Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. (2 Cor. 8:1-3 NLT)
To an unspiritual person, the joy of giving that God puts into the heart of a Christian makes no sense. The unsaved see only the physical world and so they seek to find their happiness through materialistic things. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14 ESV).
To a lost person, or to a Carnal Christian, giving is done usually out of some sense of guilt or obligation, or perhaps in hope that it will reflect back on him positively in some way – in this life or the next – but still selfish motivations are primary. Most neglect it all together and just live for themselves. And to speak about giving to Carnal Christians or to the lost is difficult. They typically resent it or tolerate it only briefly.
Yet to a Spirit-filled Christian, the joy of giving to others for the glory of Christ is a constant source of joy in their lives. They give not out of guilt or fear, nor to call attention to themselves, rather they give out of love for Christ and out of a desire to help others. A Carnal Christian may ask, “How little can I give to assuage my guilt or make me appear generous to others?” The Spiritual Christian asks, “How can I help alleviate the suffering of these people?” or “How much can I give for the glory of Christ?”
The churches in Macedonia were poor, yet they had constant joy because God gave them this spirit of generosity. We today may pray for riches, for more money and more success, but if it is selfishly motivated God, then God, out of His wisdom and love for us, does not grant our success. He wants to give us something better – compassionate hearts that experience the joy of giving. So to these poor churches and Christians in Macedonia, God did not grant financial success – at least not immediately – rather He first gave them compassion for others. They took what little they had and divided it to share with those who had a greater need. But in this reality is seen the genius of the Spirit of God who truly understands the human heart.
It is strange to us how the human heart works. A man may sit in a five-star hotel and enjoy a wonderful breakfast buffet, but though it nourishes his body, it only truly feeds one part of his soul – and that a very small and unimportant part. In fact, this man, who has every reason to be grateful and happy, may complain about all his “problems” even while he eats.
But then there is another man who takes his vacation and spends it volunteering with a Christian ministry helping minister to the poor, or, like is happening in Houston, Texas at present, to the many thousands of victims of a natural disaster. He sleeps in a tent or on a simple bed with other volunteers. He gets up early to help prepare the meals these people need. His own food is adequate but simple and unadorned – not glamorous. Yet there is something grand and wonderful that is happening to him in this process. He has joy and satisfaction that the self-centered man can never understand or experience.
Christ said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and that quotation is not found in the gospels. Rather it comes from the book of Acts and seemed to be an important quotation for these early churches and First Century Christians. It must have constantly reverberated in their minds and conversations and found its way into the sermons often.
Just as God out of His love for fallen humanity sent the Son to die for the sins of the world, just as the Son, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scoring its shame” (Heb. 12:2), so in a similar way Christians are moved with compassion but find great inner joy and deep spiritual satisfaction in being able to help others.
God never condemned a rich man for being rich, if he made his money honestly and honored God with it, and there is nothing inherently wrong with eating in nice restaurants or having nice things, but let us not find our highest sense of significance or personal worth in them. The type of car a man drives, the clothes he wears, the house he lives in, the money in his bank account – none of these truly mean he is a better man, nor do they minister to his soul the way the gift of giving does. The truly joyous man is the man who takes his eyes off of himself and puts them on God and on others. He gives joyously and happily and wisely for the sake of Christ and to meet the needs of others.
And, as far as blessing a man with material success, ask yourself which one would God prefer to bless? A man who is self-centered and cries out for more personal wealth constantly, or a man who is God-centered and thinks of how he can do more for God with his resources? Christ taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and God is involved in answering those prayers, in blessing us financially and materially. But His greater goals are always spiritual in nature – to make us compassionate, wise, and kind. Selfishness destroys our hearts but generosity opens us up to life and its potential in Christ.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:1-4 ESV)
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)