EMULATING THE NATURE OF GOD
We must never forget that the nature of the church of Christ is identified by love, and love needs no commandment, for the commandment is love (Jn 13:34,35). Therefore, in order to introduce his instructions in the context of 2 Corinthians 8:10-15, Paul stated to the Achaian brethren, “I do not speak by commandment” in the matters concerning their completing their promise to give to the famine victims in Judea (2 Co 8:8). This principle in reference to contributions is vital in order to understand the nature of the body of Christ. Love simply needs no commandment to act. Love is the action.
God is love, and those who would be godly after His nature will be identified by their love for one another (See 1 Jn 4:7-11). God needed no commandment to initiate redemption on our behalf. In like manner, we need no commandment to act on behalf of our brothers. This is exactly what John wrote: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn 3:16). John wanted this point clearly understood. So he continued, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn 3:17). This is the foundation upon which the whole universal body of Christ functions. Love makes the body organic. And this is the reason why Paul did not need “to speak by commandment” in these matters.
Giving that is forced by commandment is not giving out of love. Giving out of commandment is not joyful giving. This is the major mistake of those who seek to bring over the percentages of giving of the Old Testament law (tithing) into the loving behavior of the body of Christ. When we start pressuring people to give according to a law of percentages, we have robbed them of the opportunity to give out of a heart of love. Until one learns to give out of a heart of love, he has not yet learned the joy of giving. Neither has he discovered the true nature of love of the body of our Lord Jesus. If he is still focusing on percentages, and not principles, then his giving will always be grudging giving according to some self-imposed law.
We should repeat here a note to those who still believe that giving is some type of selfish investment plan, that is, giving in order that God give us more material things. These folks seek from God a return on their investment. But godly givers do not think this way. God loved us unconditionally through His grace. In order to emulate God in our lives, we too must give unconditionally. We are not expecting a return on the investment of our love for our brother. The love that identifies the body of Christ is unconditional. It is not selfish. Jesus pointed this out when He said to His disciples,
When you prepare a dinner or a supper, do not call your friends or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you are repaid. But when you prepare a feast, call the poor, crippled, lame and blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just (Lk 14:12-14).
Disciples do not seek material repayment in this life. Their “repayment” will only be when they are raised to walk on “streets of gold.” Godly giving is not in hope of carnal rewards in this life.
A. Held together by love.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. And everyone who loves is born from God and knows God” (1 Jn 4:7). “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 Jn 4:11). By this, Jesus said, “all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:35). Therefore, in giving to the needs of other disciples who are suffering from a natural disaster, a body of loving people have no need for a commandment to give. Giving to others is simply the nature of a loving body. The body organically functions because it is a body of lovers.
We now understand why the Philippians gave “once and again” unto the evangelists Paul, Timothy and Silas (Ph 4:16). This is the secret as to why the Macedonians gave out of their deep poverty (2 Co 8:1-4). They simply could not help themselves. The disciples of all Macedonia were functional in their love for the whole body of Christ because this was who they were, a body of loving people. Therefore, the Achaians’ follow-through on their promise to give to the famine victims in Judea would manifest to others what Paul wrote, “… the sincerity of your love” (2 Co 8:8). In other words, if the Achaians did not come through on their promise to give to the famine victims, then they would manifest that they were not a part of the loving body of Christ. It would be revealed that they could not walk their talk.
In the context of 2 Corinthians 8, Paul explained the sacrificial grace of Jesus that manifested the unconditional love of God on the cross. Jesus was rich in heaven as the creator of all things (Cl 1:16). But because He is identified as love, Jesus’ grace (gift) to man was manifested in an action of love by giving up His riches for the salvation of man (See Ph 2:5-11). God is a giver. Jesus was the unmerited gift given out of love (Jn 3:16). If we would be disciples of a loving God who gave a loving gift (Jesus), then the mind of Jesus must be our mind. “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus …” (Ph 2:5). This is true discipleship.
Jesus’ giving was an act of unconditional love for our sakes, and our giving must also be an act of unconditional love for the sake of others. He became poor for us, and thus we must become poor for others. This was the grace that the Macedonians had learned that was the sign of true discipleship. In their deep poverty, they “abounded in the riches of their liberality …” (2 Co 8:2). Therefore, when one seeks to be baptized into this body of loving disciples, he must be warned. The standard of living of the prospective disciple will come down upon obedience to the gospel, as it did with the Macedonians.
Disciples sometimes do too much talking about doing something, but do too little about walking their talk. Talk without performance brings our integrity into question. This was what Paul was trying to prevent by writing these things to the Achaian disciples who had talked a year before that they would give. But talk without contribution would bring their sincerity into question. John recognized this among some disciples. He instructed, “Let us not love in word … but in deed …” (1 Jn 3:18). One must walk his contribution talk. So in order that the Achaians not embarrass themselves by not walking their talk about giving a year before, 2 Corinthians was written. Paul wrote these words that they fulfill the promise they made (2 Co 8:10). “But now finish doing it [the promised giving] so that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there may be also a completion out of what you have” (2 Co 8:11).
