Finish the Work

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2 Corinthians 8:1-15

INTRODUCTION: Please open your Bibles with me to 2 Corinthians 8:1-15. Today is the day we officially kick off our pledge campaign to pay off the mortgage on the sanctuary. We are very excited to be this close, and we are praying that God will help us to meet our goal. We don’t talk a lot about money in this church, so if this is your first time here, I don’t want you to think we do this every Sunday. But I felt it was important as we begin this project, that we look at God’s Word together and see what the Bible says about giving and especially about giving towards a major project like this. (Read 2 Corinthians 8:10-11 and pray.)

In our passage this morning Paul is writing to the Corinthian church about a project that they started which was now nearing completion. Paul was taking up a collection for the believers in Jerusalem, and he was going around to all the churches he had previously planted and asking them to participate. It was a major fundraising project.

And in writing to the Corinthians he shares with them some very important principles when it comes to this whole matter of Biblical giving. 1) First he shares with them about the grace of giving. 2) Then he shares with them about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. 3) And then finally he ends with some advice about what is best.

These were important principles for the Corinthian church as they were giving towards a major project, and they are important principles for us today as we consider our giving towards this project that we believe the Lord has laid before us. So let us take a look at each of these three principles in turn.

I. The grace of giving (1-7)

First of all, the grace of giving. The Bible doesn’t look at giving as a burden or even so much as an obligation, but rather as an opportunity. It is an opportunity to extend grace to each other even as God extended grace to us through his Son. But in order to transform your giving from a burden or obligation into a channel of grace and blessing you must do three things.

   A. Give sacrificially to the needs of others (1-4)

First you must give sacrificially to the needs of others. Look at verses 1-4:

“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.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-4)

Paul is writing to the Corinthian church, and as he writes to them he shares with them about the example of the Macedonian churches and their giving. And what an amazing example it is! They had all sorts of excuses not to give to this project for the believers in Jerusalem. For one thing they were under severe persecution for their faith. It would have been easy to say: “Hey, we can’t really give right now. We’ve got enough problems of our own.” They were also extremely poor. They didn’t have a whole lot to give. They could have responded: “Hey, we need someone to give to us. We shouldn’t be the ones giving to others.”

And yet what happened when God gave them the opportunity to give? They were so full of joy in Christ that their joy welled up and overflowed into generosity. They didn’t have much, but they gave what they could. In fact, they gave beyond what they could. They gave sacrificially. This was not in response to any pressure from Paul or anyone else. Entirely on their own they pleaded for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.

Please understand this was a sacrifice for them. They willingly went without so that others might benefit. And they were filled with joy in the process. If you want to transform your giving from a burden to a blessing, first of all you must give sacrificially to the needs of others.

   B. Give yourself first to the Lord (5)

Secondly you must give yourself first to the Lord. Look at verse 5. Paul writes: “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 8:5) If you want to experience the grace of giving, you must give yourself first to the Lord.

So what does it mean to give yourself first to the Lord? First of all, it means that God is more important to you than anything else in the world. The first commandment puts it plainly. God says: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) God must be first and only in your life. He is your highest treasure, your first priority, and the deepest desire of your heart.

Secondly it means that your giving is an act of worship. You don’t simply give money to a project or the church. You give yourself first to God. As Paul writes in Romans 12, you “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1)

And then thirdly, it means you pray before you give. Before you ever write out a check, you give yourself first to the Lord in prayer and you ask him what you should give. “Lord, what would you have me give to you out of my income? What should I give as my regular offering? What should I give towards this special offering?” You pray about it first, and then you give as God directs. And that one simple act will completely transform your giving from an obligation into an act of grace.

   C. Learn to excel in this grace of giving (6-7)

How do you turn your giving from a burden into a blessing? Give sacrificially to the needs of others. Make sure you give yourself first to the Lord. And then thirdly you must learn to excel in this grace of giving. Look at verses 6-7:

“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.” (2 Corinthians 8:6-7)

It’s not easy to give sacrificially to the needs of others. If it were, more of us would be doing it! It’s something you need to work at. So Paul urges Titus, one of his fellow workers who was there at the start of God’s grace in their lives, to bring this new act of grace to completion, this grace of giving. The Corinthians were already excelling at a number of other things: faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, and a deep love for Paul and his team. But now Paul urges them to excel in this grace of giving.

There are certain things that you excel at in your life. Some of you are good at music; some of you are good at languages; some of you are good at a specific skill or sport; some of you are good at math. How did you get that way? You had to work at it. And in the same way you need to work at this whole area of giving.

How do you transform your giving from a burden to a blessing? How do you transform your giving from an obligation to an act of grace? These three things: 1) Give sacrificially to the needs of others. 2) Make sure you give yourself first to the Lord. And then 3) Learn to excel in this grace of giving.

II. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (8-9)

And then Paul moves on from the grace of giving to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. And he does this because the two are connected. The grace we extend to others is a response to the grace we have received from God. God’s grace comes first, and then our grace is always a response to his grace. So what does Paul say in these verses about the grace of our Lord Jesus? Two things:

   A. Your giving reflects the sincerity of your love (8)

First of all, your giving reflects the sincerity of your love. Look at verse 8 with me: “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” (2 Corinthians 8:8) Paul was not commanding them to give, although as an apostle I suppose he could have. No, Paul was giving them an opportunity to give so that he could test the sincerity of their love by comparing it with the earnestness of others – for example, those poor Macedonian churches who because of their love for God and joy in their salvation were giving sacrificially to the needs of others.

This may be a hard truth for us to hear, but it is unmistakably true. Your giving reflects the sincerity of your love. If you say you love God and others, and yet you don’t give to God and others, what does that say about how sincere you are in that love?

