Once a year my family and I traveled to the United States from Poland. Whenever we went to Southern California, Cobb and Susan Grantham insisted that we stay in Sea Solace, their mobile home—and this was not your normal mobile home.
Imagine a rundown trailer park—and delete that picture. Sea Solace was a mobile home on the beach—and when I say on the beach, I mean from its deck you stepped onto the sand. This little community—about seventy-five mobile homes—stood on a stretch of beach that was pristine and spectacular.
We loved staying there, and each year during the ten years we lived in Poland, visiting Sea Solace was a highlight of our trip to the States.
Cobb and Susan always took us in like we were family, and they loved our children like grandchildren. They were always so gracious, kind, and generous to us.
Cobb ran a successful international shipping company, and Susan was a gifted children’s worker who had served with me at Mariners Church. They both served as mentors in my development, in the growth of Every Generation Ministries, and in the strength of our family life.
Yet Marla and I were always a little amazed about our relationship with Cobb and Susan. You see, we didn’t earn their favor, and we certainly didn’t merit their friendship. We didn’t at all deserve the love, care, and concern that they poured into our lives.
Our relationship with them and their generosity to us were cherished gifts from God, tangible evidence of His grace in our lives.
Grace is defined as “unmerited favor.” Cobb and Susan were a gift of grace. Jesus on the cross is the ultimate gift of grace. And Paul had this kind of grace in mind in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.
Able to Give
After first using χάρις,—translated grace—in 2 Corinthians 8:1, Paul went on to use a form of that word nine more times in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.
Paul’s extensive use of this word covers a wide range of meanings, and in the baseball tradition, I’m going to touch ’em all.
Now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace [τὴν χάριν] that God has given the Macedonian churches. (2 Corinthians 8:1 NIV)
Paul began his testimony regarding the Macedonians (Philippians) by citing the grace that God had given them. Normally, we think of grace in salvific terms as the unmerited favor of God evident in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Based on no merit of our own, God offers us forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ. In 2 Corinthians 8:1, though, Paul was speaking about the Philippians’ generous giving as unmerited favor that God had shown them. Paul’s meaning is not yet clear, but it will become so as we look at his use of the word grace.
they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege [τὴν χάριν] of sharing in this service to the Lord's people. (2 Corinthians 8:4 NIV)
According to Paul, the Philippians viewed participation in the offering—in this service—as a privilege or gift from God. Somehow giving funds to God for the Jerusalem church was—in their hearts and minds—a matter of unmerited favor. The Philippians apparently believed that being able to give was a blessing.
We urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace [τὴν χάριν] on your part. (2 Corinthians 8:6 NIV)
The act of grace referred to here is, again, the commitment that the Corinthians had made earlier to collect an offering for the church in Jerusalem. The completion of this act of grace would be the actual giving of funds for the Jerusalem church.
Since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace [τῇ χάριτι] of giving. (2 Corinthians 8:7 NIV)
Again, Paul viewed giving as a gift from God similar to the gifts of faith, speech, knowledge, and love. In this instance, the beneficiary of the gift is actually the Corinthian who had received something from God. That something was the opportunity to give. In receiving the grace/gift of giving, the believer gives financially and, at first blush, may appear to be giving up something. Yet Paul seemed to regard the opportunity to give financially as a gift that would benefit or bless the giver.
You know the grace [τὴν χάριν] of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV)
Paul continued to remind the Corinthians of the grace they had received and continued to receive because Jesus was willing to give everything—He gave Himself, His very life—for their benefit. In the same way, their giving may lead to some kind of blessing for them.
Thanks [Χάρις] be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. (2 Corinthians 8:16 NIV)
Used here as an introduction to Titus, thanks [grace] be to God for giving Titus the same concern for the Corinthians that Paul had. In addition, not only did the Corinthians follow through on their heart commitment to give, but they also [excelled] in this grace of giving (v. 7).
[The man traveling with Titus] was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering [τῇ χάριτι ταύτῃ], which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. (2 Corinthians 8:19 NIV)
Here in verse 19, a form of the word grace refers to the offering itself. The offering was indeed a gift, and the receiving church in Jerusalem would definitely consider it grace.
