More About Those "Strange" Macedonians
"Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power they were willing of themselves; Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the Will of God" (II Corinthians 8:1-5).
A great trial of affliction! Abundance of joy! Deep poverty! Riches of liberality! -- These are the animated expressions employed by the Holy Spirit to describe the super-abundant Macedonian Christians who, though steeped in persecutions and poverty, begged for the privilege of sending liberal gifts from their scant supplies to aid their suffering brethren in Judea!
Strange people? Not really. They only seem strange because they are so different from many modern church members who are so attached to the things of this life, so enamored by the attractions of the flesh, and so engrossed in the struggle for fame, fortune and power, that they have lost sight of the worth of spiritual values, and crowded out of their lives the obligations and privileges of the kingdom of heaven! The Macedonians had learned how to bring joy and achievement form the environs of pain and privation.
In the preceding article it was pointed out that they were:
- Conquering people who refused to allow pain, perversion and poverty to rob them of the privilege of giving liberally.
- A willing people who did not have to be begged to do their duty and exercise their privileges.
- An enlightened people who understood that giving is not a painful duty but a precious privilege.
They understood that to give is not to lose, but to gain (Luke 6:38). They did not allow their own poverty to become an excuse for their failure to give. The preceding article closed with this
statement, with the promise that it would be further discussed in
future articles. So, here we are again discussing those "strange"
How often we plead an inferior duty to excuse our failure to heed the call of higher duty! We would like to give to others, we say, but we must provide for our own families. It is true that we must support our own, and the able-bodied Christian who refuses to do so has denied the heart of Christianity. We have no right, however, to use this duty as a city of refuge to which we may flee and hide from a higher duty. God promises ample provision for the families of those who give the kingdom of heaven first call (Matthew 6:33). In the long run, no man ever hurt his family by sharing what God has entrusted to him with those whose need is greater than his!
So let us away with the paralyzing and crippling philosophy that we must forsake a greater duty in order to be loyal to a lesser obligation. Someone has truthfully said that "no people talk of duty more than those who intend to violate it!" Let us not use our obligations to our families as an excuse for robbing God and depriving he cause of God of the funds essential to the prosperity of its work!
Poor, afflicted Macedonians! Their pain was great, their poverty deep. But, brethren, do not waste your time worrying about them! They were spiritual millionaires. If their affliction was tremendous, their faith was stupendous! If their poverty was deep, their love soared to the heights!
How lustily we wave the flag of poverty as a camouflage to hide the creeping cancer of covetousness that is sapping away our spiritual vitality! We like to keep up with the Joneses, but when it comes to the matter of sharing what we have we would just as soon that the Joneses -- and the Browns and the Smiths, too -- would do their share and part of ours. too!
It is true that the high cost of living is higher than it has ever been -- partly because we are living higher than we ever have! It is true that some have have more than others, but it is also a matter of fact that, compared with the Macedonians, we are all -- almost without exception -- immeasurably rich.
Many of us like to talk about our poverty -- especially when the matter of giving is being discussed. Are we really as poor as we think we are? If the total value of all our automobiles, refrigerators, deep freezes, radios, TV sets, houses, appliances, bonds, etc., were announced, do you suppose it would add up to dire poverty?
True, others may have more than you, but most of us have houses, automobiles and some of the comforts, if not the luxuries of life. How many meals have you missed because of poverty? How many nights have you slept under the stars because you could not afford a roof over your head? For the most part, we have reason to be ashamed of ourselves to talk so glibly of poverty when we have everything we really need, and many things that we do not actually have to have!
Let us quit pleading poverty as an excuse to whitewash out covetousness!
A Joyful People
The Macedonian Christians were a joyful people who found their sheer delight in overcoming their handicaps in order that they might be of help to others.
"... The abundance of their joy ... abounded unto the riches of their liberality." Here is a wonderful lesson for every Christian. When people refuse to allow their environment to defeat them, when they decline to be obstructed by pain and privation, when they can give to others in spite of persecution and poverty, they have won a great and noble victory that will bring real joy to their hearts.
The hearts of the Macedonians were full of joy in spite of all the adversities that surrounded them. And this is one of the secrets of the power of Christianity in the human heart. The fruit of the Spirit is joy.
Jesus approved the conduct of the poor widow who gave two mites. In monetary value, two mites amount to almost nothing. But to the widow it was everything -- all she had. And the value of her gift was measured by her wholehearted willingness to give everything. If she had had a million dollars she would have been glad to give that, too.
When the woman with the alabaster box anointed the body of Jesus, the Lord said of her, not that she had done what she would -- she would have liked to have done much more -- but that she had done what she could. The fact that others are able to give more in amount than you matters not with God. The thing that counts is whether you are joyfully doing what you can. If you are, God will not only accept your gift, but He will give you the power to make larger gifts.
