NEW PROVIDENCE BAPTIST CHURCH

WHERE GOD IS CALLING YOU OUT OF DARKNESS INTO HIS MARVELOUS LIGHT

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sunday School Lesson

August 31

Lesson 14

Generosity in the Midst of Poverty

Devotional Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-7

Background Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8, 9

2 Corinthians 8:1-14

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;

2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;

4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.

5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.

6 Insomuch that we desired Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also finish in you the same grace also.

7 Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.

8 I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.

9 For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.

10 And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago.

11 Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.

12 For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.

13 For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened:

14 But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.

Key Verse

As ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also. —2 Corinthians 8:7

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:

1. Summarize the circumstances of Paul's appeal to the Corinthians for generosity.

2. Explain self-sacrificial generosity as a necessary outcome of faith in Jesus.

3. Make a plan for exercising generosity as an expression of faith in Jesus.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Epic Generosity

B. Lesson Background

I. Macedonian Example (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)

A. Gracious Giving (vv. 1, 2)

B. Impressive Initiative (vv. 3-5)

Those Who Give Most

II. Corinthian Challenge (2 Corinthians 8:6-9)

A. Complete the Commitment (v. 6)

B. Pass the Test (vv. 7-9)

III. Important Work (2 Corinthians 8:10-12)

A. That Was Then (v. 10)

B. This Is Now (vv. 11, 12)

IV. Desired Outcome (2 Corinthians 8:13, 14)

A. Not Burden ... (v. 13a)

B. ... But Equality (vv. 13b, 14)

Conclusion

A. The Best Reason to Give

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction
A. Epic Generosity

One of the world's favorite stories is Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. First as a novel and later as a musical stage play, it has fascinated audiences for generations.

Les Misérables is the story of Jean Valjean, a poor man who is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. Finally released from prison, he is given refuge by a saintly bishop of the church. Valjean repays the man's generosity by stealing his silverware! But when the police capture Valjean, the bishop says that the silverware was a gift to the man. Stunned by the bishop's gracious generosity, Valjean becomes a changed man. In the rest of the story, he becomes a person of humble, heroic generosity.

Perhaps what makes Les Misérables so beloved is that it exemplifies the grace of God. Though we have rejected God's generosity, He still freely offers us forgiveness by His grace. Having received that forgiveness, a person can never be the same. God's gracious generosity begets the same generosity in His people.

B. Lesson Background

While on his third missionary journey, the apostle Paul planned to receive a collection for the poor of Jerusalem—the offering to be received from churches he had planted (Romans 15:25-32; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4). It seems that the Jerusalem church had little left to help its own people after years of sponsoring missionaries, enduring famines, and suffering persecution. So Paul planned an offering as a practical response to the need.

Beyond meeting needs of the recipients, such an offering would be a powerful demonstration of the church's unity. Paul's congregations had many Gentiles, while the Jerusalem church had a very high percentage of Jews. The offering would express a unity in Christ that transcended differences in ethnicity or geography.

As Paul wrote about his plan in his second letter to the church at Corinth, he was probably in the province of Macedonia, more than 100 miles to the north of that city (2 Corinthians 7:5; 8:1; 9:2-4). Paul had established churches in Macedonia on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:9-17:15). He had planted the church in Corinth in Achaia to the south on this same journey (Acts 18:1-18; 2 Corinthians 9:2).

I. Macedonian Example

                                                                               (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)

A. Gracious Giving (vv. 1, 2)

1. Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia.

Paul begins by describing how the churches of Macedonia have responded to his appeal for a collection (do you to wit means "to make known to you"). In so doing, he begins not by speaking of the Macedonians' generosity as such but by noting that they have received the grace of God. Generosity is itself a gift of God, the means by which His people can participate as givers in God's own plan of gracious giving.

2. How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

Because Christian generosity is based on God's unchanging grace, one's generosity remains (or should remain) strong regardless of circumstances. Macedonia is an excellent example. The churches in this area have been under great pressure, both from persecution and from their own lack of material wealth. But their generous spirit is rich, flowing from their joy in knowing Jesus. If believers under such pressure can give so generously, certainly the Corinthians can do so as well.

B. Impressive Initiative (vv. 3-5)

3. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves.

How to Say It

Achaia Uh-kay-uh.

Les Misérables Lay Mee-zay-rah-bl.

Macedonia Mass-eh-doe-nee-uh.

Titus Ty-tus.

 

Logically, one expects that people will be generous only up to their power to give. This should be especially so of those who are themselves in need. But Paul serves as a witness to the fact that the poverty-stricken Macedonians have given above and beyond that point!

What Do You Think?

