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2 Corinthians 8:8; Proof of Genuine Love

08/25_2 Corinthians 8:8; Proof of Genuine Love; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190825_2cor8_8.mp3

We are in 2 Corinthians 8, where Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to give generously to the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. He encouraged them with the example of the Macedonians, who begged for the grace and the fellowship of service to the saints. They gave beyond what they were able, out of their extreme poverty in a severe test of affliction their abundance of joy overflowed in a wealth of single-hearted devotion.

He encouraged Titus to return to Corinth to bring to completion this grace in them that he had begun.

He encourages them that as they super-abound in many spiritual gifts, that they should super-abound in this grace also.

Not A Command

In verse 8 he tells them that he is not commanding them.

2 Corinthians 8:8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

Paul wants to make it clear that they are not under compulsion. He is not demanding, he is not commanding. He cannot require of them an act of grace and love or it would no longer be grace. Grace by definition is undeserved, under no obligation or compulsion; freely given. For Paul to command or require them to give would be to move this from an act of grace into a debt or obligation. Paul wants to be clear that this must be from the heart, a true act of grace. As the Macedonians gave of their own accord, so it must also be for the Corinthians; this must be something that they want to do, not something they are feeling pressured into.

Motivated by the Earnestness of Others

It must come from their own heart, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t say anything to them about giving. He is exhorting and encouraging them to participate in this act of grace. But it must remain an act of grace, not turn into guilt or debt or obligation.

Paul is clear this is not a command, but he is using the eagerness of others to motivate them.

2 Corinthians 8:8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

Through the eagerness of others. This is part of the fellowship, part of being in the body of Christ. We are to encourage one another. And when we see the passion, the earnestness of our sisters and brothers, God can use that to ignite an eagerness in us. That is the effect Paul hopes the Macedonians will have on the believers at Corinth. He hopes their joy in the midst of affliction and poverty will spark a similar joy in Jesus and simplicity of affections for him that overflows in extending grace to others.

This is one reason to be involved in missions; whether that means praying or giving or going; when we are connected to others in the body of Christ who are in different places and in different circumstances, their examples can ignite in us a desire to be more singly devoted to Jesus, to be more eager to overflow in spite of our circumstances in joyful generosity, and our joy in Jesus can encourage others.

It is so essential for us to stay connected with others in the body, both near and far, for our spiritual growth, and for theirs.

Proof and Confidence

2 Corinthians 8:8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

This word ‘prove’ means to test and demonstrate genuineness, demonstrate authenticity. It means ‘to prove by testing.’ We read in one of Jesus’ parables (Lk.14:19) that a man had purchased five yoke of oxen, and he said ‘I go to examine them’ or ‘prove them’. He purchased them because he believed they were useful and worth the price. But putting them to the test would demonstrate what they were actually capable of. This is the kind of thing that would be done with precious metals to prove genuineness. It says in 1 Corinthians 3

1 Corinthians 3:12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.

This does not mean that Paul wasn’t sure if they would past the test or not. He doesn’t say ‘to prove whether or not your love is genuine.’ He has already said:

2 Corinthians 7:16 I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.

Knowing and Showing

Paul is confident that they will pass the test, but it needs to be shown. He said in verse 7 that they abound in his love for them. But the genuineness of their love for others needs to be demonstrated.

Jesus said:

John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This is about knowing and showing. Performing acts of love does not make a person genuine; acts of love demonstrate the character of the person, just as apples don’t make the tree an apple tree; apples demonstrate the nature of the tree. Tying apples on a Chinese elm tree would be a lot of work, and may fool some, but it doesn’t change the nature of the tree.

This is about testing, about proving or demonstrating genuineness. Back in 8:2, he said of the Macedonians:

2 Corinthians 8:2 for in a severe test [δοκιμῇ – that’s the root of the word ‘prove’ here] of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

The Macedonians had been tested with affliction, and they passed the test. This is not the only place we see trials linked with proof or tested genuineness.

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials [πειρασμοῖς] of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing [δοκίμιον] of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

1 Peter 1:6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials [πειρασμοῖς], 7 so that the tested genuineness [δοκίμιον]of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested [δοκιμαζομένου] by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Macedonians passed a test of severe affliction and they came through like gold; they put on display the greatness of the grace of God.

