2 Corinthians 8:1-6
Moreover, brothers, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;…
Grace prepares the way for grace. Denial of self in one direction leads to cross-bearing in other forms. Duty is a spirit, not a mechanical thing; a life, and not a mere performance. If the Corinthians had shown such a "godly sorrow," they would now be eager to demonstrate their renewed Christian strength by a more faithful regard to all obligations. Carefulness, zeal, vehement desire, had characterized their repentance, and these would not expire with the occasion that had called them into exercise. Deep feeling is quiet feeling, and therefore permanent, and deep feeling is always the mark of true penitence. St. Paul had confidence in his Corinthian brethren, and it was a large-hearted trust; "confidence in you in all things." The "all things" is the nexus between the seventh and eighth chapters. So then he proceeds to speak of the liberality of the Macedonian Churches preparatory to urging on them the duty of benevolence. Observe his manner. If he states a doctrine, he illustrates it. If he teaches a duty, he gives an example. Never so abstract as to neglect the practical side of life, never so intent on action as to lose sight of the determinative principle, he reminds one of Lord Bacon's remark, that the highest order of mind is that combining most fully the abstract and the practical. The example of these Macedonian Churches was well worthy of imitation. Macedonia had been overrun by armies, and we all know how armies devastated countries in those days and stripped the inhabitants of their wealth. St. Paul speaks of their "great trial of affliction," the losses and persecutions they were enduring, and yet they had "abundant joy," that could only be represented by its filling the depth of their poverty and overflowing in "the riches of their liberality." No common poverty was theirs - "deep poverty;" and no ordinary love was theirs, but a very profound and tender love. "This sentence is completely shattered in passing through the apostle's mind" (Stanley). How much more is unsaid than said in the marvellous words, "Their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality"! Two things are taught us.
1. The inspiration of a joyous influence. Duty, motive, impulse, all exalted into Christian happiness. "Rejoice evermore." Such joy is a glorious power. Let us not make a mistake here. Fine feelings, exuberant emotions, loud hallelujahs, the thrill and shout and ecstasy, may deceive us. If they exhaust themselves in sensational excitement, they do deceive us, and that most awfully. Joy as a fruit of the Spirit is a giving joy, a sacrificing joy, a joy in the cross by which we are crucified to the world and the world unto us.
2. And we learn that even "deep poverty" is no obstruction to helping others. It often hinders us from doing what we would; but in the estimate of the Lord Jesus, the heart of this matter is in the "could," not in the would. "She hath done what she could." Capacity is always a mystery. It surprises us ever, and more and more, and in nothing is it so surprising as in the charitable heart with small means at its command. The glory of giving is in the quality of love, and it never fails to find something to bestow. "She of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had." If this poor widow could spare "two mites," who can plead depth of poverty? Notice that St. Paul emphasizes the depth of poverty in the Macedonian Church. If it had been simply a case of poverty, the example would not have been so instructive, and, accordingly, we find the apostle citing his cases from such as had to make sacrifices of personal comfort in order to aid those poorer than themselves. So that while in the Acts of the Apostles we hear of "possessors of lands or houses" selling them and. laying the prices at the feet of the apostles, this fades from view in the tragic deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. But the image of the poor widow returns to us in the Epistles, with many suggestions as to the class of persons who do the most of the steady Christian giving. What is further noteworthy is the apostle's description of the self-moved generosity of these Macedonians. "Willing of themselves." Liberality is not a common virtue, and self-induced liberality is its rarest form. Men wait to be urged, begged, entreated; special occasions set are for special efforts; fine speakers are engaged; and the whole system of giving, or very much of it, proceeds on the habitual reluctance of giving for the support of the gospel. As to spontaneousness in this matter, who thinks of it, who trusts it? Now, we do not suppose that all religious people in the apostolic age were like these Macedonians. We know they were not. Yet, consider this fact, viz. they were the persons held up as shining examples of what liberality ought to be in the Church of Christ. And this accords precisely with the incidents mentioned concerning Mary of Bethany, and the poor widow and her mites, and the disciples after Pentecost who disposed of their property to hell, the poor. It was cordial and voluntary action, no external agency operating to give inducements. Without pressing this point too far, we must say that whatever utility belongs to the machinery of collecting funds for Church uses (and this seems to be necessary), it is nevertheless clear enough that spontaneous liberality is the truest, noblest, surest, mode of cultivating this grace in our hearts. So, unquestionably, the apostle thought. With what a glow he writes! "According to their power;" nay, it was more than this, for they went "beyond their power [beyond their means];" and so earnest was their purpose that they prayed the apostle to receive their gifts and let them share the grace and fellowship of ministering to the saints. No doubt many of these men found life a hard struggle, and for them, in more senses than one, "without were fightings, within were fears." Yet they deemed it a privilege to give; they coveted earnestly the best gift, which was the gift of giving; they prayed "with much entreaty" that they might participate in a work which was most blessed. To let such an opportunity slip was more than they could bear. And this conduct exceeded his expectations; for they had given themselves first to the Lord Jesus, and then, anxious to show their affection for the apostle, had given themselves in this special matter to him. Heart and property; what a consecration! What a page in spiritual biography! Out of "deep poverty;" what chorus of voices ever rose like this, pleading that these Macedonians might be permitted to share the grace of ministration! "The short and simple annals of the poor" have added much to our English literature, nor is it extragavant to claim that this is one of the most praiseworthy marks of that distinctive genius which has signalized its excellence in so many departments of poetry and fiction. But do we realize our indebtedness to the Bible for this beautiful and humanizing element in English literature? Here, in this single chapter from the Apostle Paul, what a touching picture of Christian poverty, surrendering means it could ill afford to spare, and doing it "with a self-dedication which involved a complete renunciation of all personal interests" (Kling)! - L.
Parallel VersesKJV: Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;