SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 30 January 2022
Sermon Text: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15
Sermon Series: “Christian Service” (#5)
I. How can giving be serving?
II. “The matter of fairness”
III. What happens when Christians serve in giving
Today’s message is the fifth and last one in the sermon series on ‘Christian service.’ As we consider the purpose of our calling, that is, to be one with the Lord Jesus and with one another in His Church, we commit our life to serving each other in the love of Jesus. Knowing also what we say and do to one another are our Christian service, we seek the Lord’s wisdom and guidance in our words and deeds. Our prayerful desire is that when we speak to each other, we may speak like God speaks and strengthens His beloved ones, and when we serve, we may do so to one another like the hands of God that supply the needs of His children.
We also know that when we love and serve one another, we’ll see and behold God. We’ll hear God’s voice as we speak one to another with the power of God’s word, and we’ll be touched by God as we care for each other. Surely such a congregation is a beautiful and blessed church of the Lord Jesus!
Then, the Bible teaches us an important way of serving one another – that is, serving in giving. I chose this ‘serving in giving’ as the last message in this series because giving is an apparent, notable and visible barometer of Christian service. This is what the Holy Spirit speaks through James, especially in Jas. 2:14-17, pointing out that our faith needs to be proved by deeds. In other words, a believer should prove his brotherly love toward others in giving and providing their needs. Otherwise, as Jas. 2:17 concludes, his love expressed in words is proven as not genuine but false.
In this way, giving is an important aspect of serving one another in the love of God and the grace of Jesus Christ. So, I’d like to contemplate on this matter of giving as an important aspect of Christian service.
I. HOW CAN GIVING BE SERVING?
Now, let us begin and consider the relationship between giving and serving with the story we’ve heard from the Apostle Paul as given in our text passage for today. Paul has brought to our attention that the churches in Macedonia – that is, the northern part of Greece – helped the Jerusalem church with a gift of materials.
Those Macedonian churches had gathered collections and sent them to support Christians in Jerusalem who were suffering from a great famine. Paul says in v. 2 that those Macedonian Christians were, in fact, not rich but poor, yet they ‘begged’ earnestly to allow them to give and support the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. Paul adds in v. 5 that he and his colleagues did not expect that to come from Macedonian brothers and sisters because of their financial condition. He means, it was a great and pleasant surprise to see their love and generosity.
The apostle in v. 6 calls this an “act of grace.” Some other English translations render this ‘act of grace’ as ‘gracious work’ or simply ‘grace’ or ‘favour.’ All these translations point out their love for fellow Christians as the basis of their giving. In love for one another, they willingly gave and, when the apostle expressed his reluctance to receive their gift, they begged him to receive it so as to benefit those suffering brethren who were about 2,500 kms away. In this fast-travelling era, we might consider someone 2,500 kms away as a next door neighbour, but in the first century environment, it must’ve been quite different – it could mean two ends of the earth. But the Macedonian Christians were happy to help their fellow Christians.
The apostle interprets their giving in a truly interesting way. That is, the Macedonian Christians were not simply willing to give, but in fact paying back what they owed to those in Jerusalem. Paul tells us the background of this ‘act of grace’ in another place, that is, in his letter to the Christians in Rome. Let me read you from Rom. 15:25-27 – “At present … I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it,” – now, please listen carefully what follows – “and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.”
Do you see what the apostle says in these verses? The Macedonian believers were more than happy to help because they found it a great opportunity to pay back the act of grace they had received from the saints of Jerusalem church earlier. The gospel of Jesus Christ had been sent, and it saved their souls!
From this story, we’re reminded of the truth we’ve heard repeatedly over the past four Sundays in January – that is, ‘Christian service is God’s love manifested in our midst.’ Serving one another is an outward expression of our inward thanks to God and submission to Christ. The Macedonian Christians’ giving was an outward expression of their love and thanks and submission to the Lord of the gospel. This further elaborates what we heard last Sunday from Rom. 12:10, the command for all of us to “outdo one another” in serving in love.
II. “THE MATTER OF FAIRNESS”
The Apostle Paul describes this ‘act of grace’ as “the matter of fairness” in vs. 13 and 14 of our text passage. He means, each one owing ‘grace’ to another is a pleasing and joyful blessing in God, making everyone the beneficiaries of fairness or spiritual satisfaction. The gospel was delivered by the Jerusalem church and shared with Macedonians – so, the Macedonian church owes to the sender of the gospel their sincere thanks. Then, as Macedonian church sends materials to the Christians in Jerusalem in aid of their urgent needs, the beneficiary owes ‘grace’ to the giver. The apostle is talking about love and grace shared and enriched both sides. This is ‘the matter of fairness.’
Interestingly, we find the same message in the OT, especially in Isa. 40, our first Bible reading for today. Let me read you Isa. 40:4, and please listen to these words and try to draw a picture in your mind – “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” I wonder what sort of picture these words drew in your mind. Isn’t it a picture of an extended plain where there’s no longer hills or valleys that might hinder its inhabitants’ freedom in many ways? On this raised plain, everyone will have a perfect freedom, sharing every part of the land in common. Having presented the outline of such a friendly and satisfying place, the following verse, v. 5, adds a vivid colour to it in these words – “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Hills lowered and valleys raised will display the glory of the Lord!
This is what Paul means by ‘the matter of fairness’ in 2 Cor. 8. The Macedonian Christians were at that specific moment in time at a higher place compared to the brethren in Jerusalem in terms of financial possession. And they lowered themselves to fill the valley in Jerusalem and raise it up. Earlier, the situation was the opposite. Jerusalem church used to be at a higher position spiritually, upholding the gospel with them, and they lowered themselves and toiled to deliver that treasure of heaven to Macedonians and raised up the valley in Macedonia. In this process, in this exchange of grace, all reached an elevated and ‘fair’ plain, common satisfaction in the Spirit, revealing God’s grace and glory! Do you see what both the Apostle Paul and the Prophet Isaiah mean?
III. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN CHRISTIANS SERVE IN GIVING
Then, what will happen when we Christians serve in our giving? We’ll see and behold God, hearing His voice in our midst, beholding His gracious hands that help and keep us all. Such a church is an outpost of heaven on earth. And the Lord will add more saved souls to its number.
After all, what each one has is from God – our spiritual gifts are from God, our possessions are from God, like the way our life belongs to Him alone! So, Christian’s serving in giving is to acknowledge the truth that God gives all things to us, His beloved, to serve one another in love. Moreover, when we give as our serving one another, we are faithful to God who has entrusted to us various things including materials to be used in revealing His glory.
The apostle points this out clearly in v. 12, saying, “according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” He means that, firstly, we serve with what God has given to us according to each one’s role in His Church; and, secondly, we serve in giving and that is for the common good of our fellow members in God’s house. Individually, we may give differently in terms of quantity, but that’s no problem because each one gives according to what he/she has received from God. Listen to Paul’s explanation of this truth in v. 15 of our text, as he quotes from the most famous OT event, that is, the Exodus – “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” God gives according to each one’s basket or hamper from which the members of God’s family are fed and satisfied and strengthened. So we give and serve one another according to what God has given to each of us.
This is how we love God and love one another in this Church of our Lord. We count others more significant than ourselves, and look to the interests of others. And that by our heart and mind and soul. We speak and serve in the name of God, and do it in giving what we’ve received from the Lord, our gracious Giver!
Let me close by reading the last verse of Ps. 50 which depicts the ultimate purpose of our serving one another in giving, that is, to glory God – “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me”! ***