2 Corinthians 8:6-11
We are in 2 Corinthians chapter 8 where Paul is calling the Corinthian believers to complete the collection that they had promised for the relief of the saints in Jerusalem. Paul, in this section, is calling them and spurring them on to live in a way that is consistent with their profession of faith. They confess to love and trust Jesus and believe the gospel and to be followers of Him; does their conduct, particularly in this area of love and generosity toward Christ’s people reflect their confession?
This morning will continue with Paul as he writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit to spur the Corinthians on to the love and generosity that ought to characterize the people of God, and our aim is to understand how Paul sought to do that in the first century, and also our aim is to be strengthened and encouraged and moved ourselves in our own time to love each other and to abound in free generosity as we more and more live upon Christ.
2 Corinthians 8:6-11
Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.
I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.
II. Understanding the Text
Let’s work through this text. My hope is that we walk away from this time together with a better understanding of this text. The regular diet that each one of us needs is to read, understand, and apply the actual text of Scripture. So first, let’s make sure we understand this text and then we will seek to submit our own hearts to its message.
This first word tells us that what Paul is about to say is in harmony and follows and is in agreement with what he has just said. What did he just say? If you were here last time you will recall that Paul described what had happened among the churches of Macedonia.
Paul told us that grace came down (circumstances remained extremely difficult – their trial of persecution and deep poverty was not changed) but joy rose up and generosity overflowed out. Paul went on to describe that when grace came down what was happening in them was that they gave themselves first to the Lord (they entrusted themselves to God, they were living upon Christ) and then, because they were living upon Christ they gave themselves for Christ’s people.
So, verse 6 again, “Accordingly (or in a way that is in harmony with example of the Macedonian), we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace.”
So, apparently, it was Titus, Paul’s co-working in Christ, who had actually been the one to spearhead the collection for the saints in Jerusalem among the Corinthian believers. But as it seems to have lagged or been left unfinished Paul urges Titus to complete this act of grace among the Corinthians.
Let’s note that phrase, “act of grace” here. Is this God’s grace, like the grace given among the Macedonians in verse 1 or is this the Corinthians act of grace (kindness) toward the saints in Jerusalem? Well, the fact that Paul is urging Titus to complete this act among the Corinthians makes it seem that it is their act of kindness. But mark the strong connection that Paul has established between God giving grace to His people and the result being their acting in grace toward one another.
When God’s grace comes down on a people it is evidenced by grace going out from that people.
But let’s make sure we get what Paul is saying. He has said, consider the example of God’s grace coming down among the Macedonians resulting in grace overflowing from them. In a way that accords with this outpouring of God’s grace and overflowing of grace among the Macedonians I am counting on God being at work among you Corinthians as well. There should be a harmony between the Spirit’s work in Macedonia and His work in Corinth (and here) – that is why Paul told Titus to complete this act of grace that was started among the Corinthians. He expects an accord.
Paul goes on to Verse 7:
“But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.”
A couple of things to make note of in this verse. The word ‘excel’ in the ESV is the same word Paul used to describe the Macedonians ‘overflowing’ in generosity. It means to abound, overflow, excel. Just as the Macedonians had overflowed with generosity so too should the Corinthians.
It is clear that in verse 7 Paul is describing the fruit of the Spirit of God in them: faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness (in dealing with sin in there midst), and in their being loved by the brethren. They have demonstrated that God’s Spirit has been given among them, they excel in the fruit of the Spirit, therefore Paul says, “as you excel in everything, see that you excel, overflow, abound in this act of grace – this generosity- also.”
He continues in verse 8.
“I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.”
So Paul has told the Corinthians to see that they overflow in this area of caring for the saints, but he hasn’t said it as an authoritarian command: “do what I say whether you like it or not – or else!” He explains that the reason he has held up the Macedonians as an example of what it looks like when God pours out His grace is that he desires to prove that the Corinthian’s love is also genuine. He is telling them to display what is already true. He is urging them to demonstrate the reality that exists. He’s not saying become something your not; he’s saying demonstrate who you are.
