We have been walking through 2 Corinthians in our small group the last few months. This past week, we were in the first half of chapter 8 where Paul encourages the Corinthians to finish taking up the collection for the church in Jerusalem. Paul gives the Corinthians two examples of generosity and sacrificial giving: the Macedonians and Jesus.
We talked about the three really helpful points that David Garland shares in his commentary on 2 Corinthians that summarize what we can learn from the examples of the Macedonians and Jesus.
1. True giving requires giving of oneself, not just giving money. The gospel is not about what we can get from God but what God has given to us so that we can give of ourselves to others.Garland, D. E. (1999). 2 Corinthians (Vol. 29). Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Garland’s first point is the spark that ignites generosity. Paul writes in verse 5, “Instead, they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us by God’s will.” The Macedonians first gave themselves to the Lord. Everything else flows out of that. We must give ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord.
This is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian life that the world struggles to understand. It is when we stop thinking about ourselves and instead worship God that we find true joy. Jesus says in Matthew 10:39, “Anyone who finds his life will lose it, and anyone who loses his life because of me will find it.”
We see in verse 9 that Jesus gives Himself for us. He becomes poor, so that in exchange we might be rich. What is it that makes us rich? The fact that Jesus gives us Himself. He calls us friends. Through His death and resurrection, we may be in His presence for eternity. We are called sons and daughters of God, co-heirs with Christ.
Generosity starts with giving ourselves to the Lord, and then to others expecting nothing in return.
Rich or Poor
2. One can give out of extreme poverty, and one can give out of measureless riches. Those who are disinclined to be generous when they are poor are not likely to become suddenly generous when they are rich.Garland, D. E. (1999). 2 Corinthians (Vol. 29). Broadman & Holman Publishers.
This point hits hard, because it can be applied to so many areas of life. How often do we make excuses saying, “Well, when I’m in a better personal situation or I’ve reached this goal, then I will start giving. Then I will start serving.” How about, “I’ll start my diet on Monday?”
If we are not doing these things in our current circumstance, a change in our situation is likely not going to change our hearts. And that’s the real issue—our hearts.
The Macedonians gave out of their poverty. Paul writes in verse 2, “During a severe trial brought about by affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” He goes on to say they gave beyond their ability and that they begged for the privilege of participating in the giving.
On the other hand, Jesus gave out of his measureless riches. In Matthew 26:53, Jesus says at any time he could have called legions of angels to his rescue. In John 17, He prays for God to glorify Him with the glory He had with the Father before the world existed. Yet, He willingly goes to the cross for us. He gave Himself.
In both cases, they did not use their circumstances as an excuse to not be generous. Why? Because their hearts were generous, and it overflowed to others, regardless of their circumstances.
Grace, Grace, God’s Grace
3. Giving is related to the grace of God experienced in Christ. The recipients are not required to have done anything to merit the gift except to be in need. The givers are made generous because of God’s grace working on them, in them, and through them.Garland, D. E. (1999). 2 Corinthians (Vol. 29). Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Garland’s third point encapsulates the first two. Generosity flows from God’s grace. The Macedonians first gave themselves to the Lord. God’s grace works on them, in them, and through them. It overflows in an abundance of joy and generosity.
They are experiencing poverty and persecution themselves, yet they beg for the privilege to give. How is that possible? God’s grace transformed their hearts. What’s even more remarkable is the church in Jerusalem didn’t do anything to earn their generosity other than be in need.
Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s grace and sacrificial love. We can not do anything to earn what He did for us on the cross. Yet, He gave Himself as payment for our sin.
If we have experienced that grace, how could we not be generous? How could it not overflow, as Paul says of the Macedonians, in abundant joy and a wealth of generosity?