We want you to know, brothers,about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints - 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 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. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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.
Bethlehem is on the brink of finalizing what is probably the greatest structural change in its 133-year history, namely, the permanent establishment of one church on multiple campuses, using the God-given means of video-recording, the way we have been, to keep us united under the same exposition of Scripture. Lord willing, on Wednesday, April 28 the church will vote on whether to purchase a warehouse/office building in Mounds View, about eight miles from the downtown campus, where Highway 10 joins I-35 as the permanent, 24-7 location of our North Campus. The Mounds View City Council has given approval for us to move ahead, the earnest money has been paid, preliminary drawings of the build-out are prepared, and good estimates of the total cost of the project will be ready Monday and shared with all who come to the information meeting this Wednesday evening at 6:30 downtown. I hope you will be there.
My aim today is to put the multi-campus vision of Treasuring Christ Together in a biblical and theological framework, and I hope, inspire you to give your life to this vision. I met a young woman last Sunday after the service, a junior in high school from Virginia, who was here checking out colleges in the Twin Cities to see where she might attend. She was with her parents, and when I asked why they were looking in the Twin Cities, they said in chorus, “Because Bethlehem is here.” That should probably not be as exceptional as it is—to choose where you go to school, or where you work, or where you live, on the basis of the kind of worshipping and teaching and ministering and missionary community God calls you to be a part of and in which you want to bring up your children. So when I say, I hope in this message to inspire you to give your life to this vision of Treasuring Christ Together, I mean perhaps more than you think I do.
2 Corinthians 8-9
Let’s begin in the right place: God’s word. In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul is trying to raise money in Corinth for “the relief of the saints” (8:4). He mentions the churches of Macedonia because he had already taken a collection there, and they proved to be an inspiring example. Let’s put ourselves now in the place of the Corinthians and learn with them what Paul wants us to see from the Macedonians. Let’s go verse by verse through the first five verses of 2 Corinthians 8 and make ten brief observations and see how they relate them to our situation.
Verse 1: “We want you to know, brothers,about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia.”
The first observation is that what is about to be described in Macedonia is the work of God’s grace. If there is to be any blessing on or through Bethlehem, it will be all of grace. Not just past grace, but day-by-day arrivals of future grace for every need.
Verse 2 contains the next four points: “. . . for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.”
“In a severe test of affliction (poll?“ dokim?“ thlipseõs). . .” This means that when grace came and people were converted to Christ and changed into radical, joyful lovers of people, persecution and trouble came too. Grace does not just remove trouble. Grace often brings trouble.
“In a severe test of affliction their abundance of joy (perisseia t?“s charas). . .” But here’s the mark of grace: joy in the midst of “severe affliction.” This is the key that unlocks the treasure chest of generosity. The joy is rooted in grace, not in freedom from affliction. The affliction is “severe,” but the joy in it is “abundant.”
“In a severe test of affliction their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty (bathous ptõcheia) . . .” Not only has the grace of God brought more affliction, but it has not removed poverty. Instead it has made poor people radically generous people. That’s going to be observation number five. But don’t let this one slip by without getting clobbered by it. Here are people, unlike us, in much affliction and extreme poverty, and instead of grumbling and complaining and whining, they are overflowing with an abundance of joy. That is the key to all Christian living—in and out of affliction. I don’t say it lightly. I say it because it’s God’s amazing word, which can accomplish in us what it describes to us.
“In a severe test of affliction their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part (ploutos t?“s haplot?“tos autõn).” The effect of God’s grace is not first to remove affliction and not first to remove poverty, but first to give abundant joy that overflows in wealth of generosity. All studies show that on average the richer people are, the smaller the percentage of their money they give to charity. Whether the American church is a generous church compared to the church in the third world will be revealed at the last day when all the proportions are reckoned up. Oh, that God would guard us from the blinding and binding effects of wealth. It can be a great source of joyful giving, but it more often turns wants into “needs” and makes us blind and callous to what is happening in Sudan, for example, where families have to choose which risk to take when they fetch water from the well a mile away: daddy being shot, mommy being raped, or the children being kidnapped.
When I pray for your financial prosperity, I ask the Lord that he will prosper only those who treasure Christ above all and who have their hearts set on living simply and giving more and more away. Otherwise prosperity would be deadly.
Verse 3: “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will.”
These new believers gave “beyond their means” (para dunamin). I don’t know how else to take that but to say they took risks with their giving. They gave like the widow with two coins. They gave in a way that was more than they “could” give. You ponder what that might mean in your case.
They gave “of their own free will,” that is, of their own accord, their own choice. They were not coerced. They did what they wanted to do. God loves a willing, cheerful giver, not a constrained or coerced giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Verse 4: “. . . begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.”
