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Life: What we work for

• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for March 16 focuses on 2 Corinthians 8:1-9.

What is it about lessons on giving that cause us to shudder? Perhaps it’s because our culture teaches one thing, and Jesus’ teaching turns that upside down. The passage in 2 Corinthian 8 appeals to Christ-followers to consider giving to others as the joyful response of a transformed heart.

The grace of giving

The preface to this passage begins in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3. The Jerusalem church needed of help due to a famine. The Apostle Paul asked the churches with whom he had worked to collect funds to aid the church. The offering became a unifying action between Jewish and Gentile believers.

Paul wrote these words from Macedonia, an area north of Corinth. He held up the churches of the region as a model. The Corinthian church needed encouragement to finish what it had started. What was it about the gifts of churches in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea that Paul felt his readers needed to know? What did their poor brothers and sisters have to teach the wealthier congregation down south?

Those in Macedonia gave not because they had to but because their overflowing joy in knowing Christ compelled them to give. They received God’s grace freely. Now, they gave freely. They didn’t see how little they could spare from their meager funds but gave generously out of their extreme poverty.

Transformed lives

Paul had not asked the Macedonian churches to give. Evidently, they pleaded with Paul for the privilege of being part of the relief offering being sent to their suffering brothers and sisters in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:4). Their love for God overflowed to a people they never had met but wanted to help. When was the last time someone in your church begged for the privilege of giving to an offering that would not benefit your congregation?

Their offering was a surprise to Paul (2 Corinthians 8:5). Perhaps he expected little because they didn’t have much. The key to their generosity was not what they had in their coin purses but the condition of their hearts. First, they gave themselves to the Lord. Repeat those words again slowly. First, they gave themselves to the Lord.

It is easy to give some money without giving ourselves to God. Paul reminds us when we give ourselves wholly to God, we are doing the will of God. As an act of worship and because of God’s mercy poured out in our lives, we place our lives before him as a sacrifice. These churches are a great example of the kind of transformed living Paul describes in Romans 12:1-2.

Transformed living includes our giving. When Sam Houston was to be baptized in Independence, Texas, the preacher told him he might want to leave his wallet on the side of the creek so it would stay dry. Houston replied he was giving his life to Christ, which included his wallet. The wallet was baptized along with its owner.

The Macedonians were transformed people. They delighted in giving to God and thus to others.

Paul describes the Corinthians’ giving as “an act of grace” and urged them to complete it (2 Corinthians 8:6). The poor in Jerusalem were going to be recipients of God’s grace through the generosity of his people in Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Gentile believers’ giving to Jewish believers was extraordinary. Only the transforming work of God could make that possible. Do we see giving to others as an act of God’s grace in our own lives?

The Corinthians excelled in many things—faith, speech, knowledge, complete earnestness and the love Paul and his companions had kindled when they were with them. Paul urged them also to excel in giving.

A test of sincere love

Paul did not command them to give. Rather, he appealed to the sincerity of their love. This is the church that received the magnificent description of love we know as 1 Corinthians 13. Love is not self-seeking and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love never fails. Love perseveres.

Paul tests the sincerity of their love against that of others, most likely the Macedonians. Any church’s love, including yours and mine, is nothing compared to the love of Christ poured out in our behalf.

Jesus, the maker of heaven and earth, the one who has all authority, laid down his riches to become poor for our sakes. His loving act on the cross paid a debt we could never pay. We have gone from being spiritually impoverished to having every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 1:3).

When you stop and consider all we have been given through the grace and mercy of God, how can we not give with overflowing joy to this magnificent God who love us so?

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