A harvest of righteousness

The biblical concept of righteousness can be confusing if think of it in terms of actions or duties. The Greek word dikaiosune (dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay) has to do specifically with Christian justification and can be thought of as “being just as one should be” (G1343). In other words, Christians that have been justified are just the way they were intended to be when God created them. From an internal perspective, justification means that our hearts are right with God, hence we are considered to be righteous with regard to our relationship to God. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Righteousness was imputed or counted to Abraham because he believed what God told him. The Apostle Paul explained Abraham’s justification by faith in his letter to the Romans. Paul said:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:1-8)

Paul made it clear that the only way we can be justified in God’s sight is by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul stated, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26)

Justification by faith is expected to produce a change in the believer’s lifestyle. In his first epistle, the Apostle John talked about God’s seed abiding in all who have been born again. John said, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:9-10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) means “something that is sown” (G4690) and is derived from the word speiro (spi’-ro) which means to scatter (G4687). Jesus’ parable of the sower and parable of the weeds illustrated how the believer’s heart is either influenced by the Holy Spirit to practice righteousness or by the devil to practice sin. Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower indicated that we must understand God’s word in order to benefit from it. Jesus said:

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

Paul associated righteousness with the fruit of the Holy Spirit and said, “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). Paul identified the fruits of the Holy Spirit in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Sprit” (Galatians 5:22-23, 25). Keeping in step with the Spirit essentially means that we are conforming our behavior to be consistent with God’s word. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians included a reminder of their pledge to take part in the relief of the saints. Paul was concerned that the Corinthians’ reputation of excelling in spiritual matters might be hurt by their reluctance to participate in this act of grace (2 Corinthians 8:1-7). Therefore, Paul admonished them saying:

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. (2 Corinthians 9:1-5)

Paul identified the Corinthians’ contribution as a willing gift. The Greek word that is translated willing gift, eulogia (yoo-log-ee’-ah) means “fine speaking” and is used of God and Christ in connection with the invocation of blessings, a benediction (G2129). Paul emphasized the importance of the execution of the Corinthians’ act of grace by linking their pledge to give to the relief of the saints to the invocation of a blessing. The point Paul was likely trying to make was that every word that comes out of the mouth of a believer is considered to be a testimony on behalf of Christ. Paul indicated that he would be humiliated if the Corinthians didn’t do what they said they were going to because they would be making him out to be a liar (2 Corinthians 9:4).

Paul seemed to be linking the Corinthians’ giving with Jesus’ parable of the sower when he used the analogy of sowing and reaping to convey the significance of the size of their gift. Paul said, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Paul eluded to a connection between teaching the word of God and receiving financial support in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated:

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:6-10)

According to Leviticus chapters 6-7, many of the animal sacrifices that were made to the LORD under the Mosaic Law were able to be eaten by the priests. The guilt offering in particular was considered to be compensation to the LORD for an offense that an individual had committed (Leviticus 6:6). Leviticus 7:5-6 states, “The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering. Every male among the priests may eat of it. It shall be eaten in a holy place. It is most holy.”

God specifically commanded the people of Israel to give a portion of their peace offerings to Aaron the priest and to his sons because they were serving him. The LORD told Moses, “Whoever among the sons of Aaron offers the blood of the peace offerings and the fat shall have the right thigh for a portion. For the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed I have taken from the people of Israel, out of the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons, as a perpetual due from the people of Israel. This is the portion of Aaron and of his sons from the Lord’s food offerings, from the day they were presented to serve as priests of the Lord. The Lord commanded this to be given them by the people of Israel, from the day he anointed them. It is a perpetual due throughout their generations” (Leviticus 7:33-36). The portion that was given to Aaron and his sons was a consecratory gift that signified justification on the part of the gift and the giver.

Paul explained in his second letter to the Corinthians that giving would result in God’s grace overflowing in a believer’s life. Paul said, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; righteousness endures forever” (2 Corinthians 9:7-9). The phrase righteousness endures forever refers to an eternal state of justification, which is “the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ” (G1344). Paul indicated that when God’s grace abounds to us, we have all sufficiency in all things at all times. In other words, we are completely content with our circumstances. Whether Paul was talking about an eternal state of bliss or a life that is available to believers as soon as they accept Christ isn’t completely clear, but it seems that Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that they were able to effect their circumstances by giving generously.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to rely on God’s provision for their gift. Paul said, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) is used figuratively in 1 John 3:9 “of the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit in Christians that keeps them from practicing sin” (G4690). From that standpoint, Paul’s reference to “the harvest of your righteousness” may have had to do with the fruits of the Spirit. The Greek word that is translated harvest, gennema (ghen’-nay-mah) means offspring (G1081) and is derived from the word gennao (ghen-nah’-o) which speaks “of one who by means of preaching the gospel becomes the human instrument in the impartation of spiritual life” (G1080). Paul seemed to be saying that the Corinthians financial support of the saints in Jerusalem had the same impact and reward of preaching the gospel to them. It could be that the act of grace that Paul associated with the relief of the saints (2 Corinthians 8:6-7) was a type of ministry that complimented the preaching of the gospel in that it depicted the love of God in a tangible way that was unmistakably supernatural and gave the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in the hearts of the people that were receiving the gift and to bring them to Christ.

