGAPE) Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” The point is that Jesus loved in many different ways. All the words for love in every language of the world together are still insufficient to describe the love of Jesus.