Can the Corinthians pass the test in their affluence, in their abundance? That is a different kind of a test, maybe a more difficult test. It seems that those who are destitute can more acutely evaluate what is of greatest worth. Sometimes it is the poorest that are the happiest.

Genuine/Legitimate Love

2 Corinthians 8:8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

What Paul aims to prove is the genuineness of their love. ‘Genuine’ is a word that speaks of legitimacy, specifically in birth. In 1 Timothy 1 and in Titus 1 Paul refers to both Timothy and Titus as his ‘true child in the faith. He is using a term that distinguishes between legitimate and illegitimate children. They are authentic, legitimate children born again through Paul’s proclamation of the gospel. Here in 2 Corinthians 8, he is eager that the Corinthians demonstrate the legitimacy of their love; that their love is not phony; that it is not produced in an illegitimate way, but that it is the genuine fruit of the Spirit of the living God.

Proof of Genuineness in 1 John

2 Corinthians 8:8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

Paul is eager for the Corinthians to prove the legitimacy of their love. How do they do this? He doesn’t command them to obedience; rather he exhorts them to a free act of love. Love, the evidence on display of a genuinely transformed heart.

I want to tie this together with what some other authors of the New Testament are teaching us so we see it clearly.

We started by looking at Jesus’ words recorded in John’s gospel, where he says:

John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Love is the evidence that makes all our speaking, all our serving, all our giving more than just noisy nothingness and clanging emptiness.

John in his first short letter talks about how we know that we know him. He is talking about proof, evidence. Do you want to know that you know him? That’s an important thing, because Jesus himself said that “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord …did we not do many mighty works in your name?’” and he will respond ‘I never knew you; depart from me….’ (Mt.7:22-23). We want to know that we know him. How do we know? What is the evidence? What is the proof? 1 John is talking about proof.

1 John 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. …

John says the evidence of relationship is doing what he says; keeping his commandments, his word. And notice, he says God’s love is perfected in him; it is God’s love in him, not his own love. This love, God’s love, works itself out in keeping his word. It is evidence that we are in him.

He continues:

1 John 2:5…By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

The one commandment that is both an old commandment and an new commandment is love. Love your brother. If you claim to know him, if you claim to be walking in the light, and you don’t keep his commandments, if you don’t love your brother, you’re lying; you’re blind; you don’t know where you’re going. This command, to love, is true in him and in you. First it must be true in him. God shows his love for us in this; that Christ died for us (Rom.5:8). And because it is true in him, because we have been loved by him, it can be true in us; he has given us his love so that we can love.

John goes on in chapter 3 to talk about legitimacy:

1 John 3:10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.

Evidence of being children of God; the legitimacy of our new birth; we know because we love the brothers. And here the rubber meets the road.

1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

This is personal. This is individual. Do you see how he switches from the plural ‘we’ in verse 16 to the singular ‘any one’? This is personal. If you see a real need in your brother, you are not to close your heart against him. Notice again, the focus is on the heart, the affections. This is not guilt and duty. There should be in us as new creations in Christ an inclination to love and serve our brothers or sisters. We are not to selfishly shut that off and close them out of our hearts. The proof happens when I see a brother or sister in need and my heart just naturally (or I should say supernaturally) goes out to them, I want to do something to help them. Not just love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.

James says it this way:

James 2:15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

That is where the Corinthians were at. They had been talking about the collection for some time now. They had at first been eager to fellowship in the service to the saints. Now it was time to turn talk into action.

God’s Love In Us

We looked at Jesus’ statement that it will show; that all people will know that we are following him if we love one another. If we look ahead to John 17, we hear Jesus praying for us in his great high priestly prayer to his Father. He prays for our unity, that we would be one so that the world would believe (v.21). At the end of his prayer, he says:

John 17:26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

This is amazing! Jesus tells us where this love comes from. Jesus prays that God the Father’s trinitarian love for his one and only Son would be in us! This is stunning! He doesn’t ask us to love others out of our own resources. God puts his own love in us so that we can love others with his love, not our own. This is grace!

Remember, it’s grace; it’s the grace of God given to us that creates in us this single-hearted devotion.

