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05.01.16 Selling our Souls 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 Sermon Summary

by on May 2, 2016

The reason the Bible has more verses on money than on faith and prayer combined is because how we manage our money reflects how we manage our lives. Jesus taught that where our treasures are, there our hearts will be also. Hoagy Carmichael reminded us that heart and soul go together. So either our souls belong to God, or we have sold them to someone else.

Summary Points

  • Stewardship: more than money, but money is where it begins
  • Seven Principles of Generosity from 2 Corinthians 8
  • BLOG BONUS! Four Principles of Generosity from Deuteronomy
  • Questions to Ask when Managing Money

This is a message about financial generosity. Only in church circles, do we talk about this using the term “stewardship.” This has the effect of driving down worship attendance on “stewardship Sundays.” It means that non-church people don’t think about money’s relationship to their spiritual lives. But worst of all, it leads church going people to think stewardship only applies to money.

Stewardship works well with money because money can actually be counted and monitored. But the main principle of stewardship—that all things belong to God—applies not only to money, but to our time, our skills, even our bodies. Since all things belong to God, we’re only “managing” them for a time—this is the base definition of “to steward.” Eventually the owner will ask us to give an account of how we managed his belongings—his money and everything else about our lives.

In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul resumes a conversation that has been part of his ministry with the Corinthian churches for at least a year. It has been his custom to collect money from wealthier communities and to distribute it primarily to the poor Jerusalem churches. Titus appears to be the courier of these funds after Paul raises them. In preparing his return to Corinth, Paul writes them about the remarkable practices of the Macedonian churches. In doing so, he gives us seven principles on generosity.

  1. Generosity balances suffering with joy. Paul is impressed with the Macedonian churches, who despite suffering “a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and extreme poverty overflowed to produce a wealth of generosity.” According to Paul, they “begged earnestly for the privilege of sharing in his ministry to the saints.” Regardless of what kind of suffering we may be enduring, being generous allows us to feel some joy—probably because in acting like God, we experience the joyful life of God.
  2. Joyful generosity begins with giving our selves to the Lord first. Paul reports that the Macedonian churches, “gave themselves first to the Lord, and, by the will of God, to us.” In other words, their generosity grew out of their dedication to God. This is why Paul can be so confident in his appeals to the churches for funds: It is completely logical that if someone dedicates their very selves to God, then everything else they have will follow. Paul needs only to ask.
  3. Generosity is our expression of our love for God. Paul doesn’t resort to authoritarianism with the Corinthians: “I am not saying this as a command,” he writes. “But,” he continues, ““I am testing the genuineness of your love against the eagerness of others.” When you love someone, you give to them. The reverse isn’t necessarily the case—gifts don’t always indicate love. But when you truly love someone, you give to them, and the most you can give them is yourself. This fact leads to the fourth principle.
  4. Generosity is an imitation of Christ. On the night before his death, Jesus taught his disciples, “No one has greater love than this, that one lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Paul writes about the “generous act” of Jesus who, though rich, became poor for our sake in the hope that through his poverty, we would become rich. Elsewhere Paul exalts Christ who “emptied himself, taking the form a slave,” because “in humility, he regarded others better than himself. (See Philippians 2:1-11)
  5. Eagerness in giving, not the amount, is the point. Because Paul is primarily concerned that people dedicate themselves to God (principle 2), that they actively love God (principle 3), and that they imitate Christ’s humility (principle 4), he asserts that regardless of the actual amount of a gift, “if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable.” This is why we encourage a “stewardship season” in which we ask people to make financial pledges to the church. It isn’t so that we can set the budget for the coming year. It’s to awaken the desire within the congregation to dedicate themselves to God out of love and imitation to Christ. In a reverse application of Jesus’ teaching, if our hearts are in it, the treasure will follow.
  6. God calls us to be generous with what we have, not what we don’t have. Paul urged the Corinthians to make good on their desire to give, but to do so according to what they have. Those of us who talk with others about giving hear things like: “I’ll start giving when . . . I get a raise . . . I pay off the car . . . My kid is done with school.” Sometimes past choices we’ve made limit the generosity we can show in the present. We should think about this when making big financial commitments. Even so, we all still have freedom, and we can all choose to be generous, whether it is with $10 or $1,000. God’s judgement begins with our choices, not with the amount. This is how the principles of stewardship and generosity apply to all of us. It’s why Jesus commends the widow who gave only 2 coins. In God’s eyes, she gave more than anyone else. She was generous with what she had, not with what she didn’t have.
  7. God’s providence has built in a “fair balance” between abundance and need. Paul urges the Corinthians in their financial abundance to contribute to the financial need of the Jerusalem church. But then he lifts up the “abundance” of the Jerusalem church to meet the “need” of the Corinthians. What did the Corinthians need? Paul already extolls them for excelling in faith, speech, knowledge, eagerness, and love. But in the economy of God’s kingdom, Paul says, the rich have a need to give. This “fair balance” is evidence of God’s presence. It’s also evidence of the truth of Christianity. In the church, at least (if not the world), there should be none in need. If there are some among us living in need, it is because there are some among us living beyond our need.

