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The Grace of Liberality
2 Corinthians 8:1-24
Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God. Insomuch that we desired Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also finish in you the same grace also. Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: as it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack. But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you. For indeed he accepted the exhortation; but being more forward, of his own accord he went unto you. And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches; and not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind: avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have oftentimes proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, upon the great confidence which I have in you. Whether any do inquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellow-helper concerning you: or our brethren be inquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ. Wherefore show ye to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf. (vv. 1-24)
We have in this chapter a very wonderful window through which we may look into conditions prevailing in the early church. We are allowed, nineteen hundred years later, to look through this chapter, as it were, into the very life of God’s people so long ago. A famine had taken place in Palestine, and many of the Jewish believers, many of the early Christians in Jerusalem and Judea and other parts of Palestine, were suffering. There was a real depression prevailing all over that land. Naturally in such a time the world cares for its own. In those days especially there would be very little provision made, very little concern shown, regarding those who had trusted the Lord Jesus Christ. By that very confession of faith in Him they had lost their standing in Judaism and were obnoxious to the idolatrous system of the Roman Empire. But just as soon as word of their plight reaches the apostle laboring in a distant land, he says, “Now here is the opportunity for the Christians among whom I am working to show how true their fellowship is with their brethren over there in Judea,” and he immediately stresses the importance of self-denial, of giving generously in order that the needs of the Judean believers may be met.
A chapter like this is most instructive to us, for we are still in the world where believers will be going through difficulties and hardships, and we are to be helpers in this way of one another’s faith. We think particularly of those who have left their homes, left the opportunity of making a good salary in this land, to go out to carry the gospel of the grace of God among the heathen. What a shame it would be to us if they were left there suffering for the lack of temporal necessities. It is our privilege to show our fellowship with them by denying ourselves, in order to keep them free from care along these lines. There is a wonderful principle that runs all through this chapter, the principle of brotherly fellowship with those in need. You will notice that the apostle had already brought this matter before the Corinthians when he went through there the year before. He said, “What can you do?” “Well,” they had said, “we will give something; we will do our best.” Now he has been up in Macedonia laboring, and he is coming back through Corinth on his way to Jerusalem, and so writes and practically says, “I hope you are prepared to keep the pledge you made a year ago.”
Sometimes people say, “I do not believe in making pledges.” At the bottom of that there may be utter selfishness. We all make pledges. We make a pledge to the landlord when we promise to pay him so much a month. If you are running a bill at the grocery store, you have pledged to pay for what you purchase. You make pledges when you buy anything on the installment plan. Are God and the work of God the only Person and the only thing that are of so little importance that you cannot risk making a pledge in order to help in Christian service? These Corinthians had made a pledge, and the apostle says, in verse 11, “Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.” They had been willing to do this, they had said, “We will do something, Paul, when you come back again.” “Now,” he says, “you keep that pledge; it may take self-denial; you may have to do without a great many things you want, but these Christians in Judea are doing without very much more.” And so we may have to do without some luxuries if we are going to make and keep a proper pledge toward our missionaries, but they are doing without far more. They do not have grand pianos, expensive radios, and cars, they do not have beautiful homes and furniture, they are doing without these things for Jesus’ sake, and so we can do without many things in order to help them on. Let us look at this a little more carefully.
In the first verse of this chapter he says, “Moreover, brethren, I want you to know of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia.” How was that grace manifested? Many of us talk a great deal about grace and show very little. God has manifested grace toward us, and how full of grace our lives ought to be. These Macedonians had been saved by grace, and now the rich grace of giving is bestowed upon them. Giving is a grace. “How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.” Notice four expressions here: “Great trial of affliction,” “abundance of joy,” “deep poverty,” “riches of liberality.” Is it not remarkable to find all four of these expressions brought into such an intimate relationship? They were going through a great trial, “a great trial of affliction.” But out of “the abundance of their joy,” yet coupled with “their deep poverty,” they gave, and it “abounded unto the riches of their liberality.” I do not think that means that they gave large sums. They probably did not have large sums to give, but the little was regarded by God as a larger gift than if very much more had come from people far more wealthy than the Macedonians. God’s way of estimating gifts is different from ours. He estimates our gifts, not by the amount we give, but by the amount we have left. If a man is a millionaire and gives a thousand dollars, that does not count as much as one who has an income of a dollar a day and gives a dime. And so we need not be afraid to bring our little gifts, thinking He may despise them. He said of the poor widow, “[She] hath cast in more than they all:…[for] she [gave] of her [poverty]…all the living that she had” (Luke 21:3-4).
They were taking up a missionary offering once in a Scotch church. One rather close-fisted brother was there, known to be worth something like £50,000, which in those days was considered a fortune, and as the deacons went around taking up the offering, one of them whispered to him, “Brother, how much are you going to give?”
“Oh, well, I will put in the widow’s mite,” he said, and prepared to put in a penny.
“Brethren,” the deacon called out, “we have all we need; this brother is giving £50,000.”
If he was going to give the widow’s mite, he would have to give all he had, you see. It is the widows who give like that, not the rich folk.
But these poor Macedonians out of their poverty gave, and gave with joy. They did not give grudgingly; they were glad to do what they could; and the apostle says, “For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves.” They gave to the very limit, and would have given more if they could have done so.
