How Can Poor Christians Give?


In my Sunday preaching, I am deep into a quest to cover each book of the Bible in a single sermon. I started preaching this single book series over one year ago, and I have now reached 2 Corinthians.

Child GivingIn listening to 2 Corinthians, I was struck by a paragraph at the opening of chapter 8. The Macedonians became an example which Paul used to inspire the church at Corinth to give generously toward helping suffering saints. At first, I was struck by the unimaginable generosity of the Macedonians. Later, I was struck by something even more astounding…

First, notice how generously the Macedonians gave. Though poor, they were wealthy in giving.

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… 2 Cor 8:1-4, ESV.

Second, ponder the striking paradox between their poor circumstances and their generous giving.

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But there is more to the story than simply generous giving.

Third, notice the intense desire the Macedonians possessed. Paul says—even though they lacked the means—they begged earnestly to participate. Poor Christians begged for the opportunity to contribute to a love offering! I’ve never seen anyone–rich or poor–begging to give an offering to help suffering saints.

Fourth, –and most surprising honestly–get a grasp of what kind of an example these Macedonians really are in Paul’s mind. We would expect Paul to use the Macedonians as an example of giving so that the Corinthians would be encouraged—almost shamed—into giving, right?. After all, the Corinthians were far better off than the Macedonians, and the Macedonians gave generously!

But Paul doesn’t use the Macedonians as an example of generosity. But of grace. Speaking of the Macedonians, Mark Seifrid points out,

“Yet they are an example, not of generosity, but of the grace of God.”

For Paul, the appeal to the Corinthians is not guilt, but grace. God’s grace empowered the poverty-stricken Macedonians to give. Likewise, God’s grace would also empower the church at Corinth to give generously.

If Paul had tried to shame them, the Corinthians may have been able to put up a defense against guilt. But what church would ever defend herself against grace? We love to receive grace from God. And Paul says, in effect, that receiving grace means giving grace.

Listen to Seifrid’s exposition of this profound reality about God’s grace and Christian giving:

“Paul also makes it clear that he understands the Macedonian act of giving as the reception of a gift from God. God is present and active in human giving in such a way that human givers are finally mere receivers.”

Amazing grace from an amazing God! The poor Macedonians were made rich enough to give away generously. May God’s grace make us so rich!

Christians Stop Calling Yourselves Sinners


Billy Joel famously confessed in song,

“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints

The sinners are much more fun—only the good die young!”

Overlooking his obvious false dichotomy between saints and fun and his full-throttled embrace of sin, we can give Joel credit for seeing something that many sinners and saints equally miss: Saints and sinners are two distinct groups of people. In this distinction, Billy Joel is being quite biblical.

These two categories, in fact, are biblical categories by which all of humanity can be divided.  The Bible makes this distinction in various ways: darkness/light; believers/unbelievers; children of God/children of the devil; and saints/sinners.  The New Testament does not call Christians sinners.

Did you hear that?  Christians are not addressed as sinners by the writers of the New Testament.  Christians are called saints. See Paul’s address to the Corinthians for a clear and very common example:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…

If Christians are saints, and not sinners, then why do Christians refer to themselves so often as sinners and almost never as saints?  I came up with four possible explanations. You may think of more (or better) explanations. Here are my four thoughts:

First, we Protestants have a lingering discomfort with the catholic traditions (Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox) because of their veneration of the saints. Variously, these traditions pray to the saints, hold feast days in their names, and revere certain saints above others. Indeed, these catholic traditions do not use the word saint to refer to all Christians set apart by the gospel. Rather, they use the term to refer to super holy Christians (or something like that).  So, the catholic traditions employ the term in a way we don’t like. We, in turn, choose not to use the term much at all.

Second, we are simply too aware of our own sins, individually and collectively, to think of ourselves as anything but sinners.  We know we have sinned terribly against the Lord.  We know that we still fall short of His glory. Thus, we think of ourselves as sinners.  We call ourselves sinners because we know that is what we have always been.

And all of this is true of course. We were born sinners.  We still sin.  Thus, in a very real sense, we are still sinners.  We feel the tension Martin Luther expressed so well: Simul iustus et peccator [at the same time, we are righteous and sinners]. Our problem is that the apostles and writers of the New Testament refer to Christians as saints, not sinners. Our experience makes us feel like sinners. (So, Paul would call himself the chief of sinners, yet he referred to believers in the churches as saints).  There is serious tension.

Third, let’s be honest—we are not comfortable being called saints. Going by the name sinner is easy. It sounds humble—“I’m just a poor sinner.”  It relieves our responsibility (and even guilt?) somewhat because we can identify with every other Christian who knows he, too, is just a poor sinner.  We commiserate.

Such thinking might also build a certain level of defeatism into our spiritual psyche.  When it comes to exercising spiritual discipline in the morning, it’s easier to slide into sinner mode than saint mode.  When it comes to fighting temptation toward lust, laziness, or lack of evangelistic zeal, we have an easier time consoling ourselves of our failures when we think of ourselves as failures—as sinners.

