This post stems from Paul’s words to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9.
Do you know what “contrast” means? For our purposes, let us use the word which my computer’s Thesaurus provides me with here, “dissimilarity”. In this post I want us to see how dissimilar the Corinthian church was to the Macedonian churches.
Talking of prosperity, let me point out at the very outset that at the time of Paul’s writing, the Macedonian churches were the richest entity on the face of the earth. At their time these were the richest people in the world. No earthly conglomerate existing today could boast even a whiff of the wealth that these churches had.
But, of course, it was wealth of a different kind altogether that these people had. It was the true heavenly riches, the riches of a gracious heart. It could well be that there were other equally spiritually rich churches, but we have no need to speculate.
But at the same time that these Macedonians were exhibiting such riches of the grace of God in their lives through their liberality, the Corinthian churches were exhibiting the exact opposite through their stinginess! I am sure that had the Corinthians been half as generous as the Macedonias were, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 might never have been written!!
The Bible clearly says that the Macedonians were poor in worldly riches. But it does not say the Corinthians were poor. Nowhere does it indicate that these guys were anywhere near poor materially. On the contrary, history is replete with accounts of how rich the Corinthians were!
Moreover, after granting them salvation, God graciously blessed the Corinthian churches with every kind of spiritual gift. Paul affirms this in 1 Corinthians 1:4-7: “4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; 6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: 7 So that ye come behind in no gift…”
This church was bristling with the gifts of the Spirit, so much so that Paul even had to write and put order in that church with regard to the usage of these gifts! (1 Corinthians 14)
But alas! this church lacked the most important gift – the grace of God. It is incredible, but true. You can have all the gifts of the Holy Spirit and still lack in the most important gift of all, the gift of the grace of God upon your life. It is a contradiction of terms, but it certainly did occur with the Corinthians.
This fact manifested it self in their lives in the following manner: these guys had been promising – indeed, they had bound themselves – to give a financial gift, a certain amount of money, for the poor saints in Jerusalem. And yet, for a whole year, they had not parted with a single cent!
The Bible says that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. We can have every kind of spiritual gift working through us but still lack in the most important gift, the gift of the grace of God upon our lives. In today’s spiritual context, we highly regard men who work the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are so enamored with the manifestations of these gifts! And yet, while it is true that these gifts are needful in church, it is clear from Paul’s words to the Corinthians that the greatest “gift” that we can have as believers is the Holy Spirit working in our lives to produce the character or grace of Christ in us. Paul tells the Corinthians: “Hey guys… just as you have been enriched in every kind of gift in the Spirit, including your love for us, may you also be enriched in the grace of giving” (2 Cor. 8:7, paraphrased).
Apparently, they needed to be “pushed” in some areas. That is not grace.
Actually, when it comes to ministry, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 provide the clearest example of the practical application of grace in a preacher’s life. In these two chapters, the Apostle Paul finds himself confronted with a situation where apparently only law could work. But Paul was a man of grace! He therefore used every means possible, embedded here in these two long chapters, to cajole these hard Corinthians into living a life of grace.
Paul was a true spiritual father!
This goes to show that we cannot bring back the spirit of law into the church, however big the sin or infraction. We must go out of our way to make sure that whatever needs to be dealt with in church is dealt with in a spirit of grace.
The way Paul dealt with these Corinthians gives his ministry great esteem in light of the gospel.
As for the rest of us, may we never forget that walking in grace is fulfilling the royal law, to love our neighbor as ourselves. The Bible says that the person who does this has fulfilled the whole law of God.
Loving our neighbor as ourselves, of course, demands that one deny their own self. That means we die. And, pray, what can you do with a dead person?
Need we say it again? Yes, we certainly do – that it is only at the cross where this grace can be found. When our lives are identified with Christ’s in His sufferings and death, when we are constantly (daily) denying our own self and taking up our cross and following Him, there will this grace be found in its fullness.
[Below: The spontaneity in the lives of children provides us with the clearest example of the grace of God]