We established last week that the Eighth Word not only prohibits taking the gifts and opportunities that God has given others, but it also includes the positive invitation to treasure Christ and His Kingdom more than all things, allowing those priorities to shape our lives. Today, we consider the grace of Christ which is the source of that way of life.
Paul is in the midst of writing one of the most challenging support letters ever written by any missionary. He has rebuked these people pretty sharply (2 Cor. 7:8-10) and now he has the audacity to be asking for money! He points to the saints of Macedonia as an example: the grace of God enabled them to give a generous gift in the midst of great affliction, freely, even insistently (2 Cor. 1-4). But Paul is careful to note that this was first a complete offering to God and then to the needs of the saints (2 Cor. 8:5). It is for this reason that Paul is sending Titus, to “complete this grace” in the Corinthians, to test the sincerity of their love (2 Cor. 8:8). This “grace” is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who though He was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). This root word for “poor/poverty” is used in the Septuagint to translate a broad range of Hebrew words referring to agricultural scarcity (Dt. 8:9), sacrificial generosity (1 Chr. 22:14), sin (Ps. 31:10, 79:8), affliction (Job 30:27, Ps. 44:24), sorrow (Ps. 88:9), death (Ps. 107:10), poverty (Ps. 107:41, Pr. 23:21), and judgment (Lam. 3:1). The point of noting these uses isn’t a strictly lexical one, but rather a helpful list of all the ways in which Christ became poor for us in His incarnation and particularly on the cross. Paul knows that this rich grace of Christ produces abundance in the people who are gripped by it, and he advises the Corinthians to let it rip (2 Cor. 8:10, cf. 8:7). It begins with a willing mind and it takes the shape of whatever gifts God has already given (2 Cor. 8:12). The body of Christ is made up of many members with many different gifts, and their grace is their glory and it’s for the benefit of the whole body, creating an equality within the diversity (2 Cor. 8:13-15). Paul’s aim is not to get people to give by compulsion, under obligation, but to stir up the grace in them to cheerful, sacrificial generosity (2 Cor. 8:24, 9:5-7). That grace may take many forms, but it always has the quality of cheerful sacrifice.
The Gospel of the Eighth Commandment
All theft is based on the assumption of scarcity, and scarcity is a direct result of the Fall. The origin of scarcity is death. Death and decay are the cause of scarcity in the world, and sin is the sharpness of death. The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law – but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:54-57). The death and resurrection of Jesus is the good news for all who believe (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Death is swallowed up in victory; scarcity is swallowed up by plenty. This conviction ought to shape our generosity and priorities. But the grace of God is getting blocked in our hearts, our sacrificial priorities get weird.
Check Your Priorities
So is buying organic milk and meat and loads of vitamins more important than the thorough Christian education of your children? Some of you spend more money on your pet hobbies and projects than you do on making sure your children are growing up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Where’s the grace?
Women, your children and husband are more important than your house. Men, your wife and children are more important than your job. Men, do your wife and children know in their bones that they are more important to you than job, hobbies, friends, or ministry? Show them the grace.
What drives you to volunteer or serve or give gifts? Do you do it because you’re “supposed to” or out of fear of what people might think? Are you looking for recognition, acceptance, or commendation? Are you driven by guilt or gratitude? Is your life full of penance or repentance?
The only people who will hear “well done, good and faithful servant” are those who have already heard it said of them in Christ. But this good news is explosive; this grace compels courageous longsuffering, joyful sacrifice, cheerful martyrdom in daily life, great trials, over the top giving, and to the ends of the earth.