“How much are you going to give, brother?” somebody asked. “Oh,” he said, “I guess I can give ten dollars and not feel it.”
“Brother,” said the first man, “make it twenty, and feel it; the blessing comes when you feel it.”
These people gave until they felt it, and they had to pray the apostle to receive their gifts. It would be a great treat to get to the place where that would be the case. It seems that at Macedonia the apostle just mentioned the need, and then we read, “Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”
In the next verse you can see how they did it. “And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” You see, if I have given myself to the Lord, the rest all follows.
Naught that I have my own I call,
I hold it for the Giver;
My heart, my strength, my life, my all,
Are His, and His forever.
And so, because they insisted, he says that he has asked Titus to go on to the Corinthians and get their gift, and add it to that of the Macedonians.
“Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.” In other words, you with your fine homes, you with your elegant dress, with all your privileges, you have everything your heart could wish, you who believe that business is business, now see that you abound in this grace also, see that you are just as rich in the grace of giving as in anything else. “I speak not by commandment,” I am not commanding you. I am not going to order you to give. This is the dispensation of the grace of God. “I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.” In other words, I am trying to make you ashamed as I tell you what others have done, and he points them to the supreme example of self-abnegation. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” How can I speak of following Him, how can I speak of being saved by His grace, if I do not seek to imitate Him in His self-denying concern for those in need? He saw me in my deep, deep need, and He came all the way from His home in heaven, laying aside the glory that He had with the Father from eternity, down to the depths of Calvary’s anguish-and to the darkness of the tomb. He who was rich for my sake became poor, that through His poverty I might be enriched through eternity. And He has left us an example that we should follow His steps.
Notice, Paul never asked for money for himself. Even when he was laboring in Corinth he said, “I robbed other churches…to do you service” (11:8). Other churches sent their missionary money to him, but now that they are Christians he does not want them to forget their responsibilities. He never asks anything for himself, and the true servant of Christ is not going to try to stir people up to do for him, but he will be concerned for the needs of others. Paul would never beg for himself, but he had no shame about pleading most earnestly for others when occasion arose.
“Herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.” And then verse 12, “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.” It was not a question of saying, “Well, I would do something but am not able,” but a question of doing what they could. If you can give only a little to the Lord, give that, and He will multiply it. If you can give a great deal, give it to Him. He looks into the heart. Many a one puts in a dime, and on the books of heaven it goes down as though it were a dollar, but do not put in a dime if you could give the dollar, for that won’t go down at all!
“I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.” Someday things may change; someday it may be the Corinthians who will be in poverty, and the Jerusalem saints may be sending to minister to them in their need, but give as unto the Lord, because it is written in the Old Testament, and this refers to the manna, “He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.” You remember it was God who gave the manna, and He said, Just gather for your need. A man may have said, “Well, I am going to gather in while the gathering is good. Bring out all the pots and pails and the wash-tub, and I will fill them,” and he might have had enough to last him a month. But the next morning when he went to look at it, he would find that it had bred worms and was worthless. If he did not use what he got from day to day it went for nothing, but if he got just a little it saw him through. After all, you can only use so much of this world’s goods; use the surplus to the glory of God and the blessing of a needy world.
In verse 16 to the end of the chapter he shows the importance of carefully handling funds that are entrusted to the church. I think that a great many otherwise well-meaning servants of Christ have failed tremendously right along this line. They gather vast sums of money, making themselves responsible for its use, and no one ever knows whether it has been used in the way promised. The apostle says there should never be anything like that. You must handle the funds in such a way that they can be checked up, and people may know that everything has been used aright. And so the apostle would not touch a penny of it, but said, “We will appoint accredited men to look after it,” and he appointed two unnamed brethren and his friend, Titus, as a committee to handle all the money, to pay it out and to give an account of everything.
“But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you. For indeed he accepted the exhortation; but being more forward, of his own accord he went unto you.” Paul had urged Titus to do this work, but he was also anxious to do it of his own accord; he was glad to take up this service. And then we read, “And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches.” This brother’s name is not given but they knew him well, for he was chosen by the church. “And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind.” And why did they do this? “Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us.” In other words, he did not want anybody to be able to say, “Oh, Paul is gathering in a great deal of money. Who knows what he is doing with it! First thing we know he will be coming out with some very expensive equipage that he has bought out of that money.”
“Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” The Lord knows what we do with the money, but he says, “That is not enough; we want God’s people to know also.” And then, in addition to Titus and this brother, Paul had sent another one. The testimony of two men is true, we read, but it is written, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matthew 18:16). “And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have oftentimes proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, upon the great confidence which I have in you.” He found a man who was an expert in business matters, and says, “We have sent him along too.”
And then he gives a little word of commendation of these brethren. “Whether any do inquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellow-helper concerning you: or our brethren be inquired of, they are the apostles of the churches [the word messenger there is the word apostle], and the glory of Christ. Wherefore show ye to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf.” The proof of love is in giving. We say we are interested in missions-prove it by giving. We say we are interested in poor saints-prove it by giving. We say we are interested in supporting the Lord’s work-prove it by giving. God gave-“God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” Christ so loved the church that He gave Himself for it, and now we who through grace know God as our Father and Christ as our Savior are called upon to show our love by giving.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28