21st Sunday after Pentecost October 22, 2023
2 Corinthians 8:1-12
2 Corinthians 9:1-14
32, 441, Worship Suppplement 2000 #789 (TLH alt. #442), 53
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, all that we possess is from Your loving hand. Give us grace that we may honor You with all we own, always remembering the account we must one day give to Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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.
And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.
Dearly Beloved Fellow Believers,
We sometimes hear about very large gifts that are given to charity. Gifts like these get the attention of the media and make a good story. They are announced with great fanfare and get the attention of the public. People are impressed with these gifts because they are unusually large, sometimes running into millions of dollars.
Jesus once called attention to a gift that He considered extraordinary. But it wasn’t a large gift; quite the opposite, in fact. It was an unusually small gift. It was so small that if the Lord hadn’t called attention to it, no one would have known about it. It was a gift of only two small coins given by a poor widow. Yet Jesus chose to have her gift recorded as a lesson in giving for all of us.
In our text the apostle Paul calls our attention to a similar kind of gift. He doesn’t say how much it was, but it probably wasn’t a lot because it was a collection taken up among people who were very poor. Yet Paul guided by the Holy Spirit makes mentions of this gift here in one of his epistles and uses it as an example to encourage all of us.
By this example of generous giving Paul teaches us “A Lesson in Generosity”. He shows us that it isn’t dependent on how much we have. And he presents generous giving and sharing as a blessing rather than as a burden or a duty.
The large gifts of the wealthy are impressive because of their size. Yet such gifts are usually given at no real sacrifice to the donor. Though the net worth of rich donors is certainly diminished by a gift of millions, they probably do not have to give up anything that will make a difference in their daily living. They won’t have to cut back on the household grocery expenses or move into a smaller house. For this reason, though people are impressed with large donations, they may not be all that impressed. “They have plenty to give. They won’t miss it,” people will say.
It was different for the donors that Paul holds up in our text as an example of generosity. They were the congregations in the region of Macedonia, including the churches in Thessalonica, Philippi, and Berea. The people in these congregations were not rich. They were the very opposite of rich; Paul speaks of “their deep poverty.” Just what their personal circumstances were, we aren’t told, but Paul speaks of “a great trial of affliction;” they had gone through some really hard times. Because of all this, when Paul set about to gather an offering for the poor Christians in Jerusalem, he apparently didn’t think that the Macedonian congregations should even be asked to participate. They were poor themselves; why ask them to participate in an offering for other poor Christians?
But when the Christians in the Macedonian congregations heard about the offering that was being gathered from the Gentile churches, they wanted to be a part of it, even though no one was asking them for anything. “They were freely willing,” Paul says. They took up a collection “according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability.” And then they pleaded with Paul to accept it. We can imagine the scene that Paul describes here: the Macedonians offering the collected money to Paul, while he is reluctant to accept it because he wonders whether they can spare it. Paul finally accepts their offering and is amazed at what they have done.
Again, the sum that they collected and gave to Paul to take to the Christians in Jerusalem was likely not very large, yet Paul marvels at it. And he holds up the Macedonians as an example to the Corinthians and to all Christians. The Macedonians had a generous spirit and gave out of what little they had.
We see that generosity doesn’t have to do with how much we have. It isn’t dependent on what our bank balance is, what our net worth is, or how much we happen to have in our wallet. It is easy for us to excuse ourselves when we are confronted with someone else’s need. “We can’t afford it,” we think to ourselves. “We can’t spare it.” “Someone else should help, someone who has more to spare than we do.” But the important question we should ask ourselves is not how much we can give or share, or whether we can give anything at all. The question is this: do I want to help? Am I willing to share what the Lord has given me? Do I have that generous heart and spirit that Paul observed in the Macedonians? Where does such a spirit come from?
Paul here teaches that generosity is a gift given by the Holy Spirit. He calls it a “grace,” telling the Corinthians, “See that you abound in this grace.” They had started gathering the offering some time before this, but then they had faltered in it. So Paul had sent Titus to encourage them to complete the offering. Paul says that he had urged Titus to “complete this grace” in them.
Generosity is called grace because it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not only a gift of divine grace, an undeserved gift, though it is certainly that. It is also a gift whereby the Spirit gives us the mind of Christ and makes us gracious toward others as He is. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul says, “that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” We see in Christ the virtue of generosity at its highest. He was rich in a way that makes the fortunes of the wealthy of this world as nothing in comparison. He was the Son of God in heaven. The glory of heaven was His. The whole universe was His. But for the sake of us sinners Christ laid all of this aside. He became poor. He humbled Himself even to the death of the cross. His sacrifice was not like that of the rich who give away much but still keep plenty for themselves. Christ on the cross sacrificed everything, even His fellowship with the Father during those hours of darkness on Good Friday. He did this for us, that we through His poverty might become rich. Christ’s purpose in making Himself poor was that we should inherit the kingdom prepared for us (Matthew 25:34). His purpose was that we should be joint heirs with Him of all things (Romans 8:17).
We see from this, then, that for a believer to give to and to share with those who are in need is to be like Christ, to show the love of Christ. It is to take on burdens and obligations that are not our own, as Paul says in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” When He suffered and died on the cross, He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. The crushing weight of our sins was a burden that was not His own, but one that He willingly took from our shoulders and carried for us.
To have the grace of the willingness to give and share is a great blessing, as Jesus taught when He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) When we give—and give from the heart—then we are truly rich. We are behaving as those who know that earthly wealth is not to be hoarded because this world and everything in it is passing away (1 John 2:17). We are behaving as those who know that they are God’s children who will inherit all things together with Christ. May the Holy Spirit teach us this lesson in generosity and give us this grace in abundance. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.