Summary: The example of giving in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 teaches us that giving is an evidence of God's grace in our lives.
Last week I began a new series of messages that I am calling, “Lay Up Treasures in Heaven.”
Jesus once said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21). Our attitude toward money and possessions is a barometer of where our heart is.
In today’s lesson we are going to look an example of giving. It is a fascinating example of an attitude toward money and possessions that shows where the hearts of these givers were.
Let’s read 2 Corinthians 8:1-5:
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. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)
Jesus repeatedly linked money to one’s spiritual condition. Let me share the story of Zacchaeus with you (as I did last week).
Every Sunday school child knows the story of Zacchaeus (in Luke 19:1-10). Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. Zacchaeus lived in Jericho. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.
Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was a “wee little man” (as the Sunday school song says). So Zacchaeus ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Jesus, for he was about to pass by that way.
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).
So Zacchaeus hurried and came down. Jesus evidently confronted Zacchaeus about his sin, and he repented and believed.
Now, what was the evidence of his transformation? The immediate, first evidence that Zacchaeus was a new creation in Christ was financial.
As soon as he felt the waves of God’s grace wash over him and cleanse him, Zacchaeus stood and said to Jesus, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8).
Now, it is very important to notice what Jesus said to Zacchaeus. Jesus did not say, “Zacchaeus, that’s great! What a wonderful gesture!” No. As soon as Zacchaeus said that he was willing to part with his money, Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).
The evidence of Zacchaeus’ transformation was his attitude toward money. You see, money is a spotlight on a person’s spiritual condition. It is an index to a person’s character. It is a reflection of a person’s heart.
Contrast the story of Zacchaeus with the story of the rich young ruler (in Luke 18:18-30, which I also shared last week). The rich young ruler who came to Jesus was a typical urban professional: doing very well financially, young, hard-working, decent, earnest, sincere, and desperately wanting peace in his life. He wanted to know what he must do to inherit eternal life.
After a brief discussion about the ruler’s morality, Jesus told the rich young ruler the bottom line, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22).
Do you remember the rich young ruler’s response? Did he say, “I will gladly sell all that I have and distribute it to the poor”? That would have been an evidence of his transformation. No. He did not say that. Instead, when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich (Luke 18:23). And he walked away from Jesus and eternal life in order to hold on to his money.
In the case of Zacchaeus, his attitude toward money was the evidence of God’s grace in his life and of his transformation. In the case of the rich young ruler, his attitude toward money was the evidence of the lack of God’s grace in his life and of his hard heart.
The example of giving in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 teaches us that giving is an evidence of God’s grace in our lives.