Responding to Christ's Grace

Reading: 2 Corinthians 8.1-15
A few years ago we used to be both intrigued and irritated by those personalised letters from the Reader's Digest. Our name, street address and town were all there in the text of the letter. It was what we call a "mail-merge" - personalised by their computer and mailed to everyone on their list, no matter how much the letter insisted we had been "specially selected"!

These days most large corporations - and government bureaucracies - put on a human face for us and try to be personal.

One large retailer had a sticker on every cash register - "TYFSAKM". It was a reminder to all their check-out staff to say, "Thank you for shopping at K-Mart". It was good for public image - and therefore for the business - to say "thank you"!

A sign board announces details of major road works - distance, duration, etc. "We apologise for any inconvenience…" And a parting sign, "Thank you for your co-operation".

It's all good PR, but we can become a bit cynical about it after a while. The retailer clearly wants to boost their profit. And the bureaucrats in Brisbane… we are glad for the road improvements, but still feel that most of our tax money is spent in the south-east corner of the state!

You might have guessed it - we aren't going to spend our time this morning whinging about big business or government. They all have a job to do - and we need to have a thankful attitude, no matter what.

I can choose to be impatient or angry because the person in front of me needed a price check on some item. Or I can make an encouraging comment that shows I understand and care for the check-out person in the stresses of their job. It's a choice how we respond.

Christ's Grace

In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul is writing about how we respond to God's grace to us in Jesus Christ.

Paul wants his readers "to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches" (v. 1). Notice verse 9 - "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."

That's the grace that God has given. It's so easy to repeat John 3.16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son..." We barely give a thought to what that meant for the Son - leaving his glorious existence in heaven for this place of sweat and tears, coming to the people prepared who weren't prepared at all, taking the worst possible human rejection in order to open the way for human sinners to be forgiven and restored...

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes that Jesus, "being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place..." (Phil. 2.6-9 ).

"Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich..." Someone has defined "grace" in a simple acrostic - G-R-A-C-E "God's Riches At Christ's Expense". It is the story of the whole incarnation. It comes to focus in the cross - where his very life was given in our place, bearing the punishment which was due to us for our sins, so that we could be forgiven, so that we could live the full and complete life God intended, so that, finally, we too could enjoy the life of heaven... Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich.

Responding to Grace

How do we respond to God's grace to us in Jesus Christ? We have such a narrow view of life. We demand to receive from others. It is our right to receive and the responsibility of others to give. Perhaps that becomes our attitude to the grace of God too?

It was the day after Christmas and the man parked his car to pick up the morning paper. He noticed a dirty, poorly dressed boy, looking at his car. Seeing the boy eyeing the car, he reminded himself to be quick or he might be missing a hubcap when he returned.

He came out of the store with his paper under his arm and just as he opened the car door , the boy asked, "Mister, how much would a new car like this cost?" The man replied, "I really don't know; my brother gave me this car as a gift." The ragged little boy looked unbelievingly at the car and then, with a look of wonder in his eyes, said, "Gee, I wish I could be a brother like that."

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." The grace of God, his gift of salvation, forgiveness, freely offered to us - not as a payment which we have managed to earn, but a gift which we simply receive by faith... "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich". We are poor - we can't buy it! We are sinners - we don't deserve it! All we can do is receive it - and that's what faith is all about. But Paul goes on to say to the Ephesians, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2.8-10).

How do we respond to God's grace to us in Jesus Christ? Well... we receive it by faith, but what we do with it next is our daily - hourly, minutely - response to him.

Every life that is "graced" by God's grace will show itself in acts of grace. It is a spiritual principle restated many times in Scripture - "forgive one another, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Eph. 4.32), "love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15.12), "freely you have received, freely give" (Mt. 10.8)...

So 2 Corinthians 8 begins "And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given to the Macedonian churches" (v. 1). Is he talking about God's grace that saves? Yes, he is, but his focus just here is the way that saving grace is working out in their lives. It is the grace growing within them in response to God's grace.

The Grace of Giving

Outstanding in their response to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ was their generous giving.

It is clear that, from the earliest days, the church faced the problem of the extreme poverty of the Christian community in Jerusalem. On the day of Pentecost and the days following, thousands were converted. Philip Hughes comments, "The material cost to the majority of this great number must have been immense. Coming as they did from the background of Jewish fervour and exclusivism... they must have become, in consequence of their conversion, the victims of social and economic ostracism, ecclesiastical excommunication, and national disinheritance. Their business enterprises must in most cases have collapsed in ruins and family bonds been heart-breakingly severed. The situation to which this led was met by the touching and spontaneous manner in which the members of this young but numerous fellowship demonstrated their oneness of heart and soul by sharing their possessions and resources with each other (Acts 4.32ff)" (Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians p. 284).

The continuing problem became a matter for the whole church> As Peul went about his missionary work, he was collecting for the poor saints in Jerusalem. The example of the Macedonian Christians was outstanding. "Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity" (2 Cor. 8.2). They were giving "as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability", urgently pleading "for the privilege of sharing this service to the saints" (v. 4).

Notice that "they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will" (v. 5). They are responding to "the grace that God has given". True Christian giving is always a response to the generous grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we have thought the key issue is "how much should I give to the work of the Lord?" Not so! The key issue is whether we have received the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. In response to that grace, have we given ourselves first to the Lord? If we have, we will know that all that we have and are is his - we will plead for the privilege of giving generously. If that isn't our attitude to our possessions and our giving, we need to go back to that key issue - have we received the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich. As our life is "graced" by God's grace, it will be visible in acts of grace.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 29 June 2003
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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