When Joy Overflowed in a Wealth of Generosity: Some Reflections on 2 Corinthians 8:1-5
The clearest and most glorious and encouraging passage in the Bible on the dynamics of giving and serving and the spiritual blessings that come with it is found in 2 Corinthians 8. I simply cannot overstate how significant this text has been in challenging and changing my life, in particular my understanding of the source and sustaining energy of joy and how it enables us to serve others to the glory of God.
Let me remind you of the context. The church in the city of Jerusalem was suffering from extreme poverty. Paul had spent considerable time raising funds to help alleviate their struggle. The Christians in Corinth had initially told Paul that they wanted to help, but for some reason they had never followed through with it. Their verbal declaration had not been consummate by actual giving. So Paul writes 2 Corinthians 8-9 to stir them up to fulfill their promise. And he does it by directing their attention to the Christians in Macedonia (i.e., the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, among others). On the surface, this seems like a bad idea, because the Macedonians were just as poverty-stricken as were the Christians in Jerusalem.
The Macedonians loved their Christian brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. But there was only so much they could do for them. They couldn't travel to Jerusalem, as the distance was too far. I'm sure they prayed for them. But here we are told that they overflowed in generosity to the people in Jerusalem. They served them by giving material resources in order to alleviate the suffering of the church in that city.
"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 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" (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
There are several (8, to be exact) things to note here.
First, the joy of the Macedonians obviously didn't come from their material possessions. They had none. Or they had very little. Paul says explicitly that they were living in virtual poverty. So, although they were personally in great need themselves, they didn't let that become an excuse not to serve and to give to the Christians in Jerusalem.
Second, the joy of the Macedonians obviously didn't come from their physical comfort. They had none. Or they had very little. Paul says explicitly that they were suffering great affliction. But again, they didn't appeal or point to their affliction and say, "Hey, as much as we'd like to help, you can see that we are in no condition to do so. In fact, it would be nice if some of you could serve us and give to us. We are the needy ones."
Third, the joy of the Macedonians obviously came from their experience of God's grace. They had plenty of it. Paul says explicitly that the grace of God had been "given" to them. Of course, God never just "gives" his grace. He gives effusively, abundantly, with overwhelming generosity.
Fourth, the Macedonians responded to their poverty and affliction not with self-pity or greed or bitterness but with joy. Paul says explicitly that they gave to the church in Jerusalem from "their abundance of joy." They didn't just have a little joy, a small measure of joy, a passing moment of delight. They abounded in joy.
Fifth, although the Macedonians were suffering affliction and had very little in the way of financial wealth, their joy didn't simply trickle out a drop at a time but "overflowed in a wealth of generosity." We all too often measure out what we can do and stop way short of what is actually possible. Here we see people who were literally poor giving in such a way that Paul feels justified in describing their gift as "a wealth of generosity."
Sixth, the Macedonians didn't love and serve the church in Jerusalem because we begged them to do so, says Paul. They loved and served and gave because they begged us for the privilege of doing so! In other words, it was not from a sense of moral obligation or duty that they served others but from an experience of God's grace to them in Christ. What could possibly have happened in their hearts that would prompt them to beg for the opportunity to give? Could it be that they were hungry for more "blessedness" than would have been theirs had they chosen not to give? Could it be that they had heard Paul say to them the same thing he said to the Elders in Ephesus, that it was more blessed to give than to receive?
Seventh, the Macedonians didn't wake up each day hurting and uncomfortable and poor and say: "Oh, I'm so relieved that my physical and financial circumstances and all the pressures of life have gotten me off the hook so that I don't have to serve others. Hopefully, once people hear of our condition they will jump at the opportunity to serve and give to us." No! They refused to let the adversity and pressures and disappointment of life become an excuse not to serve and to give and to love others.
Eighth, the Macedonians joyfully served others because they had been transformed by the multitude of ways in which Christ had served them. Paul makes this clear in 2 Corinthians 8:9when he bases or grounds his appeal in the self-giving of Jesus himself: "
"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" (2 Cor. 8:9).
So, strike a blow at self-preoccupation by devoting your attention, time, and energy to serving and giving to others out of the overflow of your own joy in God. For in doing so you will actually be doing yourself a glorious favor. In serving and giving you will gain far more joy, spiritual blessedness, delight, and satisfaction than could ever be gained by greedily and selfishly serving only yourself.