Theme: The Greatest Example of Great Giving
This week’s lessons teach us how the grace of God in Christ drives both our attitude and our actual practice of giving to support Christian causes.
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:1
When I began to write about the giving of the churches of Macedonia I said that this was Paul’s first motivating example of great giving. It was a good one, as you can see. But there is also a second great example of great giving, and that is the giving by Jesus of himself to be our Savior. Paul writes of it in verse 9 when he says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
The giving of the Macedonians was great, but the giving of the Lord Jesus Christ was greater still, and we can be sure that it was the example of his giving that motivated them, as it has so many Christians. There are four stages in this verse, two that concern the Lord Jesus and two that concern ourselves.
Stage number one: Christ’s riches. Before the incarnation, when he was in the presence of the Father in heaven, Jesus was rich with all the riches of the Godhead. Everything in heaven and earth was his.
Stage number two: Christ’s poverty. Jesus laid all this aside in order to become a man and die on the cross for our salvation. Paul describes his sacrifice in classic language in Philippians 2:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to
death—even death on a cross (vv. 6-8).
Never in the entire history of the universe did anyone abandon so much in order to become so poor for so many. But it was not for nothing, for the third and fourth stages of verse 9 explain how we have benefited from Christ’s giving.
Stage number three: Our poverty. We possess nothing of any spiritual value. We have nothing in ourselves that can commend us to God. In fact, we are guilty of the precise opposite. There is much to condemn us.
Stage number four: Our riches. Because of Jesus’ gift of himself, we who have nothing and are nothing are lifted from the depths of our sin and misery and are made objects of God’s great grace and co-heirs with Jesus Christ of God’s riches.
Shouldn’t the example of Jesus, who freely gave himself for us, move us to great giving for others? It should, or we do not understand the gospel.
I heard of a man who was on the pulpit committee who did not understand it. He was sent to hear a man who was a candidate for the empty pulpit of his church, and afterward he reported back to the committee: “The candidate had a three-point sermon on stewardship. The points were: 1.) earn all you can; 2.) save all you can; and 3.) give all you can.
“How was the message?” the other members of the committee asked him.
“The first two points were excellent, but the third point spoiled it all,” he replied.
Great giving is motivated above all by the cross of Christ. Early in the nineteenth century King Frederick William III of Prussia was carrying on expensive wars intended to make a great nation of the Prussian people. He did not have enough money for his campaigns. So he hit upon this idea. He asked the women of Prussia to bring their gold and silver jewelry to be melted down and made into money so their country could buy instruments of war. At the same time Frederick determined that for each gift of gold or silver he would give in return an iron decoration bearing the inscription, “I gave gold for iron, 1813.”
The response was overwhelming, and the people who received their gifts from the king prized them even more than their former possessions. In fact, for a time it became fashionable for women to wear no jewelry. They wore their iron decorations instead. So it was that the Order of the Iron Cross, the most exalted decoration of the German people, was established. Those who are members of this order wear no other decorations, only this cross.
We need a generation of people who have become members of the Order of the Cross of Jesus Christ, people who have given everything to him because he first loved us and gave himself for us. It will be these people who will have received the grace of giving.
What are the first two stages in 2 Corinthians 8:9? Why is each stage necessary for our salvation?
What are the last two stages?
Application: Ask the Lord to make you more sensitive to the needs of others around you, and consider how you can demonstrate the grace of giving as one who has received the greatest gift of all through the self-giving of Jesus Christ.