Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. 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 through His poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:1-9 NASB)
The backstory of our passage is Paul’s mission to collect funds to relieve the suffering of the saints in Jerusalem. Titus and a company of faithful believers are essentially the plate that Paul is passing from town to town. But there is much more going on than just receiving. Paul, as always, is giving—aspiring to impart some spiritual value, that those entrusted to him might discover more and more of their heavenly treasure. He knows that if the Corinthian believers can hear his words, they will have even more of eternity activated in their hearts.
His relationship has been strained with Corinth since he was forced to discipline them for a matter of gross immorality and for their misuse of spiritual gifts. To make matters even dicier, he is collecting money from Gentiles for a group that is predominantly Jewish. Paul’s persistence and perseverance in bringing healing and wholeness are exemplary.
Paul is aware that where Christ’s rule is taking hold in hearts, God’s kingdom is growing. Paul’s continual motivation is his ambition to facilitate Christ’s rule in the hearts of men. When Paul’s words hit home, God’s will in heaven is accomplished on earth and the kingdom expands.
Why is preaching and teaching even needed here? Why don’t these Corinthians just follow through like the extremely zealous Macedonians had, giving sacrificially beyond their means with no prompting from men? We probably can’t know all the reasons, but it’s certain that the kingdom grows at different speeds and in different ways in different places. In Macedonia, all that was necessary was the mention of a need. In Corinth, where the fire had gone down, he has to blow on the embers to rekindle the flame. Preaching and teaching are needed to tend the holy fires that God intends to burn in our hearts. Living words have that effect on living spirits.
Paul could have guilted the Corinthians into giving, but to preserve their investments in the kingdom, he avoids any ends-justifying-the-means approach. (Guilt is an imposition upon a redeemed spirit; love always preserves human choice.) He also avoids using his apostolic authority to command that their giving. While he did tell the Macedonian’s story, I believe he simply let it accomplish whatever God wanted among the Corinthians. To secure their heart-investment in God’s kingdom Paul knew that:
Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7 NASB)
While many dollars are raised and many bodies recruited by way of guilt and the abuse of spiritual authority, little of lasting value is ever sustained by those means. The poor may be fed and some version of the gospel might get preached, but the eternal kingdom investment is squandered. Some good works might get whipped up, but kingdom growth is vastly diminished if the labor comes grudgingly or through compulsion.
Where the Kingdom of God expands, someone has acknowledged the presence of God in the midst of some authentic need. As catalysts of God’s kingdom, they see the primacy of the spiritual over the material and the provision of God in greater measure than the need at hand. With their kingdom-focused vision, they see that men are not only saved by grace, but also that grace is the life-flow of the kingdom, and that:
God is able to make all grace abound to us, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, we may have an abundance for every good deed. (2 Corinthians 9:8 NASB)
Father, thank you that though You were rich, yet for our sake, You became poor so that we, through Your poverty, might become rich. Teach us to give ourselves to You and then to each other. Let us live and move and have our being in you. Amen.