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6 Characteristics of Grace Giving

Church Stewardship

Because the apostle Paul uses the Greek word charis for “unmerited favor” or “grace” ten times in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, his two great chapters on giving, the essence of New Testament giving has often been summarized as “grace giving.”


While it is true that God’s grace plays a vital role in faithful financial stewardship, I believe it has often been misunderstood.


In my earliest years in ministry, I interpreted grace giving to mean that as a pastor I had no responsibility to encourage my people to give, other than to rarely preach on stewardship, and pray. My faulty understanding enabled me to justify a passive, emotionally safe, hands-off approach to the whole issue. I have discovered through personal contact with fellow pastors through the years that I was not alone in this misunderstanding.


What does grace giving mean?


From a careful study of the different uses of the Greek word for grace within the overall context of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, I find...


6 Characteristics of Grace Giving:


1. Grace Giving Is the Result of God’s Gracious Creation of Generosity in the Hearts of Believers.


It is significant that these two great chapters on giving begin and end with a reference to God’s grace.


Paul began by identifying God’s grace as the cause of the generosity of the Macedonians:


  • Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia. (2 Cor. 8:1)


And he brought his teaching to a close in chapter 9 by acknowledging that the generosity he confidently expected from the Corinthians would be due to God’s gracious working in their lives.


  • While they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. (2 Cor. 9:14)


In both 2 Corinthians 8:1 and 9:14, grace is used in the sense of the gracious work of God in creating in the hearts of the Macedonian believers both the desire and the power to give liberally.


Having noted the remarkable nature of the giving by the Macedonian believers as described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:1–4, Jerry Bridges asked:


"What was the secret of such an outpouring of generosity? We have no reason to believe the Macedonians as a people were more inclined to be generous in giving to the needs of others. Consider, for example, that in the United States, one of the most affluent nations in history, our giving to charitable and religious causes averages one or two percent of our income."


"Paul said the Macedonians’ secret was the grace of God (verse 1). Here is another occasion where Paul uses grace to mean a working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. The sense is not that of God’s unmerited favor considered as the source of blessing, but rather the working of His Spirit as a concrete expression of that favor." (Bridges, Jerry. Transforming Grace. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1991.)


Charles Hodge commented on 2 Corinthians 8:1:


"The liberality of the Corinthians was due to the operation of the grace of God. The sacred writers constantly recognize the fact that the freest and most spontaneous acts of men, their inward states and the outward manifestations of those states, when good, are due to the secret influence of the Spirit of God, which eludes our consciousness."


"So it was the grace of God operating in them through the Holy Spirit, not the superiority of their own character, that caused such an abundant outpouring of generosity from the Macedonians. God did not leave them to the resources of their own human nature which is not naturally generous—but intervened in their hearts by the power of His Spirit to create this amazing generosity." (Hodge, Charles. A Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983, 166–167)


When a believer relies on God’s gracious working in his heart to generate the ability to give sacrificially and generously, that is grace giving at work.


2. Grace Giving Looks at Participation in Giving to the Needs of Others as a Privilege.


In 2 Corinthians 8:4, Paul reported that the Macedonians were "begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints.”

The Greek word translated as “favor” is grace. Rather than resenting the collection for the needy church in Jerusalem, the Macedonians considered it a great privilege to contribute.

Grace giving considers it a privilege, not an onerous obligation, to give sacrificially to the needs of others.


3. Grace Giving Views A Collection for the Needs of Others as a Work That Is Gracious in Nature.


Three times in the Greek text of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, the apostle refers to the collection literally as “this grace,” translated as “this gracious work” by the New American Standard Bible (1995) (2 Cor. 8:6–7,19).


True grace giving views every genuine collection of funds to further the work of God as a “gracious work,” that is, a ministry which in its very nature is attractively gracious and worthy of one’s personal investment.


4. Grace Giving Is Inspired by the Example of Christ’s Gracious Nature Expressed in His Becoming Poor That Undeserving Sinners Might Become Rich.


  • For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. (2 Cor. 8:9)


Here grace is used in the sense of a personal quality in the Lord Jesus.

The great apostle knew that if we would meditate on the gracious nature of the Lord Jesus Christ, which moved Him to become poor that we might become spiritually rich, we would be stirred to make the same kind of self-sacrificing contribution to the needs of others.

Grace giving finds inspiration for sacrifice in the gracious nature and self-giving example of our Lord Jesus Christ.


5. Grace Giving Includes the Use of Natural Means to Encourage Believers To Give as They Should.


Contrary to what many of us have been taught, grace giving does not mean that God only works directly on the hearts of His people without godly human influence. (Usually interpreted by pastors to mean, “I’ll just remain safely silent, pray, and let God take care of church giving.”)


