[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.

2 Corinthians 8:1-2

Let’s start with a confession. I have rarely spoken on the subject of money, yet there are some Church leaders who rarely talk about anything else! I must admit I find it quite difficult to speak on money as it feels like I am asking for money for myself, yet some Church leaders consider wealth a spiritual birthright of all Christians.

The apostle Paul would take issue with me and them. He is unashamed to issue a passionate appeal to the Corinthians that they contribute generously to the impoverished church in Jerusalem. In doing so, he provides us with profound insight into the nature of God’s grace, our giving, and the joy that is found in both in the life of the Church.

As I said, his appeal was provoked by the crisis that had fallen upon the Church in Jerusalem. The reasons for this very serious situation were many: in addition to overpopulation, there was social and economic exclusion, extreme poverty, disinheritance following salvation, disruption of family ties, persecution, and the lingering effects of the famine of AD 45 (Acts 11:27-30).

One of Paul’s undying missions and heart is found in his letter to the Church in Galatia.

Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Galatians 2:10

Paul hopes to stir the Corinthians to contribute to their poverty-stricken brethren in Jerusalem.

From a strictly human point of view, the odds were stacked against the Macedonians from the start. Common sense would tell us that such folk were hardly the sort who could be expected to alleviate anyone else’s suffering. Their own “severe test of affliction” and “extreme poverty” would appear to excuse them from participation in any fund-raising venture, in short they could not afford to do it.

Something occurred that is both divine and of grace that changes everything. This grace had been “given” or bestowed or poured out on the Churches of Macedonia and that alone, ultimately speaking, accounts for their remarkable generosity toward their brethren in Jerusalem.

Paul appeals to what believers in Macedonia had done. But he is quick to acknowledge that what they did in serving their brethren is the fruit of what God had done in serving them!

If the Macedonians “gave themselves first to the Lord” (vs 5), it is because God had first “given” his grace (vs 1) to them. Whatever achievement on their part is praised, whatever example they may have set for others to follow, it is only because of an understanding of the lavish grace they had received.

Look at Philippians 2:12-13. This is a fantastic example of the harmony between the presence of divine grace and the accountability of human decisions. In vs 3 Paul says they gave “of their own free will,” while in vs 1 their willingness is traced to the grace of God!

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this sort of dynamic interplay between divine grace and human response.

Another example would be David who describes the remarkable fund-raising campaign that eventually subsidised the building of Solomon’s temple. (2 Chronicles 29:10-19). In vs 12 David says of God that “both riches and honour come from you.” From a purely human point of view, the money and wealth given for the building of the temple seems to come from the work and energy and savings and investments of the people. Perhaps some of them had profited from shrewd business transactions. Perhaps a few had turned an incredible profit on the sale of some land. But no matter, David says that all riches come from God! Whatever anyone worked for, earned, invested, sold and then gave, they first got it from God.

Again in vs 12, David declares it’s God’s hand “to make great and to give strength to all.” Whatever energy or accomplishments may be attributed to the people that accounted for what and why they gave, all of it ultimately came from God. Power, influence, ingenuity, success, commitment, whatever it might be, are the result of a gracious and kind God working in and through his people for their welfare and his own glory.

David then asks: “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly?” This is David’s way of saying that God is the one who enables us to do what we do not deserve help to do. Who are we? asks David, that we should receive the help of God that would mobilise us to produce this wealth and then stir our hearts to give it away? We are sinners. We deserve nothing but judgment.

But perhaps the most stirring thing David says comes in vs 14. “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” In other words, whatever they gave they first received. He says much the same thing in vs 16. declaring that “all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own.” All giving stirred in us is because of God’s giving.

This is the same principle we see at work in the Macedonians and the overwhelming generosity they displayed in contributing to the Church in Jerusalem.

Please note the use of the word charis, “grace”, throughout this section of 2 Corinthians. It is used in 8:1,4,6,7,9,16,19; 9:8,14,15, with a wide range of meaning, from divine enablement to human privilege to a monetary gift to a word of gratitude to divine favour. This should remind us that grace is more than an attitude or disposition in the divine nature. It is that, but it is also much more.

The grace of God, for example, is the power of God’s Spirit bringing us to salvation. It is the activity or movement of God whereby he saves and justifies the individual through faith (Romans 3:24, 5:15,17). Therefore, grace is not something in which we merely believe; it is something we experience as well.

Grace, however, is not only the divine act by which God initiates our spiritual life, but also the very power by which we are sustained in, nourished by, and proceed through that life. The energising and sanctifying work of the indwelling Spirit is the grace of God (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Grace then, is a dynamic and experiential reality that empowers the human heart to look beyond its limitations to accomplish things that defy rational explanation. Grace is the power that enables impoverished and suffering believers to give when, by all accounts, they should be the ones to get. Such was the operation of grace in the giving of these Macedonian believers. And such ought to be its operation in us as well.