2 Corinthians 8:1-15 ESV
1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 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. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians has three main parts. In chapters 1-7, the main subject is Paul’s apostolic ministry and his actions in it. Various questions had been stirred up in the church at Corinth, probably by some troublemakers that were law covenant centered in their views. For this reason the apostle went into some detail about his afflictions while serving the Lord and about the superiority of the new covenant in Christ over the law or old covenant. This teaching is important for how we are to live as the people of God.
The second main part of the letter is chapters 8-9. In it Paul talks about everybody’s favorite subject—money! More on that in a moment. To finish this brief overview, the third part of the letter is chapters 10-13 in which Paul sets forth his apostolic authority against the false teachers that were troubling the Corinthians. Some of the strongest words of the Bible occur here.
Paul’s special interest in chapters 8-9 is the grace of giving for the benefit of others. It seems from the NT record that God developed this concern in Paul’s heart from his days in Antioch when the prophet Agabus prophesied about a famine that would strike the Roman world. The church in Antioch responded to the report about the material poverty of the believers in Judea, and sent Paul and Barnabas with a gift. At that time the apostles in Jerusalem encouraged Paul to remember the poor (Gal 2:10). This set in motion Paul’s desire to collect a generous gift from the Gentile believers to the Judean believers, which is the subject of this section. We need to listen well to these words, praying that God will develop the grace of living for the benefit of others in us.
I. The powerful grace of God at work in the Macedonian churches (8:1)
A. The people the grace of God affects – too many times we all can get too technical on any topic and in the process forget that we are talking about people. The Spirit of God guides Paul to speak in a relational way.
1. He speaks this way to the Corinthian believers, reaffirming that they are his brothers and sisters in the Lord. Together we are part of God’s family, and we need to interact with each other in this way, regardless of whether we say “brother” or “sister” or not. However, words are an important part of any culture, and we need to develop this culture by talking this way.
2. He speaks this way of the Macedonian believers. “Churches”, as we have said many times before, are not places you go to, but they are people in Christ with whom you share life. When we read the word “church”, we should always recall that it means “assembly” or “gathering” or “congregation” of people.
B. The grace of God that affects people
1. Grace (charis) is the key term in 2 Cor 8-9. It occurs ten times in this part of the book. Often in the NTS, “grace” means “unmerited favor”, as in 8:9. But the apostle uses the word in a variety of ways in 2 Cor 8-9. Here it means God’s gracious enablement. God gave power to the Macedonian churches to enable them to give. At the root of sacrificial giving is the grace of God, empowering his people to give. Greed is a powerful evil force operating in the hearts of people, and it takes God’s grace to change us from greedy to givers.
2. This grace “was given” to the Macedonian churches. The verb is a perfect passive. In contexts like this, it is called a “divine passive”. God is the giver of this grace. He worked in the believers in the Macedonian congregations to make them givers. The perfect tense indicates that this giving of grace continues to operate in them.
Apply: As we pray for one another daily, let us pray for this grace of giving to flourish among us. As we will see, there are many ways that we can give to benefit others.
II. The activity of the powerful grace of God in difficult circumstances (8:2-4)
A. Their situation did not seem conducive to make them sacrificial givers.
1. They were in “a very severe trial”; that is, “in a severe test of affliction or pressure”. Paul probably means persecution, which seems to have been common to the experience of the Macedonian that followed Christ (Ac 17:5-8; Ph 1:28-30; 1 Th 1:6; 2:14; 3:3-4; 2 Th 1:4-7). Across the world, we have brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith. We do not expect them to give. They have enough troubles of their own simply to survive.
2. They were in “extreme poverty”. They had reached poverty at its deepest level. Again, we would excuse them from giving. It was all they could do to support themselves. Some parts of Macedonia might have been prospering, but these Christians were not. Observe closely that the gospel does not guarantee you personal wealth! You might be a very fine follower of Jesus and very poor at the same time. Jesus never said “trust me and I’ll give you a few hundred thousand in your bank accounts, luxury homes and cars, and pleasurable vacations.” Beware the false gospel of prosperity! If we were observing the lifestyle of these Macedonians, we would never imagine that these believers would be able to give to others in need.
B. See how God’s grace worked through them
1. They gave with rich generosity (cf. Rm 12:8). An open heart led to open hands, giving to others liberally.
2. They gave joyfully. Joy in affliction is an important theme in NT teaching (Mt 5:10-12; Ac 5:41; 1 Th 1:6; Js 1:2; 1 Pt 1:6).
3. They gave according to their ability and even beyond it. Note well that the presence of God’s grace in them did not lift the Macedonian believers out of poverty or affliction! But it did cause them to give as they ought to—according to their ability (1 Cor 16:2; 2 Cor 8:11). In addition, they gave beyond their ability.
4. They gave because they wanted to give. Paul didn’t ask them; they asked him! They pleaded for the opportunity of sharing or participating in this ministry of helping the poor in Judea.
Comment: I’ve been in the gospel ministry for over forty years, and I can say that it is a rare occurrence when someone begs for the privilege of being able to give. “Pastor, can we have another special offering? Last week’s walk-around was such a joy! Please?” I think I’d look for a deacon or trustee and say, “Pinch me; I want to see if I’m awake or dreaming.”
Apply: They wanted to be partners in his ministry. Every believer in Jesus needs to think of themselves as a gospel partner. This is part of your identity, since one of the basic ideas about a church is partnership (koinonia). This word speaks of active sharing rather than a passive partnership. We’re to be actively involved. If you attend here, you’re one of the partners in this ministry. Get involved.
5. They gave in excess of Paul’s expectations (8:5a). Paul admits that he never saw this kind of generosity coming.
Apply: How many of these five characteristics of generous giving do you see in yourself? To what degree is each present?
III. The outcome produced by the powerful grace of God (8:5)
A. The central idea is that they gave themselves.
1. You start by giving yourself to the Lord. Jesus Christ must always have the supremacy (Col 1:18). We want you to be living in a Christ-focused manner. “Good morning, Lord! I am your follower, so teach me to know your ideas, attitudes, and actions. I am your servant, so use me today.”
2. You also give yourselves to Christ’s ministers to help them to spread the sweet fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere! “Pastor, what can I do to help?” There’s an old saying that speaks to this: “All the compliments and all the good wishes can never replace help with the dishes.”
B. Both of these were consistent with God’s will. That is what our way of life should demonstrate: consistency with his will, which is found in his word. He wants us to give ourselves to him. He wants us to give ourselves to help his ministers.
Apply: In all this matter, the Macedonian churches were a model or pattern of giving to the Corinthians and to us. We often expect people to change simply by telling them to change. Paul understood the importance of models. He was not afraid to tell Christian to follow his example as he followed Christ (1 Cor 11:1).
Apply: The Spirit wants us to be producers rather than consumers. A fatal flaw of the church in America is the quest to want to be served by a church rather than to serve in and with a church. How are you serving in and with our body of believers? What people are you seeking to win to Christ?
Pastor Dave Frampton
The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are featured here at CMC. As a Bible teacher he excels. Teachers and student alike will profit much from his labor in the God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.