I remember taking physical science in high school and on one occasion we did an experiment to determine if a container was actually full. Our teacher gave instructions to fill the container with water until everyone in the group agreed that is was completely full. She then had each group estimate how many paperclips could be put in the container before the water spilled over. The guesses ranged from one to five, but the container held nearly a hundred more paperclips. Fullness is necessary in order to overflow.
2 Corinthians 8:1-7
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. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.
Paul wrote the Corinthians citing the generosity of the Macedonians as they gave sacrificially to the needy in Jerusalem. Perhaps seeing this act of giving through the lens of grace and the underlying conditions through the lens of love will point us towards an overflowing ministry like those in Macedonia. Ministry is much more than religious activity. It is the overflow of God’s grace as we joyfully serve Him and others. A ministry that overflows is characterized by the fullness of divine power, biblical purpose, selfless priorities, and sacrificial poverty.
1. Divine Power
True ministry must have an enabling and enduring power. Grace enables ministry to go forth and joy enables ministry to go on. God’s grace given among the churches of Macedonia and their abounding joy served as the divine power source for their overflowing ministry. Only amazing grace and abounding joy can initiate and sustain ministry.
2. Biblical Purpose
What is the biblical purpose of an overflowing ministry? The expanded context of this passage teaches at least three things. First, Christians are to excel in everything (faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, and love). Verse seven offers this apostolic command. Second, this type of ministry is to demonstrate genuine love (verse 8). True love is offered joyfully and sacrificially with no contradiction between the two. Third, it balances lack and abundance (verses 12-15). Based on the context, this balance is not merely for material needs. We are to excel and offer our faith, speech, knowledge, and love as readily as we offer our checks to those who may lack.
3. Selfless Priorities
An overflowing ministry is offered first to the Lord and carried out according to the will of God. That is, He is our highest priority and our chief consideration. Furthermore, it is an eagerly sacrificial offering to those in need. Those in Macedonia gave beyond their means, amidst affliction and poverty, and earnestly begged to do so. These are the traits of Christians so full of Christ, there is no room for selfishness.
4. Sacrificial Poverty
Sacrificial poverty directly relates to selfless priorities; however, it is so much more when you examine the broader context. Verse nine establishes the glorious poverty of our Savior as the foundation for overflowing ministry.
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.”
Feel the gospel significance that flows from Christ’s poverty making us rich. His destitution is our redemption. His rejection by the officials of man is our acceptance before God. His dejection stirs within us an abounding joy. His broken body is the lifeblood of our ministry.
Where do these considerations lead us? They lead us to contemplation, repentance, and hopefully to ministry. Like the container in my high school science lab, Christians will not overflow if they are not truly full. To neglect divine power, biblical purpose, selfless priorities, or sacrificial poverty is to engage only in the appearance of ministry. Events may go on, meetings may be held, crowds may be drawn, offerings may be taken, songs may be sung, and sermons may be preached; but only those things done from the overflow of God’s grace and our joy (in Christ) are truly ministry. This is both humbling and convicting as we depend on God, delight in God, and do His will.