DEVOTION: Christian Giving (2 Corinthians 8:1-15)
The church began in Jerusalem at the Feast of Pentecost and was funded by members as they were able. When funds got low, a member would sell some property and give the proceeds to the twelve Apostles. The funds would then be distributed as the church thought fit.
Now unfortunately, bit by bit, with the sending out of missionaries, and the increasing number of widows and others to feed and to look after—and a drought—the financial strain on the church in Jerusalem came to breaking point. Indeed, it could no longer afford to continue in the same way.
As a consequence, what we have in 2 Corinthians is an appeal to help a struggling church. It is a contrast between two churches who both owed their existence to the church in Jerusalem and reflects two different attitudes to giving.
The first five verses describe the church that had been established in Macedonia (1-5). It was a church that Paul said was very generous. They’d had much trouble of their own; they’d had many problems. They weren’t particularly rich. But they were able to see that the church in Jerusalem was far worse off than they were. So they not only gave the little they could afford, but they gave much more than they could afford as well.
The next ten verses, however, describe the church in Corinth (6-15). And in contrast to the church in Macedonia, they were very rich. They had also taken on the idea of helping the church in Jerusalem. But when it came to the crunch, when it came to actually giving what they had promised, that was a different story. They wanted to keep their money for themselves. Indeed they found it very inconvenient that the church that was struggling was the one that was largely responsible for their own existence.
It’s an interesting contrast. And yet the “Corinthian” attitude towards money and possessions is still alive and well in many of our churches today. It has also got a lot of churches into trouble. But then any church who has their eyes set on preserving their own property and finances, has invariably taken their eyes off Jesus.
Now that was certainly the case in regard to the church at Corinth. But could the same be said of the churches to which we belong as well?
Posted: 26th February 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: Knowing and Experiencing our Trinitarian God (2 Corinthians 13:14)
We seem, at times, to be a nation who loves puzzles. Indeed, some like traditional jigsaw puzzles and spend hours putting all the pieces together. Others prefer those wooden puzzles where you need to fit all the pieces together to make a particular shape, or even a Rubik’s cube type of puzzle. Then, of course, there are the brain teasers. And there is the abundance of whodunit stories, whether in novel form or in any one of a number of television detective shows. And more intriguing for some, is the many man-made mysteries, like: Who built the pyramids? What is the purpose of Stonehenge? And further still, others involve themselves in the big puzzles of life, like the size and complexity of the universe and, scientifically, how it came about.
2. The Trinity Puzzle
Indeed, there seems to be a puzzle for just about anyone. And there’s even one for those of us in the church. In fact, it’s probably the biggest puzzle of them all: The Trinity Puzzle—one God but three persons. There’s God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And yet there’s still only one God.
It’s a puzzle that’s always been difficult to grasp. And over the centuries the church has had great difficulty in explaining it to the satisfaction of its critics. Which, of course, will never be achieved. After all how can we realistically expect to understand or explain God?
And yet, it’s important to try. Because we need to acknowledge the God that we believe in. And we need to be trying to experience God in all his fullness.
B. THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
So, what sort of God do we believe in and experience? Well, I’m going to suggest that God could be something like this:
1.God the Father
First of all, God the Father:
When we think of God the Father, we could think of God the Creator. The God who created the world, the universe, and everything in six days. The God who gave a command and it came to pass. The God who created the heavens and the earth out of nothing; who created night and day, sea, and dry land; who created the animals, plant life, and every living thing. And finally once everything else was in place, he created mankind—you and me—to live in this world that he created.
But let’s not leave it there. Because we also have God the lawmaker and judge. The God who gave rules to Adam and Eve about what they could and couldn’t eat in the garden—and then expelled them when they disobeyed. The God who gave Moses laws and commandments for the Israelites to follow and, when they strayed from their beliefs, forced them to wander for forty years in the wilderness. The God who sets such high standards, that none of us have a hope of even coming close to the perfection he demands.
And then there’s God, the intimate God. The God who walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. And throughout the pages of Old and New Testaments there are numerous examples of God pursuing a direct relationship with his people. Indeed, his very purpose in creating us was so that we could have an intimate relationship with him.
2. God the Son
Now I know that is a very inadequate description of God the Father—and there are a lot of things left unsaid—but, secondly, what about God the Son?
Well, there’s Jesus, the man—God who somehow divested himself of his godhood, so that he could be born, live and die like any other human being. God who made himself witness life first hand, just as we do, with all its pitfalls and temptations, with all its illnesses, tragedies, joys, and pleasures. Someone who can empathise with our needs.
Then there’s Jesus the carer—that special kind of man who was one of a kind. The one who cared for people, particularly the outcasts, sick, disabled—the forgotten and ignored people—those who don’t always find acceptance in the community. In other words a totally unselfish man, a man who wanted to share what he had himself—a relationship with God—with everyone else.
Then there’s Jesus the Saviour—the reason for his presence in the world. The innocent man who deliberately allowed his life to be cut short, so that he could take the punishment we deserve for our disobedience to God. The one and only sacrifice that made it possible for us to be reconciled to God.
3. God the Holy Spirit
Now again, I haven’t said half of what I should have done, but, thirdly, what about God the Holy Spirit?
Well, there’s the indwelling nature of the Holy Spirit—the presence of God inside every Christian—filling us, bringing us comfort, insight, and guidance. He’s the “another counsellor” that Jesus talked about. And he’s been given to us to teach us, encourage us, and to inspire us in our walk with God. Indeed without the Holy Spirit we would not be Christians at all (no matter what we call ourselves).
