"Overflow - Inspiring Geometry" message by Lead Pastor Terry Brisbane. For more information, visit cornerstone-sf.org
We mentioned already that the series is called Overflow. In the three weeks that I’m sharing to kick it off, I want to focus a lot on Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. You can see that there’s a passage in there from the first part of Corinthians, First Corinthians 16. There also is a portion from Second Corinthians. These were letters Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. Remember that the things that the Bible talks about took place in real-time and places that are still there today. We always talk about how so much of what’s going on in the center of the world, the Middle East, which is right around that whole area of Jerusalem. Jerusalem and Corinth, in Greece, are where the early church began to flourish. There’s a Southern and Northern part of Greece. The Northern area is Macedonia and the Southern, Achaea. Those two areas or regions had different churches. You’ll recognize some of the names. Some of you are familiar with the New Testament. The books of Corinthians, Philippi, Philippians, Thessalonica, and Thessalonians that we’re going to look at, are different books in the scripture. It’s important for us to remember that the church begins in Jerusalem. The first believers in Jesus were almost exclusively Jewish and Hebrew.
Unless they were someone who converted to the way of the Jewish religion, they would’ve been exclusively Jewish. That’s how the church begins. The church had a vision and was primarily led by the Apostle Paul. They took the message of Jesus outside. Part of that was fueled by persecution and they ended up taking the message of Jesus across the waters. They found a stunning openness on the part of the Gentiles, particularly the Greeks. Many of them opened up their hearts to Christ. One of the things that we were also aware of at the time is as we come to this letter about AD55, the church in Jerusalem, was suffering greatly. They had been under an enormous amount of pressure. Not only were they being persecuted because of their confession of Jesus, which was somewhat controversial, but they were also under economic duress as well. There was a severe famine that plunged them into economic free fall.
As a result, the church in Jerusalem was in somewhat desperate straights. This is important as a setup. They were impoverished and beleaguered at this point. They were beaten down on all fronts. Even though it’s hard for the believers in Jerusalem, Apostle Paul feels he has an opportunity in it. One of the things Paul does is decide that it would be a great, wonderful expression of unity and gratitude if the churches that were planted in that region would be willing to come back around and help the church in Jerusalem. Remember it was Jerusalem who had sent and funded Paul to go and take this message of Jesus to plant these churches. Paul’s thinking, “If I can get them to respond now to the mother church that birthed them and get them to consider helping out the church in Jerusalem, who’s suffering so much, it would be not only a blessing for the church and a tremendous expression of unity.”
This fuels Paul’s desire. He decides he’s going to go to these churches and ask them to contribute financially. Corinth was a prosperous church. It was a prosperous region, a lot like San Francisco in many ways. Paul feels strongly that if he can, he’s going to try to get these churches to organize a relief fund. He’s going to try to create enough resources for the church of Jerusalem to be blessed while they’re suffering. That sets the table for what we’re about to look at. If you keep in mind that the Apostle Paul trying to raise a relief fund for the beleaguered church in Jerusalem, it’ll set the table for what we’re about to read.
At the end of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church, called the epistle (it’s a letter) he reminds them about this relief fund that he started. He specifically asks them to lay aside a portion every Sunday in addition to their normal core giving, which would’ve been tithing to their own local church. He wanted them to set aside an additional fund for a gift to be given to the church in Jerusalem. Let’s look at this and read this together. It is in First Corinthians 16. “Now regarding your question about the money that’s being collected for God’s to people in Jerusalem, you should follow the same procedure that I gave to the churches in Galatia.” So again, he’s writing the church at Corinth. “On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once. No, when I come I’m going to write letters of recommendation for the messengers you choose to deliver your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems appropriate for me to go along, then they can travel with me.”
