Some of the better known New Testament passages about giving were in reference to a collection that Paul was taking up for the poor in the Jerusalem church. In 2 Corinthians 8, we find an amazing account of how numerous churches in Macedonia gave to help their fellow believers during this time of desperate need. As we look closely at these verses, there is much we can learn about stewardship and sacrifice for the sake of the gospel.
- They faced affliction. Paul says their response came while they were in the midst of “a severe testing by affliction” (v. 2).
- They were extremely poor, yet joyous. Despite enduring affliction and experiencing “deep poverty,” these believers had an “abundance of joy” (v. 2). Their circumstances did not dictate their attitude.
- They were extremely poor, yet generous. In fact, Paul states that their excessive joy and poverty were the source of “the wealth of their generosity” (v. 2). Both their attitude and their gift were generous.
- The amount given was their idea. Paul verifies that they decided to give “on their own” (v. 3).
- They gave all they could. They gave “according to their ability” (v. 3). C.S. Lewis wrote, “If we live at the same level of affluence as other people who have our level of income, we are probably giving away too little.”
- They gave more than they could. Paul goes on to say that they gave “beyond their ability” (v. 3). This echoes all the times in the Gospels when faith—belief in action—accompanied God doing the seemingly impossible (e.g., Jesus feeding the 5,000; Peter walking on water).
- They begged to give. How often do we try to find excuses for not giving? In effect, we plead with God to not have to give, yet these poor, afflicted believers “begged us insistently” (v. 4) for the opportunity to give.
- They considered giving a privilege. Paul says that they asked for “the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints” (v. 4). At times, we may be tempted to see giving as just an obligation or even a burden, but these believers were grateful and determined to give precisely because they knew they were doing ministry through their sacrifice.
- They were first devoted to the Lord. These believers “gave themselves especially to the Lord, then to us by God’s will” (v. 5). Because they were already fully surrendered to God, their response to this need was a natural consequence.
- They were a model of giving. Paul isn’t simply letting the Corinthian church know what other churches decided to do. Rather, he is “testing the genuineness of your love” (v. 8) by comparing it to the “diligence of others” (v. 8). According to Paul, giving is a test of the sincerity of our love.
- They followed the example of Jesus. As we seek to follow Jesus, Paul reminds us that He “became poor” for us, so that through “His poverty you might become rich” (v. 9). Jesus gave up something greater than worldly wealth for us, and His sacrifice gave us something greater as well. To follow Jesus, we must sacrifice for others.
- No one was commanded to give. Despite all of this, Paul makes clear that his words to the Corinthians are not “a command” (v. 8), but he is instead “giving an opinion on this because it is profitable for you” (v. 10).
- Willing + Able = Acceptable. Paul asked the Corinthians to give “from what you have” (v. 11). The gift is made acceptable by the “eagerness” to give based on “what one has, not according to what he does not have” (v. 12).
- It’s all about grace. Paul doesn’t begin this portion of his letter focused on giving. Instead, he says he wants the Corinthians to know about “the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia” (v. 1). Paul directly refers to grace four times in these few verses (vv. 1, 6, 7, 9). God gave them—and gives us—the grace to suffer and sacrifice for others, so that we can make disciples of all nations.
My prayer is that the example of these Macedonian Christians from 2,000 years ago would continue to both challenge and encourage us as we face struggles and have opportunities to further the spread of the gospel here and throughout the world.