And then there’s the Holy Spirit, the giver of gifts. The person who gives Christian’s talents and abilities we never knew were possible. The Spirit who changes people from being worldly to people who are active in the faith, building up and encouraging one another.
The Spirit . . . enabling us to not only believe, but to carry out the tasks that God wants, and giving us the right tools for the job. And again we could go on…
Now, of course I’ve done God a great injustice in limiting God to the aspects of his nature that I’ve just described. But I’ve deliberately simplified it to make a point. And the point is: That contrary to the many descriptions of God that we often hear, even amongst believers, the reality is that God is so much fuller and so much richer than many people either know or can describe or even have experienced.
And, consequently, in this is a challenge to us all. Because getting the puzzle right—the academic explanation of who God is—is one thing. But knowing and experiencing the fuller image of God, is another thing altogether.
After all, do we really know and experience God the Father: The creator, lawmaker, and judge, and the one who wants an intimate relationship with his people? Do we really know and experience God the Son: The God become man, the carer, and the saviour? And do we really know and experience God the Holy Spirit: The God who lives in every believer, and the giver of gifts? Because, if we don’t, or if we are missing certain aspects, then the challenge is to get to know the missing parts of the God that we say we believe in.
1. God the Father
And that means regarding God the Father:
The need to see and experience God in his creation. And that involves not only seeing the magnitude of what he has done, but also the need to acknowledge that this isn’t our world to do with what we like. On the contrary, it’s his world and he has given it to us for a purpose: To care for it, and to take our proper place in it.
It means to accept that God is the lawmaker and judge, and that the rules he has given us are for our own self-protection. Break those rules and God, in order to be consistent with himself, will need to bring justice, and judgement will be the end result. And just as justice is what God demands of himself, so he expects justice to be one of our aims too.
And it also means that we need to accept that God is also the intimate God. And the very reason we exist—apart from to look after creation—is to live life constantly in communication with him. Indeed, to talk to, and listen to the one who gave us life, is an essential element of knowing and experiencing God.
2. God the Son
To know and experience God the Son:
We need to see Jesus the God made man, and the things that he gave up in order to be born and experience life as we know it. We need to see the kind of love that he had for his creation, and the kind of commitment he has given for us all. Commitment which he calls us to have towards him and our fellow man.
It means that we need to appreciate the life of Jesus the carer, who in his few short years on earth showed compassion and care well beyond the norm. He went out of his way to tell others that not only was judgement coming, but there was a way, one way to avoid being condemned.
And, regarding that, it means that we need not only to appreciate Jesus the Saviour for what he did, but we need to accept what Jesus has done for ourselves. And more than that, we also need to go out and tell others about what Jesus has done, so that they too will have the opportunity to share in salvation.
3. God the Holy Spirit
And to get to know and experience God the Holy Spirit:
We need to acknowledge our dependence upon the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every believer. That it is the Holy Spirit whose role it is to guide us to show us the way. That it is his presence which guarantees our salvation and which proves the claims of God the Father and God the Son.
And it means that we need to not only accept the Holy Spirit, the giver of gifts, but we need to actively participate in allowing the Spirit to work through us and use us in ways we never thought were possible—through the gifts with which he endows us.
4. One God
And then, when we start to get all of those things right, only then will we get to know God as he really is. Only then will we start to experience him in the way he wants to work in our lives.
Now all of these things combined (and more) should be the God that we know and experience. Leave aspects out, and we effectively deny part of who God is. Keep everything in, and we will start to understand God and experience him in all his fullness.
D. GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT
Now having said that, it’s very easy to get things out of balance—emphasising one aspect more than another. For example: There are dangers in so emphasising the Father, that Jesus and the Holy Spirit can get lost. There are dangers in so emphasising Jesus, that the Father and the Holy Spirit can get lost. And there are dangers in so emphasising the Holy Spirit, that the Father and Jesus can get lost.
The truth of God is in all aspects, and what we should experience should be in all of those aspects too. Consequently, part of knowing and experiencing God is a balancing act, and we need to keep every single aspect of God in balance. And this isn’t something that only individuals can have trouble with, but whole congregations can have trouble with as well.
For example, even within the Anglican Church we have: High Churches which emphasise the holiness of God, but often to the detriment of the work of the Holy Spirit and the mission of the church. We have Charismatic or Pentecostal churches, which emphasise the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but often to the detriment of the holiness of God and the mission of the church. And we have evangelical churches which emphasise the mission of the church, but often to the detriment of the holiness of God and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Now we may not all be comfortable with every aspect of God’s personality. But to over emphasise one aspect to the detriment of another, or to deny the bits we are uncomfortable with, or relegate some aspects as being less important than others, means at the very least we will have a deficient view of who God really is. We will also be unable to worship or appreciate him in all his fullness.
So no matter what we are personally comfortable with, and no matter what we think of certain traditions—even traditions within the Anglican Church—the fact is that the truth lies in maintaining a balance. Because just as God is really a balance of the things that I’ve just described (and more), so our experience of God should be a balance of all those things too. Having said that, however, there is something to be said for emphasising different aspects from time to time.
So today we have a puzzle. Indeed perhaps the greatest puzzle of all—the puzzle of a God who is one and yet three. But I think it’s healthy to set aside time to think about this puzzle, because we need to remind ourselves constantly of whom we believe in, whom we worship, and whom we owe everything, absolutely everything to. We need to have a picture of God that is as a whole as we can make it, and we need opportunities like this to check for any imbalance in our beliefs of who he truly is.
Realistically we can’t expect to fully understand the concept of the Trinity, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. The God we experience should be all (and much, much more) of each and every one of the attributes that I’ve mentioned, because our view of God will be sadly deficient if we ignore even one of them.
Posted: 1st August 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis