Friday, July 25, 2014

2 Corinthians 8: Grace is Giving Beyond our Means

2 Cor 8:1-10 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 free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you — see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

In this short paragraph, Paul uses the word "grace" four times: twice referring to divine grace and twice to the human "act of grace," viz., giving to those in need. Paul mentions that the grace of God "has been given to the churches of Macedonia" and this is expressed in their generosity despite their "test of affliction...and their extreme poverty." Despite experiencing divine grace, the Macedonian churches remained extremely poor. But despite their suffering and poverty, they did something beyond what is expected: "they gave themselves first to the Lord" and then they gave beyond their means, out of their poverty to contribute to the "relief of the saints" (who were suffering famine in Jerusalem).

Observe a few things about NT giving:

  • Act of grace: Paul calls the Macedonian giving an "act of grace" that overflows from having experienced the grace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. It's grace only because the Macedonians gave beyond what was expected for they gave beyond their means. If they had given out of their wealth, then it's not grace. It's like carrying a Roman soldier's luggage for the first mile, which is required by Roman law. Jesus says, we are to carry it for the "second mile"--that is grace. The first mile is to be expected--that's law. The second mile is beyond what is expected--that is grace: "And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." So, if we give 10%--that is law. If we give beyond 10%, that's grace.
  • Purpose of Giving:  In this context, the act of grace was not for supporting Paul and his co-workers' ministry. In fact, he and his co-workers prefer to work with their hands to support themselves so as not to burden the churches, which were generally poor. The purpose of the fund-raising was for the saints in Jerusalem who were experiencing financial difficulties because of the recent famine: "At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem" (Rom 15:25-26). So, giving needs not be for the "church". Giving to the poor is also part of our "tithe" to the Lord. However, that is not to say that believers' tithes should only be for the poor. The Lord has commanded that God's servants who give up their secular work to work in the Gospel ministry should receive their wages: "In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel" (1 Cor 9:14). 
  • Jesus Exemplifies this Grace: To affirm the Macedonians' sacrificial contribution to the saints, Paul points to the same act of grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (v.9). So, Jesus though he was rich (as God), chose to become poor (as man), in order to enrich others. So, we don't have to be rich to be rich in giving. Jesus was poor but makes everyone rich (spiritually and materially). So, even though we may not be rich materially, it should not stop us from giving to the poor. If we give because we are rich, it's not an act of grace. But if we are poor and still give, then we are really doing what Jesus did--giving out of our poverty.
May God grant us this grace of giving--to give beyond what our means to those who are genuinely in financial need. 

Lord Jesus, thank You for showing us what grace is about. Help us show the same grace to others by giving beyond what is expected. Amen.

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