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The Macedonian Example

1 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.

2 Corinthians 8:1-5 (NIV)

Christian periodicals often run stories of praiseworthy churches, congregations which are notable for their zeal, holiness, creativity, or fruitfulness. These publications follow the biblical example, for God also honored churches in the pages of Scripture. First-century Macedonia provides one inspiring and convicting instance.

The Apostle Paul had been collecting funds for the impoverished members of the “mother church” in Jerusalem, whose members saw their material prospects collapse at their conversion (cf., Acts 24:17). The Christians in Macedonia outdid themselves in response to his appeal, and Paul brought their performance to the attention of the Corinthian Christians, who needed to contribute their fair share. His description captures elements of the Church at her best. Here then are those features:

  1. Supernatural. Their heroism was the result of God’s grace (v. 1), not their own fleshly effort.

  2. Tempered. They had been refined in the fires of persecution. Theirs was no fair-weather Christianity, but a faith strengthened by severe trial (v. 2).

  3. Joyful. Happiness depends upon material or social circumstances—happenstance; joy (v. 2) does not. The latter is grounded in the sense that the Lord is doing great things and that the Church is a part of it.

  4. Sacrificial. Many are willing to give out of their plenty. These people gave out of their extreme poverty (v. 2).

  5. Generous. Given their poverty, a small offering would have been understandable. Contrary to expectations, these Macedonians were famous for their rich generosity (v. 2).

  6. “Foolish.” Though their actions answered to a higher wisdom, in giving beyond their ability (v. 3), they seemed foolish.

  7. Natural. Their generosity welled up naturally from regenerate hearts. Paul was, no doubt, wearied by his repeated appeals to the churches for funds. When he came upon a church whose members pressed support on him entirely on their own (v. 3), he was thrilled.

  8. Insistent. From the text, it seems likely that Paul at first declined their support, reminding them of their own poverty. But they would have none of that; they urgently pleaded (v. 4) with him to take the money.

  9. Worshipful. To the Macedonians, this was no prideful competition with the other churches for honor. Their giving was first to the Lord (v. 5), an act of consecration, and it was from Him that they took their cues.

  10. Apostolic. Churches can channel their money to all sorts of secondary things, so Paul made special note of their devotion to us (v. 5), namely to the apostles’ godly priorities.

Few claim that all features of the early Church continue today. For instance, church leaders no longer write Scripture. However, all can see that the Macedonian example is replicable—even normative—for the 21st century Church. And just as sacrificial generosity is within the reach of believers through the ages, so too is the joy that accompanies it.