Paul’s explanation of the harvest of righteousness that he hoped the Corinthians would experience seemed to center around the grace of God being activated in the lives of believers. The Sermon on the Mount had a similar objective and in it Jesus mentioned giving to the needy in the context of receiving spiritual rewards. Jesus said:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

The phrase Jesus used, practicing your righteousness, had to do with bringing forth fruit (G4160) and is related to a statement Paul made in his letter to the Ephesians about God’s effort to transform the lives of believers. Paul talked about the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and his kindness toward us in bringing us to Christ (Ephesians 2:5-7) and then he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Greek word poiema (poy’-ay-mah), which is translated workmanship in Ephesians 2:10, refers to a thing that is made, a product (G4161). One of the reasons God saves people is so that he can use them to bless others. We can’t take credit for the good things we do because they are actually a result of God working in and through us to accomplish certain tasks that he had already planned ahead of time to do regardless of our involvement. Jesus’ ministry is filled with examples of the kinds of things that God wants to do and how our submission to his will can make a difference in the world. Jesus indicated that our giving should be done in secret so that our Father “who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4). What Jesus meant by that was that our spiritual growth is a private matter, but God is aware of everything that goes on in the spiritual realm and is keeping track of our spiritual progress. The New King James Version of Matthew 6:4 states “your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” One way of interpreting this statement would be that God will make himself apparent in our lives or that the reward we get will be visible to others. With regard to a harvest of righteousness, this might mean that we will receive a greater portion of the Holy Spirit which would be evident to others through the manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The important thing to remember is that we are a spiritual work in progress and God is behind every act of grace that we are prompted to do.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be generous because it would result in more fruit for the entire body of Christ. Paul stated:

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:11-15)

Paul specifically mentioned the Corinthians submission to the will of God in order to point out that they were following the example of Christ and were in turn being good examples to others. Paul also made note of the fact that the recipients of their gift would be longing and praying for the Corinthians as a result of their generosity and would be able to recognize that the surpassing grace of God was upon them (2 Corinthians 9:14).

The surpassing grace that Paul referred to (2 Corinthians 9:14) may have been what Peter was talking about when he encouraged believers to be good stewards of God’s grace. Peter said, “Since therefore Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1). Peter went on to say that believers should not be judged in the flesh the way people are, but “live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:6). To live in the spirit means that we have recovered the physical life from the power of death. The Greek word zao (dzah’-o) means to live “in the sense of to exist, in an absolute sense and without end, now and hereafter: to live forever” (G2198). Jesus told his disciples, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

The grace of God

The grace of God is an overarching theme of the Bible and a central element in God’s plan of salvation. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians stated plainly that God’s grace is what makes it possible for us to be saved. Paul said, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9). The Greek word that is translated grace in Ephesians 2:8, charis (khar’-ece) refers to the unmerited favor that God shows us in saving us from sin, “the grace exhibited in the pardon of sins and admission to the divine kingdom…especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude” (G5485). Charis is derived from the word chairo (khah’ee-ro) which means “to be ‘cheer’ful, i.e. calmly happy or well-off…Particularly, to rejoice, be glad” (G5463). Paul talked about how the grace of God had caused the churches of Macedonia to give beyond their means. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul said:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)

