“The Joy of Defying Gravity

2 Corinthians 8:1-9closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'

Final in the series Defying Gravity

As a young man, Larry Walters dreamed of one day piloting an airplane.  However, poor eyesight kept him from flying in the Air Force.

In July 1982, Larry acted on that dream from his teenage years. He went to a military surplus store and bought 45 weather balloons and acquired helium tanks needed to fill them.  He attached the balloons to an aluminum lawn chair he bought from Sears, which was tethered to his Jeep.  Larry donned a parachute, gathered a CB radio, sandwiches, beverages, camera, altimeter and pellet gun and buckled himself into his lawn chair.  His flight began unexpectedly when the tether broke from rubbing along the roof line.

Now Larry had planned this flight, but he hadn’t considered the physics and aeronautics carefully.  Instead of floating up slowing, he shot up into the sky to a height of 16,000 feet!  He wanted to travel from his house near Los Angeles and land in the Mojave Desert, but the winds aloft took him over Los Angeles Harbor toward Long Beach. As his path took him into airport airspace, two airliners alerted air traffic controllers about a man in a lawn chair floating in the sky.

Finally, Larry decided to shoot some of the balloons. He attempted to aim for a grassy area, but came up short, entangling his tethers in high-voltage lines.  Because they were plastic, he did not get electrocuted.  As crews worked to free him, he maneuvered the chair over a wall, stepped out and cut the chair free.  The FAA, after deciding what regulations he violated, fined him $1,500 for his flight.[1]

When asked why he did it, he simply replied, “It was something I had to do. A man just can’t sit around.”[2]

An estimated 164 million Americans didn’t just sit around and had something to do this weekend – they went shopping.  Retails sales for this holiday season, which kicked off on Thanksgiving night and Black Friday, are estimated to increase by as much as 4% to $682 billion.[3]  Over the period from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, American shoppers plan to spend $743 per person, with most of it expected on Cyber Monday.[4]

This season is a time when the pull of financial gravity is especially strong.  About a quarter of Americans say they don’t have a budget or spending plan for the Christmas holiday season.[5]  About 32% say they will finance this year’s Christmas shopping with debt, despite the fact that 14% of Americans are still paying for last year’s shopping.  This leads to guilt, frustration, depression and even loathing, as one-third of Americans wish they could skip the holidays rather than have to buy gifts.[6]  Isn’t that a sad commentary on how our culture celebrates Christmas?

In response to the consumerism and commercialization of the holiday season, in 2012, the concept of Giving Tuesday was announced.  The idea was to motivate more people to give to charities during the final month of the year.  From its launch, donations generated on Giving Tuesday grew more than eightfold to $168 million in 2016.  Research shows that on average households earning about $136,000 give the most, while those earning $17,500 give the highest percentage of their income at 4%.[7]  Giving Tuesday is one effort that strives to help us experience the joy of giving.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians regarding a collection he had begun a year earlier. The donations were to be delivered to the Christians suffering in Jerusalem from severe famine and persecution.  In contrast, Corinth during this time was a flourishing international trade and business center.  People came here from all over the Roman Empire and beyond to conduct trade, to settle down and start businesses.  They brought with them their families, culture and religions.  While there was a sizable population of both slaves and the poor, there were also significant numbers of middle and upper classes.  Corinth was one of the wealthiest cities of the whole Roman Empire.

Despite their affluence, their collection for the Jerusalem Christians had stalled after Paul had moved on.  So Paul wrote to them about it.  His strategy was not to order them to give or to use guilt to get them to give.  Instead he shared the story of another’s generosity to inspire them to resume their collection.

Paul lifted up the Christians of Macedonia.  While Corinth was a city, Macedonia was a province, which included cities such as Thessalonica, Berea, and Philippi.  Paul’s travels through Macedonia had brought some great successes along with some major opposition.  Still he was able to establish a network of churches throughout the province.

