The Grace of Giving, Part 4

Theme: The Secret of Great Giving
This week’s lessons teach us how the grace of God in Christ drives both our attitude and our actual practice of giving to support Christian causes.
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:1
Verse 5 adds a further explanation of the remarkable giving of the Macedonian Christians: “And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will.” I call this a further explanation of the grace of giving because, as we well know, trials and poverty do not in themselves produce great giving, not even among Christians necessarily. In fact, they sometimes do the opposite. They sometimes produce bitterness in people who thereby become self-centered, mean, tight-fisted, and greedy. In this verse Paul explains that the Macedonian Christians had: 1.) first given themselves to the Lord; and 2.) then given themselves to Paul and the missionary team that came with him.
Given to the Lord. It is hard to emphasize this too much, because in the fullest sense everything in the Christian life begins, continues, and ends with this necessity. It begins here, because this is what it means to be a Christian. To be a Christian is to surrender oneself to Jesus Christ, repenting of sin, believing on him, and beginning to follow him as one's Master. It continues here, because Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship, which means serving him as Lord of our entire lives. It ends here, because Christians must persevere in their original calling to the very end.
Some years ago I heard a prominent member of a board of directors of an organization say, “To be a good board member you should be able to give one of three things: time, talent, or wealth.” That is good worldly wisdom. But a Christian will do better. A Christian will give everything he or she is or has to Jesus Christ.
This is why so many believers know so little about the grace of giving. They know the gospel. They believe it. But they have not really given themselves to God, at least not wholeheartedly. They are like Jacob when he stood on the banks of the Jabbok on the edge of Esau's territory. Twenty years earlier he had cheated his brother out of his father Isaac's blessing. Esau had threatened to kill him, and he had been forced to flee across the desert to live with his uncle Laban. As the twenty years passed he gradually forgot about Esau's threats. But when he finally left Laban to return home and was getting close to where Esau lived, he began to remember Esau and became very afraid. What if Esau had not forgotten? What if he was still determined to kill him? 
When Jacob got to the edge of Esau’s territory he decided to send a servant ahead of him to tell Esau he was coming and get a feeling for how he would most likely be received. The servant came back with the report, “ coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him” (Gen. 32:6). To Jacob this was a vast army, and he could only assume the worst. He had to believe that Esau was going to attack him and his small band of servants. So he divided his company into two parts, saying, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape” (v. 8). Ah, but what if he was in the group Esau attacked? 
As Jacob thought it over he decided that something more drastic was necessary. He decided to appease Esau with gifts. He took two hundred female goats and sent them ahead of him across the barren terrain toward Esau and his approaching army. He put a servant in charge of the goats and gave him these instructions: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us’” (vv. 17, 18). 
After he had sent the servant with the female goats Jacob sent another servant with twenty male goats, giving him the same instructions. He said to himself, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead” (v. 20). 
After that he sent two hundred ewes... 
Then twenty rams…
Followed by thirty female camels with their young…
Followed by forty cows…
Ten bulls...
Twenty female donkeys…
And ten male donkeys.
Each of these groups of animals was tended by a servant who was to tell Esau that the animals were a present from Jacob to him. It was a hilarious picture, all the possessions of Jacob strung out across the desert in groups moving toward Esau. 
He went even further. After he had dispatched the animals he sent his family ahead, choosing Leah, the least favored wife, to go first together with her children, then Rachel, the favored wife, with her children. And there at last, with his family and possessions sent ahead of him across the desert toward Esau, was Jacob. He was standing on the edge of the Jabbok, all alone and trembling. I suppose that if he had known the hymn Christians used to sing some years ago, he might have sung, “I surrender all...all the goats, all the sheep, all the camels, all the cows, all the bulls, all the donkeys, even my wives and children.” But he had not surrendered himself. The text says, “So Jacob's gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp” (v. 21). 
That night the angel of God came and wrestled with him and brought him to the point of personal surrender. 
Maybe the angel needs to wrestle with you. You have been stingy in your support of the Lord's work, giving only as much as you felt compelled to give. When the Lord pressed the claims of his work upon you, you responded by giving up a few goals. When he pressed you further you gave him a few sheep, then camels, then cows. You sang, “I surrender all the donkeys.” You were even willing to give your wife or husband or children. But you have never surrendered yourself. If you have not done that, you need to do it. You need to do it now. There is no substitute for giving yourself to the Lord. You will never know the joy of the grace of giving (or any other grace) until you do.
Given to Paul and his team. The second thing Paul says in order to explain the extraordinary giving of the Macedonians is that, having first given themselves to the Lord, they then also gave themselves to him and his missionary team. But that is not really a great additional achievement. It is something that follows naturally from having first given ourselves to the Lord. It is an inevitable sequence. If we give ourselves to God, we will give ourselves to others. This is because we will want to serve God with our whole selves, and the only way to serve God is by serving other people.
Study Questions:
  1. What are the two additional points Dr. Boice makes about the generosity of the Macedonian Christians?  Why does the first one lead to the second?
  2. Are there ways in your life that you have not surrendered completely to the Lord, and are acting as Jacob did when he was preparing to meet Esau?
Application: How can you serve others better this week than you did last week in light of what we learned about the Macedonian believers?

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