Stewards Living with Purpose – 4 LSB #’s 851, 781, 785
Text – 2 Corinthians 8:1-3
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy & their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, & beyond their means, of their own accord.
Generous in Every Way
This is the 4th message in the October emphasis Stewards Living with Purpose. In Corinthians 8 & 9, Paul talks about a model for Christian giving. He lays out before the Corinthian church, & all of us, how to offer our money & our resources to the Lord.
Albert Einstein once pointed out that there are only three ways to teach a child. The 1st way is example, the 2nd is example, & the 3rd is example. That is precisely what Paul is doing in teaching the people in Corinth about giving. He teaches them by way of example & he uses the churches of Macedonia mentioned in verse 1:
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia…” Philippi, Thessalonica & Berea, were three cities in which these churches were located who were models of Christian giving. They had learned what Martin Luther discovered as he said,
“I have held many things in my hands & I have lost them all, but whatever I have placed into God’s hands, that I will always possess.” The Macedonians had learned what Jim Elliot, the missionary martyr in Ecuador said, “He is no fool who gives away what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
The Macedonians were examples of giving. They gladly exchanged earthly treasure for heavenly wealth. Their giving serves as a model for all Christians & begins the whole section on Christian giving in chapters 8 & 9. In the 1st eight verses we learn a great principle from the Macedonians, “Giving is the behavior of devout Christians.” It starts with love for Jesus – love that rises out of hearts in tune with the Lord. This love for Jesus is the heart of stewardship. It was the attitude of the Macedonians who provide this model of Christian giving.
Out of love for Christ they gave themselves to the Lord, & everything flowed from that commitment. As we look at the Macedonians’ devotion to the Lord & the character of their giving, several elements arise from this text.
First of all, their giving was initiated by God’s grace. It was not a human endeavor. It was something supernaturally motivated & produced. Verse 1 states, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia.” From this we know that it was the grace of God at work, prompting their giving.
The primary motive of their generosity was not human kindness. The primary motive was not human philanthropy. It was not a desire to pacify their conscience. It was not a desire to do well. What motivated their generosity was the grace of God at work in their hearts. This kind of giving that the Macedonians did is not normal. It’s not just human giving.
Though man is fallen, there is some knowledge of right & wrong, still a conscience excusing or accusing. Man can do things that are humanly good, but even at its highest level, human good deeds will not reach the proportions of goodness & righteousness prompted by the transforming grace of God. The same is true in giving money.
If you have watched TV telethons, you’ve seen people sending in pledges & pledges & pledges. Occasionally a famous person will send in a $1,000 pledge or a $5,000 pledge, but you know he’s a multi-millionaire. His giving is far short of any sacrifice. Typical human giving is not sacrificial giving.
Occasionally, where the love bond is profound, where we have family or someone to
whom we are deeply attached there is a measure of sacrifice, & there are times when humans do sacrifice for noble causes. But generally, our level of human giving stops short of altering our chosen life style. That level of generosity may be considered a human level.
What you have among the Macedonians is something far beyond that. It is prompted by the work of the grace of God in the heart of a transformed person. Sensitivity to new life, longing for Godly things, loving heaven more than earth, desiring to fulfill kingdom purposes – that’s what is behind this giving. It is grace that has saved a soul from hell.
It’s the transformation that comes to believers & causes them to seek 1st the kingdom of God, letting everything else go. It’s a transformation causing believers to set their affections on things above, not on things here. It causes us to hunger & thirst after righteousness & Godliness. It makes us long for the Word of God, for obedience & for following the leading of the Spirit.
All of those are effects of God’s grace. Another is the longing to give generously & sacrificially. It is part of working out the salvation that God is doing in us. It is God at work in you, to will & to do of His own good pleasure. The Macedonians did not give out of their riches. They gave sacrificially out of their poverty.
Paul holds up the Macedonian believers as examples of generous giving, but he does this in such a way that protects the whole issue of grace. We are drawn to the commendable character of the Macedonians, & we can use them as a model, but Paul shuts out all human merit by saying that they did so because they were prompted by the grace of God.
That grace was the primary motive enabling them to be willing & eager to give. Their giving, which is a model for our giving, is prompted & initiated by God’s grace. Paul wants the Corinthians to respond to the same saving grace, the same sanctifying grace, the same enabling grace. We give, not like the world gives, but far beyond that, because we have been
transformed by the grace of God.
Second, not only is giving motivated by the grace of God, giving transcends difficult circumstances. Verse 2: “In a severe test of affliction their abundance of joy & their extreme poverty have over flowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” Difficult circumstances had no negative effect on their giving.
It wasn’t like; well, you know, we don’t know what the economic future is. Macedonia is in recession. We’re being persecuted mercilessly. We don’t know if we’ll have enough for tomorrow. We’re anxious & don’t know what the future holds since we’ve identified with Jesus Christ. We have hostility from the Jews. We better hold on to the financial resources we have.
