2 Corinthians 9:8 “Grace That Changes Our Behavior”
Introduction:I suspect that this scene has occurred in your households if you have children or will if you have small children. You are trying to teach your child to do something like tying their shoes. You show them, you help them to do it and what often happens the next time you want to help them? You hear those words, I can do it all by myself! The child feels that they have mastered it and they dont need help anymore. I can do it by myself.
There are a lot of Christians today who are like toddlers. We look at what God has done to save us, say thank you to Him and then we say, Now I can do it all by myself! We want to show God how grown up we have become. We want to show God that we can live our Christian lives all on our own now.
God in his infinite wisdom knows better and knows that if we are left to our own devices, we will fall, fail and do so spectacularly. God in His grace not only saves us, but changes us. We cant live our Christian lives by ourselves just like we cant save ourselves. God in His grace sanctifies us and changes our behavior.
This verse occurs in the midst of Paul teaching the Corinthians about giving. Giving too is part of how we are to respond and act to what God has done for us. But we want to focus on the grace that God gives to enable us to do things we wouldnt be able to do on our own. Lets read 2 Corinthians 9:6-11.
I. The Teaching about Giving
I. The Teaching about Giving comes in Pauls efforts to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem.
As Paul begins his teaching on giving, he uses the picture of planting as a model for giving. The basic principle of farming and gardening is the more you plant, the more you will harvest. Paul is teaching the Corinthians that to give is to sow with the expectation of a greater return. What kind of return?
There is a return in quantity for if he gives abundantly, he will also receive abundantly from the Lord. This is taught very clearly already in the Old Testament. Proverbs 11:24,25 says: “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Also Proverbs 19:17 – He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.” God will take care of a person who is generous in giving. That should not be the only motivation for giving, but nonetheless, God will bless the giver.
But there is also a return in quality in our hearts. If a person genuinely gives from the heart, his heart in return will be greatly blessed. Our actions of love and compassion will enable us to grow spiritually. Actions of giving will produce a great harvest of both physical and spiritual blessings.
What is critical, however, is that the giver must have the proper attitude in giving. First, there must be genuine freedom in deciding what gift each person should give. Paul says in verse 7, that we must give what he has decided in his heart to do. Don’t just give on emotional appeal, but think it through very carefully before you give.
Second, in verse 7, Paul says don’t give reluctantly or grudgingly. A person gives but doesnt want to or complains about doing it. In a biography of Robert Kennedy, author Evan Thomas notes that Kennedy, a child of wealth and privilege, rarely carried cash, relying instead upon members of his entourage to pick up his tabs. One day Kennedy, a devout Catholic, attended a church service with a friend, who dutifully placed a dollar on the collection plate on his behalf only to hear Kennedys muttered protest: Dont you think Id be more generous than that?
Which raises the question: If your neighbor was going to give for you, how much would that neighbor give? Do others see us reluctant givers or cheerful givers?
Paul also says that we should not give from compulsion or being forced to give unwillingly. Some may have felt compelled to give because Paul was coming to collect. Such a person gives because they know that others are watching what they are doing. Giving must come from your own heart and mind.
Paul says that in short, we must give cheerfully for God loves a cheerful giver! It means that it gives us great pleasure to be able to give to others. What happens when we give and give cheerfully?
II. There is a Resulting Harvest.
And this harvest is the complete result of Gods grace. It is not in our own power or ability that enables us to give as 2 Corinthians 8:7 points out. God’s grace is the only way that we are able to give generously from the heart. God will give us the grace to desire to give. Giving generously results in a rich outpouring of God’s grace on us.
God will also give blessings to us materially. In fact Paul says that “in all things at all times you will have all things.” Notice the number of “alls” that Paul uses here in verse 8. When we think of giving away our possessions or money with generosity, we think we are placing ourselves in a very vulnerable position.
But verse 8 makes it very clear that the opposite is in fact the case. We will be taken care of in all circumstances and in all things.
One source in Rabbinic Literature says this: If you give to charity while you are poor, you will eventually give in days of wealth. If you do not give while you are rich, you will eventually abstain from giving because of poverty. God has willed that there be two hands in the matter of charity — one that gives and one that receives. Thank God that yours is the hand that gives. Say not, “I will miss what I give.” Be like the sheep who give their wool and have no less the next year because they have given.
The result is that he will “abound in every good work.” In this setting, this means that the giver will be able to give as he so decides to give. The proof that Paul offers is from Psalm 112:9. This man first scatters abroad his gifts; he is generous and cheerful in his giving. As a result, his righteousness endures and these actions will endure forever. Righteousness here refers to his giving to the poor. His gifts will be effective and he will receive a reward for them. We will look at this principle in a moment.
Paul says the same thing in verse 10 by using the planting picture he began with earlier. God provides the seed to the sower. Our possessions and money are the Lord’s to begin with. God will see to it that those who sow their gifts generously will receive even more seed. God also provides bread to the eater. He makes the seed sown to produce a harvest so that there is bread to eat. Those they give to will have the food or materials they need as well. God will richly bless those who cheerfully give, as well as those who receive.
Finally, Paul says that they will be made “rich in every way. There is a cycle of giving that Paul describes here. You plant some seeds in your giving. The Lord blesses your gift and you receive an abundant harvest. But then with that abundant harvest, you are able to also to give more to the needs around us. God will make us rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.
