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From the Series: A Generous Life
November 30, 2008

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)

I was talking with one of our students this week who had gone away to a new college. During our conversation I asked him, as I often do with students who go away, if he had found a girlfriend yet. He put his arm around his mother, and said “My mother is the only girl in my life.” I told him “Christmas is next month, it’s too early for that stuff!” He shot back “She’s shopping for my present now!” Wise man!

The reason we mark Christmas with gifts is not just that the wise men brought gifts to Jesus. We give and receive gifts because the coming of Jesus Christ is the greatest gift ever given. I want us to spend these weeks of advent in 2 Corinthians 8, 9 because this Scripture helps us to admire God’s amazing gift to us in Jesus Christ:

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

That’s the amazing generosity of God that is at the very heart of the Christmas story. We’re going to look at our generous God today. Next time we will consider what a generous church looks like, and then we will see what it means to enter into a generous reward, which is the promise of God for His people.

The Gospel Applies to Every Area of Life

I want to begin today with the big picture. Over the last year we’ve kept returning, in different ways, to one major theme: What it means to apply the Gospel to all of life. What difference does knowing Christ make to your everyday life?

Back in September Pastor Mike Bullmore[1] gave a seminar for our pastors and lay leaders which he called “The Functional Centrality of the Gospel,” dealing with the question: How does the Gospel actually function in the life of a Christian believer?

I put it like this: How does the Gospel apply to every area of life? How do you get the Gospel from something you believe “out there” to something that actually makes a difference in your life, something that changes you “in here?”

The New Testament is actually a massive project in applying the Gospel to the whole of life. It tells us what the Gospel is, who Jesus Christ is, why He came and what He has done for us. It tells us how the Gospel works, what it means to be “in Jesus Christ,” and how knowing Jesus Christ will change every area of your life.

Once you’ve seen it, you will begin to see it cropping up all over the Bible. Let’s look at some examples:

Applying the Gospel to Marriage

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25).

Suppose that you have a couple who are not doing well in their marriage. You are talking with the husband, and he really isn’t doing a good job of loving his wife. How might you help him?

It seems to me that there are three ways in which you can try to motivate people to change their behavior: There’s a “guilt” way, a “pride” way, and a “Gospel” way. And it’s very important to understand the difference.

The guilt approach says “You made a vow. You promised to love this woman ‘for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part,’ and you have to live up to what you said.” This approach appeals to a man’s conscience. “You said you would do this; now you need to deliver on your promise.”

The pride approach is different. It says “You’re a great guy, and you don’t want to mess up your marriage. You can succeed in anything you turn your mind to, so why not this? You can do it! So, why don’t you turn this marriage around?”

Here’s the problem: Working on the guilt approach increases guilt, and working on the pride approach increases pride. I want you to see how the “Gospel” approach is completely different: “Husbands love your wives,” (not as you promised, or as only you can do because you’re a great guy) but “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

The Gospel way to encourage a man to love His wife is to look at Jesus Christ. “He was ready to sacrifice anything, everything, so that His bride, the church, would flourish, so that she would be radiant and full of joy. Now this Christ lives in you.”

“The Holy Spirit has been given to you so that the life of Christ may be reproduced in you. Now, here’s what that means in your marriage…” Can you imagine anything more beautiful than a Gospel-shaped marriage? Imagine a marriage that reproduces Christ’s love for His Church, because it is produced in the life of a husband.

The true Christian life is not based on guilt or pride, but on you being “in Christ” and Christ being in you.

Applying the Gospel to Freedom

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

“See to it that no one takes you captive…” (v8). The issue here is Christian freedom. Don’t allow other people to trap you, bind your conscience, tell you what you can and cannot do. Don’t let other people control your life, or lay burdens upon you that God never intended you to carry. Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated by advertising. Don’t let the culture squeeze you into its mold.

How am I to enter into all the dimensions of Christian freedom? How do you get free from being controlled by other people? Paul’s answer: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (v9).

Christian freedom flows from Christ, and all that is yours in Him. When you see that you have everything you need in Christ, you will no longer be under the control of other people. Once you see this pattern you will start spotting it all over the New Testament.

Applying the Gospel to Forgiveness

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ, God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

How in all the world are we to forgive one another? It is possible to do this out of guilt: “I am a Christian, so I guess that means I have to forgive you…” It is possible to forgive out of pride: “I forgive you… because I’m bigger than what you’ve done to me.”

