Remember the Poor - a Sermon on 2 Corinthians 8:1-5

22 Jan 2006, Carbondale, IL


There are three topics that you’re not supposed to talk about in church – money, power, and sex. I propose that the modern evangelical church’s silence on these subjects is the reason that Christians get so quickly entangled in the devil’s traps in these three areas, and, since these three topics top the list of what men are naturally interested in, that probably also explains why the majority of churchgoers is women. I realize this can be a minefield, but this morning, I want to tackle the topic of money.

I read a story about a woman who took her two small boys and a daughter to see Peter Pan at the matinee one Saturday afternoon. The tickets were two dollars and fifty cents each. The young daughter watched as the mother pushed ten one dollar bills under the window and received four tickets. The next day the same mother and daughter were at church. When the collection was taken the child saw her mother open her purse, take out a quarter, and put it in the plate as it passed them. The little girl looked up at her mother and in a clear stage whisper which everyone around could hear said, “Mother, church is a lot cheaper than a movie, isn't it?”

It is not my intention to put anyone on a guilt trip for the amount of money you put into the offering plate, and I am not doing this to indirectly hog the whole sermon time to ask for donations to The TentMaker Project. What I want to do instead is just study a passage of scripture and offer some solid, Biblical teaching about money and giving. It is my hope that you will come away edified by a stronger Biblical worldview about money. This morning, I would like to look at six principles of giving that the Apostle Paul gave in the book of 2 Corinthians. But before we step into those six principles, let me start with some historical background. What was going on in Paul’s life when he wrote this book of 2 Corinthians?

Historical Context

After he became a Christian and before he had started his ministry, the Apostle Paul went to Jerusalem to meet with Jesus’ disciples. During that meeting, he laid out his calling to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles and asked for feedback from the disciples. James, Peter, and John supported him fully and had only one exhortation for him in his ministry, and that was to “Remember the poor” (Gal 2:10). Interesting that that was the one thing that the disciples wanted to impress on Paul’s mind, “Remember the poor.”

Now that phrase is a direct quote of Psalm 109:16. Oddly enough it is an imprecatory psalm, calling down curses upon an ungodly man. But Peter had apparently memorized this Psalm because this isn’t the only place he quotes Psalm 109; he also quotes it in Acts 1:20 where he is speaking about Judas and the need for another man to take his place as an disciple. During the fierce persecution of Christians that Saul had carried out a decade or two ago, Peter may well have prayed that very imprecatory psalm against Saul himself! Perhaps Peter reminded Saul to remember the poor so that the imprecations he had prayed would not fall upon Paul after all. Whatever the case, there were poor people in Jerusalem who needed help.

So Paul, made collections for the poor an integral part of his gospel ministry. He was one of the couriers who brought financial aid to Jerusalem collected from the church in Antioch (Acts 11:30). Later on, during his third missionary journey, Paul sent a letter from Ephesus ahead to the Corinthians giving them advance notice that he wanted to take up a collection for the poor from them. They responded with an indication that they would give a large sum of money toward this fund. Paul related this news to the churches in Phillipi and Thessalonica, and they decided to give a big gift to match the Corinthian church. A year later, when he was getting close to leaving Ephesus and actually visiting Corinth, he wrote the letter of Second Corinthians to make sure that all was in order when he arrived. He then arrived in Corinth and during his three months there, took up the collection and also wrote the book of Romans in which he expressed his desire to take up a collection in Rome. He went back to Jerusalem before going to Rome, though, because he wanted to be there for the annual Pentecost celebration. It was this money collected from the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth that he was bringing into the temple in Jerusalem to give to the poor, when the Jews tried to kill him! So, as you can see from a summary of Paul’s life, giving to the poor was an integral part of his gospel ministry.

The example of other church’s giving (8:1-6)

Now the stage is set to study the words of Paul as he wrote the letter of 2 Corinthians, preparing them for making good on their pledge of support for his poor fund, or as he called it “a work of grace.” In chapters 8-9, Paul seeks to motivate the Corinthian church to give. He starts out in chapter 8 verses 1-6 with the example of the Macedonian church and how they gave. These would be churches like Philippi and Thessalonica. It is very appropriate for us to also learn and be motivated by the example of the Macedonian churches outlined in this passage. We can learn from the history of how other churches have given. Here are six points that I have gleaned from it:

1. Giving is a result of God’s Grace to us (v.1)

We wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches” It is against common sense and human nature to give away our assets. We must first experience God’s grace and respond to His grace in our lives. What is God’s grace? It is described further down in verse 9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor to that you, through His poverty might become rich.”

This is describing in economic terms the spiritual reality of what Jesus did. Jesus, the King of the Universe, with the unlimited riches that were his, stripped himself of His glory, humbled Himself, became and human, and died. Why? Because we were poor.

We had lost the treasure that the first man and woman had – a walking and talking relationship with their Creator. In our disobedience and rebellion against our God we had become so bent and twisted and scarred that no matter how much material wealth we could gain, it would never be enough because we did not have the first and greatest treasure of a happy relationship with our Creator.

