“Now, my brothers, we must tell you about the grace that God had given to the Macedonian churches. Somehow, in most difficult circumstances, their joy and the fact of being down to their last penny themselves produced a magnificent concern for other people. I can guarantee that they were willing to give to the limit of their means, yes and beyond their means, without the slightest urging from me or anyone else.
In fact they simply begged us to accept their gift of supporting their brothers in Christ. Nor was their gift, as I must confess I had expected, a mere cash payment. Instead they made a complete dedication of themselves first to the Lord and then to us, as God’s appointed ministers.
Now this had made us ask Titus, who has already done so much among you, to complete his task by arranging for you too to share in this grace of generosity. Already you excel in every good quality—you have faith, you can express that faith in words; you have knowledge, enthusiasm and your love for us. Could you not add this grace to your virtues?
I don’t want you to read this as an order. It is only my suggestion, prompted by what I have seen in others of eagerness to help, and here is a way to prove the reality of your love. Do you remember the generous grace of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all? He was rich beyond our telling, yet he generously became poor for your sakes so that his poverty might make you rich." (2 Corinthians 8:1-9)
The word charis ("grace" or gift) appears numerous times in the first nine verses of chapter 8. Paul used it in 1 Corinthians in the classic passage on spiritual gifts, and he uses it again here to discuss the concept of generosity.
There are at least three principles we learn in this portion of 2 Corinthians about what it looks like when people inspired by the Holy Spirit are generous.
1. The Macedonians gave as much as they were able - and beyond.
In the Bible, power and resources are always meant to be used for the good of those who are weak and powerless. Paul says that the Macedonian's lack of resources became a motivation for giving. They understood poverty. And because they understood, they had to do something. The sense is that they determined what they could comfortably contribute - and then went beyond this figure.
Charles Spurgeon once received an invitation to preach at his rural church as a fundraiser to pay off some church debt. The man who contacted him told Spurgeon that he could use one of the man’s three homes (he had one in the country, the town, and by the sea). Spurgeon wrote back, "Sell one of the places and pay the debt yourself."
When we realize that others are in need, and we have the resources to alleviate that need, we should generously and joyfully do so. It is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.
God does not prosper us so we can indulge ourselves; He prospers us so we can extend the gift of generosity to others.
Of course, it will cost something. King David said, “I will not give God sacrifices that cost me nothing.” Generosity and Grace are costly, not cheap. After all, Jesus gave His life. The more we extend a costly generosity – the more we give our lives - the more we will understand the cost of the grace God extended to us.
The story is told of a man who was giving money for a good cause, and he said to a friend, “I think I can give $10 and not feel it.” His friend said, “Why not give $20 and feel it?” The more we feel it, the more we truly understand the beauty of generosity.
2. They gave entirely on their own, by a free choice.
They were not pressured into giving. They gave willingly – they begged for the privilege of being involved. Paul did not use guilt to motivate them. It was gratitude in response to the grace of God. God does not want us to be generous out of fear or because we are concerned about what people will think. We can’t buy favor with God, and we shouldn’t try to buy favor with others. These Macedonians gave because their hearts were moved by the generous grace of God.
The actual amount is not mentioned. That’s because it wasn’t about the amount; it was about the heart. (Think of the parable of the talents, or the poor man who gives money in the temple).
God cares about motives more than amount.
Did you know that Paul never commands Christians to tithe? It is not a New Testament teaching. The tithe was a tax on the Jewish people to support the priesthood, but the New Testament says we are all part of the priesthood. There is no special collection or tax to support it.
This does not mean our money is ours. The opposite is true. God is no longer laying claim to 10%; He is laying claim to all of it. We are stewards of what we have, not owners. 10% is too simple. It allows us to pay our tax to God and then do whatever we want with the rest. When we do that, we miss the point. The question is no longer, “How much do I get to keep after I give God his tax?” The question is, “How much am I able to give back into the service of the Kingdom of God – even if I feel it?”
10% let’s us off the hook. There is no need to analyze the thoughts and intents of our heart, to see if money is an idol, to be honest about if we are greedy or if we have placed our trust in material things rather than God.
10% lets us avoid how we think about money in our souls. Jesus constantly moved The Law inside. It’s not just, “Do you kill people or cheat on your spouse?” It’s “What do you desire in your heart? What do you want to have happen? What are you really thinking?” God cares about motives.
3. They gave themselves first to the Lord and then to the cause of Paul.
Jesus was once asked whether people should pay taxes or not. He held up a coin and said:
"Whose image is on this coin?" They answered, "Caesar's." Jesus said, “Give to Caesar the things that have Caesar's picture on them, but give to God the things that have the image of God upon them..." (Matthew 22:20-21, Mark 12:16-17, Luke 20:24-25).
We bear the image of God. God wants us. When we truly follow Christ, everything else will follow, and that includes our money. Jesus made it very clear that we will find our heart right next to our treasure. The trail of our things will reveal our god. When we see who has our treasure, we will know who has our heart.
By treasure, I don’t just mean money. Paul said that the Macedonians did not give “a mere cash payment.” They gave themselves: time, resources, energy, friendship, free time, skills. People are impoverished in many different ways. You have been given resources to meet these needs.
If we want to experience the blessing and grace of generosity, we have to give until we feel it.
Our family, church, community, and city need to experience the resources God has given us, and we need to experience what it is like when God steps in to provide when we have given Him all that we have - and more.