2 Corinthians 8:1–8 begins with what appears to be an unbelievable story; it begins with the story of one impoverished church helping another impoverished church. The churches of Macedonia are living in “extreme poverty” (verse 2) and yet, when they hear of the financial struggles of believers in Jerusalem, they respond with a “wealth of generosity” out of “their abundance of joy” (verse 2). This story is hard to believe because it goes against common sensibilities: when people are starving, they are more quick to hoard what little food they have left than to give it away to someone else in need; and if they do give, it’s more begrudgingly, certainly not in a spirit of joy.
But lest we think that this is just some made-up account, that this is just an example of verisimilitude common in fictional epistolary stories, let us consider the first words of the chapter: “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8:1). The “we” here refers to both Paul and Timothy, co-writers of this letter to Corinth, and their testimony in this first verse declares that they are eyewitnesses to this event. Even later, as they cite specific examples of what the Macedonians do, Paul adds, “as I can testify” (verse 3). There is no doubt that these two men experienced firsthand this “miraculous” generosity and now, in their excitement and joy, they can’t wait to share this story with others!
But even Paul and Timothy recognize the miracle inherent in this act. They themselves admit that it is impossible for the average person, living in extreme poverty, to give both generously and joyfully. Yet, this is exactly the case for the Macedonians. So what made them to this? Our co-writers reveal the answer already in verse 1. It is only because of “the grace of God” that this has happened and, as such, this is why “the grace of God” is mentioned before the church itself. God had given the Macedonian churches grace. It was God’s grace that enabled the believers in Macedonia to have joy in their giving and to give generously. This is telling. It reveals that apart from God’s grace people do not act this way.
Paul and Timothy reiterate this fact in 2 Corinthians 8:5. They admit that this was “not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” You see, when people give themselves “first to the Lord,” God powerfully moves in their hearts. God gives people joy despite their living conditions. In fact, He gives them grace to live off less. This is what we see in Macedonia. Because they are rooted in God and submitted to His will, these believers knew that life is not found in what can be consumed or experienced. Rather, God had given grace to these believers to be content such that “they gave according to their means…and beyond their means, of their own accord” (verse 3).
If this eyewitness account hasn’t being personal enough, verses 6 through 8 make this connection all the more clear. Paul and Timothy do not hide their intentions in recounting this event. Not only have they been so blessed and encouraged by the churches in Macedonia, but now they urge Titus (a fellow friend and laborer in the gospel) to endorse this model in the church at Corinth: “so he should complete among [the church in Corinth] this act of grace” (verse 7). Paul and Timothy recognize that the believers there are already striving at so many things. They are trying to grow “in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in love” (verse 7). But these two co-writers ardently plea that the believers do not forget to be generous as well. This is why the story of personal experience with the Macedonians is so important. It is a confrontation to all believers of what this sort of generous grace looks like first hand and thus how it should be replicated.