Now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace God has given the churches of Macedonia.
nexus between the seventh and eighth chapters. So then he proceeds to speak of the liberality of the Macedonian Churches preparatory to urging on them the duty of benevolence. Observe his manner. If he states a doctrine, he illustrates it. If he teaches a duty, he gives an example. Never so abstract as to neglect the practical side of life, never so intent on action as to lose sight of the determinative principle, he reminds one of Lord Bacon's remark, that the highest order of mind is that combining most fully the abstract and the practical. The example of these Macedonian Churches was well worthy of imitation. Macedonia had been overrun by armies, and we all know how armies devastated countries in those days and stripped the inhabitants of their wealth. St. Paul speaks of their "great trial of affliction," the losses and persecutions they were enduring, and yet they had "abundant joy," that could only be represented by its filling the depth of their poverty and overflowing in "the riches of their liberality." No common poverty was theirs - "deep poverty;" and no ordinary love was theirs, but a very profound and tender love. "This sentence is completely shattered in passing through the apostle's mind" (Stanley). How much more is unsaid than said in the marvellous words, "Their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality"! Two things are taught us.
1. The inspiration of a joyous influence. Duty, motive, impulse, all exalted into Christian happiness. "Rejoice evermore." Such joy is a glorious power. Let us not make a mistake here. Fine feelings, exuberant emotions, loud hallelujahs, the thrill and shout and ecstasy, may deceive us. If they exhaust themselves in sensational excitement, they do deceive us, and that most awfully. Joy as a fruit of the Spirit is a giving joy, a sacrificing joy, a joy in the cross by which we are crucified to the world and the world unto us.
2. And we learn that even "deep poverty" is no obstruction to helping others. It often hinders us from doing what we would; but in the estimate of the Lord Jesus, the heart of this matter is in the "could," not in the would. "She hath done what she could." Capacity is always a mystery. It surprises us ever, and more and more, and in nothing is it so surprising as in the charitable heart with small means at its command. The glory of giving is in the quality of love, and it never fails to find something to bestow. "She of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had." If this poor widow could spare "two mites," who can plead depth of poverty? Notice that St. Paul emphasizes the depth of poverty in the Macedonian Church. If it had been simply a case of poverty, the example would not have been so instructive, and, accordingly, we find the apostle citing his cases from such as had to make sacrifices of personal comfort in order to aid those poorer than themselves. So that while in the Acts of the Apostles we hear of "possessors of lands or houses" selling them and. laying the prices at the feet of the apostles, this fades from view in the tragic deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. But the image of the poor widow returns to us in the Epistles, with many suggestions as to the class of persons who do the most of the steady Christian giving. What is further noteworthy is the apostle's description of the self-moved generosity of these Macedonians. "Willing of themselves." Liberality is not a common virtue, and self-induced liberality is its rarest form. Men wait to be urged, begged, entreated; special occasions set are for special efforts; fine speakers are engaged; and the whole system of giving, or very much of it, proceeds on the habitual reluctance of giving for the support of the gospel. As to spontaneousness in this matter, who thinks of it, who trusts it? Now, we do not suppose that all religious people in the apostolic age were like these Macedonians. We know they were not. Yet, consider this fact, viz. they were the persons held up as shining examples of what liberality ought to be in the Church of Christ. And this accords precisely with the incidents mentioned concerning Mary of Bethany, and the poor widow and her mites, and the disciples after Pentecost who disposed of their property to hell, the poor. It was cordial and voluntary action, no external agency operating to give inducements. Without pressing this point too far, we must say that whatever utility belongs to the machinery of collecting funds for Church uses (and this seems to be necessary), it is nevertheless clear enough that spontaneous liberality is the truest, noblest, surest, mode of cultivating this grace in our hearts. So, unquestionably, the apostle thought. With what a glow he writes! "According to their power;" nay, it was more than this, for they went "beyond their power [beyond their means];" and so earnest was their purpose that they prayed the apostle to receive their gifts and let them share the grace and fellowship of ministering to the saints. No doubt many of these men found life a hard struggle, and for them, in more senses than one, "without were fightings, within were fears." Yet they deemed it a privilege to give; they coveted earnestly the best gift, which was the gift of giving; they prayed "with much entreaty" that they might participate in a work which was most blessed. To let such an opportunity slip was more than they could bear. And this conduct exceeded his expectations; for they had given themselves first to the Lord Jesus, and then, anxious to show their affection for the apostle, had given themselves in this special matter to him. Heart and property; what a consecration! What a page in spiritual biography! Out of "deep poverty;" what chorus of voices ever rose like this, pleading that these Macedonians might be permitted to share the grace of ministration! "The short and simple annals of the poor" have added much to our English literature, nor is it extragavant to claim that this is one of the most praiseworthy marks of that distinctive genius which has signalized its excellence in so many departments of poetry and fiction. But do we realize our indebtedness to the Bible for this beautiful and humanizing element in English literature? Here, in this single chapter from the Apostle Paul, what a touching picture of Christian poverty, surrendering means it could ill afford to spare, and doing it "with a self-dedication which involved a complete renunciation of all personal interests" (Kling)! - L.