What’s worse, our Creator had set things up such that it wasn’t enough for us to suffer in our brokenness in life, we also had to die as the ultimate punishment for breaking faith with our Creator-God. The only way to save us from this awful fate was for God to send His own Son to suffer the punishment we deserve and satisfy God’s justice.

Then He could make us rich through a happy relationship with Himself once more, one in which He even promised to enrich us by making us joint-heirs to the glorious riches of the Son of God Himself (Rom. 8:17). That is grace, to take people who deserve to suffer, who deserve to be destroyed, to suffer and die for them, and make them incredibly wealthy children of God instead. Until we realize God’s grace towards us, all our efforts at giving will be feeble. When we are dazzled by God’s grace, it is a powerful motivation to follow Jesus’ example, strip off wealth and enrich others by it.

2. Suffering and giving are related when there is joy in the Lord (v.2)

In the context of “great affliction” - Giving came from “abundance of both JOY and deep POVERTY”

Poverty and persecution are no excuse not to give, in fact, when we face difficulty in the joy of the Lord, it becomes a wonderful context to give! It was in Philippi that Paul was beaten and thrown into prison. Do you think he was the only Christian persecuted there? In Thessalonica, the Jews got so upset at the new Christians that they raised a mob and dragged Jason, Paul’s host, from his home and got him thrown in jail. Then they followed Paul to the next town and chased him right out of the province. Do you think they didn’t continue to make trouble for the new believers in Thessalonica? How much money did they have to come up with to post bail and get Jason out of jail? And yet the Thessalonian church gave generously to Paul’s mercy project for the poor.

There is a true story of two wealthy Christians, a lawyer and a merchant, from America, who happened to be traveling in Korea. One day, they saw in a field by the side of the road a boy pulling a crude plow, while an old man held the handles and directed it. The lawyer was amused, and took a snapshot of the scene. “That's a curious picture! I suppose they are very poor,” he said to the missionary who was interpreter and guide to the party. “Yes,” was the quiet reply. “That is the family of Chi Noui. When the church was being built they were eager to give something to it, but they had no money so they sold their only ox and gave the money to the church. This spring they are pulling the plow themselves.” The lawyer and the businessman by his side were silent for some moments. Then the businessman said, “That must have been a real sacrifice.” “They did not call it that,” said the missionary. “They thought it was fortunate they had an ox to sell.” (pause)

Jesus did not rebuke the widow who gave the two mites (all she had) at the temple treasury. He instead commended her for it. This leads us to the next point:

3. Liberal giving is a wonderful thing (v.3)

Paul calls their gift a “wealth of liberality – they gave according to their ability and beyond” (v.3) Giving is supposed to be generous. We can learn from example of the church in this passage that when we give to the Lord, we should not be chintzy. Paul spells it out later on in Chapter 9 verse 6 “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows generously will also reap generously

Do you want to see little things happen or big things happen? Give accordingly.

4. Giving should not be at all coerced (v.3)

of their own accord” Giving should be Voluntary. Paul elaborates on this also in chapter 9 verse 7 “each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

It is wise to be purposeful rather than impulsive in giving a big gift. “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart.” If you feel obligated to give or have any reservation about giving, don’t bother giving – God loves a cheerful giver! In fact, giving is great fun when it is what you want to do!

In the hymn, “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee,” there is a phrase, “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.” The author of this hymn, Frances Ridley Havergal, did what she sang. In her diary she wrote: “‘Take my silver and my gold’ now means shipping off all my ornaments - including a jewel cabinet which is really fit for a countess - to the Church Missionary Society. I don't think I need to tell you I never packed a box with such pleasure.”

If you have ever given a special gift that is very generous for you, you know the delight which God puts in our hearts over doing it. How many times I have seen that childish grin and the sparkle in the eyes of a donor. It’s fun just to see how much delight they are taking in giving!

5. Giving is a privilege and blessing (v.4)

Eagerly begging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints”

What a radical example the Macedonian church provides for us: pressuring Paul not to leave them out of the opportunity to give. When was the last time you saw lines forming at the Salvation Army bucket, people shoving, desperately hoping that the bucket isn’t too full before they get there, hoping that they get a chance to give before they close for the night? Why aren’t people like that? It’s because they don’t realize how great a blessing it is to give.

Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'“ (Mat 25:34-40)

If we realized how rich are the rewards God gives to those who help the poor, we would be beating down the doors of every opportunity! How desperate are you to hear the words, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom!”

6. Give yourself to the Lord before you give your money to the Lord (v.5)

First gave themselves to the Lord, then to us”

Is what God wants really, your money? Does He have any need for your money? No, what He really wants is you!

Your body, your heart - this is what God wants. He wants you. Give yourself first to Him; the rest will take care of itself.

Just yesterday, I watched a powerful movie called End of the Spear about a man who gave himself to God. His name is Nate Saint. As a young man with little children, He abandoned himself to God and tried to bring the news of God’s grace to a small tribe of naked savages in the Amazon. He did not come out alive, but his son saw that tribe come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. Nate’s buddy, Jim Elliot, who was speared to death along with Nate, wrote in his diary, “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

What do you have to lose?

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