“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy
and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part”
(2 Cor. 8:1-2 ESV).
Paul wants the Corinthians to know about what happened in Macedonia. God gave the Macedonians the “grace of giving.” Paul wants the Corinthians to seek the same grace for themselves. Paul’s purpose already tells us something remarkable about the grace of God.
God’s grace is God’s favor, His loving acceptance of us just as we are, apart from anything that we have done or made ourselves to be. It is the welcoming arms of the waiting father, which enclose all of us prodigals who have been drawn home to Him through His unfathomable love in Jesus. That love and grace are unchanging.
But the experience of God’s grace is ever changing and always new. Sometimes our awareness of God’s grace is clear and strong. Mostly, though, it is weak and dim. Yet, in the midst of trouble, God causes the bright sunlight of His grace to break through the clouds above us so that we see it afresh. He likes to cause His grace to shine when the clouds above us are especially dark. In that way we see His grace much more clearly than we do on sunny days. That is precisely what God did with the Macedonians. He “gave them His grace” right in the midst of trouble and need.
In telling this story, Paul is not suggesting that God had not granted His favor to the Macedonians or that they knew nothing of God’s grace in Jesus before this event. He is reporting that they came to know God’s grace afresh in a dramatic, new way. In fact, he always writes in a similar way to his churches: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Even when we know God’s grace, we have by no means known it fully. God’s grace has depths that are to be explored throughout this life and into all eternity.
For our part, we tend to forget what God’s grace to us in Jesus really is, so that it becomes dim in our hearts, even when things are going well for us outwardly. God wants us to know, taste and experience His grace in Jesus ever afresh. God wants His grace to hit home in our hearts againand again. As Paul later exclaims, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift” (2 Cor. 9:15 ESV).God’s grace in Christ never can be fully told. It is there to be experienced and known again and again.
What does grace look like when it hits home? We cannot measure it. But Paul makes it clear that it does have a visible impact on our lives. God’s grace as it hit home with the Macedonians manifested itself as the “grace of giving.” Despite their poverty, they insisted on making a contribution for the needy Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Paul reports that “they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Cor. 8:5 ESV). At first hearing, that sounds like a strange way of speaking about grace. Doesn’t grace have to do with my receiving God’s love?
Isn’t God the giver? The answer to both of these questions is “Yes!” Paul, in fact, reminds the Corinthians that they know “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9 ESV).
There you have it! We are the recipients of the grace of Christ and the grace of God. But how, then, can God’s grace have to do with my giving? The answer lies in the depths of God’s grace. God’s grace is expressed in God’s gift of Himself to us in Jesus Christ. That gift, as Paul reminds us, is so wonderful that it is beyond all telling. It includes our coming to know and experience who God is not merely in our heads, but in our hearts and lives. Coming to know God as giver means that we ourselves come to know the grace of giving.
Sometimes when human beings give gifts, they use the gifts to make those who receive them feel small and inferior. They don’t so much give a gift as they use a gift to make the other person feel permanently indebted. God is not like that. In His grace, God gives us Himself. He wants us to know Him and be like Him. He does not push us down, but raises us up to be givers, just as He is a giver. That is not to say that God then ceases to be the one and only Giver! He is the source of all giving and remains fully and wholly Giver to us.
But He makes us givers, or as Luther would say, little “Christs” to our neighbors. In becoming givers in this way, we remain entirely receivers, objects of God’s grace in Christ. This is where God’s grace hits home with us in its fullness. It is a bit like when children themselves become parents. Suddenly they begin to see and understand their parents’ love and giving toward them. Their parents’ love and gifts were always there. But when they entered into a similar experience of giving, that love and those gifts hit home in a new way. They then received that love and those gifts more fully than they ever could before. That is the grace, says Paul, that God gave to the Macedonians. They entered more fully into sharing in Christ as they became “Christs” to their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. They did not thereby earn their salvation or somehow deserve it more fully. But they did enter more fully into the experience of the salvation already given to them in Christ.
Paul has a concrete reason for telling the Corinthians about this “grace of God” given to the Macedonians. He wants them to complete their promised contribution for Jerusalem. He wants them to know and experience God’s grace in Christ in the very same way that the Macedonians had done. In fact, he wants them to seek this grace of God, just as they already had received many other gifts of God’s grace (2 Cor. 8:7).
Grace remains unconditioned. The Corinthians already know the “grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ” and already had received many gifts of Christ’s grace. But Paul wants them to experience in a new way the “grace of giving.” He wants grace to hit home with them afresh. He wants them to seek this grace for themselves.
What Paul wrote for the Corinthians also was written by the Holy Spirit for us. God wants us to know and experience His grace. He wants us to have fresh stories of His grace toward us in Christ, His “gift beyond all telling.” He wants us to know the “grace of giving.” He wants His grace to hit home in our hearts in ever new ways. Lord, grant in Your grace that we may know Your grace afresh!