A Portrait of Grace-Giving

by Wayne Barber

2 Corinthians 8:1-5

The Apostle Paul said: "We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor. 6:1). He is talking about those who get so excited about Christ coming to live in them that they forget to let Him live through them. The reason Christ came to live in us is because He is the only one who can live the Christian life! No one has ever lived the Christian life except Christ! For a believer to think that he can live the Christian life in his own strength and ability is to "receive the grace of God in vain!"

Christ is the Grace of God! He is the divine Enabler of all that He demands of each of us. A friend of mine had a lady come up to him and say, "You preach a God who is out to hurt us!" He said "No, I'm sorry you are misunderstanding what I'm saying. I preach a God who is out to kill us!" Why? Because He knows that unless we die to ourselves, He can't live His life in us! That may sound a little harsh but if you read carefully Galatians 2:19-20, I think you might understand what he was saying: "For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me."

When we are yielded to Christ, abandoned to Him and to His purpose, then He lives His life in and through us.  One of the characteristics of His life in us is seen in our giving!  In chapters 8 and 9 of 2nd Corinthians, Paul is going to show us many things about giving and the role it plays in our lives. Paul speaks in these two chapters about an offering that he is going to take up for the suffering saints in Jerusalem. He had already told them about this offering in 1st Corinthians 16. In fact, the Corinthians were excited to give, when they first heard of the need.  But they had a tendency to start well and finish poorly—a tendency we all share. They had done nothing about the offering since they had pledged to give generously to it.

So Paul is trying to spur them on to do what they said they would do. There is no way that a person can say he is allowing Christ to live through him and be stingy at the same time. Living grace is giving grace!  Chapters 1-7 reflected how God's grace had enabled Paul. For him to bring up the grace of giving in chapter 8 should not shock us in any way! Giving is another form of God's enabling power in the yielded believer who knows that his adequacy is in Christ.

To spur the Corinthians on, Paul paints a picture of what true grace-giving is all about: "Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality" (8:1). The word for "known" is the word gno\rzo\ and means that if we didn't tell you, you wouldn't have a clue! When Paul mentions the churches of Macedonia there were three that he obviously had on his mind: the church at Philippi; the church at Thessalonica; and the church at Berea. God had done a real work in these churches, which was evidenced by their generous giving!

How was this grace illustrated in these churches? "That in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality" (v. 2) It wasn't just giving but their giving was in the midst of the worst of circumstances. Now, our fleshly minds tell us that people don't give when times are hard! Well, typically that's true unless they are allowing Christ to live through their lives. The word "ordeal" is the word dokimé\, which refers to a severe test which someone has passed, proving himself to be genuine. "Affliction," thlpsis, is used several times in 2nd Corinthians.  It refers to the deep stress that one goes through as a result of what someone has done to him. It was in the midst of terrible times that the believers of Macedonia gave to the needs of others.

Their giving stands in contrast to the procrastinating wealthy church of Corinth—who got all they could get; canned all they got; and then sat on the can and poisoned the rest! These Macedonians overflowed with joy in the midst of terrible times that had bought them to the point of destitute poverty! Probably these tough times were because of their Christianity and they lost their jobs or were denied the right to buy food for their families. Pto\chs, poverty, indicates a point at which a  man cannot dig himself out of his dilemma. In the midst of this they gave out of the abundance of God's goodness in their hearts. They overflowed—they exceeded what was needed, from the abundance of God's goodness in their hearts! His goodness which produced such joy caused them to think of others instead of themselves. "Liberality," haplte\s, means giving without a double motive. The believers in Macedonia didn't give as a tool to manipulate others.

Paul is overwhelmed at the generosity of these impoverished believers in Macedonia, who gave with no strings attached! He wanted the church at Corinth to see what grace-giving really is—a part of the stewardship of one's life who lives under the lordship of Christ!

Grace-giving is a product of God's grace working in the hearts of His people! As we will continue this series, how is your giving?

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