Ben E. King’s 1961 chart-topping hit “Stand by Me” spoke to hearts all over the world through its expression of vulnerability and homage to loyal friends. As members of the body of Christ, we’re called to be those “loyal friends” who stand by each other in difficult times. Jesus said it’s not just important; it is an essential sign that we belong to Him.
To get the most out of this study, read 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 and 2 Corinthians 9:10-15. But first, pray—asking the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in these passages. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. Remember, God is the best teacher.
Key Passage: 2 Corinthians 8:1-4
We know we should care for the poor, right? Charity to others, no matter who they are, matters to God. But in the epistles, where the apostles lay the groundwork for how to be the church, it’s charity toward our fellow Christians that is especially emphasized.
Paul is telling the Corinthians about a gesture of great love by the Christians in Macedonia for the believers in Jerusalem. Though poor themselves, the Macedonians gave generously for the needs of the other saints, considering it a privilege to help in this way.
Paul uses the words “abundance of joy” and “begging us with much urging” in describing the Macedonians’ wish to support the Jerusalem church in its difficulty. Think of a time when you had feelings like this in connection with helping someone. How would you describe the attitudes in your heart that caused this joy?
Helping one another in times of need is a special province of families (1 Timothy 5:8), and in Christ, we are part of God’s family, bound by love and duty. Read 2 Corinthians 8:13-15. Are you offended or pleased by the word “equality” here? Why?
The believers in Macedonia, Corinth, and Jerusalem didn’t know each other personally. But the love God instills in us bridges distances and unites us across great divides. Have you ever experienced this? In what ways? If you wanted to stand by your brethren across the globe, how would you go about it?
Continuing the Story
Taking care of needs is not the only thing accomplished when Christians stand by one another and share their blessings.
Glorifying God is a heart attitude that continually exalts the Lord through joy, thanksgiving, and service.
Caring for other believers results in glory to our heavenly Father. Verses like 1 Corinthians 10:31 show that glorifying God isn’t just a positive by-product of our righteous actions. It’s a heart attitude that continually exalts the Lord through joy, thanksgiving, and service. Think of times in your life when you’ve experienced this. How do you express it?
Providing for fellow Christians also causes thanksgiving to God, prayers of blessing for the church, and even more intense love in the body (2 Corinthians 9:12-15). And as Paul recognized, one church’s obedience to the gospel gives another great joy and encouragement. Is there a situation in your own life where faith and love were strengthened through mutual care in the church?
The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were in desperate need. How do you think receiving help from another church was different for them than being helped by local nonbelievers? Try to imagine receiving such help yourself, and how you would feel, both about your reliable brothers and sisters and about God.
Verses like 1 Corinthians 6:5-6 make it clear that our Father wants us to keep certain things “in the family.” What might be some reasons that it’s good for the church when we help each other financially?
The Corinthian church had promised a monetary gift for the Macedonians, and Paul is writing to make sure that they follow through. Jesus Himself said it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), but sometimes we all need a little push. What helps you when your enthusiasm wanes?
It’s interesting that Paul uses both pride (2 Corinthians 9:1-2) and shame (2 Corinthians 9:4) in trying to motivate the Corinthians about their offering. But in the end, it’s all about love. Maybe that’s why he finally says simply to “show the proof of your love” (2 Corinthians 8:24).
“Show the proof of your love.”
The apostle John told the early church that standing by our fellow Christians in their material need is proof that the love of God lives in our hearts (1 John 3:17-18). What’s more, the epistle of James says that failing to do this shows our faith is dead (1 John 2:15-17). Do these words cheer or alarm you?
Second Corinthians 9:12-15 points out that generosity itself is a grace—in other words, it is a gift given to us by God. Looked at this way, a generous heart and opportunities to use it are things to ask for and rejoice in.
In the coming weeks, use this section to reconsider the topics raised in the study and how its message applies to your life.
The church today is often concerned about caring for the poor. And no wonder, since to experience new life in Christ is, as Romans 5:5 indicates, to be flooded with love. The Spirit of God gives us hearts of compassion, and His blessings usually increase our ability to help others. What’s more, reaching out in love to meet needs is a great way to reflect God’s character and share the gospel.
The Spirit of God gives us hearts of compassion, and His blessings usually increase our ability to help others.
But the Word of God suggests that it’s a special privilege to provide for the needs of a fellow believer (2 Corinthians 8:4). Our heavenly Father delights in His children, and like any parent, He’s pleased when we care for each other.
Reread 2 Corinthians 8:1-4. What explanation can you now see for the “abundance of joy” expressed by the Macedonians about giving to the church in Jerusalem? Note Paul’s phrase “the grace of God which has been given” (2 Corinthians 8:1). Why do you think he’s so clear in explaining to the Corinthians that this brotherly generosity was from God? Do you have any reservations about sharing wealth within the church that are eased by these words?
Matthew 25:35-40 is a frequently referenced passage, but one that’s often misapplied. Read those verses, in which Jesus tells His followers that only those who take care of “the least of them” will enter the kingdom. Whom do you think the phrase “brothers of Mine” refers to? (Keep in mind that Hebrews 2:11 says the Lord calls those He has sanctified His brothers.) In what way does Matthew 25:35-36 give new dimension to your understanding of the Macedonians’ joy? How might this passage cause you to revisit your assumptions about helping others?
Standing by one another as Christians is more than simply an act of charity. It’s a family-building, church strengthening, God-glorifying celebration.
Illustration by Adam Cruft