The thanksgiving of the free grace of God through the sacrificial offering of the Son of God should cause thanksgiving in the hearts of those who claim to be Christians. This helps us understand why the Macedonian disciples, who were at the time new in the faith (At 16:12), gave so sacrificially when opportunities arose to abound in the grace of God, and thus, freely give. Because they had discovered the power of the gospel of grace, Paul used them as an example to a church with some stingy disciples in Corinth who would not be caused to give in thanksgiving for the grace of God that was revealed to them. We have the Macedonian disciples as an example in Holy Scripture today because their sacrificial giving was a true testimony of people abounding in the grace of God.
A. Overcoming stingy behavior:
Paul wrote to the stingy Corinthians the following grace-responsive example of the disciples in Macedonia: “We make known to you the grace of God that has been given to the churches of Macedonia” (2 Co 8:1)—one does not know if he or she is abounding in the grace of God until he or she is freely giving to others out of a thankful heart. Notice in Paul’s preceding statement that he referred first to the “grace of God” that was given to and received by the Macedonian disciples. They received through Paul a message of God’s gospel of grace. But their free reception of the grace did not stop with saying “amen” to Paul’s sermon. On the contrary, “in a great trial of affliction, and the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty, abounded in the riches of their liberality” (2 Co 8:2).
We must keep in mind why the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, about which Jesus referred in Matthew 10:15, will receive more consideration in the final judgment than stingy Christians, some of whom were in the Corinthian church. If the sacrificial response to grace of the Macedonian disciples teaches any clear lesson, it is that even if one is in deep poverty, he or she is still obligated to abound in living the grace of God. Poverty is no excuse for not giving in a thankful response for the free grace of God. There are no poverty-stricken grace-purchased Christians. Even a poor Jewish widow in Jerusalem gave her last two coins, and this before the revelation of the whole gospel (Lk 21:1-3).
So Paul continued to shame the Corinthians: “For I testify that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Co 8:3). Paul did not beg the Macedonians to give. On the contrary, they were cheerful givers because they had freely received and comprehended the free grace of God. Those who truly understand the grace of God do not have to be asked to give blessings to others who are in need. They need only to be directed toward opportunities to give. It is for this reason that legally motivated givers often become grudging givers. On the other hand, grace-responsive givers are always cheerful givers, always looking for some need upon which they can release their sincere gratitude for the grace they received freely through Jesus (2 Co 9:6-9). And once the opportunities are made known to grace-driven disciples, they do as Paul testified of the poverty-stricken Macedonians, “. . . begging us with much urgency that we would receive the gift [of their contribution] and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints [in famine in Judea]” (2 Co 8:4).
B. Learning to beg to give:
It is this last statement of Paul that shames so many today who continue to be colonial minded in reference to their behavior as Christians. They function the opposite of how the Macedonian disciples functioned in reference to giving money in order to relieve the famine victims of Judea, the occasion (opportunity) for making the contribution. And—this is important—in order to be in fellowship with all grace-motivated Christians around the world, the Macedonians begged Paul to receive their contribution. They understood that if they did not freely give, then they would not be in fellowship with the universal church of Christ. Colonial-minded disciples, therefore, can never be in fellowship with the universal church of Christ simply because they persist in being takers and not givers.
The Macedonians “begged” to give; they did not beg to receive. This is what grace does to one’s heart. If a Christian continues to beg to receive, then he or she is masquerading as a Christian, having either forgotten or never understood the motivating power of the gospel of God’s grace. Maybe such a person never really understood the nature of the gospel, and thus was baptized only legally in following a command to be baptized. We must keep in mind that if one legally does down into the water, he or she will often come forth from the water and behave as a legal-oriented disciple. He or she may be a good law keeper, but not so much a grace-motivated disciple.
On the other hand, those who are grace-responsive to the gospel are seeking opportunities to freely give as they had freely received the grace of God. If we desire to be a colonial nation in which we may find ourselves today, that in the past some foreign government built all our roads, schools and hospitals, even supported the government officials, then the adoption of this foreign dependency culture will cripple the church, even as it continues to do so in some places today. The disciples who live in former colonial possessions are often cursed with a sense of colonial dependency that cripples their willingness to give freely.
We had to smile when we recently listened to a BBC broadcast out of London that was made by a reporter who was in the former colonial possession of England. The setting for the broadcast was that Jamaica was following the example of the island West Indian country of Barbados. (Keep in mind that these countries are near to our hearts, for during the 1970s and early 1980s we lived and worked in the West Indies.) But now some of these island nations are seeking to leave the trade relationship of the British Commonwealth in order to be totally on their own as a republic, which is a good thing.
So the BCC reporter was out on the streets of Jamaica, interviewing residents concerning Jamaica’s move to be a republic and not a part of the Commonwealth. One old Jamaican resident responded to the reporter, “They [England] never gave us anything; we might as well be a republic on our own.” This is a laughable statement in view of the fact that when we visited Jamaica on several occasions while living in the West Indies, we drove down England-built roads; we met in England-built schools, having passed by numerous England-built hospitals. We bought countless articles in the market that were imported duty-free as a result of the country being a colonial possession in the past and now a part of the Commonwealth. We even spoke English, a blessing from England. And for this particular person to say that England had never given them anything, was simply a failure to remember and appreciate the past history of Jamaica.
Jamaica is a good example of the colonial arrangement of those nations that were created as a part of the world Empire of England. At one time, one third of the world was a part of this Empire. But during the 1950s and 1960s, and under the queenship of Queen Elizabeth, the Empire disengaged from its former colonial possessions. We lived in the West Indies when many of these island nations were informed by England that they were being given their independence. They were thus instructed to get their constitutional and financial house in order for they had to stand on their own. England would not longer hand out free roads, free schools, free hospitals, etc.
Jamaica was released to be a free nation on August 6, 1962. There was no revolutionary war where the Jamaicans fought for their independence. After England had given her resources to the country for over a century and a half during the post-slavery era, it was time to truly release the slaves. The people were subsequently freely given their independence. By the grace of England, these island nations of the West Indies, after being granted independence, were allowed to remain in the free-trading arrangement of the British Commonwealth in order to continue to receive duty-free imports from England and other Commonwealth member nations. So England was expected to continue to give, but the now independent nations were not expected to give anything back to England in return.
(For those of you who might be interested in this matter of history, BCC reporter Jeremy Paxman recorded a five-segment TV series from 2015 to 2020, which TV series was first broadcasted on the BCC network. The name of the series was entitled, Empire. The entire series is now online. At the end of the magnificent series, notice carefully what Paxman stated in summation in about two sentences at the end of segment five. His statement will help Western minds to understand better the nonsense of the statement that was made by the old Jamaican gentleman in the previous BBC comment, as well as the colonial mentality of many of those older Christians who continue to hinder grace-motivated giving in the present church in all the former British colonial possessions.)
Nevertheless, throughout the years we have had the privilege of working with some very dedicated free givers in Africa. They have overcome their culture of colonial dependency by responding to the grace of God. We have found it interesting that as the poor Macedonians, those who qualify themselves to accept the free gift of God’s grace have no fear of impoverishing themselves further in the matter of giving because they are often already poor. For example, we recently sat down on a Sunday here in South Africa and turned on our TV to a channel that was dedicated to religious broadcasting. And there for the next thirty minutes was a second generation brother on the other side of South Africa whom we had known for over forty years. The “poor” churches in his area had scrapped together enough funds to support him on a live TV broadcast. This is the Macedonian marvel in action.
This was a case where Macedonian like-minded Christians had discovered the joy of grace-motivated giving. As the Judean church in the beginning of the gospel had sent out of Jewish missionaries who ministered the gospel to the Gentiles in Macedonia and Achaia, so those who obeyed the gospel in Macedonia in turn contributed to minister the gospel to a greater audience in their own region and beyond. It was as Paul wrote of them, “And you [Macedonian Christians, specifically, you in Thessalonian] became imitators of us . . . so that you were examples to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. For the word of the Lord was sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has spread abroad” (1 Th 1:6-9).
We must never underestimate the power of grace to motivate “poor” Christians who are highly motivated by the grace of God. It is because of the Macedonian church example that a principle is taught that no Christian can ever give an excuse of poverty in reference to giving to the preaching of the gospel. It is for this reason that whenever a supposedly Christian group says, “Give us something because we are poor,” we immediately turn away from them. We do so as Jesus instructed His first missionaries when He sent them out during His earthly ministry. He instructed His missionaries that if they were not received by a particular individual or village that would give them bread and a bed, then they were to turn away and shake off the dust of their feet in rejection of that individual or village. If people do not reveal through sacrificial giving that their hearts are fertile soil for the gospel of grace, regardless of how poor they may be, then they have disqualified themselves to be worthy of the offering of the incarnate Son of God, who, though in the form of God, emptied Himself into the poverty of a fleshly body in order to go to the death of a cross (See Ph 2:5-11). Anyone who does not sacrificially give in response to his eternal sacrifice cannot truly understand the grace of God.
But in reference to the grace of God that should cause thanksgiving in our hearts, this grace is contrary to colonial thinking and behavior. Grace moves us to look for opportunities where we can give, not get. It was for this reason that Jesus warned and cautioned those who would seek to be His disciples: “For which one of you, intending to build a tower [become My disciple], does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it” (Lk 14:28).
Colonial-minded people often seek to be takers, whereas grace-driven disciples seek opportunities by which they can freely give the gospel of grace to the world through their free-will support of evangelists or materials to be sent to those who are yet to hear the gospel. So in order to shame the stingy “takers” of the Corinthian church, Paul again reminded them of the grace-motivated givers of Macedonia:
:Have I committed an offense in humbling myself [while in your presence by supporting myself through making tents] so that you might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God without charge [your support]? I robbed other churches [who supported me], taking wages from them, in order to serve you [freely]. And when I was present with you and in need [of support], I was not a [financial] burden to anyone [in Corinth], for what I lacked [in funds] the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied [my needs]. And in all things I have kept myself from being [financially] burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself” (2 Co 11:7-9).
There were some among the Corinthians who were taking financial support for themselves. But Paul said of these charlatan apostles, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Co 11:13). Deceitful workers who would use the church as an opportunity to receive financial gain, are false. The church must financially support those who preach the gospel to the lost (1 Co 9:13,14). However, the church must not become the occasion for support by masquerading takers.
It was for this reason that Paul did not pass through the Corinthian church immediately, but instead wrote a letter of warning in advance of his coming. He did not go immediately to the church in Corinth in order “to spare you, I did not return to Corinth” (2 Co 1:2). In other words, and according to the authority that was given to the Christ-sent apostles to keep the church pure of financial beggars and deceivers, inflict physical punishment on them, as did Peter and the other Christ-sent apostles upon Ananias and Sapphira many years before (See At 5:1-11; 3 Jn 9,10). Paul thus spared the Corinthian church from being disciplined because some of the members had involved themselves in using the church as an opportunity for financial gain (See 1 Co 4:21).
On the other hand, those who would impoverish themselves in order to freely give the gospel to others, are true and sincere (See 3 Jn 1-6). Paul impoverished himself for both the Corinthians and Macedonians. The Macedonians discovered the blessing of life-changing grace. And for this reason, when he went on from Macedonian, the Philippian disciples sent support once and again to him, even when he was in Corinth (Ph 4:16).
Research: The Godly Giver, Book 57, Biblical Research Library, africainternational.org