The Motives - 2 Corinthians 5:6-19

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 21st November 1999.

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I wonder if you have ever tried to live off £28 a year. You couldn’t do it today, and even the Church of England pays its clergymen better nowadays. But one clergyman did live off that sum and that was John Wesley a couple of hundred years ago. Now I am no great economist, but even I know that £28 was worth more then than it is now. But the staggering thing is not that he lived off that sum for a year, but that he kept on doing it. As a young man, he found that he could live off £28 a year and so he decided to give away the rest of his salary, about £3 I think. As he got older however, his salary increased but he saw no reason to expand his lifestyle. He just kept living off £28 and continued to give the rest away. That sum gradually increased until it was in the hundreds and over the years thousands, largely from the sale of his books. It was a huge sum by the standards of the eighteenth century, but he still lived off £28. Wesley was a man who understood the grace of giving and knew only too well that his priorities in life should be brought into line with God’s, and specifically he did that in the case of his giving.

Now today we are thinking in particular about our giving, and it’s entirely appropriate that we reassess our annual giving, how much we give, even whether we give at all in the light of what the Bible says. And to help us do that we are going to look at Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians chapter 5. It is not a passage which is specifically about giving, but it does reveal Paul’s motivation for serving God as he seeks to share the good news about Jesus with the world around him. It’s a passage that actually has a great deal to say about giving. Because those same motivations which compelled Paul to press on in serving Christ are the same motivations we need to urge us to press on in serving him with our money. And at the heart Paul asks us a question. And that question is who are you living for? Is it yourself or Christ? Twice in the passage in verse 9 and verse 15, Paul talks about pleasing God or seeking to live for him, not ourselves. And that is at the very heart of Christian giving. Because quite simply Christian giving is about pleasing God and putting him first in our lives, specifically in the case of our money. But of course all too often that is not our experience. I come first in my life on too many an occasion. But Paul knew that self had to come second in serving Christ. He had the priorities right. So what drove him, what motivated him to put Christ first in his life. Well in this passage Paul tells us three motivations for living for Christ. And each one has a very piercing application to our giving.

1) The Judgement of Jesus (vv 6-10)

2) The Love of Jesus (vv 11-15)

3) The Message of Jesus (vv 16-19)

 

1) The Judgement of Jesus (vv 6-10)

Paul has been telling the Corinthians in chapter 4 that whilst outwardly he’s wasting away, yet inwardly he’s looking forward to heaven and being prepared for that. That’s what keeps him going as an evangelist. In heaven he’ll receive a new body (5 vv1-5) and he’ll see God face to face. In verse 8, he’s confident that he will one day see God face to face, and he’d prefer to do that, but for the time being verse 7 he lives by faith trusting in the promises of God. And what does that mean in practise? Well he says, verse 9, it means making it our goal to please God. That’s the Christian’s job description whilst here on earth- to seek to please God. But then Paul reveals his incentive for pleasing God. He says in verse 10 that we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done whilst in the body, whether good or bad. Each of us he says must face the judgement of Jesus.

Now you may be thinking that cannot be right. Surely as Christians we are free from judgement. Isn’t that the whole point of the gospel? If not we may as well pack our bags and turn St. John’s into a bingo hall. Doesn’t Paul himself say that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? Well he does, of course. There is no condemnation for those who have trusted in Christ. So please do not leave! No Paul is talking about another aspect about judgement which we often neglect. And that is that the New testament frequently reminds us that Christians whilst not facing condemnation, will have to face evaluation. And there is a vast difference between the two. Paul is under no illusions that Christians will have to give account for how they have used their lives in the service of Christ. He’s already alluded to it in chapter 3, and he’s being consistent with Jesus’ teaching. For Jesus himself taught that we would have to give account. Some of his parables teach that very truth, like the parable of the servants in Luke 12. It’s not that such an evaluation will condemn us. Paul is in no doubt that he’s going to heaven. He’s confident he says, because he’s trusted in Christ. Nor is it that our deeds get us into heaven. There’s no doubt that trusting in Christ is the only way. But we are required to give an account of how we have made use of the things he has given us in serving him. Paul says that we will receive our due for the things done whilst in the body, whether good or bad. That says Paul is what spurs him on to seek to please God, knowing that one day he’ll stand before Jesus’ court and Jesus will ask, How have you served me? Have you been faithful? It’s not that we should be afraid. But there should rightly be a reverential respect and awe for God that so often we lack. We’ve gone too far the other way of treating him as a pal or a chum. Paul says that as well as being our Father, he’s also our evaluator. The judgement of Jesus us that first thing that spurs Paul on.

