Paul’s got a project. He’s collecting money from Gentile Christian churches for the poor Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem.
He writes about it in 2 Corinthians 8 & 9. And from his specific words lays important general principles about our giving.
Nothing here, though, about tithing, which was an Old Testament practice. For us, a tithe is a baseline for even more generous giving. Nothing here, either, about funding the local church (mostly salaries and building expenses). The early church had none of that. Nevertheless, Paul’s specific situation offers us general principles about giving.
Today we’ll camp just on 2 Corinthians 8:1-5
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–and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
The Poor Jerusalem Church
The Jerusalem church was poor for several reasons. Its growth included widows who needed care. Jerusalem, and to some extent the church, was overpopulated with elderly Jewish families who moved there to spend their last days in the holy city. The effects of a 46 A.D. famine lingered and persecution took its toll. In the face of need, Paul is following through on his intention expressed to the Jerusalem church leaders: “They only asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).
First Instructions to the Corinthians
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul had given instructions for the collection . . .
“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me “(1 Corinthians 16:1-4).
The Macedonian Model
Now, in 2 Corinthians Paul tries to motivate the church to complete what they’ve started by pointing to the Macedonian churches. Macedonia had been a Roman province since 148 B.C. Paul had planted churches there in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. They were extremely poor and severely afflicted, implying that their poverty in this relatively rich province resulted from persecution. Yet, an abundance of joy (about giving to help others) and their rock-bottom destitution flowed over (like a river washing over its banks) in a wealth of generosity.
They gave, not only “according to their means”, but even “beyond their means”—and that of their own accord. Furthermore, they gave joyfully. Their affliction was no excuse not to give. Instead of turning them inward, they looked outward.
Now here’s the kicker: they earnestly begged “for the favor” of participating “in the relief of the saints”. (Never in 44 years of pastoring have I had a member raise his hand and plead, “Please can we give a second offering this morning?”)
Paul had hoped the Macedonian churches would give themselves “to us”—that is, to the collection as he believed God willed. But they went beyond that. First they gave themselves to the Lord making the collection an act of devotion to him.
Makes you wish you could hire Paul for a church money-raising campaign! But it wasn’t Paul. He makes it clear that this was “the grace of God” given among the churches. C. K. Barrett (The Second Epistle to the Corinthians) comments . . .
“Grace itself means generosity; theologically, the generosity of God in giving freely to those who as sinners deserve nothing except punishment. Paul may mean (a) that the generosity of the Macedonians is the generosity of God himself, or (b) that God has given grace to the Macedonians with the result of making them generous; perhaps he would not have wished to distinguish between the two possibilities” (p. 218).
Sam Storms (pastor Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) calls this grace, “the operative power of the indwelling Spirit.”
Principles for Our Giving
Give According to How We Prosper. Most studies show that the poor give proportionately more than the wealthy. The reverse should be true. In 1 Corinthians, Paul told each person to give “as he may prosper.”
Poverty or Affliction Shouldn’t Prevent Our Giving. Over the years I’ve met people who told me they couldn’t afford to give. Poverty didn’t stop the Macedonians; nor should it us. Everyone can give something.
Give joyfully. Giving is a “grace”. Grace empowers generosity in the giver. Grace is also what the recipients of giving receive in our gift, whether it’s money to fund the local church, support of missionaries, or help to the poor. Participating in grace is a joy. “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
See Giving as Part of our Devotion to the Lord. Giving money isn’t just helping the church pay bills or putting food on the table for a missionary. Giving expresses our devotion to the Lord. If he doesn’t have our wallets, he doesn’t have us. Make giving an act of worship.
More Money in Return? In 9:6 Paul will promise “whoever sows bountifully will reap bountifully.” That promise may mean gaining more money or receiving some other blessing, either in this life or heaven. Givers to God receive from God. Interestingly, though, apparently that was not what motivated the Macedonians. They gave simply to generously meet the needs of the poor. That’s the grace of giving.
Wouldn’t it be excellent if our church was known for that grace!