Over the past few weeks, we’ve thought a lot about why Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. Now, in chapters 8 and 9, we discover another reason. It’s because he needed the money! Not for himself, but he did want the prosperous Corinthians to part with large amounts of their hard-earned cash so that their poor brothers back in Jerusalem could put some falafel on their table. It’s gloriously mundane and ordinary. These chapters were written so that when Titus and his friends showed up, there would be a large pile of drachma waiting for them. But given the fact that that moment – and the collection for Jerusalem – is long gone, why are these chapters in the Bible? Why are we bothering to read them (why don’t we just skip to chapter 10)? Because they are a great example of how to apply the gospel to the real world, real time details of life. Not only does Paul give us a worked example of how to handle cash in a godly way, but how to be be open-hearted, whole-hearted, gospel-hearted followers of Jesus (which I think is a great thing for those about to become elders, as well as those who have just appointed elders to take to heart this morning.
So strap yourselves in and get a firm grip on your wallet, for we’ve a lot of ground to cover this morning. These two chapters lay out four essential qualities that flow from all that God has done for us in the Lord Jesus. You can see the first in 8:1-7. It’s…
GOSPEL GENEROSITY (8:1-7)
For Paul, there is absolutely no doubt that the gospel produces generosity. If he had needed convincing of that, then the churches of Macedonia – Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea – had done a great job. It seems that these local churches, despite significant struggles, had blown the apostle away with their selfless generosity, which he knows can only come from the grace of God: look with me from verse 1:
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. That’s what I call generosity! Their giving went above and beyond – Paul says they actually gave more than they could afford.
It was remarkably enthusiastic – they begged Paul for the privilege of getting involved in the collection he was organising for the struggling church in Jerusalem.
And it was also deeply joyful – despite the fact that they were extremely strapped for cash (verse 2), their abundance of joy… overflowed in a wealth of generosity. Now Macedonians aren’t perfect – but boy, they had this one sorted out! They understood that giving is a delight.
Now that is a strange concept for most of us. I have been in African churches where people dance up to the front to bring their offerings – in most churches, we either have a competition to see how quickly we can move an empty bag or plate from the back to the front without anyone putting anything in, or ease the pain by hiding a box at the back or giving online. But for the Macedonians, when it was time for the offering, gasps of ‘oh yes’ could be heard from every part of the room. That’s because they knew that giving to other believers (and the work of the gospel through Paul) was the overflow of the fact that they had given themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
It’s a startling sentence, isn’t it? This is why I say ultimately, this passage isn’t just about money – it’s about living for Jesus. This would be a great time to recalibrate – does this simple statement sum up where you’re at in your discipleship? They gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. It’s very straightforward at one level, but reveals a depth of commitment and seriousness that we’d do well to copy – for this was the root of their generosity. They gave themselves to God – they committed themselves wholeheartedly in repentance and faith, and so they gave themselves to one another, and as a result, they gave away their money.
John Calvin said that our problem is that we think something is lost when we give it away. Especially when we give it to other people.
The Macedonians had been freed up by the gospel and so realised that to give is to gain, not to lose, even in their poverty.
That’s why Paul tells the Corinthians to give like Macedonians, and he sends Titus, who had first raised the possibility of a collection with them, to see it through, adding in verse 7, probably slightly tongue in cheek But since you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you -see that you also excel in this grace of giving.. His point is simple – the gospel produces generosity, so give like Macedonians.
There must have been a bit of a rub for them here. How do we feel when someone says ‘why can’t Australia be more like New Zealand?’ How do I feel when someone says ‘You should know – you’re English!’ But the beauty of the gospel is that it helps us to get over pride and ego to recognise what God has done through the gospel in other people, to learn from them and be spurred on by them. To display gospel generosity not just in our giving, but in our attitudes. Which, incidentally, is why it’s so anti-gospel to act like we have all the answers. We should be asking constantly, in every situation, what can I learn from you? We should do it because as Paul says, the grace of God has been given to God’s people everywhere. But we should move on. After telling them to give like Macedonians, as he describes gospel generosity, in 8:8-15, Paul raises the stakes just a little – he shows us a picture of…
GOSPEL SELFLESSNESS (8:8-15)
Not only does the gospel produce generosity, it also produces selflessness.
Even sacrifice. 2Cor. 8:8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness (or perhaps zeal, or even spiritual health)of others. Paul knows that telling people to be selfless doesn’t actually work – but he does what them to be selfless. So how does he go about it? By trying to help them to see what real gospel shaped living looks like by telling them about the Macedonians, and then pointing them to Jesus himself:
9For 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. In one brief phrase, Paul presses the pre-existence of the Son and the grace which God has shown us in the Incarnation and Jesus’ death in our place into service to urge the Corinthians – and us – to be selfless and to add to the collection. In particular, they need to make sure they follow through on their commitments.
