August 16, 2020 The Exhibition of Genuine Love

The Exhibition of Genuine Love

Our scripture reading this morning is 2 Corinthians 8:1-15.

 

The apostle Paul begins this section of his letter by letting the Corinthians know about the churches of Macedonia. What churches are those? They would be Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. He writes that the grace of God had been given to them. Of course, if you are saved, then the grace of God has come to you. By grace we have been saved (Eph 2:5). Without grace no one could be saved. But Paul is not referring to the grace of salvation. He means the favor of God upon these churches in a different way. Because the churches of Macedonia were generous in giving, this showed that God’s grace was upon them.

 

We must see that we are a self-centered people. Because of the fall we are filled with self-interest. By God’s grace, through the process of sanctification, we become less and less self-centered and we place God’s interests above our own. We place other’s needs in high regard as we mature in the faith. Because we are fallen, if we do give generously, it is because God’s favor has come upon us to bestow upon us a generous heart. Generosity is a gift from God!

 

Although they were afflicted, through persecution, they still had joy. And, although they were in poverty, they were generous. Actually, they were not just in poverty. Paul says they were in extreme poverty.

 

Of course, Paul is using the example of these disciples to motivate the Corinthians in giving generously. If the Macedonians did not think their shortage of money was a hindrance to their giving, then neither should the Corinthians. Of course, this applies to New Salem just as forcefully. Let not your shortage hinder you from being generous!

 

God does not expect us to give beyond our means, but according to our means.

For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, [1]

Yet, the Macedonians even gave beyond their means, not by compulsion, not grudgingly, but by their own accord, meaning simply because they wanted to do so. It was even more than this:

begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints[2]

The saints there were so eager to give that they begged Paul and Timothy for the privilege to give! It was for “the relief of the saints.” This refers to Paul’s first letter to them (that we have).

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.[3]

 

There was a great need for the poor in Jerusalem. It could have been because of famine (Acts 11:29) but we don’t know what caused the need exactly. So, this was an offering for a special occasion. Our church responded to a great need in Josie’s hometown of Loon on the island of Bohol. As many of you remember, there was an earthquake that destroyed the Baptist church building in her town. Since that church was a plant from a larger church in the capital of her province, they also ceased receiving funds because the planting church likewise was damaged, and so they could no longer support the church in Loon. We sent them money to rebuild their building and to help them with the work of the Lord there. Of course, we still support that mission and the church there is doing marvelous things! There have been many baptisms and new ones added! The gospel is going out!

It was a privilege and a favor for the Macedonians to give to the followers of Christ in Jerusalem. And, it was a privilege and a favor for us to give to the church in Loon. It still is!

and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. [4]

Do you know what? In order to give so willingly, in order to count it as a great favor to give to the needs of the church, one must first be given over to the Lord. I tell you, there are some Christians who are not fully given over to the Lord. They are holding back, not just in their money, but in their lives. Sadly, they neither support a local church nor the work of getting the gospel out to a lost and dying community. Why? Because of their own self-interest! Often, they want to sit and do nothing.

Brothers and sisters! Give yourself fully to the Lord! Stop holding back! If you hold back you will not only not be happy here on earth, but you will not be happy when it comes time to face the Lord. Because the Lord is going to ask you something. Do you know what it is that he is going to ask you at the Judgment? This is the question that he will ask: “What did you gain for me since I have been away?” He is going to ask you that question! It is the Parable of the Minas found in Luke, chapter 19 (Luke 19:15) “What did you gain for me since I have been away?” What will be your reaction on that day? You already know that if you answer, “I haven’t gained anything,” or, “I’ve gained so very little,” then it will not go well with you.[5]

Give yourself fully to the Lord, as did the Macedonians, then you will find ways to give generously!

In verse 5 Paul also writes, “they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” The Macedonians not only gave themselves to the Lord, but it was God’s will that they give themselves to Paul and Timothy. When you give yourself to servants of God it is another way of expressing your love to God. When you give yourself to the local church it is an expression of your love to God.

Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. [6]

This word, “accordingly,” reveals that, if one has given themselves first to the Lord and then to the servants of the Lord, it will manifest itself in a certain activity. Paul calls this activity an “act of grace.” This means that it is God by His Spirit that will stir up this action. The action, of course, is giving to the needs of the church. Is the Spirit working in you? If he is then, according to Paul, you will give generously. These are not my words. These are the words of the apostle.

The Corinthian church had many problems. These are chronicled in the first letter. Even though they had problems, they also excelled in many things:

But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. [7]

They lacked one thing: giving. Paul encourages them to excel in giving.

Verse 8 is where the “rubber meets the road,” so to speak.

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.[8]

First, Paul says that he is not commanding them to give. The matter of giving is not by compulsion. Under the old covenant the people of God were required, by God’s law, to give 10% of their income to the Lord. The first 10%! In our present age of grace tithing is not commanded. Now, if a person has been giving less than 10% to the Lord’s work, I think it is a good idea to use that figure to accustom oneself to begin giving more faithfully. But, the goal of the apostle is to get beyond compulsion, even self-compulsion, and come to a place of joyful and generous conferring of blessing to others.

Then Paul writes something quite revealing in verse 8. He asks the Corinthians to show that their love is genuine. Do you see what he is saying? He is saying that the demonstration of genuine love will be giving! I don’t think we like to hear that. But that is what Paul wrote!

I have brought this up many times in the past. But it is important, so I am going to repeat it. We tend to measure our love by how we feel. But our feelings are the wrong measure of love. This is because love is more than feeling. In fact, feelings can actually be a deception. All Christians have good feelings about Jesus, otherwise they wouldn’t be Christians. How can one not have good feeling for the Person who saved you from hell and gave us life? But those feelings don’t measure our love for Him.

According to Paul (and he writes by the inspiration of the Spirit), is that our love is measured by our giving. This love, by the way, is both our love for the Lord and his people (verse 5). The reason we often do not like to hear this is because we know that giving to others will reduce what we can spend on ourselves. Or, what we can use to bless our own family. But this is our calling – to extend our means to God and his people, going beyond our household walls.

In verse 9 he uses the example of the Lord Jesus Himself, who started off rich in the heavenlies, but became poor so that you could be made rich. Then he writes:

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.[9]

A whole year had gone by and the Corinthians had sent, evidently, sent a small gift to Jerusalem and had expressed a desire to send more but they had not done so. Isn’t this a common experience? How many times have you desired to help financially in the Lord’s work? You intended on doing so. Maybe you sent a small gift. You intended on giving more but you never did. I have had that experience many times. It happens because we spend the money that we wanted to give on other things. Then there is none left. Human nature hasn’t changed in 2000 years. This is why we must give to the Lord first! Otherwise, the money that we desired to give will be gone!

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. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.[10]

The Lord accepts our offerings according to what we have, not according to what we do not have. But, it is according to what we have when we get it, not after we spend it! This is why we are commanded to “lay by in store.” We set it aside when we first receive it. If we do not do this then we are not being faithful in our giving.

In verses 13 and 14 Paul relates the principle that our giving is balanced in that we meet other’s needs and a time will come when others will meet our needs. Then verse 15:

As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” [11]

This is a quote from Exodus, when the Israelites were travelling through the wilderness and had run out of food. God supernaturally provided manna from heaven and everyone received what was needed and what exactly was needed! The Lord provides! But here, Paul attaches the Lord’s provision to the Corinthians faithfulness in giving. In doing this, he is only reaffirming a biblical principle.

Honor the Lord with your wealth

and with the firstfruits of all your produce;

10 then your barns will be filled with plenty,

and your vats will be bursting with wine. [12]

 

The Scriptures do, indeed, teach that if we are faithful in our giving then the Lord will bless us not only spiritually, but with our physical needs being met and even overflowing!

