Multiplier of Grace
Peter J. Leithart
June 21, 2012
Category: Bible - NT - 2 Corinthians
Thanksgiving was clearly a part of the liturgical life of the early Christians. In talking about tongues, Paul says that one who does not know the tongue cannot join in the “Amen” at the eucharistia, since he cannot understand what has been said (1 Corinthians 14:16).
Paul uses the word in two places in 2 Corinthians. In chapter 4, Paul speaks of the persecution He endures for Christ’s sake and for the sake of the church. “Death works in us [apostles], but life in you” (v. 12). He suffers all this for the sake of the Corinthians. In fact, he says that everything is “for your sake,” and the purpose is that the grace (charis) of God, which is already increasing and abounding (pleonazo), will abound even more, exceeding all limits (perisseuo). This multiplier effect comes through the thanksgiving of man. The end of this is that the glory of God is enhanced – God’s reputation increases, more people give honor to God. No doubt Paul’s thought is reinforced here by the linguistic link between grace and thanksgiving, between charis and eucharistia. (This is even clearer in one of the classical expressions of thanksgiving, charis echein). Literally in Greek, “thanks” contains “grace” but expands it, makes it bigger. The thanksgiving of the church thus becomes a machine to produce superabundant grace, and to enhance God’s glory.
We might fit this, loosely, into the reciprocity system of ancient Greco-Roman social life. Gifts are to be met with counter-gifts, and some recommend that the return gift exceed the original gift. Grace is met with grace, gift with gift. There is an equivalence in the sense that gift balances gift, but there is also an expansion insofar as each tries to outdo the other in gifting.
In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul brings this same nexus of giving, grace, and thanksgiving to bear on the charitable giving in the Corinthian church. There is an eye-for-eye system in giving: You get as generously as you give (v. 6). What matters is not only the amount given, but also the attitude of the heart, since God does not look for grudging gifts or gifts of necessity but for cheerfulness in giving (v. 7). By God’s charis, He provides all that is necessary, makes the Corinthians sufficient for every good work. This means that the bountiful generosity from the heart described in verses 7-8 are themselves given by God’s grace. That is the good work that God makes them sufficient to achieve.
In verses 9ff, Paul connects wealth and thanksgiving. Enrichment in all things to achieve bounty (ploutizomenoi eis pasan aploteta) works thanksgiving (eucharistia) to God. The riches of God’s blessings, whatever they may be, work thanksgiving. Thanksgiving and wealth are thus within the same zone of discourse for Paul. Thanksgiving comes not only from those who receive abundance from God, but also on the part of those with whom they share. When the saints have gathered an offering for famine relief, when they have performed that diaconal liturgy (he diakonia tes leitourgias tautes), it not only meets the needs of the saints who are suffering famine but also is multiplied, becomes abundant, by the thanksgiving that it provokes from the recipients. The liturgy of sharing evokes Eucharist, thanksgiving. Poverty relief is an extension of the Eucharistic liturgy of the gathered church. Poverty relief extends God’s favor, and also provokes the counter-gift of thanks, thus multiplying grace to the glory of God.
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