2 Corinthians 8:5 ~ 20190811 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
08/11_2 Corinthians 8:5; Give Yourself First To The Lord; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190811_2cor8_5.mp3
Paul is talking about giving. He is encouraging the Corinthians to give generously. But he avoids using the word 'giving' or 'collection' or 'offering'; instead he fixes our attention on the grace of God given. God is the giver. It is God's gift of grace that necessarily precedes and motivates any acceptable giving. We love because he first loved us (1Jn.4:19); we give because he is the supreme giver and first gave freely of himself to us.
God's grace was given and this was evidenced in the overflow of a wealth of generosity. Generosity is an interpretive translation based on the context; literally it 'superabounded in the riches of their simplicity'. Simplicity is a word Paul uses to describe single-hearted devotion to Christ in contrast to double-minded or divided affections. God's undeserved grace poured out on the Macedonians ignited in them single-hearted affections for the Lord, and this spilled over in an urgency to extend grace to others. They begged for the grace and the fellowship of the ministry to the saints.
This service, this ministry was a grace; it was 'favor;' it was undeserved. They didn't earn the ability to serve others; it was given to them. First of all it was grace to them. Then it welled up into grace from them. It was grace in that they gave freely, not under compulsion. They were eager for the opportunity. They were not the originators of the grace, but they were a channel; they passed it on to others. Freely they had received; freely they gave (Mt.10:8).
This ministry was grace and it was also fellowship; it was communion. They were 'taking part;' it connected them to the community of faith; to other believers; to the saints. They were eager for the connection, for the fellowship that bearing one another's burdens created. They were eager for connection with the wider body of Christ.
Paul is holding up the Macedonians as an example, but not primarily an example of giving or generosity. They got grace; they did not receive grace in vain; it changed them. God's undeserved grace freely given to them ignited in them a single-hearted affection for the Lord, and an eagerness to extend grace and fellowship in service to others. They understood that following Jesus was costly; they were in a severe test of affliction. They were in the depths of poverty. And yet in the midst of those circumstances, God's grace created in them an unquenchable overflow of joy in Jesus. This is what Paul is eager to see formed in the Corinthians, and in us. He is after not our money but our hearts. What we do with our money is merely an outward indicator of where our affections are.
Given to the Lord
Their single-hearted service was according to their power, even beyond their ability.
Look at verse 5. And not according to what we had hoped; but their own selves they gave first to the Lord and to us by the will of God.
They gave. This passage is about giving, and this verse says that they gave. But it doesn't say that they gave their money, their resources. It says they gave more. Themselves – that's emphatic – their own selves they gave.
They gave themselves first to the Lord. 'First' doesn't mean only first in time. It means first in importance. Most importantly they gave themselves to the Lord. What does that mean? How do you give yourself to the Lord? We use those words, but what exactly does it mean? What does it look like to give yourself to the Lord?
You Are Not Your Own
You are not your own. You were bought with a price. God owns you. He paid dearly for you. Romans 7:4 says that 'you died ...so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead.' How does one give oneself to the Lord if you already belong to him? Paul's exhortation in 1 Corinthians 6 is helpful here
He tells them what is true. As believers in Jesus, they belong to him. They are under new ownership. They were bought. His exhortation is based on their identity. Therefore, because of whose you are, live consistent with your new identity, your new ownership. Because you are owned by God, you should seek to glorify God in your body. He uses this again as a foundation for his argument in the next chapter:
Because you have a new Master, don't divide your interests and sign up as a slave of someone else. Live consistent with what is true; be who you are. This is the Christian life. This is what following Jesus looks like. Learn to live in line with your new identity in Christ.
The Macedonians had responded to the call of Jesus when Paul preached the gospel to them, and so they belong to Jesus. And now they are living consistent with who they belong to. They gave themselves first to the Lord.
All You Have Is Not Yours
In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul says:
We need to remember this. Everything we have is a gift, grace, given to us by a good God.
King David wrestled with this question when he was making a collection for the building of the temple in Jerusalem. In 1 Chronicles 29:6 it says:
Then it says in verse 9:
The leaders made freewill offerings. Pay attention to the language here. They had given willingly, with a whole heart, offering freely to the Lord. They were under no compulsion; they were free, they chose to do it, and they did it gladly. It brought them joy to give, and it brought joy to the king. But listen to how David prays in the next verses:
Do you hear what he is wrestling with? Everything belongs to God. Everything in heaven and in the earth. Riches and honor come from the Lord. Even our strength comes from the Lord. All things come from you. And yet the people are giving freely and willingly of all that is in their power, of all that belongs to God. Who am I? There is this tension between God's ownership of everything and our ability to give freely, of our own will. How are we able to give willingly when everything we have is yours? You already own everything we have given. It came from you and it belongs to you. How is it then that we can offer it back to you?
It is with upright hearts that they freely and willingly and joyously gave. They gave to God what already belonged to God. And God was pleased with their hearts. God tests the hearts of his people by putting in our possession some of what belongs to him. God is pleased when with upright hearts we freely and joyously give back to him what is his.
And then David prays:
David understood that even their willingness, the purpose of their hearts, even that was from God. God directs the hearts of his people, so he asks God to 'keep such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people'. David doesn't praise the people for their willingness; he praises God for the willingness of the people, and he asks God to maintain and sustain their joyful generosity.
This is grace! God first freely gives to us, and his gift ignites a response of joyful generosity in us; a single-hearted simplicity of affection toward him, an eagerness to please him, to extend his grace to others.
Paul here in 2 Corinthians tells us that this is 'by the will of God.' 'Themselves they gave, first to the Lord and to us by the will of God.' They gave, and they gave by the will of God. The other place we see this phrase is in the opening lines of both his letters to Corinth.
This is the sovereign will of God, calling Paul as his apostle, and Paul gladly responded. Paul recognized the same sovereign purpose of God at work in the Macedonians, as they gladly and single-heartedly gave themselves by the will of God to the Lord and to him in response to the grace of God that had been given to them.
So what does this look like for us? What does it mean to give ourselves first to the Lord? It must start with receiving God's grace. We can attempt to do things for the Lord and give things to the Lord, but if we haven't first experienced his grace toward us in Jesus, then it is self-effort and self-righteous performance, and it is actually offensive to God. First we must receive before we can give. We receive his grace, we receive forgiveness through the finished work of Jesus. We receive new life and the gift of the Holy Spirit living inside. In response to God's free and undeserved grace, we gladly see that all that we have and all that we are come from the Lord and we can eagerly give ourselves back to him.
In the words of Romans 12,
In Colossians 1 he prayed that they would have the spiritual wisdom to know God's will
Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20
These are some of the ways we can give ourselves first to the Lord. Does Jesus have first place? First priority? Does he have access to all that you have? To all of you?
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org