A Deeper Form of Generosity
“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.” (2 Cor 8:3–4)
What would make someone give “beyond their means?” How could that kind of giving be motivated in our own lives? Maybe you know someone who is an exceptionally generous giver. The more they give, the more they have to give. Do we wonder if we could give as they do?
In 2 Corinthians 8–9, Paul addresses the church in Corinth. He encourages them to put together the offering they had already planned for to help the poor Christians in the city of Jerusalem. To encourage their readiness to give, he tells them about how the Christians in another region, Macedonia, gave out of their own poverty and affliction.
Focusing on verses 3–4, Paul speaks about what God’s grace did in the Macedonian church’s experience. Their attitude of generosity turned into the action of giving. Paul says that they gave in two ways:
First, they gave according to their means. That is to say, they gave according to their ability. As Dane Ortlund puts it,
“They gave in accord with what would be a reasonable expectation, doing, we might say, what was ‘in their power’ to do.”
The people of the churches in Macedonia looked at what they had and gave what they were able to.
But not only did they give what they were able to give, but they also gave “beyond their means.” Here’s a deeper form of generosity. Another way of translating could be, “For they gave according to their ability and above their ability.” Paul’s commentary is that these people were giving even more than they should have rightly given out of their love for God.
Even their desire to give overflowed the limitations of what they had. Paul said they gave “of their own accord” (v. 3). Their giving was not coerced or forced. It was a willful gift. More so than just a willful gift, they desired to give! They were pleading to give. But their pleading to give wasn’t just to give itself. There was a larger work going on in their hearts. Grace was at work.
Paul makes a play on words with the word “grace.” They were “begging us earnestly for the favor [Greek charis] of taking part.”
The Macedonian’s were eager to demonstrate the gift of grace [charis] by pleading with Paul to have the favor [charis] of participating in the gift to saints. They wanted to experience grace and to give grace by their giving of it to others. In both their act of giving and in their desire to give the opportunity, grace was exposed. Grace overflowed the limitations of what they had and the depth of their desire. Grace covered and motivated all of it.
We must go back to the source, Jesus himself. His grace for us was not limited but was exhaustive: giving everything. In His grace, he freely gave himself for us. He “gave to the last drop” of his blood for us. The grace of God in Christ overflowed limitations and has been showered down upon us. Romans 8:32 reminds us that this is the nature of God. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
The sad reality research has revealed is that evangelical Christians are no different in their giving than the world. It doesn’t appear that grace has leaped any bounds or limitations because we give just like the world of non-Christians.
But truly seeing Jesus’ grace and receiving it should cause an overflow of grace in our lives to others. Generosity, giving what we have to alleviate needs, and mobilize mission should be free and full of joy and exhilarating because we have received God’s free, full, joyful generosity in Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection are the pouring out of himself completely on our behalf.
Has the love of God in Jesus Christ captured your heart enough to overflow the limitations of your life? Grace does that!