The Poverty and Grace of Christ ~ 20161204 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
12/04 The Poverty and Grace of Christ; 2 Cor.8:9 ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20161204_poverty-grace-christ.mp3
Last week we looked at a great Christmas/Thanksgiving verse at the end of 2 Corinthians 9.
This week I want to turn back a chapter to 2 Corinthians 8, where we find another wonderful Christmas text.
Remember, the context of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is Paul reminding and encouraging the Corinthians to give generously to the collection for the poor saints that he is taking to Jerusalem. He mentioned this in his first letter to this church (1 Cor.16:1-4) and he also mentions it in Romans 15:25-28, writing from Corinth in AD 57. Here in 2 Corinthians he takes two chapters to exhort the Corinthians toward generosity to their Jewish brothers and sisters who are in need. Paul begins this section in chapter 8 by encouraging them with the example of the churches in Macedonia.
God's Grace Given
Paul uses the word 'grace' to describe this gift. He uses the word 'grace' 18 times in 2 Corinthians. 10 of those times are concentrated in these two chapters on giving. Paul sees generosity and giving as an act of grace, rooted in the grace of God toward us and blossoming into a full display of grace that extends out from us who have experienced God's grace in acts of grace toward others. Grace, remember, by definition is an undeserved kindness, a gift, unmerited, unearned, freely given. He describes what happened in Macedonia as 'the grace of God that has been given among the churches.' The generosity of the believers in the region of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea Paul recognizes as the grace of God. The fact that they gave, and the way that they gave, was evidence that demonstrated that they were recipients of God's grace. Later in this chapter Paul refers to their giving to this special project as 'this act of grace.' But here, he is talking about God's grace extended undeservedly to the Macedonian churches that resulted in their wealth of generosity. Remember, we love because he first loved us. We give because to us God has abundantly given. The Macedonians gave because they were first recipients of God's abundant grace.
Grace Under Pressure
First Paul describes their circumstances. He says they were 'in a severe test of affliction.' They were undergoing persecution. They were in the middle of a trial. On Paul's first visit to Macedonia (Acts 16-17), he and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi and then asked to leave. In Thessalonica, the jealous Jews incited a mob and set the city in an uproar. Not finding Paul, they dragged Jason and some other local believers before the city authorities, accusing them of treason against Caesar, and proclaiming another king, Jesus. Paul and Silas were sent off by night to Berea, but the Jews from Thessalonica followed them there and agitated and stirred up the crowds, so Paul was sent off to Athens in Achaia. Although what kind of persecution they were now suffering is not specified, it is described as 'a severe test of affliction.' Verse 2 goes on to describe their situation as 'their extreme poverty.' We are told in Acts that 'when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go' (Acts 17:9). Whatever their specific circumstances, they were 'in a severe test of affliction' and they were in the depths of poverty.
But their circumstances did not define their attitudes or their actions. Do you let your circumstances determine how you respond? How you act? Your attitude? Are your emotions controlled by how others treat you? The Macedonians, in the middle of severe affliction, had a superabundance of joy. This is not natural; this is supernatural joy, joy that is not dampened by any outside influence. This is the joy Jesus promised to bring to his followers.
Begging for the Grace of Giving
The Macedonians had unquenchable joy in Jesus. And under severe pressure their joy combined with their extreme poverty like vinegar and baking soda to overflow in a wealth of generosity. Do you want that kind of joy? Would you like that kind of single purposed sincerity and bountiful liberality to come out when you are under pressure? When you are pressed and stretched? Verse 3 tells us that
They gave more than they could afford. They gave voluntarily. Willingly. Their abundance of joy had to find an outlet; it had to express itself. They begged for the privilege of giving. Literally, 'after much urgent request they begged us the grace and the fellowship of the service to the saints'. They considered the privilege of giving beyond their means an undeserved favor from God. It was grace, and it was fellowship. Partnering with God in his care for his own, and partnering with the suffering saints in Jerusalem, sharing in their sorrows and spreading joy. Paul says:
This generosity from suffering saints was beyond what they had hoped. They didn't only give of their finances. They gave of themselves. They didn't just write a check. They were personally invested. Their gave themselves first to the Lord. They recognized that they had been bought with a price. They understood that they belonged to Jesus. And so they delightfully offfered their very selves to God and to the service of the saints. What an example from the Macedonian churches!
Paul now encourages the church in Corinth also to abound in this grace. He is careful to make it clear that this gift is voluntary. There is no obligation. This is not a command. It is an invitation; an opportunity. As the Macedonians begged to be involved, you also abound in this act of grace. And then he holds up Jesus as the reason.
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
You know. This is not something new. You already know about the grace of our Lord Jesus. Paul reminds us of the good news we already know. He turns our attention back once more to Jesus. He is encouraging an act of free grace toward those who desperately need the help but didn't earn it or do anything to deserve it. He reminds us that we can only give like that because we have already been on the receiving end of that kind of gift. Jesus freely extended his favor to those who did nothing to earn it, but desperately need it. Before you can ever hope to extend grace to others, you must first experience the grace that comes from Jesus.
Riches to Poverty for You
This is what that grace looks like. 'that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor.' What does it mean that Jesus was rich? Jesus prayed to his Father in John 17
Jesus had glory in the presence of his Father before the world existed. He was eager to return to that glory. Jesus said in John 6:
Jesus came down from heaven. He left his glory to come down and do the will of his Father. He goes on to say:
Jesus claims to be the only one who is from God, the only one who has seen the Father. In John 8 he sets himself apart as the only one who is from above, who is not from this world.
This is Christmas. Jesus left his glory and came down to this earth. John began his gospel this way:
The Word was glorious in the presence of his Father. He is distinct from his Father, in relationship with his Father, and equal to his Father. He possesses all the characteristics of his Father. He is the Creator of all that is. He was rich.
He became poor. He became flesh. He became what he was not. He became one of us. As the only Son from the Father he pitched his tent among us. He became poor. This is grace!
Why? Although he was rich, yet he became poor. Why? It was for your sake. For your benefit. For you!
Philippians 2 spells this out.
Jesus, being rich, existing eternally in the form of God, equal with his Father, became poor. He emptied himself by taking the form of a servant. He was born in the likeness of men, in human form. Being rich, he became poor. He humbled himself even to death, even death on a cross. Because Christmas is really all about Good Friday. Jesus became poor for your sake. He became human for your sake, so as a human he could take your place on the cross.
Bringing You Riches by His Poverty
But it doesn't stop there!
By his poverty you become rich. This is undeserved grace! How do we become rich by his poverty? The riches may not be what we would think. Jesus, addressing the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3 says:
Their opinion of themselves was that they were rich and in need of nothing, but God's perspective says that they were wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. But to the church in Smyrna he says:
Like the churches in Macedonia, you may be in desperate poverty and undergoing persecution, but you are abundantly rich in joy. True riches come from Jesus.
Ephesians 1 says:
If we are in Christ, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. Every spiritual blessing! Paul prays:
Our eyes must be opened to know the riches of his glorious inheritance! The benefits purchased for us by Christ are immeasurably great. Ephesians 2 says:
Grace immeasurable! Grace rich and free. Resurrecting life transforming grace! Peter says:
New birth. Born into an inheritance. All the riches of Christ belong to us.
Christmas is about grace. The grace of the Lord Jesus. Christmas is about Jesus, who was rich in glory in the presence of his Father, who emptied himself by taking human form; who became poor, humbled even to the point of being executed as a criminal. He did this for me! Christmas is about the greatest gift. God the Son was born in Bethlehem so that he could be crucified outside Jerusalem so that I could experience unshakeable joy in the riches of his grace.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org