As He says in the next verse, these are those who know the gospel and so if this is true they must evidence it with the fruit the gospel produces. So he says in verse 9,
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
Here Paul is not simply putting Christ and His work forward as a moral example (though that is true), but as the Great Creator and Bringer of a new creation. Because of Christ’s work the Corinthians are already rich. And if they are believers of this gospel they will demonstrate it in their behavior.
We will come back to this central reminder of the gospel and it fruit, but for know let’s finish Paul’s thought.
“And in this matter I give my judgment: this (and here I understand ‘this’ to refer to Paul’s not commanding them, but his testing them. So: this testing) benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it.” Verse 11: “So now finish doing it well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.”
So if we tried to summarize what Paul says here it would go something like this: when God’s grace comes down among a people, their external circumstance may not change, but their joy rises up and they entrust themselves to the Lord, living upon Him and out of their hearts overflows generosity and a giving of themselves for the good of others. So, you, Corinthians have given evidence that you of the Lord, members of the New Covenant with the Spirit of the living God in you. You are those who know the gospel and have become rich by it. And you are overflowing in the fruit of the Spirit in so many areas… but what about this area? You began with a willing desire to serve the needs of the Jerusalem believers, will you now finish well and so prove again to be genuine? That is the logic of Pauls exhortation.
Thoughts about the biblical model for exhortation:
I wonder if we see a contrast in the way Paul is seeking to move God’s people to action and the way many Christian think about and attempt to motivate God’s people to action. Paul is exhorting, reminding, stirring up, but he is not threatening, beating, whipping, or commanding action. He is clearly explaining and laying out what ought to be present in their lives if they embrace the gospel, if they are genuinely Christ’s people, but he is not motivating them with threats. The only force being applied to the Corinthians is the power of the truth of gospel.
Is that how we pursue growth in our own lives and in the lives of others, or are we trying to use other means and measures to conform to godliness?
Defining the Goal
I think it is so important that we understand the goal of Paul’s exhortation. Paul longs to see fruit, holiness, godliness. But godliness issues, springs forth from, the heart and is not external conformity to rules. If Paul had threatened or demanded that the Corinthian church give for the needs of the saints in Jerusalem and they did it with out joy, without eagerness, it would not be generosity and it would not be pleasing to God and it would not be the fruit of the Spirit. Godliness and holiness are not external conformity to rules.
I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The very things that God commanded (solemn assemblies, burnt offerings, singing) were abhorrent to Him because even as they conformed externally their hearts were far from Him.
What is the essence of sin? It is to prefer and honor and cherish anything above God Himself:
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for that which does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Sin in its essence is a dishonoring of the God who is. Sin is a heart issue, not first an action issue.
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
And so no amount of threatening or cajoling or punishment or external restraint will produce godliness and holiness – Which is why the Law of Moses was impotent to produce righteousness and salvation; the best it can produce is white washed tombs. It is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16). It is the gospel that takes out the heart of stone and puts in the heart of flesh.
And Paul succinctly rehearses the powerful gospel in verse 9. Claiming that the Corinthians know this gospel, they know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The question was does the evidence of their lives reflect its power in them – are they genuine believers so that their hearts have been softened and remade?
II. Considering the Power of God in the Gospel
What I would like to do now is consider this powerful gospel because Paul said in chapter 3 that it is as we behold the glory of the Lord that we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another. And if the gospel has come with power in our lives the glory of the Lord will move us to abound in joy and overflow with generosity! If the gospel has come with power, our hearts will not remain cold and hard and unmoved – and I pray that God’s grace will be poured out this morning even in these moments. So let’s consider that glory.
I want to ask and answer 3 question of verse 9.
First, Q: In what sense was Christ rich?
Paul says, “ For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.”
In what sense was Christ rich?
We know that Paul is not talking about a time when Jesus Christ walked the earth in honor and riches and comfort because there was no time on earth that Jesus was rich on earth. He was a poor carpenter from Nazareth.
