By J.R. Miller
2 Corinthians 8:1-15
Paul wanted to stimulate the Corinthian church to give generously, and he told them what other churches had been doing. Giving merely not to be behind other people, is not good giving. At the same time we should be desirous of imitating every good thing we see in others, for its own sake, because it is beautiful and like Christ.
The early Christian givers were poor--but they gave liberally, and "Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity." They were in trouble, and yet the joy did not die out of their hearts. So it is in a true Christian life. The floods of trouble do not drown the songs of joy. Another proof of grace in this people to whom Paul refers, was that in their deep poverty their liberality still abounded. They were poor--but their poverty did not prevent them from giving to others who were poorer than themselves.
A story is told of Henry Thornton. An appeal was made to him for missions, and he made out a check for five pounds. Before the ink was dry a telegram was handed to him. He opened it and turned ashy white. He said to the visitor, "I have just received bad news. I have lost thousands of pounds. Give me back the check." The visitor supposed that now the check would be canceled. But Mr. Thornton altered the five pounds to fifty, saying, "God has just taught me that I may not much longer possess my property, and that I must use it well." In time of poverty, if we must retrench in our expenses, we should not begin with the gifts which God asks of us for His cause.
These Corinthian givers did not say, "I can spare this and not miss it." They gave what it seemed they could not spare--beyond their power.
Then they "gave of their own accord." They did not have to be urged and begged to give--but were eager to give, and gave gladly, cheerfully.
But "first they gave their own selves to the Lord." That is where all true consecration must begin. God does not care for our gifts, while He has not our hearts. It is much easier to give a little money, or to pay a visit now and then to some poor person, or even to do Christian work of other kinds, than it is to give ourselves to the Lord. But nothing comes of such giving or such work. We are first of all to present our body a living sacrifice to God--and then God will receive the things we offer and the service we render in His name as part of our consecration.
After telling the Corinthian Christians of the good example of others, Paul spoke in praise of them. He told them, "You abound in everything." It is right to praise people when they do well. Hearty, cheerful, sincere commendation is good everywhere. It is good in homes. Parents would better always commend their children when they have done well. Approval encourages and stimulates to better service in the future. It is good for teachers, also, to commend their pupils who are doing what they can. Our Lord commended Mary, saying, "She has done what she could," while His disciples were condemning her and finding fault.
Too many people seem afraid ever to say a kindly word to others about what they have done. When a person dies, there is no lack of commendation; but what does the dead man care for such words? Many a time along his years, when he was weary and overburdened, if the thousandth part of the kindly things spoken by his coffin had been spoken in his ear--he would have been cheered and strengthened by the approval.
Paul wisely used commendation as an introduction to further appeals. "You abound in everything," he had said. "See that you abound in this grace also," he concluded. So giving is a grace. Paul puts it down here in the same cluster with faith, knowledge, earnestness, love.
Many of us make our Christian ideal only a very small fraction of the full image of Christ. We pick out one or two virtues or graces which we think are important, and magnify these, overlooking and leaving out other things which are quite as essential. Liberality is one of the graces of the Holy Spirit which must be found in the complete ideal. A miserly Christian is a misnomer. One who is greedy, grasping, covetous, is not the kind of follower Christ wants.
A Jesuit priest testified that while thousands had come to him with confession of all manner of sins, no one had ever come confessing the sin of covetousness. Does "this grace of giving" abound in us, alongside of our faith, love, meekness, gentleness and patience?
Christ is the highest of all examples. He was rich--but He became poor. We know the story of His humiliation. He touched the deepest depths of pain and suffering. Then, the object of it all we know, too--it was that we might be made rich. He lifts up all His people from the depths of sin, shame and curse--to the glories of heaven. In comparison with this great giving, how small are our little penny contributions to the cause of Christ or for the relief of the poor!
It is comforting to know that Christ judges gifts by the heart: "For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according as a man has, not according as he has not." The widow's two mites were of more value than the largest offerings cast that day into the treasury. They were, in fact, the very smallest offerings; none gave as little as the poor widow. What Jesus meant was that in proportion to her means--she had given more than anyone else of all the givers that day. The rich gave out of their abundance and had much left. She gave little out of her extreme poverty, and had nothing left. Christ's eye is always on the treasury, and He rates the contributions, not by their monetary value--but by their largeness in proportion to the person's ability.