The Fifth Sunday After Trinity July 11, 2004

INI

Grace Is Not Fair

2 Corinthians 8:1-9,13-14

Scripture Readings

Lamentations 3:22-33
Mark 5:21-24,35-43

Hymns

465, 473, 464, 391

Grace, mercy, and peace be lavished upon you by God our Father and by our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dear Fellow Christians:

One of the most difficult lessons children must learn is that life isn’t always fair. (Many of us are still struggling with this truth as adults.) Children are very big on “fair.” One of their favorite phrases is the dreaded, “That’s not fair!” Parents cringe at the very mention of it. We want to be fair because of course fair is right. It is right to treat all of your children equally, the same limits and rules applying equally to all—sort of.

Children have a way of unsettling our positions by their youthful simplicity. Sometimes their logic is simply confounding. If, for example, a movie has bad language, sex scenes, and violence, how can it be fair to let a brother or sister watch it just because he or she is older? Isn’t it a sin anymore if you are older? The fact that we don’t have a good answer for some of these questions ought to make us rethink our position.

Nevertheless there are some things in life that just aren’t fair in a child’s eyes and never will be. There will always be the bratty neighbor-boy who gets bigger and better presents at Christmas, the stuck-up and self-centered girl in school who always seems to be more popular, and the family that never seems to do anything for anyone else, but always has plenty of money to take a fabulous family vacation.

Sometimes, however, that lack of fairness isn’t all bad. In fact, sometimes it is a bona fide lifesaver. This is the first and greatest lesson of today’s text. The second is that some of the greatest inequities of life are those of our own making. What is more, we have been given the rare opportunity to do something about them.

The text that will guide us in these truths is found in Paul’s Second Letter to the Church at Corinth, the Eighth Chapter:

Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. But as you abound in everything; in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us; see that you abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich…For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack; that there may be equality.

These are the words of God. Trusting that these are indeed the very words of our Holy God, and therefore true and right in all that they teach, so we pray, “Sanctify us through the truth, O Lord. Your word is truth!” Amen.

I.

Dear fellow debtors, have you ever noticed how quick we are to recognize and point out all the ways in which we feel we have been cheated, wronged, or shorted, and yet how dull and slow we are to acknowledge an inequity that happens to be in our favor? You lose your wallet or purse and you find yourself muttering about the sneak who probably found it and helped himself to anything of value. On the other hand if you happen to be the one who finds a wallet or purse, your mind races through the possibilities of just how you might justify keeping what you have found—“finders keepers” and all that. Someone cuts you off in traffic and he’s a jerk. You cut someone else off and its, “I’m sorry but I’m in a hurry here.”

Although we complain about it bitterly and often, today we are going to speak up in defense of unfairness. The fact is we owe our eternal lives to such inequity. Each morning we ought to awaken with a song of thanksgiving upon our lips that our God has not treated us fairly; that is, he has not treated us as we deserved to be treated.

It is an historic fact that any church which fails to carefully define the terms it uses will almost immediately cease to be an orthodox church and will quickly become little more than a social club. Take, for example, the simple word “grace.” What a tangled web of uncertainty is being spun in liberal Lutheranism simply because they have failed to define this term as “the undeserved love of God for sinners.” How do we know that this is the correct definition? God has defined it for us in his Word: “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work(Romans 11:16). In these words God defines grace as that which cannot be earned. It has to be an undeserved gift from God. “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous(Romans 5:18-19).

How often we have heard the expression, “We are saved by grace!” Yet how often do we stop to think just how unfair that really is? If everything in life were fair, we would all be damned eternally. Our salvation is 100% undeserved. God’s Word is very clear on this point. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God(Romans 3:23). We read in Ezekiel, “The soul who sins shall die(Ezekiel 18:20) Fair? Death in Hell for every sinner would have been fair—a just reward for the thoughts and actions we chose in rebellion against our Holy God.

God the Father in his infinite love and mercy chose to carry out the greatest inequity the world will ever know. It is an inequity in our favor! God chose to take His own dear Son and sacrifice Him to pay for the sins of the world. Paul explained this unfairness in this same letter to the Church in Corinth when he wrote: “For He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.(2 Corinthians 5:21). Could you imagine anything less fair, less equitable? Our text puts it this way: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.[v.9] God the Father chose the suffering and death of the only sinless man in the history of the world, rather than the suffering and death of sinful, rebellious, undesirable mankind. Next time we are tempted to complain that life is not fair, we would do well to remind ourselves how fortunate we are that it is not!