It is surprising what people can do when they do their best, and doing our best brings great joy to the heart! If your life is complicated by hardships and difficulties, fight to overcome them. One sure way to do it is to joyfully share what you have with others.
A Generous People
The Macedonian Christians were a generous people whose liberal gifts went beyond the expectation of the apostle and, from a human viewpoint exceeded their ability.
From the human viewpoint, they gave more than they were able to give. But they were partakers of divine nature, and understood that it was not necessary to allow human misconceptions to limit the power of God bestowed upon them. They were willing to deprive themselves in order to help others.
The Macedonians could not help giving liberally. When people give willingly and joyfully it is inevitable that they will give liberally. There is no joy in niggardly giving. The man who gives one dollar when he should give ten begrudges the one dollar that he gives. The man who makes personal sacrifices in order to give generously finds joy in giving, and looks forward to the day when he can increase his contribution. We often place a very low estimate on our ability to give. We seem to be afraid that we will give too much. I do not recall ever reading an inspired warning against the danger of giving too much, but the Bible is replete with urgent warnings against the peril of giving too little.
Many would say that the poor widow was recklessly foolish in giving all she had, but Jesus, Who knows the relative value of things, applauded her action, and expressed no fear that her open-handed generosity would lead her to starvation.
The Holy Spirit reports, with approval, the fact that the saints at Jerusalem "as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the price of the things that were sold. And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every many according as he had need" (Acts 4:34, 35). That was not communism, but Christianity in action.
It is not suggested that everyone ought to run out and sell everything he has and give the proceeds away. But those who have the Spirit of Christ stand ready to do even that if circumstances demanded it, and those who have that attitude will give generously of all they have, whether little or much.
A Self-Sacrificing People
The Macedonian Christians were a self-sacrificing people who put first things first by surrendering themselves
whole-heartedly -- body, soul, heart and mind -- to God.
"And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the Will of God."
We look at these Macedonians and there is something different about them -- something out of the ordinary. There are so many professed Christians who do not act at all like the Macedonians. This is so strikingly clear that, compared to the average Christian, the Macedonians seem rather odd.
The reason is that the Macedonians were not average Christians. But how do you account for it? The Holy Spirit gives the secret: "But first gave their own selves to the Lord." Before they ever gave a dollar to God's cause, they made a much bigger gift -- they gave themselves.
That is putting first things first. Many find it difficult to give liberally to the Lord's cause, because they have not first made the first gift -- and the first gift is the big gift.
God does not seek your money, He seeks you. He does not plead: "Give Me your pocketbook." His appeal is: "Give Me thy heart!" When you give your heart the giving of your means follows as naturally and as surely as the night follows the day, for "where your heart is there will your treasure be also." When you give yourself to God, He has your pocketbook. You belong to Him, and what you have is a part of the bargain.
The man who insisted on keeping his billfold in his pocket when he was being baptized had the right idea. Our surrender to God must be a total and unconditional surrender. We must give our all to Him -- talents, time, energy, and resources.
It is when we are totally dedicated to God and to God's people that we are able to find abundant joy in giving abundantly. It is not difficult to give when we are completely dedicated. The difficulty is in bringing ourselves to terms of total surrender. But this complete dedication is easier when we are acutely aware of the truth that our chief end in life is to glorify God, and the companion truth that we bring glory to God by passionate service in His kingdom (Ephesians 3:21).
Our contributions are not merely gifts of money. They are expressions of our devotion to God, and of our love for our fellow man.
Give yourself to God and you will find that your pocketbook is ever open to the needs of God's cause!
A God-Endowed People
The Macedonian Christians were a God-endowed people who responded to the bestowments of divine grace by sharing their fruit with others
"Moreover, brethren, we would have you know of the grace of God that was bestowed upon the churches of Macedonia."
The grace of God bestowed! Why were the Macedonians able to overcome such tremendous odds and prove themselves of such splendid and useful service to God and man? Because of the grace of God bestowed on them! It was by God's grace that they were able to make the joy of giving, even in the midst of poverty, abound unto the riches of their liberality!
The grace of God bestowed -- the grace of God working in and through their lives empowered them to serve abundantly even in the midst of scarcity!
But does not God bestow this grace upon all His children, in every age? Yes, but all do not receive it. The Macedonians responded to God's grace by graciously sharing what they had with others. And God gave them more grace.
Let us understand that giving is a grace, which, like all other favors bestowed by God, is strengthened by use, and which will be lost if it is not used. God offers it to all His people, but it is a gift which must be accepted and used, or else it is of no value and will be taken away.
If we fail to exercise compassion, the spirit of compassion will depart from us. If we habitually refuse to forgive, we will lose the capacity to forgive. If we neglect to share our substance with others, we will lose interest in the welfare of others, and rob ourselves of the priceless grace of giving.
Whatever is good within us stems from God -- from His grace working in us. Hence there is no room for pride in our benevolence. Freely we have received, let us freely give!