Is seems that, by any measure, the churches in the province of Macedonia weren’t particularly well off churches. In fact, for most they would have been known for the affliction they endured and the poverty they dealt with. Their trials were severe. Their destitution extreme. On any Sunday, you’re thinking their offerings would have been relatively small. And yet, Paul holds them up as examples of overflowing generosity.
They heard of the need in Jerusalem and they begged to be part of any plan to help the suffering saints there. Rather than feeling pressured into responding to the need, they considered it a privilege to be able to participate in providing some relief. And so, not only where they willing to give out of what they had, but with abundant joy they gave beyond what they had. “They gave offerings of whatever they could–far more than they could afford!” (MSG)
I’m hovering over the opening verses of 2Corinthians 8 this morning and chewing on what made these Macedonians tick. Not only did they give more than they could afford, it was way more than what Paul would have expected of them to give.
So how come? What compelled these impoverished saints to give so willingly and so sacrificially? What was it about them, that allowed Paul to hold them up as an example to the Corinthians (and to us) of such great generosity?
I’m thinking a clue is found buried in verse five.
For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 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.
(2Corinthians 8:3-5 ESV)
Taking up an offering for the Jerusalem saints wasn’t their first rodeo. Not the first time they had responded to the opportunity to give sacrificially. In fact, giving out of their poverty, writing a check in their affliction, just seemed like the thing you’d do when you had already given yourself first to the Lord.
And I’m thinking there’s a correlation between how we “tithe” of ourselves to the LORD and how we give of our means to His kingdom. If we’re not really willing to give the best of ourselves to Him, then we may not think in terms of freely giving of the first fruits of our wages to Him. If we’ve only opened up some of our heart to Him, then I’m guessing He may only have access to some of our bank accounts. If we’re holding back areas of our life, then we’re probably inclined to hold back parts of our portfolio. If we’re reluctant to fully respond to His abundant and lavish grace, then it’s likely we’ll be reluctant to fully respond with abundant and lavish grace.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this should be easy. This is Spirit empowered giving . . . concerning both ourselves and our means. But I’m saying that we should aspire that it be so. And that we start with sincere desire to give ourselves first to the Lord. And then, by His transforming power and grace, we can “excel in this act of grace also” (v.7).
That’s why Paul wouldn’t command the Corinthians to money-up (v.8). But wanted their financial giving to be voluntary, and thus, a test of the authenticity of their love. To be sure, a test of their love for other saints, but, I think, first and foremost a test of genuine love for the Lord. To show that they could gladly part with their money because they had already joyfully purposed to part with their lives as a response to Jesus giving His life for them.
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.
(2Corinthians 8:9 ESV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
(Romans 12:1 ESV)
May it be our desire to give ourselves, and keep on giving ourselves, first and fully to the Lord. Then, I’m thinking, the giving of our treasure, as well as the giving of our time and talents, will look after itself.
All by His abundant grace. All for His all-deserved glory.