Now as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you-so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
II Corinthians 8:7
It’s a wondrous alchemy of grace playing out in II Corinthians 8-9. Here we see God’s grace flowing into the lives of the Macedonian Christians, then filling them up and overflowing into other lives. During “a severe ordeal of affliction”, God’s grace “overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (II Corinthians 8:2). Having so richly received God’s grace they became dispensers of grace to the poor in Jerusalem. Like the Sea of Galilee receives and passes on the life giving flow of the Jordan, so the Macedonians receive and pass on God’s generosity. United with Christ they are made givers like Him, grace empowering them for living as God’s new creation.
Grace now creates in them generosity with their lives and their possessions. They are enlightened to see that “To the extent that we are channels of gifts…we can’t do with them as we please. They come to us with an ultimate name and address other than our own. Though in our hands, they are on their way elsewhere.” (Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge) Believing that it is God who gives them everything, they make giving their way of living. God’s grace makes them conduits of grace to others.
But at this point in the story the more affluent Corinthian Christians are lagging in giving to the poor in Jerusalem. In today’s text Paul notes that although the Corinthians “excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness”, they are procrastinating in “this generous undertaking”. It is significant that the words “generous undertaking” are actually a translation of the Greek word, charis, usually translated as “grace”. Paul wants to underline that this “generous undertaking” is actually participation in the outflow of God’s grace.
The Corinthian Christians are vibrant in their spirituality and rich in every spiritual gift (I Corinthians 1:7). So richly endowed, and yet lacking in the grace of generosity. Writing from his pastoral heart Paul knows that as the Corinthians learn generosity they will go on to spiritual maturity.
Recently I was having coffee with a close friend who is a generous and tight-lipped giver. He gives out of love and gratitude to his Lord, and gives in a way that his left hand never knows what his right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3). At one point in our conversation, my friend pushed his coffee to the side, leaned in close so that no one could hear, and whispered: “When I’ve lost money, or had some financial trouble, I always try to give a little more.” I sat back in my chair and thought: “He’s caught the real grace of giving. I’ve got a lot to learn from him!”
And generous giving can come in many forms. It doesn’t always mean sending a check. Generous giving might mean volunteering at a hospice, driving a neighbor to a doctor’s appointment, teaching a children’s Sunday School class, or sitting with a friend in grief. Whatever it might be, let God’s grace overflow through you to others! “Grace is the overflowing favor of God, and you can always count on it being available to draw upon as needed.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest) And in all of this, let us keep our eyes on our example in Jesus: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (II Corinthians 8:9)
- Miroslav Volf believes that the gifts we have received from God “come to us with an ultimate name and address other than our own.” How might you explain that to a child?
- Oswald Chambers says that we “can always count on it [grace] being available to draw upon as needed.” Think of an area in your life where God might be calling you to draw on His promised grace. Take a moment to talk with God about this.