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Second Corinthians

Self Sacrifice

2 Corinthians 8

It is a curious thing about the twentieth century American: he has nothing to live for. We have everything to live with - and a great reluctance to part with it. We cannot understand the "fanatic" who would part with everything he owns for the sake of "the cause," whatever cause it might be. There is a yearning for self sacrifice - and no cause worthy of it. Modern man assumes this to be mental illness, and prescribes the old Roman remedy - bread and circuses. Paul assumes this the normal state of man, and sets about encouraging it. In the very first verse, he makes the key connection: their self sacrifice is from the grace of God.

 

 

 

The Macedonian Example

 

{8:1} And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. {2} Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. {3} For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, {4} they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. {5} And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 8:15 (NIV)

 

There is almost a mathematical absurdity to our minds here:

 

Severe trial

+ Overflowing joy

+ Extreme poverty

============

Rich Generosity

 

This is the example of the Macedonians. As example, we can but point out some unusual (to our minds) characteristics:

 

 

They asked to give. Paul did not come to them, asking for a gift to support the Mother Church of Jerusalem. They heard the story of how the Christians in that most bigoted of towns had been thrown into poverty by their exclusion from Jewish business circles as a result of their faith, and they asked for permission to help. Paul didn't ask them (and, by the way, he didn't ask the Corinthians either. They came with the idea themselves).

 

They gave "beyond their ability." They did not give out of their wealth but out of their poverty. One can almost picture the widow's mite. If you have ever been on the receiving end of this, you know its impact.

 

They gave themselves to God first. "They did not do as we expected..." Paul was thinking that he would have to persuade them to give. He would probably have cited the need of the mother church, the support of the Apostles themselves, the great mission of converting the Jews, God's chosen people, and so on. He did not have to. The Macedonians gave themselves to God first - and the rest followed as day follows night. How often the preacher or teacher views "Giving" as the toughest topic - when in fact he is preaching a result, not a cause.

 

We have a gentleman in our class (Steve Carr) whose task it is to go out and raise money for Pacific Christian College. He employs a variety of arguments, such as-

* Use matching gifts, it's good stewardship

* Look at all the good the college does for the church

* Remember your days at PCC

How much easier it would be for him if, like the Macedonians, Christians gave themselves wholeheartedly to the Lord! What a different job it would be if he were restraining some Christians from giving, so that others might have the privilege!

 

The great test of love is this: What phrase, composed of "three little words, eight little letters," truly expresses love? MAY I HELP?

 

 

Encouraging the Body of Christ

 

Paul now proceeds from example (of the Macedonians) to practical encouragement of self sacrifice. He does this in a number of ways, shown here:

 

{6} So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. {7} But just as you excel in everything‑‑in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us ‑‑see that you also excel in this grace of giving. {8} I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. {9} For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 8:69 (NIV)

 

He sent a man, not an appeal. Christianity is a group activity. Solo flights, long distance correspondence are not the essentials of the church. If you want to encourage someone, send someone to encourage.

 

He used their own example. He points out how well they do in other things - and simply encourages them to be consistent in this too. (Even then we see a reluctance to "put your money where your mouth is.")

 

He shuns commandment. "Forced generosity" is an oxymoron. What is wanted is the spirit of the matter - the heart - for God sees the heart. When I want my child to clean her room, I must decide whether I want

a) just the room cleaned - in which case I could rent a bulldozer and do it myself.

b) her to clean the room - in which case I need only a bullwhip and time.

c) her to want to clean her room - which, at present, will require a miracle.

 

He cites the supreme example - Jesus Christ. David Livingstone, the great missionary to Africa of the nineteenth century, put it this way:

 

People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paying back a small part of the great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind and a bright hope of glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege.

 

Paul understood that too:

 

{7} But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. {8} What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

‑‑ Philippians 3:78 (NIV)

 

 

Barriers to Self Sacrifice

 

Paul is well aware that example and encouragement will sound hollow if the barriers to self sacrifice are not removed. He identifies some of these in this next session:

 

{10} And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. {11} Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. {12} For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. {13} Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. {14} At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, {15} as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little." ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 8:1015 (NIV)

 

Some of these barriers, shown here, are

 

The untrained will. The Corinthians were eager, but undisciplined. They were the first to give and to have the desire - but they didn't follow through. We sometimes take that even further. We enjoy the emotional uplift of doing God's well - as we hear the sermon, as we listen to the music, - and then we go away and do nothing. We must train the will to follow through on the encouragement given the heart.

 

Value is by sacrifice, not by dollars. Many of us feel that because others can do so much more, there is no value in the little we can do. A glance at the Widow's Mite should dispel this notion, but we as human beings need the reminder. Paul delivers it here (verse 12).

 

A sense of fairness is required. We must be assured that the needy are indeed just that; and that our gift is not because they are somehow better than us, or more deserving - rather, just the opposite. Our turn may come; we are in this together. What is fairer than brother sharing with brother.

 

Honesty must be demonstrated. It is not sufficient to be honest; it is also necessary to show honesty. Paul goes to great lengths to do just that - which is particularly wise in light of the accusations he mentions . See what he does:

 

{16} I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. {17} For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. {18} And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. {19} What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. {20} We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. {21} For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men. {22} In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. {23} As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. {24} Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it. ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 8:1624 (NIV)

 

Much of the success of Billy Graham's ministry has been the result of the "Modesto Manifesto" - a statement of principles which kept Billy and the money apart. In his long ministry there has been no hint of scandal - because of this principle. See what rewards that has reaped!

 

 

Summary

 

By example, by encouragement, by removing barriers, Paul encourages these early believers to the life of self sacrifice. If your life seems both easy and hollow, is there a lesson here for you? Paul opens the section by declaring what the grace of God has done for the Macedonians. He will do it for you, too.

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