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia,

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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August 26, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 8:6-7; Super-Abound in This Grace

08/18_2 Corinthians 8:6-7; Superabound in this Grace; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190818_2cor8_6-7.mp3

Paul in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is talking about giving, about generosity; he is encouraging generosity toward a collection for the poor saints; but he is talking about grace. He frames everything he says about generosity around God’s generosity toward us, about God’s undeserved grace toward sinners through Jesus. This first act of giving, God’s grace toward us grounds and motivates our gracious generosity.

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity [simplicity] on their part. 3 For [they gave] according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor [grace] of taking part [fellowship] in the relief [service] of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also.

Encouragement / Comfort

This passage is full of grace, and it is saturated with encouragement. When Paul says that ‘we urged Titus,’ he uses the same word ‘encourage’ or ‘comfort’ that has been a major theme of this letter.

The opening of the letter points to God’s comfort, God’s encouragement in affliction.

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Just in the last chapter (chapter 7) he said:

2 Corinthians 7:6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.

…13 Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.

Paul was comforted, encouraged by Titus, as Titus was encouraged by the Corinthians. Now Paul encourages Titus to go back to Corinth and finish what he had started there.

[MAP]

Titus has just met Paul in Macedonia. It is sometime around AD 55 or 56. There had trouble in Corinth, so Paul had left Ephesus to cross the Agean and deal with the issues, but his visit was not received well, so he retreated to Ephesus and wrote a painful letter and sent it with Titus to Corinth. He then traveled by land North from Ephesus to Troas, where he expected to meet Titus with news. But Titus didn’t show, so he abandoned an open door for ministry and traveled over to Macedonia, to visit the churches of Philippi and Thessalonica and Berea. There Titus met him and gave him a good report of the grief and repentance of the Corinthians in response to the painful letter. Now he is writing the letter we know as 2 Corinthians and encouraging Titus to take it back to Corinth and to finish what he had started. He wants him to bring to its fulfillment this grace.

The Collection

Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians (AD48) of his meeting with James

Galatians 2:9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

James and Paul and Peter and John were all proclaiming the same message, the same good news about Jesus, Jesus Christ and him crucified. That is the right gospel, only be sure the gospel moves out from what you say into what you do. Belief must work itself out in action. Only they asked us to remember the poor, and that Paul was already eager to do. Around this time, in Acts 11 [AD 45-47] there was:

Acts 11:28 …a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Some years later Paul is taking another collection. Paul gives instructions for this collection in 1 Corinthians 16 [AD 53-55]. Apparently he had already made them aware of this before the writing of 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 16:1 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift [grace] to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

It appears that Titus during his recent visit had made a beginning at this collection. Paul is now encouraging him, just as you began before, thus also bring it to completion. Notice what he calls it; this grace. The ability to give is a gift; it is grace. It is not deserved or earned.

We are first and fundamentally receivers. Every good thing comes from God. He is the source of all good. To give is a gift, it is grace.

Superabounding

Paul has encouraged Titus to complete among them this grace, and now gives a word of encouragement to the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 8:7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also.

Just as in all things you superabound. Faith, speech, knowledge. Back in the beginning of 1 Corinthians 1 he says:

1 Corinthians 1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—

Paul thanked God that by God’s grace, they had been enriched in all speech and all knowledge. Speech and knowledge are gifts of God’s grace. But he also warns them in 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

All speech and all knowledge are good gifts, so long as they are exercised in love. Here he also commends their faith. He commends their eagerness or earnestness. He said in

2 Corinthians 7:11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you,…

12 …I wrote to you, …in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.

His sorrowful letter produced in them an earnestness for the apostle just as he had hoped. And now he commends them for it.

You superabound in our love for you. It seems odd to include in a list of their excellencies the apostle’s love for the Corinthians, and this unusual expression has likely led to the variant reading in the manuscripts which reads ‘your love for us,’ which would seem to fit the context better. Literally the phrase reads ‘the out of us into you love’; and some have translated this ‘the love we aroused or inspired among you’ [WBC, p.259; BECNT, p.403]. Paul had said in 6:11-12 that ‘our heart is wide open …you are restricted in your own affections’. It could be that Paul is acknowledging and praising an opening of their hearts to him in response to his severe letter, or it could be that he is highlighting the fact that they hold a special place in his own heart, as he has communicated to them many times already in this letter.