I remember when I was a child that often during the school holidays my mother would go out of the house and leave us with a number of jobs to do. So in a couple of hours we’d be asked to hoover the lounge, put out the washing, feed the cat and tidy our rooms. And there were two approaches to that command. Either you could say, OK sure Mum, and then forget all about it and risk her inevitable chastisement later on, or you could get on and do it straight away and try and pleas her when she returned. More often than not it was the former. And when the car pulled up outside the front, there would be the heart-stopping panic, as when suddenly sprung into action to try and avoid the consequences. Well it’s a weak illustration, but it captures something if what Paul is saying here. In recognition of Jesus’ evaluation, we are to serve him faithfully. We know that is coming, so we are t get on with the job. There’s no point neglecting it, because although Jesus is loving, he is also just and won’t stand for nonsense. And it’s because we loved and respected our mother that we would do the jobs we were asked to do.

Well let me ask you, do you live to please the Lord in the light of that judgement. Or are you happy to muck around in mediocrity, happy to take a huge risk. No this isn’t something to be taken lightly. Paul was motivated to please the Lord because he knew that he would have to give an account. He would stand before the whole court of heaven and give an account of what he’d done. And you and I will do the same. Well we’re thinking about our money today aren’t we. We could apply this to many areas of the Christian life. But what about our money. Will we stand there in shame for who we have sued our financial resources that God has graciously given us. Or will we be bale to humbly say I lived to please you with my money. Its an awesome thing isn’t it. It’s very sobering. Do you long for Jesus to say well done good and faithful servant? I’d love to hear those words for myself and everyone here. Well that was Paul’s first motivation in serving Christ. The judgement of Jesus.

 

2) The Love of Jesus (vv 11-15)

Well one motivation is enough but Paul goes on to give another- the love of Jesus. In the light of the evaluation he says that he seeks to do his job, that of persuading people to trust in Christ. He fears the Lord, that is he has an awesome respect for him which drives him to take Jesus’ words seriously. So he seeks to do his job with a clear conscience before God. He says in verse 11 that what we are is plain to God. The next few verses are a little complicated and they relate to his situation with the Corinthian church. Some false teachers were trying to impose themselves on the Corinthian church. They were throwing their spiritual weight around and flashing their spiritual credentials. But Paul isn’t like that he says. He just gets on with the job and makes no bones about his spiritual credentials. Oh he knows he’s got great spiritual gifts, but he doesn’t parade them around. That’s between him and God. Rather the Corinthians should take pride that he is getting on with the important work of spreading the gospel.

So why do you do it Paul, we ask? What keeps you going? Well one thing- verse 14, the love of Christ compels us." And how did he know that love? He goes on, "because we are convinced that one died for all." It was Jesus’ death on the cross that drove Paul on. It compelled him. It was like a driving force behind him. He knew that Jesus died in his place on the cross. And what was Paul’s response? Verse 15, we should no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died for us and was raised again. Paul’s whole life had taken a U turn. He was no longer doing what he wanted, but what his Saviour wanted. He had died to self. He’d put self to death and began to follow the one who had died to him. And no he had a new controlling force in his life- Jesus, the King and Saviour.

Well let me ask, are you gripped by the gospel in the way Paul was? Does that compelling force drive you in saying no to self and yes to Christ. And again in the area of money, are your and my desires the driving force or is the gospel? We live in a consumer world which makes us believe that we need far more than we do- the new car, the new kitchen, the expensive holiday. It’s not that money in itself is bad- Paul did not say in 1 Timothy that money was the root of all kinds of evil, rather that the love of money was the root of all kinds of evil. But it is very easy to be self-obsessed. My old vicar back home used to say that when a person was converted he understood the gospel in his head which then went to his heart but via his wallet. But all too often the wallet remains unconverted, the last bastion of our desires. Paul though was gripped by the gospel. The love of Christ compelled him to say no to self and yes to Christ in every area of his life. Well only you can answer in your own hearts whether your giving reflects the extraordinary love of Christ for us as shown by his death on the cross. The OT begins with 10% which is a good guideline, but maybe a better question for New Testament believers is what do I need to get by? Do I really need 90% of my income to live off? How much can I and my family survive on? Are there areas of life which are really luxuries? Because after all, everything is God’s- he has the last call on all we have, because he gave it to us in the first place.

