Grace to Live Generously
Topic: Generosity Passage: 2 Corinthians 8:1–8:8,
Grace Community Church
March 21, 2021
Grace to Live Generously
Turn with me to 2 Cor. 8. We just spent nearly 2 ½ months in chapters 6 & 7. We’re going to speed things up a bit as we look at chapters 8 & 9. I’m excited about these two chapters cause I think they hold a powerful key to the abundant life Jesus promised to give us. Let’s pray and then dive in together. (Pray)
If you’ve ever come in on the middle of a conversation and found it hard to figure out what the people in the conversation were talking about until someone got you up to speed, chapters 8 & 9 can feel like that. Cause we’re coming in on the middle of a conversation that has been going on between Paul and the Corinthian church for almost a year.So let’s get up to speed on what’s happening.
Believers in Jerusalem have been going through a hard time. The persecution that forced many disciples to leave Jerusalem in Acts 8 hasn’t gotten a whole lot better over time. Many of the religious leaders who hated and crucified Jesus are still influencers in Jerusalem and so Christians find themselves ostracized socially and economically, so its hard to find anyone who will even hire them. Therefore the church is poor.
To help bring relief, Paul starts taking up a collection from the churches in Greece. Greece is broken up into two regions: Macedonia to the north and Achaia to the south. Corinth is in the wealthier region of Achaia, Philippi and Thessalonica are in the poorer region of Macedonia.
A year earlier, Paul began to collect pledges in Corinth for what they would give to relieve the suffering Christians in Jerusalem, and they pledged so enthusiastically and generously that it inspired all the churches in Macedonia to dig a little deeper. Now it’s time to collect on those pledges and take the offering to Jerusalem. And Paul is starting to get concerned that with the passing of time, the Corinthian’s enthusiasm has waned. So in the same way that the Corinthian’s generosity inspired the Macedonian churches, Paul now uses the Macedonian generosity to inspire the Corinthians to follow through on their pledges.
Let’s pick up in verse 1.
8 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 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.
There are a lot of books out there that claim to have the secret to a great life, a happy life, a meaningful life. These books tend to sell well because so many people live with a persistent emptiness and nagging sense of unfulfillment. We don’t talk about it much, but there seems to be something just beyond our reach, a “secret” to life that everyone else seems to be in on, but somehow we didn’t get the memo.
As Christians, we find a great source of comfort, hope, and meaning in our Savior, but if we’re honest, sometimes we can feel like there’s more to the Christian life than what we’re experiencing. Do you ever feel like there’s a gap between how the Bible describes following Jesus and your life? I do. We were watching the Chosen the other night and as Peter and the gang after a night of fishing and catching nothing tried again at the bidding of Jesus and the nets couldn’t contain the fish they pulled in. And as they are all laughing and excited I thought, Lord, I want to see more of Your mighty works. I want to see people amazed at the power of the Lord, lives transformed, and people coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
But it feels like there’s a gap. And we want to know the “secret” that will take us from this life to that life.
Well, I don’t know if it’s a “secret” but one of the bridges to span that gap and help get our lives more in the game is found in these verses. And what may surprise us is that it has a lot to do with money. You heard me right…money!
The truth is few things have the impact on our lives that money has. Few things have the ability to bless our lives, enlarge our lives, and enable us to live a full and meaningful life that money has. The world would agree that money is one of the most important things to living the good life, so its message loud and clear is, “get as much money as you can!” And I’m saying money has a huge impact on our life.
But here’s the twist: the Bible reveals to us that the impact money has on our lives, the power to bless, enlarge, and enable us to live a full and meaningful life doesn’t come from getting money, it comes from giving money. Winston Churchill rightly said, “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
If we want to live large, we need to live generously. That’s not just money. It’s being generous with our time. It’s being generous with our possessions. It’s being generous with our skills. Generous with our love. Generous with our help. Generous with our compassion. Generous.
I want to draw out two points about generosity from this chapter.
- Generosity is God’s grace in action!
Paul points out that generosity is an expression of grace in our lives:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
Paul says, I want you to know about the grace of God powerfully at work in the believers in Macedonia. What does that grace look like? Three things:
Severe affliction. Extreme poverty. And abundance of joy. One of these things is not like the others, can you spot it? They are suffering affliction. They are incredibly poor. And they are full of joy! And these three things have overflowed in wealth but not wealth of money, wealth of generosity. And Paul says that’s the grace of God working in their lives.
When the Bible wants to measure generosity, it doesn’t focus on those who have a lot of money. It turns to those who don’t have a lot but are generous with what they have. The widow who gave all she had to live on. The Macedonians who have extreme poverty AND extreme generosity. They begged Paul to be allowed to give.
The Corinthians in Achaia are much more affluent than the churches in Macedonia. They can actually afford to give more, and still fall short of generosity. Paul isn’t comparing the amounts they are able to give, he’s encouraging them to be generous.
Generosity is grace in action!
6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act ofgrace. 7 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.
