With the Thanksgiving holiday in mind, the focus of the October devotion for The Encourager’s Devotional Series was on giving out of thankfulness for what God has given us. The main text for the devotion was 2 Corinthians 9, where Paul tells the Corinthians he’ll soon be coming for the contribution they had promised towards a collection he was taking to help the saints in Judea. In studying for that devotion, I was intrigued by the story of the church in Macedonia, which Paul was using as an example to inspire the Corinthian church to give generously to the cause.
Backing up to chapter 8, Paul describes the Macedonians as people who were in a time of great trial and affliction, and in extreme poverty. Yet, he said they had an abundance of joy. That right there would make them a model for any church, right? But Paul goes on to say that, despite their own poverty, they begged him (literally implored him with urgency) to let them contribute to the offering for the Judeans. What would cause people who were experiencing trials and poverty themselves beg to be a part of giving to someone else?
For many of us, giving to meet someone else’s need is the farthest thing from our minds when we are weighed down with our own problems. For instance, during the holidays, many people get very depressed. This time for sharing with family and giving gifts only reminds some that they’ve lost loved ones, or that they really don’t have the money to give the gifts they’d like to give, or that they really don’t get along with their families. So, instead of enjoying the season and using it as an occasion to reach out to others, they focus on the negative, turn their thoughts inward, and become sad.
The Macedonians certainly could have focused on the negative. The trial of affliction Paul mentioned was probably the persecution they were experiencing for having become Christians. Macedonia was a geographical region north of Greece which included many of the cities we hear about in Paul’s writings, like Philippi, Thessolonica, and Berea. On Paul’s first trip to Macedonia (Acts 16-18), he and Silas were thrown in jail and beaten at Philippi. Then they went to Thessolonica and a mob attacked the house where they were staying. So, they left there and went to Berea. Things were going pretty well in Berea, until some Jews from Thessolonica heard they were there and came to stir up those crowds against them, too. It got so bad that Paul had to flee to Athens. So, we are talking about a place that really had some enemies of the gospel.
And yet, Macedonia was also a place where people like Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and many others accepted the message of the gospel. These people made the decision to follow Christ knowing it would bring persecution. They knew what it meant to “count the cost” of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33). Several even decided to join Paul on his missionary journeys, despite the fact that they’d seen first-hand what kind of trouble he’d experienced. Imagine that: “Man you got beat up pretty bad today. Can I join you tomorrow?”
I think the reason these people, who had enough trouble of their own, would even think about helping others is because they knew they were a part of something much bigger than themselves. Acts 16:9,10 says that Paul had been called to Macedonia in a vision. Now, surely Paul told them about this vision. They knew they were a part of a divine call!
And, according to 2 Corinthians 8:4, they knew that divine call enlisted them into fellowship with the rest of the body of Christ. The Macedonians begged to give so they could have the “privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” The Macedonians could have made plausible excuses for not contributing, but instead they participated eagerly.
Verse 3 says they gave out of their poverty and beyond their ability. Last month, I challenged you to give out of your abundance, out of thankfulness for the blessings you do have. Now I’d like to ask you if you can take this ministry a step further. Can you give until it hurts a little? Can you give not for the blessing or encouragement you’ll receive in return, but because of the thanks and blessing that go to the Father when you give sacrificially (2 Cor. 9:12)?
You, like the Corinthians, started this ministry commitment a year ago. Using the example of the Macedonians, as Paul did to prod the Corinthians, I pray that “your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it” (2 Cor. 8:10,11).
The Macedonians gave beyond their ability. How might you stretch yourself beyond your “abilities”? Do you need to trust God with finances? Do you need to ask His help with an inability to think compassionately or to get your focus off your own situation? Is your schedule such that you feel incapable of giving time to a worthy project? Pray and ask God what the specific application of this lesson might be for you. I pray we will all become more like the Macedonians and “beg” the Lord for opportunities to serve others in His name, regardless of the personal cost.