…see that you excel in this act of grace also.
The Lord had placed the Corinthian Christians in an urban center with tremendous potential for impact. Because of the city and the background of these new believers, however, there was also available to them a great buffet of temptations. As 1 Corinthians suggests, they struggled with all manner of sins. And to make matters worse, they had taken to themselves a group of self-proclaimed apostles who were in fact hucksters out to satisfy their material lusts. These early forerunners of the prosperity preachers attacked the Apostle Paul’s character and calling, accusing him of the very sins of which they were guilty. But the immature Corinthian Christians were enticed by these flashy preachers and as a result had begun to reject Paul, which meant a rejection of his message, the gospel.
This is the background of Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul’s most autobiographical and vulnerable letter. He writes more about his sufferings as an apostle here than anywhere else. He confesses a moment of such great despair over this church that he even walked away from “an open door for the gospel” at Troas. That is a remarkable confession from someone with such great evangelistic zeal. The good news is that by the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, he had received news from Titus that the church had indeed repented (after having received a severe rebuke from the Apostle – his “tearful letter”) and were once again turning to the true gospel.
Second Corinthians is an exercise in spiritual rehabilitation. Paul recognized that integral to the maturing process for these relatively prosperous Christians, was their growth in generosity. Though he does not come right out and say it, it is clear that this church has not yet learned to give as they ought. One of Paul’s priorities was to raise money for the impoverished “mother church” in Jerusalem, so he turns to the newly reconciled Corinthian church and calls them to renew their commitment by giving at a level that they apparently had not yet been willing.
Paul is motivated not only to relieve the suffering of the Christians in Jerusalem but also by a desire to see the Corinthians grow in their love for Christ and their brothers and sisters. The call to give with greater generosity is a response, Paul points out, to the generosity of their Lord, “who though he was rich, yet for your sake became poor” (vs. 9). A Christian’s generosity is to be motivated by and a reflection of the great generosity of God poured out through Jesus Christ. The offering for the Jerusalem church, what Paul calls, “this act of grace,” was about far more than a one-time offering. It was about love for God and love for God’s people.
The same remains true today. The way Christians think about and use their money is an index of their love for God and his church.