The story goes that a man was attending a cattle auction where the auctioneer was enumerating the qualities of a beautiful Guernsey cow. The newcomer, eager to buy the cow, asked an old farmer who seemed to know something about every cow at the auction, “How much does she give?” The old-timer responded, “Doesn’t give a thing, but if you can get her in a corner, you can take a lot from her.”
I am afraid this has been the experience of many believers who have never developed the grace of giving or discovered the joy of giving. They have been backed into a corner with emotional pitches lathered with guilt.
Overflowing with Generosity
As we begin looking into the second letter to the Corinthians, we find that it has been a year, or perhaps somewhat less, since Paul had given them instructions for the giving to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1–4). And during that year Paul had been forced to write a painful letter (2 Cor. 7:8) that had grieved the Corinthians. This letter had positive results, however, and Paul rejoiced that they had repented (7:9). So with the church restored to health, Paul now devoted virtually two chapters to the grace of giving (chapters 8–9). These chapters contain principles that are applicable to Christians of every age.
The churches in Macedonia were further along in their participation in the offering than the church in Corinth was. Therefore, Paul used them as an example to stimulate the Corinthians to complete their offering (8:11). Macedonia included all the districts of Greece north of the Isthmus of Corinth. Its churches would have included Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. The fact that these churches had given generously to this offering, added to the teaching here in 2 Corinthians, indicates that whenever Paul planted a church, he taught them the principles of generous stewardship.
The generous giving of the churches in Macedonia is made all the more exemplary because “their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity” (v. 2).
The believers in Macedonia were both poor and persecuted. C. K. Barrett suggests that their poverty was the result of persecution for their faith. “Poverty was probably to a great extent a Christian phenomenon and the result of persecution, for Macedonia seems on the whole to have been a prosperous province, with flourishing agriculture and mining and lumbering industries.”3 I have always found it curious that people with little means are often more generous than those with great abundance. Does accumulation of wealth make us more dependent on wealth for our security?
Joy and generosity are twins. When you discover one in the life of a person, you can expect to find the other. Joy comes from the knowledge of sins forgiven and the contemplation of God’s generosity on our behalf. It is not deterred by one’s circumstances, even if those circumstances include “severe testing by affliction” (v. 2). Joy thus leads one to generosity, and generosity in turn gives one great joy. “Generosity” indicates giving that both uncalculating and unpretentious, free from human motivation. Miserly people are miserable people, and generous people are joyous.
Paul could thus declare that the generosity of the Macedonians was a visible expression of divine grace. The word grace actually means “generosity.” It is the generosity of God that freely gives sinners what they don’t deserve and couldn’t afford—forgiveness. The use of grace here, however, doesn’t simply mean that their offering was motivated by grace. It goes beyond that to suggest that it was an act of grace.
In other words, their giving was made possible by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit had enabled them to give more than their means appeared to warrant. The Spirit prompted them to give to people they had never seen simply because those in need were members of the same body.
The Corinthians, we know, had demonstrated their zeal for “matters of the Spirit” in their quest to possess the more spectacular gifts that often drew attention to the person possessing the gift. Paul had attempted to redirect this zeal in 1 Corinthians 14:12 by encouraging them to seek to abound for the building up of the church. In our present passage, Paul declared that the generous giving of the Macedonian churches was as much a demonstration of the Spirit as prophecy or miracle-working faith.
Do you give from God’s abundance or from your own resources? If you want to discover true joy, allow the Holy Spirit to empower your giving.
Hemphill, Ken. 2006. Making Change: A Transformational Guide to Christian Money Management. Nashville, TN: B&H Books.
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