II CORINTHIANS 8:3-5a
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
II Cor. 8:3 “For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power
they were willing of themselves;
Paul used poor believers in Macedonia as an example to nudge poor believers in Corinth to give money to even poorer believers in Jerusalem. The Macedonians put an ouch in their offering. Though poor, they gave beyond anyone’s expectation. They contributed way past what anybody thought possible in their situation.
Paul obviously wanted the Corinthians also to say ouch as they gave. We not only need to give our offerings. We must also feel them. In giving, sacrifice is the beginning virtue, self-denial the first step. Until self is denied, nothing is given. If today’s offering does not hurt, we will have given only a tip, not a gift.
We truly give only when we consciously do without something we want. The only worthwhile offering is one which smarts. Pure donations contain an ouch.
When David chose a temple site, the landowner offered to donate the property. David refused, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 SM 24:24 NAS).
The challenge from the Macedonians to us is crystal clear, does our giving cost us anything? Ruth and I constantly see cars nicer than ours, and houses bigger than ours. My carnal mathematical nature occasionally runs the figures on what model of car we could drive, and what kind of house we could live in, were we giving less to the church. With our offerings to the church, we could afford monthly payments on a house costing $80,000 more than the one we live in, and buy a whole fleet of 1963 Ford Falcons, the finest car ever built in North America.
We all need to examine our giving. Have we recently consciously given up something we wanted in order to give a pure gift of love to Jesus? We who give regularly often slip into the trap of giving pedantically. Love’s luster often dulls on our offerings. The money becomes just money, not a passionate gift of love. Our gifts, to be worthwhile, ought to carry with them a part of our own selves.
II Cor. 8:4 “Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift,
and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”
The Macedonians begged Paul to let them participate in this offering. Giving was an honor they sought, not a troublesome obligation they dreaded. There was no whining, no groaning, no saying we are too poor, no claiming this is a bad time.
They were not hounded into giving. Pressure came only from within themselves. Liberality is rare, self-induced liberality even rarer. People usually have to be prodded, but the Macedonians gave as a joyous act of fellowship, as a tangible way to help believers. Prompted by a love only God can give, they gave with no strings attached, unconditionally. Macedonians intertwined hearts with Judeans, Gentiles with Jews, Europeans with Asians, Westerners with Easterners. Nationality, race, ethnicity, heritage, and politics did not matter. Seeing only hurting people whom Jesus loved, they passed on to them God’s blessing. Jesus truly was among His dear saints in Macedonia. Their unconditional love in giving proved it.
II Cor. 8:5a “And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own
selves to the Lord,. . .”
The Macedonians gave far more than Paul had dared to hope for. The level of their generosity shocked the mighty Apostle. I stand in awe before these impoverished saints. The Macedonians put a wow in their offering. I ask, how did they do this? What is “the profound explanation of this heroic self-denial” (Parker)?
They first gave themselves, their very being, to the Lord. These Macedonians were master-teachers, illustrating Paul and Peter’s words, “Ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price” (1 C 6:19-20); ye were bought not “with corruptible things, as silver and gold,. . . .But with the precious blood of Christ” (1 P 1:18-19). God is the Author of our physical life and of our spiritual life. We acknowledge His right to own us by voluntarily surrendering to Him all we are and have.
Paul knew their persons had been given to God when he saw their purses being gladly given to God’s work. These two always go together. Until we yield self, giving is tough. We struggle up a steep incline, pushing a heavy stone. If our heart is not in it, giving is hard work, every step a burden, but once we give self, all other giving becomes easy. We can give parts gladly once we give the whole.
In giving their whole selves to the Lord, the Macedonians began to realize all they had automatically belonged to the Lord already. “If a man feels that he does not own himself, much less will he feel that his goods are his own” (Maclaren).
One of the most freeing and relaxing teachings of Scripture is that God owns everything. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof” (PS 24:1). Realizing nothing belongs to us helps break our emotional attachment and addiction to stuff.
Realizing nothing belongs to us makes it easier to give to God. We are not owners. We are merely stewards, temporary trustees. Since God owns everything anyway, there is a way in which we can rightly say we never give Him anything.
After David and the people gave profusely for work on the Lord’s house, they rejoiced, but did not brag or feel smug. The people had given, but David blessed God, saying He owns “everything that is in the heavens and the earth. . . .Both riches and honor come from Thee,. . . .God, we thank thee,. . . .But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from Thee, and from Thy hand we have given Thee” (I CH 29 NAS).
God is not “served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things” (AC 17:25 NAS). “Every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all it contains” (PS 50:10-12 NAS).
Giving is our way of acknowledging all we have belongs to God, and has already been placed on the altar. God asked Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, but was actually wanting to know if He had all that was within Abraham. Isaac’s body was on the altar, but the real question was, is Abraham’s heart also on there?
We outwardly give a part to represent we have inwardly given all. Our offering has to be an outward expression of an inner reality. My wedding ring is a visible token, a statement in gold of my devotion and faithfulness to Ruth, but if not matched by an inner, 100% giving of myself to her in love, the ring is a mockery.
Symbolism is useless apart from the reality it claims to represent. Thus, if you have not given all in your heart, don’t put anything in the offering plate. We can do more with twenty God-blessed dollars than with forty unblessed dollars, for the former is accompanied with a yielded, willing pray-er, worker, giver, and goer.
We do not want to receive your money if in doing so we lead you to believe you have thereby performed all your duty or done God a favor. The Macedonians force us to go past the issue of stuff, and face the harder issue of self.
Woodrow Kroll tells a precious story from the nineteenth century. C. T. Studd was a world champion cricket player who became a Christian. Soon thereafter his dad died. C. T. inherited about $150,000, a huge fortune in those days. Studd had already surrendered his life to full-time career mission service in Africa. He feared the money would always be a temptation to leave the Lord’s work and return home. C. T. had crossed a line. He had given himself, and wanted to never look back. He gave $25,000 to missionary Hudson Taylor’s work in China, $25,000 to William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, and $25,000 to D. L. Moody. The rest he gave to other ministries until he had $17,000 left. He gave this to his bride on their wedding day, but she refused to accept it. Her response was, “The rich young ruler was asked to give all.” With that, they gave everything to the Lord’s work, and then, penniless, left as missionaries to Africa.
God does not need our gifts. He wants our love. Our loving God desires loving echoes. Let every offering be a love-gift, a statement of our passion for Him.
If Jesus does not have us, He does not want anything from us. “If God doesn’t have the hand, He doesn’t want the gift that is in the hand” (McGee).
If you have not yet given yourself totally to God, take your money home, lean back in a recliner, and place your wallet on your heart as a picture of where your treasure really is. Then pray till God gives an absolute brokenness which brings a ton of embarrassment, a flood of tears, a heart of repentance, and a joy in giving.