2 Corinthians 8:1-5 Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia, that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.
The context of this passage is related to the offering that Paul is expecting to receive from the Corinthian believers for the relief of the saints in Jerusalem. They had previously committed to helping financially and as the time is approaching for the funds to be collected and delivered to Jerusalem, Paul is encouraging their generosity by presenting as an example the sacrificial giving of the Macedonian believers, which would have included Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.
There are some intense words and phrases used in this passage that warrant some attention:
- Great trial of affliction – When you read Acts 16-17 you see the hostility the gospel faced in these three cities when Paul first came preaching. Not only can we assume that the believers in these places also faced the same trouble, we see Paul writing about it in Philippians 1:29 – “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
- Abundance of joy and deep poverty – When someone is below the poverty line in America, they will normally still have a cell phone, TV, electricity and many things that are not necessities. But these Macedonian believers were living in a state of “deep poverty”. Yet even in the midst of their deep poverty, they were abundantly joyful. What a dichotomy! But also a reality that is possible in Christ.
- Abounded in the riches of their liberality – In such a depth of poverty, we would expect that they were carefully conserving all that they possessed and had access to. But instead, they gave to others in need, and they gave liberally.
- They were free willing, imploring Paul urgently to let them be involved in giving. They didn’t have to be guilted into it or persuaded in any way, except that they were compelled by the love of God to share with others in need.
- They first gave themselves to the Lord – so this wasn’t just a matter of religious duty. They yielded themselves to Jesus and from that, these desires began to come into their hearts…desires that were bigger than their ability.
So I was reading this passage from 2 Corinthians 8 a few months ago and I had a flashback to a Sunday school lesson that I heard taught over a year ago. Here is a brief synopsis of one of the points that was made:
Jesus was in the synagogue and there was a man who had a withered (shrunken, dried up) hand. The Scriptures tell us this: Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. Matthew 12:13
The problem with the story is this….Jesus told the man to stretch out his hand, but that’s exactly the one thing that he couldn’t do. It is entirely possible that this man could have walked away in despair, knowing that what he had been asked to do was beyond his ability. Instead he just did what Jesus told him to do, what was beyond his ability, and the power and glory of God were manifested right there in front of all who stood by.
The story of the man with the withered hand is powerful. The story of the Macedonian believers and their sacrificial giving is powerful. But it’s the common element in both stories that has become so significant to me. Let me explain:
Jesus was asking the man with the withered hand to do something that was beyond his ability, and many times the desire of God is to bring us to a place where we step out into things that are beyond our ability, and He’s looking for this Macedonian attitude of being freely willing beyond our ability. We live in a natural world, but we are citizens of a supernatural kingdom. Living in a place of our own ability is a comfort zone of sorts and we can easily finding ourselves gravitating towards and settling into that comfort zone. If I know that I’m able to do something, I can rely on that ability. I can trust in myself. There’s very little fear….probably very little prayer and trusting God. Life is just easier that way.
But 2 Corinthians 5:16a says this: Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.
This gets right to the heart of the problem….I am often regarding myself according to the flesh, making judgements about what I’m able to do and what I’m not able to do, based on what I know about my abilities. Not only am I not to regard myself according to the flesh any longer, my eyes shouldn’t be on myself at all.
Col 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above, not on things on the earth. Because looking at myself or anything in this world around me is not going to encourage the kind of faith that is willing beyond my ability. When I look at me I see weakness and inability. But when I look at Him I see not only mighty power, but almighty power. And it’s a power that He is willing to use on our behalf and through our life, and there’s a reason why:
1 Peter 4:11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
It’s a matter of glory and who’s going to get it. And how is He going to get the glory through us if we’re not willing to be put into situations where there’s no question that the power and ability working through us is His? A great example of this can be found in the book of Acts.
Acts 4:13-14 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.
The great part about this passage is that by observing the lives of these apostles it verified that they had been with Jesus. His presence and His power marked their lives in a way that was discernable. They had run away in fear when Jesus was arrested, concerned about saving themselves. That’s what was in these men. If they had only continued having prayer meetings and Bible studies while hiding away in the upper room that would have been no big deal because that was safe. But they are preaching the gospel publicly and being used to perform miracles of healing. This was not the apostles’ ability. It is the ability of God. They are living beyond their ability through His ability. Why? How did they get to that point where they were willing….willing to live beyond their own ability? It’s because they had just been with the resurrected Christ and were now a people filled with the Spirit of that Christ. The ability of God now dwelt within them.
2 Corinthians 9:8-11 makes some great promises: And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.” Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.
He is promising that for every good work that He puts before us to do, He will provide what is needed, making all grace abound toward us. Should we be afraid when God prompts us to do something that is beyond our ability? The answer is a resounding NO! But what He requires of us, we must require of Him. We must realize that our ability cannot accomplish the works of God…that we are absolutely poverty-stricken. Yet there is such hope in God, and we can rejoice that He has provided all that is needed. And then we must, by faith, lay hold of what He has already promised.
Ephesians 3:20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us
There is a power of God in the believer. He wants that power to work in us and to work through us. And whether or not you let that happen determines the legacy you leave on this earth. Will you be content for people to say at your funeral that you were a nice Christian? Or do you want to be known as a man or woman whose life was a marvel because you walked with God and refused to be content to live in your own ability.
God, make us willing beyond our ability!