Thursday, August 7, 2014

BEGGING TO GIVE (2 Corinthians Chapter 8)

2 Corinthians 8:1-5, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches in 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.”

The context of this passage is the appeal from the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth to participate in the relief efforts for the church in Jerusalem (Cf. 2 Corinthians 8:7).  A number of factors led to their impoverished condition.  Some were ostracized from their jobs and families for their faith.  A famine aggravated the situation.  The people were heavily taxed.  Paul responded by going to various churches and asking for their help.  Over a period of five years a considerable amount of Paul’s time was given to this effort. 

The believers in Macedonia were commended to the Corinthian church by the Apostle Paul, as examples, for the spirit in which they had given (2 Corinthians 8:1f).  They gave sacrificially (i.e. out of their “extreme poverty” and “beyond their means”); joyously (“their abundance of joy”); generously (“in a wealth of generosity”); beggingly (“begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part”); lovingly (“for the relief of the saints”); and in a surprising fashion (“and this not as we expected”). 

Theirs was not a reluctant “how much is this going to cost me?” kind of gift.  It was a “my brothers in Christ are in need, what can I do to help?” kind of sacrifice.  Their brethren in Jerusalem were hundreds of miles away, but that mattered not to the Macedonians.  They had never met them, but they responded as they were kin (which they were; Cf. Hebrews 13:3).  Why did they give as they did?  Paul explained, “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Corinthians 8:5).  They gave as an act of worship.  Their hearts and lives and love already belonged to God (2 Corinthians 5:15).  They were Spirit-led to give in Christ-like manner that they might assist their Christian brethren. 

They gave as Jesus gave.  He Himself came as a heaven-sent gift of “inexpressible” worth (Cf. John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 9:15).  He did not merely give out of His riches, He gave and gave and when He had given all that He had in this life, He gave that up too (Cf. Philippians 2:5-8).  He impoverished Himself so that we might be made rich.  “For you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).  When it comes to the matter of giving His example reigns supreme.

One of the things that has amazed me in my five trips to Africa has been the overwhelming support this ministry has received.  Our brethren in the Masaka Region of Uganda are impoverished and in need of help.  Churches in Maine, Florida, Oregon, Washington and other places have responded by providing funds for transportation, building projects, Lugandan Bibles, Bible school tuition, gospel tracts, children’s ministry supplies, medical supplies, purchase of animals, printing and distribution of the “First Steps with Jesus” booklet, etc., etc.  The ministry effort has been amply provided for and sometimes in surprising and unexpected ways.  The spirit of giving has been a tremendous source of encouragement to many.  We would be amiss were we to fail to acknowledge the true source of this abundant provision.  In addressing the matter Paul traced the gift of the Macedonian believers back to the “grace of God” (2 Corinthians 8:1).  Such giving is ultimately sourced in Him.  It is by His grace in salvation that rebels are transformed into worshippers and created anew with the desire to give.  It is by His grace that we are enriched, for “what do (we) have that (we) did not receive” (1 Corinthians 4:7)?  It has all come to us by grace—salvation, provision, strength, motivation and ability to serve.  By the grace of God we are what we are (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:10).  Whenever we see that spirit of giving—whether it be of time, energy, or money--we can trace it back to God, who is the greatest giver of them all (Cf. James 1:17).

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