Today’s Reading: 2 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 22, Psalm 69, 2 Corinthians 8.
“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.” 2 Corinthians 8:2-4
Let me list out the actions of these Macedonian believers according to Paul from these verses. You tell me which of these do not belong:
1. Severe test of affliction.
2. Abundance of joy.
3. Extreme poverty.
4. Wealth of generosity.
5. Gave beyond their means.
6. Begged to give more money.
Is this not the most bizarre list of circumstances and actions you have ever read? I feel like I am in the 5th grade, taking a standardized test, and having to decide which one doesn’t fit with the group!
Apparently these believers were dirt poor (extreme poverty . . . not just poverty, mind you, “extreme” poverty). Likewise, they were being persecuted for their faith (severe test of affliction . . . not just a test, mind you, “severe” test). Yet – inconceivably – sandwiched between these to realities Paul says they have abundant joy (not just joy, mind you, “abundant” joy).
What do you do when you are joyfully being beat up and have barely enough money to survive? You give away what you have so that more people can have this joy.
Paul says these circumstances overflowed in a wealth of generosity. They gave beyond their means (side note: most North American Christians I know spend beyond their means . . . but it’s not on Gospel advance – it’s on a new car . . . end side note). Paul apparently had to step in and tell them to STOP GIVING (why else would they have been begging him to let them give more?). Have you ever heard a preacher tell a congregation to stop giving so much?!?!?! Me either.
These people were weird.
Or, is it that I am the weird one?
Let me think of my life and put together a list like the one above:
1. Hardly any persecution at all.
2. Sporadic joy.
3. Very wealthy (especially compared to the majority of the world).
4. Modest generosity (at best!).
5. Give within my means.
6. Never been criticized for begging to give more.
Wow. That hurts. But that’s reality for me most days. What about you?
Perhaps these Macedonians knew something I need to know – or at least be reminded of. . .
The kind of person who joyfully begs to give all they have for the sake of Gospel advance is someone who obviously is getting their joy and satisfaction and life and status and value in something other than their “stuff.” Obviously, they don’t need stuff for their joy. Perhaps they had even tried that route and determined it couldn’t bring lasting joy anyway.
Perhaps there is a very revealing reality here: They – though they had nothing – were full of abundant joy. It’s almost as if they were scared of more stuff because they knew it would rob them of true joy.
At some point in their lives, they placed their trust in a Jesus who – though He had everything – left heaven and gave all so that they could have life (see 2 Corinthians 8:9). They ultimately gave themselves to God by faith in this Jesus – and were never the same again (see 2 Corinthians 8:5).
What about you?
How’s your joy? Is it abundant? Where are you getting your hope from? Where you are putting your trust? What are you looking to do for you that, ultimately, only God can do?
Let’s learn from these dirt poor persecuted believers. We tend to run from this sort of lifestyle (at least, I do). But they are the happy ones.
The list may not belong in North American Christianity. But it sure does make sense biblically.