Paul says, you guys are good at a lot of things, you excel at a lot of things (and I love how he manages to squeeze in a declaration of his strong love for them: you excel…in our love for you). Make sure you excel at living generously too.
Generosity is grace in action!
Remember in chapter 6 Paul appeals to them not to receive the grace of God in vain. He’s not talking about saving grace – that’s a grace that always accomplishes what God has purposed it to accomplish because it’s not based on what we do, it’s based on what Jesus Christ did for us. But God gives us grace to live out the Christian life, and that grace can be powerful or empty (vain) depending on how we steward it.
Twice Paul talks about this act of grace. Generosity is a grace of God in our lives, but it doesn’t activate until we act on it. Feeling generous doesn’t activate this grace in our lives. Good intentions to be generous doesn’t activate this grace in our lives. Acting on this grace activates this grace in our lives.
The other day I was watching a commercial for St. Jude’s Hospital and seeing these children who have cancer receiving medical care and attention at no cost to their parents - it really touched my heart. It always does. I know that’s what they’re aiming for, but man, they hit their target with me. I thought, I’d love to be involved with something like that. I’d love to invest my life into something like that. But then the commercial was over and I didn’t do anything with that desire to be generous. We’ve given to them in the past, but this impulse went no further than that: an impulse. Generosity isn’t a thought of grace, it’s an act of grace.
God’s got that grace ready and waiting for you and for me. Let’s act on it!
- Generosity is a way we can invest our lives in the ongoing ministry of Christ
8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 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 by his poverty might become rich.
Jesus became poor, not just to join us in our poverty, but to lift us to his riches. Generosity isn’t becoming poor for the sake of joining the poor in their poverty, generosity seeks to lift others to a better place.
Jesus divested himself of his riches in order to invest himself in our lives. He gave up to give out. Paul reminds us that’s what Jesus did for us. That’s our blessed hope. It’s what we sing about, it’s what we believe. Let’s not hurry on, let’s soak that in: Jesus became poor so that we might become rich with his heavenly riches. That is genuine love. Let it soak in.
But respectfully, Paul means us to do more with Christ’s example than soak it in. He also wants us to imitate his example. This is Paul’s encouragement that they too, by their generosity, can demonstrate the genuineness of their love. In a smaller way, we can divest to invest.
Invest is a good word. We invest in what we love so we want to look at what we invest in. What we invest our lives in. We all invest our lives in something. The question is, is it a good investment or a bad investment?
Chuck Swindoll writes about a man who decided it was time to divorce his wife of 25 years. Things were at such a low point that she reluctantly agreed.
As he was working through the division of their property, he came upon a box of old canceled checks, written over the decades. He sat there hunched over the box and thumbed through one canceled check after another until he came upon a yellowed check made out to the hotel where he and his new bride had spent their honeymoon.
For a few minutes it made him remember all the hopes and dreams of that moment, but then with a shrug he put the check aside and continued through the box. He didn’t get far when he came upon the check for the first installment on their first car. He slowed down as one canceled check after another stirred up emotionally charged memories of the past – the check paid to the hospital at the birth of their daughter. Another for the down payment on their first home.
Finally he called his wife and told her they had too much invested in those twenty five years to throw them away. They decided to start over afresh.
Jesus said store up (or invest) treasure in heaven, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be. Someone says, “my heart’s just not in the things of God.” Well, is your treasure invested in the things of God? Invest your treasure in the kingdom of God, and your heart will be in things of God.
At the end of our lives when we rummage through the cancelled checks of our lives, what story will they tell? What investment will they remind us of? Will all our cancelled checks be made out to ourselves, a testimony of a life lived selfishly? Or will we have a box full of cancelled checks made out to generous living, acts of grace, love in action?
Remember Christ gave all he had, leaving the wealth of heaven, to invest his very life in our lives so that we would be rich with the riches of heaven. Paul isn’t trying to guilt them – he wants to inspire and motivate them to be generous like Jesus and keep the promise they enthusiastically made a year earlier.
They can’t do everything; they can’t meet every need. And neither can we. God isn’t asking us to. But we can all do something and do it generously.
Paul says, as we do, God will expand and bless and enlarge and multiply, not just our gift, but our lives.
This isn’t about having a lot to give, be it money or time or skills or compassion. In fact, God delights when those who don’t have much to give are generous with what they have. That’s a beautiful expression of grace in our lives.
When we find our Christian experience feeling smaller and smaller, shrinking and unfulfilling, there’s a good chance that the answer isn’t getting more, it’s giving more.
And that takes us into chapter 9 and I can’t wait for us to see the life-expanding principles contained in it!
God is here to give us grace to be generous, and to empower us to take steps to excel in the act of grace that generosity is, so let’s ask God to do that in us.
More in Messy Grace: Second Corinthians
March 28, 2021Living Larger by Sowing Generously
March 14, 2021Conflict, Confusion, and Correction: Is it worth the risk?(Part Two)
March 7, 2021Conflict, Confusion, and Correction: Is it worth the risk?(Part One)