In the same way that Jesus followed through for our sake, so we are to follow through on our commitments for the sake of others. So if you say you are going to support someone financially as they go overseas, then fill out the forms. If you say you are going to pray for someone, do it then and there, or add them to your prayer list. If we say we are going to show up to help set out the chairs, then let’s make sure we’re there. Let’s follow through on our commitments. Why? Because Jesus did – and where would we be if he had discovered he had something else on?
It’s pretty clear that a year earlier, the Corinthians had made encouraging noises about supporting the Jerusalem Fund. Now they need to come up with the cash. Now was the moment that they needed to prioritise others, and open their wallets.
2Cor. 8:10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. If you commit, then do it. That’s the mark of Christian character – the settled, godly, consistent habits that the gospel produces.
Coming through on our commitments, then is actually an index of selflessness.
You may not have thought about it like this, but usually – perhaps almost always – it is self which gets in the way of us doing what we have committed to. I don’t do what I have told you I would do, because I have prioritised something which is more important to me. Have you realised that? It may not be very flattering, but it’s true. If I make you a promise, and then fail to deliver, it will almost certainly be because I have prioritised me before you, which is selfish, and the very antithesis of Christlikeness. I wanted something else more. That’s why Paul urges them to display a selflessness which is generated and maintained by the gospel, and to come through on what they have promised.
For Paul, voluntary, generous, selfless, proportionate giving where we all choose to put others first, caring for each other produces a beautiful, grace-driven equilibrium, where everyone is looking out for other people – so verse 13: Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15as it is written [about manna, in Exodus 16]: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.When I need help, you help me; when you need help, you help me. Nobody is keeping score, but there is a natural ebb and flow as we live together in dependence, without either shame, which would stop us asking for help or greed, which would stop us giving it. When I have more than enough, I gladly help you, and you do the reverse. Usually, we run on the principle that we work hard so that we can play hard. Our default is that we spend as much as we can afford on ourselves. Paul says the way of the gospel, the way of Christ, is to lavish whatever we can on others for the sake of the gospel. It’s to give like a Macedonian and to give things up for the sake of Jesus and others. It also involves …
GOSPEL SERVICE (8:16-24)
The gospel also produces servant-heartedness. How does this show? It shows in Titus putting his hand up to go to Corinth to collect their part of the money, but also in the depth of care he shows them –
16 Thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. 17 For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. He went above and beyond to serve them, as did the two other brothers mentioned in verses 18-23.
Now it is slightly frustrating that Paul doesn’t bother to tell us their names, but as they delivered the letter and may even have helped to read it out, he probably didn’t feel the need to name them. But he does point out that along with Titus, these two men are committed to serving others in and through the gospel:
18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. Wouldn’t that be a great way to be remembered? 19 What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honour the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. This party of three was appointed by the ‘churches’ presumably the key churches in Macedonia – to make sure that the gift was received, and so the church in Jerusalem encouraged and God himself glorified. And as an aside, they did things properly according to verses 20-21:
We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. 21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.
For Paul is it an absolute non-negotiable that things are done properly – that is, in a way which brings honour to God, and also, which doesn’t drag the church needlessly into disrepute. Why is he so passionate about this? Because he knows that fights and accusations about money will kill off gospel ministry more quickly than almost anything else. When it comes to money, we need to be beyond reproach, because any whiff if self-interest will completely undermine the fact that we serve Jesus. For Paul, it’s all about ensuring that nothing hinders the gospel, and in particular, that nothing obscures the fact that we serve other people for the sake of Christ.
We are, of course, very sinful, and are more than capable of pouring our efforts into being recognised as honourable for our own sake. But the gospel drives us to say ‘We are about Christ, not us’.
Paul has sounded this note repeatedly in this letter – so e.g. 4:5: For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. And that’s exactly what anonymous brother number 2 was known for. Here’s what Paul writes about him:
22 In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. Paul is sending helper number 2 because he is so committed to the welfare of the Corinthians. The Corinthians weren’t exactly the easiest, or the most consistent bunch – yet Titus and his friends are absolutely committed to them – Paul sums this up in 23: As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. This is the kind of servant-heartedness we are called to and equipped for in the gospel.
And how are the Corinthians to respond to men like this coming to them? Not to put too fine a point on it, Paul says ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY’ – 24 Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it. Time for you to come through for me and for them and for the church in Jerusalem.
I hope you can see what Paul is doing here – he is calling them and us to give like Macedonians, to live selflessly like Jesus, like Titus and the anonymous two, serving Christ by serving the church. And we are to do all this with…
GOSPEL INTEGRITY (9:1-5)
In 9:1-5, Paul doesn’t actually do much more than call on them to do the right thing. Paul knows they know what to do – and now they need to get on and do it:
1 There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people. 2 For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. The Macedonians have been encouraged by the Corinthians’ loud pledges that they too are going to send money to Jerusalem – and now, it has come down to the wire. It’s either come up with the money, or humiliation all round: But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we-not to say anything about you-would be ashamed of having been so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given. The gift is to be free, generous, and ready when they get there. Not least because gospel integrity matters.
