In his book, The Doctrine of God, Dr. John Frame of Reformed Theological Seminary notes that …
“God’s compassion is a model for ours: ‘If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity [splangchnal] on him, how can the love of God be in him?’ (1 John 3:17). It is very wicked to be forgiven a great debt, and then to have no compassion on someone who owes us a small debt (Matt. 18:21-35).”
But where does this compassion come from? It comes from God; it is a benefit of God’s grace to us (1 Cor. 4:7).
Different kinds of grace:
When we talk about God’s grace, we might mean God’s gift of Christ – his sacrifice that leads to the benefits of our salvation as the Apostle Paul does when he said, “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 Cor. 8:9, ESV). Or we might mean God’s favorable outlook towards us because of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us – because of Christ’s perfect obedience that God counts as ours (Rom. 5:17). We might also mean any good undeserved thing he bestows on us – common grace (Acts 17:25).
But when I said that God’s grace enables us to be compassionate, I am speaking of grace as God’s active power in us that enables us to display God’s character thereby displaying his glory.
I think this was the shade of grace Paul had in mind (2 Cor. 8:1) when he spoke about the grace of God given to the churches of Macedonia who after giving themselves to God, overflowed in joy and begged to give generously to help relieve the suffering of fellow Christians in Jerusalem. And, I think this is the grace that Paul expected would move the Corinthians to give their part (2 Cor. 8:6-7). It was this active grace that enabled the believers in the churches to be compassionate toward fellow believers that they didn’t even know. (For more on the background of these verses see the footnote section of my last blog, Finish What You Started).
Side Note 1:
As a side note, I think that this ‘active’ grace is initially activated by believing the gospel and keeps on being active when we keep on believing and live out of that belief – when we demonstrate obedience as a function of our belief in the gospel. Or to put it another way, there is a connection between what Christ did in his life, death, and resurrection to secure our salvation; our knowledge of what Christ did; our reliance on Christ for our salvation; and the power we experience to live an obedient Christ-like life. (Notice the connection between 2 Cor. 8:9 to 2 Cor. 9:13. Paul also makes this connection elsewhere. For example see Phil. 2:5-8 and Phil. 2:12-13 or in expanded form, compare Romans 1-11 to Romans 12ff)
So we can say that compassion, enabled by God’s ‘active’ grace at work in us, motivates us to help others. And we can say at least one other thing. This grace is unlimited – it never runs out. You can never use it all up!
Paul says in 2 Cor. 9:8 (ESV), “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.”
Side Note 2:
And, as another side note, what is true of God’s power that enables you to do good is also true of the resources that you need to do good. You will never run out of those either. Paul continues in 2 Cor. 9:10-11 (ESV), “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. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
In other words, God will keep giving you the resources you need so that you can keep giving more. And on top of that he will increase the yield of your right doing (of your obedience). For real-life examples that illustrate these points, I highly recommend Hudson Taylor’s biography and George Muller’s autobiography.
Thanks for giving!
So, during this time of Thanksgiving, thanks be for giving. “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15) through whom you have been empowered to bring him glory through giving (2 Cor. 9:13) because your giving has overflowed “in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor. 9:12).
Praying that you will be able to see the fruit of your giving expressed in thanksgiving to God.