BLOG BONUS: Principles of Generosity from Deuteronomy

In worship we heard also from Deuteronomy. Here are some thoughts arising from this passage.

  1. God blesses (and commands) the “start over.” In this passage God requires all financial and agricultural debts be forgiven every seven years. The word for “remission” of debts is the same as “lie fallow” in Exodus 23, where God requires farming to pause in the seventh year. There, the land starts over. Here, those in debt start over. God is against perpetual work and poverty. It is slavery in God’s eyes, which is why the God of Exodus and the Father of Jesus requires those of us who have been freed from slavery and sin to work to liberate others. Far reaching consequences here . . .
  2. God’s blessing some with abundance is intended to bless others. This passage says, “When God has blessed you, you will lend to nations.” Those with means are to share, not hoard. This is to glorify God. Whatever the scale of abundance—financial, natural resources, talent—it is intended to bless others. This is as true for individuals as it is for nations.
  3. Generosity shown to those in need leads to greater blessing upon those who share. Deuteronomy, in its characteristic obedience-blessing formula, says “Give liberally and ungrudgingly, and the Lord will bless you.” In Deuteronomy, the blessing probably refers to greater resources. More universally, the blessing could include spiritual peace and joy. Either way, generosity leads to increased blessing.
  4. There will always be someone in need. This is probably the passage Jesus is referring to when he says, “The poor you will always have with you.” (I’m obligated to say this does not mean “so don’t worry about helping them.” In context, it means exactly the opposite: “Since I’m leaving soon, show me generosity now; show it to the poor when I’m gone.”) This means that there is always an opportunity to bless others, to give them a “start over,” and to receive a blessing “start over” of our own.

Finally, here are some questions to guide our money managing decisions. As we steward God’s money, which of the options before us . . .

  • Most resembles God as creator? Since we’re made in God’s image, we are creators. How can we manage God’s money in such a way that it creates something? So often our consumer culture encourages disposable living. All that creates is landfills. Is that the best we can do with God’s money?
  • Most resembles Christ as savior? How can we use money in such a way as to expand Christ’s saving activity? How can we heal, give hope, provide for the hungry with God’s money? How can God’s money in our care work for peace?
  • Is most humanizing of others? How does the way we use money increase the dignity of people? Of laborers? Of children? Of families?
  • Best provides for future generations? God is already present to the future generations. God provides for them through our choices. Will they experience deprivation (and blame God for it) because of our bad choices today?
  • Glorifies God before ALL people, not just those we assume are “chosen.” Ancient Israel was blessed to bless the nations. This is the calling of all who consider themselves God’s people. If our use of money benefits only us, we’re short-changing God.
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