People often say, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know…” and that’s true in many circumstances. Often the solution to a situation is lodged not in your brain but in your network – with someone else. At the same time, what you know is important especially for doing certain things. If your task is to preach the sermon, it’s a what you know (or don’t know) issue – because people expect you to get it done and in a certain way. If your job is to transfer the power lines in a neighborhood from old poles to new ones – it’s a what you know issue – so that you and others are safe and the power actually works. And, it turns out, if you want to live as holy people of God, the same holds true: it’s about what you know.
In the 8th chapter of his second letter to Corinth Paul encourages the people to give – to participate in an offering for the church in Jerusalem. Its people were in need after a famine. Churches the Mediterranean round had participated. Now Paul wanted the same from Corinth. And to get them to do it, he reminds of what they know. He calls to them and to us to remember that you know grace.
Paul reasons that it’s appropriate to ask these people to give, to be generous with their finances, finally because (v.9), “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”. You know a specific kind of generous, undeserved love; the kind beyond compare; this kind of grace: “that though [Jesus] was rich…he became poor.” If top billionaire Jeff Bezos gave away his Amazon fortune, his $112 billion net worth to a homeless person and became homeless instead, that would be astounding – newsworthy. That might move you to give. This is greater. Though Jesus existed as God from eternity, owner of all, life of all – he gave his life to save the sin-broken, lives of his creation. He gave up the wealth of divine power and place and set it aside to share our poverty. Particularly moving for you and me is that he did it “for your sakes.” That is, our sins demanded this kind poverty of death as punishment. But Jesus became poor to give to us the wealth of his eternal life and a place with God by dying as payment and rising in promising life again. As Paul says, “so that you, through his poverty might become rich.”
This grace beyond compare is key because sinfully we know how to compare. We know how to selfishly look at life and feel poor or oppressed. To feel too beaten down to live holy lives. That we just couldn’t possibly give or live according to God’s ways. Paul reminds us, “You know grace that isn’t like anything else. Nothing compares to God himself sacrificing his Son to make those who had wasted his gifts into those who share in them. And freely, generously, apart from your payment, leaving you more wealthy than the greatest king because you are daily within God’s forgiving love and absolutely confident that you will be with God forever.”
Paul’s reacquainting us with what we know: grace beyond compare. And that’s useful for how we live. If we daily access the beyond compare grace of God in Christ, it lets us recognize grace around us. Paul’s using the word “grace” in this section in two ways: 1) in that salvation-in-Christ way; and 2) in the kind we see in all sorts of things, where God’s love wells up in real life. Just like “the grace God [had] given among the Macedonian churches.”
Paul wanted to make them known to Corinth because God’s love freely given showed up in love freely given by them. When Paul was collecting the offering in the congregations he visited, apparently the Macedonians were generous. Like this…
- In v.2-3 – Macedonia had been financially devastated for decades. It’s people had very little for generations. But their joy in Christ made them generous – beyond what Paul expected them to give, they freely offered.
- In fact, more – v.4 – they demanded the opportunity to do it. They tugged on Paul’s robes, they emailed non-stop, they called every hour and said, “You have to let us participate in helping…”
- And they did it in the best way. They gave themselves first to the Lord: belonging to him by grace, with lives guided by his Word, they wanted to live according to his will. Then they freely gave themselves as they were able to serve others.
Do you recognize God’s grace in the “Macedonians” around you? How often our God has allowed joy in Christ to well up and flow over into generous help for others despite the severe trials that exist in different ways in each of our lives! I want you to know that people ask for opportunities to use their time to help God’s people. I want you to know that some, out of their wealth, give to help those who are poor. I want you to know that others who have very little give themselves to the Lord each day in prayer and they lift up those around them – asking his help where they cannot go. And as you know these graces from God – remember God’s “grace on your part”. For Corinth it was the opportunity to participate in an offering. What grace of God do you recognize for yourselves? A moment to encourage a friend? Helping someone in need? Reassessing your offerings to the Lord? Praying for others you can’t help yourself? I don’t know what you will see, but the more you and I know God’s grace in Christ, the better we’ll recognize these opportunities of grace, these moments where his love wells up in us and out into others’ lives too.
Sin can make this a fearful thing; to compare ourselves with others around us. We may see others’ good deeds and curse our own inabilities or be afraid at things we have not tried. If so, in repentance, we will turn again to this grace from God that has made us rich. We’ll remember that he has covered our sins and that “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through [what we know] of him” (2 Peter 1:3). And he will fill us with thankfulness and joy. So that we understand what’s true because of Christ’s grace: God isn’t commanding and burdening us with the examples of others. He’s set us free already. In fact, if God’s people encourage one another as he does, they see and acknowledge that freedom. Paul said – do this offering, Corinth – just like you “excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us.” Paul knew Corinth was made of believers; people sincere in their faith. People just like you – blessed to live in holiness before God, to give thanks for what he has done, to serve those around you in very normal, everyday ways. The beauty of grace is that people who know it can freely “test the sincerity of [their] love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” We can look out at the overflow of faith God has allowed in those around us and not be afraid or self-conscious but simply filled with joy. We be encouraged and driven to say, “I want God’s grace to well up in me too – just like that in my community, just like that in my marriage, just like that with my friends…” Because God’s grace in its various forms is still grace – and I want to experience it, grow in it, know it, and share it.
To summarize how Paul says it in vv.13-14, grace in Christ doesn’t leave us in a comparison game, or worried but it allows us to equally share in God’s love. The grace of God in Christ that is beyond compare helps us see beyond our own poverty or trials – to see God pouring out his love in specific opportunities in us and others. That vision lets us rejoice in Christ and in his grace in faithful ones around us too – so that we can join in letting that grace overflow in our lives – in living, in giving, in serving.
On the basis of this grace we know, so that with grace we can go, let’s call upon the God of all grace to bless and keep us: O Lord, we exalt you for graciously you have lifted us up out of the depths of sin. Let our lives rejoice in your love, see your graces, and sing your praises. Have mercy on us and help us in everything to spur one another on to give you thanks forever. Amen.