No, Paul is pointing to one of the most profound teachings of the Bible. The identity of Jesus Christ. Here, in just four words, “though He was rich”, Paul is rehearsing the incredible fact that our Lord Jesus Christ preexisted His birth in Bethlehem and preexisted in riches. In what sense was Christ rich? We could spend many hours compiling the many descriptions and indications in Scripture about the riches that were His before His birth in Bethlehem, but this morning we will limit ourselves to just a few. We need to understand who Jesus is.
The Deity of Christ
If we start with the prophesies of the OT we come to places like Isaiah 7:14,
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Immanuel means ‘God with us’)
And Isaiah 9:6,
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
As the author of Hebrews points out that the OT anticipated a Divine Messiah. Consider Hebrews 1:5-12
For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”? (Psalm 2:7)
“I will be to him a father,
and he shall be to me a son”? (2 Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 89:26-27)
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Deut. 32:43 and Psalm 97:7)
Who alone is worthy to be worship by the angels? God alone is to be worshiped. And here the author of Hebrews quotes God as saying let all God’s angels worship him. Hebrews goes on in verse 7,
Of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels winds,
and his ministers a flame of fire.”
But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” (Psalm 45:6 and 7)
And [God says of the Son],
“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment,
like a robe you will roll them up,
like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same,
and your years will have no end.” (Psalm 102:25-27)
According to the author of Hebrews the OT anticipated a messiah who is the Son of God, who deserves worship, even of the angels, which belongs to God alone, who God calls God, whose throne is forever and ever, and who was indeed the one who laid the foundation of the earth and who does not change! The OT anticipated a divine Messiah and this is the united testimony of the NT authors as well.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
And who is John talking about? Jesus Christ, Maker of the universe, God with us.
As John bears witness to Jesus Person and work we are given Jesus’ own self testimony:
6:48 – “I am the bread of life.”
8:12 – “I am the light of the world.
8:56-59 – “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” [and here Jesus is clearly identifying Himself as the Great I AM, Yahweh, the God of Israel. And the Jews knew it.] So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”
10:7 – “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”
10:11 – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
11:25 – “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
14:6-9 – “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
15:4-5 – “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Jesus understood himself as the vine, the way the truth and the life, the resurrection and the life, the good shepherd, the door, the pre-existing, ever-existing, the great I AM of the OT, the hope of Abraham, the light of the world, the bread of life.
And so as Peter said in Acts 3:14-15.
… you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.
Who was Jesus? As our confession of faith says,
We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Having limitless knowledge and sovereign power, God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.
We believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully God and fully man, one Person in two natures. Jesus—Israel’s promised Messiah—was conceived through the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, arose bodily from the dead, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father as our High Priest and Advocate. – EFCA Statement of Faith
This Is what we believe because this is the testimony of the Scriptures.
There is much talk these days about ‘god’ without defining the god of whom we are talking. The God that truly exists and is revealed in Scripture is the great Three in One. One God, existing in three divine Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
And so, again, in what sense was Christ rich? The riches that were the Lord Jesus’ were inestimable. The wealth of His glory was infinite. Because Jesus is the second Person of the Triune God.
And so when Isaiah sees the vision of the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up in Isaiah 6 and the seraphim flying above Him shielding their eyes because of His glory and crying out “holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of host, the whole earth is full if his glory!” and upon seeing this Isaiah says, ‘woe is me! for I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Isaiah is describing the glory of Yahweh, our one God who is exists in three Persons. This is a description of the riches of glory that belong fully to Jesus.
Do we understand what is packed into the four words, ‘though He was rich…”?
And it is so crucial that we understand that the riches that were his, consisted in His joy. The fellowship of God the Son with God the Father and God the Spirit had eternally been a perfect fellowship of prefect joy and delight. The riches of their joy was immeasurable.
I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
And so it was not out of any lack whatsoever that the Son left the riches of glory and honor and joy. It was for our sake as Paul continues in verse 9, “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor…”
Q: In what sense did Christ become poor?
