2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27– David mourns for Saul, the glory of Israel, and for Jonathan: Your love to me surpassed the love of women.
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24 – God did not make death. God does not delight in death. Death came into the world through the devil.
Psalm 130– I will exalt you, O LORD, because you have lifted me up. (Ps. 30:1)
Psalm 30– God’s anger is for a moment; his favor for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night but joy comes in the morning.
Lamentations 3:23-33– The steadfast love of the lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning.
2 Corinthians 8:7-15– During a severe ordeal of affliction, the Macedonian’s joy and poverty overflow in a wealth of generosity.
Mark 5:21-43 – Inclusio: Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the 12-year hemorrhage.
Week 4: Eager Generosity
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’
We are in a series on 2 Corinthians. (If you would like sermon ideas on the gospel text check out Pastor Don Carlson’s notes here: July 1, 2012.
Texts and Themes
Don’t Lose Heart
Pentecost 2B: June 3, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 – So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed daily.
Pentecost 3B: June 10, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 – If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. We walk by faith and not by sight, at home in the body and away from the Lord.
Pentecost 4B: June 17, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. We have endured beatings, riots, hunger, imprisonment…
Pentecost 5B: June 24, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – The offering for the poor in Jerusalem. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
Pentecost 6B: July 1, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 – Paul’s out of body experience, and his thorn in the flesh. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
…for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
—2 Corinthians 8:2
Having concluded his appeal for reconciliation and affirmed his confidence in the Corinthian church, he now risks asking them to show their love, their heart, by taking up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul reminds them that they made this commitment a year ago. He now exhorts them to make good on this offering that they already began.
Paul begins by boasting about the Macedonian Church, who gave generously in spite of their poverty. In the kingdom of God even the poor give to the poor. They gave beyond their means. Keeping up with the Joneses was clearly a tactic even two thousand years ago.
As our text begins, Paul butters up the Corinthians by telling them how much they excel in faith, speech, knowledge, and eagerness. He says he is not commanding them, but he makes it clear his is a test of their genuineness. One might interpret this as a test of their integrity. In the second part of his argument, chapter 9, Paul even incorporates a veiled threat that he is going to come down and visit in person to check on them.
This appeal also cements Paul’s argument for reconciliation. If the collection happens, it will solidify the relationship between Paul and the Corinthian church.
Then in verse nine he appeals to Christ’s poverty. Ben Witherington III, in Conflict and Community in Corinth, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, says this may even be a hymn or a creedal formula:
For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich,
yet for your sakes he became poor
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
This does indeed sound like the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2.
This offering will create a sense of indebtedness for the Jerusalem church. It will bond the Jewish Christians and Greek Christians together. Witherington points out that patronage is taken very seriously in antiquity.
When Paul says, “… if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.” He means a gift of any size is acceptable. This should not create a hardship for you. Today we would say, “It’s the thought that counts.” He is calling for fairness. Verse 15 says:
As it is written,
‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’
Compare this to Exodus 16:18 to which Paul is referring: “But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.”
Generosity to the poor is an ongoing theme through the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament. For Paul, generosity is one of the fruits of faith. It is a confirmation that God is at work.
The church always practices generosity. When people say, “The church is always asking for money,” I want to respond, “Yes. Every Sunday. This is who we are.”
What offering is your congregation undertaking on behalf of those in need? How might our generosity test the genuineness of our faith? This might be a good Sunday to launch an appeal for the poor, for world hunger, store for some other cause to benefit others. It is a good week to remember that Christ was rich, but became poor for our sakes.
Tell a story about a time you were surprised or moved by an act of unexpected generosity. Here’s mine.
A few years ago, I booked a flight to Lima, where we work with some partner congregations. I had booked the flight late and ended up having to change planes in Mexico City. I also had a middle seat. I hate the middle seat. I have long legs, but I refuse to foot for a first class seat. I hoped that perhaps one of the folks to my right and left would be absent so I could spread out.
When I got on the plane, there were two huge guys in the window and aisle seats, and they were together. As I made my way down the aisle, I saw that they had soul patches, tats, and piercings. When I arrived at the seat and looked down, they had their arms on the arm rests, and gave me a look that said, “Don’t even think about it.”
I put my stuff in the overhead compartment and squeezed into the middle seat with my hands in my lap. Stuffed between these two big guys I thought, “What would Jesus do?”
So I asked the guy to my left, “Where are you going?” He said, “Me and my buddy work in the Medical Center.” He patted a wad of bills in his pocket. “We’ve been saving up all year to go to Aruba. We’re going to lay on the beach, drink beer, and hunt for women.” Then he asked, “What are you going to do?”
I thought to myself, boy am I going to ruin his day. I said, “Well, I’m going to Lima, Peru with a group of Lutheran Churches from the Houston area. Lima is one of the poorest countries in South America. Half of the people live under the poverty level. We’re going down to visit with these churches and do a Vacation Bible School for 500 children in the heart of Lima. We’ve been saving up too, and this is one of the best weeks of my year.”
I went on, because I’m passionate about it. You don’t want to sit next to me on an airplane. I’m an extrovert. He didn’t say much. He probably got tired of listening and regretted not purchasing the middle seat.
We finally landed in Mexico City. As I got up to leave, he grabbed my elbow and said, “Wait a minute.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wad of bills. One by one, he started putting large bills into my palm. Then he closed my hand and said, with a sober look on his face, “Please use that for those children in Lima.” I did.
Over the years I have reflected on that brief experience. I don’t recall the guy’s name. I’ll most likely never meet him again. I’ll never know what happened in Aruba. I have landed on two conclusions that have stuck with me.
First, never judge people based on how they look. We tend to group people into two groups: good or bad, nice or not nice. Life is more complex than that of course. We’re all full of mixed motives and conflicting choices. Here is this guy going down to Aruba to do God-knows-what, and yet, something inside him has a heart for the things God cares about: the poor, the children, and the vulnerable. He sensed that this was something that was important, something that mattered. Something touched his heart, the stirrings of the Spirit? Where might this lead?
Second, whenever God touches your heart, God also touches your wallet. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The two often track one another. Once this guy’s heart was touched, he instinctively responded with his wallet. No one had to teach him the ten principles of stewardship. He knew what to do. When something matters, you want to be a part of it. Giving is one way we can participate. When the Spirit begins to stir, there is always generosity. Alternately, when there is extravagant generosity, you can be pretty sure the Spirit is as work.