A Church Worth Talking About | 2 Corinthians 8:1-5

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  • A Church Worth Talking About | 2 Corinthians 8:1-5
  • High-profile churches garner much attention. That can be a good thing. Model congregations should be spotlighted to challenge and encourage others. But it is not a good thing to highlight unhealthy churches. Some prominent preachers and churches should be ignored at best and censured at worst. Instead, they are endorsed, promoted, and celebrated as they defy God’s word in Christ’s name. We live in a reality TV culture where people are famous for being famous. The same is true of some churches.

    What is a church worth talking about? 2 Corinthians 8:1 answers: “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia.” Then, Paul testifies to the generosity of the Macedonian churches. Generosity is not the only thing that makes a church worth talking about. But a church is not healthy if its members are not generous – even if there are many other positive things about it.  2 Corinthians 8:7 says, “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.”

    Persecution, famine, overpopulation, taxation, and their own generosity put the saints in Jerusalem in desperate straits. Between A.D. 52-57, much of Paul’s energy was devoted to raising money for the mother church. When the appeal was made to the Corinthians, they were ready to give. 2 Corinthians 8-9 appeals to the Corinthians to finish what they started. These two chapters are the fullest mention of Christian generosity in the New Testament. 

    Paul begins with an example, not an exhortation. In this passage, he writes to the church of Corinth about the churches of Macedonia for the sake of the church in Jerusalem. Charities, social programs, and parachurch ministries are not in view. The text is about church-based and church-driven generosity. Christian generosity is to be practiced in the church, by the church, for the church. 

    Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, as you have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” The local church should be the primary context in which Christians use their material possessions to further the work of God’s kingdom. Paul motivated a worldly church to godliness by pointing to the example of a generous church. A godly church is a generous church. What does godly generosity look like? 

    The Grace of a Generous Church 

    To promote generosity, Paul points the Corinthians to the example of the Macedonians. But he never directly mentions money. The tone of the text is overtly spiritual. We see this in that although Paul points to the Macedonians as an example of generosity, he does not give them credit for it. Verses 1-2 show how their generosity was the grace of God at work in them.  

    Transforming Grace. Verse 1 says, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia.” The Macedonians’ offering for the saints in Jerusalem was not the result of human generosity. It was the result of sovereign grace.1 Peter 5:10 calls God “the God of all grace.” Grace is not just a ticket to heaven. It is the power of God to transform our lives. 

    Grace turns selfish people into generous people. Humans are not naturally generous. It is more natural for us to grab than to give. We are acquisitive, not donative. When a newborn gets hungry, she cries like someone is torturing her. She does not cry when her mother gets hungry. When we are born, we instinctively think about ourselves before others. Humankind is the only one in God’s creation who has a problem with giving. 

    • The sun gives light and heat. 
    • The moon gives radiance. 
    • The stars give splendor. 
    • The clouds give rain. 
    • The rain gives cleansing.
    • The air gives oxygen. 
    • The mountains give security.
    • The flowers give fragrance.
    • The grass gives beauty. 
    • The trees give fruit. 
    • The animals give meat.
    • The earth gives minerals.
    • The ground gives crops.
    • The crop gives food. 
    • The water gives refreshment.

    Man gives nothing. Our sinful nature follows us to church. We love to hear that God will bless us. We don’t want to hear about what to do with those blessings. But God’s transforming grace changes our hearts to make us generous people.              

    Triumphant Grace. Verse 2 explains how God’s grace was at work: “For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” Notice the two paradoxes in this verse. First, the Macedonians were “in a severe test of affliction.” Paul piles on the words to express the persecution the Macedonians suffered. 

    • It was a trial. 
    • It was a severe trial. 
    • It was a severe trial of affliction. 

    Yet they were not bitter, miserable, and complaining. In their severe trial of affliction, they had an “abundance of joy.” This is the nature of Christian joy. It is more than what the world calls happiness. Joy is independent of our circumstances and rooted in the steadfast love of God. James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

    Likewise, Paul says the Macedonians were in “extreme poverty.” Paul uses the strongest word for poverty here. He does not mean they were living from paycheck to paycheck. They had nothing. Picture a man who must beg or die. It’s cringing poverty. Paul calls it “extreme poverty.” It was rock-bottom destitution. Yet, their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

    The example of the Macedonians rebukes those who make excuses for not giving. The Macedonians were not generous because they were wealthy. A severe test of affliction brought them to extreme poverty. But their affliction did not impede their joy, and their poverty did not impede their generosity. That’s how amazing grace works! 

    The Giving of a Generous Church 

    Verse 3 says, “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.” Knowing some Corinthians may cross-examine verses 1-2, Paul takes the stand in a courtroom. Under the threat of spiritual perjury, he testifies to the giving of the Macedonian churches. 

    Proportional Giving. Verse 3 says, “For the gave according to their means.” They gave what they could afford to give. This is the New Testament pattern for giving. 1 Corinthians 16:2 says, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collection when I come.”Your giving should reflect how the Lord has prospered you. It should be representative of God’s blessings in your life. 