One time when the kids were young and we were driving across the country from Ohio back to the Seattle area where we used to live, we had been away from home for almost two months because of work and leave from the government agency for whom I worked. It was a Friday and I had poorly planned on how we were spending our money. On Monday I was going to receive mt bi-weekly paycheck automatically deposited into my account. But on this Friday afternoon we had literally run out of money. No cash in hand and no money in the bank! We were driving through Iowa with 1,700 miles to go! We had about ¾’s of a tank of gas which would only get us to South Dakota, maybe Montana. We were hungry. We did not have any credit cards. We were in a pickle!

I told Josie and the kids our predicament. I warned them that we may have to sleep in the car tonight. As we were driving Josie noticed a sign for a Danish museum. We thought that we might as well stop and see it to at least get our mind off our problem. We got off the freeway and had to drive a few miles to get to this small town. We found the museum but it has closed at 4:00 pm and it was 4:30. We drove through this small town and noticed a Danish delicatessen. It was open. We decided, against all hope, to see if the proprietor would take an out of state check. (This rarely happened.) Before we went in, I prayed.

We entered and looked around. It was a real “mom and pop” deli with the man behind the counter telling us how he made all his own bread and meats from scratch according to the Danish recipes handed down through his family for generations. We explained to him our predicament and assured him that our check was good, asking if he would accept it. He happily did and we ordered two kinds of meats and two loaves of bread and pickles and drinks. Josie made up the sandwiches as we drove. Let me tell you, those were the most delicious sandwiches that we had ever eaten before or since. We marveled at God’s provision! We made it to the next large town in South Dakota. There, I called a brother and he wired money to our account so we could finish our trip.

We were living faithfully and the Lord provided so that “we had no lack.”

One preacher shared on how the Lord continually provided for him and his family, and he attributes God’s bounty to their own faithfulness in giving:

In 1985 we left the church we were pasturing in the southern part of our country, South Africa, because we thought we were coming to America. We gave away everything that we owned – even all the furniture. Then God said, “No, it isn’t time yet.,” and he moved us onto the staff of a very large church. Because of our change of circumstances we moved into an apartment and had nothing – not one bit of furniture.

We were planning to sleep on the floor the first night we moved into the apartment. Then I heard a knock on the door. It was a minister friend of mine. He said, “look, we have these double bunks and they’ll be good for the kids. They have just been sitting in our garage. They are like new, but we can’t use them. Would you like them?” I said, “The kids would like them.” We were the kids who slept very comfortably that first night.

The way in which God furnished that apartment was just supernatural. We saw an advertisement in the newspaper for a double bed. We phoned the people and they came to the house. While we were talking, the power of God hit the husband and he started weeping and crying. He said, “I can’t sell this bed to you. I’m giving it to you. You have to take it.” And, this is how everything came in. God is true to his word.12

Then, he goes on to share how the same thing happened when they came to the U.S. They had nothing: no car, no washer and dryer, but the Lord just provided! What this preacher described is the Lord’s blessing “put into his lap.” (Luke 6:38)

Do you experience this kind of provision? If not, it could be that the Lord is trying to get your attention. The passage that we just looked at in Proverbs lays down the condition of honoring the Lord first, then the Lord will provide an abundance.

What ought we to do? According to Paul, we ought to express that our love is genuine by giving to the needs of God’s people and to the work of God through his people. Our love for the Lord is measured not by warm feelings, but our love for the Lord is measured by giving. As if our love for the Lord was not enough to awaken us to our shortfall, Paul gives the added incentive of the Lord meeting our needs when we give.

Paul is saying to us, as he did to the Corinthians, “See that you excel in this act of grace.”

Will you excel?

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 8:3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 8:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 16:1–3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 8:5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Read Luke 19:11-27 and Matthew 24:14-30 to see what will happen.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 8:6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 8:7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 8:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 8:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 8:11–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 8:15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 3:9–10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.