But the New Testament thinks of us differently. Peter, for instance, reminds his readers,

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Wow, that’s a high calling!  Peter and Paul tell us we are saints, holy, royal, and chosen. They do not say we are sinners, partly because (as a biblical category) sinners are condemned (see Paul in Romans 3:7, Peter in 1 Peter 4:18).  Mostly, they use saint as a reminder of our high calling in Christ.

Fourth, we might be confused about the term saint. What does it even mean?

Basically, a saint (‘agion) is a person who is sacred, holy, or “set apart.”  It does not mean super moral or super righteous Christians.  All Christians are called by God, set apart from the world.  We are no longer in the darkness, but we have been transferred into the light, into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.  As such, we are saints by God’s calling.

The Apostle Paul explains this concept in Romans 6:12-14:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (ESV).

Paul is borrowing temple language. In the temple, there were instruments set apart for use in temple service. What was the difference between a

Fan of saints not sinners

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(Yes, I’m a saints fan!)

firepan in the temple and a firepan used, perhaps, in a pagan temple?  Nothing, materially speaking.  But everything in a spiritual and theological sense!  One was pleasing to almighty God and used for worshiping him.  The other was abhorrent to God and used to commit idolatry against Him.

Paul reminds us that we are called (set apart, saints) to be useful in worshiping God, not to be useful in the idolatrous practices of our past (or those present in the world).  We should remember our calling to be set apart. We should remember, as Paul told the Philippians, to let our lives be lived in a manner worthy of the gospel to which we have been called.  Today, we are to be instruments useful to God, set apart for His good purposes. We are His saints today. Therefore, we must go and be useful for God.

The distinction between saint and sinner is not essentially moral. Neither the saint nor the sinner is perfectly holy in moral terms. Yet, one is characterized by his sinful desires; the other is characterized by his holy desires.  One is characterized by idolatrous and fleshly practices; the other is characterized by godliness and usefulness to Christ and the gospel.

Billy Joel, it seems, got two things right. There are sinners, and there are saints. Which one are you today?

Noisy Saints Need Ears to Hear


“He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7).

I am a football fan. And I am a Christian. Therefore, as any good Christian ought, I cheer for the Saints!  The Apostle Paul blesses the churches at Ephesus and Colosse because of their love for the saints. So, it is obviously biblical to love the saints  😉

Last week, the Saints had a very rough time in Seattle. They were barely able to escape being scoreless in Seattle. Part of the problem for the Saints was the noise. The crowd in Seattle sought to break the Guinness record for loudest fans at an outdoor stadium. To do so, they had to exceed 137 decibels. They did—mostly during the crucial seconds the Saints needed for calling plays at the line of scrimmage. Congratulations, Seattle, you broke the record, reaching 137.6 decibels—and registering as a small earthquake on the regional Richter scale.

More importantly, this event is capable of instructing us in a serious theological matter. The Seahawks fans made so much noise that the Saints had to wear specially-fitted earplugs in order to hear plays being called at the line of Scrimmage. Think about that. Earplugs (used for silencing) became necessary in order to hear. The earplugs were necessary so that the outside noise (ambient noise) would not overpower the direct-line speech from player to player. The earplugs were designed to “drown out” the 137.6-decibel flood of Seattle Seahawk sound waves. The plugs filtered the noise to allow the team to hear close, direct-line speech.

All Christians–all saints–need ear-filters such as this. Indeed, one of the primary distinctions between “saints” and “sinners” in the New Testament is that the one “has ears to hear” what the Spirit is saying, while the other cannot hear the word on account of its being choked out by the cacophony of words being shouted by the world.

Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs, spent 14 years in prison, often in solitary confinement. His book, Tortured for Christ, tells of his response to being free. In short, he states that he was most unimpressed with how those outside of prison squandered their freedom by simply making “noise” with their speech. According to Wurmbrand, even Christians squandered their speech on the noise of talking about sports, the weather, and the amusements of entertainment. After solitary confinement, Wurmbrand discovered that very few things in life were really worth talking about at all.

He also offers another telling story about the proper filtering of noise:

In the homes of many Western Christians, hours are sometimes spent listening to worldly music. In our homes loud music can also be heard, but it is only to cover the talk about the gospel and the underground work so that Ear to hearthe neighbors may not overhear it and inform the secret police.

Wurmbrand learned the real mechanics of noise and how to use it (like specially-fitted earplugs) to make the gospel more clearly, directly heard. Preachers must learn the same lesson. Unfortunately, many preachers spend too much time seeking to sound like the world (for apologetic or evangelistic purposes) instead of intentionally filtering a focused word for the saints, who are in the world but no longer desiring to be part of it.

With all the ambient noise surrounding us on billboards, television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Netflix, and Hulu—we need Christian pastors who are capable of tuning a message to the frequency of the Scriptures and broadcasting it directly through the crowd noise to ears of those who have an ear to hear.

Saints Fan


Not that you should be wavering at this point, but if you are looking for a reason to be a Saints fan, try reading this article about Drew Brees, a true saint.  Just the right encouragement before the big game next week.