As I write this, snow is falling on the ground outside my window. Schools are closed, shelves are empty at Kroger and Walmart, and La Grange residents are avoiding the roads at all costs. We know what to do when snowstorms come our way. We’ve been here before.
When we think about weather, we tend to focus on its impact on our lives. We rarely reflect on the natural cycles that bring about the events. For example, we rarely contemplate the process of water in rivers and streams being heated by the sun, causing evaporation and condensation, which then forms into clouds. Once the clouds become heavy with moisture, precipitation falls. When precipitation falls in sub-freezing temperatures, we get snow. Once snow melts, it saturates the soil until the soil can no longer absorb it. At that point, the water flows into rivers and streams and the whole process begins again. The water returns to its source.
In 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Paul is describing a similar process. He is not here concerned with nature’s water cycle; he is instead narrating a similar process that originates with and returns to God. Paul is describing the cycle of grace.
Paul wrote this section of the letter to motivate the Corinthian church to take up an offering for another church that needed assistance. He could have used any number of techniques to motivate them. He could have, for instance, appealed to their emotions by describing in detail the conditions of the church in need. He doesn’t do this. He chooses a different strategy.
Paul understood the way God has made human beings. Particularly, Paul knew that we take our cues for living from narratives we tell ourselves about the world. We decide how to act by considering our actions in the context of a larger story we inhabit. Everyone does this. Our forefathers fought the Revolutionary War because those actions made sense within a story about freedom and basic human rights that were being unjustly withheld from them.
For Paul, Christians must be generous because generosity is the only response that makes sense within the story that we are now a part of. What is that story? It’s the cycle of grace. We have received God’s grace through Christ. As undeserving recipients of God’s amazing grace, we are called to show generosity to others. When we are generous to others in need, the recipients of our generosity will respond with gratitude to God. When they give gratitude to God, God is glorified and worshiped. The grace that begins with God flows through us until it cycles back to God through worship. Grace, generosity, gratitude, and glory. That’s the cycle of grace.
So why should the Corinthians participate in this offering? Why should any Christian be generous toward the needs of others? Because generosity is the only action that fully makes sense of the story we’ve been brought into. There’s no such thing as a miserly Christian. To be greedy and stingy with our belongings reveals a heart that does not fully comprehend grace.
That’s the point of 2 Corinthians 9:6-15. We are to be generous because God has saved us by his grace. We are to be generous because God is able to provide everything we need to ensure that we have no lack. We are to be generous because the very reason why God entrusts us with wealth is to bless others to the glory of his name. We are to be generous now and not later because God blesses us sufficiently so that we are always rich enough to give to others in need.
Throughout the Bible, what we do with money is held up as one of the primary litmus tests for measuring the health of our relationship with God. Grace-filled people are generous people. Greedy people do not understand grace and most likely do not know God.
As I reflect on this cycle of grace, I can’t help but think of all of the generous Christians that I have known throughout my life. I’ve personally benefited many times from such people. When I think about these various individuals, one characteristic stands out. They all share something that is extremely rare: joy. I’ve never met a miserable generous person. On the contrary, every generous person I’ve ever known seems to radiate with a joy that surpasses understanding. They prove that the harvest for generosity (2 Cor. 9:6) cannot be measured with dollar signs.