What does it look like for people to give "beyond their power"? How are you doing in this regard?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding tangible gifts (money, etc.)

Regarding intangible gifts (time, etc.)

The exceptional generosity of the Macedonians has not been forced. They have responded freely, by their own choice. Paul understands that a forced response would not be genuine. Real generosity shows itself when people reckon with and freely respond to God's grace.

4. Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.

The Macedonians are far from reluctant to give! Paul combines several words to emphasize that they enthusiastically insist on being exceptionally generous. The word praying as used here refers to requests not to God but to other people—in this case, to Paul and his assistants (us). Those requests have come with much urging, or intreaty.

Those who are to be the recipients of the collection really need it (Romans 15:26). But Paul restates a larger purpose for the collection: it will be a tangible expression of the common bond between believers. It is a concrete action of service to others. The recipients, just as the givers, are the saints—the people of God set apart by His grace (compare 2 Corinthians 9:1). Here is an opportunity for a powerful expression of what it means to follow Jesus (compare Matthew 25:34-40).

5. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.

In fulfilling their deep desire to participate in the collection, the Macedonian Christians far surpass (not as we hoped) Paul's expectations! They give not just an offering of money but their own selves. Someone has said that money is "coined life" because it takes the time and energy of life to obtain it. The Macedonian Christians' give with an attitude that they are sharing themselves with their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, as if they are neighbors sharing the ups and downs of life together.

The Macedonian Christians have this attitude because they are giving themselves first and foremost to the Lord. If Christ's Spirit lives in every believer, if believers together constitute Christ's body, then generosity toward other Christians expresses generosity toward the Lord Jesus.

The Macedonians' generosity also expresses a grateful response to Paul for bringing the gospel to them. Paul has given himself freely and generously in preaching to the Macedonians; now they are giving themselves unto us (Paul and his traveling companions). Such self-giving is submission to the will of the God who gave himself for us on the cross of Christ.

Those Who Give Most

We tend to marvel at the million-dollar gifts of wealthy benefactors to charitable organizations. While we may commend such donors, the poorest people in America actually give a bigger percentage of their income. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the richest 20 percent of Americans give only 2.1 percent of their income while the poorest 20 percent of Americans give 4.3 percent. Perhaps equally surprising is the fact that in difficult times the generosity of the poor declines less than that of those richer.

What compels the poor to be so generous? The attitude of a 40-year-old unemployed single mother is revealing: "I believe that the more I give, the more I receive, and that God loves a cheerful giver." Arthur Brooks, author of a book that analyzes American generosity, sees a strong connection between religious faith and generosity.

What Paul wrote about the generosity of the Macedonian Christians tells us this is not a new phenomenon—see also Mark 12:41-44. The key is likely to be found in the fact that they "first gave their own selves to the Lord." How are we doing in that regard?—C. R. B.

Visual for Lesson 14. Point to this visual as you ask, "How do we keep from 'writing checks' that Jesus 'can't cash'?"

II. Corinthian Challenge

                                                                             (2 Corinthians 8:6-9)

A. Complete the Commitment (v. 6)

6. Insomuch that we desired Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also finish in you the same grace also.

The Macedonian Christians' generosity encourages Paul to move forward with the planned collection. If the churches in Macedonia can respond so exceptionally, then Corinth must be challenged to do so as well. So Paul is sending Titus to deliver the letter we are now reading to the believers in Corinth to prepare them to make their own contributions. The Corinthians have already made plans to do so, but Titus will help them finish what they have started.

By referring to the Corinthians' forthcoming gift as the same grace also, Paul is stressing that this offering is not forced. It will be an act of generosity, an act on the Corinthians' part that imitates the grace of God.

B. Pass the Test (vv. 7-9)

7. Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.

For all its shortcomings, the church at Corinth is one of the great churches of Christianity's first generation. Paul can speak honestly of the believers there as having responded to the gospel in abundance: in their deep faith, in their utterance, in knowledge of God (1 Corinthians 1:5), in diligence in putting faith in action, and especially in their love for Paul and all the fellowship of faith. It is from this perspective that Paul urges them to participate in the collection as part of their avid embrace of the Christian faith.

But there is another aspect to Paul's instructions. Yes, the Corinthians are exemplary in many ways, but some (many?) think too highly of themselves. In his first letter, Paul warned about overestimating one's spiritual state (compare 1 Corinthians 8:1, 2; 13:4). To those in danger in this regard, the verse before us is a pointed challenge: now is the time to practice what you have bragged about.

The readers will respond properly when they recognize that mature Christian virtue is no sign of personal superiority. Such virtue is, rather, the sign of God's superiority, for Christian virtue is the simple, honest, still unworthy response to God's redeeming grace (see 2 Corinthians 9:12).

