About twenty-five years after Jesus’ ascension, the small band of believers in Jerusalem faced big trouble. They were persecuted and oppressed in every way, and they were completely out of money. Things were desperate.
When the apostle Paul heard about their situation, he responded out of the depth of his relationships. He called upon fledgling churches throughout the region to help their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. The Corinthian church—one that excelled in everything (2 Cor 8:7)—was among the first to raise their hands. Paul wasn’t surprised.
But something else did surprise him: the generosity of the Macedonian churches. Look at this:
very severe trial
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. –2 Corinthians 8:2
I get the impression Paul wasn’t even planning to ask the Macedonian churches for money, but he says they “urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people” (2 Cor 8:4). His surprise may tell us why he uses all those over-the-top adjectives.
The Macedonian believers didn’t just give a couple of bucks and point out how they needed to feed their children, take care of their sick, and pay their employees. They did need to do all those things and more, but instead, “they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (2 Cor 8:3).
The application for us is clear.
Generosity doesn’t depend on me having enough.
So often, we say, “When I have more, I’ll give more.” But the Macedonian churches didn’t wait on that. If they had, they’d probably still be waiting. Instead, God called them and now calls us to give generously, regardless of circumstances. Generosity doesn’t come from wealth or surplus. If we infer here and look at more of Paul’s writings, we see that authentic generosity is rooted in contentment.
Near the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, he took time to thank them for the gifts they had sent. He makes it clear that he didn’t need the gifts, but he was still glad to have them. Why didn’t he need them? Because he had learned to be content regardless of circumstances (Philippians 4:10-12). In the middle of this discussion, he pens one of the most well-known verses in the Bible.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. –Philippians 4:13 ESV & NASB
I quote the more common rendering, but I like the NIV here because it clarifies the relationship of this sentence with its context.
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. –Philippians 4:13 NIV
All this: Paul experienced contentment whatever the circumstances, in any type of situation (back to Phil 4:11-12).
Through him: The secret of contentment is to find our strength in Christ Jesus, to let the “incomparably great power” of Ephesians 1:19 settle over and in us. Yes, it’s dramatic, but it’s also sustaining and constant.
So here we have these Macedonian believers (back to 2 Cor 8:1-7) who, somehow, combined their overflowing joy with extreme poverty to produce rich generosity. It seems so backward, but Jesus Himself praised an elderly widow who acted similarly.
I’m not saying wealthy people aren’t generous. Just look at Bill Gates. But most of us aren’t wealthy. Most of us are far more likely to make excuses based in our lack of wealth.
There’s so much for us
to learn from the
That’s why there’s much for us to learn from the Macedonian’s perspective. They thought generosity was a privilege—something to approach eagerly, even urgently (2 Cor 8:4). They could do this, in my opinion, because they had that overflowing joy, a clear sign of contentment. They were fully satisfied in Christ.
Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was eager to give away money, time, or anything else. And I wonder if my hesitation reflects a lack of contentment. When I become satisfied with who I am and what I have, I will gladly give of both.
Contentment is the biblical foundation for generosity.
Do you find it easy or difficult to be generous these days? Have you seen a connection between your generosity and other aspects of your spiritual life, such as contentment? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!