Macedonia had been reduced to grinding poverty. They were crippled by the taxes of Rome & those taxes left the people destitute. It got so bad that at one point Rome eliminated the taxes just so the people could crawl out of the hole they were in & reach the level of survival.
Yet, in the midst of it, there was no ‘poor me’ mentality; no ‘Why are you asking us? We’ve got our own problems’ mentality. In the midst of prolonged intense suffering & deprivation they gave. That’s what devout believers do. Faith enables us to live above our circumstances. In the case of the Macedonians, they passed their test with an A+.
Their severe hardship had no negative effect on their giving. Even in the middle of such dire circumstances, they were not focusing on themselves. They were thinking of others they had never even met. That’s the amazing part. It’s the attitude God creates in His children.
They did not know the saints in Jerusalem personally, yet selflessly, out of their own terrible distress, they sacrificed for folks who were part of the body of Christ in another place. That’s how it is with devout Christians. They give because God’s grace motivates them.
A third element in their giving is that they gave with joy. You might think, “Well, they
gave out of duty; they gave out of pressure; they gave because they felt they had to. They gave because they knew God would punish them if they didn’t or reward them if they did.” While those are certainly considerations in the matter of giving, we read in verse 2:
“In a severe test of affliction their abundance of joy & their extreme poverty have over flowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” They weren’t just content to do it. They weren’t just willing to do it. They were happy to give, even abundantly happy. They were not reluctant.
2 Corinthians 9:7 reads, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” That’s what they were – cheerful givers who gave with an abundance of joy. Their joy rose above their pain, it rose above their sorrow, it rose above their circumstances.
They were able to do what Paul had encouraged them to do in the Philippians letter, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) They had joy in laying up treasures in Heaven. Joy in seeking the kingdom. Joy because they were more blessed to give than to receive. Joy in knowing that God would give back in greater measure.
Number four in the characteristics of faithful living is that their giving was not hindered by poverty. Paul says they gave out of a great ordeal of affliction, they gave with an abundance of joy, & they gave in spite of their deep poverty.
Paul’s reference is to extreme poverty, & out of their rock-bottom nothing they gave generously. How could they do that? Because they believed Philippians 4:19, “God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” They knew that Jesus said, “Give & it shall be given unto you.” (Luke 6:38) They knew they could not outgive God.
The Macedonian believers didn’t fall for the devil’s temptation to think, “I’d give if I had more.” They understood that giving is not a matter of what you have; it’s a matter of the heart. Devout believers don’t need more, & they don’t wait for more. They give from their poverty like the widow Jesus saw who gave everything, even though it was just two mites. Generosity is a heart issue. In Luke 16:10 Jesus put it this way,
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, & whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Faith is not an issue of how much you have. That has nothing to do with it. It’s an issue of the heart. As we believe we give. If we refuse to give to God, we are refusing to trust God. How much we have is not the issue.
They barely had enough to live, but whatever tiny bit they could, they gave. The Macedonian offering is a model for the Corinthians & for us. Giving is motivated by the grace of God, transcends difficult circumstances, gives with joy & has no relationship to how much I have. Giving is an issue of the heart.
Number five – their giving was generous. In spite of their condition Paul says, “Their abundance of joy & their extreme poverty have overflowed in wealth of generosity.” They existed in poverty & yet their giving literally overflowed. They were rich in generosity which is an attitude of the heart.
They were not wealthy in money, nor rich in possessions; they were rich in single-minded, selfless, humble devotion to God & to others. That’s why Jesus said the woman who gave the two little copper coins gave more than everyone else. Paul wants the Corinthians, who were wealthier than the Macedonians, to be rich in their unselfish single-minded generosity.
Where there is a generous heart, the amount doesn’t matter to God. He just wants that heart of generosity, & He gives us that heart, if we will receive it. So, the precious Macedonians, though they had very little, gave. They gave because they were motivated by the grace of God in their lives, grace that transcended their difficult circumstances. They gave with joy. Their giving was not at all hindered by their poverty. Their giving reflected the generosity of their hearts. What an example to us! They had so little. They gave so much. As God’s children, we should be careful to resist the temptation to hold back.
God isn’t asking us to strip ourselves down to poverty level. He is simply asking us to give joyfully, faithfully, even sacrificially, trusting Him to meet our needs in the future. God provides us with money to take care of our needs & take care of our family around us. If we don’t do that, we’re worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)
A wise steward saves, plans for the future, & gives. All that is laid out in the Bible. God has given Americans all things richly to enjoy. (1 Timothy 6:17) He wants us to enjoy the magnificent beauties of this world & the comforts that it yields to make life blessed. As long as we have hearts like the Macedonians we are going to respond, giving joyfully & generously.
We give Thee but Thine own, whatever the gift may be; all that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee. May we Thy bounties thus as stewards true receive & gladly, as Thou blessest us, to Thee our firstfruits give! Amen. LSB 781:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet