2 Corinthians 8:1-2 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,
Paul is writing to the churches in southern Greece in order to encourage them to have the right attitude about godly living and joyous giving. In the course of the letter, the passage we come to today is a commendation of the churches in northern Greece. He wants the Christians in Corinth to know about the grace of God poured out on the churches in Macedonia. Today we’re going to work our way through 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. I encourage you to take the time to read the chapters in their entirety.
We need to recognize that there is no human effort that can bring about salvation. We are saved by grace through faith and it is the gift of God. There is no way we can earn salvation because all of our good works are dead. The Bible tells us that our righteousness is like filthy rags rather than robes of righteousness. We arrive at those righteous robes by…
The grace of God. Let’s look ahead to 2 Corinthians 9:8. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
Grace that abounds is what God puts in us at salvation. We cannot earn it we can only receive it. It is only by God’s glorious grace that we have any possibility of salvation. When we came into the world we were born sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. As such, we inherit from them sin and death. Our Father God had told them that when they ate the forbidden fruit they would surely die. God chose to put aside the execution of their conviction in order to allow the race to continue on earth. Nevertheless, they did die spiritually that day. We inherited that death from them.
Paul tells us that the Macedonian Christians experienced the grace of God released in their lives and they were…
Tested by suffering. Let’s look it 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—
Four or five years earlier Paul had written this to the Thessalonians. Even though they went through a severe test by suffering it had a definite purpose. God allows our suffering to shape us. We must remember that nothing ever comes our way unless God first approves it.
The result of the suffering, for the Christians in Thessalonica, was steadfastness and faith. The things that they endured were evidence of God’s judgment and it was good. Please remember that in our flesh we are unworthy of the kingdom of God. But God will take us through whatever we face to shape us more completely in his image. No matter what we pass through our God is able. A few years later, Paul would write to the Philippians “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
When we reflect on Paul’s life we see what he is going through as he writes. The Philippian letter would be written from prison. We might think to ourselves, “How can Paul find encouragement in prison?” I see in the Philippian letter an answer to that question even though the question is not presented. As Paul closes out the letter (4:22) with these words “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” There are not many things that could be more encouraging than to know that one’s imprisonment resulted in born-again believers among the Imperial guard.
Paul could encourage the Corinthians to experience…
Joy in spite of poverty. Let’s look at Galatians 5:22-23. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
The Galatian letter was very likely written before either of the Corinthian letters. So he could remind the Corinthians of the source of abundant joy. Every believer has the Holy Spirit resident within them. The Spirit bears his fruit. Note that the Bible does not refer to “fruits” as a plural noun. The word is “fruit” and it is singular. So you can’t sit down with the Holy Spirit and choose which of these you display in your life. They are all connected and are one! Beginning with love and going through to self-control we have a description of the work of the Holy Spirit within each of us. I, for one, need all aspects of the Spirit’s fruit in my life.
I am reminded of a lapel button some of us had back in the 60s. It said, “P B P W M G I F W M Y”. Those letters mean, “Please Be Patient With Me God Isn’t Finished With Me Yet”! When I look at the fruit of the Spirit that slogan comes to mind. One standard that we will be measured by is when he appears we shall be like Him! I am far from being like Jesus and never will be in my human strength but I can do all things through him who gives me the ability.
The Macedonians had experienced extreme poverty in the material world but not in the spiritual world. They were able to take their eyes off their physical situation and focus on the spiritual life that was being manifest in them. No matter how poor they may have been they were able to experience joy!
They experienced severe suffering coupled with an abundance of joy in the midst of their extreme poverty. As they focused on the reality of the relationship to God they were able to operate in such a manner that…
Resulted in a wealth of generosity. Now let’s look at 2 Corinthians 8:3-5. 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.
They gave according to their ability. And when they did God allowed them to give beyond their ability. They experienced the joy of generosity! I hope you can picture with me the scene as Paul described it. They did not give according to his standard. They gave according to their own standard.
There is even a hint in Paul’s description of a hesitancy on his part to accept the gift because they might need it for themselves. They were begging Paul to let them give out of their poverty. They had their budget right side up! They gave their gifts first and then they allowed God to give the increase. When we are faithful in giving God will always ultimately meet our needs. Mind you, not necessarily our WANTS! Many times we get confused about what we need and what we want. Pray for the ability to tell the difference! Now let’s read on…
Following the example of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 8:9. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ! That becomes the measure of our ability. He who was rich beyond human imagination. The Bible tells us that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and the implication is he also owns the hills. He always has enough and more because Jesus — God the Son — is the creator of the entire universe. As such he is the owner of everything we can see. And he gave it all up for me and for you. Our Lord Jesus left the glory of heaven for the gloom of earth. He left heavenly mansions to be born in a stable and raised in the house of a carpenter! He, whose hands shaped the first human body, had to learn to crawl as a baby. He had to learn to walk and talk just like every human baby did.
I can hardly understand the feelings Jesus may have had as he became aware of who he was. Certainly, he knew who he was by the age of twelve when he sat in the temple courtyard and quizzed the seminary professors and, to their amazement, answered their questions (Luke 2:46-47). He may have had an awareness of who he was much earlier. We don’t know for sure.
Look at his grace. Grace that allowed him to welcome poverty. Becoming an example to us and a direction for us to experience spiritual wealth beyond our imagination. This must have been put here for a reason. I believe the reason will be seen as we go through the next few verses.
Seed sown in joy. Let’s read on 2 Corinthians 9:6-7. The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
The rule of the harvest is that we receive what we plant. If you put out few seeds you get few plants. If you sow bountifully you will reap bountifully. The word that is translated “bountifully” here can be translated “with blessings”! So the passage would read “whoever sows with blessings will also reap with blessings”. I don’t know why the translators didn’t choose that rendition but I like it!
The seed that is sown in joy is clearly financial. The encouragement on the part of the Apostle is for us to observe carefully what we give and decide to give as abundantly as possible with as many blessings as we can possibly give! When we do this it…
Releases God’s grace. Let’s turn to Philippians 4:18-19. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Verse 19 is often quoted separately from the rest of the Philippian letter. We must be careful to recognize that it all has to come together. Never allow one verse or one section of Scripture to be interpreted apart from the context. God will supply every need but first, there needs to have been on our part a giving attitude. Verse 18 says that Paul received their gifts. Their gifts were abundant — with blessing! When we give abundantly we are put in a position to receive abundantly. And of course, the opposite is true that if we are stingy in our giving we can only expect to receive a small supply. There is a sensible reason for this. Here it is shown as…
So that you can be generous. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 9:10-12. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.
God is the supplier of the resources that supply our needs and multiplies our resources. We are enriched not just to become richer but instead to be able to give to meet the needs of others.
So, where does the seed come from that allows us to have a bountiful harvest? It is God who supplies the seed and it is God that directs the planting and sends the follow-up rain and sunshine that causes it to grow. Many times people think they cannot give. The Bible teaches that the tithe is the Lord’s. When we hold onto it we are holding back what belongs to God. When we release it through giving we allow God to bless us in ways beyond our imagination. If you give what you have left over after you pay your bills you will likely never be able to give. You will certainly never be a cheerful giver.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.