THE MACEDONIANS’ EXAMPLE (PART 1)
Paul began his third missionary journey by going “over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples” (Acts 18:23). While there, Paul had “given order to the churches of Galatia” to give as God had prospered them on every Sunday (1 Cor. 16:1-2). There, Paul began taking up a collection to take to the poor saints in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25-31; 1 Cor. 16:3). The churches of Macedonia were poor, but insisted that they be allowed to participate in this good work. They serve as a beautiful example for all Christians to follow as long as this world stands.
Background of the collection for needy brethren in Judea
After passing through Galatia at the beginning of his third journey, Paul came to Ephesus (Acts 19:1-20:1), where he spent the next three years (Acts 20:31). It would seem likely that Paul also received contributions from the brethren in Asia (Acts 20:33-35), although we are not told this for certain. It is also true that, unlike the churches of Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia, the churches of Asia were only first established on Paul’s third journey. While in Ephesus, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians and in that epistle, he commanded them to give also. “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem” (1 Cor 16:1-3). From Asia, Paul went to Macedonia (Acts 20:1-2). While in Macedonia, he collected donations from the churches there too (2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:2; Rom. 15:25-31). Paul wrote 2 Corinthians while in Macedonia and urged the Corinthians to now give according to what they purposed a year before when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (2 Cor. 8-9). Paul then went to Corinth (Acts 20:1-3), and took up the collection from the brethren in Achaia (Rom. 15:25-31). From Corinth, Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans, and told them: “But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it has pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It has pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things” (Rom. 15:25-27). Just as he wrote in Romans, Paul left Corinth, and took the money and traveled to Jerusalem to give it to the poor saints there (Acts 20:3-21:15).
Background of the Macedonian churches
We know of three churches that were in Macedonia at that time: the churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. All three of these congregations were established on Paul’s second missionary journey in about 50 A.D. Paul first saw a vision in the night and “there stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them” (Acts 16:9-10). Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke first went to Philippi and Paul converted Lydia and her family (Acts 16:11-15), followed by the jailor and his family (Acts 16:23-40). Then Paul went to Thessalonica and converted a “great multitude” of Greeks and many of the “chief women,” and also some of the Jews (Acts 17:1-9). Finally, Paul went to Berea, where many Jews and Greeks were converted to Christ (Acts 17:10-14). The epistle of 2 Corinthians was written from somewhere in Macedonia on Paul’s third missionary journey, between five to seven years after the churches there were established. In this epistle, we have the great privilege of learning how the churches of Macedonia responded to this situation in which their brethren in Judea had physical needs, and became a shining example of practicing pure and undefiled religion before God (James 1:27).
THE MACEDONIANS’ EXAMPLE – PART 2
On Paul’s third missionary journey, he began by going “over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples” (Acts 18:23). Paul then went to Ephesus, where he would spend the next three years (Acts 19:1-20:1,31). From Asia, Paul went to Macedonia (Acts 20:1-2). Throughout this time, Paul was taking up a collection to take to the poor saints in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25-31; 1 Cor. 16:1-3; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 2 Cor. 9:2, 8-9). The churches of Macedonia were poor, but insisted that they be allowed to participate in this good work. These brethren are one of the best examples we have of the practice of pure and undefiled religion before God (James 1:27).
Opportunities to serve are a favor from God
The churches of Macedonia suffered affliction from the time of their establishment on Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16-17; 1 Thess. 1:6-7; 1 Thess. 2:14; 1 Thess. 3:1-8; 2 Thess. 1:4-7). Now, somewhere between five to seven years later, they were still suffering affliction (2 Cor. 7:4-5). They also were materially poor. Yet God showed great favor towards these poor, suffering Christians by providing them with all that they needed to give generously to help their brethren who were in need. Paul wrote, “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” (2 Cor. 8:1-2). The Greek word for “grace” here is charis, which means favor. God literally does us a favor when He gives us the opportunity to help people in need, especially our brethren. We should therefore cheerfully and willingly use every such favor that the Lord gives us (Gal. 6:9-10; 2 Cor. 9:6-8). This is exactly what the Macedonian brethren did. Paul testified that the churches of Macedonia gave “to their power” and even “beyond their power” (2 Cor. 8:3). Instead of Paul having to beg them to give, the churches of Macedonia begged Paul and his co-workers “with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (2 Cor 8:4). They did beyond what Paul had hoped (2 Cor. 8:5).
Giving ourselves to the Lord
These Macedonian churches gave liberally in spite of their affliction and “deep poverty” (2 Cor. 8:1-2), and did not have to be prodded and cajoled into doing so. They were “willing of themselves” to give (2 Cor. 8:3). Paul and the others were evidently reluctant to receive such a large contribution from such poor brethren, but the Macedonian churches compelled them to accept it. Instead of having to be begged to give, they were actually begging for their contribution to be accepted (2 Cor. 8:4)! They did this because they desired to have “fellowship” (literally partnership) in the “ministering to the saints” (2 Cor. 8:4). While others were giving in response to this important need, they did not want to be left out. This excellent attitude and desire was the result of the fact that they “first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:5). They did not give grudgingly or out of necessity, but cheerfully, just as God desires (2 Cor. 9:7). They gave properly of their material goods because they had first given themselves to the Lord. They understood that God commands Christians to give of their means to help the needy, especially needy Christians (1 Cor. 16:1-3; Gal. 6:10; 1 Tim. 5:3-10; James 1:27), and they were obviously determined to obey God’s commandment. They also understood that we serve Christ by serving our brethren (Matt. 20:25-28; Matt. 25:31-40; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:25-27; John 13:1-17; Eph. 6:5-8; Php. 2:1-8; Col. 3:22-24). They did not want to miss out on the eternal reward they would receive for their good works (Matt. 6:19-21; Col. 3:23-24).