Giving Freely

2 Corinthians 8:6-9 “So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But just as you excel in everything— in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us— see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 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.”

Paul encouraged the Christians in Corinth to complete an offering that had been begun. Notice how careful he is to make his encouragement in the spirit of the gospel. “I am not commanding you,” he tells them. There is not a list of rules about how much each one should give and when they must have it turned in. Giving that deserves the name Christian (even more, all living that deserves the name Christian) isn’t a mere matter of rule keeping. God doesn’t want to go on treating us like criminals who need bars, and guns, and razor wire to keep them in line.

No, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free,” Paul told the Galatians. Martin Luther was fond of saying that Christians become “little Christs.” As children of the heavenly Father, we have inherited what our world would consider our Father’s “idiosyncrasies.” He has always related to us in grace. We have experienced his grace uninterrupted since the day he claimed us by faith. He keeps on giving and loving regardless of what we have done.

So now Paul describes our giving as “this act of grace on your part.” He encourages us to “excel in this grace of giving.” Like Father, like son— sons and daughters, that is. Our gifts aren’t “obeying the rule.” They are family traits. They are expressions of one of the most significant ways in which we have become like our heavenly Father: grace. Giving and generosity have become a part of us. They flow from faith in God’s giving and generosity to you and me.

But someone might object, “Doesn’t Paul say that he wants to test the sincerity of the Corinthians’ love by comparing them to the Macedonians? Doesn’t that suggest some kind of mild threat?” Let’s not think our Lord deals with us like a teacher threatening grade school children with a test. The Greek word for “test” in this verse focuses on the results of the test. This was testing so that something could be proved genuine and true. This was not a threat. It was a means by which the sincere faith and grace-filled hearts of the Christians in Corinth could be made clear for all to see. Paul had every reason to be confident. Why?

“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.” We know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, too. We know his grace not like we know multiplication tables or state capitals. We know grace like we know the laugh of our dearest friend, or the difference between our baby’s dirty diaper cry and hungry cry, or the smell of grandmother’s kitchen. You and I have experienced this grace.

You and I have been awed by the depths to which Jesus descended to save us. We can imagine what it would be like to have lots of money. It is difficult for us to imagine the kind of riches Jesus gave up. Rich people we know still get sick. Their money can’t always keep them alive. They still do unethical things, and their money can’t always keep them out of jail. They still say mean and hurtful things, and their money can’t always save their relationships.

Jesus freely left riches where there was no sin, sickness, or sadness. He did so to suffer pain, be rejected, and finally die as his gift to save us. It was grace, purely a gift on his part. and now we thrill to think about the riches that are waiting for us as the last installment of Jesus’ gracious gift.            

Children of the heavenly Father, little Christs, know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I trust that this has made you generous people, whether or not I reminded you of Paul’s encouragement today.

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