Summary: Paul's enthusiasm for giving is only matched by the Macedonians...who had the right spirit toward giving.
The Grace of Giving
While on his third missionary journey, the apostle Paul planned to receive a collection for the poor of Jerusalem—the offering to be received from churches he had planted (Romans 15:25–32; 1 Corinthians 16:1–4). It seems that the Jerusalem church had little left to help its own people after years of sponsoring missionaries, enduring famines, and suffering persecution. So Paul planned an offering as a practical response to the need. Beyond meeting needs of the recipients, such an offering would be a powerful demonstration of the church’s unity. Paul’s congregations had many Gentiles, while the Jerusalem church had a very high percentage of Jews. The offering would express a unity in Christ that transcended differences in ethnicity or geography. Paul’s teaching on generosity and giving is centered around the word ‘Grace’.
1. The Grace of Giving Comes from God (1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.)
Paul may have been writing from the province of Macedonia. This was more than 100 miles north of Corinth. Paul had established the churches in Macedonia and Corinth on his second missionary journey. (Acts 16:9–17:15; Acts 18:1–18; 2 Corinthians 9:2). The Macedonian churches were located in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. When we give we should consider that this opportunity comes from God.
2. The Grace of Giving Arose in a Time of Trial. (2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.)
Wouldn’t giving be stifled by severe trials? When trials come, are we motivated to give or to hoard? Notice the ‘big’ words used here: overflowing, extreme, rich generosity. Are these the words that describe our giving to the Lord?
3. The Grace of Giving Surpasses Ability (3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.)
What does it mean that they gave beyond their ability? They plead for the privilege of sharing … what would motivate such a spirit? It is a service to the Lord’s people. Thus it is a service to the Lord Himself. If Christ’s Spirit lives in every believer, if believers together constitute Christ’s body, then generosity toward other Christians expresses generosity toward the Lord Jesus. Proverbs 19:17 Kindness to the poor is a loan to the Lord, and He will give a reward to the lender.
4. The Grace of Giving Begins With Giving Ourselves to the Lord (5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 6 So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part.)
AMP: Nor [was this gift of theirs merely the contribution] that we expected, but first they gave themselves to the Lord and to us [as His agents] by the will of God [entirely disregarding their personal interests, they gave as much as they possibly could, having put themselves at our disposal to be directed by the will of God]
Giving truly begins in the heart, not the bank account. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the richest 20 percent of Americans give only 2.1 percent of their income while the poorest 20 percent of Americans give 4.3 percent. What Paul wrote about the generosity of the Macedonian Christians tells us this is not a new phenomenon—see also Mark 12:41–44. The key is likely to be found in the fact that “they gave themselves first of all to the Lord.” How are we doing in that regard?
If the churches in Macedonia can respond so exceptionally, then Corinth must be challenged to do so as well. So Paul is sending Titus to deliver the letter we are now reading to the believers in Corinth to prepare them to make their own contributions. The Corinthians have already made plans to do so, but Titus will help them finish what they have started. When we give ourselves to the Lord, everything about His ways and His work becomes our passion… giving to Him our time, energy, strength, efforts, and money.
5. The Grace of Giving is an Area of Discipleship in Which to Excel. (7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. 8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.)