2 Corinthians 8:1-15
Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. – 2 Corinthians 8:2 NIV
In this section of his letter, Paul began to address a topic that has always sent chills up the spines of most believers throughout the centuries: Giving. Yes, he brought up and encouraged the need to give. But not to build facilities or expand ministry projects. No, Paul was raising money for the persecuted and impoverished believers back in Jerusalem. Everywhere he went and to every church he encountered, he encouraged them to contribute toward the needs of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. The amazing thing is that many of the individuals to whom Paul was making this request were just as poor and equally persecuted. But he asked nonetheless. And even in the midst of their own troubles and trials, these people gave richly and generously – an out-flowing of their own joy in Christ. They were glad to give, even to people they had never met living in a land they would probably never see.
And Paul reminds the Corinthian believers that the giving by the Macedonians went far beyond what he had expected. They had even begged Paul repeatedly for the privilege of sharing in the needs of the believers in Jerusalem. They had not given out of their abundance, but had shared beyond what they could even afford. And their financial giving had been accompanied by an equally fervent giving of themselves to God and to the ministry of Paul. These people were committed to the cause of Christ and the well-being of the Kingdom. For Paul, giving was simply an expression or evidence of a believer's love. He compared it to what Christ had done for them. "You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9 NLT). When Jesus willingly, sacrificially took on human flesh and came to dwell among men, it was the ultimate expression of love and generosity. He gave up His divine rights, privileges and position as God, became a man and died a criminal's death on the cross. He gave so that we might receive. He made us rich by providing for us eternal life – a gift we could never have afforded any other way. His selfless, sacrificial example should provide every believer with more than enough motive to give graciously and gladly to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul did not ask them to "give till it hurts." He simply asked them to be faithful and to finish what they had begun. They key was that they should give eagerly and willingly, not under compulsion or out of some sense of guilt. "Give in proportion to what you have. Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly" (2 Corinthians 8:11-12 NLT). Paul was not interested in making the Corinthians feel guilty or encouraging them to give what they didn't have or couldn't afford. He was simply wanting them to share in the needs of the body of Christ globally. The concept of community and commonality was always on Paul's mind and heart. The church was global, not just local. The abundance of a few was meant to minister to those in need. God's provision for His people would take place through the body of Christ as believers faithfully shared with others what God had faithfully provided for them. There should be no need within the body of Christ. That had been the experience of the early church from its inception. "And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need" (Acts 2:44-45 NLT). What a witness that must have been to the community around them. That kind of love and generosity was no more the norm then than it is today. This wasn't some form of socialism, but simply a concrete expression of the love of Christ lived out in everyday life. It was a picture of the body of Christ ministering to itself selfessly and, at times, sacrificially, so that all might prosper spiritually and physically. That kind of love is contagious and gives evidence of the transformative power of the Spirit of God in the lives of the people of God.
Father, give me a heart of generosity. Let me see my abundance not as a special privilege to be spent only on my own selfish needs and desires, but as a resource to share with those around me. May the body of Christ today learn to live as a true community, giving generously and willingly to one another so that no one ever has need. May we mirror the generosity and grace of Jesus among ourselves and in front of a lost and dying world. Amen.