Basically, Paul’s saying, I need you to have a strategic, consistent method of setting aside resources or money for the fund to be able to be given to the church in Jerusalem. This appeal occurs at the end of the last chapter of the first letter to the Corinthian church. It is the 16th chapter which is a long letter. If you were to go back, read that letter, and watch how it begins for the first 15 chapters, one of the most fascinating things you would note is that Paul spends the vast majority of that letter addressing different issues, concerns for some abuses. It’s basically a very corrective letter. The tone is tough. I think, “Man, this is classic Apostle Paul. You have to admire his chutzpah because after he spends around 15 chapters exhorting, rebuking, reproving, clarifying, and correcting, he turns around and essentially says, “Oh, and one more thing. I want to talk to you about the offering.” You have to have some nerve to do that. He then says, “Oh, and there’s this one more thing I wanted to bring up.” Paul introduces this idea of a fund.
Fast forward to the second letter. Some time has passed. Paul has felt it’s necessary to address a number of issues. One of which had to do with the fund and giving issue. Remember he talked to them about this fund and wants to check in on it. That brings us to the second letter, the eighth chapter. Paul is returning to the church at Corinth. He wants to see how they’re doing with the commitment for the relief fund that he asked them to contribute to. Paul says, “I want you to know, dear brothers, what God and His kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles and are very poor. They’re also filled with abundant joy,” meaning there’s the connection, “which has overflowed in rich generosity.” Again, the churches of Macedonia were in the North.
The Northerners, according to Roman records, had been under a tremendous amount of strain in their own right. We know that the churches in Macedonia had been affected by not only the Roman occupation when they seized the gold and the silver mines, but also by a series of natural disasters, earthquakes, and floods. Paul is writing to the Corinthians and saying, “Oh, and by the way, you know the churches North of you that have been under their own strain.” Again, I want to come back and talk to you about this relief fund because they’ve been under this tremendous strain. We underestimate sometimes how devastating natural disasters could be in that period.
When natural disasters hit, there was no infrastructure or relief for communities. It was an utter disaster, a lot like how it is in some third-world countries, but without any help coming from the outside. If you were part of a city or community that was hit by a natural disaster, it could be devastating. We know that the churches in Macedonia had been occupied and taken advantage of economically by the Romans. We know that they experienced a lot of natural disasters that caused them to have their own suffering. They did not have it easy. Paul talks about that. He says they have been tested by many troubles and they are very poor. Do you know the word in Greek for very poor is Bathos. It means rock bottom poverty. Paul says, “The churches North of you have had such a hard time and they are quite impoverished right now. I want you to know that they have been filled, even though they’re having a very difficult time, with abundant joy. It just overflowed in them into rich generosity.” What they were going through had been so devastating that Paul hadn’t even asked the churches in Macedonia to give. It wasn’t his intention. Paul’s initial intention was, “I’ll pass the churches. I’m going to pass the churches in the North up when it comes to this relief fund for the Jerusalem church. They’ve had their own suffering and have been under so many troubles of their own. I don’t want to ask them to contribute.
If we look closely at the second verse again, we’re going to see a phrase that seems incongruous. It says, “That for, in spite of their poverty, they’re filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed with rich generosities.” Something was going on in these believers. I want us to see this. Something that astonished and humbled even Apostle Paul, who had seen a lot. He says, in spite of their difficulty, they were filled with God’s joy and so profoundly impacted by the life of Christ that irrespective of their socioeconomic status, there overflowed in them a gift of joyful gratitude that caused them to give radically even in the midst of their abject poverty. Paul wants the church in Corinth who’s relatively well-off and prospering to know, “Do you understand what’s going on up North with your brothers and sisters? Do you have any idea what they’ve been going through?” The quality that characterizes them, Paul says in verse three, “For I can tell…” You can tell he’s smitten by them.
