Sunday, October 28, 2007

Grace thinks of self less

We were up at Arborfield Church today where I was preaching on 2 Corinthians 8v1-9. We had a technical problem with the recording but this is a re-record for them.
The Grace of Giving - Dave Bish (8mb)

What kind of people does God love? What does it take to be a Christian? A myth persists that God loves good people. It's time that was killed off. The subversive message of Christianity is that no one is good. No one is holy before God. We all need saving and that is what Jesus Christ did dying on a Roman cross 2000 years ago. The good news is that God rescues bad people. As a gift. This is what we call grace. Grace that took my curse. Grace that paid for my sins. Grace that gave me life. And grace that changes my life.

One way is that it removes any ground for boasting. God's free gift means we can't say we're in favour with God because of our race, class, education, fincance, image or anything else. There is level ground at the cross – our rescue is a free gift not a reward. Christians are equal and yet it's evident that some are more equal than others – some have more, educationally, financially, physically.... What does this grace have to say about that? Come to the first century church of Corinth and see evidence of grace.

1) Grace thinks of self less (v1-5)
Richard Dawkins says it's the force of evolution but whatever you call it, we are hard-wired for self-preservation. We want to look out for ourselves. And yet, here we find a subversive story about Christians in Macedonia, probably the recepients of his letter to Philippi. Paul had been gathering money from churches around the Mediterranean to relieve need in the Jerusalem church.

We find, v2, that the Macedonians – like those in Jerusalem were in extreme poverty. Paul didn't expect to collect anything there, v5. Yet, something made them be, v2, rich in generosity. They even gave irresponsibly, v3, 'beyond their ability'. Which I take it to mean that real Christians in Philippi in the first century went without basics like food so other Christians could eat. Doesn't that seem inconceivable in our age? Paul says it is remarkable – it was remarkable 2000 years ago. Far from ordinary. So much for self-preservation!

How did it happen? V3, they weren't coaxed or conned into doing it, it was their own decision. In fact, v4, they pleaded to be able to give to God and to others. How did it happen? Were the Macedonians amazing? Why tell this story? Are we to stand in awe of them? No! V1, we're to see what Paul sees – the grace of God in them. What happened the day Paul went to Philippi is only explainable by divine intervention. God powerfully and freely worked in them in such a way as to release them from self-interest.

Look how many times the words like give, joy, gave occur here – v1, v2, v3, v4. These are all the word grace, as is the service in v4. There is evidence of God's grace in them. Abundant and overflowing grace. In Greek the word for grace is charis, they were a charismatic church, in that they were full of God's grace. The same word recurs verse after verse. Grace. Terry Virgo observes (in God's Lavish Grace) that grace is not like a stagnant pond but a gushing river. All Christians have received the gushing river of God's grace in the death of the Lord Jesus. Grace makes a difference as God makes his home in us by his Holy Spirit. A free gift of life, bubbling up in renewed hearts. You'd expect some evidence of it. Some, v2, overflowing.

This reflects in Paul's letter to the Philippians – he told them of the all surpassing worth of Christ, so much so that they could say dying is gain, because whilst they would lose everything else they would gain Jesus. Grace gave the Macedonians a wreckless disregard for their own lives. The economic principles of grace look senseless to the watching world. The grace-filled church is not a self-preservation society. The grace-filled church overflows with generosity. Notice, v1, Paul sees this grace. Notice his gospel eyes that observed the scene when he visited Philippi and said that's grace. What if we gathered with the intention of doing that? Identifying and encouraging evidence of grace in one another.

[to be continued]

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