FIRST GIVE YOURSELF
2 Corinthians 8:1-5 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.
There was a prophet named Agabus, during New Testament days, that foretold Paul would be taken by authorities, bound, and given into the hands of the Gentiles (Acts 21:10-11). It was probably this same prophet, Agabus, that predicted a great dearth throughout all the world, which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:28). This prophecy did, indeed, take place.Due to the devastation and great famine which occurred, people living in the Palestinian area of Judea, were dependant on those in other countries to send much needed relief.
By the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Paul), contributions made by Christians, from many other areas of the world, (every man according to his ability), were sent to the elders of churches of Christ located in Judea, including the body of Christ in Jerusalem (See Acts 11:29-30). This need for charity Paul referred to in his letter to the Christians at Rome when he wrote, but now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25-26). Paul also requested that the church at Corinth take up a collection for this same cause. It was the same request that he had made to the churches of Galatia. He volunteered to go with the representatives of the church at Corinth, that were selected to take their contribution - their liberality unto Jerusalem (See 1 Cor. 16:1-4).
In the lesson text, Paul singles out the churches of Macedonia as a commendable example of charity. Churches in this geographical area, lying north of the province of Achaia, in which Corinth is found, probably included the churches of Christ found in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. Paul wrote, this we do you to wit, that is we make known to you (Revised KJV), of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia. Most bible scholars seem to agree that the grace of God should be interpreted as the gift of God. Since all blessings come from God, the Macedonians were merely the conduits through which God's gifts were channeled. Others seem to think that the grace of God is the spiritual influence that God exerts on the hearts of His children that motivates them to serve fellow Christians that are in need. Either interpretation seems appropriate for the lesson text. However, it was the liberality of members of the churches of Macedonia that Paul was using, as an inspirational example for the church at Corinth.
Verse 2, of the lesson text, assures us that the Christians of Macedonia were, themselves, very poor in the physical blessings of life. Whether their own poverty resulted from the great dearth, or was brought about by their persecution from both Jewish zealots and pagan Gentiles, is not made known. However, Paul tells us that they were very poor, which made their generous contribution an even better example of spiritual, sacrificial benevolence. Whatever their straits and personal discomforts were, they gave liberally, with joy in their hearts, that they were doing the will of God by demonstrating concern and genuine love for those in need. Paul encouraged the church at Corinth give in the same manner the churches of Macedonia gave. He told them, in the following chapter of this letter to let every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).
The churches of Macedonia, undoubtedly, gave far beyond anything that could be expected, considering their own state of poverty. We recognize no undue coercion exerted on them to give; we know of no pressure placed on them by Paul, or any other minister of Christ, to make such a large contribution to the needs of fellow Christians in Judea. However, they were willing of themselves. They recognized the opportunity of doing good, and joyfully filled that need. Why? It was because they first gave their own selves to the Lord. When one belongs to God, love is demonstrated, and charity abounds.