2 Corinthians 8:1-7
They Gave Themselves First to the Lord
I have spoken before of a collection that Paul was receiving from the largely Gentile churches in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Achaia to send to their poorer Jewish brethren in Jerusalem which was suffering and in need of relief. For Paul, this was not only a means of remembering the poor which he had pledged to do any way (Galatians 2:10), but also a way of strengthening the tie between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. The early church fathers liked to speak of Christians as being the third race created by the Spirit who had brought the two disparate groups together.
Here we read of Paul encouraging the Corinthians to finish what they had started. We read in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 that they were engaged in the mission, but with the division and conflict, they had left off gathering the collection. This is exactly the kind of thing that Satan does in churches: a church will have a vision or mission to do some work for the Kingdom, and suddenly finds itself in some conflict that threatens to wreck the whole plan. You know that Satan is in that church stirring the pot over some issue that is inconsequential to the Kingdom. Churches beware.
But then Paul brings up the churches in Macedonia which would include Philippi, Thessalonica, and Beroea. In what appears to be a gentle attempt at shaming the wealthier Corinthians, he tells them of the generosity of these churches which were not only poor but experiencing persecution (“a severe test of affliction”). Paul says that they begged for the favor of giving and gave beyond their means. There are some wonderful points about giving that Paul makes in describing the way these Macedonians handled themselves: 1) They gave themselves to the Lord. We cannot give rightly until first we give ourselves unto the Lord. Our Lord condemned the scribes and Pharisees for tithing mint, dill, and cumin, but then neglecting weightier matters such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). As Paul said in his previous letter, even giving our bodies to be burned means nothing without the love of God shed abroad in our hearts for our brothers and sisters (13:3); and, 2) they gave themselves to the apostles as God-ordained leaders within the Church and humbled themselves to give out of obedience, though no such command was made. Servants are servants not just when called upon but whenever there is need. And so Paul throws down the gauntlet before these wealthier Corinthians: Will you be outdone by these poorer churches? Or more to the point, will we be outdone in our commitments by poor churches around the world experiencing persecution?