Here’s a story I read just recently. A man once saw a very precious pearl in a shop. So he said to the shopkeeper, "How much is this pearl? I want to buy it." "Well says, the seller, it’s very expensive." "But how much?" "Well a very large amount." "Do you think I could buy it?" "Oh, of course, everyone can buy it." "But I thought you said it was very expensive." "Oh it is." "So how much is it?" "Everything you have." "Everything. Well that’s a bit steep. But I’ll do it." "Good, well what do you have?" "Well I’ve got £8000 in the bank." "OK, do you have anything else?" "Well no, that’s all I have." "Are you sure?" "Well, I’ve got a bit of loose change in my pocket. Let’s see......£8.64." "OK. What else do you have?" "Well that’s it!" "Surely not. Where do you live?" "Well I live I a house." "Excellent, the house." "Do you mean I have to live in my caravan?" "Excellent, a caravan." "I can’t live in my car." "Oh you have a car?" "Yes, two, but......" "All the better, two cars. They both become mine. Now what else?" "But you’ve got my money, my house, my caravan, my cars, what else do you want?" "Are you alone in this world?" "No I have a wife and two children." "Ah yes, a wife and two children. What else?" "Well I have nothing left. I’m all alone now." "Oh of course, exclaimed the seller, I almost forgot. I’ll have yourself. So that means everything because mine. Your money, your possessions, your house, your family, even yourself. The seller went on. Now listen, he said, I will allow you to use all of these things for the time being. But don't forget they are mine- just as you are. And whenever I need any of them you must give them up. Because I am the owner now." So everything is the Lord’s. And if we have understood the gospel as Paul saw it, that is the unconditional love of Jesus, then sacrificial giving will be high on our agendas, as we too are compelled by the love of Jesus to say no to self and yes to Christ. That’s Paul’s second motivation- the love of Jesus.

 

3) The Message of Jesus (vv 16-19)

Well finally we see Paul’s third motivation briefly as we close. The message of Jesus. Paul moves on to say in verse 16 that he has a new perspective on life. He no longer views people from a worldly point of view, and indeed he once saw Christ that way. What he means is that he no longer views Christ from the world’s perspective, perhaps as a moral teacher, or a good man. No, Jesus is the person who can bring about a new change, in fact a new creation. People like you and me can undergo a complete transformation. we can have a new life. It’s as if we can be born again. We need not be stuck in the old way of life. We can be given a fresh start. And what is that fresh start? Well Paul tells us in verse 18-19. It is a new relationship with God. We were his enemies, but he has made the possibility of friendship a reality through Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus has taken the punishment we deserve for our rebellion against God and opened up the door of friendship again. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins against them. No that is quite extraordinary news. This is the best news in the world. Nothing ranks alongside what we have just read in terms of good news. You may think England qualifying for Euro 2000 is good news, but I tell you it is not a patch on what is written here- that God was pleased to send his own Son to die on a cross so that hardened rebels like you and me could be friends with God again. It’s amazing news.

Now let me ask, what do the people living in Hull need most in life? Is it a decent ring road, a new football team, 100% employment. Well those things would be nice, but the most important thing that everyone in Hull needs is the good news that God has provided a way for you and me to be friends with him. That’s what people need to hear. And who is going to tell them? Well see what Paul says at the end of verse 19: "He has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation." Paul was that first messenger, but he’s long gone and the baton has been passed to us. Does that excite you? I once heard a story about a prisoner who heard this same news as he was languishing in prison. And he said to the messenger. If this news is true, then I would crawl across England on broken glass to tell others. It’s a brilliant message. The best news in the world.

Well if it is the best news in the world, then let’s give sacrificially so that the news gets out! You see Christians are the only ones who will give to the work of the gospel. You can’t go round Princes Quay on a Saturday afternoon and ask for donations to the work of the gospel at St. John’s. And if the Christians don't support the work, then who will? Humanly speaking the work suffers when resources are low. So the challenge is will we give to this work, do we want to see that great good news spread in Hull and throughout this country and to the ends of the earth? Do we want that good news to get out? Well let’s today reassess where we stand with our finances. Because the great news is we can invest in the bank of heaven. Jesus once said that where your treasure is, there will your heart be. How you spend your money is is a good indicator of what your heart is like. If you invest in heaven by giving money to gospel work, then that’s where your heart will be. You’ll be interested in your investment won’t you? And money given to gospel work is not wasted. In fact it’s like the ultimate exchange in currency. You put in earthly cash which will one day rot and you get back heavenly treasure as gospel work is increased and people are won for Christ. A great investment because it’s a great message.

So where will you invest- earth or heaven? John Wesley was a sound investor. He banked with heaven. And Paul gives us three very good motivations for such a sound investment- the judgement of Jesus, the love of Jesus and the message of Jesus.

 


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