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The Macedonian Challenge
By Gordon MacDonald

"And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity." 2 Corinthians 8:1-2

In all the Bible, one would be hard-pressed to find two chapters that speak more beautifully and more bluntly than do 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 to the issue of generous giving. Here is Christianity at its best.

The Macedonian church! No sooner had Paul started it up than the small, struggling congregation began to prove itself--especially in the area of generosity. They were steeped in numbing poverty and suffering. Yet this congregation also made a decision to “joyfully” give to those struggling hundreds of miles away in Judea.

Paul’s description of these remarkable Macedonians deserves our close attention. Paul holds them up as his model for the consummate generous giver--yet they are among the poorest people we shall ever know about. In that very fact is a powerful message that must penetrate our hearts. For our instinct is to associate generous giving with the efforts of wealthy and powerful people. Yet Paul reserves his greatest accolades for people at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Note Paul’s description of the conditions in which these people gave. They were in “severe trial,” which probably alludes to stiff persecution. They were poor in the extreme. Yet neither of these two facts deterred them from asking the question, How much can we give? The phrase “welled up” provides a vivid word picture. One envisions a spout of water coming up from the ground--generous giving gushing out of lives marked with suffering and scarcity. The amount given is not important; the proportion means everything.

Paul does not stop there. “They urged us (on their own) to share in this service to the saints.” Imagine! No fund-raising effort, no high-pressure persuasion, no gimmicks. They simply wanted to do this, in fact pleaded for the privilege.

Paul admits to a sense of surprise about the Macedonians’ methods. “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us.” Who asked them to do this? Who told them that this was the virtuous way? We’re not told. Perhaps the Holy Spirit? No matter. We know only that Paul was astonished at their maturity.

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