The opening of 2 Corinthians 8 starts out well enough. “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia,” reads vs 1 (HCSB), and it sounds like it’s going to be time for a simple, encouraging story of God’s work and provision in the churches of Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, etc. But then comes verse two, and a revelation which is simultaneously puzzling, challenging, and truly encouraging: “During a severe testing by affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of generosity.”

I am struck by this verse today for a number of reasons. First, Paul starts with – and thus emphasizes – the fact that these churches were enduring “a severe testing by affliction.” Commentator Matthew Henry reports that the language implies persecution, and knowing the history of these churches, that would seem consistent. Indeed, it was at Thessalonica that Acts 17 tells us Paul’s preaching was embraced by a few Jews and a significant number of Gentiles until a mob rose up and started a riot, and Paul and his company of missionaries were compelled to leave town. In Berea, the people met daily and just ate up the gospel, but then in vs 13, we read, “But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds” (NASB). And in verse 14, Paul was forced to quit Berea as well. Clearly, these Jews were not keen on the gospel making inroads in their communities. And so, as another commentator notes, they made sure that people who would become Christians would suffer and lose everything. And yet those who did believe had an “abundance of joy.” Wow.

The second thing that strikes is that this joy produced in the Macedonian churches a “wealth of… generosity.” No matter how I read that, it still means that they were giving. In fact, as Paul goes on through the rest of the chapter, I read that these dear believers, though persecuted and impoverished (I’ll get to that), weren’t just a little bit generous. The apostle notes that they gave “according to their ability and beyond their ability” (vs 3 HCSB), “they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints” (vs 4 HCSB), and “they gave themselves expecially to the Lord, then to us by God’s will.” In other words, they gave. A lot. But the language here grabs me! Not only did they give, but they gave out of joy. And they counted it a privilege to do so! How often do I give because it’s what I’m supposed to do? And how often do I count it more an obligation or responsibility than anything else?  Paul advanced the Macedonians’ generosity not because they gave a huge amount. Indeed, they probably didn’t have a huge amount to give! But he presented them as an example for the Corinthians because they gave as a result of joy. They gave because they wanted to. They gave because not even Paul could stop them! And did I mention these Macedonian believers had an “abundance of joy”? Wow.

And once I realized that, I could not help but be smacked around by this phrase: “their deep poverty overflowed.” They gave even though they very nearly had nothing to give. There’s a word for that which I recently encountered in Craig Groeschel’s book Weird: sacrifice. The believers in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, etc., gave sacrificially, resolving to live without so that others would have. And in all likelihood, given this phrase, I don’t think their sacrifice was driving a three-year-old car, going with the 100-channel package rather than the 250, or not buying that pair of designer jeans. I don’t believe for a moment that the Macedonians’ sacrifice was the trivial stuff we usually associate with sacrificial giving. It was far more likely that they were sacrificing one of two meals per day, giving the grocery money instead to the offering. They were getting by with the same shirt they had worn for the last five years for one or two more. And these precious believers were doing all of this with an “abundance of joy.”


Here is the thing that I’m concluding. Generosity doesn’t depend on material wealth. And real joy goes hand-in-hand with sacrificial generosity.

Now, I’m sure that joy comes with other forms of generosity. Groeschel identified spontaneous and strategic levels of generosity. In spontaneous mode, you give as you see the need and feel led. In strategic mode, you plan your giving and work toward goals to maximize the impact of your gives. But sacrificial generosity is special. It’s where I give up something I want or even need to meet another’s need. And contrary to everything I might expect about such behavior, it actually flows from – and provides fuel for – godly joy.

So the take-away for me today is that I need to work toward more sacrificial generosity. Because I want to do it. And to expect to be blessed as a result.


1 Response to “During…”

  1. 1 Eve March 23, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Hi there,

    Found your blog via a google search on Corinthians and joy – my family is doing an “Easter” tree over Lent and choosing a scripture on joy to note on a leaf for each day of Lent… (we are Baptists who strive to use the Lent period to better appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice and grow closer to Him… well, it’s mostly me driving this but soon enough my 2, 4 and 6 year-olds will participate more!!). This is a great post and I too will think about how I can give sacrificially and what this means for joy in my life… Looking forward to reading more of your blog!

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