Characteristics of Grace Giving (preaching resource for Pentecost 6: 6/30/24)

This post exegetes 2 Corinthians chapter 8, providing context for the RCL Epistle readings on 6/30/24 (Pentecost 6). This exegesis draws on commentary from Warren Wiersbe ("The Bible Exposition Commentary") and Colin Kruse ("The New Bible Commentary"). 

"Sermon of St. Paul Amidst the Ruins" by Pannini (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)


Paul was collecting a special offering to assist impoverished Christians in Judea. The blessings he hoped to see coming from the offering included not only relief for the poor, but also increased unity between Gentile and Jewish believers. Unfortunately, the church at Corinth was not doing its part. They had pledged to contribute, but had failed to follow through. Paul saw this as a lack of spiritual vitality manifested in a lack of generosity. To encourage them to generosity, Paul addresses the topic of grace giving, which is our participation, by grace, in the generosity of Jesus who lived what he taught: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). What does grace giving in the church look like? In 2 Corinthians chapter 8, Paul gives six defining characteristics: 

1. Giving with joy despite circumstances 

2Cor 8:1–2

1 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

The Macedonian churches that Paul here uses as an example had experienced severe trial including extreme poverty, and yet they had given generously.  Their difficult situation may have been caused in part by their Christian faith, for they may have lost their jobs or been excluded from the trade guilds because they refused to have anything to do with idolatry.  Yet their difficult circumstances did not hinder them from giving. In fact, they gave joyfully and generously.  When we drink deeply of God’s grace, it can’t help but flow out from us to the benefit of others. Grace giving means giving in spite of circumstances. 

2. Giving with enthusiasm 

2Cor 8:3–4

3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.

It is possible to give generously but not enthusiastically. The churches in Macedonia needed no prompting or reminding to give (unlike the church at Corinth). They were more than willing to give—in fact, they begged to be included!  Their giving was thus voluntary and spontaneous. It was of grace, not pressure. They gave because they wanted to give and because they had experienced the grace of God. Grace not only frees us from our sins, it frees us from ourselves. The grace of God opens our hearts and our hands. 

3. Sharing in Jesus’ generosity 

2Cor 8:5–9

5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. 6 So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. 8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 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.

In intimate communion with Jesus, the Macedonian Christians gave themselves to God and to others (v5). In this way, though they were physically poor, they participated abundantly in Jesus’ generous love for people—including the impoverished Christians in Judea. In contrast, the church at Corinth, though “rich” in certain spiritual grace-gifts (faith, speech, knowledge, etc.), was lacking in the gift of generosity. Having an abundance of other ministry gifts is never a substitute for grace giving.  

Paul wants the Corinthians to understand that he is not ordering them to give (v8). Rather he is urging them to participate in Jesus’ own generosity. Though Jesus was rich (as God), yet in his humanity, and out of love for us, “became poor”(v9b). The tense of the verb indicates that Jesus’ incarnation is in view. The Son of God left his throne to become a servant. The “poverty” Jesus embraced included his relatively poor economic circumstances, though that was only the beginning. There were also rejection, ridicule, persecution, betrayal and suffering, all of which culminated in the agony of Gethsemane and the Cross. Indeed, his willingness to suffer was the hallmark of his life. 

Why was Jesus so generous in his willingness to suffer for us? So that, through him, we might become rich in the blessings of the new age as “joint-heirs with Jesus” (Rom. 8:17). Considering who Jesus is, and who we are in him, how can we refuse to participate now with him in generously and even in sacrificial giving? 

4. Giving willingly and carefully 

2Cor 8:10–12

10 And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.

There is a great difference between promise and performance. The Corinthians pledged a year earlier that they would contribute to the relief offering, but they did not keep that promise. Note that Paul here emphasizes willingness. Grace giving is giving out of a willing heart, not out of a coerced sense of duty. However, this willingness means little if one does not follow through. Paul also notes that the amount given should be “according to your means” (v11b). The lesson here is that in giving, each of us must evaluate both the state of our hearts and our budgets. God looks for a willing spirit in both places. Note, as well that Paul does not specify a mathematical formula for how much they should give. What he emphasizes is the heart behind the giving (generosity) and planned giving—to carefully consider, not merely give what happens to be left over.