The giving of these poor, afflicted new believers was not just free, it was passionate. Giving for them was so much a part of their joy in God’s grace that they begged to give. “Please let us give.” This probably means that Paul was trying to stop them from giving since he knew they were poor. And they were saying, “No, Paul, our joy will not be complete until it overflows to meet the needs of others. Let us give.”
Verse 5: “. . . and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”
This giving was not mechanical or impersonal or in any way in competition with personal relationships. “This”—this giving—they did in two relational ways. First they gave themselves to the Lord. The money was not first. “First they gave themselves to the Lord.” That is part of what I meant when I said I would like to inspire you to give your life to this vision—it is a vision of God, as we will see in a moment.
“. . . and then by the will of God [they gave themselves] to us.” First, the self is given up to God. I am not my own, I have been bought with a price. I belong to God. Second, the self is given up to the people of God. I am not my own. I belong to God and then to the people of God. I am the servant of all. Then, only third, they overflowed with generosity “for the relief of the saints.”
Application to Our Situation
Now let’s relate this picture of Christianity to our situation. Notice that the grace of verse 1 produced overflowing joy in verse 2. But what was this grace? It was not the removal of affliction. It was not the removal of poverty. What was it that made them so happy in the midst of great difficulty?
Verse 9 gives us the answer: “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.” Now we know from verse 2 that these “riches” do not refer to material riches. They refer to spiritual riches. They refer to the kind of riches that Christ let go in becoming poor. Though he was rich, he became poor so that we might have the riches that he let go. What is that? The immediate presence of God. Psalm 16:11, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
The pleasures of radical, poor, afflicted, generous Macedonian believers were not worldly pleasures. They were pleasures in the treasure of Jesus Christ and all God was for them in him. Christ had become poor that they might become rich and, in turn, he had become their riches. Or, as we are saying it these days, he was their Treasure. And what we see in this text is a stunning example of Treasuring Christ Together. Together: Corinth, Macedonia, Jerusalem! All treasuring Christ together in affliction and poverty above all things.
That is what our vision is called. They treasured Christ above money. They treasured Christ in affliction above security and comfort. And the effect of this treasuring Christ was abundant joy and overflowing generosity—or simply, love. Christ left the riches of heaven and died for them. Grace revealed Christ, forgiving their sins and opening everlasting fellowship with God. Treasuring this gift above all, they exploded with joy. And that abundant joy in poverty and pain overflowed in love for the relief of the saints.
Treasuring Christ Together means having a passion for all that God is for us in Christ. This is why “Treasuring Christ Together” is simply a specific application of our mission statement: “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.” This is what we are spreading to Mounds View and beyond: another launching pad for treasuring Christ together, or another seed bed for breeding passion for God.
And let’s be specific, because there is a sharp point to this mission. We are Christian Hedonists, and we mean to spread this with all our might. And all we mean is this: we have discovered that the overflowing joy of the Macedonians in the midst of affliction makes God look really magnificent. That is, God is most glorified in them when they are most satisfied in him—especially in times of suffering.
Or to put it another way:
We show God’s greatest measure,
When he’s our highest Treasure.
You can say it either way:
God is most glorified in us
When we are most satisfied in him.
We show God’s greatest measure,
When he’s our highest Treasure.
This is Christian Hedonism: Joy in God, treasuring God, being satisfied in God is not optional. It is the heart of how God is glorified in his people. God looks great and precious when his people are satisfied in him and treasure him more than money and comfort and security, so that worship and ministry and mercy and missions are released. When we plant a campus in Mounds View, that is what we plant. We plant a message—a vision of God—and a worshipping, ministering, merciful, mission-mobilizing people.
There is so much more to say—about church planting, and the wider movement of Treasuring Christ Together and how the staff will relate to the campuses. I will carry this forward next week.
Funding the Vision
But for now, I want to help you think about how this vision can be funded, so that you can be praying about it. How will we pay for this launching pad—this new base of ministry and missions in Mounds View? The ultimate answer we have seen is: the outpouring of the grace of God. We have seen it in the text, and now we will need to experience it.
Specifically, the answer is given on page 7 of the TCT booklet, section XI. “Compelling reasons incline us to raise what we can and borrow what we must, in order to purchase and prepare the location for a full use by this fall.”
So the Commitment Card you have gives two opportunities: one is a one-time gift near the front end of the project, and the other is a stream of income above your regular giving to pay for whatever loan is needed. The more we get up front, the less we borrow. We don’t have any mandates here for how much each member should give. We are simply trusting God to give the inclination where and how it is needed.
We don’t ask for anything today. Would you take the cards and come to the information meetings to get your questions answered and then pray earnestly for God’s leading. Then treasure Christ above all and give as he leads.