They First Gave Themselves
August 28th, 1983 @ 8:15 AM
2 Corinthians 8:1-5
THEY FIRST GAVE THEMSELVES TO THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 8:1-5
8-28-83 8:15 a.m.
"Praise Him with the organ," Psalm 150; and we will do just that. Welcome the great throngs of you that are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled They First Gave Their Own Selves, Themselves to the Lord. It is the fourth in the series on economology, on our giving to the Lord. And the message is an exposition of the first part of the eighth chapter of 2 Corinthians, and if you will turn to 2 Corinthians chapter 8, you can follow the message this morning easily. Second Corinthians, chapter 8:
Moreover, brethren, gnorizomen, we make known to you
– Old English –
We do you to wit, 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 and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
For to their power, I bear record, yea, 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 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.
[1 Corinthians 8:1-5]
He begins the passage using one of the most beautiful words in human speech, whether it is Greek or whether it is English, "Brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed upon the churches of Macedonia." Charis, "grace"; in its accusative form, we call a girl Karen, "grace." The word is used a hundred seventy times in the Greek New Testament, and it was no less frequently used in secular Greek literature. And in this passage, in this section in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9, the word "grace" is used ten times. Look at it in [2 Corinthians], in the first verse in chapter 8: "We make known to you the grace of God." In the fourth verse, "They prayed us with much entreaty that we would receive" – translated here "the gift", charis – "the grace, and take upon us the fellowship of ministry." Look in the sixth verse: "We desired Titus, that he would also finish in you the same grace." Look in verse 7: "And in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that you abound in this grace also." Look in verse 9; verse 9 is absolutely one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible: "For ye 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." Look at verse 16: "But charis be to God," translated here "thanks." Look in verse 19: "Who also was chosen by the churches to travel with us with this grace." Look in verse, look in chapter 9 at verse 8: "God is able to make all grace abound toward you." Look at verse 14: "By their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God." And then the last verse: "Charis be to God, grace be unto God, thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift." Grace, one of the most beautiful words in the language.
Grace, in its objective meaning, refers to what is pleasing to us, what is beautiful, what is lovely. It refers to a response that we have in our hearts to something that is adorable and acceptable and favorable. In the ancient Greek mythology, there were three graces personified, three beautiful women, goddesses; they called "the three graces." In the fourth chapter of the Book of Luke, when our Lord returned to Nazareth where He was brought up, when He spoke in the synagogue, it says that the people wondered at His words, the Greek is "words of grace": at the charm of His words.
It also refers to the act of graciousness. For example, in the sixteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your charis" – translated here "liberality" – "unto Jerusalem," the result of the favor, and kindness, and goodness, and generosity of people: charis, the grace, translated here "liberality" [1 Corinthians 16:2-3].
It also refers to the response to the kindness and goodness of these who would care for us, translated here in the eighth chapter, "Thanks be to God, charis, thanks be to God," and in that last verse of the ninth chapter, "Thanks, charis, be unto God for His unspeakable gift." It refers to the reaction we have to those who are kind to us. For example, didn’t you ever hear the phrase, "To say grace at the table"? What do you mean by "say grace at the table"? You’re offering thanks to God for the food we eat and the blessings we share: charis, grace at the table.
The word also refers to the disposition in our hearts to be kind, to act favorably, to be generous; and in that sense, it refers to the heart of God, the grace of God. Applied theologically it refers to the unmerited favor of God toward us poor, lost sinners; the grace of God, the love of God expressed to us in Christ Jesus. It is a beautiful and meaningful word.
So the apostle begins, "Brethren, we make known unto you the grace of God bestowed upon the churches of Macedonia" [2 Corinthians 8:1]. How they responded to the appeal that Paul is making, he refers to it as a grace bestowed upon them of God; it is the favor of heaven upon them. I want to turn aside here and make a remark about that. You can preach and you can talk to unregenerated, untouched, unborn-again people forever, and they will never respond, never in the earth. But you can stand here in this pulpit and speak to regenerated people, born-again people, about the appeal of Christ, and they will just respond in their hearts. Why? It’s the grace of God in them, the apostle says. And, I think, in experience too. When people are open-hearted toward Christ and they love God, they are a new creation in Him. It’s the grace of God bestowed upon them that makes them respond in their hearts.