5. Giving with equity 

2Cor 8:13–15

13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, 15 as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."

Paul is not suggesting that in giving to the impoverished Jews, the Corinthians (who were primarily Gentile), should impoverish themselves. But what is fair, is fair. The Gentile churches (like Corinth) were enjoying a measure of material wealth, while the believers in Judea were suffering extreme poverty. Some day the situation may be reversed. So those who have plenty now should help those with little now. In this way, all will have what they need.  As an illustration he mentions the miracle of manna (Ex. 16:18). No matter how much manna the Jews gathered each day, they always had what they needed. Those who tried to hoard the manna discovered that it was impossible, because it would decay (Ex. 16:20). The lesson is clear: gather what you need, share what you can, and don’t hoard God’s blessings. God will see to it that you will not be in need if you trust him by being generous in giving to others—and this is a matter of faith. 

6. Handling with care 

2Cor 8:16–24

Beginning in 2Cor 8:16, Paul turns from a profound spiritual principle (giving from the heart) to practical considerations concerning how the offering would be handled. Grace giving is not giving by chance—it is giving with care. It means managing money honestly and faithfully.  As the givers, this means that we carefully evaluate the ministries to which we give. There are many ministries in our day that are fraudulent and many more that are not careful stewards of the donations they receive. Paul was very careful how he handled the offerings entrusted to him. He had the churches that contributed choose representatives to travel with Paul, so that everything would be done honestly, decently, and in order. 

In this section of 2Cor 8, Paul sets forth five qualifications for those who handle offerings on behalf of the church.

a. Desire to serve (vv. 16–17) 

16 I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. 17 For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative.

Paul did not coerce Titus into service; the young man had a desire in his heart to assist in the gathering of the special offering.  Above all else, a person who handles the Lord’s money must have a heart-felt desire to serve God in this way. 

b. Devotion to the Gospel (v. 18) 

18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.

We do not know who this brother was, but he clearly had deep devotion to the Gospel. It’s vital that those who handle money on behalf of the church have a clear sense of the priority of the Gospel in all financial decisions. Sadly, some church finance committees care more about building a large savings account, or purchasing a building, more than they care about sharing the Gospel with their community and beyond.

c. Desire to honor God (v. 19) 

19 What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.

All financial decisions and procedures must give priority to bringing honor to Jesus. All that we do should be viewed as ministry for and with the Lord, and that includes financial administration. One of the most spiritual things a church will ever do is use its money wisely for spiritual ministry. We glorify God by using what he gives us in ways that advance His cause in our world.  

d. Honest and zealous (vv. 20–22) 

20 We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. 21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men. 22 In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you.

Paul welcomed the representatives from the donor churches. Their participation helped avoid any appearance of impropriety. It is vital that measures be taken in financial management to insure honesty.  And Paul also commends being zealous in such matters. Paul frequently places high value on ministering with diligence. 

e. Team player (vv. 23–24) 

23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. 24 Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.

Titus not only had a heart for ministry (v16), but he was devoted to being a “team player.” Paul called him his “partner” and “fellow worker.” This is a vital characteristic for all who serve in ministry—including those who serve in finances. The money they steward is not their own—it is first the Lord’s, and secondly the whole congregation’s. The financial ministers are but stewards of this resource and must manage it as representatives of a larger team, together serving the Lord. The word “representatives” in Greek is apostolos, from which we get “apostle—one sent with a special commission.” Indeed, financial management is a very special commission and must be approached with great care. 


When we participate in grace giving—which is giving “by grace, through faith” (just the way we are saved, Eph. 2:8–9), we experience wonderful freedom. Instead of things possessing us, we possess them—we share in Jesus’ own generosity. As we do, we no longer measure life or other people on the basis of money or possessions. Let us participate in the blessings of grace giving!