Acts 2:27-30). They received prompt contributions from the Churches in Achaia, also from those in Macedonia (Romans 15:26). A strong appeal was made to the churches of Galatia (1 Corinthians 16:1). The congregation at Rome, made up largely of Gentiles, some of whom were wealthy and influential, was exhorted to do its part (Romans 15:27). And in the Scripture before us the matter is presented to the Corinthian Christians in a way to stir their deepest and most substantial sympathy. It was a splendid opportunity for displaying the genuineness of Christian unity. In appealing to the Corinthian Church the apostle makes mention of the liberality of their brethren in Macedonia, hoping thus to provoke them to good works. At the very time when these Macedonians were sending their gifts to Jerusalem, they themselves were groaning under a twofold yoke of poverty and persecution. Nevertheless they furnished forth a pattern of benevolence. First, they gave voluntarily. They gave with spontaneity, with good cheer, with abandon. They gave not as a deep well gives to the toiler at the windlass, but as a fountain gives to the wounded hart that stands panting at its brink. Second, they gave largely — "to their power, yea, and beyond it." Self-denial is the first step in consecration. The virtue of sacrifice lies largely in the cost of it. Third, they gave from principle. The beginning of their generosity and its motive and inspiration lay in this, that "they first of all gave their own selves to the Lord." After that everything was easy. Let us note some of the reasons why God's people, "as they abound in everything, in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in diligence, and in brotherly love, should abound in this grace also."
The grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia.I. TRUE LIBERALITY IS A CHRISTIAN GRACE — as truly a grace as knowledge, diligence, and love. What light this throws upon the whole subject of church finances!
1. Failing to see that liberality is a grace, we have made it a burden. As a grace in the heart, liberality struggles for an outlet in acts of benevolence; as a duty or a burden, it needs to be urged. Hence all this claptrap machinery for raising church money.
2. This grace, like any other, may be obtained —(1) By consecration. No man is prepared to receive it until he has "first given himself to the Lord." Paul enforces such a consecration (ver. 9).(2) By prayer. What reflections would arise in the mind of one praying for the grace of liberality! What views of responsibility would the Spirit of all grace flash upon his mind! How would the claims of self dwindle into insignificance in the presence of the claims of Christ.
II. THIS GRACE LEADS MEN TO GIVE ACCORDING TO THEIR ABILITY; YEA, BEYOND.
1. Neither the scanty income of "deep poverty," nor the increasing demands of accumulating wealth, nor the claims of fashionable life, will prevent such a man from being liberal "according to that which he hath," etc. He will never begin to retrench at the church, because he knows that God can retrench upon him in a thousand ways.
2. The reason "God loves a cheerful giver" is because such giving can only flow from grace, and such giving is always a means of grace. Instead of a collection dissipating all religious feeling, our "joy" ought "to abound unto liberality." If liberality is a Christian grace, and giving is a means of grace, why should not a man feel as religious while giving as he does while singing and praying?
3. Ordinary poverty is generally considered a lawful excuse for not giving. But "the deep poverty of the Macedonians abounded unto the riches of their liberality" (vers. 2-4). The offering is sanctified by its motive and spirit. It is not the intrinsic value of the contribution, but the love of the contributor and his relative ability to give, that makes the contribution acceptable to God.
4. There are three classes who fail to do their duty —(1) Those who give largely, but not "according to their means"; if they did, they would give hundreds instead of tens, and thousands instead of hundreds.(2) Those who give nothing because they are too poor.(3) A class made up of rich and poor, whose religious joy is so seraphic that it always soars above the financial wants of the Church. They are always trembling lest the pastor should drive all religion out of the Church by taking so many collections! blow, what is wanting in all these classes is this grace of liberality. This would lead the rich and the poor to give "according to their means."
