Kaleb’s experience illustrates a couple aspects of the reality Paul’s talking about in 2 Corinthians 8. First, he reminds us that God provides for his children, and in fact that everything we have is God’s provision. Yes, none of the extra money they received simply appeared miraculously out of nowhere; it could all be tracked to where it came from and why. But God was in command of all those events; he set each in its proper place and time to meet Kaleb and Ashlea’s needs at that point.
The fact is, God most often works through other people to accomplish his purposes, even when they’re completely unaware of it. As we see in Paul, he provides for our needs through other people, and provides for the needs of others through us. This is simply how he chooses to operate. I don’t know all his reasons for working this way, but at least in part, it’s a matter of taking us seriously and treating us with respect.
When God uses us to take care of other people, it makes our actions and our lives meaningful. He could easily do everything directly, all by himself—but then what would we have to do? What would we matter? He makes us instruments of his blessing so that we can see that our lives are important. He does it in ways that are completely apart from our own plans—like that woman who ended up blessing Kaleb by accident—to help us see that everything we do, even the smallest thing, has consequences which ripple out far beyond and outside anything we could ever predict, or even understand.
Second, I can add a little something to his story, because I had a number of long conversations with Kaleb and Ashlea, individually and together, during the period he was talking about. Yes, they were frustrated, anxious, and emotionally low, but they were also firmly committed to following Jesus. Their first concern all through this time was not how to get more money, but what would please God and what the Lord wanted them to do. In truth, I think they may have been more frustrated at some points along the way because of that, since trying to discern the will of God when the circumstances are that murky often seems profitless. The thing is, it’s the intent that matters. God rarely lets us figure out in advance what he’s doing, which is what we’re trying to do when we want to discern his will; but if we’re seeking to obey him, he guidesus in his will step by step.
The key point is that their top priority in everything was not themselves and their financial well-being, but serving Jesus—and God honored that, and provided them with enough to meet their needs. He gave them their daily bread. That didn’t cease to be true, either, once Kaleb got a job, because it was God who provided him with employment. It’s still the Lord’s gift—only the means changed. They made God their priority, they kept their commitment to put him first, and he kept his commitment to them.
We tend to miss this because we get hung up on the bottom line and all the external, concrete stuff. Look what Paul says about the Macedonians, the churches of Philippi and Thessalonica—is he boasting about them because they gave a lot of money for the church in Jerusalem? No, because they didn’t. They were desperately poor and suffering under persecution. Paul boasts about them because of their generosity. They didn’t have to be persuaded to give, and they didn’t just give what was extra—they begged him to be allowed to participate despite their poverty, and when they got the chance, they gave abundantly, above and beyond what they could afford. This is what Paul celebrates.
It wasn’t just money, either: Paul says they gave themselves for the Lord’s service. They responded to the call to give money to the Jerusalem church by rededicating themselves to God and his work, consciously and deliberately putting their lives in his hands; out of that commitment of their lives to God, they committed their money to Paul for the care of the church in Jerusalem. They were able to give so generously of their money because they understood that that money, along with every other part of their lives, really belonged to God—and that God takes care of his own.
There’s a lot more that could be said here, but I’ll leave you with one last point. I said a few weeks ago that godly generosity is a blessing not just to the one who receives but also to the one who gives, and we see that again here in 2 Corinthians. The Macedonians recognize that all of life is a gift from God, that life itself and all that we have and enjoy are God’s grace to us; their awareness that they have received grace motivates them to show grace to others. Grace inspires gratitude, and gratitude feeds generosity, and so they delight in the opportunity to give to others as freely and openhandedly as God has given to them. That’s important: they delight to give.
Paul makes a point of this, noting that their generosity flows out of their abundant joy—an implicit contrast to the Corinthian church. You can see it if you compare the letters. The Thessalonians have a few issues, but Paul’s letters to them are full of affection and encouragement. The Philippians have a painful split in their leadership causing some real problems, but overall, the church is strong and a radiant witness to Christ, such that the letter to that church has been called “the epistle of joy.”
Then look at 1 and 2 Corinthians, where we see a church riddled with selfish conflict and spiritual arrogance. The Christians in Corinth, on the whole, hadn’t really made God their priority; we see this in the fact that Paul had to cajole them to give, and we see it in all their squabbling, as each of them seems to be putting themselves ahead of everyone else in the church. They were well off, but they weren’t joyful. The Macedonian churches put God first, gladly giving until it hurt, and so in the midst of persecution, they found his joy. They understood what so many Christians never learn: that if you give God everything and make him your #1 priority, whatever you may give up along the way, you’ll gain far more in the end.