Thursday, August 16, 2007

Stories of grace

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded.
On what principle? On that of observing the law?
No, but on that of faith.
Romans 3:27
So concludes Paul having shown us the majesty of his justice in the death of Jesus. The glorious day in which it was proven that God wasn't neglecting justice when he forgave sin. Rather, he was leaving unpunished sins that would later be punished in Jesus' death. This is the free justification by grace that comes through Jesus. Unrighteous people righteously counted as righteous. Because of this all boasting is excluded. God's people cannot boast in status or reputation, possession or money, achievements or anything. If we must boast then we boast in Jesus.

Paul modelled this as he told the story of a remarkable visit to a Macedonian church. He'd travelled around preaching to the churches and collecting money to support the famine struck churches of Jerusalem, just as he had promised he would. What happened at Macedonia was a story worth telling, a story so extraordinary that it is recorded for all time in the pages of scripture, in 2 Corinthians 8.

At Macedonia Paul met with a poverty-striken church. Yet they begged to give. They begged for the priviledge of sharing in giving. And they gave beyond their ability. Which I think is to say they gave so lavishly that they must have gone without things we would all consider basics. Christians in Macedonia went hungry that day/week/month so that other Christians could be fed.

But, when Paul retells this to the rich Corinthian church its not to draw attention to the Macedonians. Rather, he wants to tell of the grace given to them by God. Overflowing joy (a dominant theme in Paul's letter to Philippi) met with extreme poverty and resulted in rich generosity. This was bad economics, wrecklessness with what they have and yet a magnificient story of grace.

Paul longs that the same grace to give would be present in the Corinthians though he wont compel them to it. Only he tells them of the example of Jesus. Rich beyond imagination yet becoming poor as he came to die for our sins. A story familiar to the Macedonians from the letter to Philippi telling of the humility of Jesus. A story familiar to Corinth as they recall the gospel of 'Christ and him crucified' that Paul always preached.

The grace of God thwarts all the ways of the first century and the 21st century. It ends boasting when self-promotion is the theme tune. It ends selfish hoarding when having the latest gadgets and best holidays is the mark of success. Grace makes people do extraordinary things, even wreckless things because their own interests have fallen by the wayside. Grace humbles men and glorifies the God who gives it.

There was no need for Paul to insist that Christians give or to impose recommended levels of giving, he need only tell them again and again about God's free grace to them in the wrath-bearing life-giving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Grace-changed hearts and minds learn to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Grace-captured hearts treasure Christ and display that treasure in the strange ways that they live in this world.

There are no simple rules for what grace might do in our lives. God will cause one to give out of extreme poverty beyond their means. Another he'll call to give up their freedom or their lives to preach Christ where no one else is doing so. A third might be called to keep their head down, work 9-5 with honesty and humility whilst raising a Christ-loving family. Whatever the details of the story, the overarching theme will be one of no boasting in self and of a lavish display of God's unmeasured grace through Jesus Christ.

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