7/2/2018 12:25:41 PM
From Rags to Riches: The Life of a Christian - July 1, 2018
Posted under: Sundays after Pentecost
Seminary Student: Jake Brohn
The United States of America has long been a country of promise to those who have nothing. For many, many years, a countless number of individuals have come to this country because of the possibility of making a name for themselves. I would guess that many of us here have ancestors a couple generations back who did this very thing. American history is full of people who have started from the very lowest of places and worked their way to the top. People like Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs and even Oprah Winfrey. All these people started with nothing, and eventually became rich. As Christians, we may not realize it, but we also have a similar story. We started out as the poorest of beings and are now richer than we could ever imagine. Christ’s sacrifice has made us rich, and we can use our riches for the benefit of others.
In our reading for today, Paul is writing to the Christian church in Corinth. Over the past few weeks, we have dug deeper into Paul’s encouragement for this congregation. Many of his words may sound surprising when you look at this church’s background. The Corinthians church had a rocky beginning. Paul had spent over a year in the city of Corinth, growing the congregation there. However, when he left, they began to have issues. Public, blatant sin went unchallenged, and was even promoted in the church. Fights over who they ought to follow divided the church. They had such a confused grasp on Christian love that Paul had to devote an entire chapter to it!
Knowing all of this, when we look at Paul’s second letter to this congregation, we may be a little confused. Why would Paul have such high praise for a congregation that had so many struggles! In chapter seven, which precedes our reading for today, Paul is rejoicing over the Corinthians reaction to his first letter. He writes, “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.” These words demonstrate why Paul has such high praise for the Corinthians. They repented of their sins. With the help of the Holy Spirit, working through the inspired words of Paul, their hearts were changed. They were turned from their evil actions and repented! It is because of this that Paul can say that they are now made rich.
Would it be too much of a stretch to call us all “modern-day” Corinthians? We may not have such extreme problems as rampant sexual immorality, but we all have our own secret sins that we are guilty of. We all struggle with our sinful nature. We’re not perfect. As much as we try to fight it, we give in to sin over and over again. In our sin, we are the poorest of all beings. To make up for this, we sometimes look at our own possessions and physical gifts, hoping that they can stem the tide of hopelessness and guilt that comes from this sin.
The Corinthians were also struggling with this same attitude towards their own gifts, both spiritual and physical. Paul points them to the church in Macedonia. That church had been through something incredibly difficult. He says they were “in the midst of a very severe trial” and were faced with “extreme poverty.” We would expect the Macedonians to respond with hopelessness and futility. How was it possible to even make a start on solving the situation that they found themselves in?
Shockingly enough, this was not the response of the church of Macedonia. When faced with such extremes, they could have given up. Satan dangled the temptation to ignore the promise of God that he would provide for them, and to instead seek their own solution. But they didn’t take the bait. By the grace of God that was given to them, this congregation did something that was incredible. “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations.” Somehow, in the middle of this great struggle, they were even more generous than before. One can only look at this, and marvel at the power and knowledge of God! It truly was by his grace alone that this congregation was able to do what they did in such a difficult situation!
This attitude is not something that comes easily. Our sinful nature sees this generous giving and hates it. These troubles and trials are a result of sin, and Satan wants to see us fail. When, by the grace of God, we do not, Satan doesn’t just give up. Through our sinful nature, he strives daily to twist our thoughts and actions against God and each other. He wants us to think that nothing we have could ever be enough. Why should I give my time or money or talents to someone else? I need them all for myself just to survive!
The most amazing fact is this: we already have the greatest gift of all. It isn’t money. It isn’t physical gifts like good looks or physical prowess or high intelligence. It isn’t any physical possession. The greatest git that could ever be given is already in our possession. That gift is faith in Christ Jesus!
Paul’s words in verse nine show the depth of just how amazing this gift is. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” While we were still dead in our sin, the lowest of the low, the poorest beings in all of creation, Christ made us rich through his sacrifice on the cross.
