Hovering over the first few verses of 2Corinthians 8 this morning and thinking about an intriguing dynamic and the difference the joy of the Lord can make.
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.
(2Corinthians 8:1-4 ESV)
As I read these verses, a formula popped off the page:
Severe Test of Affliction + Extreme Poverty = A Wealth of Generosity
Now come on, that’s not intuitive. Give someone the answer, “The outcome of severe affliction and extreme poverty,” and there’s no way anyone buzzes in with, “What is a wealth of generosity, Alex?”
Put me in some great pressure cooker of distress, drain my bank account, and naturally I’m looking at how I can conserve. Very little income along with very great uncertainty, and every purchase, discretionary or not, get’s considered twice before any money goes out the door. I’m in penny-pinching mode. Not just saving up for a rainy day, but already in the midst of the storm, I am going to keep what I can, and as much as I can, for as long as I can, in hope of making it through.
But what if the formula changes up a bit? What if there’s some secret sauce added to the severe situation?
Severe Test of Affliction + Abundance of Joy + Extreme Poverty = A Wealth of Generosity
Mix in the joy of the Lord, and regardless of the severity of affliction, despite the extremity of the poverty, the results are unpredictable . . . like “a wealth of generosity” unpredictable.
Not talking about emotional happiness, or some divinely imparted, out of touch with reality, happy go free, “what me worry” attitude. But the deep, abiding joy of knowing the Lord. Of the reality of abiding in His presence, of really believing in His promises, and faithfully trusting in His provision. The game-changing, long view of life that’s focused not just on the here and now but always has an eye cast toward the there and then.
The joy of the Lord doesn’t minimize the affliction. Doesn’t change the poverty. But can result in a less than intuitive outcome. Paul calls it “the grace of God that has been given.”
These suffering saints in the churches of Macedonia, with very little in their bank accounts, were moved by the need of the believers in Jerusalem, and because of their joy in the Lord, because of their supernatural, sourced in heaven gladness, they sacrificed, giving beyond their means, to meet the needs of others. And the grace of God was manifest.
Take away for me isn’t necessarily that “God loves a cheerful giver”, though He does (2Cor. 9:7), but that the joy of the Lord makes things unpredictable. That it provides a beat of a different drummer to march to. A context for doing life that is unearthly, one determined by things above and not just things below.
O’ the difference the joy of the Lord makes.
By His grace. For His glory.