      In the Old Testament, Israel was commanded to give a tithe to the Lord. There is no command for Christians to tithe in the New Testament. But the principle of proportional giving walks out of the Old Testament into the New Testament. For a Jew under the law to give more than a Christian under grace is a disgrace. You should give according to your means, not out of your means. Don’t wait until you have spent your money on everything else and say, “God understands this is all I have left.” God gave you what you started with. 

      As you give to God according to your means, God will give to you according to his means. Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  

      Sacrificial Giving. Verse 3 says, “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means.”

      • They gave what they could afford to give. 
      • They gave what they could not afford to give. 

      It was sacrificial giving. True generosity is not just measured by how much one gives. It is also measured by what one keeps. A poor man can never give more than a rich man. But a poor man can be more generous than a rich man. Mark 12:43-44 commends the widow’s mite: “Truly, is say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 

      What is the last time you have sacrificed for the Lord’s sake? May the Lord give us the spirit of David in 2 Samuel 24:24: “No, but I will buy it for you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”

      Freewill Giving. Verse 3 says they gave “of their own accord.” The phrase means “one who chooses his own course of action.” Paul did not appeal to the Macedonians to give to the saints in Jerusalem. They heard about the need and gave volitionally and voluntarily. Mark it down: Every church offering is a freewill offering. We cannot make you give. But only extend the opportunity for you to show your love for Christ and the church. 2 Corinthians 8:8 says, “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others your love also is genuine.”

      • The leaders give the test. 
      • The Lord judges the text. 

      The Lord will judge your offering by the willingness of your heart. 2 Corinthians 8:12 says, “For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.”There are three types of givers – the flint, sponge, and honeycomb. To get anything out of the flint, you must hammer it. But you’ll only get chips and sparks. To get water from a sponge, you must squeeze it. The more pressure you use, the more water you get. But the honeycomb overflows with its sweetness.

      Christian generosity overflows by inward expulsion, not outward compulsion – without being forced, pressured, or manipulated. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

      The Godliness of Generous Church

      A godly church is a generous church. The two go together in two ways. 

        Christian Fellowship. Verse 4 says they were “begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.” Paul was hesitant to take their gift. He knew about their great affliction and deep poverty. They needed someone to take up a love offering for them. But they earnestly begged Paul to receive their gift. Have you ever seen a church beg to give? This is what it looks like when saints believe Acts 20:38: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” 

        Verse 4 says they earnestly begged for the favor or grace of “taking part.” “Taking part” is the Greek word for “fellowship.” Your personal giving is a corporate issue. What you give is personal but not private. It is a means of fellowship. Generous givers should be recognized to encourage them and challenge non-givers. 

          • That’s why God left the story of the widow’s mite on record. 
          • That’s why God left the story of Ananias and Sapphira on record. 
          • That’s why God left the example of the Macedonians on record. 

           It’s because our giving is fellowship. Your giving affects me, and my giving affects you because we are members of one another. A lack of generosity affects the whole body. They earnestly begged for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints in Jerusalem. 

          • They gave to benefit saints in another city.
          • They gave to benefit saints they had not met. 
          • They gave to benefit saints of a different ethnicity. 

          What a fellowship! 

          Christian Submission. Verse 5 concludes: “And this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” Whatever Paul expected the Macedonians to do, they exceeded it! How did they give so generously? “They gave themselves first to the Lord.” This is the open secret to Christian generosity. Ultimately, the Lord wants you, not your money. It is spiritually dangerous to give money to Christian causes with an unconverted heart. You can be deceived that your giving buys you stock in the kingdom of heaven. It does not. Your money will perish with you if you don’t give yourself to the Lord in repentance, trust, and obedience. 

          • The Macedonians gave themselves to the Lord in salvation. 
          • Then they gave themselves to the Lord again in submission. 

          They gave themselves to the Lord “first” – not first in time, but first in priority. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Then Paul says by the will of God, they gave themselves to us. Would-be leaders in the church of Corinth attacked Paul’s calling, character, and credentials. Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to defend himself. He continues to do so in this section of generosity. He notes that the Macedonians submitted to the Lord of the church and the leaders of the church. So should you!

          Leaders who cannot be trusted with your money should not be trusted with your soul. But when godly pastors and godly members work together in gospel-driven generosity, the church is a church worth talking about for the good of others and the glory of God. 

          A young woman was killed in a car accident the night before her wedding. The officer on the scene identified her by getting her license out of her wallet. After her husband-to-be identified her body, an officer asked to have a word with him. “Sir,” the officer said, “when I went into your fiancée’s wallet to get her ID, I couldn’t help but notice her checks. There was one to the Gamble Street Baptist Church, then one for her light bill, then another to the Gamble Street Baptist Church, then one for groceries, then another to the Gamble Street Baptist Church. Don’t you think that’s strange?” “No, not at all,” was the reply. “You see, as a young girl, my wife had given her life to Jesus at the Gamble Street Baptist Church. She had been a faithful disciple of Christ at the Gamble Street Baptist Church.” On that aborted eve of his wedding, the young man led that officer to Christ. Though his fiancée was dead, her witness lived on because of her commitment to Jesus and her local church.


          H.B. Charles Jr.

          Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.