Kigundu Ndwiga, Stewardship Director, East Central Africa Division

Summary: The Macedonian example shines as a beacon in deep darkness: we can be generous, despite our severe trials. Such trials should challenge us to invest our treasure in heaven where moth, rust, and thieves cannot reach!

Introduction

The missionary pastor could not believe his eyes. ?Have I asked my members to make too great a sacrifice?? he wondered. The pastor had just come to visit one of the poorest families in the church. As he approached he noticed the eldest son pulling the plough, instead of the strong ox the family owned. When the pastor asked, ?Where is your ox?? he was amazed when the family replied: ?We sold it—so that we could give an offering for a new place to worship.?

The pastor shed tears when the enormity of their sacrifice dawned on him. They were willing to endure poverty so that they could contribute to God’s work. They had surely embraced the ?Macedonian factor.?

In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, Paul encourages the Corinthians to grow in the grace of giving. To stir them to give generously, he holds before them the example of the Macedonian churches. Paul presents the Macedonians as an example worthy to emulate when it comes to the question of giving to God. He challenges them to embrace the ?Macedonian factor.?

Consider the Macedonians

Macedonia was a mountainous country north of Greece in the Balkan Peninsula. The first mention of Macedonia in the Bible is in Acts 16: the description of Paul’s ?Macedonian call.? In a vision a man appeared to Paul ?and plead with him saying, ?Come over to Macedonia and help us’? (Ac 16:9).

Luke gives a detailed account of Paul’s journey through Macedonia (Ac 16:11-17:14). At Neapolis, Paul picked up the major road of Macedonia and went to Philippi, ?the foremost city of that part of Macedonia.? At Philippi, Paul made his first convert in Europe, ?a certain woman named Lydia ... [who] was a seller of purple.?

After Lydia’s baptism, the healing of ?a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination,? and Paul’s imprisonment, he set out again to the capital, Thessalonica, where the proconsul or governor resided (Ac 16 and 17). The final city Paul visited before leaving Macedonia for Athens was Berea, where he left Silas and Timothy for a short time to assist in the work there (Ac 17 and 18). Paul revisited Macedonia at least once again and perhaps twice (Ac 20; 2 Cor 2; Php 2; 1Tm 1). The Macedonian Christians’ support for Paul’s needs and the needs of others is mentioned several times in Paul’s letters (Rm 15; 2 Cor 8; Php 4).

Their severe trials

Jesus said He did not come to bring peace but a sword. It is no wonder we find riots and persecution following Paul wherever he went preaching the gospel! His converts were also pursued and were severely persecuted. The writer of Hebrews describes their plight in these words:

?Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned ? they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground? (Hb 11:35-38).

The Macedonians were no exception. They were ostracized and persecuted for believing in the Lord Jesus, for forsaking false gods and for abandoning their former, empty way of life. Many in similar conditions operate on a self-preservation mode—but not the Macedonians. They were in deep distress, yet they contributed to the relief of others. The Macedonian Christians met with ill treatment that reduced them to deep poverty; yet, as they had abundance of joy in the midst of tribulation, they abounded in their liberality. They gave out of a little, trusting in God to provide for them and make it up to them.

Beloved, we need to learn from them and emulate their example. Indeed, we do suffer severe trials, but from the Macedonian example, these trials should not become excuses for being grudging and selfish.

Many of our members face severe trials. Some countries are involved in wars which displace numerous individuals, rendering them homeless and reducing them to abject poverty. Indeed, many members are refugees. Due to the encroaching desert and deforestation, the rain pattern has been affected, resulting in severe drought and famine. With the onset of tropical diseases and the dreaded AIDS, numerous income earners have gone to an early grave, leaving helpless dependents.

