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Sunday, April 29

The Concordance of Grace (2 Cor 8:4)

It is interesting to trace the use of “grace” (χάρις) through 2 Cor 8:1-9. Paul is making use of the semantic domain of χάρις to mean “grace” and “kindness,” and it is the use of the same Greek word that ties the entire argument together.

The giving of the Macedonian church was the result of God’s grace at work in their midst (v 1). The Corinthians were to complete their act of gracious giving (v 6). They were in fact to excel in this grace of giving (v 7), just as Jesus graciously, though he was rich, became poor, so the Corinthians could become rich (v 8).

Given the role of χάρις in Paul’s argument, it is a bit surprising that the translations don’t keep the concordance in v 4. In speaking of the Macedonian church, he says, “they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege (χάριν) of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people” (NIV, cf. the NRSV, HCSB). Other translations speak of “favor” (ESV) and “blessing” (NET).

While there is nothing wrong in these translations (given the fact of semantic range), the point is that the Macedonian church understood the grace of God in their own midst, and they wanted to extend this same grace to the Jewish Christians. Giving is an act of grace that is done in response to the gift of grace we ourselves have experienced. Why not say something like, “the gracious privilege” so pastors don’t’ have to point out that the translations are missing a key point?

This is the key passage to the New Testament doctrine of giving, and is quite an indictment of the American church. The statistic that keeps coming up is that the average American evangelical gives 2.2% of their income to the work of the ministry. Online ministries on average receive financial support from less than 1% of the people who use their services. Hardy gracious, wouldn’t you think? The Old Testament tithe is anywhere from 10% to 28%, and we are told to “excel” in our giving (v 7). Hmmm.

Do you think it is truly possible to have experienced God’s grace but yet not respond to others with grace? This question goes far beyond the grace of giving.

Comments

Bill, Should that be 2 Cor 6:4 or 2 Cor 8:4 in the title? Interesting post. We recently looked at giving in our church. I see here the same principle that Justin Martyr gives in his description of their services (mid 2nd C), that is, those that have "extra" give that so that those who need are taken care of. This also seems to be the principle in Acts. Having no buildings, "programs" or professional ministers, there was no need for the kind of collections most churches today need to survive. Paul, in particular, seemed to have as his rule that he would NOT accept money from those he was ministering to--though he would accept support from churches he had founded when he was ministering elsewhere. So all giving went to one of three places: Supporting the poor in the local community (most of it), supporting the saints in etreme need elsewhere, and supporting evangelists spreading the gospel.   I know the church today is in a very different place, but what would our impact on the world be if we adopted these priorities for our giving and scaled back our spending on our church buildings, programs and staff (which exist largely to please us)? One other note on Grace: I have often heard people use the verse "we are not under Law but under Grace" to make out that we have it easier. I think that is, fundamentally, wrong. To me, one of the chief  differences between Law and Grace is that Laws always have loop-holes; Grace doesn't. Thus, in this context, if the Law said "Give a tithe" Grace says "give everything". Or, in the words of C. S. Lewis, "When it comes to giving, I'm afraid the only rule is 'if it isn't hurting, it isn;t enough'".

Feeding the poor?  Spreading the Gospel?   Let's for a minute say it has to be one or the other.  Where is the focus supposed to be?  

I wouod be uncomfortable saying one or the other; Jersus did both. I would argue that spreadong the word is inheently more important as it lasts for an eternity, but you can't effectively spread the gospel without a wholistic concern for people.