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OUR TRIUMPH IN UNION WITH CHRIST
2 CORINTHIANS 1-7

OUR TRIUMPH IN UNION WITH CHRIST   (24)

The Grace of Giving -- a Measurement of the Christian Walk 

2 Corinthians 8:1-24

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

Introduction

Upon the first reading of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, the first reaction may be an abrupt change of topic given without warning. However on the contrary, Paul is writing a personal letter to his much loved converts. He had earlier in his previous letters shared with them the burden of  his heart – the Message of the Cross as the answer to the church's spiritual growth. 

He had answered their troubling questions in the first epistle; now he has shared his "tribulation" in Asia and his "sentence of death" so as to not trust in himself (2 Corinthians 1:1-11). This truth is the key that opens the whole second epistle to a deeper understanding. He has faced their allegations of being unstable in decision making (1:12-2:4); he has addressed their discipline problem s (2: 5-11).  His expansive digression of (2:14-7:1) is followed by a final word of encouragement from Titus' report of the church's acceptance of Paul (7:2-16).

Paul's digression introduces a magnificent unrevealing of the Message of the Cross (2:14-7:1). Paul uses every occasion, positive or negative, as a trampoline to present the underlying burden of his heart - the wonder of the Cross in the life of the believer. In the digression Paul presents a matchless survey of Christ's Cross work from a fresh personal approach rather than a doctrinal approach as in Romans.

Paul continues to unveil his original purpose. "And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1- 5).

The theme of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, the Grace of Giving, is by no means extraneous; rather it is the next challenge, the offering for the poor in Jerusalem, now to be framed in the same message of the Cross. He accomplishes it with masterful tact and spiritual discernment. In the last analysis it is not about money or poverty but about a deeper understanding of the grace of God in Christ.

Paul's History of Concern for the Poor[1]

After his life transforming encounter with "Jesus, the Nazarene," (Acts 22:7, 8) on the road to Damascus, some 13 years of relative anonymity followed. The Hebrew of the Hebrews, the proud Pharisee became the humble Apostle to the Gentiles. But he never lost his love for his own people and his debt to the mother church. "I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:1-3).

In the very first year of Paul's teaching ministry in Antioch, Barnabas and Saul responded to the prophecy of Agabus of a great famine throughout the whole earth. "Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling Judea. This they also did, and sent to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul" (Acts 11; 29-30).  Later in the Council of Jerusalem that finally settled the issue of salvation by grace and not by the Mosaic law: "they (James, John and Peter) desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do" (Galatians 2:10).

The Approaching Economic Crisis of the Jewish Brethren

Paul had originally introduced to the Corinthian church his goal of the collection for the saints in Jerusalem. "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also. On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters, I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me" (1 Corinthians 16: 1-4). The reader is impressed with the tact and discernment that Paul exercises when money is the concern. 

A year had passed. Paul now reminds them of the collection for the Jewish brethren. The collection is introduced, not as the next "Capital Project", but rather what the grace of God did at work in the poorest churches of the north (Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea). "Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality" (2 Corinthians 8:1,2).

Two Great Examples of the Grace of God    2 Corinthians 8: 1-9

Paul highly commends the churches of Macedonia, not for their ability to give but rather their giving beyond their means or in the face of their abject poverty, they gave willingly. It is imperative that the frequency of the word grace is noted: five times in 9 verses (8:1,4 – translated gift --, 6, 8 ,9) he speaks of grace.  Grace is an aspect or an expression of love. 

Paul is at pains to describe the exuberance of their giving: in abundance of joy (2), riches of liberality (2), freely willing, contrary to their ability (2), imploring us with urgency to receive their grace (4). The final setting of the diamond; they gave themselves to God and his cause before they gave a penny.

Giving to be true giving has to be the voluntary evidence of a prior deeper giving of one's self unconditionally to God. Merit and quantity don't every count.  The widow's two mites surpasses the rich Pharisee's bonanza (Mark 12:41-44). Giving must be of grace and grace alone. True giving can only be when God does a deeper work of grace in hearts. The grace of God transmutes lead into gold in God's economy.

But the supreme example of grace in Christ eclipses all others. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that  you through His poverty might become rich" (8:9). It is sacrilegious for us to compare any giving to God's ultimate gift in the sending of his son to die for sinners. Such a death is the acme of sacrifice.  Christ's eternal deity he could never surrendered but he accepted as his our poverty of sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Paul has just turned a "collection" of money into the wonder of God's grace, a veritable diamond of truth.

The Principle of Giving   2 Corinthians 8: 10-15

Paul now tactfully touches on the Corinthian challenge. He does not address them as an apostle with divine authority, but shares his counsel and advice. He commends them for an earlier willingness but infers that in the interval other influences may have intervened, an indirect inference to the detractors whom he will soon face boldly in chapters 10-13. A willing heart is a beginning but they must follow through.

His appeal to them is grounded in an Old Testament reality. Paul speaks of it as "equality." This is not a rigid or mechanical equality, surely never legislated by merit. Rather it is a "mutuality" that God administers to both parties, if not now, later. But the ultimate reason is that God dispenses in time both the grace to give and the grace to receive. We are forever indebted to Paul for our Lord's tenth beatitude: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

The Old Testament is replete with God's wisdom that is as true today in principle as then, even if in a different setting. In their wilderness wanderings en route to Canaan, God provided water in spite of their complaints, manna in spite of their complaints, flesh to eat in spite of their complaints. But the staple diet was the manna. Moses gave strict orders as to how to gather and how much to gather. "So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one's need" (Exodus 16:18).

But God built into his gracious provision strict limits. They could only gather for a day at a time per person, if they gathered more, the next day it stank; but on the day before the Sabbath they could pick double and there was enough for two days. God was teaching dependence and gratitude with his timely provision. There was equality but neither hoarding or scarcity. These are present day principles of faith in God's timely provision.

The Policies of Giving         2 Corinthians 8: 16-24

Paul now establishes safeguards on the handling of monies. Many a pastor or Christian worker has failed to guard against the constant lure of money. Too many have spoiled a ministry because of not heeding these principles. Paul establishes clearly the need for integrity, for transparency on the part of those properly commissioned to be involved in any way with church funds. He made it crystal clear that others, not he, would be in charge. He gave the overall responsibility to properly trained and trusted Titus, "my partner and fellow worker" (8:23). 

In addition, he named another brother "whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift  (grace), which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind" (8: 18,19). The passage reveals the possibility of still a third person, all, then, chosen and approved by the churches. Paul distances himself both from the receipt and the distribution of the money. 

In my fourteen years as President of the Rio Grande Bible Institute, I signed only one check, which was required of my position. I never handled the fiancés of the school. Others faithfully handled the school finances.

Paul concisely sets forth the basic overreaching principle of the handling of God's money. "Providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men"  (8:21).Paul's final appeal in the chapter is that their love for the Lord and his confidence in their response to God's grace will be such that God will be glorified. There can be no higher goal.

The grace of God sanctifies and enriches every area and aspect of life and ministry. There is no relationship or duty divorced from the recognition of the matchless grace of God the only source of blessing.

Yours in the Message of the Cross

Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

Edinburg, TX 78539

gejohnson1928@gmail.com   This is now my only email address.   www.kneillfoster.com  for complete studies



[1] My doctoral major project was: A Series of Studies for Mexican Pastors of the Biblical Teaching of Poverty and Riches, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois 1985, 315 pages.