Those "Strange" Macedonians
by Bonds Stocks
via The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 12, October, 1952.
"Moreover, brethren we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed upon the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond 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 ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves unto the Lord, and unto us by the Will of God" (II Corinthians 8:1-5).
Here, without any question, is one of the most thrilling paragraphs in the Bible!
It breathes the atmosphere of Christian enthusiasm. It dramatically tells the story of Christianity in action.
What is the story? Christians in Macedonia had heard of the sad news that their brethren were in dire want. Even though the Macedonians were themselves terribly afflicted and miserably poverty-stricken they had begged for the privilege of helping their less fortunate brethren. From their seemingly meager resources they had voluntarily and joyfully given, not what might reasonably have been expected of them, or what, from a human viewpoint, they could afford, but beyond the fondest expectation of the apostle and in excess of their apparent ability.
What a telling testimony to the transforming power of Jesus Christ over the hearts and lives of men! What a glorious tribute to the self-sacrificing spirit of true Christianity! Christianity is the religion that impels men to lose themselves in the service of God and of their fellowmen.
The Churches of Macedonia
Paul writes with affection and commendation of the churches of Macedonia. The New Testament record speaks specifically of three congregations in this province -- Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.
Paul had been intimately associated with the work of these churches. It was Paul who, at Troas, received the first Macedonian call: "And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, 'Come over into Macedonia and help us'" (Acts 16:9). And it was Paul who received the second Macedonian call: "Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of ministering to the saints" (II Corinthians 8:4).
"Come over into Macedonia and help us!" That was the first Macedonian call. "Let us of Macedonia come over into Judea and help you!" That was the second Macedonian appeal. A number of years elapsed between these two appeals, and those years record the story of progress -- of growth, not alone in numbers, but also in spiritual strength.
This story of progress will be duplicated in ever faithful congregation of the Lord's church, and in the life of every consecrated disciple of the triumphant Christ.
Those "Reckless" Macedonians
The record of the Macedonians challenges our attention, demands our interest, excites our imagination, and stirs our emotions. According to human standards, they were recklessly foolish. Even in the light of the conduct of the average congregation of today, they were a strange and peculiar lot. Many lukewarm church members of today would, if they dared, brand these noble Macedonians as fanatics.
It is true that their conduct was strikingly different from that of many other Christians. The Corinthians probably regarded them as somewhat odd. The Corinthians were reluctant, conservative and cautious. The Macedonians were ready, willing, eager and generous.
It is significant that the Holy Spirit urges the Corinthians to throw overboard their caution and conservatism, and emulate the seeming recklessness of the bold Macedonians!
Since these strange Macedonians have the approval and the applause of heaven let us take a closer look at them and see "what makes them tick."
A Victorious People
The Macedonian Christians were a conquering people who refused to allow pain, persecution, and poverty to rob them of the privilege of giving liberally.
"How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality" (II Corinthians 8:2).
The victorious Macedonians! They refused to allow the most oppressive of circumstances to rob them of their spiritual birthright -- the privilege of giving.
And what were their circumstances at this time? The gun of adversity that had discharged its load into their hearts was double barrelled:
They Were Greatly Afflicted
They suffered persecution from without and within. Their province had been over run by military forces which bequeathed to them all the ravages that afflict a war-torn country. They also suffered from religious persecution. They received the Word in much affliction (I Thessalonians 1:6). There were false teachers who troubled them, some of whom tried to rob them of their faith in the second coming of the Lord (II Thessalonians 1:6,7). The Jewish leaders stirred up strife and hatred against them (Acts 16:20; 17:5).
These trials were tests of their faith, and although they passed the tests with flying colors, they nevertheless endured much suffering along the way. Their great affliction demonstrated their faith, proved their devotion, and molded their character.
They did not allow their trials to defeat them, but they used them as stepping stones to greater attainments.
They Were Extremely Poor
Paul speaks of their "deep poverty." This is an adverbial expression which indicates that "their poverty went down to the depths" (Vincent). They were at the bottom of the economic ladder. They were not simply poor. They were very, very poor.
Now appraise their situation. They were not only poor, but they were also afflicted. Persecutions and afflictions are difficult enough to bear when one has ample means. But when affliction is aggravated by poverty the burden is more than doubled.
Poverty plus affliction! That is a combination that will destroy those whose faith stands, not in the power of God, but in the wisdom of men.
How easily these Macedonians could have excused themselves for not giving. What a strong case they could have made for failure to participate in this work. They were suffering, too, and sometimes suffering makes people self-centered, and hardens them against the needs of others.
If their attitude had been that of many modern church members they probably would have written a letter to those poor saints in Judea telling them: "We have heard with great distress of your dire need. And surely if there is anyone who can genuinely sympathize with you it is those of us here in Macedonia. We are in need, too, and our need is intensified by sore affliction. And, too, it is our duty to use wisely what little we have. We must take care of our own. it is our duty to be prudent. We must lay aside a little of our meager resources for a rainy day. So, as much as we would like to help you -- please believe that our hearts bleed for you -- we believe you will agree that you do not have any right to expect help from those in such straitened circumstances. We hope that richer Christians will give liberally for you aid -- and, by the way, if by chance you should receive more than you need, please remember your dear friends among the poor brethren in Macedonia! God bless you!"
