The grace of giving should be a distinguishing characteristic of the Christian church.
I know what you’re probably thinking: “It’s somehow always about money, isn’t it?” But bear with me – don’t go packing your bags for that guilt trip just yet!
First, we can see from the example of the church in the book of Acts that the grace of generosity was characteristic among Christians from the earliest days of the church’s infancy.
In Acts 2:42-47 we read:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
And the same thing happened later on in the book of Acts as well. A large crowd of Gentiles in Antioch heard the gospel and believed. They were then taught the great truths of Scripture by Barbabas and Saul for an entire year (!). And what was the result? Once again, it was generosity toward their fellow believers who were in need.
And Acts 11:27-30 says,
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
Not only that, but look at what the apostle Paul has to say about the subject. He thought it was so important, that he exhorted the church at Corinth to “excel” in the grace of giving. And he did so by reminding them that this particular grace was evident even among some of the poorest churches in Macedonia:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. (2 Corinthians 8:1-7 ESV)
Notice the arithmetic of grace that Paul mentions:
Abundant Joy + Extreme Poverty = Overflowing Generosity
That being the case, there was no excuse for a well-to-do church to not be excelling in that same grace of giving. And there still isn’t.
What about us? Do we excel in the grace of giving? If not, why not?
Is poverty (admittedly a very relative term) a valid reason? We might think so, but that sure didn’t stop the churches of Macedonia, did it? In fact, while their “extreme poverty” could have been viewed as a reason not to give, the thing that made all of the difference was their abundance of joy in the gospel.
Because of the joy that they had in Jesus Christ, they not only gave beyond their means (v.3), but even begged (!) Paul to allow them to participate in relieving the needs of the saints (v.4).
And Paul not only urged them to give on the basis of the godly example of the churches of Macedonia, but, ultimately, on the basis of the gospel. In v.9 he reminds them of the sacrificial love of Christ, saying,
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (v.9).
So Christ is our ultimate example of the grace of giving, but Paul is saying much more than that, isn’t he? Christ’s grace toward us in becoming poor resulted in His people becoming rich! The riches that Jesus won for us on the Cross are not financial in nature (despite what some prosperity preachers may say), but they are no less real!
In fact, our riches in Christ are far more real than anything that we could have in a bank account or investment portfolio. (Elsewhere we are told that we have an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” – 1 Peter 1:4.) The riches of Christ bring such joy to the life of a believer that he or she almost cannot help but be generous.
If we really know that we have treasure in heaven, we will be much more generous with our earthly treasures, whether great or small. We may (mistakenly) think of giving in legalistic terms, but it’s really all about grace (or should be). No wonder Paul calls it an “act of grace” (2 Corinthians 8:7)!
May we excel in our joy in Jesus Christ, that we might also excel in the grace of giving!