They First Gave Themselves
August 28th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
THEY FIRST GAVE THEMSELVES TO GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 8:5
8-28-83 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled They First Gave Themselves to the Lord. This is the fourth in a series on economology, on our giving to the kingdom of our Savior. And the message is an exposition of the first part of the eighth chapter of the 2nd letter of Paul to Corinth. Second Corinthians chapter 8:
Moreover brethren, gnorizomen,
– translated here, "we do you to wit," that is all right in 1611; today –
we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;
How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy, their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality
For to their power I bear record, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;
Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship – the koinonia, the communion – of the ministering to the saints.
And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and then unto us by the will of God.
[2 Corinthians 8:1-5].
Do you notice the beautiful word that he uses? "We make known unto you the grace of God." In any language, particularly in Greek and in English, that is one of the most beautiful words in human speech, "grace"; in Greek, charis. Your word charisma comes from it; charis, grace. In the accusative form a girl will be named Karen, grace. It is used a hundred-seventy times in the Greek New Testament.
It is no less frequently, universally used in Greek secular language. Here in this passage in chapters eight and nine in the [Second] Corinthian letter, Paul uses it ten times. When you look in your Bible you can follow it with me; in the first verse of chapter eight: "We make known unto you the grace of God" [2 Corinthians 8:1]. Look again in the fourth verse: "With much entreaty that we receive the charis – translated here "gift." Look in the sixth verse: asking Titus to "finish in you the same grace also." Look in the seventh verse: "see that you abound in this grace." Look at the ninth verse – absolutely one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich" [2 Corinthians 8:9]. In the sixteenth verse of the eighth chapter of Second Corinthians: "Thanks be to God" – "charis be to God." In the nineteenth verse: "That these chosen should travel with us with this grace." Look in the ninth chapter, verse eight: "God is able to make all grace abound toward you" [2 Corinthians 9:8]. The fourteenth verse: "by their prayer for you which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you." And the concluding and the last verse: "Thanks, charis, be to God for his indescribably, unspeakably wonderful and precious gift."
Grace, the word comes out of a response in the human heart to something that is beautiful or lovely or favorable or appealing or pleasant. It is a response from our souls to a beautiful thing. It was personified, for example, in Greek mythology in the Three Graces, three beautiful women, goddesses called the "Three Graces."
When our Lord returned to Nazareth where He had been brought up, the Book says, Luke says in chapter four that the people wondered at His words of charis, His words of charm, His words of grace. The word came also to refer to the response that we feel toward a kindness, toward a graciousness, toward a remembrance, sweet and precious. For example, in the sixteenth chapter of the First Corinthian letter, when Paul admonishes us to lay aside for God on the first day of the week a proportion of what God has given us: "And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your" [1 Corinthians 16:3] – and the English translation is "liberality" – "them will I send to bring your liberality unto the saints in Jerusalem." The Greek is charis, liberality; charis, the response of the heart to a kindness, a sweet remembrance. Then the word came to refer to a gratitude for a kindness shown toward us, a generosity, charis, "thanks." In chapter eight, verse sixteen: "Thanks be to God" – "charis be to God" [2 Corinthians 8:16]. And in that last beautiful verse: "charis be unto God for His unspeakable gift"; "thanks to God for His unspeakable gift" [2 Corinthians 9:15].
You use that word and we hardly realize it. When you say grace at the table, what do you mean when you say grace at the table? You are saying gratitude, thanksgiving to God for His kindnesses and His remembrances, the food, the clothing, the family. You are saying grace at the table. When we have the Lord’s Supper, the Greek word for "beautiful" or "well" is eu; then eucharis. There is that name "grace"; eucharistia, the substantive form of it. The Lord’s Supper is the eucharis, eucharistia, charis. It is a "thanksgiving" to God for the grace of our Lord Who died thus that we might live – eucharis, eucharis, "thanksgiving to God."
Then finally, the word is used to describe subjectively the disposition on the part of one to be gracious, to be kind, to be favorable toward. Thus, the grace of God that is the unmerited favor and love and kindness of God toward us poor, lost sinners – grace, the abounding goodness and loveliness and kindness and favor of God, so undeserved by us; the grace of God.
Now, that is the way he uses the word in our passage, "We make known unto you the grace of God bestowed upon the churches of Macedonia" [2 Corinthians 8:1]. It is a gift that God poured into their hearts, the grace of God. And he is referring to their abounding charis, liberality.
Now, let me make an aside here. You can preach and you can speak to unregenerate people for ever and ever. And they will never respond unless there is given them the grace of God; "bestowed the grace of God." Out there in the world and unregenerate think we are foolish and inane and lost our balance because we dedicate so much of everything God gives us to Him. They spend it on themselves. They spend it on a thousand worldly things. And you could plead with them for ever and they will be just as hard and selfish and indifferent. But to someone who is born again, who has had an experience with the Lord – when the Apostle Paul and the pastor expounding the Word of God makes an appeal to a regenerate man, a born again Christian – God does something to him. The grace of God bestowed and he responds; and he does it in a marvelous way.