It’s almost like when Jesus, at moments, would marvel at someone’s faith. There would be times when Jesus said, “You’re amazing.” I see Paul marveling at the Macedonian church. Who out of their abundance of poverty, has made a decision to give so beautifully to the church in Jerusalem who was suffering. It gets Paul’s heart. He says, “I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford. No, they didn’t even just stop there, they gave far more. They did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again, for the privilege of being able to share in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.” What Paul is saying is that as incredible as it might seem, your brothers and sisters up North begged us to let them contribute. They did not want to be left out. They did not want their poverty to be a reason for leaving them out of what they saw as a blessing.
Paul says in verse five, “Not only did they give what little they could afford and what they had, but they gave more.” They did more than we had hoped for their first action. He says, “They gave more than we could’ve ever hoped for because their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us just as God wanted them to do. Honestly, they exceeded our expectations. Long before they gave their resources, they had already given them to God. He had their heart. “These are people,” Paul says, “who live under the sway of King Jesus. They rallied behind us and what we were trying to do for the church in Jerusalem.” That’s what he’s telling the church at Corinth. I want you to know about your brothers and sisters up there. In verse six Paul says, “We’ve urged Titus,” Titus was a trusted member of Paul’s team who delivered Paul’s first letter and brought the issue to their attention. “We’ve urged Titus, who encouraged their giving in the first place to return and encourage you to finish this ministry of giving.” That is, we want you to follow through on a good intention that you said you would do. Paul had been told that the Corinthians, after his appeal in the first letter, said, “Yeah, we’ll do that.”
The Corinthians were not following through. Paul says, “I want you to follow through on the thing that you committed yourself to.” Then he says this, “Since you excel in so many ways. You are an amazing church. You excel in your faith. You have gifted speakers. You have knowledge, enthusiasm, and love from us. I want you also to excel in this gracious act of giving. You’re an amazing and gifted church. You excel in so many things. Excellence rests over you. Would you be excellent in your giving as well, be generous?” That’s a word for some of us. Paul says, “I’m not commanding you to do this, but I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of other churches. I’m not commanding you to give this money but I’m asking you. I am applying some pressure on you. It’s not a legal thing. I’m not trying to guilt you into this, but I am encouraging you to do what others less prosperous have already done. I want to give you the opportunity to demonstrate the reality of your love that I believe you have for Christ.”
That’s the passage for what was going on. I feel like there are some things around this that we can wrestle with that are good for us. I’ve been praying for this, thinking about the kind of setup we just looked at. How Paul is making this appeal to the church at Corinth. This group of believers who were well off to help out the church in Jerusalem who were suffering. He uses the example of churches in the North to motivate Corinth to respond because they seem to be reluctant. Here are some things about generosity and overflowing that I want to have us look at. One of the lessons is that in lean and difficult times, we’re told here, is if we can focus on Christ, it is possible to have a sustainable joy that allows us to endure in kindness and generosity. Like the Macedonian church who, despite their many troubles and problems, abounded in joy. They abounded in the joy that launched them into generosity.
This reminded me that, it’s good for all of us to remember this, it is possible to even when we’re under steady duress to have joy. Maybe some of us are doing great. That’s wonderful. Maybe your burden is light. That’s so beautiful. Some of us have come in with things that are weighing on us, things inside of our own hearts that we’re struggling with, areas of our life that are very challenging for us, and places where we feel tremendous pressure. Some of us are going to walk back in on Monday and have a heavy load to carry. We’re going to have to deal with stuff at our work. Some of us not only have that to deal with, but we have things going on in our family or extended family, that are deeply troubling or hard for us.
We may have our own internal struggles which sometimes are even more difficult to bear whether it’s at our emotional or mental level. Where we feel we’re at a breaking point or close to it. Our nerves are frayed. In these places, one of the things we’re reminded of is that when we’re under steady duress and great difficulty, it is possible that we can be in that place of great difficulty and not be defined by it. The Macedonian example teaches us this. I think with God’s grace it is possible to flourish in ways that are only possible with adversity. The Lord willing in the New Year, which is still a few months away, it is truly, deeply planted in my heart to spend the opening months talking about how we can grow through adversity. How to do it from a biblical approach and grow through hard things. How can we abound in difficult places?
