Friday, August 26, 2016

Extreme Poverty

Sometimes Paul wrote some strange stuff. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he penned such things as
In humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Phil 2:3)

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake. (Phil 1:29)

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:10)

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. (Rom 12:1)
Really strange stuff. But this passage in 2 Corinthians is, well, mind-boggling. Notice what he says.
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. (2 Cor 8:1-5)
He starts with the "grace of God" that is given to the churches of Macedonia. What grace? Well, they were "in a severe test of affliction" and "extreme poverty". Wait ... grace? Well, no, of course not. Their response to their circumstances was God's grace. But doesn't their response to these things seem really strange? In response to their severe affliction they had an "abundance of joy" and in their destitute condition they overflowed with "generosity". God's grace to them, then, was that they responded precisely the opposite to their circumstances as we might expect.

Paul says that they begged to be allowed to give to the relief of the saints. Really? Weren't they saints in need? You'd think so. But they gave according to "and beyond their means." In our time, giving at all is at an all-time low, but these persecuted and poverty-stricken Christians had an overwhelming need to give to the needs of others. We're rich Americans and protest any suggestion of a tithe, let alone regular giving, but these persecuted Christians were overflowing with generosity. We read, "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:7) and conclude, "I'm not cheerful about giving, so I shouldn't", but these impoverished believers begged earnestly "for the favor" of taking part in the relief of the saints.

What was their secret? How did they manage to appropriate this kind of grace from God? Well, Paul tells us. "They gave themselves first to the Lord." There's the secret. There's how they, and we, can do wonderful, even-to-the-point-of-appearing foolish things for the Lord. Don't hold back. We need to give ourselves first to the Lord. The results will be amazing.

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