The apostle Paul was planning to visit the Christians in Corinth. Among the reasons he was going back was to receive funds they were collecting to give to Christians in Judea to assist the poor (see Romans 15 as well). He had received word that they were not ready. So Paul included in his letter to them a prompt to be ready when he came and used the Christians in Macedonia as an example to spur them on.
“Brothers, we want you to know how God has bestowed his grace on the congregations in Macedonia. Though in a severe ordeal of afflictions, and in deep poverty, their overflowing joy abounded in rich generosity. According to their ability and beyond, on their own, they begged us earnestly to allow them the privilege of sharing in the needs of the saints. This was beyond our expectation, but they had given themselves first to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. Therefore, we urged Titus, that as he had made a beginning, he might complete this grace in you.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-6 McCord)
Why were the Christians in Macedonia such a good example of generosity for the Christians in Corinth (and for us today)? They weren’t rich – Paul says they were in “deep poverty.” Yet despite their poverty they “abounded in rich generosity.” Why? Because of their “overflowing joy,” joy which came simply because they were Christians.
They wanted to help others and were willing to sacrifice in order to help them. Notice that they “begged” to be allowed to help in the “privilege” of helping the Jewish Christians in Judea. It was far beyond what Paul had expected of these poor Christians.
What was the reason for this extreme generosity? They had their priorities right. “They had given themselves first to the Lord.” They were slaves of Jesus. They lived to serve him. Their relationship with Jesus gave them an “overflowing joy” as well as the desire to serve him by helping others. That is not only a good example for Christians in the first century but it is a good example for Christians at any time and place.
The Christians in Corinth had so much going for them – but they needed to have this, as well.
“As you excel in everything, in faith and word and knowledge and all earnestness and love for us, see that you excel in this grace also. I am not commanding you, but proving, through the earnestness of others, the genuineness of your love. You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, he became a pauper, that you, through his poverty, might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:7-9)
It is all too easy to concentrate on building up our faith and knowledge of God’s word and the ability to proclaim it well – and these are all important. We may be sincere and very loving to those around us, which is also necessary. But being generous to those we don’t know is also something we must excel in.
Jesus is the great example of generosity. He was rich, speaking of his spiritual position in heaven, yet he gave that up to live as a human, so that we could be rich spiritually. If Jesus did this for us, we “owe” it to others to do the same.
Sometimes Christians may think they can’t give because they have nothing. God has never asked us to give what we don’t have – that would not be possible. “If the willingness is there, it is accepted according to what one has, not what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12).
The real question is: are we willing? Do we have the desire to help others or do we prefer to keep it for ourselves?
When there is a need we need to be generous. This is a proof to others of the genuineness of our love (2 Corinthians 8:24). We need to put our money where our mouth is.
Readings for next week: 2 Corinthians 6-10