At different times throughout the history of the early Christian movement, various city or regional leaders would oppress the Church.  It appears from the context of 2 Corinthians 8close2 Corinthians 8 Encouragement to Give Generously 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 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. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 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. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” Commendation of Titus 16 But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 17 For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. 18 With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. 20 We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord's sight but also in the sight of man. 22 And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men. (ESV) close2 Corinthians 8close2 Corinthians 8 Encouragement to Give Generously 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 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. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 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. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” Commendation of Titus 16 But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 17 For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. 18 With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. 20 We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord's sight but also in the sight of man. 22 And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men. (ESV) Encouragement to Give Generously 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 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. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 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. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” Commendation of Titus 16 But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 17 For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. 18 With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. 20 We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord's sight but also in the sight of man. 22 And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men. (ESV) and 9 that Paul has been visiting the Macedonians during such a time.  They have been experiencing a “severe ordeal of affliction” and “extreme poverty” (8:2).  That last phrase in the Greek reads literally, “down-to-the-depth poverty,” or as we might say today, they were at rock bottom.  Their situation was so bad that Paul didn’t even want to invite them to give to the collection for Jerusalem.

However, when the Macedonians got wind of his mission, they begged for the privilege of sharing in this collection (8:4).  Can you imagine begging to give?  Have you ever said, “Oh, please take my money” or “Please use me – I have 20 volunteer hours to give this week”?  No, then why did they do this?  Paul is clear that it is a movement of God’s grace among them.  It is out of their joy at what God is working in their lives that they want to give.

The writer of James will later counsel Christians with these words:  “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:2-4).  The Macedonian churches are an example that it is possible to overflow with joy in the midst of trouble.  As persecution could not dampen their joy, neither did they allow poverty to diminish their generosity.

The Macedonians gave voluntarily and even beyond their means.  They practiced generosity.  The word in Greek indicates they had an openhearted attitude toward their possessions, which flowed from the fact that they had made God first in their lives.  From their commitment to and relationship with God through Christ, they were freed from financial gravity and they experienced joy, even in difficult circumstances.

So the testimony of the Macedonians was meant to reinvigorate the Corinthians’ own giving.  He commended the Corinthians for their start toward giving and for the spiritual gifts in which they excelled.

He also hoped to fan the flames of their love for Christ and his people.  So Paul lifted up Jesus.  Here, as nowhere else in his writings, Paul used economic terms to talk about what Jesus did.  In verse 9, Paul wrote, “For you know the generous act [which is the word also translated ‘the grace’] of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”  Christ gave up everything, including the riches of heaven, in order to lavish the riches of his grace on us (Eph 1:7-8closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'a) and to make us heirs to a heavenly inheritance (1 Peter 1:4closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST').

That is the gift offered to us when we turn away from financial gravity and sin and move into the orbit of relationship with God through Christ.

Throughout this series, we’ve offered challenges to help us break free of financial gravity.  Last week, we provided the opportunity to practice generosity by completing and turning in an estimate of giving for 2018.  Some are still praying and thinking, but 97 were submitted.  Of them, 14 were new estimates and 34 represented increases.  Thanks be to God who fills us with blessing and joy so that we can be generous!  You can still pick up an estimate of giving form at the office and turn it in by the end of 2017.  We’ll provide a further update.

At this season of the year, Pastor Becky and I, along with your Outreach team, want to put a Christmas Challenge before you to help you keep defying gravity.  We celebrate Christmas as if it were all about us (as though it’s our birthday), but we know that it is really all about God’s amazing gift of Jesus Christ.  So we are challenging you to give an offering equal to your Christmas spending for our Outreach ministries at this season.  You’ll be receiving a letter and hearing more about this.  Please pray about what you can give to help others experience the blessing and joy of Christmas this year.

Endnotes:

[1] https://www.snopes.com/travel/airline/walters.asp.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Walters.

[3] National Retail Federation, https://nrf.com/resources/consumer-research-and-data/holiday-spending/holiday-headquarters.

[4]“2017 Black Friday and Cyber Monday Predictions,” Forbes.com, https://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahweinswig/2017/10/27/2017-black-friday-and-cyber-monday-predictions/#6989f90a5f14.

[5]“2017 Consumer Holiday Shopping Report,” Nerdwallet.com. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/2017-consumer-holiday-shopping-report/.

[6]“A Third of Americans Would Rather Skip the Holidays than Spend Money on Gifts,” MrCooper.com. https://www.mrcooper.com/blog/2017/11/21/third-americans-rather-skip-holidays-spend-money-gifts/.

[7]“Giving Tuesday Charitable Tall Jumps 44% to Smash Record,” 11/29/2016,  USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/11/29/giving-tuesday-twitter-donations/94616650/.

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