The word of the day is “ joy.” In our reading of 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, St. Paul holds up the Macedonians as examples of generous giving. The Apostle boasts that despite their abject poverty, they begged Paul for the favor of receiving their gift for the poor in Jerusalem. He states, “Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality” (vs. 1-2).
Single-minded in Sharing
Thus, Paul intends to impress his readers with the “liberality” of the Macedonians. The word is derived from the thought of singleness of purpose. Those who excel in liberality have an undivided heart that is single-minded in sharing what they have (Strong’s #573, 34).
But Paul helps his readers learn the attitude that motivates such open generosity. It is an “abundance of joy.” “Abundance” is a translation of the Greek term for what is beyond measure, that is, overflowing (Strong’s #2050, 199). One would think that the Apostle refers to the excess of wealth that would allow the Macedonians to afford their charity. But the riches of Paul’s exemplary congregation are not in money or resources. Their “riches” are expressed in their benevolences (vs. 2).
The Macedonians possess a far greater treasure than material wealth. Their hearts are overflowing with joy. The word joy (charas) refers to exceeding gladness (Strong’s #5479,269). Thus, the angel said to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy…” (Luke 2:10). But the incarnation of the Son of God is not the only thing that brings joy. His teaching on abiding in His love fosters joy: “These things I have spoken to you that My joy may remain in you and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Then too, joy is the reward for the faithful stewards in the Parable of the Talents. The Master invites the faithful stewards to “Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25: 21 & 23). Moreover, the converts who have come to believe in Christ are Paul’s “glory and joy” (1 Thess. 3:20).
Joy in Suffering
But surprisingly, the New Testament often associates joy with suffering. The Apostle writes in James, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2). Likewise, Paul says, “I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation” (2 Cor. 7:4). And the Apostle in Hebrews recalls the “struggles and sufferings” of his readers. He reminds them, “… for you had compassion on me in my chains and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and enduring possession for yourselves in heaven (Hebrews 10:32 & 34). Finally, though the disciplining of the Lord may not be joyful now, it is training that produces the gladness of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).
In summary, our reading teaches that we can be glad and perhaps even “delight” in trials. They are a school for patience, for hope, and for training in righteousness. And the Lord will reward those who endure suffering for His sake.
However, as we see in our reading, tribulations also make our hearts tender and sensitive to others’ needs. And our joy, born in hardship and raised in trials, expresses itself in lavish generosity.
St. John Chrysostom wrote, “Helping a person in need is good in itself. But the degree of goodness is hugely affected by the attitude with which it is done… If you help the person in a spirit of joy, then the help will be received joyfully. The person will feel neither demeaned nor humiliated by your help, but rather will feel glad to have caused you pleasure by receiving your help. And joy is the appropriate attitude with which to help others because acts of generosity are a source of blessing to the giver as well as the receiver.”