We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—-and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you see that you excel in this act of grace also(2 Cor. 8:1-7).
A big problem with American Christianity is that it is all supposing and no practice. We suppose that if we were persecuted for the sake of Christ that we would keep the faith. We suppose that if Christ called us to forsake our family and friends and to follow him that we would drop our nets and follow him. We suppose that if Christ commanded us, like he did the rich young ruler, to sell all of our possessions and give them to the poor that we would. And we suppose that if we found ourselves impoverished, that we would be satisfied with Christ as our portion. At least so we suppose.
Our problem also is that we view these Scriptural “supposals” as the circumstances of a niche and not as demands for the whole. We cannot be persecuted, for example, because we live in a free country. We do not have to sell our possessions, because Jesus was simply making a moral point. And we do not have to worry about being happy in poverty, because, obviously, impoverishment isn’t our calling as Americans.
But then we encounter the impoverished Macedonians. These saints could have easily looked at their poverty and concluded that the Lord did not bless them with the gift of giving. They could have easily been content with praying for the needy saints and with tending to their own physical needs. But they were not content. They heard of the church’s plight and chose to give to the saints according to their impoverished means–that is, whatever little they had in excess. And yet they were not content with that. Scripture says that the Macedonians begged the Apostle to allow them to give beyond their means to the relief of the saints. What does this mean? It means that the Macedonians became creative. They looked at their present impoverished way of living and asked themselves what they could do as a church to consume less so that they might give more. Perhaps they decided that they could live okay on one meal a day instead of two. Perhaps they decided to squeeze multiple families into one home to cut their housing expenses. Perhaps they decided to make do with the clothes on their back though they were worn and torn. Whatever they did, they did it with joy-filled hearts, because they gave all of themselves to God and his purposes.
Now, let’s take a look at ourselves. Do we even give according to our means to the relief of the saints of God and to the spreading of his Gospel? I must confess that I do not, and I am sure that most of us, if we were honest, would admit that we do not. We certainly do not give beyond our means and are, for this reason, robbing ourselves of the same joy that the Macedonians had in Christ alone. Let’s for the sake of our joy challenge each other to be like the Macedonians and to think of creative ways that will minimize our consumption and maximize our giving.