It is in our sad condition that the Macedonian example shines as a beacon light in deep darkness: that we can be generous, despite our severe trials. The Macedonian example takes away any excuse we may want to give for not giving generously to the cause of God. Like the Macedonians, we can allow our trials to teach us one important lesson: this world is not our home, and everything that passes through our hands is temporal. More than anything, our severe trial should challenge us to invest our treasure in heaven where moth, rust, and thieves cannot reach!

Their extreme poverty

Paul underscores the fact that the Macedonians were not just poor, they were extremely poor. He marvels that people so poor could be so generous! How generosity could abound in such poverty was a miracle Paul could only attribute to God.

Yes, there were a few Macedonians like Lydia who were well off. But in every place there are a few who are well off—but only a few. Paul expressed this reality clearly when he told the Corinthians:

?Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are? (1 Cor 1:26-28).

For those who were well off among the Macedonians (and among us), Paul issues the following challenge:

?Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life? (1Tm 6:17-19).

The Macedonian example speaks eloquently to those in the world church where poverty is widespread. Since many of us serve the Lord from a position of poverty, we look at our situation and ask ourselves, ?What can we give to the Lord when we are so poor??

The Macedonian example answers that question convincingly. Despite our poverty, we can give generously to the cause of God and give with great joy. Indeed, it is not only the Macedonians who discovered the secret of giving joyfully and generously to God. The widow who gave two mites and the widow of Zarephath had already embraced the ?Macedonian factor,? giving all to the cause of the Lord from their meager resources. And the Lord blessed them abundantly.

Test of faith

Ellen White makes this comment about the poor widow: ?The act of the widow who cast two mites—all that she had—into the treasury is placed on record for the encouragement of those who, struggling with poverty, still desire by their gifts to aid the cause of God. Christ called the attention of the disciples to this woman who had given ?all her living? (Mk 12:44). He esteemed her gift of more value than the large offerings of those whose alms did not call for self-denial. From their abundance they had given a small portion. To make her offering, the widow had deprived herself of even the necessities of life, trusting God to supply her needs for the morrow.

?Of her the Savior declared, ?Verily I say unto you, that this poor widow has cast more in than all they which have cast into the treasury’ (v. 43). Thus He taught that the value of the gift is estimated not by the amount, but by the proportion that is given and the motive that actuates the giver? (Acts of the Apostles, p. 342).

She then makes the following powerful statement on the widow of Zarephath: ?No greater test of faith than this could have been required. The widow had hitherto treated all strangers with kindness and liberality. Now, regardless of the suffering that might result to herself and her child, and trusting in the God of Israel to supply her every need, she met this supreme test of hospitality by doing ?according to the saying of Elijah?

In conclusion, she says: ?The widow of Zarephath shared her morsel with Elijah, and in return, her life and that of her son were preserved. To all who, in time of trial and want, give sympathy and assistance to others more needy, God has promised great blessing. He has not changed. His power is no less now than in the days of Elijah? (Prophets and Kings, pp. 129-132).

Many of our people may be suffering and undergoing trials. We may be plagued with poverty, but the Macedonian example silences all our protests to giving. Their example exposes our hiding places and wipes away all of our excuses until we are compelled to confess, it is selfishness and self-preservation that prevents us from giving generously to the cause of God.

One question begs to be answered: What made the Macedonians so generous and joyful that they needed no coercion to give? What made them plead with the Apostle that they be given the privilege of sharing in the ministry of giving? What was their secret?

Embracing the ?Macedonian factor?

If we are to follow the Macedonians in the grace of giving, we must learn their secret and make it our secret too. It is only then we will be able to give beyond our ability and beyond expectation. I see a four-fold secret behind their giving.

1 They had received the grace of God. By nature we are self-centered and cannot give generously. And when we give we may be motivated by ulterior motives. To give to the cause of God freely, we must encounter the grace of God in the Person of Jesus Christ. Understanding His sacrifice on the cross for us will touch the invisible cords of our hearts, melting the selfishness and self-centeredness that resides there. It is only when we see the Son of Man lifted up for us that we are drawn closer to Him in awesome wonder. When we gaze upon Him dying and realize that His costly sacrifice was made just for us, our hearts will be moved to reciprocate, for love awakens love. Indeed, we love because He first loved us. His love will constrain and propel us to give.

