By Robert F. Turner
Open your Bibles to 2 Corinthians 8 and read carefully the first twelve verses. Paul is urging the Corinthians to per-form that which they had promised a year ago (vv. 10-11, 2 Cor. 9:1 f): viz., a generous contribution to the needy saints in Jerusalem. This pas-sage is often used to urge larger church contributions, but in this article we call your attention to an element apart from, yet most essential to, the gift itself.
V. 1, Paul wants the Corinthians to know “of this grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia. ” This “grace” is identified in v. 2 as “the riches of their liberality.” It was remarkable that churches in “affliction” and “great poverty” would give generously. V. 3, they gave “beyond their power;” and v. 5, “not as . . . hoped.” Paul “expected” churches to give of their abundance to relieve churches in want (v. 14), but these churches gave of their living (cf. Mk. 12:44).
However the amount of their gift is not the chief point here. The “grace” bestowed on them was the attitude or disposition that prompted generosity. The Greek word translated “liberality” in verse 2, is translated “simplicity” in 2 Corinthians 1:12, and “singleness” (of heart) in Ephesians 6:5. When Paul wrote of liberality he had a disposition or inclination of heart in mind, rather than certain amounts of money. They were “willing of them-selves” (v. 3), and “prayed us with much entreaty” to take the gift (v. 4). The key to such an attitude is that they “first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God” (v. 5).
Then in v. 6, Paul asked Titus to “finish in you (the Corinthians, rt) the same grace also.” It is the “grace” that Paul wants to abound. Notice v. 7, “as ye abound” in faith, utterance, knowledge, diligence and love to us, “see that ye abound in this grace also. ” Some questions come to mind: why is this called “grace,” and how does God “bestow” such grace upon us?
A brief definition of “grace” is “unmerited favor”; and this disposition, like “love,” is inherent in the very nature of God. With respect to our justification, it expresses itself in God’s gift of his Son (2 Tim. 1:9). The term is also applied to the revelation of God’s will (Eph. 3:2f), various gifts (Rom. 12:6f), and blessings from God. But man is expected to partake of the divine nature. God is love, and to truly know and be known of God we must imbibe the spirit of agape love that is seen in God (1 Jn. 4:70. In our 2 Corinthians text God is gracious. The “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 9) is cited as our example, when Paul calls on saints to “abound in this grace also.” He wants us to partake of this disposition — looking with favor upon the needy (physical or spiritual), and expressing our grace by our actions. God “bestows” this grace upon us by example and teaching (as in our text).
Why is it that Paul speaks “not by commandment” (v. 8)? “This grace,” while bestowed by God through teaching and example, must find its expression in actions that come from our hearts. The gift itself must be “as a matter of bounty, and not of covetousness” (2 Cor. 9:5). We accept the instructions of God in our hearts, partake of the divine nature, then act upon the urgings from within. Every man “as he purposeth in his heart,” “not grudgingly, or of necessity,” but “cheerful” (v. 7). There is no expression of grace in the gift that is wrung from us by pressure from without. There is no way to force genuine righteousness. Yet, we have not proven the sincerity of our love (v. 8) until there is a performance out of that which we have (v. 11).
Brethren, this is a great text. We must cease to lie to God every time we make a stingy half-hearted offering as though it was “according to our ability.” We must learn the meaning of gracious giving (first, giving ourselves), and then “see that ye abound in this grace also.”
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 5, p. 11
March 4, 1993