… He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
See also Philippians 2:6-10
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God [that is to say, he was all that God is], did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant [that is to say, he was all that a servant is], being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The Lord of glory, maker of the universe, who is holy, holy, holy lowered Himself to humiliation and a brutal death. For our sake He became poor, despised, rejected, crushed, killed upon a cross, “…so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
The last question is what did Christ poverty accomplish? Paul says it accomplished our riches. But in what sense have we become now become rich?
Again, we could spend hours compiling a list of all the benefits of Christ’s work for those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And let’s make sure we understand that is only those who believe who receive the benefits of Jesus Christ our Lord. If we turn away from Christ and reject Him and His work at Calvary the benefits of His poverty will not make us rich. God being rich in mercy and because of His great love did for sinners what we could not do for themselves and for all who will believe upon the Lord Jesus His poverty accomplished infinite wealth.
For those who believe what incredible riches are ours!
New Creation: Forgiveness/no condemnation (Ephesians 1:6-8; Romans 8:1), reconciliation to God (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19), make alive (Romans 6:11; 8:9-11; Ephesians 2:4-5), justification (Romans 3:23-26), adoption (Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:5), being transformed (2 Corinthians 3:18), we have freedom from guilt and the condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:17), we have the Spirit of God in our hearts/temple of the living God (2 Corinthians 6:16). We are accepted and beloved (Romans 5:5; 1 John 3:16; 4:19; 1 Peter 2:10) we are chosen and precious (Romans 8:30; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:9). God is at work in us.
(Again, remember Paul’s point, if the powerful gospel has come and you do believe upon the Lord the evidence of these riches should be abounding in our lives – the fruit of the Spirit should be evident!)
Christ died and rose victorious over the grave for our sake – so that we might become rich! Do you believe this? And you who do believe it, do you think on how rich you are?
“Above all else, the richest and most precious blessing of all [that we have received in Christ] is God Himself! He is our inestimable treasure. Beholding His beauty is own inheritance. Enjoying His excellency is our wealth.” – Storms.
When God’s grace comes down we give ourselves to the Lord – we live upon Him as our treasure and refuge.
Again I ask you: do you think about and meditate on and rejoice in how rich you are in Christ Jesus because of who He is and what He has done? Are you beholding, looking at the glory of the Lord Jesus, in His majesty and might and His emptying of Himself to poverty his generosity and grace – are you beholden the glory of the Lord and does it move you?
If you are His, you are rich. But as Paul tested the Corinthians, so here we must test ourselves. Am I in Christ? Am I included in those who have been made rich by Christ? Have I been given a heart that loves God and His people and rejoices in the gospel?
Because… When the grace of God comes down…the eyes of our hearts are opened and are hearts are changed and moved by the grace of God in Christ… And we excel with faith, and joy, and a living upon Him, and generosity overflows.
“If this love of Christ, so magnanimous in its motive and so self-sacrificing in its execution, is an active force in the believer’s heart, how unnecessary, the apostle implies, is any command to practice giving ought to be. What, without that love, might seem a cold moral duty has been transformed by it into a joyous privilege.” R.V.G. Tasker.
The example of the Macedonians has been given.
The glorious gospel has again been considered.
The question is, are we genuine? Are we in Christ? If so the gospel should be powerfully at work in us to make us like the Macedonians – abounding in joy, entrusting ourselves to God, and overflowing with love and generosity toward his people.
Let us rejoice in Christ our Savior and be moved by His love and pursue love and good works with zeal – because we are so rich.
Andrew “Andy” Murray was born and raised in NH. His father, pastor Loren Murray, served Fellowship Bible Church in Chester, NH. At six years of age Andy trusted in Jesus Christ and was baptized. He was brought up “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” At the age of 12 Andy’s dad was in a fatal car accident. Reflecting on the loss of his dad Andy writes; “I see now the wise and loving hand of Christ in my life as He used this event to shape and mold and press me toward Himself. It was this event that sparked in me an earnest desire to know God from His Word. By His grace, this desire has continued to grow.” Andy met his wife, Elizabeth, at Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University). They have four wonderful boys and delightful girl.