Worship by the Book: Giving

[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. [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. [8] I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. [9] 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. (2 Corinthians 8:1-9 ESV)

Paul is writing to the church at Corinth about the Macedonian churches.. Corinth is situated on an isthmus, between the Adriatic Sea and the Aegean sea with the Mediterranean due south. This is important because as Paul writes to the Corinthians, he mentions the churches of Macedonia, due north. The churches of the region were Berea, Thessalonica and Philippi. These three churches were extremely poor. Rome ravaged these areas and they were stricken with economic poverty as well as spiritual persecution for the believers in these churches.

Corinth, by contrast, was extremely wealthy. Because of its location, after being sacked by Rome was rebuilt by Julius Caesar and it was inhabited and controlled by Rome, but there was a Greek influence here as well as a multiplicity of different cultures that came to this area because the economic conditions were perfect if you were a merchant here. The Corinthian people constructed a road that went across the isthmus so that merchants wouldn’t have to sail all the way around, but could dock their boats in Corinth, transport their goods across the road and get them to the profitable ports in the east. Smart thinking.

Because of the high volume of traffic through the city and the mixing of so many cultures, Corinth was the New York City of the day. Money was everywhere and the mixing of cultures resulted in many different things. Many of you have heard the term Grecco-Roman, which comes from the mixing of Greek and Roman culture which occurred here, in this city. They were very much like modern-day Americans. They loved celebrities, you find Paul confronting them on their obsession with the smooth speech of rhetorical discourse because they would follow people around who had skill in speech, like groupies follow politicians and movie stars around today. While there was an obvious wonder to the cosmopolitan feel of Corinth, there was a dark evil about it as well. The mixing of cultures combined with a high degree of financial prosperity produced a legendary immorality. The term “To Corinthianize” meant, in that culture, to engage in loose, immoral behavior.” Basically, what happens in Corinth stays in Corinth! Into this culture, Paul writes the letter to the church at Corinth. A Church that was trying to impact this culture with the truth of the gospel and he writes in the 8th Chapter of his second letter to them about the way that they handle their finances and we would do well to learn from this letter, as we find ourselves in a similarly wealthy, similarly immoral, similarly celebrity obsessed, similarly culturally affected environment, and we too long to impact our culture with the gospel and we are instructed by God’s Word here. There are eleven points to this message. Buckle up.

  1. The Grace of God is motivation for our giving (1): Paul talks about the grace of God that has been given among the churches in Macedonia, and he uses the Macedonian region for a reason. Remember, Corinth is New York City, right? They have all the money they need, and yet this poor, persecuted region of the world is giving everything they had and Paul sees that as an evidence of the grace of God in them and he uses that as a tool to prod the Corinthian church to evidence the grace of God in them by their giving.
  2. Giving doesn’t end when hard times begin (2)
    1. Joy in Affliction: Affliction (Grapes being squashed!)
      1. Economic
      2. Spiritual (Persecution)
      3. Paul’s commendation of their behavior: 1 Thes. 1:6 (ESV)“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”  2 Thes. 1:4 (ESV) “Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.”
    2. Wealth in Poverty: Jesus commended this behavior himself. Luke 21:1-4 (ESV) Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,  [2] and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  [3] And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.  [4] For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
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