Selfless in Extravagant Generosity – sermon on 2 Corinthians 8:1-9

January 21, 2018

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you —so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:1-9)

Here’s a Random Question: How many of you prefer the window seat on a plane? Aisle? How about the Middle – is there anyone who really loves to sit in the middle seat?

Well, all you window seat lovers, I have some news for you. Psychologists think you are selfish, according to an article in the British newspaper, The Telegraph.

“Dr. Becky Spelman, chief psychologist at the Private Therapy Clinic in London, said this: ‘Passengers who favor the window seat like to be in control, tend to take an ‘every [one] for themselves’ attitude towards life, and are often more easily irritable. They also like to ‘nest’ and prefer to exist in their own bubble.’”[1]

But don’t worry. You aren’t alone. Scientific studies have shown that all human beings are basically selfish. And get this: Men are generally more selfish than women, as a rule.

Studies show that male neural reward systems [2] are more stimulated by self-centeredness, while a woman’s brain reacts more strongly to pro-social behaviors. In other words, women are more likely than men to get a dopamine rush from helping. Men are more focused on surviving, while women are more focused on helping others survive.

Men—If you are in good shape, the news gets worse. Research shows that bigger muscles lead to a smaller heart for others. [3]

A recent paper in the Journal of Evolution & Human Behaviour indicates that more muscular men are less likely to support the redistribution of wealth than guys who don’t work out. According to the study, authored by researchers from Brunel University London, the London School of Economics and Harvard University, spending more time in the gym is linked to a more selfish socioeconomic worldview.

BUT … Men aren’t the only ones who are selfish.

A few years ago, a survey revealed that women are less likely to answer the door when a charity comes knocking, and when it comes to dividing a chocolate bar, women will almost always give themselves the bigger “half”. This didn’t come from any university. “It was a survey by Original Volunteers, a British volunteering organisation.”[4]
But the point is still the same: we are all selfish.

Think about it: When was the last time you didn’t hold back, and were truly generous? When was the last time you gave without counting the cost, the last time you behaved with extravagant, irrational generosity?

Let’s go back to the church at Corinth for a minute. Paul is writing to them, describing the other churches in Macedonia. He writes that their “poverty overflows in a wealth of generosity.” (v2) These churches have been giving beyond their means. They have been begging for the privilege of sharing in ministry. That’s what extravagant generosity looks like. It’s irrational.

Let’s take a look at three different views of generosity we find in scripture. First, …

THE BAG: THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH. This is a mindset of scarcity.

You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you who earn wages … put them into a bag with holes. Haggai 1:6

Many people live this way—They just can’t get ahead. They are always struggling. They live paycheck to paycheck. They may want to be generous, but they feel like they can’t afford to give. They may be deep in debt. Their “rainy day fund” is empty, because they have to keep using it to pay the bills and pay for emergencies. It seems like every day is a ‘rainy day.’ They would love to tithe and give to God’s ministry, but they don’t have enough in the bag, and the bag has holes in it.

The way we talk reveals this bag mindset: “We just don’t have enough.” “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” “We will have go without.”

There’s often a sense of unfairness: “She gets all the breaks. I work just as hard.” The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.”

And there’s also a sense that we have to protect what little is in the bag: My chocolate. My window seat. My time. My money. This is my bag!

Someone else in scripture had a bag. His name was Judas.

In John 12:1-8, we read about a woman who gave Jesus a gift of valuable perfume. She did’t hold back, but gave it all. She had to. Once the container was opened, it couldn’t be closed again. It was all or nothing.

And this was expensive ointment. It was worth at least a year’s wage. It was the most valuable possession she owned — she might have been saving it for her dowry, so giving it away meant giving away her chances at a good marriage. But she poured it out and anointed Jesus. She didn’t hold back.

Judas had a bag mindset. He operated out of a scarcity mentality. “What a waste! That perfume could have been sold and the money could have been given to the poor!” Notice Judas doesn’t say, “Would have been.” He keeps it all hypothetical. And then, immediately after this scene, Judas does something else that shows his scarcity mentality. He goes to the temple leaders and makes a deal to betray Jesus for 30 silver coins. He just had to put more in his bag. But it wasn’t enough.

When you have a BAG mentality, There is never enough.

There’s a second way to think about resources and generosity: It’s a “basket” mentality.

IN THE BASKET: THERE IS ENOUGH.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus encourages us to go above and beyond the world’s expectations of generosity. Because in God’s economy, there is always enough. Jesus says, “give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:31-38)

Jesus didn’t say: Keep—and it will be given to you. He didn’t say: Hoard—and you will be blessed! Jesus says, “Give.” Because:

What you keep is all you have. What you give, God multipliesA good measure, Pressed down, Shaken together, running over.

