THE CONCEPT OF GRACE GIVING
Most Christians know that giving of material and financial resources as an offering to God and to support the work of ministry comes with the territory of being a believer. Many have been taught that tithing (giving 10% of one’s income) is the accepted way to give. A key point in this article series is that tithing fades from view and grace giving comes to the forefront in New Testament Christianity. So the question is, what is “grace giving” and where is it taught in the Bible?
The most lengthy and detailed passage in the New Testament on giving is 2 Corinthians 8-9. Paul had been encouraging the churches around the Mediterranean to donate to a fund for the purpose of giving relief to suffering Christian brothers and sisters whom Paul knew. Evidently the Corinthian believers were not as responsive as other assemblies. Their reticence was the occasion for Paul’s gentle but firm exhortation in chapters 8-9 to participate in this offering. His communication to them provides us with a rich source of truth on the topic of giving.
It must be noted that the primary application of the instructions in these chapters relates to providing assistance to other Christians who have dire material need (8:4, 13-14; 9:1, 12). Much current teaching emphasizes giving to support the personnel and operation of the local church and missionaries who spread the Gospel. These are appropriate targets for financial giving, as we will see in the next article. But the fact that this extensive passage and other instructions throughout the Bible direct us to help needy people should shape or reshape our thinking and teaching on the subject of giving.
I believe the principles contained in this passage can be applied to the financial support of the local church and Gospel-spreading ministries. I don’t find any more detailed treatment of the reasons, motives, and practice of giving in connection with other instructions on giving. This seems to suffice for all.
The language and emphasis of 2 Corinthians 8-9 give rise to the concept of grace giving. Paul’s premise is that people who have experienced grace should willingly and gladly practice it. Financial giving is one way to do that.
Grace is the theme of Paul’s exhortation to give in 2 Corinthians 8-9. Note the uses of the word “grace” in these texts:
- Moreover, brethren we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia (8:1).
- Holding up the Macedonian Christians as a model, he says they implored Paul to “receive the gift” (8:4). “Gift” is another translation of the Greek word charis, grace.
- He spoke of their giving as a “grace” that needed to be brought to completion (8:6).
- He directly challenged the Corinthian Christians, who had an abundance of gifts operative in their assembly, to “abound in this grace also” (8:7).
- Jesus’ “grace” demonstrated by giving up all for us is our highest and most compelling model (8:9).
- He called the hoped-for offering from the Corinthians “this gift” (xaris) in 8:19.
- God’s ability to “make all grace abound toward you” is the source of our ability to give (9:8).
- The “exceeding grace of God in you” demonstrated by generous financial giving causes all to give thanks (9:14).
I’ll present the concept of grace giving with two simple truths and some explanatory notes points under each one.
- Grace is the Motivation for Giving.
Giving is a response to the grace of God.
The heart of Paul’s appeal is these words: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (8:9). His words, “you know” emphasize that they have personally experienced God’s grace. Grace is favor that is not merited. Specifically here, it is the favor of God shown to us through His Son’s incarnation, humiliation, and crucifixion that made available to lost sinners all the treasures of heaven. God did this “for your sakes” – literally “because of you.”
Paul isn’t just reviewing doctrine; he’s reminding them of their own testimony. The natural response to being treated with such generosity is to want to do something in return. The Macedonians evidenced this response to the grace of God by “imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift” (8:4). Their heart cry was, “Please take this!”
People who have experienced the grace of God will want to show appreciation for it. They will also want to emulate it. The greater one’s grasp of what grace really means, the more fervently he or she will desire to express and demonstrate thankfulness for it. Giving freely and generously is one way to do this.
Giving flows freely from a willing heart.
Those Macedonian Christians were not capitulating to a manipulative hard-sell or dutifully fulfilling an obligation. They were “freely willing” (8:3). Paul tells the Corinthians the basis for their offering being acceptable was “a willing mind” (8:12). He calls their participation, not the fulfillment of duty, but a “proof of your love” (8:24). He commends them for their “willingness” (9:2). He exhorts every individual to make a personal choice, “each one . . . as he purposes in his heart” (9:7).
The motivation for grace giving is not pressure, guilt, or even a sense of being dutifully faithful. It is certainly not the hope of getting back as much or more than one has given. It is an overwhelming sense of being the recipient of abundant grace, and the desire to respond by giving in like manner.
- Grace is the Measure of Giving
It is marked by generosity.
People who practice grace giving do not calculate and “pay” the minimum amount supposedly required. They find ways to give as much as they can. Grace giving is calculated by considering the measure God uses in lavishing grace on us.
Again we see God’s generosity as the model for our grace giving described in 8:9, “that you . . . might become rich.” Paul described it this way in Romans 5:19-20, But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, Paul says, And God is able to make all grace abound toward you that you always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
Grace is intrinsically generous. God pours abundant grace on us. When we practice grace giving, we emulate God’s generosity. The response to receiving abundant grace is practicing it. Notice Paul’s emphasis on abundant and generous giving in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9:
. . . that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. (8:2)
But as you abound in everything . . . see that you abound in this grace also. (8:7)
. . . that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack (8:14)
. . . this lavish gift which is administered by us (8:20)
Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time and prepare your generous gift beforehand which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation. (9:5)
. . . he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (9:6)
. . . that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (9:8)
. . . while you are enriched in everything for all liberality (9:11)
. . . they glorify God . . . for your liberal sharing with them and all men. (9:13)
This abundant generosity is evident whether one has little or much, as shown by the Macedonians of whom Paul said that even in their condition of deep poverty they “abounded in the riches of their liberality.” (8:2)
It is according to individual ability.
Paul makes it clear that each person should give as he is able. This was already observed in the life of the early church (see Part 4).
Some people will be so moved by God’s grace and the pressing need that they will give more than they should, humanly speaking. They will give sacrificially, until it truly hurts, “yes, even beyond their ability” (8:3).
Because of the “grace” terminology, some may wonder if it is appropriate to encourage people to participate in opportunities to give. The fact that Paul exhorted the Corinthians demonstrates that giving is not an untouchable topic. We can and should teach and exhort people to give and make them aware of opportunities. But it is important to present the opportunity and responsibility to give in a way that accurately represents what Scripture has to say about it.
I have addressed this in previous articles, but want to reiterate it here. Many Christians equate giving with tithing. But there are some clear distinctions between tithing and the New Testament teaching on giving.
- Tithing was practiced by the Jewish people under the Old Testament system. It is not taught to or practiced by Christians living under the benefits of the New Testament.
- Tithing was a requirement. Grace giving is a voluntary response.
- Tithing is a set amount – 10%. The amount of grace giving is an individual choice, though it is marked by generosity.
Grace giving is our response to the way God graciously treats us. It flows freely from a willing heart. It is marked by generosity. We participate according to our individual ability.
To what people and to what kinds of ministry work should we give? I will address this in the next article on The Targets of Grace Giving identified in the New Testament.