But there is one final result that is essentially important: thanksgiving to God. The ones who receive the benefit of the giving will thank God. That is certainly true for those who have received physical help from other Christians are very thankful for God’s love shown to them in their time of need.
Actress Minnie Driver recently traveled to Cambodia, where she visited Third World factory workers. The living conditions are brutal, she told People Magazine. There are five girls sleeping in a room that is 4 feet by 4 feet. These women had worked their 10-hour day, they had not eaten a single healthful meal, yet they still smiled and asked if I wanted to stay for dinner. Even in their dire poverty, they are grateful for what they have and are willing to share.
But the givers too have opportunity to thank God. When they see God’s love being shown in the lives of others, they can thank God. When they see others lives being turned around from their generosity that is cause for thanksgiving.
III. But lets now look more closely at The Role of Grace in our Actions.Whether in giving or in any part of our lives, Gods grace is what we need in order to live our Christian lives. This is the main principle that we are going to looking at. A lot of Christians think of Gods grace as a nice little additive to their lives. Its that extra boost we need to get through the rough spots or to get a bit more spiritual energy. But this thought carries with it the idea that we can do it all by ourselves. And that attitude can lead to a very dangerous position with our life with our Father.
Christian Smith, a sociology professor at Notre Dame, but also a solidly reformed thinker, spoke at our last classis meeting. He made the point that the major religion in our culture today is not Christianity, but moralism. Moralism is the belief that if you live right and do enough of the right things, God will bless you. Oh, you need Jesus for life insurance for when you die, but for our lives right now, just be good! If you are nice and good, God will like you and will reward you. Steve Brown writes that if being nice and good is the extent of what it means to be a Christian, Buddhism will probably be of more help than biblical Christianity.
Whats the problem with moralism? Its totally false. Please do not misunderstand me here. Im not saying we shouldnt try to be nice and good. Its just that we cant be nice and good on our own or when we try, we fail. To live in Gods grace means that we can only live the kind of lives God wants us to live because He gives us His Spirit to be able to be good. We cant live one day in our lives as Christians without Gods grace and help.
We are not only saved by grace, we are sanctified, or made holy or good, by Gods grace. We sometimes think that God has saved us and now well take it from there. I once went to a funeral service where the pastor said about the person who had died, He did all that he could and God did the rest. Im all for hard work and being persistent, but this reflects an attitude that God will somehow supplement our good efforts. It reflects the attitude that it is possible for us to be the kind of persons God wants us to be all on our own. I know me and if it werent for Gods actions, there wouldnt even be the start to doing good. God is the one who enables us, empowers us, and equips us to do what we do.
How does this work? First, God is destroying the old sinful nature. Romans 6:6 says, For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin When Christ was crucified, we were crucified with Him, and so it is Christs death that puts to death our sinful nature. Paul also says in Galatians 5:24, Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Again God puts to death our sinful nature only through what Christ did on the cross.
God also then replaces that heart of sin with a heart of loving obedience. We cant do this on our own either for it is only God breathing new life into us. Romans 6:11 says, In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Now certainly we are to yield to what God is doing but it is God who is doing this out of His grace. Yet we can only cooperate if we have the Spirit of God in us, moving us to cooperate. This is what Romans 8:11 says as well: And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
Think of it in terms of our children. When a child is born, he or she has new life, but parents dont just turn the child loose and say, There you go! Youre on your own now! Parents continue to sustain that life, provide what that child needs to become the person they should be. God has redeemed us in Christ, but now as our Father He is removing our sinful nature and replacing it with a heart that is responsive to His will.
So what does that mean for us living out our lives for our Lord? Does that mean we can just go about our lives and do whatever we want? Of course not.
In a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, the ever-mischievous Calvin is engaging in a philosophical discussion with his stuffed tiger about the nature of heaven. If heaven is a place where everyone is good but he likes to be bad, Calvin muses, then how is he ever supposed to be happy there? Hobbes replies: How will you get to heaven if you like to be bad? Calvin: Lets say I didnt do what I wanted to do. Suppose I led a blameless life! Suppose I denied my true dark nature! Hobbes: Im not sure I have that much imagination. Calvin: Maybe heaven is a place where youre ALLOWED to be bad!
That reflects a very self-centered view of morality: whats in it for me. A Christian should be thinking of the relationship with Jesus and what that is all about.
It should be our goal and intent to live holy lives for God. And we should not be surprised by all the time we stumble and fall. And just because we do stumble, it doesnt mean that we are not saved or that God stops loving us. The life of sanctification is a slow, ongoing process with our Father who is working in us.
So how do we become better persons? We spend time with the one who has redeemed us. We pray to and talk with the God who has lavished us with so much amazing love and grace. If we are talking with God and walking with Him consciously day by day, we will find ourselves becoming more and more the person God wants us to be.
And it wont be because we are trying so hard. Steve Brown writes, Im getting better by not trying so hard to be better. Almost anything of any importance (love, happiness, contentment) comes when I am looking for something else. When I stopped working so hard at being better and turned to Jesus, thats when, almost without noticing it, I started to get a little bit better. So I have decided to get as close as I can to Jesus, who will always love me even if I dont get any better.
We will become more righteous when we simply spend more time with Jesus. God our Father will change us when we show that we want to live with Him. We dont make ourselves better, but we can open up our lives to become better when we walk with our God and Father day by day and listen to His loving encouragement and leading.