Jerry Bridges explains how grace giving and human stewardship leadership work together:


"The question might arise, “Why didn’t God create this same generosity in the hearts of the Corinthian Christians?” (As He had in the Macedonian church.) The answer is, that is what He was doing at that time through Paul. There is no doubt that God has the power to intervene directly and sovereignly in the hearts of people when He chooses to do so. Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road is an incontrovertible case in point. And in 2 Corinthians 8:16, Paul said, “I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you.”


"Apparently God worked directly in Titus’s heart. But God’s more usual way of working in the hearts of His people is through natural means. In the case of the Corinthians, it was through the exhortation and encouragement of Paul. (Although we have no record of it, we can reasonably assume God used Paul in the lives of the Macedonians also.)"


"The Corinthians did respond positively, as evidenced by Paul’s statement in Romans 15:26: 'For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.'” (Achaia was the province where Corinth was located.) (Bridges 1991, 167)"


As you consider your role in leading your people to be obedient stewards, you can be confident that the use of the following three key means found in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are part of God’s method of graciously creating generosity in His people.


God Uses Three Key Means to Graciously Create Generous Givers:


1. Personal Example.


Paul used the Macedonians' example to challenge the Corinthians to give.


  • Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. (2 Cor. 8:1–2)

And he had earlier used the Corinthians' example to stimulate the Macedonians to give.


  • For I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them. (2 Cor. 9:2)

Clearly God uses the testimonies and stories of the zeal of sacrificial givers to stir others of His people to give in like manner.


2. Direct exhortation.


Apparently the apostle Paul didn’t believe that strong exhortations to give were incompatible with grace giving.


Note how straightforward he was in challenging the Corinthians to give:


  • See that you abound in this gracious work also (2 Cor. 8:7).

  • But now finish doing it also; that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability (2 Cor. 8:11).


Since Paul didn’t think that commanding people to give violated the spirit of grace giving, or put them “under compulsion” (2 Cor. 9:7), we need not fear that our bold stewardship preaching is inconsistent with the principle of grace giving.


3. Personal leadership.


Even though Paul had written a letter to the Corinthians with instructions regarding the collection, he still thought it necessary to send Titus and two unnamed brothers to give face-to-face impetus to the project.


Please slow down and carefully read these words of Paul:


  • 6 Consequently we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well…

  • 18 And we have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches; 19 and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness, 20 taking precaution that no one should discredit us in our administration of this generous gift . . .

  • 22 And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things (2 Cor. 8:6,18-20,22).

In chapter 9, Paul returns to this same theme:


  • 3 But I have sent the brethren, that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case, that, as I was saying, you may be prepared; 4 lest if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we (not to speak of you) should be put to shame by this confidence. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, that the same might be ready as a bountiful gift, and not affected by covetousness. (2 Cor. 9:3–5)

Paul “thought it necessary” (2 Cor. 9:5) to send the men on ahead to help the Corinthians get organized to complete their giving.


In other words, Paul knew they needed stewardship consultants to help them give as they should.


Obviously, Paul did not believe that grace giving excluded the need for direct, personal, and practical human leadership to motivate people to give.


6. Grace Giving Is Rewarded by God’s Gracious Provision of Abundant Resources for the Faithful Giver.


  • And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. (2 Cor. 9:8)

Even when God rewards the sacrificial giver by more than meeting all his financial needs, that reward is undeserved and is, therefore, considered as coming from God’s grace.


"This is the amazing story of God’s grace. God saves us by His grace and transforms us more and more into the likeness of His Son by His grace. In all our trials and afflictions, He sustains and strengthens us by His grace. He calls us by grace to perform our own unique function within the Body of Christ."


"Then, again by grace, He gives to each of us the spiritual gifts necessary to fulfill our calling. As we serve Him, He makes that service acceptable to Himself by grace, and then rewards us a hundred-fold by grace." (Bridges 1991, 169–170)


Conclusion

According to 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, truly biblical giving that pleases God is dependent on His grace from start to finish.


God’s grace:

1. Enables us to give generously.

2. Causes us to consider giving to be a privilege.

3. Assists us in viewing collections as gracious works.

4. Inspires us with Christ’s gracious example.

5. Helps us give by means of human leadership, then . . .

6. Graciously rewards us with an abundance of money to meet all of our personal needs and to give to others.


No wonder Paul concludes his two great chapters on grace giving with an exclamation of immense gratitude for God’s grace.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Cor. 9:15)

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