2 Corinthians 8:5
And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us by the will of God.
One of the words in this passage is evidently used in an unfamiliar sense. "Hoped" means "expected," "anticipated." The verse is connected with the collection for the saints at Jerusalem, and is part of the apostle's endeavour to inspire the Churches of Achaia to nobler endeavour by the example of the Churches of Macedonia. The text expresses the deeply religious character of the Macedonian gift. As St. Paul saw it, it was no mere gift, it was the expression of consecrated and devoted hearts. They gave themselves, and then their gifts. They gave themselves in their gifts. We dwell now, not on the charity, but on the expression, "gave their own selves to the Lord," which suggests for consideration the personal character of saving religion.
I. ALL OF US ARE, IN OUR MEASURE, RELIGIOUS. There may still be godless audiences, such as Whitefield gathered at the fairs, or Wesley and Hill at the mouths of colliery pits. But in the ordinary assemblies in our Churches there is not a man, woman, or child who is not, in some degree, religious. They are religious
(1) as belonging to a Christian country;
(2) as baptized into mystical relations with the Church of Christ;
(3) as by acts of formal worship making Christian profession; or
(4) as variously related to Christian families.
But the question comes again and again before us - Is our kind and degree of religion satisfactory?
II. IN TOO MANY CASES OUR RELIGION IS WHOLLY MATTER OF ASSOCIATION.
1. We are members of a Christian home, and share in the religion of the home. And this is, for the children, an every way beautiful and hopeful beginning of religious life.
2. We are affected by the tone of the spheres we occupy. Illustrate by young people in situations, where they join in family worship and in attendance at the house of God; also by the influence of Christian friendships.
3. We are swayed by our near relationship with those who are godly, as in the case of the husband and wife. But the question comes - Is this all our religion? Is it enough? Is it saving? Can any reliance be placed upon it? Will it stand in the coming testing day? It is so far good. It is a favourable breeze catching the sails, but it is not safety in the harbour. It is the angel's voice in our ear crying, "Flee for thy life;" it is even the angel's hand on our arm, as on the arm of Lot; but it is not safety in Zoar. There is a familiar old saying that "Hell is paved with good intentions;" it might have been with "good associations." Such associations are good if they are used as helps, but not if they are relied on as sufficient. They are only evil if they are allowed to hinder personal anxiety. Religion is personal or it is nothing.
III. GOD, BY HIS PROVIDENCE AND BY HIS WORD, IS EVER URGING US TO MAKE RELIGION PERSONAL. Providence breaks up our associations. A time comes when the child passes into manhood or womanhood, and must learn to go alone. Then changes and testing times come, which show what the religion of association has been worth. Illustrate by the child going to boarding school; the youth to business; the assistant changing his situation; the man or woman going through times of sorrow. In each God is wanting to lead the soul to personal religion. God's preached Word, with its various persuasions, is ever bearing on the same point. It is a singling out of the individual; a two-edged sword to the individual; a pressure of the personal claims of God on the individual. Its voice is, "Thou art the man;" "To you is the word of this salvation sent." It labours to secure a personal decision for Christ, a giving of "our own selves to the Lord." Is, then, your religion yet no more than the religion of your home and associations? And is your manhood come, your womanhood come? Remember that you are not saved, only associated with salvation. This is the question which should set you upon anxious self-searchings, "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" It is not enough to be close by salvation, to be even on its doorstep. Enter in. Strive to enter in. Strive to enter in now. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.