Q. I can’t understand 2 Corinthians 8:3. It appears that these believers, giving “beyond their ability,” were going into debt, and the Bible forbids indebtedness.
A. The verse reads, “For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing.” The apostle Paul was speaking about and using as an example the believers in the churches of Macedonia who loved the Lord and gave sacrificially, though they were very poor (v. 2).
Often the first thing we think of in giving is money. But note that in verse 5, “they first gave themselves to the Lord.” Money is not the only thing we can give. We can give what we have in the way of spiritual gifts, abilities, time, love, and the other fruit of the Spirit.
Many years ago, a pastor of mine who came from Scotland told of individuals in a congregation there who, during a mighty spiritual revival, gave so abundantly that their pastor had to tell them to stop giving because they were hurting themselves financially and not eating well enough. So I suppose that indebtedness can happen. Perhaps some people borrow to pay for a church building, as one example. Yet I believe that in this particular passage, Paul was saying the believers were giving willingly, of their own volition without being pressured, and giving beyond what was expected of them. In other words, their generous giving surprised even Paul, who likely had told them earlier that their extreme poverty didn’t require them to give. But I don’t believe we can necessarily conclude that they were actually going into debt, though they may have vied with the woman of Jesus’ day who gave all she had at the time (Luke 21:1–4). Regardless of the extent to which they gave, Paul said they were truly rich (2 Corinthians 8:2).
This article appeared in the “Q & A” column of the Baptist Bulletin by Norman A. Olson.