Paul contrasted the Macedonians abundance of joy with their extreme poverty in order to make it clear that the Macedonians’ generosity wasn’t a result of their circumstances. It was actually in spite of their circumstances that the Macedonians had chosen to participate in the relief of the saints. Paul referred to the Macedonians “wealth of generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2), their sincere desire to give to others according to God’s riches rather than their own. Paul used the phrase “the favor of taking part” (2 Corinthians 8:4) to emphasize the spiritual aspect of the Macedonians giving. The two Greek words that are translated the favor of taking part, charis koinonia literally mean the gift of fellowship or you might say that the Macedonians’ were actively responding to the saints’ common financial need.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to follow the Macedonians example by participating in the act of grace that was being presented to them by Paul’s companion Titus. Paul said, “Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 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” (2 Corinthians 8:6-7). Paul might have viewed the collection of money for the relief of the saints as an act of grace because he knew that the Corinthians would not be inclined of their own free will to give as generously as the Macedonians had. His plea for them to excel in this act of grace as they had in all the other areas of their relationship with Christ may have been Paul’s way of stirring up the Corinthians’ collective conscience and was perhaps intended to make the Corinthians feel uneasy about the fact that they weren’t doing their part. Paul understood that the grace of God was not something that could be initiated from a material perspective. God’s grace originates in the mind of Christ and is transmitted to believers through the Holy Spirit. Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that believers are the object of God’s effort to bless mankind. Paul said, “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The idea that we are God’s workmanship, a product that is made by him (G4161) is based on Paul’s comprehension of how transformation occurs in the heart of a believer. Paul understood that it is impossible for us to make ourselves good and therefore, good works are the result of God’s grace, his divine influence upon the heart (G5485).

Paul talked to the Ephesians about the new life that is possible when we yield ourselves to God’s divine influence. Paul told them:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)

Holiness was the primary objective of the legal system that Moses established after the Israelites were delivered from bondage in Egypt. Ongoing sacrifices had to be made in order to cleanse the people from their sin. Even if someone sinned unintentionally, atonement had to be made for the sin so that the guilt of the offense would not be held against the person or the congregation of Israel as a whole (Leviticus 4).

The key to the Israelites’ release from guilt when they committed a sin against God was the grace of God which was demonstrated through his act of forgiveness. The Greek word that is translated forgiving and forgiven in Ephesians 4:32, charizomai (khar-id’-zom-ahee) means “to bestow a favor unconditionally” (G5483). Charizomai is derived from the word charis (khar’-ece) which means graciousness. “Grace indicates favor on the part of the giver, thanks on the part of the receiver. Although charis is related to sins and is the attribute of God that they evoke, God’s eleos (1656), the free gift for the forgiveness of sins, is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in his efforts to lessen and entirely remove it — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt; mercy removes misery” (G5485). The Old Testament concept of forgiveness is similar in that it depended on God’s grace, but atonement had to be made in order for forgiveness to be effective before Christ died on the cross. The Hebrew word calach (saw-lakh’), which means to forgive, is reserved especially to mark the pardon extended to the sinner by God. It is never used to denote that inferior kind and measure of forgiveness that is exercised by one man toward another. It is the Divine restoration of an offender into favor, whether through his own repentance or the intercession of another. Though not identical with atonement, the two are closely related. In fact, the covering of the sin and the forgiveness of the sinner can only be understood as two aspects of one truth; for both found their fulness in God’s provision of mercy through Christ (cf. Hebrews 9:22)” (H5545).

Forgiveness is mentioned most often in chapters four and five of the book of Leviticus, where it states that the priest must make atonement for a sin, and then it shall be forgiven him or them (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35, 5:10, 13, 16, 18). Jesus made a point of letting people know that he was able to forgive sins. On one occasion, Jesus was accused of blasphemy because he told a paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven. Matthew’s gospel records the incident this way:

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8)

Jesus associated his forgiveness of the paralytic man’s sins with the faith he saw in the people that brought the man to him to be healed. Matthew 9:2 states, “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.‘” The connection between faith and forgiveness seems to be our reliance upon God to save us from our sinful behavior. The Greek word that is translated faith in Matthew 9:2, pistis (pis’-tis) is “a technical term indicative of the means of appropriating what God in Christ has for man, resulting in the transformation of man’s character and way of life. Such can be termed gospel faith or Christian faith (Romans 3:22ff.)” (G4102).

The important thing to note about the way faith and forgiveness work together to save us from our sins is that action is required on both parts. God’s act of grace toward us would have no effect if it weren’t for our act of faith in receiving his gift of salvation. Jesus commanded the paralytic man to “take heart” (Matthew 9:2). Essentially, what Jesus wanted was for the man to activate his faith. The King James Version of the Bible uses the phrase “be of good cheer” instead of take heart to express what Jesus expected from the paralytic man. Another way of stating it would be “to have courage” (G2293). The reason why the paralytic man needed to have courage was because his guilt was getting in the way of him being able to recover from his disease. What was likely going on was that the paralytic man knew he deserved to be punished for the sins he had committed and may have associated his disability with something specific that he had done wrong in the past. It appears that the man was correct because Jesus told him his sins were forgiven (Matthew 9:2) before he commanded the paralytic man to “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:6).