II.

Are we then to understand from this that all injustice and unfairness is ultimately good and acceptable? Of course not. Yet it comes as something of a startling revelation to most Christians that some of the greatest and most grievous examples of inequity are a direct result of our own sin and our own selfishness. What is more, we have both the ability and the opportunity to correct many of these bitter examples of unfairness.

It is no great revelation that God has chosen to distribute wealth disproportionately. In other words, God has chosen to make some richer than others. Ever wonder why? The answer is found in our text. See if you can glean the answer from the clues provided in this and other sections of Holy Scripture.

The first clue is the fact that at one point in the early Church God granted an abundance of material goods to the Christians in and around Jerusalem. They were thus able to live as a community, supporting each other and dedicating themselves to deepening their knowledge and understanding of God’s Word. This wealth also enabled them to send men out to outlying areas together with material support as it was needed.

Later, the tables were turned. The Christians in and around Jerusalem suffered great material need, and God supplied that need through converts—those who had been brought to faith through men originally sent out from Jerusalem.

Finally, our text speaks of “…an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack.[v.14] The basic truth about wealth is that God gives it as both an opportunity and as a test. Simply put: “We get it to give it.” God’s intention is that we spend what He has given us in the service of the Gospel—those who have, helping those who need.

On which side do we in this country fall today? Are we the needy or the wealthy? I trust no one among us requires an answer to that question. Even the rather poor among us are wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors. We are blessed beyond the comprehension of a majority of the world’s population still today. Why then have we been given this great wealth?

Our nation seems to believe that we have been blessed with such excess that we might lavish the vast majority of that wealth upon ourselves. Is that God’s plan? Is that why he has blessed us? Again, each one of us knows the answer even without being told.

Note that Paul did not tell the Christians in Corinth what to do with their money. True good works are never forced from the Christian heart by commands. As fruits of the faith within us such deeds flow spontaneously and willingly from the Christian heart. Yet, since we still have that evil side (known as the “Old Adam” or “sinful flesh”), the Christian still needs instruction and guidance. Sin has clouded our understanding of God’s will, which the New Man in us longs to follow without deviation. That is why Paul did not command offerings in our text, but he did instruct us by holding up the Churches of Macedonia as an example. He made this clear when he said, “I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others.[v.8] Macedonia was the yardstick for them and for us.

How then are we measuring up to that group of Christians that “gave according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability”? [v.3] The incredible opportunities that have recently presented themselves in foreign mission fields serve as an excellent means to test ourselves. If you are not familiar with these new and exciting opportunities for the Church of the Lutheran Confession {CLC}, ask your pastor about them. [Editor’s note: Those readers who are not served by a pastor within the CLC and would like to hear more about the opportunities may contact the editor or any other CLC pastor.]

We in the CLC ought to recognize two facts that fit so well together that it is startling. First, we recognize that our Lord has richly blessed us (as individuals, as congregations, and as a synod) with excessive wealth and luxury. Secondly, we recognize that there are millions of souls in India and Africa who lack what we have in excess and our Lord has given us a rare and unique opportunity to lend them life-giving aid at this very moment. Our course of action, again, seems obvious.

We mentioned earlier that we ourselves at times perpetuate some of the most grievous inequities. Could you imagine having no church in which to worship, no Bibles, catechisms, or hymnals to read from, no pastor to serve us, and no means of transportation so that we could attend worship services at a distance? Yet, those are the very conditions in which our brothers in India and Africa find themselves, and we have been given the opportunity to make a life-changing difference in their lives. How will we respond? As the Christians in Macedonia or as self-serving Americans?

God is not demanding, rather He is offering an opportunity. Nor is he calling for oppressive hardship on our part. As Paul said, “For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equity, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack.[vv.13-14] Think of it! Our abundance can supply a lack so profound that it has eternal consequences for thousands, even millions of souls. Thanks be to God for such a blessed opportunity!

No, things aren’t always fair. When we look at our own sins, we thank God that He has not treated us “fairly.” In other areas, however, inequity is opportunity. “Use me personally now in your service I pray, dear Lord, and let me show love in action to my neighbor. Guide me to use every bit of my excess to provide for the needs of my brother, that there may be equality.” Amen.

—Pastor Michael J. Roehl


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