In chapter 8:1 to 9:15 Paul deals with the subject of the grace of giving. He wants to encourage the members of the Corinthian church to support the poor "saints" (Jewish believers) in Palestine. For Paul, this is a very important ministry as it fulfills prophecy. The prophets foretold of the day when the Gentiles would come to Zion bearing gifts for the historic people of God. When Gentiles bear gifts to Israel then you know that the kingdom of God is at hand. The passage before us introduces Paul's exhortation that the Corinthian believers "excel in this grace of giving."
v1. In the opening verses Paul describes the generosity of the Macedonian churches (Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea) toward his collection for the poor believers in Palestine. He uses the word "grace" to describe their God-inspired generosity. This is a very interesting use of the word. He is clearly saying that their generosity is a ministry-gift of the Spirit, cf. Rom.12:8. In 8:7 he calls it "this grace of giving." God's grace, his merciful favor toward his people, is expressed in many ways; it is seen in the free gift of salvation, in the gift of apostleship to a rebel like Paul, and here, in the gift of generosity. So, "rich generosity" is a work of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, a fruit of the Spirit's renewing power.
v2. The Macedonian churches had little to give because of the persecution they faced, and yet they were rich, rich in generosity. They were like the widow in the treasury, Mk.12:41ff; they generously gave of the little they had.
v3. So, the Macedonian believers gave generously out of a limited resource, disregarding their own needs. This they did without being asked. Paul probably knew of their plight and didn't ask them to share in the collection for the "saints" in Jerusalem, but they gave none the less.
v4. In fact, as far as the Macedonian believers were concerned, it was a privilege to share in the collection initiated by Paul, and so they pleaded for the opportunity to participate. This was something for the Lord and they wanted to be part of it.
v5. Paul had never expected the positive response he received when he began evangelizing in Macedonia, but indeed, not only did many dedicate themselves to the Lord, but they stood up for Paul and his ministry project.
v6. In the previous year, Titus had commenced the collection at Corinth in Achaea and given that the neighboring Macedonian churches had fully contributed to the appeal, Paul now asks Titus to revisit Corinth and finalize the appeal there.
v7. Paul concludes this section with an exhortation. The Corinthians were greatly blessed with spiritual gifts: they abound in wonderworking faith, 1Cor.12:9, 13:2; "utterance", probably in the sense of prophecy, 1Cor.12:10; "knowledge", probably referring to a word of wisdom, 1Cor.12:8, 10; "earnestness", a quality all believers should possess; and "love". Given that the Corinthians posses such an abundance of spiritual qualities, Paul exhorts them to excel in the spiritual gift of generosity.
Paul the apostle had a special project that served God's kingdom. He collected funds from the Gentile churches and used the money to finance a caring ministry toward Palestinian believers. In his thinking, the Gentiles needed to bear gifts to Israel as a "thank you" offering for the gift of the gospel from God's historic people Israel, and he hoped that this would then serve as a prophetic sign to unbelieving Jews. The Macedonian churches excelled "in this service to the saints" and so Paul has several things to say about their "rich generosity":
First: Their generosity was a "grace" of God, v1 - "this grace of giving", v8. In sum, their "rich generosity" was a fruit of the Spirit's renewing work, an overflow of Christ's impelling love. In the end, generosity is more a product of the prayer of faith, a prayer for renewal within, than an effort of the will. Let us pray that Christ will melt our grasping heart and replace it with a generous one.
Second: Their generosity was "beyond their ability", v3. The Macedonian Christians were caught up in persecution and as a result, had limited funds to spare, v2. Although what they gave was small, it was beyond what was reasonable. It was like the widow's mite. They gave sacrificially for "this service to the saints"; it hurt them. This is why Paul calls their gift "rich generosity." You see, the amount we give is not the issue, it's that we give sacrificially to Christ's cause.
Third: Their generosity was freely offered, v3, 4. It wasn't a product of mind-games, guilt manipulation, social engineering, or arm-bending. In fact, it seems that Paul hadn't even asked them to give. Their situation was too difficult, yet "they urgently pleaded" to share "in this service to the saints." Let us be a people who plead to share in the grace of giving.
Fourth: Their generosity was a "privilege", v4. The Macedonians didn't regard Paul's project as a nuisance. They wanted to be in on it because it was a privilege to be part of this ministry. What a wonderful attitude and one we would do well to emulate.
And finally: Their generosity came out of their commitment to Christ, v5. This then is the substance of the issue; they "gave themselves first to the Lord." Freely given generosity cannot grow in a heart that has not met Jesus.
The Lord's word to us is, "see that you also excel in this grace of giving."
"The church is always on about money." How would you handle this complaint?