God Wants Your Money (II Corinthians 8:1-5)
Topic: Finances/Stewardship Passage: 2 Corinthians 8:1–8:5
God Wants Your Money
II Corinthians 8:1-5
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
April 30th, 2017
I. A Dangerous Statement
Do you want to hear a dangerous statement? God wants your money. God…wants…your money. That’s kind of a dangerous to say, isn’t it…especially in this day and age?
In a culture where every place you turn there seems to be some solicitation or scam, in a culture where every place you turn many people are still struggling to make a living, even after coming out of an economic downturn, it seems dangerous to talk about God wanting your money. But more than that...
In a culture where so-called preachers appear on your television begging you to send money, in a culture where Christian ministries and ministers have been indicted on charges of fraud and embezzlement, and consequently, and understandably, in a culture that often throws stones at the church and declares, “They just want your money!”, it seems like a dangerous statement, doesn't it?
Even here, in a church that believes God is the Creator of all things, and the Sovereign King over His creation, the owner of the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), the All-sufficient One who needs nothing from us, it just seems to be a dangerous thing to say.
But no matter what you think about God and Christians and churches and televangelists and money, it doesn’t change the truth: God wants your money.
The Scriptures have a lot to say about money. Did you know there are well over 2000 verses on money in the Bible? And because it is such a common topic in God's word, we shouldn’t shy away from talking about it, no matter how uncomfortable it can make some of us.
This morning, I’d like to think more about what God’s word teaches us regarding His heart for you (and me) and our money. And I think a passage that can really help us this morning is II Corinthians 8:1-5. Turn with me there (page 967).
II. The Passage: “The Relief of the Saints” (8:1-5)
Now before we read, let me give you a little background here. Acts 11 tells us that a famine (actually several periods of famine) hit the Roman world during the reign of the Emperor Claudius.
Especially hard hit was the region of Judea. Acts 11 goes on to tell us that the new church in Antioch in Syria was quick to respond to this need and sent Paul and Barnabas with a gift of financial assistance.
Galatians 2 reveals that when Paul and Barnabas brought this gift to Jerusalem and talked with church leadership about their ministry among the Gentiles, with non-Jews, Peter and the other leaders in Jerusalem blessed their ministry, but also asked them to “remember the poor”, that is, to let the Gentiles with whom they were working know about the needs in Judea. In Galatians 2:10, Paul says this was the very thing he “was eager to do”.
So this offering from the non-Jewish churches for the poor in Jerusalem, was a project that took several years to complete. There were no wire transfers or PayPal transactions back then. Paul had to make the need known, give the churches time to raise funds, and then return to collect the funds and deliver them at some later date.
But he did all this, not simply to provide physical or financial relief for his fellow Jews in Judea, but more so, because this offering was an incredibly important gesture in terms of relations between the Jews and Gentiles that all confessed Jesus as Lord.
The idea that in Christ, every person was on equal footing before God was a radical idea. But if the Jews could see that their Gentile brothers and sisters had a genuine concern for their well-being, that they were sending a financial gift because of that love, it could go a long way toward fostering unity in this very young movement called Christianity.
So in light of these things, listen to what Paul tells the Corinthians about how God was at work in the churches in Macedonia, a region in northern Greece. This would include the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica. Listen to what he writes:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia,  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.  For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord,  begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (ESV)
What we have here is a beautiful illustration of genuine giving to God’s work. And I think what would be good for us to do this morning is consider what these verses tell us about giving. What can we as followers of Jesus today learn from these Macedonian disciples about giving to God’s work?
Let me suggest that what we discover here are five very important truths about giving. Let’s go back through this passage, verse by verse, and see what we discover:
1. Grace-Inspired Giving (8:1)
First, look again in verse 1 at how Paul describes the incredible giving of the Macedonian churches. He begins by talking about, not their gift, but God’s gift to them: We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia…
God’s grace was at work in these churches. God’s grace was transforming their minds, reordering their priorities, and softening their hearts. Before Paul begins to lift up the Macedonians, he is quick to make sure the glory goes to God and God alone.
If you are to give like the Macedonians gave, God’s grace must be at work in your life.
2. Unconditioned Giving (8:2)
If we move on to verse 2, we quickly realize that God’s grace is the only way we can explain what we read here. Paul writes: 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.
What’s hard to miss here is that the condition of these churches was anything but ideal when it came to the issue of giving. Now it’s not clear if this “severe test of affliction” that we read about was outside persecution. We know from Acts and the letters Paul wrote to both Macedonian churches that they did in fact endure this kind of suffering for their faith.
What is clear is that these churches were characterized by “extreme poverty”. The Greek word translated “extreme” here means “deep” or “down to the depths”. We might say it was “rock-bottom” poverty!
But amazingly, these conditions did not affect their giving. It was unconditioned giving. In fact, Paul says that what they did have in abundance, joy, was combined with their poverty, and that resulted, probably not in an incredible amount of money, but in an incredible amount of generosity.
Paul describes the confidence we can have about our gifts and our giving in the next chapter:
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work… He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
God provided for the Macedonians. As they desired to give, God gave according to their desire.
You see, all of us can give. If anyone had a reasonable excuse to get out of giving, it was these people. But the Macedonian Christians nullified that classic excuse, “Well, I’m just not in a position to give at this time.” They gave for poverty out of their own poverty. And they gave as they suffered severe affliction.
Are we characterized by this kind of unconditioned giving? As move on, we also learn about...