III. THE GRACE OF LIBERALITY, LIKE ANY OTHER, MAY BE CULTIVATED (ver. 6; 1 Corinthians 16:1).
1. Here is systematic beneficence. The grace of liberality needs exercise just as much as faith and love. Besides, the Churches need money now — every week. This systematic way of giving by weekly instalments keeps the duty of self-denial before the mind. Such a system of beneficence would soon develop the grace of liberality and increase the funds of the Church to a point where she would have an ample fund "laid by" all the time, ready to meet all the claims at home and abroad!
2. Those who wait to give largely, when they do give, usually let the grace of liberality die for the want of exercise; so that, when the time comes when they are able to give largely, they have neither the grace nor the desire to do so. And those who give but little or nothing through life, and give largely when they come to die, rarely ever give enough to pay the interest on what they ought to have given under a life course of systematic beneficence.
3. It is only those who enjoy the grace of liberality as a growing principle in the soul that can realise the saying of Christ: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
(J. M. Bolland, A. M.)
I. BECAUSE GIVING IS A GRACE. It is not a mere adjunct or incident of the Christian life, but one of its cardinal graces. Whether a disciple of Christ shall make a practice of giving or not is no more an open question than whether he shall pray or not. The rule of holy living is never selfishness, but always self-forgetfulness. This was the mind that was in Christ Jesus, and this must be the disposition of those who follow him.
II. IT IS IN THE LINE OF COMMON HONESTY. We are stewards of the gifts of God. The silver and the gold are His.
III. GIVING IS A FRUITFUL SOURCE OF HAPPINESS.
IV. GIVING IS A MEANS OF GETTING. Let us observe the testimony of Scripture on this point. "Honour the Lord with thy substance and with the first-fruits of all thine increase; so shall thy barns be filled with plenty and thy presses shall burst out with new wine." "There is that scattereth and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty."
V. THIS IS THE NOBLEST END OF MONEY-MARKING. Some men get to hoard. Others get to spend. Still others get to give.
VI. OUR GIVING IS GOD'S METHOD FOR THE CONVERSION OF THE WORLD. It is God's purpose that all nations should be evangelised. Our wealth must furnish the sinews of the holy war.
VII. THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST TEACHES US TO GIVE. He was the greatest of givers. He gave everything He had for our deliverance from sin and death.
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)1 Corinthians 16 mention was made of a contribution which the Corinthians were systematically to store up for the poor brethren at Jerusalem. Paul here renews the subject and records the largeness of the sum contributed by the churches of Macedonia, and urges the Corinthians to emulate their example. Note —
I. THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN LIBERALITY.
1. It was a grace bestowed from God (vers. 1, 6). Now there are many reasons which make liberality desirable.(1) Utility. By liberality hospitals are supported, missions established, social disorders healed. But St. Paul does not take the utilitarian ground; though in its way it is a true one.(2) Nor does he take the ground that it is for the advantage of the persons relieved (ver. 13). He takes the higher ground: it is a grace of God. He contemplates the benefit to the soul of the giver.
2. It was the work of a willing mind (ver. 12).(1) The offering is sanctified or made unholy in God's sight by the spirit in which it is given.(2) A willing mind, however, is not all. "Now therefore perform the doing of it." Where the means are, willingness is only tested by performance. Test your feelings and fine liberal words by self-denial. Let it be said, "He hath done what he could."
3. It was the outpouring of poverty (ver. 2). As it was in the time of the apostle, so it is now. It was the poor widow who gave all. Generally a man's liberality does not increase in proportion as he grows rich, but the reverse.(1) Let this circumstance be a set-off against poverty. God has made charity easier to you who are not the rich of this world.(2) Let it weaken the thirst for riches. Doubtless riches are a good; but remember that the Bible says, "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare."
4. It was exhibited to strangers. Gentile and Jew were united to each other by a common love. There is nothing but Christianity which can do this. Think of the old rancours of the heathen world. Philanthropy is a dream without Christ. Why should I love the foreigner? Because we are one family in Christ.
II. ITS MOTIVES.
1. Christian completeness (ver. 7). It is the work of Christ to take the whole man, and present him a living sacrifice to God.
2. Emulation. Compare vers. 1 to 8 and Romans 11:11. Ordinary, feeble philanthropy would say, "Emulation is dangerous." Yet there is such a feeling in our nature. So St. Paul here took advantage of it, and exhorts the Corinthians to enter the lists in honourable rivalry. Emulation, meaning a desire to outstrip individuals, is a perverted feeling; emulation, meaning a desire to reach and pass a standard, is the parent of all progress and excellence. Hence, set before you high models. Try to live with the most generous, and to observe their deeds.