8. I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.

Paul stresses that he is not ordering the Corinthians to contribute. Their offering should be voluntary. But he affirms that he is challenging them by discussing the Macedonians (others). Their example will be the test of the Corinthians' response. A generous response will prove that their love for Christ is genuine not just in words but also deeds.

What Do You Think?

What's the difference between "encouragement" to give and "undue pressure" to give? How do we keep from crossing that line?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Giving vs. tithing

Test of fellowship

Test of leadership

Guilt trips

Other

9. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.

Paul now retells the gospel story briefly but pointedly. Christ was rich in the fact that He enjoyed equality with God the Father—supreme, unsurpassable power and glory. But for the sake of sinners, He set aside those privileges to become human, even suffering an undeserved death for our sake. By that means, we humans, who are genuinely poor in comparison with Christ, become rich, receiving the treasure of God's kingdom now and forever.

Summarizing the gospel in a sentence, Paul thus provides the unassailable foundation for Christian generosity. When the Corinthians realize what Christ has done for them, they will be utterly compelled to be generous. We glorify Christ by imitating His generosity. We can never equal it, but we can reflect it.

III. Important Work

                                                                            (2 Corinthians 8:10-12)

A. That Was Then (v. 10)

10. And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago.

Paul expresses confidence in the Corinthians' commitment to the offering. What he is saying is not a command but is counsel on how to proceed. This is fitting for the Corinthians because they had committed to the collection a year ago. The phrase to be forward indicates their strong willingness to participate. The condition of the heart must be right for the gift to matter beyond that of meeting a need of the recipient.

B. This Is Now (vv. 11, 12)

11. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.

The Corinthians' contribution has been planned for some time now (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). Now, Paul says, the time has come to put the plan back into action, finishing what they have begun. Generosity starts in the heart, but it must be acted upon to be real generosity, just as God's love was expressed in the real action of Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection.

12. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.

Perhaps the Corinthians' initial enthusiasm for the collection has given way to discouragement as they face the limitations of their resources. There is evidence, for example, that a famine affects Corinth not long before the writing of 2 Corinthians. Paul acknowledges that the Corinthians have limited means: they can give only from what they have. Their important response, however, is not the amount that they give but their willingness to share from what they have. Among God's people, the response of love is always outward, but the size of love is found within the mind and heart.

What Do You Think?

Considering all the giving requests you receive weekly, how do you decide which to support and in what amounts?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Evaluating your ability to give

Evaluating the need

Evaluating the credibility of the recipient

Evaluating the "kingdom impact" of the gift

Evaluating Christian vs. secular causes

Other

IV. Desired Outcome

                                                                            (2 Corinthians 8:13, 14)

A. Not Burden ... (v. 13)

13. For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened.

Used to high taxes, sharp business practices, and dishonest religious teachers, some may wonder whether the collection's purpose is to make certain people rich at the expense of others. But Paul assures the Corinthians otherwise.

B... But Equality (v. 14)

14. But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.

Whatever the limits of their resources, the Corinthian Christians have more at their disposal than do the Jerusalem Christians. From the Corinthians' abundance can come an amount that will meet the need in Jerusalem. Paul assures his readers that were the tables turned, the Jerusalem church would respond similarly. In fact, it was from the Jerusalem church's generous sharing of their spiritual resources that the Corinthians have become part of God's family (Romans 15:27).

The equality that Paul desires is not absolute economic parity, where every Christian has exactly the same amount of material goods. Rather, he desires an equality of sufficiency, where all have at least what they need because all are ready to share with those who have not. God provides His people with sufficient resources so this can happen.

What Do You Think?

What would have to happen for our church to implement Paul's idea of equality?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Educational (Bible study) steps

Issues of privacy and embarrassment

Evaluating levels of need

Other

Conclusion
A. The Best Reason to Give

What makes people generous? Some give for the good feeling they experience. Some give to make a name for themselves. Some give to honor someone who gave to them in the past.

Christian generosity is founded on the last of those reasons (see 2 Corinthians 9:12). Followers of Jesus are generous because Jesus was supremely generous with them. When that truth gets inside us, it turns our world upside down.

B. Prayer

Father, You have been generous to us beyond measure! May our hearts and our gifts reflect the grace of Christ, in whose name we pray, amen.

C. Thought to Remember

You cannot outgive God, but try to do so anyway!



Standard Lesson Commentary 2013-2014 (KJV).

"Suggestions for families are taken from Standardlesson.com,

Standard Publishing Group, LLC. Used with permission. More resources for families are available at Standardpub.com.


God Bless