1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 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. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 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 Corinthians 8:1-9
The Bible is full of surprises. From creation to consummation, it reveals counter-intuitive and counter-cultural truths about who God is, what He has done, and the transformation He works in the lives of His people. One short but powerful story of transformation that is particularly relevant for us today is the story the Apostle Paul shares about the surprising generosity of the early Christians in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:1-9). In this passage, there are three ways these Christians provide us with a model of surprising generosity.
First, the Christians in Macedonia gave despite their own extreme poverty (vv. 1-2). Like the widow Jesus praises in Luke 21:1-4, the Christians in Macedonia had little to give. Still, they gave what little they could because they saw the need of their fellow Christians suffering persecution and poverty in Jerusalem. Instinctively, we tend to meet our own needs first and are slow to acknowledge and engage the needs of others. And culturally, we tend to aspire to a certain standard of living before we consider our ability to give to others. But the Christians in Macedonia were surprisingly joyful in their affliction and generous in their poverty. As Paul puts it, “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity (v. 2).”
Second, the Christians in Macedonia gave at their own initiative (vv. 3-4). It is kind to give if asked and obedient to give if commanded. But these Christians did not need a prompt of any kind; they heard the need with their ears, responded to the need with their hearts, and then opened their hands to meet that need. We live in an age of instant communication and multi-layered interconnectedness. And ironically, our lives have become more individualistic and compartmentalized. But Paul says the Christians in Macedonia “begged us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints (v. 4).”
Third, and perhaps most surprising of all, the Christians in Macedonia gave of themselves (vv. 5-8). They didn’t merely give their resources; that much would have been helpful at a practical level. Instead, they gave of themselves. There was a personal, heartfelt quality of care that reflected the greatest gift we could ever give: genuine love (v. 8). A few years ago, my family was preparing to move. While I was at work, a friend called my wife and asked if she could drop by and help. She arrived with coffee and moving boxes an hour later and stayed for two hours to help pack up the kitchen. While the coffee and boxes were helpful, this friend’s initiative and the extended time she gave brought us such deep encouragement. By giving of herself, she proved her love for us was genuine.
While the generosity of the Christians of Macedonia is beautifully and surprisingly generous, it does beg the question: where did they learn such generosity? Surely, they learned this from Jesus Himself. This is why Paul concludes the story saying, “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 (v. 9).” In His divine initiative, Jesus took on extreme poverty and humility and gave of Himself – in body and blood – for our sake. The Macedonians were not inventing a new model of giving; they were simply reflecting to others the gracious generosity Jesus Christ showed to them at the cross.
If we want to live a life of surprising generosity, we must look through the Macedonians to Jesus Christ Himself – His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and reign. And in looking to Jesus, we see not merely a model of generosity; rather, we meet the person whose generosity saves and transforms all who believe.