In 1 Kings 17 we read about a widow in Zarephath, who had just a little oil in a jar and just a little flour in a basket. She goes out to gather some sticks for a fire, so she can bake one last little cake of bread for herself and her son before they starve to death. And she runs into the prophet Elijah, who tells her to make a cake for him, the man of God, first. Then use the rest for herself and her son. Give to God first, he says. Trust God first. And God will provide what you need. So she does. She trusts Elijah, and offers the man of God the first bit of food she has left.

And then a miracle happens. Her basket of flour never quite runs out. There is always just enough oil in the jar for one more batch of bread. Scripture says, “She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days.” (1 Kings 17:15) In Basket Mentality, there is always enough, as long as we trust God and give him the first part of whatever we have.

This is the way those ‘poor’ Macedonian churches saw their situation. It didn’t matter how much or how little they had, as long as their first gift, their first commitment was to the Lord. Paul writes, “For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us.” (vv 3-5)

“They gave themselves first to the Lord,” not holding back anything. Because they had a mission and they were passionate about it. They had a “generous undertaking to complete (v 6).” So Paul encouraged the church at Corinth to join with the Macedonian churches in this mission, with the same passion those other churches had shown.

Paul writes, “Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you —so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking” (v 7).

That brings us to the third way to look at generosity. It’s the Barn Mentality. This is a mindset of abundance: There is way more than enough!

Proverbs 3:9-10 reads, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing….

God wants to be first in our lives! “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

We often think about a tithe as 10% – and for some of us, that’s a scary amount to give. But what if we started thinking about our tithe to God less as a percentage of what little we have, and more as giving to God first, honoring God with our wealth? That’s what Nicole was talking about in the video you saw earlier. Making the conscious decision to give first to God honors God. Giving is an act of worship.

This goes back to the Old Testament, when God is telling Moses how to worship in Exodus 13. God says,  “Dedicate to me every firstborn among the Israelites. The first offspring to be born, of both humans and animals, belongs to me.” Exodus 13:2

When your sheep have lambs, give me the first. Don’t wait until the tenth, to see if you’re going to have a good flock. The first one belongs to God.

Think about this: Who is Jesus? He is the FIRST born of God, the Lamb of God. God gave Jesus to redeem us of our sins—God gave first. Romans 5:8 says, “God proves his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God gave his own son for us first, before we even knew we needed it.

The tithe isn’t just any 10%—It’s returning the first 10% to the one who gave his only Son for us – first. What does tithing teach us? Tithing teaches us to trust God—Not what’s in the bag!

It takes great faith to give first, to believe that 90% with God’s blessings will be more than enough to meet all our needs. But God can do more with 90% than we can do on our own with 100%. God blesses us when we trust him. This is why Bruce and I pledge 10% of our income to this church first, and then we give to other ministries and charities beyond that. We have learned to trust that God will provide everything we need when we put him first in everything we do.

In Malachi 3:10 God says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”

God isn’t promising to make you rich in cash if you tithe. We aren’t talking ‘prosperity gospel’ here. God does promise to make your life rich and full if you trust him, and make him first in your life. God does promise to bless you, a full measure, pressed down and overflowing.

If you’ve been operating out a mindset of scarcity, holding onto what little you have because you’re afraid there isn’t enough, I invite you to let go of your bag with holes.

If you’ve been operating from a basket mentality, just trusting enough to get by day to day, I invite you to realize that there’s more that “just enough” available to you.

We believe in a barn-blessing, big hearted, open handed, good and grace filled God. We believe in a God who didn’t hold back, but gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him might have eternal life. Abundant life.

And we believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, who didn’t hold anything back, but gave himself freely for us. Paul writes, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (vv 8-9)

When you honor God with all that you have, you operate out of a barn mindset, trusting in God’s abundance. God did not hold back when he gave his Son to die on a cross for my sins. Because he did not hold back, I want to give to him without holding back. How about you?

This sermon, and others in the “Selfless” series, are based on outlines offered by Craig Groeschel of life.church on their Open network. The “Selfless” series artwork and support materials can be downloaded for FREE  here. 

[1] https://thepointsguy.com/2017/10/psychologists-prefer-window-aisle-seats/
[2] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171009123213.htm
[3] http://www.ehbonline.org/article/S1090-5138(16)30390-7/fulltext
[4] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/29/selfishness-we-are-all-terrible-people-arwa-mahdawi

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