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Giving empowered by grace

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–I am often amused to hear Bible scholars, church members and the general public debate whether the New Testament teaches tithing.

Such a discussion often degenerates into arguments that tithing is an issue of the Old Testament law which is seldom mentioned in the New Testament. Such an argument actually misses the point and keeps us bogged down in legalistic debates on how little one can give and still be faithful to Scripture. What we should be discussing is how much we can invest during our lifetime in Kingdom activity.

Several of the most important New Testament texts related to giving are found in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Most of us are familiar enough with the two Corinthian letters to know that this church was anything but boring. Paul frequently uses the word “zealous” to describe them. They were zealous about various leaders and about the spiritual gifts they possessed. They were excited about their faith but often unguided about how to express their genuine enthusiasm.

According to Acts 11:28 a global famine took place during the reign of Claudius. This famine had an immediate impact on the believers in Jerusalem. It is possible that their great need was caused because some of the Jews who dared to believe in Jesus as Messiah had lost all means of support. Paul seized upon this opportunity to rally the churches in Macedonia and Achaia to take an offering to assist the saints in Jerusalem. He saw this great need as a grand opportunity to teach the Corinthians how to express true grace filled-living.


In 1 Corinthians 16 Paul first mentions the offering for the saints in Jerusalem. “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper.” When we read a passage of Scripture, we sometimes ignore its immediate context. The context here is critical to our understanding of grace-empowered giving. Paul has just completed an encouraging declaration of the impact of the resurrection of Christ. He concludes the 15th chapter with this assurance: “knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (15:58).

The resurrection alters everything. It assures us of God’s ultimate triumph and that our toil for the King will have an eternal impact. In the original manuscript there was no break between these two chapters. Thus Paul now places giving in the context of a kingdom activity that is the natural outcome of living on this side of the resurrection. “Giving” provides an opportunity to give evidence to the power of the resurrection at work in our lives. The self-giving sacrifice of the King on the cross becomes the model of giving and the power that enables us to live Kingdom-centered lives.

In this short section Paul teaches three principles that prepare us for grace giving:

1.) The principle of consistency. The phrase “on the first day of every week” provides evidence that the early believers gathered for worship on the day after the Sabbath to celebrate the resurrection. Notice that Paul instructs them that as a part of their resurrection celebration “each of you is to set something aside.” Our giving should be a matter of theological conviction that leads to the practical and consistent preparation of an offering for our worship of the exalted King.

2.) The principle of personal responsibility. The phrase “each of you” means exactly what it says. No one is to be excluded — each one is to joyously grasp the privilege of participating in this great offering for the saints in Jerusalem.

3.) The principle of proportionate giving. Having been nurtured in Judaism, Paul would have practiced tithing according to Old Testament prescription. Thus, “proportionate giving” gives members of the resurrection community the privilege and the power to move beyond prescriptions of the law and give based on the grace encountered in the crucified and risen Christ. Proportionate giving comes from the overflow that recognizes God as the source of life and the owner of everything.


Less than a year has passed since Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. During that year Paul had been forced to write a painful letter (2 Corinthians 7:8) that had grieved the Corinthians but had led to their repentance (7:9). With the church restored to spiritual health, Paul devotes two chapters to the grace of giving (chapters 8-9).

The churches in Macedonia were further along in their participation in the offering and thus Paul used them as an example to encourage the Corinthians to complete their offering. The generous giving of the churches in Macedonia is described in powerful terms — “that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of the liberality.” “Joy” and “generosity” are twins. When you discover one you will find the other. Joy comes from the contemplation of grace received and leads one to generous living which in turn gives one great joy.

When you read the instructions in 2 Corinthians 8 the one word that jumps from the page is “grace”; it is repeated four times in the first nine verses. Listen to verse 1: “Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia.” The use of “grace” here does not mean that their giving was simply motivated by grace, it goes much further. It means that their generosity was an act of grace.

Recall now that the Corinthians were particularly proud of their spiritual gifts and boasted to possess them in abundance. The Greek word for “grace” is “charis” and the word for “gifts” is “charismata.” Charismata, from which we get the word “charismatic,” means “manifestation of grace.” Paul had used this term to bring a corrective to their spiritual pride based on the gifts they possessed. No matter what gift anyone possessed, they were manifestations of the grace of God and not signs of spirituality.

In our present context Paul refers to their abundance of gifts to challenge them to abound in the gracious work of giving. “But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also” (8:7). Do you see the point? Paul is challenging the Corinthians to move to a level of giving that is made possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit could enable them to give at a supernatural level and not merely at a natural one.

How do we define grace giving? Let’s simply take Paul’s definition. “For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord” (2 Corinthians 8:3). We frequently talk about Christian living as that which requires supernatural empowering, but we often ignore the matter of giving when we refer to the work of the Spirit.

How do we begin to practice grace giving? Once again, Paul gives us the answer. “They first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (5b). Grace-empowered giving emerges from the giving of our entire being to the Lord. When that occurs giving becomes a privilege and not a chore.

How do we describe grace giving? Grace giving has three distinctive characteristics.

1.) It is spontaneous. Paul indicates that the churches in Macedonia were “begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints” (verse 4).

2.) It allows us to move from “proportionate giving” to “supernatural giving.” It is “beyond our ability” giving.

3.) It sees giving as a privilege of sharing in Kingdom ministry. Paul indicated that the Macedonians were “begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints” (verse 4). The word translated “favor” is actually “charis” or “grace.” Both the desire and the ability to share “beyond ability” are produced by the Holy Spirit.


Paul continues his discourse on giving in 2 Corinthians 9 by discussing the laws that undergird grace giving:

— The law of sowing and reaping. “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (9:6). All other things being equal, the quantity of the harvest will be proportionate to the quantity of seed sown.

— The law of cheerful giving. “Each one must do as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7). God, who is by nature giving, loves to see His children display His character.

— The law of sufficiency. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (9:8). Do you want to be a grace giver? Good news! God will make all grace abound for every good work.

— The law of multiplication. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (9:10). Here is the key to all grace empowered giving. God supplies the seed, multiplies the seed and promises a bountiful harvest. You cannot outgive God’s ability to supply.


You will simply be amazed when you hear about the results of grace giving:

— It enriches us. “You will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11). Isn’t it just like God to allow our giving to become a reciprocal blessing to us?

— It meets needs of others. “For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God” (9:12). Paul uses two different words to indicate that giving is both and act of worship and one of service.

— It offers thanks to God. Perhaps you noticed that in both verses we have already considered, the end result is a lifestyle that says thanks to God. Gratitude comes from an understanding of the graciousness of all of life and thus grace-empowered giving flows as a response which says thanks to God.

— It glorifies God. “Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all” (9:13). Paul indicates that this offering for the believers in Jerusalem will cause them to glorify God. It gives evidence of the authenticity of the faith of this largely Gentile church. It will cause the Jewish believers in Jerusalem to be drawn to them as brothers and sisters in Christ “because of the surpassing grace of God in you” (9:14)

Does your giving reflect the surpassing grace of God in you? Move from proportionate giving to grace giving so that you can truly be a cheerful giver. Then your life will be a clear benediction — “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (9:15).
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the SBC’s national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth. This column was adapted from a brochure published by the Stewardship Development Association, online at StewardshipDirect.com.

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  • Kenneth S. Hemphill