Let me give you an example. Can you imagine if John 3:16 read this way? “For God so loved the world, he gave … nothing.” What would that say about God’s love? Or “For God so loved the world he gave … a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup.” God owns the whole universe, and if that were the extent of God’s giving, you would probably doubt the sincerity of his love for you.

But what does John 3:16 actually say? “For God so loved the world, he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Okay, now you know that God really loves you. He gave his own Son to die for you on the cross. Now you know the sincerity of God’s love.

Well in the same way your giving reflects the sincerity of your love. Generous giving equals generous love. Stingy giving equals stingy love. It is a tough truth to swallow, but an important principle to understand.

   B. Jesus was rich yet for your sake became poor (9)

And then Paul gives us the example of Jesus. Look at verse 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 8:9)

When it comes to the grace of giving, Jesus is the ultimate example because he made the ultimate sacrifice. We had a great need. We were sinners in need of a Savior, and Jesus left the riches of heaven and came to earth to die for our sins. Jesus was the richest of all, and he became the poorest of all. He gave up heaven; he gave up his rights as God; he gave up his life. He gave up everything for you and me. As the hymn says: “He emptied himself of all but love.”

And why did he who was rich become poor? So that we who were poor might become rich! So that we might become rich in mercy, rich in forgiveness, rich in grace. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus was rich yet for your sake he became poor.

How do you know God loves you? He sent his Son. How do you know if you love God and others? Your giving reflects the sincerity of your love. Jesus was rich, yet for your sake he became poor.

III. Advice about what is best (10-15)

We have looked at the grace of giving, and we have looked at the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, Paul shares with us some advice about what is best. And his advice is threefold: 1) Finish what was started. 2) Let each one give according to their means. And 3) The blessing you give to others will return to you. So let’s look at each of these three pieces of advice in turn.

   A. Finish what was started (10-11)

First of all, we should finish what was started. Look at verses 10-11:

“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.” (2 Corinthians 8:10-11)

The Corinthians had been the first to contribute to this project when it started. They were the first to give and even the first to have the desire to give. It would have been easy for them to say, “We already did our part. Now it’s someone else’s turn.” But Paul encourages them to have a different attitude. They should take that eager willingness they showed at the start of the project and now match it with their desire to bring the project to completion.

The same applies to us today. Sometimes we have a lot of enthusiasm at the beginning of a project and then not so much when it comes to the end. In any marathon the last mile is always the hardest. It would be easy to say we already did our part and now it’s someone else’s turn. But if the project was worthy to begin, it is also worthy to complete. Paul’s first piece of advice about what is best? We should finish what was started.

   B. Let each one give according to their means (11-12)

His second piece of advice is this: Let each one give according to their means. Look at verses 11-12: “Now finish the work … according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Corinthians 8:11-12)

This is a very sensible piece of advice. You can’t give what you don’t have, but each of us can give from what we do have. Those who have little are not able to give as much as those who have a lot, and those who have a lot are able to give far more than those who have a little. And God says that’s okay, that’s actually the way it should be.

The key phrase here is: “Let each one.” We find this phrase in Paul’s similar instructions for giving in 1 Corinthians 16:

“Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)

There’s that phrase “each one” again. And notice Paul also says “in keeping with your income.” The biblical principle here is not equal contributions but equal participation. In other words, everyone can give something, and so let each one give what they can according to their means. Paul even encourages them to plan out their giving, setting something aside each week so that when they come to the end of the project, all the funds will be in place and no additional collections will need to be made.

Each one is to practice generous, sacrificial giving that is a reflection of our love for God and others. But that giving will look different for each person according to their means. For some people a small amount will be a great sacrifice, and for another person a much larger amount may not be a sacrifice at all. So the amount will be different for each person. That’s Paul’s second piece of advice about what is best: Let each one give according to their means.

   C. The blessing you give to others will return to you (13-15)

And then Paul’s third piece of advice is this: The blessing you give to others will return to you. Look at verses 13-15:

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 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, 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 8:13-15)

There is a divine cycle in God’s economy where no blessing ever goes unnoticed or unrewarded. When we give to the needs of others we are taking from our own reserves. But God says in the future those reserves will be replenished, perhaps by the very people in whom we invested.

We have to be careful that we don’t slip into some sort of prosperity teaching here, that the more you give, the more you get. And that should certainly not be our motivation for giving. But there is truth to the matter that when you invest in other people and give to their needs, that God will always reward that in his time and in his way.

People whom you don’t know gave towards our first sanctuary many years ago, and we have all reaped the benefit of their giving. Many of those who gave have since died but their work lives on. Now as we give towards the paying off of this sanctuary, we too are investing in the future needs of people that we may never even meet in this life. But rest assured, the blessing you give to others will return to you in some way. You can never outgive God.

CONCLUSION: Our passage this morning has taught us some valuable principles when it comes to giving to God’s work. The first thing we’ve learned is that in order to turn your giving from a burden to a blessing, from the obligation of giving to the grace of giving you must do three things: you must give sacrificially to the needs of others. You must give yourself first to the Lord. And then thirdly you must learn to excel in this grace of giving.

Next we need to learn from the example of Jesus. When you look at the grace of our Lord Jesus, you should realize two things: Your giving reflects the sincerity of your love. Jesus was rich yet for your sake became poor.

And then finally we should follow the godly advice that Paul lays out for us at the end of this passage. We should finish what was started. Let each one give according to their means. Know that the blessing you give to others will return to you.

We started the work of saving for this sanctuary back in the 1990’s. Throughout the 2000’s we saved some more, and then we built this beautiful building for God’s glory and the spread of the gospel. Now it is time to finish the work. Let us pray.

© Ray Fowler

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