The forgiveness we are called to is a gospel forgiveness that says: “I forgive you because I am forgiven. My only standing with God is that I stand forgiven. I live in the good of that every day of my life. This Christ who forgives me lives within me by His Spirit, and so in the power of His forgiveness towards me, I forgive you.”

Applying the Gospel to Caring for Others

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others…” (Philippians 2:4).

This is the most ordinary verse in all of the Bible “Look… to the interests of others.” Then Paul tells us why “[Because] He who was in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant…” (Philippians 2:6-7).

Paul launches into a massive statement of the humiliation and exaltation of the Son of God simply to tell us that we should look out for the interests of others!

One commentator has said: This is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut! That’s what the New Testament does. It takes massive truth about the person and work of Jesus Christ and applies it to the most ordinary situations in life, so that we learn to live not from guilt or pride, but from the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Many Christians live out of guilt and pride. But that’s not the New Testament way. This is not why Jesus Christ came into the world. More than anything else I want us, as Christian believers, to increasingly live out of the Gospel with joy and in Christian freedom.

Now I want us to see how the Apostle Paul takes the Gospel and applies it to the whole area of money and giving:

Applying the Gospel to Money

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

The Holy Spirit moved Paul to write these words because Christian believers in Jerusalem had fallen on hard times. Paul was raising money to bring relief to them. And the Corinthians had responded to his appeal with initial enthusiasm.

Corinth was a bustling commercial center just like Chicago. And when these folks found out about the needs of Christians in Jerusalem, they were eager to help. “Last year, you were the first not only to give, but also to have the desire to do so” (8:10). So, Corinth was a flagship church, noted for its enthusiasm and generosity.

Paul had been telling other churches about the generosity of the Corinthians. Paul reminds them of the effect of their enthusiasm “For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it… your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action” (9:2).

But this initial enthusiasm was followed by a growing reluctance. These folks had promised to give generously, but they’ve been slow to follow through on their promise. “Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means” (8:11).

Why do you think there was initial enthusiasm to give generously, followed a year later by a growing reluctance? “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (8:12) [2] There are many theories. Here’s mine: Maybe the market went down in Corinth!

How will Paul tackle this problem? Everything you need to know about raising and giving money is right here in these two chapters. As far as I can see, there are three ways to raise money, and there are three ways to give money. They all have very different effects, and the one that you follow will leave a distinct imprint on your character.

The guilt way: Focus on the need

You show people an extraordinary need, and after depicting it as vividly as you can, and pulling people’s heartstrings, you say “Now what are we going to do about this? For the price of one cup of coffee a day you could do something about this. What will you do?”

The person who hears this begins feeling very guilty about drinking coffee. They begin thinking “Well, it really is a great need, so I ought to do something about it.” In other words, you appeal to the conscience. You appeal to guilt.

I look at my own giving and I can see times when I have written a check largely out of guilt. I felt moved by a need, and I felt better when I had written the check. That was my motivation for writing it: “There, I’ve done something about it.” That’s OK, but Paul wants to show us something better.

The pride way: Focus on the opportunity

A second way to raise money or to give money is to lay out a great project and say to people “Look what we can accomplish! You can be a part of it. And if you give over a certain amount we’ll put your name on a stone or you’ll get your name published.” What is that doing? You appeal to a person’s self-interest. You appeal to pride.

Pride drives a lot of giving. Every year folks get themselves into debt over Christmas. Here’s how that works: You’re in financial difficulties, but you don’t want people to know, so you buy more than you can afford to give the impression that you are prospering when you aren’t. Then you’re strapped with a debt that goes on for months into the New Year. That’s giving driven by pride. Don’t do that!

The Gospel way: Focus on Jesus Christ

I want you to see that Paul’s focus in raising money is not on the need or on the opportunity. Notice how Jesus Christ is the center of these two chapters:

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

“As it is written: ‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’” 2 Corinthians 9:9

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15

When you read all of chapters eight and nine, you see that the whole focus is on the generosity of God! Paul says: “You know Him! ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor’” (8:9).

Since you know this generous God, since His Spirit lives in you, you are in a process of becoming increasingly like Him. The character of Jesus is being reproduced in you, so that your giving can become like God’s giving. What are the distinguishing marks of a generous life?

