First Things First: Devoted to God
FIRST THINGS FIRST: DEVOTED TO GOD
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
“First things first” is an old saying that means take care of the most important things first. There was one old recipe for rabbit stew that started out with this injunction: "First catch the rabbit." That’s putting first things first. It’s what we do when we establish priorities—we put the things that should be in first place in their proper order.
The churches of Macedonian provide a great example of setting priorities, especially in their liberal attitude in helping their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem who were going through some hard times. Times were also hard in Macedonia in Paul’s day, and people were living in difficult conditions. The “severe test of affliction” Paul describes might have been some economic hardship, famine, or epidemic. The Macedonian churches were likely not as blessed materially as in some other places, such as Corinth.
Yet, Paul sees something remarkable in their generosity. Some aspects of their attitude and actions we might describe as paradoxical. They suffered much affliction and yet were joyful. They were poor and yet were rich in their generosity. They gave not only according to their ability, but even went above and beyond their ability. They gave as much as they could, and they did so without the apostle having to put any pressure upon them. Instead they did so of their own accord. In fact, Paul reports, these good Christians begged him earnestly to allow them, as an act of grace, to take part in this charitable work of providing relief for their brothers and sisters.
But ultimately, what they gave was more than the expected financial contribution. They gave themselves first to the Lord. They offered themselves to the apostle to be of service as needed, but this was because they first committed themselves to the Lord. Such faith was the crowning point of their generosity and the basis of all their service. Because the churches of Macedonia were so desperately poor, they probably could not have given much, but what they gave was valuable. They gave themselves.
Paul exhorts others, including the Corinthians, to follow their example. By doing so, they would prove the sincerity of their love. He reminds them of the perfect example of such a giving spirit, that of Christ himself. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:8-9).
Elsewhere the apostle reminds believers of the transforming power of offering our bodies to God as “a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). Concerning his own faith, he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
So, before we begin to think about good works we can do for others, or services we can render for the Lord, let’s resolve first to give to our Father what he desires more than anything else—our heart. First give ourselves to him, and the rest will follow.