Paul was the only one of Jesus’ apostles who had not been a part of the original church in Jerusalem. In fact, in the days following the birth of the church, Paul had led the initiative to harass the disciples and to kill the Christian movement. But when he met Jesus on the Damascus road, the church’s greatest enemy became the church’s greatest evangelist. Throughout his ministry, Paul demonstrated a deep love and respect for the “mother church” in Jerusalem, often returning to its leadership to report on his missionary efforts.
When the church at Jerusalem began to suffer from famine and persecution, Paul responded by vigorously promoting a relief offering among the churches he had planted. This chapter and the next outline his appeal to the Corinthian church to participate in the offering. The churches of Macedonia had already given their offering. While the Corinthian church was affluent (Corinth was a wealthy city and the believers there had an “abundance” to give, v.14), the Macedonian churches were poor (they were extremely impoverished, v.2); while the Corinthians enjoyed peace, the Macedonians suffered severe “affliction”. So which group do you think should have given the best gift?
The Corinthian church had pledged a large offering one year earlier. They had talked big, but they had not produced. They were the first church to pledge an offering, and they had inspired other churches to give generously — but when it came to actually giving, they were dragging their feet. The Corinthian church should have been leading the way, but they were lagging behind, bringing up the rear. Paul spent the better part of two chapters encouraging them to go ahead and give what they had promised.
He used the testimony of the Macedonians to motivate them: in spite of their limitations they gave generously (“a wealth of generosity” that was “beyond their means”, v.2-3). Their giving was evidence of the total surrender of their lives to Jesus (v.5). When you give your self to God, it is no struggle for you to give your stuff to God. If tithing and financial generosity is an area of frustration and struggle in your life, that is evidence of an inner struggle with the lordship of Jesus. The Macedonians held loosely to their money, proof of the fact that they had let go of their lives. They had given control to the Lord Jesus.
Paul further motivated the Corinthians to give by presenting the example of Jesus, who “became poor” for our sakes (v.9). Jesus left the splendor of heaven to come to earth. He built no wealth in this world, choosing to live in poverty (“the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head”, Luke 9:58). When He went to the cross He literally gave everything, divesting Himself of His very life so that we might become rich, receiving the most valuable gift of all: the saving grace of God. That is a reason to rejoice and to give generously.