Christ-like giving is marked by freedom

“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Notice the phrase Paul uses while he is raising money: “Not reluctantly or under compulsion…” (v7). That’s freedom. Nobody should ever feel forced to give. Some churches set rules about giving: “You must commit to a tithe (that’s giving 10% of your income) if you’re a member here.”

Paul did not do that. He could have said “The Old Testament teaches tithing, and that means you must give 10% of your income.” But the problem with applying a rule or law to giving is that you end up appealing to guilt and to pride. The law makes people feel guilty if they don’t give, and proud if they do.

Paul refuses to set a rule on giving: “I am not commanding you!” (8:8). Instead, he says “Just as you excel… in faith, in speech, in knowledge… see that you also excel in this grace of giving” (8:7).

Paul was an apostle. If he had given an instruction, these people would have done what he said. But he refuses to do that. He says, “Here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter” (8:10). He will not make giving a matter of law, because gospel-giving must be free.

Christ-like giving is marked by joy

“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

I’m still old-fashioned enough to pay my bills by writing a check. And Monday is my day off, so you write out the gas bill, the phone bill, and the electric bill. But when you see the tax bill, you groan and say “How much is it this time!?!” And you write the check reluctantly. Don’t let your giving be like paying taxes.

Giving out of guilt and pride is like that. But gospel-giving is very different. Paul says “Decide what you want to give, and give it with freedom and joy—God loves a cheerful giver. Why is Gospel giving is marked by freedom and joy? Because God’s giving is marked by freedom and joy. Freedom and joy are the way God gives to us.

The Heart of the Christmas Story

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

“Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor”

The Son of God left the riches of heaven and embraced poverty. He left honor and experienced humiliation. He left love and endured hatred. Nobody forced Him to do that.

He did not do this under compulsion. No one said “Since you are the Son of God this is your job.” God doesn’t have to do anything. “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him” (Psalm 115:3).

God does not owe salvation to the world. He doesn’t have to forgive. He has absolutely no obligation whatsoever to a sinful world. No one forced Christ to come. He chose to. He did it because of the eternal love that throbs in His heart.

That’s the generosity of God, and when you see it you will discover a whole new appreciation for what He’s done for you—without anyone leaning on Him!

“So that you through his poverty you might become rich”

Christ knows what eternal joy is like. Eternal joy has been His experience with the Father since before the beginning of time. These riches of fellowship with God and joy in His presence do not belong to us by nature. The way that these riches come to us is through His poverty. It is through his poverty that we become rich.

Here’s what that means: If Jesus Christ had not come into the world, if  He had not endured the cross, I would have been lost in hell forever without a hope of forgiveness, or new birth or peace with God. And every one of us would be in the same position.

It is through his poverty that we become rich. It is through His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and coming again that sinners like us are lifted out of our poverty and made rich “with every spiritual blessing in Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

This is why the angels filled the skies with singing when Christ was born. This is “Good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

There is great joy because the coming of Christ will mean, not just millions, but billions of men and women from every generation and every culture will be rescued from sin, reconciled to God and brought into God’s everlasting joy.

The reason God loves a cheerful giver is that God is a cheerful giver. That’s the joy of Christmas!

“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”

The distinguishing mark of a Christian believer is that you know His grace, not an intellectual knowledge of it, but a grace that has changed your life.

Do you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? Have you seen His kindness, and His generosity? Have you been gripped by Christ’s freedom and joy in giving Himself for you? He didn’t have to. He could have made another world. But for your sake He became poor that you, through His poverty, might become rich.

Can you say “I know His grace? This unprovoked, extraordinary kindness of God has gripped my heart and mind, and touched my life.” When you are in Christ, the Holy Spirit will begin teaching you how rich you are in Him.

Now I see that God has blessed me with every spiritual blessing in Jesus Christ. I see that from the fullness of God’s grace I have received one blessing on top of another. Now I find growing within me such gratitude, and a desire to reflect His goodness, His kindness, and His generosity to others.

A truly generous life does not flow out of guilt or out of pride, but it does flow from knowing Jesus Christ, who though He was rich became poor so that you through His poverty might become rich. When you see the freedom and joy of His giving, and its effects in your life for all eternity, you will find a new freedom and joy to become increasingly like Him.

 

© Colin S. Smith

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Please include this statement on every copy distributed:

By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org

[1] Mike is the Senior Pastor of Crossway Community Church in Kenosha, WI.

www.crosswayonline.org

 

[2] See also 9:5, and 9:3.



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