Regardless of how we read it, the point he is making is clear. You are extraordinarily gifted by God; you superabound in everything; be sure you superabound also in this grace.

This Grace

God’s grace produced in the Macedonians a superabundance of joy in the midst of their afflictions, according to verse 2. Paul is inviting the Corinthians to superabound in this grace also. It is worth looking back at these verses, at this grace.

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity [simplicity] on their part. 3 For [they gave] according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor [grace] of taking part [fellowship] in the relief [service] of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

God’s grace created an abundance of joy in spite of affliction and deep poverty, and their joy overflowed in a wealth of single-hearted devotion to Christ; they begged for the grace and fellowship of service to the saints. God’s grace came in, and it created a simplicity of affections for Jesus that overflowed in joyful eagerness to serve others. Ministering to others is gift, it is grace; and it is communion, fellowship.

Not About Amount

It is important to see that Paul is not telling the Corinthians to compete with the Macedonians in how much they give. The Corinthians were much more affluent, so they likely could have easily outgiven them in amount. But that is not the focus, so he carefully chooses his language to make sure they don’t fall into that trap. He is looking at their hearts. He wants the grace of God to be experienced by them in such a way that it wells up in a joy in Jesus which spontaneously overflows in service to others. Paul’s aim is never simply to raise more money for his project regardless of where it comes from or how it is given. He cares more about the hearts of the givers than he does about the gift itself.

Grace and Love

This is not much different from what he says in 1 Corinthians 13. You can have all wisdom, all knowledge, all faith, you might even give away all that you have, but without love, it is all nothing. Nothing! Love is essential. First, love from God. We only can love because he first loved us. And love freely received from God spills over into love toward others. Do you see how this is the same? After describing love in 1 Corinthians 13, he says

1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts…
…12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

He exhorts them to excel, to strive to superabound in building up the church; overflow in loving service to others. It is not only what you do, but why you do it. Is the motive to build yourself up, to make yourself look good, to impress others? Or is it to stoop low so you can build others up, to use your gifts to serve others for their good? To build up the church?

In the very next verse here in 2 Corinthians 8:8 he will connect this overflow of grace with love for others; as an expression and a proof of love.

Do you love? Have you experienced grace? This is rubber meets the road Christianity. This is what following Jesus looks like. It looks like God’s gift of grace poured out into a person that so transforms them that they are eager to serve others, to extend grace to others, to freely give of themselves, first to the Lord, and then to the Lord’s work in the lives of people. Is this what your life is shaped like? Does the love of Christ compel you? Constrain you to live no longer for self, but for others?

2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

August 19, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 8:5; Give Yourself First to the Lord

08/11_2 Corinthians 8:5; Give Yourself First To The Lord; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190811_2cor8_5.mp3

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

Review

Paul is talking about giving. He is encouraging the Corinthians to give generously. But he avoids using the word ‘giving’ or ‘collection’ or ‘offering’; instead he fixes our attention on the grace of God given. God is the giver. It is God’s gift of grace that necessarily precedes and motivates any acceptable giving. We love because he first loved us (1Jn.4:19); we give because he is the supreme giver and first gave freely of himself to us.

God’s grace was given and this was evidenced in the overflow of a wealth of generosity. Generosity is an interpretive translation based on the context; literally it ‘superabounded in the riches of their simplicity’. Simplicity is a word Paul uses to describe single-hearted devotion to Christ in contrast to double-minded or divided affections. God’s undeserved grace poured out on the Macedonians ignited in them single-hearted affections for the Lord, and this spilled over in an urgency to extend grace to others. They begged for the grace and the fellowship of the ministry to the saints.

This service, this ministry was a grace; it was ‘favor;’ it was undeserved. They didn’t earn the ability to serve others; it was given to them. First of all it was grace to them. Then it welled up into grace from them. It was grace in that they gave freely, not under compulsion. They were eager for the opportunity. They were not the originators of the grace, but they were a channel; they passed it on to others. Freely they had received; freely they gave (Mt.10:8).

