Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 8
Today’s chapter may hurt as we unpack it because it deals with money, generosity, and giving. Listen to these powerful words:
We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5, NIV)
What makes this so cool is who was doing the giving. The Macedonian church. Remember this Macedonian church? It was the first church in Europe. This church was only eight years old and it was birthing other churches and giving. The events of Acts 16 took place around AD 49, when this church started, and despite its own struggles, it was helping other believers and other churches to start.
How they gave is an example to all of us. I see three elements in their generosity, which is a challenge to us all.
First, their economic position did not determine whether they would be givers or not. Paul says in “their extreme poverty.” Giving is not for the rich, giving is for the believer. Never say, “I don’t have anything to give.” That is just not true, especially for the Macedonian church. We must all give to learn how to be givers wherever we are financially; just as we must all pray to learn how to pray.
Giving is learned by doing not by reading about it or watching others. The wealthy John D. Rockefeller Sr. said, “I never would have been able to tithe the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 per week.” This silly piece of prose is packed with truth: “It’s not what you do with the million if fortune should ere be your lot, but what are you doing at present with the dollar and quarter you got.”
Second, obedience is never convenient. There is never an easy time to obey. The Macedonians gave “in the midst of a very severe trial.” They were not only battling extreme poverty but spiritual battles. Things were hitting them from all sides but still they gave. Although Paul did not mention the details of their severe trials or the cause of their poverty, his letters to the Christian communities in this province confirm these hardships.
If you are looking for an easy time to give, it won’t come. Bills arrive, expenses happen. You must give despite or in spite of. That is the trust moment.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones told a story about a farmer who went into the house one day to tell his wife and family some good news. “The cow just gave birth to twin calves, one red and one white,” he said. “We must dedicate one of these calves to the Lord. We will bring them up together, and when the time comes, we will sell one and keep the proceeds and we will sell the other and give the proceeds to the Lord’s work.”
His wife asked him which he was going to dedicate to the Lord.
“There’s no need to bother about that now,” he replied. “We’ll treat them both in the same way and when the time comes, we’ll do as I say.”
A few days later one of the calves died. The man entered the kitchen looking unhappy. “I have bad news,” he said. “The Lord’s calf is dead.”
It’s always the Lord’s calf that dies. Never ours.
Third, though they gave during extreme poverty and severe trial, Paul said they gave with overflowing joy. The hard part of giving is getting out of the starting block. Once you have done it, a joy comes on you—because you have just done a Kingdom thing. God honors givers.
One of the parts I think brought joy was giving two ways—what they could do and what they had to trust God to help them do. Look at verse 3: “I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (niv). The “beyond ability” giving crosses from the discipline of giving to the joy of giving. One is by sweat, hard work, and discipline that they “gave as much as they were able.” That is getting your paycheck and writing your tithe check. The other giving is by faith—they gave “beyond their ability.” That is a step of faith. And that brings overflowing joy.
The pastor stood before the congregation. “I have bad news, good news, and more bad news.” The congregation grew quiet. “The bad news is: the church needs a new roof!” The congregation groaned. “The good news is: we have enough money for the new roof.” A sigh of relief rippled through the gathered group. “The bad news is: it’s still in your pockets.”
Based on the Macedonian-2 Corinthians 8-model, that should be the good news! We have money to give, let us go Macedonian on the need. That’s why verse 4 says, they (those giving) begged for the opportunity to give. It wasn’t the preacher begging but the givers begging for the opportunity. Wow, we really messed up this giving thing.