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Summary: In commending the Macedonian Christians, Paul revealed the secret of great giving.

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“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 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. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” [1]

Giving is neither the most anticipated nor the most welcomed sermon topic in this day. However, one should not conclude that the subject is ignored by the modern pulpit. Stewardship sermons are frequently relegated to the realm of caricature. I can count on one hand messages I have heard providing instruction for giving. I have heard messages pleading for generosity and messages reminding hearers of obligations to underwrite missionary enterprise or pleading for support to erect a new building, but I have heard few messages instructing Christians in the manner of giving or defining giving that qualifies as great.

Any of us would appreciate a reputation for generosity; and I am quick to say that as a congregation we do enjoy a reputation for generosity. By the same token, I doubt that many of us can name more than a handful of congregations which are generally viewed as great in giving. I wonder if we know the secret of great giving. If we know the secret of great giving we will be able to advance the cause of Christ even as we move toward being an encouragement to others. To this end, join me in study of one verse found in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.

THE MACEDONIANS WERE SPOKEN OF AS GREAT IN GIVING — Though the text does not specifically identify the Macedonian Christians as great, it does clearly establish that Paul considered them to be great in giving. Moreover, it is apparent that their greatness was unrelated to their personal portfolios. Paul commended these saints for generosity even though they were acknowledged as impoverished. The earlier verses remind us of the Apostle’s view of these Macedonian saints. “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 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. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” [2 CORINTHIANS 8:1-4].

The Apostle spoke of the generosity of the Macedonians as a grace which they had received from God. The word translated “favour” in the fourth verse is the Greek word ch├íris, usually translated “grace.” This grace allowed the Macedonians to ignore severe trial and extreme poverty as they prepared to give. Furthermore, the grace they had received so infected these impoverished saints with overflowing joy that it welled up in rich generosity permitting them to give beyond their ability—they gave as much as they were able, and then they gave some more. The Macedonian believers seem to have viewed the act of giving as a privilege and they saw their giving as a service to the saints of God. Such attitudes are humbling, as is the resultant generosity. Frankly, we tend to be uncomfortable in the presence of such generosity.

Giving which originates out of human determination will always find an excuse to “watch out for number one.” Such giving always calculates the ability to be generous, all the while focusing on the immediate situation and paying careful consideration to future anticipated or planned expenditures. Such giving may be commended by other people since it appears thoughtful and demonstrates such precision. Nevertheless, giving that originates within the human determination is described by care and caution for the “self.” Giving which is obligatory, however, is giving that is grudging; it will be seen as such. Giving which is commanded under law is giving which rises to a particular demand and deems itself worthy of praise.

In contradistinction to these forms of giving, great giving always originates in grace and is subject to grace. Great giving recognises the infinite grace of God and confesses that no individual can out give God. Great giving seeks neither to commend the giver to God nor to obtain merit; rather, the gift is given in recognition of grace already received. Great giving always focuses outward refusing to permit the giver to become self-centred. Great giving is compassionate, rejecting as unworthy every thought of personal comfort which conflicts with the needs of others. All the while, great giving accepts responsibility for the larger world. Great giving is determined by the size of the giver’s heart and not by the size of the gifts given. Great giving is a demonstration of trust in the giver’s relationship to Him who gives freely out of the infinite abundance of His grace. Great giving is less concerned with personal comfort than with demonstration of faith in the unseen God. Above all else, great giving seeks to honour God and to glorify Him. Great giving is that giving which expresses the divine transformation in the life of the one giving. By these criteria, we contemporary Christians have some way to go before we can lay claim to being great givers. Nevertheless, the example of the Macedonians ever stands to challenge us in our giving, pointing us toward the worthy and noble goal of great giving.

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