I want to let the Apostle Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, summon all of us to the generous life as the godliest and most meaningful life we can experience.
“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. 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 8:1–7 ESV)
The Example of Financially Poor Christians’ Generosity (2 Corinthians 8:1-8)
The context here is a region-wide offering the Apostle Paul is collecting for the needs of the church in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where the church began on the day of Pentecost. Jerusalem was the hub of early apostolic activity. By 50 AD, the Jerusalem church was impoverished due to a 10-year famine. The years of persecution of the church didn’t help either.
Paul is ministering in the Gentile communities across Asia Minor and he told them of the difficulties of the Jerusalem Christians. Paul was passionate about this collection for a couple reasons. One was Christian compassion. Out of compassion for the poor and the suffering, Christians give to meet those needs. But the larger issue was a gospel and ethnic one. Jews and Gentiles were historic enemies. One of the hurdles of the early church was to see that there was not just a Jewish church or a Gentile church, but that there was one church. Paul writes to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
The Jewish church birthed the Gentile church. What better way to show the unity of the church then for Gentile Christians to cross historic bigotry lines and to personally sacrifice to meet the needs of the Jewish believers? Few things say I love you better than cold, hard cash.
A fascinating development occurred in Macedonia. You see it in verse 2, “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.” (2 Corinthians 8:2) The Macedonians were the Christians in northern Greece. This includes Philippi and Thessalonica. These were not wealthy areas like Rome or Corinth. In addition, these Christians had been severely persecuted. The result is Paul’s description of their situation as “test of affliction” and “extreme poverty.”
Yet when it came to giving to the needs of others, these Macedonians gave “in a wealth of generosity.” (verse 2) This was not financial wealth but wealth of generosity. How so? Look at verse 4, they gave beyond their means and begged Paul to let them give to the Jerusalem offering.
Can you imagine this? These aren’t the Roman Christians or the Laodicean Christians. They are the food stamp, government housing, welfare Macedonians. We want to give to the collection! Please, please, we beg you, let us give! Please!
We take up a collection each week and to my knowledge, over the years I’ve never heard anyone begging. We have clapping. There’s joy in it. But imagine begging for it. Pastor Steve, can we take the offering now? We can’t wait! Pass the baskets! Pass the baskets! People would look around thinking, what kind of cult is this?
Paul is writing to the Corinthian Christians. Corinth was rich. These were the upper-class Christians. The wine and cheese Christians. The country club Christians. 2,000 years later people still travel to Corinth to see the place. It was a hub of business and commerce.
Do you see what Paul is doing? He is pointing out to the wealthy Christians the begging to give by the poor Christians. Hey Corinth, here’s what the Macedonians are doing and they have nothing really to give. So what about you?
If the financial books were opened here, I am sure many of us would be shocked at the incredibly faithful and generous giving by the “Macedonian” class of our church. If that is you, see in this text that God delights in your giving according to your means right down to the two mites of the widow.
Here is a time-proven statistic: the more people make, the less they give. I’m sure there are many exceptions and Scripture never glorifies poverty over wealth. But you would think it would be the opposite. Yet people get funny when they have money. Are you living in Macedonia? Giving in tough times is applauded in Scripture. Living in Corinth? Let Macedonian generosity challenge you.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2017 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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