2 Corinthians 9:1–15
Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove vain in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated- to say nothing of you- for being so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. 6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all contentment in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
Treasuring Christ Together (TCT) is a vision for church planting and campus multiplication as a means of spreadinga passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. The vision was born out of growth that needs to be cared for and dreams that ought to be pursued. In other words, the vision is driven both by the God-given pressure of the present and the God-given possibilities of the future. Our aim is not to focus on coping with crowds (which is hard to avoid) but on increasing the number of those who worship Jesus—that is, we are focused on spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in Jesus Christ.
Last week we saw the amazing Macedonians—actually we saw the amazing grace of God at work in the Macedonians. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 describe a people who experienced the grace of God so powerfully that in severe affliction and extreme poverty they were filled with joy and overflowed in liberality for the relief of the saints beyond their ability, giving themselves first to God and then to the people of God. It was a beautiful work of God, and a beautiful community. My prayer last week was that we, as a church, would become more and more like these Macedonians.
Now today I want to focus on one phrase in 2 Corinthians 9:8 as I try to bring further clarity to the vision of Treasuring Christ Together. In doing this I will try to address some of the ideas that were raised last Wednesday at the all-church discussion, and set us up, I hope for more discussion Sunday night at 6:00.
Every Good Work?
The verse says, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all contentment in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” Do you see them? All, all, all, all, every. That is a staggering promise for you as a believer, and for your family, and for us as a church—simply staggering. It’s like the promise of Jesus in Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” It’s like the promise in Philippians 4:19, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Or Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want [that is, I shall not lack anything].” Or Psalm 84:11, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
Back to 2 Corinthians 9:8, “God is able to make all grace abound to you.” This, you recall, is what he did in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:1): “We want you to know, brothers,about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia.” Remember, this grace brought affliction and did not remove poverty. So when Paul says that this grace will meet every need (Philippians 4:19), or (as here in verse 8) that it will enable us to “abound in every good work,” it doesn’t mean that all our desires or felt needs will be supplied. And it doesn’t mean that every conceivable “good work” will be funded.
So the phrase I want us to focus on is the phrase “every good work.” What does it mean? This is the promise: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that . . . you may abound in every good work.” Almighty, sovereign grace is available for “every good work.” Which good works does “every good work” refer to?
Just to help you feel the force of the question, ask yourself: Have I done “every good work”? Have we, as a church, done “every good work”? When we hear this question our minds cry out: What do you mean, Paul, by “every”? Every conceivable good work? No. There are thousands of conceivable good works we don’t do and can’t do. So what does “every” refer to? Particularly for us, Does it refer to the next step of Treasuring Christ Together—purchasing a North Campus?
Every God-Ordained Good Work
I am going to suggest an answer from Ephesians 2:10. It says, “We [Christians] are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Here we have a defining phrase for the “good works” we are to do: the good works “which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” I take this to mean that God will give us grace for “every good work” that he has prepared beforehand for us to do. Not every possible good work. But every God-ordained good work.
One of the great challenges of the Christian life—and each local Christian church—is proving what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). What are the good works that you should be doing? What are the good works that Bethlehem should be doing? Or to be very specific: Is the Next Step of Treasuring Christ Together in purchasing the North Campus one of the “every good works” that God promises he will give us grace to fulfill? How do we corporately find the will of God for the good works God has ordained for Bethlehem?
I will suggest an answer to that question at the end but, since part of the answer is understanding the vision, I want to give more glimpses into what it is. I take my clue for how to do this from Erik Hyatt’s ringing words Wednesday night when we said, “It’s both-and, not either-or.” That sounded to me like a prophetic word from the Lord that would pull us all together. So let me mention four both-ands, because if we can agree that this is a both-and vision, then we only be left arguing about the proportions, and not about the substance. And some of you have some very good ideas about that which began to come out Wednesday evening.
1. Treasuring Christ Together is both the management of growth and the pursuit of dreams.
The essence of the dreams is simply the Great Commission: Go make disciples. Go spread a passion for the supremacy of God. When God has mercy on us and fulfills those dreams, more people gather for worship and ministry. When more people gather for worship and ministry, meeting rooms have to be enlarged, services have to be multiplied in our place or several places, or churches need to be planted. Or a combination.
After years of wrestling with alternatives—like dividing into house churches, moving to a cell-church model, telling people that they can only come three out of four Sundays, creating five or six services on one site downtown, building a 3,000-person sanctuary downtown, and others—after years of wrestling with options, the elders are proposing the vision called Treasuring Christ Together. Both to manage growth that exists, and to obey the command of Jesus to keep making disciples. It’s a sobering discovery that spreading a passion for the supremacy of God leads to the necessity of managing (or praying for) space for the blessing of God. Just like a family that grows has to provide bedrooms and living space for the children. So TCT is both the pursuit of dreams—spreading a passion for God—and the management of growth. Both-and.
2. Treasuring Christ Together is both incarnated in western culture, and aiming to inspire and equip and send people to incarnate the gospel in non-western culture.
Saying this is an attempt to honest and radical. Honest, because there is no hiding that virtually every thing we do in worship and education and life is shaped by western culture: our language, our clothes, our transportation, our church buildings (whether storefront or cathedral), our homes, our food, our church music, all our instruments, our way of thinking about time, punctuality, service length, leadership styles, child care, marriage expectation, and on and on. We are thoroughly western. The gospel has become incarnate in western culture. Compared to the third world it is a very expensive—a very wealthy—culture. No matter how simple we build western buildings (the homes and apartments we live in, and the church buildings we worship in) are wildly expensive compared to the two-thirds world. We are part of that. What we long to happen in all the cultures of the world—the incarnation of the gospel as an indigenous movement—has happened in our culture. And we should praise God for it.
But that’s not the whole story. We see the dangers in that, not only for our own souls, but also in making us unfit to prepare missionaries to serve in the non-western world. And so the other side of the coin in this both-and church is a relentless call to a wartime mindset and a wartime life-style. When American went on a wartime footing during the first and second world war, all lifestyles changed to maximize resources for the war effort. That is what we want for the sake of the gospel. But America was still the richest nation in the world, even during the austerity of wartime, and still be very western.
And besides calling for a wartime mindset and lifestyle in our western culture, we call for a rigorous effort—a radical intentionality—about being aware of what is cultural here and what is not, so that we are not enslaved to non-essentials but can leave them in order to incarnate the gospel in another culture. We aim to breed a kind of person who is aware of what is skin and what is wine. TCT is both at home in western culture and free from western culture—for the sake of the nations.
3. Treasuring Christ Together is both the multiplication of campuses and the planting of churches.
The difference between the two is that campus multiplication keeps the people of the campuses under the leadership of the same elders and the same unified budget and the same preaching pastor. All the campuses are legally and organizationally one church. A church plant from Bethlehem shares the same mission and Elder Affirmation of Faith, but has its own council of elders and its own budget and its own preaching pastor or pastors.
The church budgeted $100,000 in this year’s budget for church planting. Kenny Stokes is working presently with about 10 possible church plants near and far. We are praying and planning for a major push this fall to mobilize people from both sites for a Twin Cities church plant. The elders will have a more definite word about that in a few days.
Why church planting in addition to campus multiplication? Here’s the way Tim Keller puts it. He’s the preaching pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the overall growth for the Body of Christ in a city, and for 2) the renewal of the existing churches in the city, and for 3) the spread of God’s shalom, especially in under-resourced neighborhoods of the city. Nothing else—not crusades, evangelistic programs, social programs, government policies, church renewal programs—nothing else will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. (Quoted from a handout, “ Why Plant New Churches?”
- New churches tend to have more of an outward focus than older churches.
- New churches tend to pursue unbelievers more than older churches.
- New churches demand and grow more new lay leaders than older churches.
- New churches tend to be more flexible than older churches.
- New churches tend to stir up life and vision in the older mother churches.
This is the judgment of hundreds of leaders involved in church planting movements around the country and around the world. (See some resources here.) The New Testament does not merely say go make disciples; it says baptize them. Don’t leave them dangling alone, gather new believers into churches.
TCT aims to have the mindset of Charles Spurgeon when he sent 250 of his people away in to a new church start, and was described by one his people: “The Pastor was always pleased when such a battalion left the main army to carry on operations elsewhere.” (Dallimore, Spurgeon: A New Biography [Chicago: Moody Press, 1984], p. 172). TCT is both campus multiplication and church planting.
4. Finally one last both-and. Treasuring Christ Together is a call both for up-front gifts between now and the closing date for the North Campus on May 15 and on-going gifts to the new stream of income called Treasuring Christ Together.
It is becoming clearer to us in these days that Treasuring Christ Together is not a temporary fund drive to buy one building. It is a vision of spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things by multiplying campuses and planting churches as long as God gives the blessing. In other words, very practically, this means that Treasuring Christ Together becomes a line on our giving envelopes to create a stream of income that lasts as long as God continues to give us the united vision and the blessing of making disciples who treasure Christ above all.
So we are asking, that if the church approves the vision this Wednesday, you would both give an upfront gift by May 15 and a stream of regular gifts after that to the vision of TCT. Filling out the cards and turning them in the next two weeks would help us know how God is moving among us.
Is TCT One of Those “Good Works”?
Finally, is this vision one of the good works that Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 9:8? Remember this staggering promise: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all contentment in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work”? My answer is that the Lord has put in place a process by which a body of his people discern his will. There are five components:
- We as a church attempt to be saturated by the word of God so that our minds are transformed.
- We called for extraordinary prayer in recent months and hundreds of us are on our faces about this continually.
- You have affirmed elders over the church who have studied, wrestled, prayed, and this Tuesday will craft a final recommendation for this Wednesday.
- We all submit to the providence of God, which means that the Mounds View City Council this Monday night is in God’s hands as they make their final vote.
- You will discuss Sunday night at 6:00 and then vote on Wednesday concerning this vision.
At any of these points the vision could be stopped, or by the coming together of them all we will see if this vision is a “good work” for which God promises to meet every need.