For an introduction to this series, click here.
This chapter begins a long section on giving. This is a teaching much neglected in the church today, or at least Biblical teaching on the subject is hard to find. The main purpose of this section is to encourage the people to give to the collection for the church at Jerusalem. This was the first large fundraising project in Christian history. Jerusalem was suffering a terrible famine and there were many people starving.
Paul starts with pointing out the example of the Macedonians:
"We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us." (8:1-5)
Notice the progression: they gave themselves to the Lord and then they gave to Paul's project. Spiritual giving is not the result of badgering or of pictures of starving children or abused animals in a TV commercial. Not that those charities are bad by any means, but that wasn't Paul's method. Paul didn't try to twist the arm of the Macedonians or even beg them to give. He presented the need and the people gave gladly and willingly, according to the will of God. Of course some churches are afraid that if they don't use the world's tactics their people won't give. To that I say, how will they know if they have never tried any other methods?
"Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything— in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine." (8:6-8)
We hear a lot about growing in faith, about our speech and knowledge becoming more and more like Christ, but we don't hear preaching about our giving being a similar matter. We hear more about beating people over the head about giving or embarrassing people into giving. Now Paul does that a little bit by mentioning the Macedonians, but it is not the entire thrust of his message.
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." (8:9)
I want to stop and comment on this verse very specifically. A lot of people use this verse to point out the earthly poverty of Jesus. But that misses the point of the verse. His father Joseph had a trade and as a young man Jesus would have obviously been a great carpenter. The relative financial state of Jesus is quite irrelevant to His ability to save us. The point of the verse is that He left the eternal riches of God and became a mere man. Just that alone was a tremendous sacrifice, yet we are told that He did it with joy, just to reconcile us to Himself. Amazing.
"And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, 'Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.'" (8:10-15, ESV)
I honestly don't know how much you can apply this to regular giving to your church. I think we will discuss that more in the next chapter, but even here, Paul is specifically talking about raising money for the church in Jerusalem, not about giving to the church, which is what this passage is often used for. I'm not saying the principles taught here are not true, because they are and they should be applied. Apparently the Corinthians had started to collect money, but the momentum ran out. Spiritual giving keeps giving even when the collective positive feelings have worn out. We will talk more about this in the next chapter.