Give Him Yourself (II Corinthians 8:1-5)
Passage: 2 Corinthians 8:1–8:5
To: God, From: You
I. A Season of Giving
How much are you going to spend this Christmas? This year analysts predict that U.S. consumers will spend an average of $518 on gifts for family and friends. In addition to these gifts, we give other things at Christmastime, don't we? We give cards. We give cookies or other baked goods. Sometime we give of our time to help those in need.
And we devote a lot of energy to all this giving. We spend time shopping. We spend time baking. We spend time signing cards and stuffing envelopes.
Though it sounds like the slogan for a charity campaign, it's true that “Christmas is a season of giving”.
My desire this Christmas is to remind all of us that when it comes to giving, the most important ways we can give do not involve wrapping paper or stockings. The most important ways we can give are all the ways we give to God. As we talked about last week, God should be at the top of our Christmas list, not because God needs us to buy him something, but because God calls us to give to Him.
Like the wise men who came to worship the newborn King, we also should lay our gifts at His feet. But what could we possibly give to God? The whole universe belongs to Him!
Last week, we talked about the most important thing we can give to God, this season, or during any season: we are called to give God glory.
But this week, as we look together at II Corinthians chapter 8, we're going to discover something else we can give to God. Turn with me there: II Corinthians 8, verses 1-5.
II. The Passage: “We Want YOU to Know” (8:1-5)
Listen to what Paul tells the Corinthians in this passage about the Macedonian Christians and how God grace was at work among them in terms of giving:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints [those in Judea]- 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
Did you hear that? There was a lot of talk in those verses about giving, but only one description of giving to God. It was there in verse 5: and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord...
The Christians in ancient Macedonia, which was the northern part of Greece and included churches like Philippi and Thessalonica, these followers of Jesus gave themselves to the Lord. So God's word, in many places, calls us to give glory to God, and here, through the example of the Macedonians, we are encouraged to give ourselves to Him.
But what does that mean? What does it mean to give yourself to the Lord?
What we need to do this morning is use the context here to help us better understand the original situation here, and thus better understand this idea of giving ourselves to God.
A. The Need: “The Relief of the Saints”
Let's talk first about the circumstances in which these Macedonians believers gave themselves to God. Acts 11 tells us that a famine (actually several periods of famine) hit the Roman world during the reign of the Emperor Claudius. One area that was hit especially hard was the region of Judea.
In Galatians 2 we read that when Paul and Barnabas brought this gift to Jerusalem and talked with church leadership about their ministry among the Gentiles, with non-Jews, Peter and the other leaders in Jerusalem affirmed their ministry, but also asked them to "remember the poor", that is, to let the Gentiles with whom they were working know about the needs in Judea. In Galatians 2:10, Paul says this was the very thing he "was eager to do".
So this offering from the non-Jewish churches for the poor in Jerusalem, was a project that took several years to complete. There were no wire transfers or direct debit options back then. Paul had to make the need known, give the churches time to raise funds, and then return to collect the funds and deliver them at some later date.
But he did all this, not simply to provide physical or financial relief for his fellow Jews in Judea, but more so, because this offering was an incredibly important gesture in terms of relations between the Jews and Gentiles that all confessed Jesus as Lord. Listen to how Paul describes the significance of this offering in Romans 15:25-27:
Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. (Romans 15:25-27)
B. The Givers: “A Severe Test of Affliction”
But we see something else here about the circumstances in which the Macedonians Christians gave themselves to the Lord.
If we look verse 2, we see that difficult times were not confined to Judea. Paul writes this about these Macedonian churches: for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
What we see here is that the condition of these churches was anything but ideal when it came to the issue of giving. These Christians were undergoing a "severe test of affliction". Now, it's not exactly clear what this test was, but it was probably related to persecution from unbelievers. We know from the book of Acts and the letters Paul wrote to the Philippians and the Thessalonians that they did in fact endure this kind of suffering for their faith.
But in addition this to this suffering, these believers were suffering in another way. We read here in verse 2 that these churches were characterized by "extreme poverty". The Greek word translated "extreme" here means "deep" or "down to the depths". We might say it was "rock-bottom" poverty!
So the Macedonians, who are held up here as examples, for both the Corinthians and us here this morning, these Macedonians were being pressed down by two very difficult realities: persecution and poverty.
C. The Giving: “First to the Lord and then...to Us”
So when we finally come back to verse 5 and Paul’s description of how these Corinthians gave themselves to the Lord, I think knowing more about the original situation here gives us a much better understanding of what it means to give ourselves to God.
I want to suggest this morning that these verses tell us three things about what it means to give ourselves to the Lord. And each of these three things is connected to the significance of that word “Lord”. In today’s language, this word does not always have the same weight it had for the original hearers. In the Greek language that Paul used here, the word for “Lord” is kurios. It comes from the root word kuros, which means “supremacy”. Therefore, a kurios is a person to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has power of deciding; master, lord.
In light of that, I think each of us, if we also want to give to God as we should, if we want to give ourselves to God, we need to understand the relationship between our giving and our understanding of God’s lordship, His mastery over our lives. So…
First of all, giving yourself to God means trusting Him as...
1. The Lord of Your Future
Think again about the situation the Macedonians found themselves in. They were suffering under the weight of persecution and poverty, and yet Paul tells us here that they wanted not only to associate themselves once again with the very foreigners who had made them such pariahs with their neighbors, but they also wanted to give what little money they had to help their Jewish brothers and sisters who were in need in Judea.
Now, if you were in their shoes…or sandals…wouldn’t you be worried about your future, about what was going to happen to you?
