Monday, October 29, 2007

Grace is other centred

The Grace of Giving - Dave Bish (8mb)
Continued from Grace thinks of self less.

2) 6-9 Grace is other centred.
Paul tells the story of the Macedonians for the Corinthians. He observes, v7, that they excel in everything, particularly in spiritual gifts. They are a church who excel in charismata, they excel in grace. But he wants to see, v6, the completion of the same act of grace in them. That they, v7, would excel in this grace of giving.

How does he not motivate them? Look at V8. “I am not commanding you”. He wont give them a rule or an obligation. Surely telling them to tithe, giving a generosity-tax would be the best way to serve the saints who need relief? It seems he has higher concern! He's interested, v8, in the sincerity of their love. The state of their hearts. As he goes on to say in 9v7, God delights in cheerful givers – if they don't give from overflowing joy in God's grace then it'd be better for them not to give. He looks into their hearts and the test is what they do with their money. And he goes looking for evidence of grace.

In a church where the good news is upside down he'll never see it. If a church thinks that Jesus loves the good people then there will be no evidence of grace. It'll be impossible. How? Because when God loves the good people we have to clamber over one another so we shine above them. But when anyone can receive God's grace it's always encouraging to see that others have gained that grace too. We need gospel-eyes like Paul – seeing the treasure in others hearts. Seeing their evident joy in Jesus Christ.

How does he go looking for grace in them? V9, by telling them about Jesus. Notice the for at the start of the verse. Giving will be evidence of grace. And so he tells of Christ – Jesus who was rich but became poor so that they though poor might become rich. Famous words, this is their context.

Christ Jesus whose eternal authority makes all presidents and CEO's look like they're playing with toy soldiers and monopoly money.

Christ Jesus whose eternal riches make all the bank accounts and ancient treasure troves look like the change in your pocket.

Christ Jesus 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.

Christ Jesus who was found in appearance as a man, and humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Words surely dear to the hearts of the Macedonian churches who had come to share in the riches of God's grace instead of the wrath they deserved.

We're used to the idea of the rich giving. Charity happens. Last year it was reported that the two richest men in the world – Bill Gates and Warren Buffet had set aside vast amounts of their fortunes for charitable causes via The Bill Gates Foundation. What's the difference between them and Jesus and the Corinthians? Gates and Buffet gave from excess and still have plenty. Jesus gave into the poverty of death. Overflowing in joy the Macedonians gave in extreme poverty, beyond their ability. Grace is in a different league to human giving.

Only divine intervention does this. Only grace sets us free from self-preservation, and expectations about our finances. Grace sets us free to disregard self and benefit others. In 9v8, Paul writes, God is able to make grace abound to us! Let it flow like a gushing river.

Jesus surrendered the riches of his eternal glory to embrace 30 years of poverty, even to death, for our salvation. The scale of change in us might not be as sacrificial but it could have long lasting impact. Why did he surrender his riches? So grace would abound to us. God is able, 9v8, to make all grace abound to us! Earlier in this second letter, in 3v18 - Paul invited them to behold the glory of God – by which he means fixing their gaze upon the the crucified Lord Jesus. Stopping to enjoy the view. Being transformed by the Holy Spirit into Christlike grace.

Grace sends shockwaves into our lives. For the Corinthians it'll translate into definitive action, v10-11, when Titus visits them. Planned, considered giving as an overflow of the hearts of a graced-up community.

When you stop and think about it God could have arranged things so that everyone had enough. Instead he made the Corinthians rich, gave Macedonia extreme poverty, need of relief in Jerusalem. Why? Why not give everyone enough. So we might learn the grace of giving.

Our actions reveal our treasure. Our money tests our heart like nothing else. Without grace we must hold onto what we have and climb high. By marked contrast the gushing river of grace sweeps away old fiscal rules and expectations. The Northern Rock collapse was shocking and exposed their customers. Yet even when the money was secure still people queued, clinging onto their treasure. When we treasure Jesus we are rich beyond our imagination – whether rich or poor here and now Christians freely inherit the universe with Christ. And that begins to overflow in otherwise unthinkable actions. It's what we should expect and desire in our church.

When grace is evident we can expect to find people who think in terms of the church family more than self. Not necessarily in attending meetings, teaching Sunday club or giving to the P.C.C. - though it could be that. Being a charismatic church isn't easy to calculate. No rules or percentages. The only rule of grace is disregard of self and, v4, pleading to benefit others. When grace is the currency, 'Church' isn't them it's we.

In the house of grace we'll prioritise others – how can I serve you? Encouraging words. Practical helps. Financial gifts. Shared possessions. Time given up. Grace looks at what God has given me and says, how can I benefit others with this. Grace takes my eyes off me, becoming other centred. Where are the needs in our church family? The person who can't get on the property ladder. The couple who've not had a night out for months for lack of a babysitter. The person for whom the gift of receiving hospitality or a practical help would make all the difference.

I'm aware of grace I've received from others – I thank God for the evidence of his grace in those who partner in the work I'm doing, for those who helped us to move to Exeter. We might want definite rules for what action to take but God doesn't work in quick-fix holy laws. The river of grace flows to transform hearts and overflow into changed living. Grace is really more concerned with the act of grace than the relief of need. From a grace-less perspective the cost looks too high, but graced-up people plead to serve. This isn't about trying harder – it's not about more effort – it's about the grace of God in Jesus. I want more of that in my life. Let grace by evident in us. Let grace abound to us from God.

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