Many people live beyond their means. But today’s Gospel talks of a group of people who gave beyond their means!
What might that look like, giving beyond one’s means? For this group of people, the Macedonians, it meant they gave even when, because of their poverty, they really couldn’t afford to give anything at all. It meant that though they were poor—completely destitute captures the sense of their “extreme poverty”—they were willing to part with what little they had to help someone who had even less. It meant they were willing to go without.
What would giving beyond our means look like for us? It’s worth thinking about. Certainly it means giving at cost to oneself. Might it also mean giving to the point that our own lifestyle suffers? That our own “buying power” is diminished? That our portfolio goes down instead of up? That our financial net worth is decreased? That we go without?
Those are probably questions we all have to answer for ourselves. But I hope we’ll at least ask them.
This passage also helps us understand why they did this. We are told that the Macedonians gave themselves first to the Lord. Their trust was in God, not in the wealth of this world. Their delight was in being faithful to Him, not in status or prestige. Their treasure was in their heart, not in their portfolio or any material thing. It really wasn’t about money at all; it was about loving God above all else, and loving one’s neighbor as they loved themselves.
What would it be like if we loved God, and our neighbors, like that? How different would our churches be? How different would the world be? How different would we be?
I love how Paul puts it in verse 7: Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you*—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. The Corinthians were a people who were all about excellence. Does that remind you of another culture at another place in time? Paul says, “That’s great. I applaud your deep commitment to excellence in all things. Now how about giving? How about being excellent in your giving as well?”
Hmmm. Those sound like questions we should probably ask as well so that we too might be fully faithful followers of Jesus Christ, people who excel in generosity and willingness to give beyond our means.