Text: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 (NIV)
7 But just as you excel in everything —in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
10 And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, 15 as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”
Sermon: Grace-onomics July 1, 2012
“Blue-collar billionaires stay grounded through giving.” That’s not the usual headline someone expects to read.
Forbes magazine estimates that there are 1,125 billionaires in the world. Basic economics touts that it takes money to make money, but in a surprising number of cases, the mega-rich have sprung from impoverished roots and not lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Consider John Anderson. He grew up in a meager barber’s home, but played hockey well enough to earn a scholarship to UCLA. While there, he worked two jobs to cover expenses, including a factory graveyard-shift job operating a metal oven. After an MBA and a law degree, Anderson made a risky purchase of a failing beer distributor. As it turns out, the company was the sole distributor of Budweiser in Los Angeles. Fifty years later, this made him one of America’s 400 billionaires.
Humble beginnings have grown into gaudy returns for a number of blue-collar billionaires. Leonard Del Vecchio (net worth: $10 billion) was an orphan working in an eyeglass factory. Dennis Washington ($3.4 billion) was a crane operator with just a high- school diploma. Sheldon Anderson ($26 billion) was a college dropout who delivered newspapers. IKEA owner Ingvar Kamprad ($31 billion) hawked matches, fish and Christmas ornaments by bicycle.
Many of these self-made billionaires are also generous donors. Few complained about Oprah’s $2.5 billion net worth at the height of her career. She was born to unmarried teenage parents — her mom a maid and her dad a coal miner. Growing up in rural Mississippi her grandmother made dresses for Oprah from potato sacks. Nevertheless, she skipped two grades in elementary school, did part-time television newscasts in high school, and was a talk show megastar by age 32.
But the striking difference between Oprah and some of her billionaire compatriots is her unmatched reputation for generosity. She is a charter member of the new philanthropists. She rewarded her entire staff and their families (over 1,000 people) with paid Hawaiian vacations in 2006. She’s funded the college costs for 250 African-American men.
She covers the administrative costs of Oprah’s Angel Network so that 100 percent of the hundreds of millions in donations go toward justice issues and education for the world’s poorest. And she has yet to be dethroned from the top spot on any list that examines celebrity philanthropy.
Quite simply, Oprah remembers her roots. She gives to causes that should have been there to take care of kids like her. She’s a good model of moving from poverty to riches to helping alleviate poverty.
How many of us have told God that if God made us rich, we would take care of the needs of countless others?
Generally speaking, we can give many ways to the Lord’s work. We can give to those who are in need: with our spiritual gifts, our skills, our talents, our prayers and our time. But, in this case, Paul is not asking the Corinthian church to donate their spiritual gifts, their skills, their prayers or their time. Paul is talking money. Dollars and cents.
So now, the apostle Paul is asking the Corinthian church to give out of their substance on behalf of the church in Jerusalem (v. 7) who was in dire need of financial help. They may or not have been rich, but they were affluent.
But how do we decide when giving is appropriate, beneficial? How rich is “rich”? And how needy is “in need”? Have we missed the possibility that God has already put us in a position to be able to provide? This is the theme of today's sermon text. Despite their poverty, the Macedonian churches had generously given to those who had less than they (vv. 1-6) did. Paul not only encourages the Corinthians to follow the example of the Macedonians in their giving, but even more so the example of Christ, who “became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (v. 9).
In Philippians, chapter two, the Apostle wrote,
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
Jesus embodied this voluntary experiential poverty so that our spiritual poverty could be transformed into spiritual richness. All that the Corinthians, and we, have materially and spiritually is the result of the grace of God. That grace is, in fact, is a form of wealth in itself. God has poured himself out for them, and us, in Jesus Christ — how can they, or we, not do the same for others? This collection is representative of a partnership in Christ.
Our spiritual roots lie in the impoverishment of Christ on our behalf. That makes freely giving our resources to the needs of others theological. It is incarnational. It is pure gospel. It re-enacts our spiritual story through fiscal action.
Paul’s basic economic theory is that everything belongs to God in the first place, but God has seen fit to share it with us — even to the point of sharing God’s own person in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:21b-23).
Even if we don’t have a penny to our names, we are rich because of God’s grace toward us. It is thinking that runs counter to just about every economic theory. We give not to get, but because we have received. We love because we have been loved.
Whatever our financial situation, we all have the same spiritual heritage — rags to riches. Jesus’ poverty on behalf of our affluence.
Moreover, in that redistribution of spiritual wealth, there is a foundation (example) for redistribution of actual wealth. We remember our roots and look to follow Jesus in granting care to the poor from the blessing of our riches.
Our incentive to give of our time, our talents, our treasure in God’s service has nothing to do with what we’ll get in return, which is how economics works; even though there are some obvious benefits in terms of personal growth and freedom from dependence on things.
Instead it has everything to do with what God has already done for us and continues to do for us. Grace. God’s grace. Whether spiritual or financial, it’s all God’s grace. And that’s Grace-onomics!