This ministry was grace and it was also fellowship; it was communion. They were ‘taking part;’ it connected them to the community of faith; to other believers; to the saints. They were eager for the connection, for the fellowship that bearing one another’s burdens created. They were eager for connection with the wider body of Christ.

Paul is holding up the Macedonians as an example, but not primarily an example of giving or generosity. They got grace; they did not receive grace in vain; it changed them. God’s undeserved grace freely given to them ignited in them a single-hearted affection for the Lord, and an eagerness to extend grace and fellowship in service to others. They understood that following Jesus was costly; they were in a severe test of affliction. They were in the depths of poverty. And yet in the midst of those circumstances, God’s grace created in them an unquenchable overflow of joy in Jesus. This is what Paul is eager to see formed in the Corinthians, and in us. He is after not our money but our hearts. What we do with our money is merely an outward indicator of where our affections are.

Given to the Lord

Their single-hearted service was according to their power, even beyond their ability.

Look at verse 5. And not according to what we had hoped; but their own selves they gave first to the Lord and to us by the will of God.

They gave. This passage is about giving, and this verse says that they gave. But it doesn’t say that they gave their money, their resources. It says they gave more. Themselves – that’s emphatic – their own selves they gave.

1 Corinthians 6:19 …You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

They gave themselves first to the Lord. ‘First’ doesn’t mean only first in time. It means first in importance. Most importantly they gave themselves to the Lord. What does that mean? How do you give yourself to the Lord? We use those words, but what exactly does it mean? What does it look like to give yourself to the Lord?

You Are Not Your Own

You are not your own. You were bought with a price. God owns you. He paid dearly for you. Romans 7:4 says that ‘you died …so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead.’ How does one give oneself to the Lord if you already belong to him? Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 6 is helpful here

1 Corinthians 6:19 …You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

He tells them what is true. As believers in Jesus, they belong to him. They are under new ownership. They were bought. His exhortation is based on their identity. Therefore, because of whose you are, live consistent with your new identity, your new ownership. Because you are owned by God, you should seek to glorify God in your body. He uses this again as a foundation for his argument in the next chapter:

1 Corinthians 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.

Because you have a new Master, don’t divide your interests and sign up as a slave of someone else. Live consistent with what is true; be who you are. This is the Christian life. This is what following Jesus looks like. Learn to live in line with your new identity in Christ.

The Macedonians had responded to the call of Jesus when Paul preached the gospel to them, and so they belong to Jesus. And now they are living consistent with who they belong to. They gave themselves first to the Lord.

All You Have Is Not Yours

In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul says:

1 Corinthians 4:7 …What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

We need to remember this. Everything we have is a gift, grace, given to us by a good God.

John 3:27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.

King David wrestled with this question when he was making a collection for the building of the temple in Jerusalem. In 1 Chronicles 29:6 it says:

1 Chronicles 29:6 Then the leaders of fathers’ houses made their freewill offerings, as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and the officers over the king’s work.

Then it says in verse 9:

1 Chronicles 29:9 Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly.

The leaders made freewill offerings. Pay attention to the language here. They had given willingly, with a whole heart, offering freely to the Lord. They were under no compulsion; they were free, they chose to do it, and they did it gladly. It brought them joy to give, and it brought joy to the king. But listen to how David prays in the next verses:

1 Chronicles 29:10 Therefore David blessed the LORD in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. 14 “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.

Do you hear what he is wrestling with? Everything belongs to God. Everything in heaven and in the earth. Riches and honor come from the Lord. Even our strength comes from the Lord. All things come from you. And yet the people are giving freely and willingly of all that is in their power, of all that belongs to God. Who am I? There is this tension between God’s ownership of everything and our ability to give freely, of our own will. How are we able to give willingly when everything we have is yours? You already own everything we have given. It came from you and it belongs to you. How is it then that we can offer it back to you?

He continues:

1 Chronicles 29:16 O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own. 17 I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you.

It is with upright hearts that they freely and willingly and joyously gave. They gave to God what already belonged to God. And God was pleased with their hearts. God tests the hearts of his people by putting in our possession some of what belongs to him. God is pleased when with upright hearts we freely and joyously give back to him what is his.