God is able to bless you abundantly [πᾶσαν χάριν περισσεῦσαι εἰς ὑμᾶς], so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV)
“All grace to abound” is translated bless you abundantly: again, grace is seen as the blessing and favor of God. Paul seemed focused on the material as he emphasized to the Corinthians that God’s material provision for them is grace that allows them to give abundantly. The point seems to be that God’s material blessing allows the Corinthians to be generous and cheerful in their giving.
In their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God [χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ] has given you. (2 Corinthians 9:14 NIV)
The Jerusalem church will certainly be blessed by the giving of Christians in Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia. One result will be prayers for those generous believers, and this bond of prayer may have been an aspect of Paul’s overarching vision all along. Even more important, though, Paul envisioned the unity of God’s family being concretely manifested in the Gentile Christians’ gift to the largely Jewish congregations in Jerusalem. This practical demonstration of love between Gentile and Jew would model the reconciling power of the gospel and, by example, throw open the gates of God’s kingdom to the nations, Jew and Gentile alike.
Our primary concern right now, however, is the use of grace to refer to something given to the Corinthian church. Paul appeared to refer to making the offering as the grace God gave the Corinthians. It may be that the actual giving of the offering was the result of God’s grace. However, I think a more likely understanding is that the very opportunity to give an offering was a gift from God to the Corinthian church. Namely, God’s grace was His allowing the Corinthian church to participate in the offering for their Christian family in Jerusalem.
Thanks be to God [Χάρις τῷ θεῷ] for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15 niv)
The chapter closes with the use of Χάρις as thanks be to God for his indescribable gift. Again, the question lingers regarding the numerous references to grace and the fact that Paul apparently referred to giving the offering as a gift from God.
Now that you’ve run the bases, let me suggest that, for Paul, being allowed to give and to thereby join God in His work is a gracious gift to us from God Himself.
God did not need the Corinthians or the Macedonians to meet the needs of the Jerusalem church. He invited them to participate with him.
Being invited to give and giving a gift… is a gift to you from God Himself!
Partners in God’s Work
Kurt and Jan Kraushaar are friends and genuine ministry partners with Every Generation Ministries. Jan has written materials for EGM, led children’s worker training/development sessions in numerous countries, and currently serves on the board of directors.
Together, Kurt and Jan helped teach EGM materials to both EGM and church leaders in Ukraine. Kurt and Jan have also traveled to Chile and Argentina with an EGM team to participate in an innovative ministry evaluation in Latin America. These two wonderful people are all in!
Years ago, Jan helped some EGM staff develop a series of ten Bible lessons that were completed in Arabic, adjusted to the culture, and used by our ministry in Egypt. Shortly after the lessons were printed, Jan and a team from her church traveled to Egypt to work with our EGM-Egypt team in training some children’s workers.
With the help of a translator, Jan taught a few seminars and actually saw the materials she had helped write printed in Arabic. I wasn’t with the team, but I was told how Jan reacted.
Seeing the materials she’d helped write being used by churches in Egypt; participating in training children’s workers; and knowing that she and Kurt had funded a large percentage of the project—suffice to say, tears were involved.
At that time in EGM’s history, 2 Corinthians had not been plumbed the way it has been today. Looking back, though, I see so clearly in the Kraushaars an illustration of the grace of giving. You see, God didn’t need Kurt and Jan to get His work done in Egypt. He is fully capable of accomplishing His purposes in and of Himself.
Furthermore, He knows a lot of people in Egypt and has an adequate balance of shillings in His account. Rather, in His goodness, God invited Kurt and Jan to join Him in His work. This opportunity was not something that Kurt and Jan merited; rather, this opportunity to give and serve was a gift God gave them, evidence of His unmerited favor. The “grace of giving” so prominent in 2 Corinthians 8-9.
So we see that for Paul, giving is an act of grace on God’s part. The owner of everything, in need of nothing invites us to join Him in his work around the world.
In spite of His infinite resources, He allows us to participate with Him, supporting our pastor, funding missionary work, giving gifts to support Bible translation and the list goes on. While we do not merit or deserve this honor, He bestows it upon us nonetheless; His unmerited favor.
When you give your offering at church this Sunday or online, remember that being allowed to contribute, is a gift from God Himself!