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Sermon from January 31, 2021

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2 Corinthians 8:1-15

  The Apostle Paul was writing to the church in Corinth about a difficult topic – Stewardship. People then, and people still today, hear that word and think, “now the preacher is going to ask us for more money for something.” So, it’s instructive to see how Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, handled this difficult topic and to learn for ourselves what stewardship is all about.

  Right at the top, and scattered through this whole section, Paul makes sure that we know that stewardship is all about grace. He wants the Corinthians and us to see the effect that God’s grace has on our hearts.

  The people in the churches in Macedonia, northern Greece today, were in the same situation as the Corinthians and everyone else on earth. They were born dead in sin, enemies of God, in danger of spending eternity with Satan and his angels. Then, one day, Paul showed up. They didn’t know who he was. They had not asked him to come. He was sent to them by God with the support of the church in Antioch that had a heart for missions. They wanted to give back. He was not well received by many. He was imprisoned in Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica and Berea, but not before he had shared the good news about Jesus with people like Lydia and the Jailer. They, and others, experienced the grace of God. Out of all the people in the world God made sure that they heard about salvation in Jesus. Even when they were not seeking God, he found them. Through the word and baptism, he brought them to know and believe that Jesus Christ, although he was rich, for your sakes became poor, so that you, through his poverty might become rich.

  Who can truly fathom the grace of God? Who can truly fathom giving up your only perfect son and sacrificing him in place of your enemies? Who can truly fathom that Jesus volunteered to leave heaven, set aside using his power as God when he could have used it to become the most famous, richest person who ever lived? Who can truly fathom that he didn’t even use his power to escape the cross, but chose to stay there and take the punishment we deserved so that we could be rich, so that we could share the glory and riches of heaven with him forever?

  The Macedonian Christians marveled at the grace of God that was given to them.  As a result, even in the midst of poverty and trouble they had overflowing joy that showed itself in abundant generosity. They were moved to give back.

  That word generosity has a base meaning of single mindedness. That helps us understand how they could do what they did. Even though they were poor and going through trials and troubles themselves, they pleaded urgently for the gracious privilege of joining in this service to the saints. They begged Paul and Titus to let them participate in a special offering that was being gathered to help others who were poor and going through trials and troubles in Jerusalem. And when Paul said Okay, they gave more than Paul could have imagined possible. They could do this because they were focused on God, on the grace of God, on all that God had done for them. That single minded focus on God and his grace kept them from using their own situation as an excuse. Focusing on the grace that they had received from God produced joy, and trust, and generosity.

  If we find ourselves unmoved by the spiritual and physical needs of others it might be time to examine if we are focusing on ourselves instead of on the grace of God that we have received. We might need a reminder of the fact that Jesus became poor for us so that in him we might become rich. In Jesus we have the riches of heaven. When we focus on the grace that we have received from God the Holy Spirit gives us joy, increases our trust, and moves us to be generous to those with spiritual and physical needs. We see, as the Macedonians did, that we are in a fellowship with believers around the world and that the gifts God has given us, whatever they are, are intended to be used in service to God and to our neighbor, especially those of the household of faith.

  Paul reminds the Corinthians and us that stewardship is an act of faith. Motivated by the grace they had received from God they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us.   

   Stewardship acknowledges that we are not our own, we were bought at a price, purchased for God with the blood of Christ shed on the cross for us. All that we are and all that we have belongs to God. Stewardship says, “I’m yours Lord. Use me and all I have to accomplish your will. Whatever talents you have given me, whatever possessions you have given me the privilege of using, help me to use them in a way that serves you first and serves my neighbor.”

  Paul points out that Stewardship is not a matter of law. If something is done because it is seen as a requirement, or because we think we are going to gain from it, then it is not acceptable to God.  That’s why Paul emphasizes that what he is saying is not a command. If the Corinthians were to participate in the offering for the saints in Jerusalem only because they thought they had to if they wanted to be considered part of the body of Christ, then whatever they gave, whether much or little, would not be acceptable to God. Stewardship is a fruit of faith.

  Paul stresses the importance of eager willingness. In his first letter he told the Corinthians that God loves a cheerful giver. He compliments the Corinthians for being eager and willing to participate in the offering. He reminds them, and us, that when it comes us using our gifts, if the eagerness is there, a gift is acceptable according to what someone has, not according to what he does not have.

  Jesus made this clear when he commented on the offerings that he saw people brining to the temple. He pointed out that the poor widow who only gave a few pennies gave a greater gift than many who were rich and gave only what they thought they could spare. God does not look at the outward appearance. He looks at the heart. If our heart is right, filled with joy and gratitude to God for all he has done for us and for all he has given us, then eagerness and generosity will follow.

  The Bible is very clear. God is to be number one. We are to love and trust in him above all things. That shows itself in the way we take care of the things he has given us, our homes, our cars, the planet. It all belongs to God, it’s just on loan to us, therefore, we want to honor God by taking the best care we can of his things until we have to give them back to him. We show that God is number one in our hearts when we give him and his work our first fruits, not our leftovers. When we set aside a sum of money in keeping with our income for God first and then trust that he will provide for us with whatever is left.

  That’s what we see when the widow did what Elijah asked. She used her last oil and flour to make food for him first. Then God saw to it that her oil and flour didn’t run out. It’s what he promises in Malachi when he challenges his people to test him, to give first to him and see how he opens the flood gates of heaven and protects their crops for them. As Jesus said, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Put God first and trust his promise to provide. If he has already given you Jesus why would he not give you everything else that you need?

  Paul closes by anticipating an objection of the sinful nature. Some in Corinth might ask, “why should we bear their burden? Why should we be burdened just to make life easier for someone else?”

  His answer is, trust God to work it out. Remember the mana in the desert? The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. The mana could not be kept overnight. It would spoil and become inedible. So, if an elderly person wasn’t able to gather much and you had more than you needed for the day, why not share it? God used the mana to teach the people to trust him to provide for them one day at a time, and that, as they did, they could share with each other and meet each other’s needs.

  In this case, the churches in Macedonia and Corinth had the ability to share financial gifts with their brothers and sisters in the faith in Jerusalem. In the past, the generosity and mission zeal of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem and Antioch enabled them to be blessed with the good news of the Gospel. Who knows what the future might hold and what opportunities for sharing might present themselves? God provides different gifts at different times and when we use the gifts God has given us to serve him first and each other in love, there will always be equality. God sees to it that someone has the gifts we need, and we have the gifts someone else needs.

   Guided by the Holy Spirit, Paul reminds us that Stewardship is really all about one thing, focusing on the grace of God that you have been given. Focusing on his grace to you produces joy, and trust, and generosity. It moves you to give yourself to the Lord and to use everything you are and everything you have to serve God in faith, and your neighbor in love so that everyone has all that they need.