And then David prays:

1 Chronicles 29:18 O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. 19 Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.”

David understood that even their willingness, the purpose of their hearts, even that was from God. God directs the hearts of his people, so he asks God to ‘keep such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people’. David doesn’t praise the people for their willingness; he praises God for the willingness of the people, and he asks God to maintain and sustain their joyful generosity.

This is grace! God first freely gives to us, and his gift ignites a response of joyful generosity in us; a single-hearted simplicity of affection toward him, an eagerness to please him, to extend his grace to others.

Paul here in 2 Corinthians tells us that this is ‘by the will of God.’ ‘Themselves they gave, first to the Lord and to us by the will of God.’ They gave, and they gave by the will of God. The other place we see this phrase is in the opening lines of both his letters to Corinth.

1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus…

2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God

This is the sovereign will of God, calling Paul as his apostle, and Paul gladly responded. Paul recognized the same sovereign purpose of God at work in the Macedonians, as they gladly and single-heartedly gave themselves by the will of God to the Lord and to him in response to the grace of God that had been given to them.

Application

So what does this look like for us? What does it mean to give ourselves first to the Lord? It must start with receiving God’s grace. We can attempt to do things for the Lord and give things to the Lord, but if we haven’t first experienced his grace toward us in Jesus, then it is self-effort and self-righteous performance, and it is actually offensive to God. First we must receive before we can give. We receive his grace, we receive forgiveness through the finished work of Jesus. We receive new life and the gift of the Holy Spirit living inside. In response to God’s free and undeserved grace, we gladly see that all that we have and all that we are come from the Lord and we can eagerly give ourselves back to him.

In the words of Romans 12,

Romans 12:1 …by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

In Colossians 1 he prayed that they would have the spiritual wisdom to know God’s will

Colossians 1:10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20

Acts 20:35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Jesus said:

Matthew 25:35 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, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ …40 …‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

These are some of the ways we can give ourselves first to the Lord. Does Jesus have first place? First priority? Does he have access to all that you have? To all of you?

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

August 11, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 8:1-4; Grace Received and Expressed

08/04_2 Corinthians 8:1-4; Grace Received and Expressed; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190804_2cor8_1-4.mp3

We are in 2 Corinthians 8. Paul takes two chapters here, toward the end of his letter, to address issues of grace. He has used the word ‘grace’ six times so far in this letter, three times in chapter 1, once each in chapters 2, 4, and 6. In these two chapters alone, he will use this word ‘grace’ ten times (even though in our English translations it is not always translated as ‘grace’). He will use it twice more in 2 Corinthians before he is done. Over half of what he says about grace in 2 Corinthians is here in this section.

The Collection For Jerusalem

Anyone who reads these two chapters would agree that Paul is talking about giving. He is talking about a fundraiser. He is collecting money from Gentile believers to bring relief to the poor saints in Jerusalem. He referred to this in Galatians 2:10. He mentioned this in 1 Corinthians 16. He will mention it again in Romans 15. We see it played out in Acts (24:17).

But just as Paul intended to reshape our thinking and understanding of ministry in 2 Corinthians 2-7, that ministry is self-sacrificial service for the good of others, that ministry looks like Jesus in his suffering for others, so he aims to reshape our thinking about giving. He uses the word grace, he uses the word simplicity or singleness, he uses the word fellowship, he uses the word ministry or service, he talks about an expression of love. He even uses words like ‘blessing’ and ‘liturgy’ or a sacred act of worship in chapter 9.

He does use the word gift, but only to point us to God’s grace, God’s gift that has been given to us; and he points to the Macedonians who gave themselves to the Lord.

In 1 Corinthians 16, where he talked about this same issue, he used the word ‘collection’ and ‘collecting’, but even there it was ‘your grace’ that was to be carried to the saints in Jerusalem. By his very choice of words, he is causing us to rethink giving.

Grace Given

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

‘But we make known to you brothers, the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia.’ This is important. There is something we need to pay attention to.

Remember where we are in 2 Corinthians. In chapter 7, Paul picked up his narrative about Titus that he left hanging back in chapter 2. He finally connected with Titus in Macedonia, and God comforted him through Titus, and through the news he brought of the Corinthians’ grief and repentance. God worked a grief in them that produced repentance and salvation. Paul rejoiced over this work of God in them.