One of the things that we’re told here is that in Christ it is possible to abound even in our adversity. This is a principle that the Macedonians teach us. Secondly, their example is a reminder to resist allowing fear to hinder our generosity. Fear can cripple our responsive capacities. Instead of giving, we give in to our fears. Sometimes, fears that seem to dominate can cut off our capacity to be a generous and committed people to the Lord. It has to do with the fear of not having enough, which is the spirit of poverty. The true spirit of poverty is not having anything. It’s the fear of having nothing. That’s why people who are extraordinarily wealthy can be gripped by the fear and the spirit of poverty. It is not the exclusive domain of those who have nothing. One of the things we are also attacked by is our fear of losing what we have. Sometimes we are so afraid that we tighten things up. Both of these fears attack our sense of security and identity. So the natural tendency is to pull back, conserve, avoid being generous, and focus mainly on ourselves. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a time in our lives, when we have to pull back and simplify. There are times where God will say, “Look, life has become too complex and you’re overextended. You have to live within your means. The wisdom is adjusting.”
There’s a time when we need to make adjustments in our generosity because we’re being overextended. Hopefully, that’s only temporary. One of the blessings of prospering is that it allows us to even be more generous. It’s important to stay open to the Lord because one of the things I want to suggest is here in my heart. God really does want us to have a spirit of responsiveness. I’m talking mainly to those who’ve clearly made, in your heart, a commitment to follow Jesus right now. The letters were written to people who were followers of Jesus. I would never expect anyone who wasn’t there yet to think about living this way necessarily. One of the things I’m reminded of is God wants us to be responsive in the area that relates to our giving and our giving patterns.
In this case, Paul wasn’t talking about their core giving commitments. He was talking about their discretionary giving. Please hear the difference. The core giving commitment that a believer has to their own church is what we call a tithe. A tithe has to do with giving of 10%. The idea that God can do more with 10% that is really His anyway than we can do with 100%. There’s no uniform agreement on this, but I found it to be very true. I was taught early as a follower of the Lord that whether I made $10,000 or 10 cents, for me in my house, we were going to give as Jesus commanded us in Matthew, 23:23, a 10th of that to His house. That’s what I’ve done since I had a paper route. My grandfather pulled me aside and said, “Listen, you honor the Lord with a tithe. It’ll affect your entire life, the way you process your life with God.” I have done that. I’ve tried to teach my family to do that. All my life I’ve tried to live that way to honor God. I remember when I was in training after my grandfather passed away. We were not a part of a denomination and I was so young. I was 25 years old with the responsibility of leading the church. Although it was much smaller, I still felt very overwhelmed. I lost my father figure, my father in the faith. He taught me how to love God. He had taught me basic things but didn’t have anywhere else to go.
I attached myself to another pastor from afar who was from a denomination. His name was Jack Hayford. He’s still alive and in his eighties now. He is an amazing man who modeled responsiveness to the Lord. Jack always astonished me with his teachings. Through my 30s and 40s, I had a chance to sit under him with other groups of pastors. I gleaned a lot from him. I say all that because ultimately Jack and a team started a seminary, King’s Seminary. He’s the chancellor of that now. It’s where I ended up doing my doctorate work. During that time though, one of the things I remember was how he kept challenging all of us to be responsive to the Lord. He says, “Sometimes it’s going to seem silly.” He wasn’t a crazy man, but he always amazed me at his willingness to be somewhat undignified, if it meant responding to the Lord.