3. The example of Christ (ver. 9).(1) Christ is the reference for everything. But(2) it is in spirit, and not in letter, that Christ is our example. The Corinthians were asked to give money for a special object. But Christ did not give money, He gave Himself.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)I. GIVING IS A CHRISTIAN GRACE. It is a recognition of that great duty of service which is obligatory throughout the kingdom of Christ.
II. Naturally enough, then, we find giving treated in this passage as THE DUTY OF ALL. The churches of Macedonia in their deep poverty are commended for their giving. Giving is of as wide obligation as the observance of the Sabbath. Much the same reasons could be urged for excusing the poor from the observance of the Sabbath as from the duty of giving. The Sabbath might be transmuted into money. The poor might use the day to earn additional wages.
III. A third lesson of this paragraph is that GIVING SHOULD BE VOLUNTARY AND CHEERFUL. The Macedonian churches are here commended that they gave of their own accord and besought Paul with much entreaty to accept their gift for the needy at Jerusalem.
IV. Giving, we are to notice, is also AN ACT OF FELLOWSHIP. The Macedonians in sending their contribution to the Christians at Jerusalem were enjoying "fellowship in the ministering to the saints." Fellowship is an interflow of hearts and a cooperation with others. Now giving is one of the simplest and easiest methods of expressing fellowship. It is at the outset a recognition of the brotherly relation of man to man. It is an effort to share the burdens of others. We are filled with amazement at the discoveries of modern science. To-day power can be sent along a wire through our streets and into the country and utilised wherever we please. It is a blessing of much the same character that our gifts can fly here and there over the whole world as a force to relieve distress and elevate character. We cannot always go ourselves.
V. We must recognise Christian giving as THE OUTCOME OF PERSONAL CONSECRATION. The wonderful liberality of the Macedonian Christians was due to the fact that "first they gave their own selves to the Lord." A friend lately received the gift of a house; what did that include? The rent, of course, that certain tenants were paying for the use of the house. The original owner, after he had given this house to another, could no longer collect the rents for himself. If we have truly given ourselves up to God in a complete consecration, that includes anything and everything of ours. If we have property, it is His; time, abilities, influence — all are His.
VI. The passage declares that giving is A PROOF OF LOVE. It is no trial to us to advance the cause of Christ by our gifts if we love the Lord Jesus supremely.
VII. The passage urges us to GIVE IN IMITATION OF CHRIST. The apostle reminds us that the Lord Jesus Christ, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor.
VIII. Once more let us notice that GIVING IS MEASURED BY WILLINGNESS, NOT BY AMOUNT. "If the readiness is there," wrote the apostle, "it is acceptable according as a man hath and not according as he hath not." We are often discouraged by the smallness of our gifts, but we need not be.
(Addison P. Foster.)
1. That a charitable disposition is the gift of God — "the grace of God bestowed on the churches" — who sends His Holy Ghost, and pours into all hearts that will receive it, "that most excellent gift of charity."
2. That it is a source of pure and rich enjoyment to its possessor, "the abundance of their joy," the apostle calls it, "twice blessed," in the phrase of our great poet.
3. That its exercise, where it exists, is not repressed by poverty, not even "deep poverty, in a great trial of affliction."
4. That it waits not to be asked, but is "willing of itself."
5. That its tendency is always to exceed, rather than to fall short, of the true measure of ability, overflowing in the riches of its liberality, not only "according to" its power, but "beyond" its "power."
6. That it counts the opportunity of exercise a favour done to it, "praying us, with much entreaty, that we would receive the gift."
7. That this will only be so when the heart has been surrendered, as "living sacrifice," and then will always be, first giving "their own selves to the Lord, and" then "to us, by the will of God."
(Sermons by American Clergymen.)
Homilist.This is as much a doctrine as any taught in God's Word, although it may not be so popular as some others.
I. HOW DID THE MACEDONIANS GIVE?
1. In affliction.
2. In poverty.
3. In self-abnegation. They gave more than they were able to give.
4. In willingness. Not grudgingly — "Praying us with much entreaty."
5. Beyond expectation — "Not as we hoped."
II. TO WHOM DID THEY GIVE?
1. To Corinth; that was Home Missions.
2. To Jerusalem; that was Foreign Missions.
III. WHAT DID THEY GIVE?
1. Their own selves.
2. Their money.
IV. WHY DID THEY GIVE?
1. They were moved by what Christ had sacrificed for them.
2. They "gave to God."
(J. Denney, B. D.)
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