In ancient Greece, benefactors who didn’t make good on their pledge would have their names published in the Agora in Athens, to inflict suitable humiliation on them. Which reminds me of the church committee meeting I was at about 30 years ago when someone suggested that the giving would go up if we published all the names and amounts of the giving in the previous 12 months. Paul doesn’t go quite that far, but it is clear that for him, failure to come through on their word would be a very big deal indeed. And that’s because the gospel produces integrity. God has spoken to us reliably, and kept every promise he makes, so we need to make every effort to speak reliably to others. Integrity matters.
When it comes to spiritual leadership, nothing is more foundational than integrity. We have to deliver on our promises. We have to do what we say. We have to be consistent. We have to be principled. And of course, none of us is perfect – and people will forgive mistakes, but where the pattern of our lives is one of saying one thing and doing another, where we don’t come through on our grand plans and commitments, our spiritual authority will quickly be corroded from within, and we will be left in a place from which it is very hard to recover. So what are we to do?
The second century Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius once said Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one. But we know that that is possible for us only through the gospel itself.
From 8:1-9:5 then, Paul urges the Corinthians to display the generosity, selfless sacrifice, servant-heartedness and integrity which flows from the gospel, specifically as they come up with the cash for Jerusalem, but also more generally. For this is the kind of life that we have in Christ – this is who we are, this is why we need to get on with living out of the gospel. Not least, because, according to Paul’s conclusion to this section in 9:6-15, because…
CONCLUSION: LIVING LIKE THIS IS GOOD FOR YOU
First, in verses 6-7, Paul tells them to give not because they are guilted into it, or pressured into producing their credit card, but because God just loves a happy giver:
9:6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. We live by the mantra – God gives credit to a reluctant but careful giver. Paul seems to have something a little freer, a little more lavish in mind! When it comes to giving, extravagance is good! Let’s be a bit more reckless in your giving, and to have a good laugh about it as we do. Metaphorically dance your way up to the front with a broad smile on your face every time you have the opportunity to give. And when we can’t give, let’s make sure we see it as missing out! Sad not because we’ve had to part with our hard earned pennies, but because we have missed out on great joy from God himself!
Because the fact is that people who show gospel generosity, selfless sacrifice, servant-heartedness and integrity never, ever miss out!
Look with me at 9:8 – And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.. 9 As it is written, “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” [Psalm 112:9]. The kind of gospel-shaped life that leads us to give cheerfully and generously will put us in a great place, for God will continue to supply us with whatever we need to get on with the work of the gospel right here, right now.
Our God loves to drench us with good things
Verse 10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. God will give us all the resources we need to grow ourselves and to support our brothers and sisters. He’s combining two OT statements – Isaiah 55:10 where God’s word does not return to him without accomplishing what it was designed for, and Hosea 10:12, with its harvest of righteousness – to make clear this goes far beyond finance – this is about the way in which God works in and through the gospel, transforming people like us for our good and his glory. Verse 11 takes it even further – 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God… .. This is what the gospel does in us – in the gospel God lavishes his gifts on us and frees us up to pass on the same precious gift to other people…
Now let me say this carefully – the prosperity gospel is a pernicious evil and a blight on the church. It routinely promises what God does not, and over-reaches, blaming its failures on the very people who have been defrauded. BUT… the truth is that most of us don’t need our expectations dampened – we need to take God seriously when he says Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness… … You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way. We need to realise that we can afford to give – to give generously – to give with a broad grin on our faces – because when we do that, we demonstrate that we know and trust the God who has promised to do us nothing but good. It isn’t that we give and God gives us back, or more, or anything like that. Giving demonstrates that we believe the gospel and trust God to do us good.
This starts with money, but it is so much bigger than that, which is why Paul says that this service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Gospel giving flows out of gratitude, and then multiplies gratitude in a chain reaction which ultimately leads to a display and recognition of God’s glory: 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.. When the Corinthians express their submission to Christ by fronting up with the money, all will be well. The solid commitment that have shown will spill over into gratitude:
15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
So there you have it – we are to be generous, sacrificial, servant-hearted and completely morally dependable, because this is where the gospel takes us. At every stage, Paul calls us to do this by embracing the gospel. Why should they give to Jerusalem? Because of what God has done for us and is doing in us and will do in the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of the Macedonians, because of Christ, because of Titus’ servant-heartedness, because of their own need for integrity – because it’s clear everywhere they look that the gospel helps us to see the true value of things, and frees us up from our attachment to things, and breaks the chains of our self-preoccupation and our fears for the future, and creates a deep love and concern for others. We do need not to fret, because our God is utterly committed to our flourishing, and the progress of the gospel – so we can give and live with a broad grin on our face. So let’s thank God for his inexpressible gift to us in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, because it really does make all the difference in the world.