2Co 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2Co 8:2 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. 2Co 8:3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord. 2Co 8:4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints--
In normal math when the same numbers are added together they get the same sum every time and if one or both of the numbers change the sum is different. In biblical math that doesn’t always work. In the above case the Macedonians were under sever affliction which was resulting in extreme poverty. But the text tells us these two things along with a third added up in a wealth of generosity. That might make us shake our heads in confusion unless we are familiar with what the grace of God does in the life of a saint of God.
The normal way of thinking is that I will be generous once all of my needs are taken care of and if I have any disposable income left over I will consider giving it to someone in need. But this was not how these Macedonians were thinking. When Paul told them of the physical needs of the church in Jerusalem they begged to be able to help them out when they were perhaps no better off than those in Jerusalem.
They were poor but they were also full of the joy of the Lord. They knew that their sins were forgiven and that all things were theirs in Christ and an eternal inheritance awaited them and so whatever they could do to help the Lord’s work and the Lord’s people was of the utmost importance to them. Knowing that our heavenly Father is taking care of us frees us from undue anxiety for temporal things and allows us to live by faith. A weak faith will cause us to spend our time questioning God’s provisions for us and complaining and being dissatisfied. We will hardly look to the needs of others if we think God is not taking care of us. I think this is at the heart of Jesus’s words, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”
They were living in the joy of knowing Christ and so looking outward to be able to minister to others. So while in the Macedonians persecution plus poverty plus joy added up to love and generosity; biblically the addends can be changed and yet the sum remains the same. God doesn’t call everyone to suffer poverty yet all Christians are to be generous. In this case the lack of persecution plus worldly riches plus joy still adds up to love and generosity. Riches and poverty tend to make us hoarders and selfishness can be seen in those with much and in those with little. Grace teaches us to turn loose of temporal things for the sake of Christ.
Of course the constant is that Christ has secured all our needs and given us great joy so that as Paul says, Php 4:12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. Php 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. He was freed from worry about himself so that he could do whatever God wanted him to do. It is no accident that he later says, Php 4:19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
It should be our prayer that no matter what the Lord adds or subtracts from our lives, they always add up to the same thing; consistent, loving, God-honoring living.