An Example for Us to Follow
-- Pastor Bob Norris (Interim Pastor)
For the past two months, we have been tagging along with the nation of Israel as they were released from bondage in Egypt and made their way to the Promised Land. They were very much a nation at the crossroads needing to make regular decisions which would impact the days to come. They have now completed the conquest of the nations that previously occupied the land promised to Abraham, and the patriarchs and they are enjoying peace and prosperity instead of warfare.
We here in Michigan have recently emerged from 16 months of restrictions as of June 22 related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of us have been impacted directly by the spread of this deadly disease, and the aftermath is still being felt by some. Life is beginning to return to more normal patterns for most, however, some of the restrictions placed on us we dealt with have become more comfortable and now part of a “new normal” for our lives.
It has been encouraging to look out on a Sunday morning and see a growing number of people who are making public worship a priority after several months of isolation. Our Diaconate has decided to reinstate our social hour in the Fellowship Hall after morning services this month. We will soon return to passing the communion elements as well as the offering plate as part of our Sunday worship service.
I recently read through the Apostle Paul’s comments to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 8 & 9) about their initial financial assistance to the believers back in Jerusalem who were being persecuted for their faith. Something in Corinth had occurred that caused this project to be put on hold even though the need for assistance had not changed. Paul draws their attention to the testimony of the Macedonian churches (Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea) who were also experiencing hardship and having a difficult time making ends meet, but with a different response. Here is what he had to say:
2 Corinthians 8:1-5 (NIV)
1And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5And 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.
Many times when a pastor raises the issue of giving warning lights and sirens go off in one’s head – things like…”you’ve got it, he wants it!” or “he may shout, but tune him out!” or even “if he hollers, keep your dollars!” Unfortunately, too many people in “church world” focus in on the matter of finances with less than reputable motives. That was the problem of the religious elite of Jesus’ day.
The Apostle Paul wanted to remind these followers of Christ about the awesome power of God’s grace, sometimes defined as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. It was a favorite word of his, used 80 times in his New Testament writings, 17 of which made their way into 1 & 2 Corinthians. His grace teaches us that our God does not treat us fairly – we deserved condemnation and death because of our sin. But our God goes well beyond that – He responds with both mercy and compassion by opening our eyes to our need of a Savior and the faith to respond to His generous offer of forgiveness. In addition to all of this, His grace sustained those Macedonian believers through significant trials, much of it in the financial realm with overflowing joy!
Verses 3-5 reflects Paul’s testimony of how these obedient followers of Christ from Macedonia responded to the urgent need of others. They went even further begging Paul for the opportunity to give more in service to their suffering brothers and sisters back in Jerusalem. Paul closes this section with the great reminder that they first gave themselves to the Lord and then to the truth of God’s Word taught by Paul and his team. For them, sacrificial giving was an act of worship – a tangible way of communicating to others that they loved God supremely and others sacrificially. Paul’s message to Corinth is a great example for us to follow!