2 Corinthians 8:1–9, 13–14
Everyone understands with two glasses of water, one empty and the other full, we can pour water back and forth between them and one will fill and the other will empty. The same amount of water is available the whole time. One glass will always be filling and the other emptying. One glass gains while the other must lose.
It sure seems most things operate on the same principle. If I get one more slice of pizza everyone else gets less. If I get a greater portion of the profits that leaves less for every other employee. If I win in a video game someone else is losing.
What Paul presents in the second lesson goes against this principle. To him, spiritually, no matter what everyone is receiving. And our receiving doesn’t lessen what others receive. And what’s more, we’re becoming rich from someone’s poverty. We get rich from the poverty of someone else? Of course, not just anyone, but Christ…
Through Christ’s poverty you become rich
Receiving grace by receiving
Receiving grace by giving
The Macedonian churches were made up of a couple of churches Paul started in one region. Two, Philippi and Thessalonica, received letters from Paul included in the New Testament. The other, Berea, is mentioned. Paul is writing this letter to the Corinthians, but he’s using the example of these three churches where people came to faith but were experiencing tribulations. Listen to Paul describe it. “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” Joyful in trial and generous in extreme poverty. Those responses were not tied to their actions. It was all the grace of God. Impoverished churches experiencing trials felt joy from receiving God’s grace. Generosity came from receiving God’s grace. Grace was the gift they received, and it started with receiving grace in the form of tribulations.
Sometimes we’re in the position of the Macedonian churches, tribulation and extreme poverty. Even a little poverty can seem severe. We grumble about our first world problems, the air conditioning going out, the power going off, our cars not working. The money we’ll spend gets spent reluctantly. We find no joy in not having enough money. Only sinful resentment at those who do, those who own property, or those who seem to have no problems. Resentment swells into anger at how unfair it seems. We overlook bad choices in life that led to our situation. When we work at jobs that get us nowhere we lose the desire to be generous. We’re living with paychecks not covering expenses. Now we’re left keeping whatever we have just to pay the grocery bill or the credit card. We complain we’re not even surviving.
It would be spinning my wheels to try and convince you tribulations and poverty are good things from God. Rather Paul reminds you of God’s grace received by receiving 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.” You already know Jesus. It was incredible love that motivated him to bring himself to this world. He wasn’t poor. He is God. Everything is his. But Jesus emptied himself of his riches. Not that he sold everything and lived on the streets. Rather for a time, he did not make full use of all the power and riches he had. He became poor. It led him to the cross.
Grace from God flowed to you as Christ went to the cross. Poor looking yet extremely wealthy, Jesus was man and also God. Emptying himself of riches allowed him to take up your sinfulness. Your poverty and tribulations became his. Your difficulties and bad choices became his. His love did this for your sake. He gives you his grace. You receive grace by receiving what Christ won for you. You can’t claim it, it’s yours. Jesus took your poverty upon himself and you receive his grace back so you have the riches of heaven. You receive this gift from God, but it started out as receiving grace in the form of tribulations and poverty.
The Macedonians were poor. Like so poor, contributing to any offering was not going to happen. Paul said, “they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in
this service to the saints.” Poverty didn’t stop the Macedonians from giving. They considered it a great privilege to give, to participate in the work of the church. No loss for them, just gain. “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping
with God’s will.” The Macedonians received grace from God and by giving they received more grace. That grace was the only thing that could motivate giving like they did.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians hoping to remind them of the same grace from God they had received. He refrained from commanding them to give and take part in the offering. The Corinthians were not in tribulation, not poor, well off in many things. “Just as you
excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in
this grace of giving.” God’s grace motivated and empowered. They received grace from God by giving. That made their giving not something they did. Like faith, like their incredible abilities in speech and in knowledge, like the love they had for others all were gifts from God, so too giving was a gift to them from God. They received grace by giving.
Tribulations or poverty might not be our challenges right now. That leaves us ready for equality like God talks about. “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.” Our sinful nature won’t stand for that. If we give away we’ll have less. Others who didn’t work as hard will have more. That will hurt us and we won’t do it. We hold what we have. We explain our lack of generosity as helping others learn the value of money. Or we have sinful fear. We might fall on hard times ourselves. Would others lift a finger to help us? If we send help, how can we be sure they’ll help us in return? Or we simply want the rest we’ve earned. Others should be striving to reach our level, not bringing us down to theirs.
God’s love for you in Christ is anything but equality. Treating you fairly would mean hell. But God shows you grace. God loved you. Jesus grants you an abundance. An abundance of love to carry your sins away. An abundance of love to leave nothing for you to save yourself. Grace means you don’t worry about heaven, it’s yours. The inheritance is lined up and ready for you. You belong to God. All the blessings that belong to God’s people, belong to you. Through Christ who took every single one of your worries about money and sins related to giving and he died for them. The burden belongs to Christ and Christ has risen from the dead. That’s God’s grace.
But there is opportunity, just like Paul did for the Corinthians. Time to test the genuineness of your faith. “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God’s grace in your heart compels you to give. The riches of Christ move your heart to be generous and give joyfully. You look for those in need to bless with help. Organizations in your community need your volunteer hours and financial gifts. The lawn here needs those with time to mow it. Flower beds need those with time and energy to pull weeds. The building needs those with time to clean it. Offer your time to these causes. For your hearts who want to give thanks with your finances, seek places to pour out your financial blessings. Our church body has needs at our schools for pastors and teachers. Mission work could use your special contribution. Projects here are coming or already being planned. Trees will be trimmed this week. The building will be painted. The sign will be changed. Still being considered are the sound system, flooring, and lighting. Each of these could be a place for you to show the grace given to you by offering.
See there’s no loss for you. Giving doesn’t mean you have less. Instead of one empty glass and one full, both are full. When one is
poured into the other it overflows. The one poured from is filled just as soon as its poured out. That’s a picture of God’s grace. Your glass is filled with grace through Christ. The glass of others is filled too. When you give, grace is poured out into others. God’s grace abounds. God doesn’t leave you empty. Your faith grows as God pours more grace into you. So by giving you receive grace from God. The more you receive, the more you give. Material goods, money, time, energy, all of it is God’s grace received and ready to give away. Through Christ’s poverty you are rich.