Extreme Poverty and Extreme Generosity

I have read through the book of 2 Corinthians several times over the years, but the other day I noticed something remarkable as I read through the first few verse of chapter 8.

“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of 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 free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.”

Did anything surprise you or catch your attention in those verses, or were you like me the first few times I read them?  Apparently these Macedonian churches (most likely the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea) were famished and extremely poor.  They had suffered through many wars over the years and were even plundered by Roman authorities.  What I find remarkable is their response to such suffering.  Notice:

–          “their abundance of joy”

–          “a wealth of generosity on their part”

–          they gave “beyond their means”

–          “taking part in the relief of the saints”

What was up with these people?  Don’t they know that tough times call for stinginess?  Of course, no Christian would ever say such a thing, but isn’t that what has happened over the last couple years?  As the world economy tanked so too did our giving.  Statistics have revealed a decline in church giving, and few doubt that the weak economy was the culprit.

But what we see among the Macedonian church is just the opposite.  What caused this “wealth of generosity” is described in the first verse – “the grace of God was given.”  That’s it – God’s grace.  In our fleshly natures, none of us would respond the way they did.  However, as the Holy Spirit empowered them, these early Christians were able to see beyond their ugly circumstances.   As the grace of God was given, it resulted in an “abundance of joy” on their part.  And in the very next chapter, we see the connection between joy and giving:

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for the Lord loves a cheerful giver.  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.”   (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

What Paul describes here is exactly what was going on in the Macedonian churches.  They did not sow sparingly, but gave out of their joy-filled hearts, so much so that they “begged us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.”  I must admit that these early Christians put me to shame.  I desire to be used of God and abound in generosity and every good work, but sometimes that is easier said than done.  I am sure some of you can relate to that.  May we resolve to let the grace of God so fill our lives that it too will result in an abundance of joy and what we might call, extreme generosity.

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