In Second Corinthians, Paul records for our learning how the brethren in Macedonia were motivated by love to spend and be spent. This record has an interesting background. While Paul was making his way through Europe, he made some effort to collect money for the hurting believers in Jerusalem. When he reached Macedonia, he announced the need of the fellow Christians in Jerusalem. What adds to the significance of this whole episode is that Macedonia was already an economically depressed area. It would be like encouraging some of the mission churches in poorer areas of the Philippines to support those in Ethiopia. This would be a strange appeal today! (Please read slowly and carefully the following words of Paul. Don’t skip even a word!)
“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, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying us with much intreaty 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” (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
From the above report of Paul about the Macedonian believers, we can learn some important lessons about how we should practise giving:
Sacrificially: Macedonians gave sacrificially because they were giving out of their own poverty and not out of wealth. Take note of Paul’s report of their financial state when they gave towards the need in Jerusalem – “in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.” The Macedonian Christians did not even have enough to feed themselves, when they decided to put together whatever they could find in order to support the needy Jerusalem Church.
According to Paul, “beyond their power they were willing of themselves” to support the brethren. What else could this be but their sacrificial love for the need of the Jerusalem Church?
Generously: Have you noticed Paul’s words about the Macedonians that they “abounded unto the riches of their liberality”? The word, “abound” means “overflow”, and thus a reference to their availability to help and bless the needy. Theirs was not a stingy giving. They were not calculating, to say “Look, we are already poor, and moreover we have to give to our own church. So don’t expect us to make another big gift to Jerusalem.” There was not a penny-pinching man among them. On the contrary, they were liberal in their giving. How amazing!
Voluntarily: Though Paul announced the need of the Jerusalemites, he did not twist their arms behind their backs. Paul wrote: “I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.” It seems that Paul was so stunned by their liberality that he was unwilling to take their exceedingly generous gift. So they resolved to persuade Paul to accept their gift. They were very happy that they could minister to the need of the saints.
A little later in the same letter, Paul encouraged this spirit of voluntary spontaneity in our giving: “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Selflessly: When they gave, they were not giving to make a name for themselves. In fact, no name is mentioned in this passage. Paul did not even mention which of the Macedonian churches contributed to the need. A great proof of Christian giving is anonymity. Unselfish giving does not seek publicity, but prefer to remain anonymous. Jesus said, “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” (Matthew 6:3).
Obediently: The final lesson we learn through the Macedonian churches is that giving is a matter of knowing God’s will and obeying it – “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.” According to the Apostle Paul, such an unexpected contribution was the result of the Macedonians’ sensitivity and obedience towards God’s will.
The reason why some people groan and moan when it comes to giving is that they are not keeping close to the Lord to know His will. When a need in the Lord’s work is announced, they argue against it and express their unhappiness over such a call even before they take time to consider the matter and pray about it. On the other hand, those who keep close to the Lord and constantly seek to know and do His will, will joyfully make contributions to God’s work. This is not only true in monetary gifts but also giving oneself in service.