3. Joyful Giving (8:2-4)
But look at what else is there in verse 2; actually it’s an idea that’s fully expressed in verses 2-4. Listen again to those verses:
…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 free will, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints…
Did you hear that? Not only did this church give when their circumstances seemed to prescribe just the opposite, but they gave, not out of an overpowering sense of obligation or pressure from Paul, but they gave freely, with great joy.
Verse 4 even tells us that they were begging…begging earnestly to be a part of this offering.
Can you imagine that? What kind of heart, what kind of perspective must someone have that would lead them to beg for the opportunity to give their money to someone else when they had so little to give?
Paul would go on in chapter 9 to point out that this attitude is the ideal for all followers of Jesus Christ, not just the Macedonians. Chapter 9, verse 7:
Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Notice the two parts of what Paul said in verse 3. He said they gave according to their means. That means they gave proportionally; proportional, corresponding to whatever means they had. The biblical precedent for proportional giving is called the tithe (ten percent).
But Paul also says they gave beyond their means. The Corinthians not only gave proportionally, but on top of that foundation, they also gave lavishly. They understood it is not simply about what you think you have to give, but what you want to give. Sometimes, as we see here in verse 3, this causes one to give beyond their means. “Each one must give as he has made up his mind…” But there's more...
4. Others-Focused Giving (8:4)
But remember what Paul told us in verse 4 about the goal of their giving. They were joyfully and eagerly ready to give, they were …begging us earnestly for the favor…not of giving to some abstract idea or financial concept…No! Paul writes, they were begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints……
They were eager to give so that others could be blessed. It was the need of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem and Judea that stirred their hearts.
But this was more than just a charitable act given to meet a physical need. Listen to what Paul tells us in Romans 15 about this offering:
Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. (15:25-27)
You see, the Macedonians were responding partly in gratitude for the spiritual blessing they received from the Jewish people because of Jesus the Messiah. And in addition to that, Paul goes on the next chapter, II Corinthians 9, to describe how this was more than just a gift to meet physical needs:
For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.
So their giving was making a spiritual impact that would be felt, not simply for the duration of a full stomach, but for all eternity because of the spiritual blessing this material blessing produced.
Now other letters from Paul describe different, more regular needs for which Christians were to give. Philippians 4 tells us the disciples in Macedonia also gave generously to Paul in order to support his ministry of evangelism and church planting. The book of Acts describes how the first Christians gave in order to meet the needs of others in the church, especially those were struggling to care for themselves. I Timothy 5 tells us that pastor-elders who rule well, and excel at preaching and teaching should be financially supported in their work.
And all of these are important aspects of other-focused ministry that will make an eternal impact on the lives of men and women, boys and girls. Are you giving with this eternal mindset? Are your gifts producing thanksgiving and prayers to God?
III. Gospel-Centered Giving (8:5)
Now, all of this sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Giving in spite of adversity and lack. Giving with great joy. Giving in order to bless others physically, but even more, spiritually.
But how in the world does someone get this kind of mindset? How can people like us, who so often worry about money, who so often cling to money, who so often chase after money, who so often mismanage money, who so often waste money, who so often find our security in money, who so often feel we never quite have enough…how can people like us be people like this?
Well, Paul goes on to explain it in verse 5. In light of the Corinthians' example, Paul writes…it was not as we expected [it even surprised Paul], but [here’s the explanation]…they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
The Macedonians only gave with such hope and joy and generosity because they had first given everything they were and everything they had to Jesus Christ in faith. They gave their money to God because God already had their hearts.
And when God had their hearts, they had God’s heart. And when they had God’s heart, they recognized that giving to Paul, that giving to the poor in Judea was giving to God.
So this is why it is perfectly right to say that “God wants your money”. Because if God has your money, then it usually confirms that God has what is far more important, that God has what he really wants: your heart. God wants your money, because God wants you...all of you.
You see, that to which you give your money in this manner, with eagerness, in spite of circumstances, that is the very thing to which you are giving your heart. What would your checkbook log tell us about to what or to whom you have first given yourself?
When you give yourself to Jesus Christ, you are giving yourself to His priorities. You are giving yourself to the things that matter to God. You have new eyes to see that your money is not simply a tool for your own provision, but a means of blessing. You have new eyes to see the that everything you have actually belongs to God, so that we would be right in correcting ourselves and saying, “God wants HIS money”.
When we give ourselves first to the Lord, we have new eyes to see that what matters most financially is that which causes others to glorify God because of our submission flowing from our confession of the gospel of Christ (II Corinthians 9:13). That is a worthwhile work. That is an eternal work. That is the work of the church.
Are you a grace-inspired giver? Are you an unconditioned giver? Are you a joyful giver? Are you an others-focused giver? You cannot be unless you are first a gospel-centered giver. What does that mean? It means that you first recognize how much God gave. Paul puts it this way a few verses later:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (8:9)
A gospel-centered giver is driven to give because of Jesus’ gift to us, the gift of his life. His poverty was to be spent fully, to give himself for us; to give himself over to an agonizing death on a cross, all because of love. And our response is not to first give our money. The only right response is to respond in like manner, to give him YOUR life. And when we do that, by faith, because of the grace of God, of course we will give our money to His purposes.
We will give our money to that which will help others know the richness of life that comes because of Jesus’ poverty on the cross.
“God wants your money”. God chooses to use money in this world, not first as a means of getting things accomplished. He can send manna from heaven. He doesn’t need a dollar from you to buy bread.
No, he chooses to use money because he chooses to use people in order to extend His blessings. And because He uses people, he uses money to refine us. He uses it as a window into our hearts. What will he see there? What will others see?
The Corinthians were called to continue the very giving in which the Macedonians excelled. And in some sense, we are being called to the very same thing. Is God completing among us this same act of grace?