I never noticed this before.
In Paul's second epistle to the church at Corinth he writes in the 8th chapter encouraging them to continue their work of putting together a care package for the saints in Jerusalem. The way he does this is to give them a positive example. So he tells this relatively rich church about what was happening in the poor church he was visiting in Macedonia.
Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)
I've noticed in the past that they gave from "their deep poverty" "the wealth of their liberality", an interesting enigma. This church was dirt poor and Paul noticed their wealth of generosity. Indeed, there is an entire formula here that makes little natural sense. Notice the three ingredients that produced "the wealth of their liberality": 1) "great ordeal of affliction", 2) "abundance of joy", and 3) "deep poverty". Only one of those makes any sense to us. Sure, you give out of joy, but the other two? And yet, this was what produced remarkable giving. Indeed, Paul says they begged him to let them participate. Imagine that! It would be like us getting a care package from a village church in Uganda or something. "Please, please, let us participate!" So he did.
Notice, however, that there are two other sources listed on this amazing generosity. These are the two I missed in the past. First, there was "the grace of God" (2 Corinthians 8:1). That is, God's grace produced this kind of liberality. But notice the second. You might have missed it because Paul tells us about it after he tells us about their liberality. "They first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God." (2 Corinthians 8:5). See that? "First". What "first"? They gave themselves to the Lord. Ah, now, see? It starts to make sense.
Here we have the secret. They affirmed to themselves that they belonged to God. "This house? His. This arm? His! This wife? She also belongs to Him." Understanding and confirming that all that I have and am belong to Him makes giving it away much, much easier. Indeed, it is the only way in which they could give "beyond their ability."
American Christians don't suffer from "deep poverty". Most don't have a problem with "a great ordeal of affliction". And, I suspect, most aren't particularly known for their "abundance of joy", either. Could it be that we are singularly lacking in first giving ourselves to God? I fear that it's a real possibility.
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