Grace is any gift that God gives to undeserving sinners. God’s forgiveness is grace. Our spiritual gifts, the special abilities that we have been given by God to strengthen the church, are also grace. But have you ever thought of your generosity to others as God’s grace to you? I didn’t until I came across this interesting passage in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (I am grateful for Pastor Tim Keller’s sermon on this passage for the inspiration).
To set the scene, Paul has just launched the first international relief effort in the world. Famine hit the land of Judah, and the churches there were in danger of starving to death. So Paul decided to raise money from the churches in Greece and Asia Minor (Turkey) to send to their brothers and sisters in Israel. Paul is writing to the Corinthians, who happened to be the wealthiest church in that part of the world, encouraging them to give generously. As he “gently” persuades them, he makes this curious statement about grace.
2 Corinthians 8:1-2: And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
What did grace look like for the poor Macedonian churches? It meant overflowing joy in the midst of poverty that exploded in generosity that embarrassed their wealthier Corinthian brothers and sisters. That might be inspiring, but how exactly is this an example of God’s grace? Doesn’t it simply mean that the Macedonians were better Christians?
Paul answers this question by connecting their generosity with the Gospel.
2 Corinthians 8:9: 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 through his poverty might become rich.
In other words, the Gospel became so real to the Corinthians that they no longer measured their wealth by what was in their bank accounts. They had the riches of God’s eternal promises and they so deeply trusted him that their grip on their possessions began to loosen. Yes, it was hard to give. As my father likes to say, “when you give, you have less.” But they had something that gave them greater security than money. They had a savior that left all the wealth of heaven to be born into the family of a poor homeless carpenter and in the end was stripped of all of his possessions, including his clothes, and was nailed to a cross. Jesus lost everything so that he could give us everything. If Jesus did that, how can he fail to provide everything we need. When we believe in Jesus’ limitless grace, generosity becomes a joy.
Believing in grace leads to sacrificial generosity, but I am also convinced that practicing generosity can lead to a deeper belief in grace. I remember when I was a boy, my dad would always tell us: “you can’t outgive God.” But how can you know if this is true? You have to try it.
I’ve found that practicing generosity is like practicing sabbath. When you practice sabbath you discover that you are God’s son or daughter, not his slave. He loves you even when you are not accomplishing anything. When you practice generosity you are learning that God can provide for you even when you have less. You learn that there are deeper riches than money. You won’t truly know until you step out in faith.
So, our normal personal practice is to tithe our money to the church and then give on top of that to individuals and organizations that may need our help. I use the term “give” loosely because every time we give, we feel like we are simply giving God’s money away. Each time we have learned that God finds creative ways to out give us. That is grace.
But I’ve also learned that generosity is far more than writing a check. Time is one of our most precious commodities. For some this is easy, but for task-driven people like me, giving people the quality, undivided, undistracted time is a deep struggle. When I am able to do it, God’s grace is working powerfully in me. When I fail, it is because I have lost sight of the Gospel.
How about your gifts and abilities? In our grace-less world, gifts and abilities are to be used to get a job, and in that job we find our identity and financial security. What if you saw your gifts as the unique way God has called you to serve others, rather than a way to validate yourself? We know that God’s grace is at work when we see our time, money, and abilities as a call to serve rather than as our security and identity.
What are your experiences with generosity? How have you practiced generosity in your life? How is God challenging you to give your time, money and abilities? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. I’d love to keep this conversation going.