The Circle of Grace

Paul describes the Macedonians as both afflicted and joyful, impoverished and generous. He writes in 2 Corinthians 8:2, "During a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part."

Not only do the Macedonians give despite their poverty and affliction, but because of this poverty and affliction in combination with their abundant joy, they give generously beyond their means. Why would struggling people choose to give so much?

The Macedonians give by, in and through God's grace….

Although it is obscured by many translations, the Greek word for grace appears seven times throughout chapter eight. Paul begins by discussing the grace that God has given to the churches in Macedonia. God's grace was given to the Macedonians in abundance, in the midst of their poverty and affliction. 

Through their giving, the Macedonians share in God's grace. In 2 Corinthians 8:4, the Macedonians beg Paul for "the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints." This can be literally translated as "the grace and fellowship in service of the saints." The Macedonians were eager to share in God's grace through their fellowship with others through their giving.

As J. Paul Sampley of the New Interpreter's Bible Vol. XI writes, "God's grace is powerful and moves the recipients to a reflection of God's abundance so that they respond profusely by doing good works toward others. ... God's grace, once received, generates grace-laden acts to others."

God's grace is reflected most clearly in the generosity of the Macedonians because God's abundance can be seen even in the midst of their material scarcity. It is only by, in and through God's grace that the Macedonians could give such an unexplainable gift….

God's freely given grace creates a never-ending, grace-filled circle of generosity. Sampley continues,  "Paul's notion that we, recipients of God's grace, must pass it on, that we must finish the circle by redirecting it through us to someone else, is awesome ... every encounter with another person is an opportunity to be a channel of God's grace."

God's abundant grace is the foundation, invitation, and generous gift. Through generosity, God works in and through us to be agents of God's grace to others. God's grace invites every person, no matter his or her income, to join the circle of generosity. In this way, generosity no longer depends on us or our means. All that matters is God working through the giver to be an agent of God's grace to his or her neighbor.

- Grace Duddy, "Generous Givers: The Macedonians," on the Stewardship for the 21st Century website of Luther Seminary