Now the apostle describes that response in this passage. And he speaks first of the grace of God bestowed upon the churches of Macedonia, and upon us in making us filled with joyous gratitude, a joyous gratitude in what God has given us; how that in their joyous gratitude, and even in their deep poverty, the poorer they were, the more liberal they became. Now that is a grace of the first order, a joyous gratitude to God. "I am debtor," says Paul as he begins his epistle to the church at Rome, "I am debtor" [Romans 1:14]: and oh, how much are we indebted to our dear Lord!
These eyes that I have, God, they’re God’s eyes; He gave them to me. These hands that I have, they’re God’s hands; He gave them to me. These feet I have, they are God’s feet; He gave them to me. The mind that I have, it’s God’s mind; He gave it to me. The heart that I have, the breath that I breathe, the life itself that I live, it’s God’s; He gave it to me. And what shall I say in the favor and kindness and grace of God in the Lord Jesus who died for me, and who is my best friend and companion in the pilgrimage of this life, and whose gracious hands one day will open the doors of heaven to me? O Lord! Being sensitive, born-again, regenerated in my heart, I am filled with the joyous gratitude of God’s grace to me. And to express that gratitude is a grace, the apostle says.
And the opposite of it, the obverse would be true: for me to be ungrateful is of all things in the earth most opprobrious. I read where a Chinese preacher was speaking about a lonely man down a lonely road, and he had ten coins. On the road he met a pitiful beggar, and, moved with compassion, he gave the beggar nine of those coins. What the beggar did was, instead of being grateful and thankful, he followed surreptitiously and clandestinely the benefactor, and when the traveler became weary and laid down to rest in a solitary place, the beggar stole the other coin from the traveler. And I thought, when I read that, how like the great throngs of this world. Not only do they take from God the nine parts, but they steal from the same gracious, loving Father the other part, the tenth part.
Ah! Joyous gratitude is a grace bestowed of God, and it expresses itself in this marvelous and beautiful way of sharing with God’s people a part of what God hath given to us. Look again: "The grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia" not only joyous gratitude, but the feeling of a privilege to share in the work of the Lord: "I bear record, beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the charis, the gift, charis, the gift" [2 Corinthians 8:3-4]. A privilege; it astonished Paul! He never had to appeal or beg or cajole; he just made known, and the people responded aboundingly. A privilege; they were willing of themselves. It arose out of the deepest fountains of their souls, a privilege thus to help in the kingdom of our Lord; a privilege.
I read about a father who was complaining concerning the cost of his son. He was an expensive adjunct in the household. He wanted this, and he wanted that, and he wanted the other; he was always wanting something. And the father was complaining about the cost of the boy. And the friend to whom he was complaining said to him, "Well, you know, my boy was like that, too. When he was little, he was always wanting toys, and when he got bigger, he wanted skates, and then a bicycle, and a football. But," he said, "my boy doesn’t cost me anything now, nothing. We buried my boy last week." Man, that’s a privilege: he wants skates, he wants a bicycle, he wants a college education, why, that’s the finest thing in the life. So it is before God: of ourselves, it comes out of the deep of our souls. "Without entreaty, without pressure, they were willing of themselves; begging us to receive the charis, the grace, the gift" [2 Corinthians 8:4].
Look at it again: it came out of a response to a need. "And that we take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints," the koinonia, the communion, fellowship, the loving sympathy of the saints – talking about those poor persecuted people who loved God in the city of Jerusalem, the mother church – and he calls that a grace. The grace of God bestowed upon the churches of Macedonia, a grace, their sympathy and their response to the needs of the brethren who were so sorely tried in the mother church in Jerusalem.
Well, you know, when you think about that, that is one of the most ennobling of all the virtues of human life: to respond to a great need. I want to show that to you if I can. I read where one of the men who helped raise that flag on Iwo Jima, one of the tremendous patriotic moments in all American history – that thing is cast in bronze and is in the city of Washington D.C., and you’ve seen it on postage stamps and all over America – on Iwo Jima, the raising of the American flag, and those soldier boys lifting up the flag. Well, one of the men in that scene raising the American flag on Iwo Jima was a full-blooded Pima Indian in southern Arizona. And after the war was over, and after the victory was won, he was arrested on a skid row in Chicago for drunkenness and vagrancy and uselessness, and fined, and because he was unable to pay the fine, sent him to jail to work it out – one of the great heroes of American history. The daily newspaper of Chicago picked up the story, and an affluent citizen of the city read it. And he went to the jailhouse and paid the fine, and took out that Pima Indian, and said to him, "You are greatly needed. I have a family, these children, and a wife, and I am busy in my assignments in life. I want you to get a uniform and a cap, and I want you to chauffer me in my business appointments and my children as they go to school, and my wife in her social engagements." And he dressed up that Pima Indian in a uniform, and with his chauffeur’s cap, and turned over the limousine to him, and he came back into the same wonderful devoted service that he knew in the American army.
Now all of us are like that. It is ennobling when we reply, when we respond. You grow to be ten feet tall. You are great in your soul, in your heart, in your life, and in your vision, and in your interest, and in your outreach; you even begin to live. Man, the kingdom of God is so wide and broad and deep and high. When I identify myself with it, I get great in my soul, just grow God-ward; I just do.
The obverse of that also is true. We shrivel in selfishness and littleness; we become pygmies without the response. I saw a cartoon, the most unusual thing I ever looked at in a newspaper. It had no caption, it had no anything; it was just a picture there. And the picture was an island in the sea, and there were some people with their faces turned inward; that was all. When I looked at that thing, I said, "Why, I cannot imagine a cartoon like that. An island in a sea, and people standing in that island with their faces turned inward." And that was all: no caption, no description, no word, no anything, that was all. Well, I picked the thing up and looked at it closely, and it became very apparent. The sea all around that island was a sea of human hands lifted up in desperation, and in need, and in hunger, and in famine, and in want; it was a sea of human hands lifted up toward those in that island. And in the island were those who were standing with their faces inward and their backs to the great sea of humanity.
It’s great when we turn around and face the vast outreach of the kingdom of God. Our children, our youth, our young marrieds, our families into homes, our elderly and aged, our missions, our world appeal in evangelism and soulwinning; we grow when we respond. It’s a grace bestowed upon us of the Lord. I must close.
Look at the last one: "And this they did, not as we had hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord" [2 Corinthians 8:5]. What Paul observed in the grace of God bestowed upon those churches of Macedonia was a real, new dedication and self-surrender on the part of those people there. They first gave their own selves to the Lord. Oh, what a beautiful thing!
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 rare,
That none else could with them compare.
Had they gold of great worth somewhere stored?
No! They 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 afar of our plenty will heed,
And the world will rejoice in His word,
If we first give ourselves to the Lord.
It’s a grace of God; and it abounds when I yield Him first place in my life.
In a minute we’re going to stand, singing a hymn of appeal; and while we sing that song, a family you, a one somebody, a couple: "Pastor, the Lord has spoken to us, and we’re on the way." In the balcony round, down one of these stairways; there are one, two, three, four of them, and there’s time and to spare. In the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: "Pastor, God hath spoken to us today, and we’re coming." May the Lord be good to you, and angels attend you in the way as you answer with your life: "I’m taking Jesus as my Savior,I’m putting my life in the church,I’m following Him in baptism." As the Spirit shall direct and make appeal, answer, "Pastor, here I stand, so help me God." Welcome, as you come, while we stand and while we sing.