Within Free Grace theology, there is a great emphasis on the grace of God. One of the reasons for this is such a theology rightly sees that the eternal salvation of a person rests solely upon that grace. We receive eternal life as a free gift the moment we believe in Jesus Christ for it. Unfortunately, throughout church history there has always been an attempt by many to add works as a requirement for such salvation. Some proclaim that a person must perform certain works prior to receiving the gift. Others insist that works are necessary in order to keep it. In all these cases, there is a denial of God’s marvelous grace.
But if we are to rightly proclaim God’s grace, we also need to realize that such grace is also reflected in the works of believers.
Of course, some would say that if a person is saved by grace, that grace will automatically result in visible good works. In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul speaks of the grace of God in the works of believers. Such works do indeed reflect that grace, but as these chapters indicate, they are not automatic.
The Grace of Giving
These two chapters contain the longest discussion in Scripture on one particular example of Christian good works. In them, Paul deals with the issue of Christian giving. Specifically, he is asking the Corinthian believers to give financially in order to help their poor brothers and sisters in Christ in Judea.
If the first-century church is like the church today, the subject of giving was likely a touchy one. There is a natural inclination to hold on to one’s money. What made this particular situation even touchier was the fact that Paul had certain enemies at Corinth. No doubt there was the danger that such opponents might accuse him of false motives in asking for money. In addition, Paul was asking a mostly Gentile church to give of their money to a Jewish church. This would involve both cultural and racial considerations.
It is interesting how Paul deals with such a potentially difficult situation. What is the basis of his appeal in asking the Corinthians to serve their fellow believers through giving? The answer is simple: the grace of God.
Even though these two chapters contain a discussion concerning Christian work, there is an emphasis on grace.
The word for grace occurs ten times (8:1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 16, 19; 9:8, 14, 15). The discussion begins with God’s grace (8:1). Paul says that God gave grace to other churches, specifically those in Macedonia, by giving them the opportunity to give to the needy believers in Judea.
But the discussion also ends with the theme of God’s grace. When the Corinthians give, God’s grace will be evident as working in them as well (9:14). Paul then says that he gives thanks (grace) to God for this gift (9:15). While the “gift” here could possibly refer to eternal salvation, the context suggests that it refers to the gift of having the opportunity to minster to the need of other believers.
God’s grace, then, forms an inclusio around this discussion about Christian giving. It is God’s grace that allows us to do good works by serving others. It is His grace that gives us the privilege of
Of course, for the believer, it is God’s grace that forms the basis for making that believer a child of God in the first place. This wonderful grace makes possible the grace of serving Him.
Paul discusses this reality as well. In 2 Cor 8:9, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are aware of the grace of Jesus Christ. Although He was rich, He became poor that they might become rich.
This is a beautiful picture of what Jesus did for us. When we were in need, He left His divine throne and humbled Himself to become a man. He died the death of a criminal, taking upon Himself the sins of the world. He did all this that through faith, we might receive eternal life.
In other words, He met our need when we were “poor.” He served us. The point Paul is making is that when Christians serve others in need, they are being like Christ. The grace of Christ provides the example and motivation for the grace of God that He gives us to minister to others.
Even though Paul is talking about a specific Christian work, that of giving financially to others, we can safely conclude that the points he makes would be valid for any good work. When a believer ministers to others, through his or her spiritual gift for example, God is giving grace to do so. The privilege of doing so is an example of God’s grace.
Works Are Not Automatic
The NT surely teaches that all Christian service is a giving of oneself to others. One need only think about the teaching of the Lord in Mark 10:43-45. Like Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 8-9, the Lord tells the disciples that when they serve others they are being like Him.
Greatness in Christian service is serving others.
But it is also clear that such works are not automatic in the life of the believer. In this passage Paul uses the example of the Macedonians (8:1-5) to urge the Corinthians to do the same. We learn here that believers can, by their actions, provide an example for others to follow.
But it is possible for the Corinthians not to follow the example of the Macedonians. He tells them that this is something they have the option to do, and that it is not a command (8:8). Paul also acknowledges that the Corinthians may not do well in this gracious work. Their giving could possibly be miserly and be the source of embarrassment(9:3-5).
Again, the same is true for any Christian good work. The believer has the power to refuse to act upon the grace of God, the privilege of serving others, and being like Christ.
Sowing and Reaping
But there is a cost for the believer when this gracious opportunity is rejected. Our Christian service is like sowing and reaping. Paul says that the financial giving by the Corinthians is a case in point. They will reap based upon what they sow (9:6, 10). Their giving will result in an increase in righteousness. God will also give them the grace to do every good work. In the context, the things they will reap include thanksgiving and glory to God (9:8-13). The harvest, then, includes things pertaining to this present life.
However, the NT is also clear that Christian service will result in a reaping at the Judgment Seat of Christ for believers. On that day, believers will be rewarded for how they have served the Lord and others. One of the major contributions of grace theology is distinguishing between eternal salvation and rewards. The first is free. The second requires work. Both are only possible by the grace of God.
These two chapters in 2 Corinthians teach a great deal about Christian good works. By using the example of Christian financial giving Paul shows us that good works are not automatic. But the privilege of obedience to Christ and serving others are examples of God’s grace in our lives. We can be motivated to do good works by observing others or even being an example for others to emulate. In our obedience and service we are following Christ’s example. Responding to the grace God gives us to serve is a display of the grace He demonstrated in providing for our eternal salvation. Such obedience results in a harvest of rewards both here and in eternity.
This passage teaches us that our induction into Christian life was by God’s grace and that our service is a result of God’s grace as well. However, we must always keep the two distinct. The believer has received eternal life by grace through faith. He or she can never lose that life. Eternal salvation is just that—eternal.
However, we can spurn the grace God gives us to serve Him and others. We can deny ourselves the grace God gives us to be like Christ. But make no mistake, God is gracious in giving us the opportunities to serve Him and others.
That grace did not stop at our eternal salvation.
One of my favorite hymns, He Giveth More Grace by Annie Flint, speaks of God’s great grace. Even though the hymn specifically addresses how God gives His children grace when they experience affliction, the words of the chorus also apply to the grace God gives us to serve Him. It summarizes what Paul teaches about Christian works in 2 Corinthians 8-9:
His love has not limits.
His grace has not measure.
His power no boundary
known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches
in Jesus, He giveth, and giveth,
and giveth again.