You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you.
II Corinthians 9:11-14
Martin Luther famously defined sin as incurvatus in se, “curved in on self”. Sin makes for a life curved inward rather than lived outwardly for God and others. Sadly, a person wrapped up in self makes for a pretty small package; just look at Scrooge and the Grinch before they were set free. It is grace received that sets people free from the prison house of brokenness, rescuing them for loving God and others as themselves.
Throughout his years of ministry the apostle Paul sought always to point people to grace: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (II Corinthians 8:9). Thus, it was grace working in the Macedonian Christians that set them free for relating generously with others. Paul chronicles how for the Macedonians, “their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (II Corinthians 8:2). The Macedonians’ generous giving was motivated by grace. Having richly received grace they became channels of grace to others. “It’s not just that Christ sends the goods to flow into us; Christ makes the goods flow from us as well, truly indwelling, motivating, and acting through us.” (Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge)
It is important to note that Paul calls this kind of giving a “testing…of obedience to the gospel of Christ”. In other words, how they give or don’t give will be a test for proving what they believe about God’s grace. Whether they give “sparingly” or “bountifully” they are revealing their faith.
If a Christian does not have a generous heart, there is a sense that he is not living up to the grace he professes. The Phillips Translation of the New Testament captures the sense exactly of Paul’s words about giving: “your giving proves the reality of your faith…you practice the faith you profess to believe in”. Giving will prove the Corinthians’ confession in the grace of Jesus Christ. Similarly, James, the half-brother of Jesus, argued that caring for the needy demonstrates the genuineness of faith: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).
One of my earliest memories as a boy was watching my mother make quilts to give to the poor. It wasn’t something she did just at Christmas but the whole year through. One day as I watched her patching the different pieces of cloth into a whole, she told me a remarkable story. She explained that it was a story about a woman who was not famous, but a woman who was important to God. The woman was a widow named Dorcas, who “was always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). Then, as my mother told the story, one day Dorcas became ill and died. The apostle Peter and many others gathered to mourn for Dorcas at her house. There “all the widows stood beside Peter, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Doris had made” (Acts 9:39). Doris gave what she had to give, her sewing, my mother explained. Then she added, “When people are touched by Jesus’ love, they want to give His love to others”.
Remembering that, I think my mother was right!
- How might the way you give be a gauge of what you believe about grace?
- Miroslav Volf says that Christ gives grace to us which then flows from us. Where do you sense Christ wanting to make His grace flow from you? Take a moment to talk with Him about this.