Now in chapter 8 he moves his attention to the grace of God given to the Macedonians. Paul rejoices over the work of God in the Corinthians, and he rejoices over the work of God in the Macedonians.

Reciprocal Joy

As we have seen, there is a theme here of reciprocal joy. Titus rejoices over the work of God at Corinth, and Titus’ joy causes Paul to rejoice. And he tells the Corinthians that they brought him joy by bringing Titus joy so that they can join in the rejoicing. There is a communal escalation of joy. We find joy when we rejoice in the joy of another. Now Paul turns our attention to God’s work in Macedonia to further increase our rejoicing.

God’s Grace

‘But we make known to you brothers, the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia.’ God’s grace. This rich word grace; unearned, freely given favor and kindness. In verse 9 he focuses our attention on the grace of our Lord Jesus, who gave himself for us. Grace. Unmerited. Unearned. Undeserved. We had no claim. We could make no demand. Grace is free. Grace is gift, freely given. Romans 4 teaches us that grace is the polar opposite of wages. Wages are owed. They are worked for and earned, and they create debt. Grace is free, unworked for, unearned. There is no obligation. God gave grace in the churches of Macedonia.

This should cause their hearts to sing! We deserved God’s wrath; the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom.6:23). We worked and we earned eternal separation from God. But in the gospel he treats us contrary to what we deserve; he pours out his love on us; he pays an infinite price and adopts us, he treats us as his very own sons and daughters. We have tasted his grace. We have experienced his love. And when we hear that God has given his grace to others, it should cause our hearts to leap! God has freely extended his grace to more sinners! We have more siblings! Enemies overcome, transformed by grace into friends, brought near by the blood of Christ! God is rich in grace, abundant, lavish.

Grace in Affliction

‘But we make known to you brothers, the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in much test of affliction, the superabundance of their joy and the deep depth of their poverty superabounded in the riches of their sincerity,’

The context of this gift of God’s grace is affliction. Pressure. Squeezing. He says they were ‘in a severe test of affliction.’ They were undergoing persecution. They were in the middle of a trial. On Paul’s first visit to Macedonia (Acts 16-17), he and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi and then asked to leave. In Thessalonica, the jealous Jews incited a mob and set the city in an uproar. Not finding Paul, they dragged Jason and some other local believers before the city authorities, accusing them of treason against Caesar, and proclaiming another king, Jesus. Paul and Silas were sent off by night to Berea, but the Jews from Thessalonica followed them there and stirred up the crowds, so Paul was sent off to Athens in Achaia.

Here on his return visit to these churches in Macedonia, Paul writes

2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within.

Paul tasted their affliction when he visited. He doesn’t tells us what kind of persecution they were now suffering but it is described as ‘a severe test of affliction.’ Verse 2 goes on to describe their situation as ‘their extreme poverty,’ literally, ‘their according to depth poverty’. Their poverty was deep. They were down in the depths of poverty.

Transforming Grace

But the grace of God had been given. And God’s grace is transforming grace.

‘that in much test of affliction, the superabundance of their joy and the deep depth of their poverty superabounded in the riches of their sincerity,’

They had a superabundance of joy in the middle of the test of affliction. This is grace. Note carefully that God’s grace is transforming grace, but it doesn’t transform their circumstances. We are not told that they were rescued out of the severe test of affliction. God’s grace transformed them. They had superabundance of joy in the middle of the severe test of affliction. God is able to change our circumstances, but he is more interested in transforming us. This is supernatural joy. They were in intense affliction, and their overflow of joy poured into the deep depths of their poverty and a nuclear reaction took place. It exploded out in a superabundance of riches of sincerity. God’s grace transforms the depths of poverty into divine riches, divine wealth.

Simplicity

Paul uses another word, here translated ‘generosity’. Its usual meaning is ‘simplicity’ or ‘sincerity’, literally singleness, in contrast to duplicity or a double-minded or divided heart. Jesus said ‘that the eye is the lamp of the body; if your eye is single your whole body will be full of light (Mt.6:22). He said this in the context of ‘no one can serve two masters’ and ‘do not be anxious about your life’. There must be a single Master and a single focus. There must be a sole aim to please the Lord.