Leviticus 4:27-31 points out that it is possible for us to sin unintentionally and therefore, a penalty can be incurred without us knowing about it. This passage states:

“If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. And the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. And all its fat he shall remove, as the fat is removed from the peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.”

John the Baptist’s introduction of Jesus made it clear that his sacrificial death on the cross was intended to pay the penalty for every sin that ever had or would be committed. John said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The Greek word that is translated takes away, airo (ah’-ee-ro) means “to take away what is attached to anything, to remove” and speaks of the effects of Jesus’ Atonement in the believer’s life (G142). John’s declaration of Jesus taking away the sin of the world was connected with the original punishment for sin that was enacted in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Paul indicated in his letter to the Romans that Jesus brought justification and the free gift of righteousness to all when he died for the sins of the world. Paul explained:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Paul went on to talk about the gifts of grace and pointed out that God’s grace should result in generous giving. Paul said:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

The principle behind generosity is that there should be unity in the body of Christ. We should think of the needs of others as we do our own needs and give as we would want others to give to us if we were the ones in need of assistance. Paul told the Corinthians, “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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” (2 Corinthians 8:8-9).

Paul told the Corinthians that he expected them to finish what they had started. Apparently, the Corinthians had pledged to give a certain amount toward the relief of the saints, but hadn’t followed through on it. Paul said, “And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness” (2 Corinthians 8:10-14). The fairness that Paul was talking about had to do with equality in their conditions rather than their status as citizens or positions in society. Paul stated plainly that he didn’t want to make things easier for the Christians in Jerusalem at the expense of believers in Corinth. Paul indicated that the Corinthians gift would be considered acceptable if is what according to what they had, not according to what they didn’t have.

One of the final requests that Jesus made of his Father when he was dying on the cross was that God would forgive the sin that was being committed against his only Son. Jesus petitioned, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The conclusion that Jesus’ crucifixion was an unintentional sin may seem a little far fetched, but our Lord understood that the collective heart of mankind was hardened by centuries of rebellion against God and the people’s lack of faith was due in part to the misrepresentation of God’s character by the Jewish priests. The Greek word that is translated know, eido (i’-do) refers to perfect knowledge (G1492) or you might say knowing someone completely. Jesus’ conclusion that the people didn’t know what they were doing was based in part on the fact that the Holy Spirit had not yet come into the world and made Jesus’ work on the cross evident to everyone. From that standpoint, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was still somewhat of a mystery. It wasn’t until the people had the influence of the Holy Spirit that they were able to see things clearly, repent of their sins, and seek God’s forgiveness (Acts 2:32-41).

Equality

Paul indicated in his second letter to the Corinthians that one of the works of the Holy Spirit is to bring equality to the members of the body of Christ. Paul used the example of Jesus’ death on the cross to show how God’s riches are meant to be distributed to those in need. He said, ” For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, NKJV). The Greek word translated grace, charis (khar’-ece) refers to the friendly disposition from which acts of kindness proceed (G5485). The objective of grace is to give away what others need more than we do. Paul wasn’t suggesting that Christians should go into debt in order to take care of the needs of others. He stated, “For I mean not that other men be eased, and you burdened, but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14).

The Greek word translated abundance in 2 Corinthians 8:14, perisseuma (per-is’-syoo-mah) means surplus or what is left over (G4051). In some ways, it could be thought of as that which might otherwise go to waste or what we might normally store up for a rainy day. The point I believe Paul was trying to make was that God’s provision doesn’t involve us storing things up for the future. We are to give away what we don’t need now so that when we are in need, God can provide for that need through someone else’s generosity. The Greek word translated equality, isotes (ee-sot’-ace) means likeness (G2471) and has to do with our circumstances being perceived to be similar. In other words, you’re not rich and I’m living in poverty, we both have a comfortable lifestyle.

The principle behind Paul’s lesson on Christian equality was sowing and reaping. He stated:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, ESV)

The Greek word translated sufficiency in 2 Corinthians 9:8, autarkeia (ow-tar’-ki-ah) means self satisfaction or contentedness (G841). Paul wanted the believers in Corinth to give to the church in Jerusalem where Jewish believers were suffering greatly for their faith in Jesus, not because they were being pressured to do it, but so that they wouldn’t feel ashamed because they were well off. Paul added that the Corinthians shouldn’t give grudgingly meaning because they felt sorry for the Jewish believers (G3077/GG1537) or out of necessity because they were afraid something bad might happen to them if they didn’t help (G318). The Corinthians’ motive for giving was supposed to be so that they would be equally blessed by God in their time of need.