Of course no such letter as that was written by the victorious Macedonians. They were not worried about a rainy day in Macedonia. They knew that it was already raining in Judea, and that umbrellas and raincoats were needed then. These open-handed open-hearted Macedonians would not allow the ordinarily fatal combination of pain and privation to defraud them of exercising the most noble of all Christian virtues -- that of giving for the welfare of others.
A Willing People
The Macedonian Christians were a willing people who did not have to be begged to do their duty and exercise their privileges..."they were willing of themselves..."
They gave, not because pressure was exerted upon them, but simply because they wanted to give. Nobody put on a campaign to induce them to give. The only pressure to give came from within their own hearts.
The word which is translated "willing" means "self-chosen." The course they followed -- that of generous and sacrificial giving -- was not one that was forced upon them, but one which they chose of their own free will.
Their actions were entirely voluntary. They did not need to have someone preach a passionate sermon to stir up their emotions. When they learned that their brethren were in need their hearts were stirred, and the same thing that stirred their hearts opened their pocketbooks!
The fact that they did not need a sermon on giving does not mean that they would not have appreciated one. When people really believe in a doctrine they like to hear it taught and discussed. People who practice Scriptural giving always welcome a Scriptural sermon on the subject.
The point is that the Macedonians did not have to be begged to do their duty. Many people seem to like to be in a position that obliges others to come to them and ask for their assistance. They make such ado about granting even the smallest favor. They seem to relish having people feel a sense of indebtedness to them. People who make a display of their gifts do not really give at all. They merely buy favor or praise that flatters their ego.
A church building was being remodeled in a Southern city. The architect, suggesting that a certain rich man be asked for a contribution, advised: "He will give you a large contribution if you will have newspaper photographers present to take his picture when he presents the check to the finance committee!" The rich man's contribution, needless to say, was not solicited. Gifts made under the compulsion of pressure or expediency are of no worth in the sight of God!
It is said of the Macedonians: "They were willing of themselves." It is the willing who really give. God does not want gifts that are not cheerfully given. For that reason He placed our giving on a voluntary basis. This fact, however, does not make our giving any less an obligation. Generous, converted hearts will enable us to give, and that bountifully.
An Enlightened People
The Macedonian Christians were an enlightened people who understood that giving is not a painful duty, but a precious privilege: "... Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift ..." These enlightened Christians of Macedonia had learned a secret that twentieth century Christians need desperately to understand: to give is not to lose, but to gain. We do not impoverish ourselves by giving: on the contrary, we enrich ourselves. "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again" (Luke 6:38).
It is because many do not understand this that they are so reluctant to give. Many actually seem to look upon giving as some species of a "necessary evil" and never part with a red penny without inward reluctance and pain. They do not understand that if they gave unselfishly, they would gain abundantly.
It was because the Macedonians understood this that they literally begged for the privilege of giving. They would not allow the fact that they were poor to deprive them of the privilege of every child of God to share what they had with those less fortunate. They were determined that not even the pain of affliction and the privation of poverty would rob them of doing their part in God's work!
How different the attitude of many Christians would be if they would only learn the secret that the Macedonians understood. They would then regard giving as a privilege to be pursued, won and claimed, and not a painful duty to be avoided, shirked and held in contempt.
Now suppose the Macedonians had labored under the same misconceptions regarding giving that seals the pocketbooks of so many modern day church members. Why, they could have written a large book of excuses behind which to disguise their stinginess. Let us take a quick look at some of the excuses they could have made:
They Could Have Used Distance as an Excuse
"Jerusalem is a long way from Macedonia. We have problems of our own to solve. Charity begins at home. There are people in our own backyard that need our help." That sounds plausible, but the trouble is that church members who drag this red herring across the trail rarely take very much interest in the folks in their own backyard except to use them as an excuse for their failure to help those who live at a great distance!
They Could Have Pleaded Ignorance of the Circumstances
"After all we have no first-hand knowledge of the situation at Jerusalem. Of course, Paul and other preachers have told us that your needs are real, but preachers are a soft-hearted and gullible lot who are always begging for help for some cause that has appealed to their sympathies. How do we know that you are really worthy of our help? For all we know, your need may be the result of your own carelessness. Some of you might take our hard-earned money (the Lord's money-- not our money), but many church members would let hundreds starve rather than risk helping a few unworthy ones! By the way, "unworthy" people need help, too -- help in finding the way to Christ, who can remove their unworthiness!
They Could Have Reasoned that Their Help Might Do More Harm Than Good
"If we help you it might make you lazy, shiftless, no account." That is possible, of course, but many times that reasoning is employed by those who are not really worried about the harm they will do to others, but rather about what a painful process it is to open their own pocketbooks!
They Could Have Pleaded Their Own Poverty and Affliction
"How can you have the nerve to expect our help when we
are so poor and afflicted ourselves?" This excuse, along with
other matters, will be discussed in the coming issue entitled
MORE ABOUT THOSE " STRANGE" MACEDONIANS. Please
look for more on the subject shortly.