He was a big believer in tithing and he talked about the value of it. In his book, he writes about something which I think is tender and beautiful. The book is called the “Key to Everything” by Jack Hayford. If any of you decide you want to read that, it’s a pretty good book. I’m talking about core giving right here. What he’s about to share is for anyone who’s a parent or ever will be a parent or a grandparent to have the ability to do this for their children or grandchildren. What happened to him affected a whole bunch of other people. It affected someone like me and all those who I ultimately get the chance to serve. Think about the effect that parents can have on a child. He says, “As I’m seated, my dad,” he’s talking about when he was a boy. “They called me in and had me sit down.” He says, “When I was just a boy, my dad brought out a small handful of change. Young Jack Hayford,” himself, “a man of the world, is about to receive two things. One, his first allowance and two, his first lesson in money management.” He’s writing as an older man, looking back down the corridor of time to when he was a boy sitting there, says, “I can remember it so well, it’s vivid. It would affect me for the years to come, to earn my allowance, certain daily chores, and weekly responsibilities around the house framed my agenda. But this memorable moment was payday number one. Daddy sat beside me with mama across the table because of the lesson he was ready to teach.” Imagine I’m a father like this.
“Instead of giving me a dime, which was going to be my first allowance, he put a nickel on the table and five pennies right in front of me. I can remember it so clearly. It’s hard to describe the good feeling I remember. Nothing was heavy, nothing was oppressive, nothing was suffocatingly religious about what followed. The lesson was clear and concise as my dad taught me what the Bible says about tithing I learned that day.” He wrote three things, “The tithe means a 10th based on Genesis 28:22, that the Lord claims the tithe as his, Leviticus 27:30, that obedience in the tithing carries a great promise, Malachi 3:10.” He says, “Then with the help after my dad taught me and referred to these scriptures, with the healthy attitude of obedience and joy, that characterized the way my folks talked about God.” Do you see the effect of the way we talk about the Lord the little ones has?
“Daddy said, ‘Now, son, from what I’ve just shown you, what part of the 10 cents is the Lords?’ Jack said, ‘I took the penny and I answered. This is the Lord’s.’ My dad said, ‘That’s right, son. Now, what do you want to do with it?'” He says, “Well, I can give it when it’s offering time in Sunday School. They smiled their approval and mama added, ‘Jack, listen, this isn’t just for you today. This is for always. So you remember that. This is the way we live as a family. We want you to learn to live that way too, okay?’ I said, ‘Okay, mama.'” Then, Jack Hayford. a much older man says, “you know what, I have and I do.” He went on to say this as a result of that parental teaching is provable evidence of God’s blessing on this practice of obedience to His Word, “There’s not a dime or dollar I have not received in my life that I haven’t tithed on,” he says years later.
He said, “Years later something happened. I was a boy when I was taught it. I did it all as I was growing up, but then something happened. My wife Ann and I were married. We went from being students, all of a sudden we started making some more money. I still remember the day when we got an additional check, a Christmas bonus. What happened was that bonus combined with our normal salary. All of a sudden, for the first time in my life as I was writing a three-figure check.” For him, that was a step. He had never done it before. He never had that much money before. He says, “I can still remember the day when I sat at the table with Anna. Something choked inside of me as I prepared to write that check. It suddenly seemed like a large amount of money and I winced feeling guilty for the possessiveness.” This is the kind of man he is. The guy drives deep inside his heart. Jack says, “For the possessiveness that was seeking a place in my heart. But it didn’t survive for long because almost as soon as that thought tempted me, the Lord spoke to me. ‘Child, it’s still only a penny on every dime.'” I laugh both to and at myself. Amen, Lord. The huge tithe check isn’t any more than the first penny on my first allowance. It’s the context of incidents like these he would share candidly that I have learned a pattern of tithe and that has brought a blessing to my whole life.