And it is described here by the apostle. First of all he says, this grace of God finds expression in a joyful gratitude, even in a great trial of affliction. The abounding joyous gratitude of their deep poverty overflowed into the riches of their liberality. That is a part of the Christian heart and the Christian soul and the Christian life, an abounding gratitude to God.
How much we owe to Him. Paul begins his great letter to the church at Rome, "I am debtor." Lord, Lord, how full of debt – baptized in it, buried in it, drowned in it before God. My hands, these are God’s hands, He gave them to me. My eyes, these are God’s eyes, He gave them to me. My feet, these are God’s feet, He gave them to me. My mind, it is God’s mind, He gave it to me. My heart and my soul, my life and breath – God’s, He gave them to me! And what should I say? What could I say of the love of the Lord in Christ Jesus Who died for my sins; Who was raised for my justification to make me righteous. And some day, His gracious hands shall open for me the gates of glory. How could I ever express the abounding joy of my gratitude to God? O Lord, dear Lord, how wonderful You are to me.
And even in a trial of affliction, in desperate need and want, their deep poverty abounded unto their liberality. The poorer they were, the more they gave to God. That is a marvelous grace. It is a gift from heaven. And may I say the obverse of that – ingratitude is one of the most opprobrious of all of the afflictions of the human soul.
I read where a Chinese preacher was describing a traveler down a lonely road. And he met a beggar. And the traveler, seeing this pitiful man, having ten coins, gave him nine of them. And the traveler went on down the road, and surreptitiously, clandestinely, furtively the beggar followed him. And when the traveler, in a secluded spot, lay down to rest; the beggar stole from him the other coin, the remaining coin, the tenth coin. And when I read that, I thought what a picture of humanity and mankind. God says, "For us these nine parts are for you, and your family, and your business, and your home, and your life. And this one part is for Me." And we steal it and rob God of it, what an indescribable sadness and a black commentary on human nature. Gratitude to God, "Lord, Lord, these things You have given to me abounding. And this I dedicate to You in loving remembrance." That is grace; that is the grace of God bestowed upon your heart and life and soul.
Look again in describing the grace of God bestowed upon the churches of Macedonia. Not only abounding joyous gratitude, but he speaks of the wonderful privilege that they found in responding to the appeal of the Lord. "I bear record . . . beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying us with much entreaty that we receive the charis" – translated here "gift" [2 Corinthians 8:3, 4]. They were willing of themselves, a privilege, not an onerous burden; but thus to dedicate to God the proportion that we have prayed over and give to Him. It was a privilege. They were willing of themselves. No cajoling, no entreaty, no begging, just out of the overflowing response of their souls they were willing of themselves, saying – and this Paul avows in the letter – "I did not want to receive it, I did not want to take it, but they entreated us to receive the charis, the gift."
That is a marvelous thing. It is a privilege what God has given me to have a part in the kingdom of our Savior, not an onerous duty. Thank God He gives me the open door to share it with Him in the kingdom work of our Savior.
A man was complaining to another fellow about the cost of his boy, unending, unceasing. When he was little he wanted toys; when he gets older he wants skates and a bicycle; then he wants the car, he wants money for dates; now, we are getting ready to buy his tuition in college. And he was complaining the cost of the boy – cost, money, cost. And the fellow to whom he was complaining said, "Friend, I know, I know. Our boy was that way. When he was little there were toys, when he was older, there were bicycles and skates. Then there was footballs and basketballs – know. But," he said, "you know, now our boy does not cost us a thing, not a thing. We buried my boy last week." My brother, it is a privilege. It is a privilege that lad to buy him these things that make a boy’s heart happy or these things that make a precious girl glad.
It is a privilege. And to provide for them, it is a grace in the kingdom of our Lord. And Paul says, "bestowed by God upon the churches." It is a grace. It is a privilege." And I look at all of these babies back here in this great building and the teenagers over there, and our young marrieds yonder. Then when I look at our older people, and then I think of our great ministry in the city of Dallas through our nineteen missions, and then the worldwide foreign mission appeal and enterprise of Christ: My brother, when I look upon it, I say, "Thank God that I have the privilege of helping and supporting and praying and loving. It is a great thing God has done for us."
He calls it a grace, the grace of God bestowed upon us. Again he describes it as a beautiful response to need: "to take upon us the koinonia of the ministering to the saints" [2 Corinthians 8:4]. In this instance he is talking about the saints in Jerusalem – the mother church. They were oppressed, and persecuted, and hated, and despised, and outcast. They were poor and they needed help, so the response of the Macedonian Christians and now the Corinthians, Paul calls it a grace – their response to the need.
Now, that brings to my mind one of the great experiences and virtues of human nature. It is this. When a man responds to a great call or a great need, it does something to him. He grows high and great and mighty and godly. It does something to him. I came across the most unusual thing. And I am sure many of you know it because after the morning service there were those that spoke to me about it. One of the tremendous patriotic moments in the life and history of America was the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. They have cast that in bronze, you can see it in Washington, D. C. It has been on our postage stamps. It is one of the most effective of all the pictures of American life. Those Marines raising that American flag on Iwo Jima.
One of the men holding that flag was a full-blooded Pima Indian from Southern Arizona. The police arrested him on a skid row in Chicago for drunkenness and vagrancy and uselessness. Sent him to jail to work out his fine he had nothing with which to pay for it. The daily newspaper in Chicago picked it up. And an affluent executive in the great city read it. He went down to the jail, paid the fine of that Pima Indian and took him and dressed him again in a uniform and a chauffeur’s cap and said to him, "My children and my wife and my own busy life." And he was the chauffeur for the big limousine that carried the magnate to his executive councils and committee meetings and board meetings. And he was the trusted chauffeur to take the children to school and the beloved wife to her social engagements. That is human nature.
If there is no need for me and I feel the uselessness and worthlessness of my life, I disintegrate on the inside. I am nothing. And nobody depends on me and I have no part of anything that is worth while or ongoing. But let the call come from America for soldiers or in civilian life, the care of a family. It does – should – go to us. And that is a grace that God bestows upon a man who will answer the need that he finds all around him.
And may I also speak the obverse of that? Not to answer is a destruction and a disintegration of the soul. One time I saw a cartoon. It was the strangest thing. There was no caption. There was no wording. There was nothing, just the cartoon. It was a little group turned inward on an island in the sea. And that was all. It looked inane, had no meaning. So, I picked the thing up and looked at it more closely. And when I looked at it closely, the artist who drew that cartoon had drawn a sea, a great sea of long, bony human hands reaching up to those in that island. And those in the island were there with their faces turned toward themselves and their backs to the sea. And all of those long, hungry, famine-stricken, bony, starving hands reaching up, a sea of them; and those on the island with their faces turned inward and their backs to the sea; there is something degrading about that. It is a lessening of the purpose and image of God in us. And Paul calls it a grace in responding, a koinonia, a ministry. Lord, Lord, I have a part, and I can do something even in poverty and affliction and trial. I can have a part in the great majesty of the ministering kingdom of God and when I do, God calls that His grace bestowed upon me.
Did you know I have just now come down to my sermon? It is entitled They First Gave Themselves to The Lord. "This they did." And I am going to close. "This they did, not as we expected, but they first gave their own selves to the Lord, and then unto us by the will of God" [2 Corinthians 8:5]. What happened there was in this appeal – and isn’t it a strange thing that an appeal for gifts would result in a great spiritual dedication on the part of the people? But I found that true in our church. This will be the fortieth year, this coming fall; it will be the fortieth year that I have led our church in a great stewardship appeal. And every year, thirty-nine of them past have been months of revival. It does something to my heart. And they found it thus. They first gave their own selves to the Lord. It was a revival. It was a fresh commitment to Christ.
They were poor in the eyes of the world,
their own need was so great it appalled.
But their gifts were so rich and so sure
that none else could with them compare.
God, had they gold of great worth somewhere stored?
No, they first gave themselves to the Lord.
And the task of this hour is not hard
If we first give ourselves to the Lord.
Funds will pour in the store of our need,
Men from afar of our plenty will feed.
And the world will rejoice in His Word
If we first give ourselves to the Lord.
Everything is beautiful. It is lovely. It is a grace when we first dedicate ourselves to the Lord. I invite you to try it; see if God doesn’t bless your own heart, your house, your home, your children, your family, the work of your hands and the pilgrim days of our journey through this world. God grant it a sweet, beautiful, lovely precious gift from God – a grace. May we stand?
Our Lord in heaven, is it not a wonder, an abounding love of Christ toward us; the favor of God, His kindness, His grace. And our Lord may that same loving grace be bestowed upon us and may we be like our Savior giving, loving, sharing, understanding. O Lord, may selfishness and grasping be taken away from us and may that sweet, loving grace of Christ abound in our hearts.
And in this moment when we pray and we wait for you, if the Lord has spoken to your heart today will you answer with your life? "Pastor, my family all of us have decided for God and here we stand. We are on the way." A sweet couple you or just one somebody you in the balcony round, down a stairway, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor I am coming to accept Jesus as my Savior." Or, "I want to be baptized as he has commanded in His holy Word." Or, "I want to put y life in the fellowship of this wonderful church. We are coming pastor. This is God’s day for us." May angels attend you as you come. And our Lord thank Thee for the sweet response You give us this morning in Thy dear and saving name, amen. While we sing and welcome, welcome.