In 2 Corinthians 8:12 Paul said that we must not promise beyond what we have. The Macedonians knew this. This explains why they went “beyond their ability” to make a contribution to the famine victims. All God expected was that they give out of their ability. But the Macedonians had discovered the joy of discipleship. “If you know these things,” Jesus had said to the disciples after He washed their feet, “happy are you if you do them” (Jn 13:17). The secret that the Macedonians had learned is that happiness is generated out of loving sacrifice for others. This should not be a secret among the disciples of a loving God. It is, however, a secret among those of an unloving world.
The Macedonian disciples could not help but go beyond their ability because of their love for those who were of the body of Christ. The standard of living for loving people always comes down when they become Christians. All those things we consumed on our own lusts as unbelievers are sacrificed for others when we become believers. We can discover, therefore, the extent of our own discipleship by our performance in giving to others. It is for this reason that true discipleship is revealed by the passing of the collection plate.
B. Held together by mutual sharing.
In the context of 2 Corinthians 8, Paul moves into explaining the universal function of the body of Christ in reference to our fellowship in giving. “For I do not mean that others be relieved and you burdened” (2 Co 8:13). This one statement defines the organic financial function of the universal body of Christ in reference to contributions to special needs. Every disciple throughout the world has the same responsibility in the matter of contributing to the needs of the whole body. When there is a physical dysfunction in the lives of the members in one part of the world, then those who can supply those needs must go into action. Every member who has supplies must seek out of love to supply those members who need supplies. Paul explained to the Ephesians how it works:
… from whom [Christ] the whole body being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working of each part, causes growth of the body to the edifying of itself in love (Ep 4:16).
In 2 Corinthian 8 Paul was saying that it was now time for the Gentile Achaians to return the favor to the Jewish Christians in Judea. The Achaians now had an abundance of physical things that they could supply the Judean Jews who were suffering from famine. Now the Achaian Christians needed to remember that they were saved in a covenant relationship with God because the Judean Jewish Christians originally had an abundance of spiritual things (the gospel) that was formerly sent out and shared with the Achaians through the preaching of the gospel (See 1 Co 15:1-4). When Christians share worldwide the abundance of either their physical or spiritual things, then the body is held together by what every part supplies (See Ep 4:11-16).
There can be equality among the parts of the body only when there is fellowship in supplying both the spiritual or physical needs of the body. If a group of people determine to stand independent from the whole body by their refusal to share when parts of the body are in need, then they can only compare themselves with themselves as they work within the cocoon of their own fellowship, which thing some in Achaia were trying to do (See 2 Co 10:12). An unwillingness to fellowship in supplying the needs of the body manifests a sectarian spirit that is carried out by denominating a group of disciples from the whole body.
If Christians seek to remain in partnership with the one organic body of Christ, then they must financially partner with one another. This is the concept that moved the Macedonians to beg Paul to take their physical supply for the Judean saints (2 Co 8:4). If we would seek to remain in this worldwide fellowship, and thus be in an equality (partnership) with all the parts of the universal body, then we must seek every opportunity to share in giving to the financial function of the body of Christ.
If we continually see ourselves in need of something, and thus expect others to give to us, then we will never take ownership of our fellowship with the universal body of Christ. It is for this reason that those who view themselves continually as unfortunates who should be supplied by the whole are those who can never feel that they are in partnership with the members of the one body of Christ throughout the world. If churches continually have their hands held out to others for financial help, then they cannot financially join in fellowship with the worldwide body of Christ. It is through giving to evangelists to preach the gospel to the lost, and to disaster needs of the body, that the first century church was bound and held together in the unity of the faith. Their unity was not only a matter of believing and obeying the one gospel, but also in their cooperation with one another as individuals who had been brought into a common loving fellowship in Christ.
C. Held together through partnership.
The partnership passage of the New Testament church is 2 Corinthians 8:13,14:
For I do not mean that others be relieved and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their need, that their abundance also may be a supply for your need, that there may be equality.
No better words could have been written to explain the partnership (fellowship) that all Christians of all the world have with one another in Christ. This one passage at least teaches the following:
Christians cannot live estranged lives from one another.
- Christians are their brother’s keeper.
- No Christian is to be burdened while others neglect their responsibility to fulfill the needs of others.
- When one has a supply of that which another is in need because of a natural disaster, then there must be supplying on the part of the one who has the supplies.
- No part of the body is to be neglected in having the opportunity to share his or her supply with those who are in need.
- The body must heal itself through the sharing of what every member can supply during times of natural disaster.
- The whole body must work as one body in order to supply the parts of the body that are suffering from disaster.
- No one part of the body is to be burdened in fulfilling a need while other parts of the body sit idle and do nothing.
- Except for those who are suffering from a disaster, no one part of the body is exempt in the matter of supplying the needs of the suffering.
One would ask to what extent must our partnership go in sharing in times of calamity? Paul answered, “As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing left over and he who gather little had no lack’” (2 Co 8:15). The one who has abundance from his labors gives the leftovers for those in need. And because some shared their leftovers, he who gathered little from the harvest could still feed his family from the leftovers of the one who gathered much (See Ex 16:18). What Paul is saying is that if one does have leftovers, he needs to be looking around for someone with whom he can share his abundance. He needs to seek some opportunity where he can share the abundance of his harvest. Before we became Christians, we consumed our abundance upon our own lusts of the flesh. But when we became disciples of the sacrificial Servant of the cross, we allowed ourselves to be consumed by the needs of others.
(Lecture 11 is coming in five days.)