I want to share this truth freely, boldly. I don’t believe for one minute that tithing buys God’s blessing. It’s not like buying your blessing Lord, but I do believe it opens a door or a window of release for God to bless continually and mightily. I have been amazed and watched with amazement this man address his own heart. Whenever he found himself getting to that place where he was worried or closed himself down from what God was prompting him to do, he would rally to go at it. That was always inspiring to me. Back to the church in Macedonia and what they were being asked to do. Paul already knew they gave faithfully as was their custom. He was asking them to think about, could they give more? Paul didn’t want them to give more because he thought they didn’t have enough money to give so why would I want you to do that? They insisted because there was something about this group of believers that lived their life big for God. I want to leave with this, God wants us to live our life big to overflow in generosity. I’m talking about generosity of all kinds. He wants us to be givers and encouragers, not clutches and discourages.
God wants us to be more generous in every way with our praise, love, kindness, and resources. How do we live big when circumstances seem so confining? How do we do it? How do we live big when our relationships are faltering and are disappointing? How do we live big when times are lean and things are not going as we had hoped? How do we live big like that? What are we talking about? What I’m saying is within the framework of confinement, we can choose to do what the Macedonian church did. That is we seek to live in the abundance of His joy. Live in His Word. Immerse ourselves in His promise and bring our attitudes into alignment with our hope. That’s what I’m talking about. We decide He provides. The point is we can live big in the small places of life. That’s what I’m trying to say. I look at the Macedonian example. They were living big in a place where everything was so tight. If we decide, He will provide the grace we need to prevail and flourish. I’m going to leave you this last verse in Luke 6:38. Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given to you. Good measure, press down, shaken together, running over will be put into your bosom for what the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” That’s what the words of Jesus taught us.
What a promise that is. What we give comes back around. Let’s live big for God. I’m not just talking about finances. I’m talking about not settling for a small, tight faith that’s cautious, careful, measured, and reluctant to risk. Let’s be adventurous followers of Jesus. Let’s set the sail, we only have one life to live. The time is now. Let’s lay up treasure in heaven and send it ahead. Let’s live as we talked about last week, that we believe what we believe. We’re going to doubt our doubts. We’re going to believe our beliefs. We’re going to live like that. That means I can flourish anywhere. God wants us to live big in any place. I hope we hear that. Let’s live what we believe. Let’s let what we believe inform our actions and attitudes. That’s what we’re saying.
For my actions, Lord, and for my attitudes, don’t let the circumstances dictate my actions and attitudes. I will not be defined by those things. I am a follower of Jesus. The abundance of joy in my life overflows into generosity. That’s how we live big. The time is now. The day is short. The opportunity will not always be there to honor God. We will not always have the opportunity to honor God and bless people. Our life is limited. The time to live what we believe is now. When we do, the joy of the Lord fills our hearts and our lives. It flows out and other people are affected by it. Wherever we are, let’s choose to live big for God.
Let’s be an adventurer in our faith. Let’s not be defined by things that we don’t like and let that dictate our attitudes and demeanor. Forget that. God’s given us a joy in our hearts that goes beyond circumstances. That’s what Paul said to the Macedonian church, “Do you see their joy? It’s not because they have a bunch because they don’t. There’s something inside of them that is overflowing in a generosity.” Lord, may you let that vision be in us as well. I’m going to go ahead and pray. I’m going to ask this blessing over this Word. Lord Jesus, I thank you for your amazing generosity towards us. For you gave everything. You emptied it all. You overflowed for us. Your blood flowed out for us. For those of us who believe and receive you. There’s an example. There’s a model.
I pray against the things that would lock us up. The things that would shrink us down and steal our joy. God, help us to see that when we invite you in, claim your promises, live as a people of hope, and believe what we say we believe. It’s going to affect how we manage our life. It’s going to affect how we approach our life. It’s going to affect how we walk through our life. I ask you to help us to let our light shine. Let us be examples of you, radiate your goodness, and people may see your good words. It doesn’t matter whether we abound great. If we abound that we bless. If we’re having it hard and we’re abased, blessed be the name of the Lord. Blessed to be the name of the Lord. God, even a greater opportunity to honor you and demonstrate the reality of our faith. The power that comes out of that is a power unlike anything else. Have your way with us, lord. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.