2 Corinthians 8:7-9. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.
8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
It can look like Paul is completely changing gears here in the letter. Suddenly he is talking about a monetary collection. One of Paul’s more practical missions was to collect funds for the suffering church in Jerusalem. But this is not a sudden topic change. In 1 Corinthians 16 Paul had given the church instructions about the collection. Now that Paul and the Corinthians have been reconciled through forgiveness and repentance, Paul wants to see them continue to excel in practical grace.
Grace is, of course, something that we receive. It is God’s one way love to us. No strings attached. It is the air we breathe. But it is also something that we can excel in. Grace received is meant to be grace given. Paul is in no way describing a “work.” It is not an act of earning, or self-justifying, or a sacrament. In fact, Paul makes it clear that he is not giving them a command at all.
So how do we excel in grace? What mindset must we have? And what does excelling in grace look like? Here’s two thoughts:
Excelling in grace flows from the received grace of being In Christ.
Look at this amazing summation of the gospel in 2 Corinthians 8:9 again,
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
Your act of giving, your selflessness, your excelling in grace can only occur as you more and more fully understand what Christ has done FOR you.
Jesus gave up everything for us. He spared no expense. He was crucified from his poverty, not his wealth. This was physical and spiritual poverty. He became sin for us (5:21). Why? So that you might be rich. Rich in money? Maybe, but probably not. But rich in grace? Yes. Never ending love. Never ending acceptance. Never ending approval. Even if you never give. He still loves you. Even if you don’t help the poor, he still helps you the same. Even if you let the offering plate pass by, or walk past that homeless man, he never passes you by. That’s grace. That’s what it means to be rich. That’s the overflowing love of God in Christ. You have it, no matter what.
How do I know? Because of how he died and how he lived. For your sake he became poor.
Excelling in grace flows from faith in Christ in You.
Sure, you can give your money, time, and resources from pride or from guilt (most of us do). But that is not “to live is Christ.” You can give from what you can spare. But that is not the indwelling Jesus. And it is not faith.
We can give even when we are poor. We can spare no expense. We can go the extra mile when we truly believe that our source of grace is never ending. That everything we give will be restored a hundred times over in the life to come. It is an act of faith to excel in grace.
“To live is Christ” means that we can trust the very life of Christ in us in every area of our lives. This includes the very practical day to day reality of how we use our resources. How we use our money is an act of faith. Faith in the Christ who chose poverty to make others rich. How did he do it? The same way you will. By faith. Faith in God’s future grace that will supply all you need. By love. Love for others that sees their needs as bigger than your own.
Do you excel in the grace of giving and sharing? What makes it easy or difficult for you? How can your union with Christ empower you to trust the grace of God for you so that you can share the grace of God with others?