If you’re in the middle of difficult financial circumstances, should you be giving money?
That’s a difficult question, and if you asked it of ten different financial counselors you may get ten different answers. But the issue here isn’t what financial experts have to say about the matter, but what the scripture has to say about the matter. And the Bible gives us a fascinating, real-world example of generosity in the midst of poverty.
We know that giving is an important part of God’s plan for handling money. Generosity is a key element of God’s Master Plan for your finances, and it is one of the chief ways that we can help spread His Kingdom throughout the earth. Over and over, the Bible encourages us to give generously, and promises that God will bless us with even greater abundance if we are faithful to give. But when money is tight, giving can seem unwise or even impossible. What does the Bible say about that?
For the answer, we’re going to turn to II Corinthians 8:1-7. Let’s look at the text of this passage first, then begin to unpack some of the ideas:
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 6 So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
In this passage, Paul is using the example of the Macedonian churches to encourage the Corinthian church to generosity. What can we learn from the Macedonians?
Someone always has it worse than you
There’s no doubt that the Macedonian churches were in the midst of difficult financial times. Paul references their “severe trial” and “extreme poverty,” making it clear that this is a group of people that has almost nothing to spare. And yet, they gave generously, “even beyond their ability.”
So what exactly were they giving to, and why? Well, church historians tell us that in this part of the first century (around A.D. 45), there was a severe famine in the area around Jerusalem in Judea, which had inflicted severe poverty and need on the Jewish believers. Paul, who was the apostle to the Gentiles, made the rounds to the churches that he had planted throughout the Greek world, asking their members to give money to help relieve the suffering of their Jewish brethren. (Being bailed out by a bunch of Gentiles would have really dealt with the pride of the Jews, by the way, but that’s another topic for a different blog.)
God’s love should always compel us to help those in need, even if we are in need ourselves.
So the Macedonians, who were themselves in the midst of extreme poverty, saw that their brothers and sisters in Christ were being faced with even greater affliction. Their hearts were moved with compassion, and they gave everything they could — even more than they could afford — to help the Jewish believers. They realized a fact that is as important today as it was back then: No matter how tight things are for you, there’s always someone who has it worse. God’s love should always compel us to help those in need, even if we are in need ourselves.
Submission to God
So how were the Macedonians able to give so generously out of their own need? The key is found in verse 5: “They gave themselves first of all to the Lord.”
Let’s face it: When we’re facing tough times, the last thing that we tend to think about is how we can help other people. But the Macedonians, although they were poor, submitted themselves to the love and direction of God. They didn’t think first about their own needs, but rather about His will. And because of their great submission, God gave them a special grace to accomplish this act of generosity. In the introduction to this passage, Paul says that he wants the Corinthians “to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.”
Paul also wraps up this passage by appealing to the Corinthians to pursue this submission and grace themselves: “See to it that you also excel in this grace of giving.”
So what can we take away from this story today? First of all, we have a confirmation that generosity is important to God. In fact, He confirms that it’s just as important as things like faith, knowledge and love. And we have the principle that if we surrender our lives to Him, He will endow us with the grace to give, even if we are in need ourselves.
Despite the difficulty of your circumstances, you need to continually seek the face of God and surrender yourself to His will.
If you are in the middle of tough financial times, does this mean that you should run out and recklessly give away what little you have? No. What it means is that, despite the difficulty of your circumstances, you need to continually seek the face of God and surrender yourself to His will. And if He intends for you to give, He will teach you how to give, and fill you with the grace to do it. In fact, learning to be a good giver may be one of the spiritual keys to unlocking prosperity in your own life.
Remember, giving is both a command and a privilege. We serve a God who is big enough to supply all of our needs, who promises us that we will always reap more than we sow. May we never be so distracted by our own need that we lose sight of His great power to provide.
Photo by Sean Ellis. Used under Creative Commons License.