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. They are 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 their spirit of benevolence (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). In the Gospel of John, the Lord teaches that abiding in His love fosters pure 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 Jesus said that joy is the reward for the faithful stewards in the Parable of the Talents. In this story, the Master invites His faithful stewards to “Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25: 21 & 23). Moreover, Paul writes that the converts who have come to believe in Christ are his “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. Such challenges are a school for patience, for hope, and for training in righteousness. And the Lord promises that He 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. Born in hardship and raised in trials, our joy in suffering expresses itself in lavish generosity.
In this Nativity Fast, we wait with growing expectation to hear the angel’s message to the shepherds and to us, “Behold I bring you tidings of great joy (Luke 2:10). But charity, along with prayer and fasting is an essential discipline of our Nativity Fast. Today’s reading teaches that we can have this exceeding gladness now by our expectant “almsgiving,” that is, our charity.
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 give aid to others in a spirit of joy, then they will receive your help joyfully. Your assistance will neither demean nor humiliate those you support. Rather they will feel glad to have caused you pleasure by receiving your help. Thus, joyful acts of generosity are sources of blessing to the giver as well as the receiver. They increase our hope in the greatest gift of all history, the sending of the Son of God from heaven to earth as our Savior.