God Loves Through Human Love: How Grace Breeds Generosity

February 08, 2022

by David E. Briones

What is “grace”?

Some people today define “grace” as “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” Others gloss it as “unconditional gift” or “undeserved favor.” Still others prefer to see it as God’s favorable disposition toward his people. However, the word grace in the New Testament (Greek charis) simply means “gift.” The content of the gift is determined by its context. For example, the definition “God’s riches at Christ’s expense” makes perfect sense in the broader context of Ephesians 2:8.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

But does that same definition fit 2 Corinthians 12:9?

[Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

What about 1 Corinthians 15:10?

By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

The more fitting definition of “grace” in these two passages in Corinthians seems to be “power.” Grace is God’s power manifested in Paul’s weakness in the first, and in his ability to work harder than others in the second.

Do We Give Grace?

What about 2 Corinthians 8:3–4? Do the glosses “unconditional gift,” “undeserved favor,” or “a favorable disposition” work here?

[The Macedonian believers] gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor [same word for grace] of taking part in the relief of the saints.”

Grace here is not the immaterial gift of salvation or spiritual power. Rather, grace is the material gift of money or resources.

That may surprise you. Have you ever described the act of giving money as the giving of “grace”? Paul clearly does in 2 Corinthians 8–9, not just once, but six times (8:4, 6, 7, 19; 9:8, 15). The money bag he carried from these predominantly Gentile churches to the poor saints in Jerusalem is, strangely enough, “grace.”

But what is even more surprising about 2 Corinthians 8–9 is how the material grace of humans is inextricably connected to the immaterial grace of God.

Grace as a Person

To motivate the Corinthians to contribute, Paul begins 2 Corinthians 8 by speaking about the grace of God. “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given” (2 Corinthians 8:1). He then expands the definition of this grace in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Grace, in its chief manifestation, is the gift of a person (Titus 2:11–14), our incarnate, crucified, and ascended Savior. To receive all the benefits that this gift of grace achieved, we must, as Calvin argues, receive his person: “as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us” (Institutes, 3.1.1).


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