All of us are tempted to be anxious about what’s ahead of us, about how things are going to work out in this or that situation. We worry about our health. We worry about our children. We worry about our income and our job security. We worry about our reputation. We worry about finding love. We worry about belonging.
But if we are going to truly give in any situation, we must first give ourselves to the Lord…that is, we must first trust that He is the Lord of my future; that whatever will be, will be under the loving watchfulness and perfect power of the King of the universe. If the destination is genuine giving, then we have to trust we are in capable hands in terms of the pilot.
We do not have to worry.
This kind of trust is the only way the Macedonians could have given like they did. Though the chasm of poverty and persecution looked deep and black, they trusted that “the everlasting arms” would uphold them them as they stepped out in faith.
They trusted in the words of the Lord Jesus:
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:31-33)
I love the way the writer of Hebrews expresses the same idea:
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5, 6)
But in addition to this, second, we also see here that giving yourself to God means trusting Him as...
2. The Lord of Your Priorities
It would be easy for these Macedonian disciples to order their priorities simply according to the circumstances in which they found themselves. Priority number one: make more money. Priority number two: spend less. Priority number three: be liked by the neighbors. Priority number four: be comfortable.
But this is not what drove the Macedonians, is it? As we see here, their priority was, verse 4, the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints. For the Philippians, for the Thessalonians, for the Bereans, their priority was a group of suffering Jews who lived over 900 miles away. How is that possible. It’s possible because Jesus Christ was the Lord of, the definer of, their priorities.
When you give yourself to the Lord, you are submitting to what He says about the things that matter most. Isn’t that the very reason anyone truly comes to Jesus, because they recognize they are, in fact, completely messed up when it comes to recognizing what matters most.
Left up to us, our priorities are defined by things like fame, money, pleasure, sex, possessions, control, comfort, me. But when God comes in, He calls us to humbly bow under the yoke of His priorites: His glory, the good of others, becoming like Jesus, whatever that might cost us.
This is what Paul means when he says in verse 5 that they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. He’s saying that when they gave themselves to the Lord, when they trusted Him as the Lord of their priorities, they realized that our work among the poor in Jerusalem was part of His priorities.
Brothers and sisters, friends, if we are to give ourselves to the Lord, then we must give ourselves to all He wants to accomplish, not only in us, but also through us. I think this is one of the things that Paul had in mind when he wrote this to the Romans…
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)
Finally, we see here, number three, that giving yourself to God means trusting Him as...
3. The Lord of Your Attitude
It’s hard to read through these verses in II Corinthians 8 and not walk away with a clear understanding of the attitude these believers had in their obedience. We can say with the utmost assurance that these Christians did not give to God begrudgingly. Do you see that?
Listen again to Paul’s description: …their abundance of joy…a wealth of generosity…they gave…beyond their means, of their own free will, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints…
These are not people who are slavishly bowing under the heavy scepter of the king, obeying because they must, because it is their duty. No, these are people whose hearts have been made soft by the oil and wine of God’s Spirit. These are people who have bowed before Jesus as the Lord of their attitudes. This is the same Lord who commands you to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)…to rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4)…to weep with those who weep…(Romans 12:15). These are His commands.
Giving ourselves to God often scares us, because we afraid of letting our hearts be conformed to His own heart. If we love as He calls us to love, will our heart be broken? If we rejoice as He calls us to rejoice, will our joy be extinguished? If we weep as He calls us to weep, will we lose our joy?
God wants His priorities to be our priorities. But He also wants us to be passionate about those priorities, because the work that God wants to do in us is not simply a matter of behavior modification. He wants to change our hearts.
Giving yourself to God means trusting him as the Lord of your attitude. We need to pray, “God, don’t just help me to love…help me to be loving. Don’t just help me to give…help me to give with generosity. Help me not simply to do what you say, but to do it with eagerness and joy.”
We can pray that because, like the Corinthians, our delight should not be in our obedience, but first and foremost in the One who calls us to obey.
III. How Much Will You Spend?
How much are you going to spend this Christmas? What will be the final cost?
Can you imagine a husband who had a wife, or a wife who had a husband who demanded that they spend far more money each Christmas than they actually had? Sadly, that’s probably more often the case than we’d care to admit. But imagine the total for all these big ticket items even goes far beyond that family’s credit limit. What would that spouse do? What would you think about the other spouse, the one who made a demand like that?
Well this morning I want to remind you that God is that other spouse. How can I say that? I can say that because God demands of us far more than we could every pay. Think about the big ticket items we talked about this morning. Our future? Our priorities? Our attitude? Ourselves? Am I the only who feels pretty broke when it comes to giving these things? Am I the only one who feels pretty weak when it comes to trusting God in this way?
Paul wanted to remind the Corinthians that God may be like that spouse who makes demands in terms of making demands, but He is far different because He always makes the necessary funds available to us in order to meet those demands.
Look what Paul writes only a few verses later: 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 by his poverty might become rich. (II Corinthians 8:9)
What is Paul saying in that verse? He’s simply explaining the gospel using economic language, isn’t he? Jesus, who had it all because He is God, gave it all up on the cross, so that we, who had nothing because of sin, could have it all in Him. This is the grace of our Lord Jesus. This is the heavenly wealth that is ours. Here are the funds that enable us to pay for all that God demands. Here is the strength to give all that God calls us to give.
Remember verse 1 of chapter 8: We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia. How can we explain the incredible faith and generosity of the Macedonians? The grace of God! They were wealthy in grace.
How much are you going to spend this Christmas? When it comes to giving to Him, God wants you to spend everything you have. He calls you to give it all. Because of His grace in Jesus, every day should be a season of giving. Give Him yourself. That’s what He wants. And when you do, and when we are, we will discover why Jesus himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Let’s pray.