The God Who Gives
Day 5: Giving Life Together
2 Corinthians 9:11
You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
As Yahweh’s “called-out ones,” his people become God’s gift to the world. We are not simply a country club, an environmental advocacy organization, or a place for group counseling. Having experienced the forgiveness of sins, the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, and the power of his resurrection, we now gather as agents of God’s work and continued concern for his world. Paradoxically, this means that as we gather, we should look outward. We are called to be a community focused on “the other” rather than on “self.”
This has always been the pattern of God’s redemptive work in history. God calls a particular people to himself and blesses them, with the purpose that they will then be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:2–3).1 “God chooses not only to make Abraham and his offspring the object of his blessing but also to make them the instrument of his blessing to the world. This person, family and nation who are to be blessed by God will be the means of others coming into the same blessing.”2
In other words, God blesses the particular in order to be a universal blessing; he works not generically, but through real people gathered in real communities. From the Abrahamic covenant to Christ’s gathering the Twelve, and then the growing of the disciples and the formation of his church, God has always gathered his people to serve as a light to the world, bringing the gift of salvation (cf. Isa. 42:6; 49:6; Luke 2:25–32; Acts 13:46–48).
The mission of Jesus—the mission of God—is a movement of inclusion, not exclusion; a movement of grace, mercy, and love, not of rejection, hatred, and fear. It is good news, after all. To be sure, it calls for repentance. It requires us to come before the holy God in an encounter that reveals our great sin and need. This is why the great sacrifice of Christ was offered (Heb. 9:11–28). But this is also why this mission centers on good news. It captures us, frees us, and then moves us toward God and toward each other. Thus, the biblical refrain repeats, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom. 10:15; cf. Isa. 52:7; Nah. 1:15; Eph. 6:15).
Belonging to God does not mean we escape this world but that we bring God’s life, light, and hope further into it. We hear this movement echoed in Jesus’ prayer to his Father just before he was arrested: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18; cf. vv. 15–17; 20:21). As disciples of Jesus we belong to God not to justify hatred of or frustration with this world but so that divine love may move through us to others. We go out to the world not representing our strength but God’s power, which is perfected in our weakness. We make our appeal as sinners who have been reconciled to God by his amazing grace.
It’s striking that the first thing we are told that believers did after being called “Christians” for the first time was to take up a collection for the poor (Acts 11:19–30, esp. vv. 26–29). When believers in Antioch heard of a famine that was about to hit Judea and Jerusalem, they immediately decided to give. These gifts went to fellow believers whom they had never met because they lived far away. This collection and the collections that would follow also played a formative role in the life and mission of the apostle Paul.
God’s grace, supremely manifested in Jesus Christ, is Paul’s greatest theme, and he connects it to the Collection in an astonishing variety of ways:3
- Grace is the inexpressible gift that made participation in the Collection possible (2 Cor. 8:1; 9:8, 14–15).
- Grace is the act of participation in the Collection itself (2 Cor. 8:6).
- Grace is the result of participation in the Collection (1 Cor. 16:3).
- The Collection is a direct expression of gracious Christian fellowship (2 Cor. 8:4, 7).
- The Collection is an activity stimulated by the grace of Christ’s example (2 Cor. 8:9).
God calls his people to live out together the gospel pattern of gift. Even as God has given himself to us in our lowliness, caring for us in our great need, so now God calls the church to care for the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden. In this way God includes us in his ongoing movement of grace and love, promising that such giving leads to the “life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:19 NIV).
- The early Christians established patterns of giving in obedience to Christ. Look back on your records. What’s been your pattern of giving (frequency and amount)? What ways is God calling you to establish or improve your pattern of giving?
- The Bible says it is more blessed to give than to receive. Can you recall a moment in your life when you experienced joy from giving something to someone you love?
- God gives. What do you need today or this week? It doesn’t have to be financial. It can be emotional, relational, physical, or something else. Ask God to give it to you, believing He is the God who gives.
God of all grace, give me your own heart. Draw me near to you that I may meditate on your gracious nature. Let me see the joy you find in giving and convince me it is more blessed to give than to receive. Protect me from the vain pursuit of wealth and help me to imitate your generosity in my own life. Thank you for being the God who graciously gives us all things. Amen.
- This crucial theme is masterfully handled throughout the magisterial work of Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), esp. 191–221. Some have recently raised questions about the translation and significance for understanding of this text, notably R. W. L. Moberly, The Theology of the Book of Genesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 141–61; Moberly, The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 123–24. But here I am sym- pathetic with those who see this passage as significant for understanding not simply Genesis but the rest of Scripture, e.g., Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, trans. John H. Marks, rev. ed.; Old Testament Library (London: SCM, 1972), 152–54; Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 28. Additionally, Patrick Miller helpfully argues that one should not simply choose between “intrinsic” and “instrumental” views of “election” in the Old Testament, because there are plenty of texts that treat election in each of these different ways. See Miller’s extended response to Joel S. Kaminsky’s Yet I Loved Jacob: Reclaiming the Biblical Concept of Election (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007). Miller is largely in line with the classic critical essay on this passage by Hans Walter Wolff, “The Kerygma of the Yahwist,” Interpretation 20, no. 2 (1966): 131–58, esp. 137ff.
- Wright, The Mission of God, 253.
- The following list is adapted from ibid., 109–10. See also Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 707–8; Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord, 313–14.