Theme: Giving in the Churches of Macedonia and Corinth
This week’s lessons teach us how the grace of God in Christ drives both our attitude and our actual practice of giving to support Christian causes.
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:1
I have been writing about some very practical matters in these studies, but it is hard to imagine a more practical matter than our giving to God, specifically giving money to support spiritual causes. Most Christians understand they are to do this. But what might be surprising to most is associating giving with grace, which is what I am doing in this week’s lessons. The duty of giving is understood, perhaps even the satisfaction or joy of giving. But the grace of giving? That combination of words probably seems strange to most persons.
So let me explain. I mean three things by this title. First, I mean that giving is a privilege given to Christians by God. It is a privilege, because it is a way in which we become partners with God in assuring that the gospel and its benefits are made known to other people. Second, the disposition to give to spiritual causes is itself a grace-gift from God. Left to ourselves, we would never have this desire. But when God begins to work in our lives to make us like Jesus Christ, one thing he does is begin to make us generous with our money, knowing that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also (cf. Matt 6:21). Third, giving is a natural, thankful response to God’s prior grace toward us in Christ and the gospel.
Each of these ideas lies behind or is explicitly stated in the eighth and ninth chapters of 2 Corinthians, two chapters which contain the most extensive treatment in the Bible of the principles that should govern Christian giving. But what I want you to see as we start out is that Paul repeatedly mentions grace in these chapters. He does so at the start of chapter eight: “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches” (2 Cor. 8:1). That is his introduction to the subject. He continues, “So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part” (v. 6). He concludes with the challenge: “See that you also excel in this grace of giving” (v. 8). Each of these verses presents giving as a grace of God.
But then the word is also used of Jesus Christ and his gift of himself for us: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (v. 9). At the end of chapter 9 Paul speaks in the same way of “the surpassing grace God has given you,” by which he means God’s gift of Jesus to be our Savior (2 Cor. 9:14, 15).
Finally, Paul is also speaking of giving in the middle of chapter 9 when he says, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever” (vv. 8, 9). In these two important chapters on giving the word “grace” occurs six times.
The background to these chapters is important for understanding them. Famine had come to lands lying at the far western end of the Mediterranean Sea, and the Christians in Jerusalem were suffering because of it. Paul was not there. He was traveling among the Gentiles in order to plant churches in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece. But he saw the need of the Jerusalem church as an opportunity to demonstrate the unity of all believers in Christ. He decided to do this by receiving an offering for the Jerusalem church from the Gentiles. We learn from 1 Corinthians 16 that he began this project in Galatia, and from 2 Corinthians 8 we learn that he had pursued it in among the poverty stricken churches of Macedonia. In 1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 8-9, he is urging participation in this offering by the Christians at Corinth.
The problem was that the Corinthians had not followed through on their original early commitment to share in this offering. They seemed to have been willing at first. But like many of us, they had let the matter of their giving to God’s work slide. Now Paul was sending Titus, one of his faithful fellow-workers and companions, along with two other unnamed brothers, to receive this offering, and he is writing to assure that the Corinthians would actually take the offering and have it waiting when Titus and his companions arrived.
How is our giving associated with grace?
In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, how many times is grace mentioned? What does this say about giving?
How does giving show the unity of the body of Christ?
Reflection: The church in Corinth had seemed to let slide their initial commitment to help another church in need. What things sometimes cause us to grow indifferent about a Christian cause or opportunity that earlier we showed enthusiasm for?