This is a word he had used (probably) back in 1:12

2 Corinthians 1:12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.

Notice there as well, that Paul’s simplicity and sincerity is by the grace of God.

He uses this word ‘simplicity’ or ‘single-mindedness’ here in 8:2, and in 9:11 and 13, and once again in 11:3.

2 Corinthians 11:3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

There is only one Master. There is a single-hearted devotion. ‘In much test of affliction, the superabundance of their joy and the deep depth of their poverty superabounded in the riches of their single-hearted devotion, that according to ability (and I testify) beyond ability voluntarily, with much encouragement begging us the grace and the fellowship of the service to the saints.

God’s gift was expressed in a superabundance of joy in the midst of affliction that struck against the depth of their poverty to spark an explosion of single-hearted devotion to Christ. God’s free gift of grace found expression in their eagerness to graciously give in service to others. God’s grace changes us. God’s grace toward us ignites grace in us toward others. We become eager to show kindness and love to those who don’t deserve it, our brothers, even our enemies.

Do you see the wealth of their singleness of heart? It was voluntary. There was no pressure from Paul. There was the pressure of persecution that helped to focus their affections on Jesus. But there was no pressure, in fact Paul was reluctant to allow them to participate. It was according to their ability, even beyond their ability. They did more than they could. How? Because God’s grace makes things possible that are impossible. They did that which was beyond their power to do. God’s grace enabled them to do it.

Out-Giving God?

I want to be careful here. We are talking about money, giving, and there is a common saying that you can’t out-give God. There is truth to that. But don’t misunderstand that to mean that if you give a dollar that you will get more than a dollar back somehow. That would be duplicitous. I’m going to give not because I just want to give, but because I want to get something in return. There is nothing in this passage that says anything about their situation of poverty changing. It was out of the depths of their poverty that they gave, and that would serve to increase their poverty. They ended up with less money than they started with. When they gave, they weren’t thinking, ‘this is a foolproof scheme to manipulate God into giving us money and improving our material situation.’ No, they embraced the fact that they were going to have to get by with less.

But here’s the beautiful thing. It increased their joy. They demonstrated that their joy did not come from their circumstances, from having all their material needs met; their joy came from God. They were recipients of God’s grace! God was more satisfying to them than a shirt on their back or a roof over their head or a meal that would take the edge off their hunger. Their wealth was their single-hearted devotion to God.

Grace Expressed

Paul, it seems, was inclined to discourage their giving. He saw that it was beyond their ability. But with much encouragement they begged us the grace and the fellowship of the service to the saints. We are rightly nauseated by the stereotypical tele-evangelist (rather tele-extortionist) begging people to give. But here the apostle is saying ‘no, you really shouldn’t, it’s beyond your ability’ and they are saying ‘Please, we want the grace, we want the fellowship. We have received God’s grace and it has stirred in our hearts a longing to express that grace in sacrificial service to others. We want the fellowship, the communion, the having things in common with other believers, the bearing one another’s burdens. You can’t deny us the privilege of communion and extending grace!

You see how this connects with the rest of the letter? He started by talking about the comfort or encouragement that God brings to us in our affliction when we share in Christ’s sufferings, Christ’s afflictions.

Here he is talking about money, about generosity and giving, but he is after not our money but our hearts. He is pursuing our single-hearted simplicity of devotion to Christ, a genuine experience of God’s grace, not receiving the grace of God in vain; but an experience of God’s grace that so profoundly changes us, that it must necessarily overflow in joyous generosity, extending grace to others. He is pursuing our connection, our fellowship, our joyful communion with all the saints.

Are you eager for opportunity to live out your fellowship with other believers? Are you eager to extend grace to others? Begging for the opportunity to bear one another’s burdens? Are you willing even to embrace affliction, to increase your own discomfort, in order to lovingly serve others?

This comes from God. This is the overflow of God’s grace given to you. Are you overwhelmed that God has made you a recipient of his grace? Look! Look afresh at God’s grace. Wonder, marvel, be amazed that God would love you! Unearned, undeserved! That God would show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward you in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:7). Receive his grace and be transformed!

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August 4, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment