2 Corinthians 8: The Treasure Principle of Amazing Grace!
Buried treasure is the theme of novels, movies and the dreams of everyone who ever watched a pirate movie or read, Treasure Island or the Count of Monte Cristo. This fascination with buried treasure is nothing new, listen to what Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13: 44)
Can you visualize what Jesus wanted the crowd to visualize in this story about the kingdom of heaven? Here is a man walking along the path beside the field and perhaps cuts across the field to get to where he is going. As he walks with his staff, his staff sinks in the some soft dirt and hits something solid. The man, curious as to what his staff has landed on, drops to his knees to dig away the dirt and there it is- an ornate chest which he pulls up. Glancing about to make sure no one is looking, he opens the chest and finds- a buried treasure from long ago. Now do not let the main point of the story get lost and miss the most important point: this man went and sold all he had to possess this field with its treasure. Notice it was ‘in his joy’; he gave up all he had for this. He was exchanging the lesser treasure for the greater treasure. “A man is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep for that which he can never lose.” (Jim Elliot)
The treasure principle was a key part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6 we read: “Do not store up treasures for yourself on earth, where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break into steal. But store up treasure for yourselves in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Jesus’ appeal for giving is not emotional, it is logical. He is saying by investing your treasures in heaven, you can enjoy them for eternity. He is enlightening our self- interest. He is directing us to give where we can enjoy it for the longest period and have great joy in the present as we anticipate future joy. Right now our family is looking forward to a family vacation in a new spot, St. Georges Island. We have made the necessary investment to secure this location for a whole week in July. I have joy in the present as I anticipate the future joy of being there with all my family for a week, doing all the fun things with the people I love the most.
Did you notice the treasure we lay up in one of these two locations is for us, for ourselves. Jesus is called, “Wonderful Counselor”. Here in this parable and in these verses, Jesus is giving us a life lesson about where to invest and store up treasure. He is telling us the treasures we lay up on earth will not last. He tells us laying up treasures, investing in temporary things is like my spending money to redecorate this rented vacation home – painting it, putting in new carpet, buying new furniture and lighting fixtures. In fact it is foolish and just plain stupid spending not only my money on this, but wasting my time doing all this work. On the other hand, I want to make sure my family takes good care of this temporary housing.
Psalm 24 tells us “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Haggai tells us “the silver and gold are the Lord’s.”
Deut. 8 provides this insight: “Remember the Lord your God for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” And one last reminder: “You are not your own, you have been bought with a price.” (I Cor. 6)
Did you forget, like we all do, you are living in the Lord’s world, in His house, managing His money which He gave you the ability to earn. I am His steward managing His estate and wealth. He is extremely generous, allowing me to keep 90% of what He has given me the ability to earn. He is the owner of everything, I am His steward. What I have just written is what Scripture tells us is true and it is also a picture of His Amazing Grace.
LIFE AND THINGS
Grace is often defined as -: God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. He created it all for us to enjoy. I enjoy all I enjoy in this world at Christ’s expense. What a costly investment He has made at Calvary where He shed His blood to pay for my sins. Peter said this blood of our Lord is more precious than all the silver and gold. (Gold by the way is used for paving roads in heaven.) Jesus shares a parable about a rich man in Luke 12 who stores up all his wealth in his barns. He has to build new barns to hold it all. Thinking now I am set and have plenty of good things stored up for many years. “I can take life easy: eat, drink, and be merry. Jesus calls this man a fool in this parable, because that very night his life will end and who then will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God. Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body what you will wear. Life is more than food and the body more than clothes.” Jesus is trying to tell us life is more than things. He says he will provide us with all we need if we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. If you are worrying about things and life today, then you are not trusting Him.
We are told not to love the things of this world. Yet people, possessions and places are what we build our lives around these things. Jesus is saying I know you have need of these things but they can steal your love for Me. Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is the life.
Do you want to know what life is? Jesus defined it for us: “And this is life eternal, that they may know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) Knowing Jesus is the secret to what life is about and the right attitude toward things. “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12) This is materialism. And the antidote for materialism and worry is to know and serve the Lord. Invest your life in Him. The more you know Him, the more you will love Him, and the more you love Him, and the more you love Him the more you will obey Him, and the more you obey Him , the more you will abide in Him and bear more fruit. In this is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit. (John 15) “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This is the greatest investment you can make and brings the greatest joy now and forever.
We will receive our rewards in heaven which will last forever. What are those rewards? We will rule and reign with Christ. We will be put in charge of many things, including cities. We will receive crowns. Jesus is keeping track of all the things we do for Him and others, every small act of kindness will not go unnoticed by Him. Paul said to the Philippians as he thanked them for their gifts to him, “not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking at what may be credited to your account.” There is an account book in heaven in which Jesus is crediting me for my rewards. They will be tested for motive at the Bema where rewards are bestowed. We will realize at that time, how much time, effort and money we wasted on things of no lasting value.
Do you know why people dread the thought of leaving this world? It is because they have buried their treasure here on earth. And where your treasure is there will your heart be also.
So let’s look the guidelines Paul introduces us to for giving.
“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, (a great trial of affliction, KJV) their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. “
First thing to notice is the source of all of this is a result of the work of God’s Grace. This giving will be all of God’s grace. It is an amazing combination of opposites. Notice the great trial of affliction came from the Grace of God. Grace does not just remove trouble; it is grace which often brings trouble. “T’was grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fear removed.”
But out of this severe trial came overflowing joy. This is the mark of grace, joy in the midst of trouble and affliction. It was these two working together which unlocked the combination to the treasure chest of generosity. Joy is rooted in grace, not in freedom from trouble. The more severe the trial the greater the joy. This is the reaction of grace –when the trial is severe, the joy is abundant. Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame for the joy set before Him. The joy was to be the author and finisher of our faith.
Notice the next two extreme opposites: out of their extreme poverty welled up their rich generosity. The grace of God brought affliction and extreme poverty. But it was the grace of God which produced out of these dire circumstances- overflowing joy and rich generosity. What we do in extreme afflictions in severe trials which bring extreme poverty is the key to all Christian living. Paul said he had learned to be content in those extremes. He knew what it was to have plenty and to have nothing. The Macedonians could have told Paul we are extremely poor, we cannot give you anything. In fact they could have grumbled and complained about all the problems they had. But they did not complain- they did the opposite.
This response got Paul’s attention. Paul said “they did not do as we expected.” Paul was not expecting this. It reminded me of the man who came on the talent show who managed a cell phone store. There was nothing extraordinary about him, his looks, his personality, his life. He told Simon he loved opera and he would perform an opera aria for his talent. The look on Simon’s face said it all- a sneer of this will be good only for laughs as we humiliate this nobody. Yet when he opened his mouth and began to sing- it was a powerful rich tenor and it was all the more joyous because it was so unexpected. Do we come to church every Sunday expecting something unexpected which produces great joy? Or do we come expecting nothing more than what we can do in our own power. Our joy can rise not higher than our ability to produce circumstances which make us happy, which we confuse as joy.
Grace, God’s Grace is the source of joy. And it is the most abundant and overflowing when it comes from the most unlikely conditions which one would not expect it to come.
Paul reminds us in verses 8 & 9: “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with your earnestness for others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Could it be what we want is more wealth and possessions? Yet statistics reveal on average the richer people are, the smaller the percentage of their money is given to charity.
Now here is what Paul was not expecting: “For they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability.” Have you ever given not as much as you were able but beyond your ability?
They gave of their own free will. They were not manipulated, or coerced or made to feel like they had to do this. THEY WANTED TO GIVE OVER AND ABOVE BEYOND WHAT THEY COULD GIVE. They so loved God and were so impacted by His grace they wanted to do this. God loves a cheerful giver. It was of their free will and out of a passion for God. Grace results in this type of response. They begged to give more. It is true; we love Him because He first loves us. He loved us and gave Himself for us.
Their giving was twofold. First they gave themselves to God. This is first and key. God went first; God risked not having His love returned. He gave Himself to us – so we should give ourselves to Him. Here is where we will find a treasure of greater worth – worth giving up all we possess, which we could not keep any way. Second they gave of their possessions for the exchange was for the lesser for the greater; for the giving up of the temporary for the eternal. And if that was not enough, it created joy and peace which surpasses our ability to understand or explain.
So where is your treasure? We mentioned earlier our treasures are usually found in people special persons in our lives; in places- our homes, our favorite possessions. These are producers of joy or happiness. Yet many of our possessions are temporary and are headed to Good Will or even to be picked up as trash. Many of us are looking to downsize our homes, shed ourselves of possessions which fill our houses, attics and garages. Friends come and go, relationships change. The flowers of life fade, such fleeting beauty, but the Word of God and the souls of men last forever. Have you invested in the Word of God, storing it in your heart so you might share it with others? It never runs out and like God love, compassion and faithfulness it is new and fresh every morning.
Psalm 16: 11 “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
The church at Macedonia was a poor church consisting of poor people. They treasured Jesus above money. They treasured Him in their afflictions and in their poverty. And as a result they experienced great overwhelming joy and generosity.
For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.
Jesus said lay up your treasures in a place_- heaven.
Find your joy in a person, Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, mind, will and emotions. Then love your neighbor as yourself.
Love people and use things to express your love for others by giving out of your abundance of out of your poverty. Either way, you will discover it is better to give than to receive. Today people are lovers of self and of things and use people for their own selfish purposes.
Motive is key. And God looks at your heart.
Paul says this of the Bema: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder and someone else is building on it.”
Everything you and I have as believers comes from God’s grace. For by grace are you saved through faith. And Paul tells us even the faith to believe was a gift.
Now we are building on the foundation laid for us of which Jesus is the chief cornerstone. Those works will be tested for reward.
We are cautioned by Paul “to be careful how he builds.”
What and where are you laying up your treasures?
What is being credited to your heavenly account?
What is your source of joy? Is the joy of the Lord, the passion of your heart. It was for this poor church at Macedonia. And their story is being told 2000 years later. A bunch of poor nobodies who in God’s eyes are a story worth telling and an example to us even today.
Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector. Yet he was looking for something that would satisfy the longing in his heart. He was wealthy but unhappy. His position was one of power and wealth. He was in the eyes of the world – a “somebody.” But he was a nobody until he met Jesus. He became a new creature. He found the treasure he was looking for and his life as changed from that moment on.
And his life which had been touched by the amazing grace of the Lord Jesus resulted in his giving. When Jesus comes to your house, you get changed and you turn the deed of your house and your possessions over to Him.
Did you ever notice Jesus borrowed so many things from others? He borrowed a donkey, an upper room, food, and empty tomb. He had no home on this earth. No place to lay his head. Why did Jesus do this? Why did He live this way?
He gave it all for the joy of making us rich. Not financially rich, although some are able to be blessed with by the Lord with financial riches because they use them for His kingdom. They are like the servants given the talents to invest for their master.
God led the nation of Israel into the wilderness in Exodus to teach them He could supply all their needs. God gives us what we have. God gives us opportunities. He gives us abundance that we might learn the joy of sharing with those who have needs around us.
You cannot take it with you. But you can send it ahead. You can also learn the joy of giving. Try it- discover the Treasure Principle it is more blessed to give than to receive and in doing so you are laying up treasure for yourself which will never run out!