The Role of Grace in Giving
You’ve read the testimony of the Macedonian Christians who gave sacrificially to the Apostle Paul:
Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.—2 Corinthians 8:1–8
Why is this testimony so powerful? Paul used it to encourage the Corinthian churches to be faithful in giving, and two millennia later, it motivates us today. Why?
The significance lies in their motive. In God’s economy, the motive is as important as the gift. In other words,why we give is as important as that we give.
Some people give out of guilt.
But not the Macedonian Christians. They did not give because Paul pushed or coerced them into it. In fact, they had to beg Paul to take their gift: “Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift…” (2 Corinthians 8:4).
God never intended giving to hinge on guilt. He doesn’t want you to give because you have to give, but rather because you get to give. When Christians give only so they will not feel guilty, they rob themselves of the joy of giving.
Some people give out of greed.
The Macedonian Christians did not give to get. They did not give because they hoped God would reward them with increased finances.
Some “health and wealth” teachers promise that if people give to their ministries, God will make these givers wealthy in return. This is not only an unbiblical teaching; it promotes an unscriptural motive.
God does load us with great blessings when we give. Scripture is full of promises for givers. God even gives these promises to encourage us to give. In Malachi 3:10, He challenges us to give with the promise, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
When our basic motive for giving, however, is personal gain, we miss the bigger picture. Giving is not a game in which we have to try to trick God into increasing our blessings. In fact, not all of His blessings are financial. We don’t give to get; we give because we trust God to take care of our needs.
The Macedonians gave because of God’s grace.
In Paul’s account of the gift of these Macedonian Christians, he was careful to explain that biblical giving is the result of “the grace of God.” The liberality of these Christian givers was not of themselves, but of God’s grace bestowed on them.
Spiritual givers are motivated by grace; they give in response to God’s work in their hearts. Paul described grace in Philippians 2:13: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Grace is the powerful work of God in a Christian’s heart to make him willing and able to do His will. Nothing short of grace-giving is biblical giving.
It was only through the grace of God that the churches of Macedonia gave so sacrificially out of their own deep poverty. As 2 Corinthians 8:3 explains, God’s grace motivated these Christians to give “beyond their power.” In other words, they gave more than they could or, from a human perspective, should.
Some Christians give below their ability; their gifts really cost them nothing. Some Christians give at their ability; they give what is available after they’ve budgeted other necessary expenditures. But other Christians, like these in the Macedonian churches, give above their ability; they give sacrificially, voluntarily setting aside “necessities” in their generosity.
The grace-giving of the Macedonian Christians was the result of their giving first themselves to the Lord: “…but first gave their own selves to the Lord” (2 Corinthians 8:5). Their financial giving followed as the natural by-product of this personal commitment.
These Christians left a legacy for us to follow. Their example affirms the value of God’s work and challenge us to give liberally and to invest our whole hearts.
God’s economy operates on grace. When we consider the testimony of these first century believers (and many generations of others) who were poverty-stricken and often persecuted, their testimony challenges us to participate in grace-giving.
Guilt-giving and greed-giving ultimately produce resentment. But in grace-giving, you will find the joys of living on God’s economy.