2 They gave themselves first to the Lord. The reason many people do not give generously is because they have not really given themselves to the Lord. The secret behind true giving lies in the giving of ourselves first to Him. The reason the Macedonians gave beyond expectation and beyond their ability is found in this very fact—they had given themselves to the Lord. When Christ our Lord possesses our hearts, He will also have our wallets and purses.

Zachaeus is a classic example of this. He was a ?money lover? who made his riches through extortion. He was miserly with his ill-gotten wealth. But restlessness and dissatisfaction came over his life. He sensed a vacuum inside that his wealth could not fill. Zachaeus heard testimonies about Jesus and how He met the deepest need of the soul and he came looking for Him. He could not see Christ, so he climbed a tree. And when Jesus stopped under that tree He told him to come down. The Bible says Zachaeus came down gladly and took Jesus to his home.

Scripture doesn’t tell us what they talked about on the way home, but somehow Zachaeus saw through the lowly garb of humanity and discovered that Jesus was indeed the Son of Man, the long awaited Messiah. Knowing He was in the presence of God and that he had already been accepted by Him, he surrendered himself to Christ and made two declarations. First, he would give half of all his possessions to the poor, and second, he would pay four times the amount he had cheated from any-one. Jesus declared that salvation had come to Zachaeus’ house that very day.

It is clear from this story that when Zachaeus encountered the Lord and surrendering to Jesus, he became generous and willingly parted with his treasure because he had gained Jesus Christ. The truth is that we can only give generously, whether rich or poor, when we have given ourselves first to the Lord!

3 They had given themselves over to the ?Cause.? Parting with our means is usually difficult. We only invest our money in those things that are dear to us. It is for this reason Jesus declares that our heart follows our treasure. For the Macedonians to give so generously to the cause of God, it is evident that they cherished the mission of their church and wanted it to succeed at all costs. God had given them a passion for lost souls.

4 They believed their contributions would make a difference. These people believed their contributions, joined to the whole, would make a difference! This difference sustained them with joy. Sometimes when we are poor and have little, we think that our little coins will not count for much and we stop giving. And so we block the blessings of heaven! In God’s economy, He does not look at the amount, but rather, the heart! The Macedonians were convinced of this fact and so they were not afraid to give what may have looked little to others. They knew that what God was looking for was faithfulness on their part.

We need to believe that whatever we give, no matter how little, does not escape the notice of heaven. When we give our share of the offering, the Lord Jesus takes it in His hands and blesses it, thus multiplying it. Our small offering is like a stone thrown into a pool of water, whose ripples move in ever-widening circles.

There was a mother who only packed five small loaves and two fish for her son who was going to listen to the itinerant preacher, Jesus Christ. When it was time to eat, Jesus decided to throw a party for the crowd. How could that small lunch feed such a multitude—an estimated 13,000 people—the disciples wondered? When the boy’s lunch was brought to Jesus, He blessed it, fed the multitude with leftovers galore! The message is clear, all we need is to give Jesus our tithes and offerings, regardless of how small the amount. He will bless it, multiply it, and it will support and finance the gospel commission.

Conclusion

We may face severe trials, but we can embrace the ?Macedonian factor? and give joyously and generously to the Lord. Looking at the Macedonians, we dare not excuse ourselves from generous giving. Their example leaves us exposed. Let us embrace their secret wholeheartedly and emulate their example. As we trust in God’s ability, which is our victory, we will find the Lord miraculously transforming us:

?Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. May he be given glory forever and ever through endless ages because of his master plan of salvation for the Church through Jesus Christ? (Ep 3:20, 21, TLB).

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October–December, 2004

Offerings