Jesus had everything he needed. He is true God, and rules from heaven with the Father and the Spirit over all creation. There is nothing that he lacked or needed. Yet out of his great love for us, Jesus Christ made himself poor for you and me. He set aside all his riches and glory as God and became a human being just like us in the poorest of circumstances. He was not born to a king or nobleman. He did not enter the world with the sounds of trumpets and fanfare announcing the coming of the savior of the entire human race. He was born in a stinky, smelly barn. His entire adult life, he was challenged, mocked and scorned. His humble life ended in the most humiliating way possible. He was tried as a traitor and rebel and hung on a cross with thieves and liars. Even his most trusted friends and allies, his own disciples, abandoned and denied him. On that cross, he was the poorest of us all, forsaken by his own Father in heaven as he held the sin of the entire world. All of that was for us!
Jesus sacrifice has made us rich. Our sins are forgiven because he died in our place. His blood has washed us clean of all our sins, and now we are richer than we could ever imagine. We are heirs of the greatest inheritance. This inheritance will never spoil or fade, nor can it be taken from us. We are heirs of the inheritance won for us by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Eternal life with our Father in heaven.
This inheritance is not something that we can see or hold in our hands. However, Scripture demonstrates for us that it is also something that we can use for the benefit of others.
Note what Paul says at the beginning of verse eight. “I am not commanding you.” He isn’t using the law to motivate them to be generous. Paul doesn’t want God’s people to offer their gifts simply because they have to. He gives them the example of the Macedonian church to demonstrate to them that through the grace of God extreme generosity is possible! He wasn’t giving them a number or a mark they had to reach in order to “win” giving. This is something that they could look at and say, “Wow. Thank you, Lord, for this incredible gift of grace. Please give me the same attitude of generosity and selflessness so I am able to serve your people to the best of my ability.”
Did you notice the order that Paul mentions in verse two? “their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” Joy precedes giving, and that joy will feel compulsory. That joy comes from God’s love for us, which is so great that he sent his one and only Son, Jesus, to die in our place. We don’t have to do anything to earn that love. The joy and wonder that one has when faced with this reality is overwhelming, and we can’t help but show that love in so many ways. In our text for today, Paul shows us that the giving of our gifts is one way to show our joy and love for God!
What does this joyous giving look like? When we speak of giving, our minds may first go straight to the offerings that we give each week. When you stop and think about it, it truly is a wonderful blessing that as a church we are able to spread the gospel message through your generous giving. We’re not selling the gospel. It doesn’t come with a price tag attached. “Guess What? You’re Saved! Find out now for only three easy payments of $19.99 plus shipping and handling.” The opportunity to give is in and of itself a gift from God!
But Paul isn’t just speaking about giving offerings of money to the church. We have all been blessed in different ways. Some of us have been blessed with financial flexibility and are able to give more. This truly is a wonderful gift! But there are other ways to give back to God that do not involve money. This giving can be something like volunteering to set up the altar each week and prepare the bread and wine for communion. Perhaps you chaperone for a school field trip or help teach Sunday School or VBS. It can even be something as simple as a desire to share the gospel, and so you spread that message of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice to everyone that you can. Whatever your gifts are, each and every one of you is able to serve God’s church and its people in a way that is unique to you. This opportunity to give ourselves comes from the grace of God and the joy that accompanies the faith that we have been given.
And what is the goal of all of this? Paul sums it up well in verses thirteen and fourteen. “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality.” God does not desire for his people to suffer. While suffering is part of our lives as Christians and life on earth, God does not want us to prolong that for no reason. He provides for his people in a way that is best for us, and one way that he does this is through our fellow believers.
This is one of the amazing benefits of a congregation centered around Christ and unified by their common faith in him as their Savior. When there are individuals in the congregation who are going through their own struggles and trials, God provides for them through the love and support of their fellow believers. This truly is an incredible blessing, and it gives me joy to see this generosity at work among his people.
As Christians we do not have to worry about if we will be able to make enough, to earn enough to get to heaven. Even though we were poor, sinful human beings, Christ Jesus has made us richer than our wildest dreams through his death on the cross! The knowledge of this salvation leads to joy in a person’s heart, joy that leads to generous giving of time, talents and physical possessions. May God give all of you this same joy, that you may serve each other in Christian love. Amen.