Grace! – the Macedonian Example (Part 3)

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;

2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;

4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.

5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God. 2 Cor. 8:1-4

In this final part, we will include verse 5 of this portion of scripture, which is the foundation upon which all that is written therein is built. This discourse would be incomplete – indeed, it would be meaningless – without an understanding of this verse. Verse 5 reads: And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.”

But first, let us consider verses 3 and 4. These verses tell us about the practical outcome of the grace of God that was bestowed upon the Macedonian churches. This is so important for us to understand.

These churches were very poor materially, but when they heard about the physical lack that the Jerusalem church was undergoing, because of the richness of the grace of God in their hearts, they immediately decided to share whatever they had with the brethren who were in need.

There is something very important that I want us to realize about what went on here. The Bible says: “3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift…”

I want us to arrive at the astounding conclusion that the Bible brings up here, which is that the Macedonians gave until they were left with nothing.

Paul says, “For to their power… and beyond their power”, they gave.

What do you think that means?

I believe it means these brethren gave as much as they could give. But then, because of the richness of their generosity, which was a result of the joy that was in their hearts, they decided, ‘No, that’s not enough.’

They then went back inside their houses and took the little they had put aside for themselves and their children and told Paul and the apostles, “Take even these!”

They were left with nothing.

I am sure they were preparing to pull out even their door frames and put them on the donkeys that Paul came with, and Paul was overwhelmed with the sheer incredulity of it all.

Why would they pray Paul “with much intreaty” to take of their goods? It is not common to see people imploring you to take their goods. In churches today, hundreds of programs have been promulgated to make people to give. Actually, it is a form of arm-twisting – and where this fails incentives are brought in!

Have you not heard, in church: “With your gift of a hundred dollars, you can become the proud owner of such and such a souvenir”, or, on the internet, “Click the link at the very top of this description, ‘like’ this site, and you could win great prizes…”

Such a language with the Macedonians would have been as alien as a Martian talking to a man from Earth.

The Bible says the Macedonians gave of their goods willingly, joyfully and cheerfully. “…they were willing of themselves”.

But the Macedonians were rich! They were rich in grace. They could afford to give liberally, almost luxuriantly.

I am sure the Macedonians intreated Paul because he most likely refused to take more of their goods, realizing that these people would be left with literally nothing!

But the consequence of the grace that they carried in their hearts is that they were more concerned about the poor saints in Jerusalem than they were about themselves. They were ready to go without, just so their brethren could have.

These Macedonians were willing to sacrifice themselves that others could live.

Elsewhere, Paul talks of Priscilla and Aquila, Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles” (Rom. 16:4).

Finally, let us look at the most important verse in this scripture, verse 5.

And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.”

This is talking about revelation. Anyone can give, but if it is not a result of the revelation of the cross in their lives, such giving is not of the Spirit. This is so important for the church to understand, the fact that we need to give in the Spirit.

There are people who do things for worldly glory, or to satisfy their egos or, as we just saw, to profit in other ways. The gospel, on the other hand, has to do with losing our lives. Hence, the cross.

The revelation of the cross is the heart of the gospel. When we catch this revelation, we are willing to lose our lives for Christ. That is why the Apostle Paul would not preach any other gospel other than the gospel of the cross of Christ. The revelation of the cross in our hearts brings the grace of God into our hearts, and we can live the resurrection life, which is a life that has died in the natural, but is alive in the Spirit.

[Below: The Macedonians gave liberally!]


The Wickedness of Man’s Heart – Part 2

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jer 17:9

Through the new birth, Christ has given us a new nature, and a new heart. We have been born of the Spirit of God and our hearts have been cleansed by the blood of Christ.

But we know that this newness of life is a work in progress. The flesh – our humanness, that old human heart – is there still, an indefatigable enemy of our souls. The Apostle Paul cried out in Romans 7:24, O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

This cry of anguish was a result of the wickedness that he saw in his heart.

I sometimes smile ruefully when I ponder the many times that I seek after men’s approval. I want people to think of me as a good person. But it is not true. I am not good, and I know it.

I appreciate the fact that it is by staying hard by the side of Jesus that I can expect to get and maintain a different heart. There is no other way. Any other way is a big lie or a denial.

The Apostle Paul summarizes it very well when he says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” (1 Cor. 15:10). Paul realized how rotten he was. He placed all his hope to be anything different on the grace of God alone.

When we are not walking in the revelation of the cross, we could even be saved and active in church, but our hearts are filled with every kind of evil. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church, “I cannot address you as spiritual people. For you have in your hearts envyings, strife, war, and every kind of evil.” These guys had even someone in their midst who was sleeping with his father’s wife!

If you find people in a church bound by a certain sin, do not be deceived. You will find every other sin running deep beneath the floor boards of that church. If we are not watching over our hearts, we will carry every kind of wickedness in us.

The Apostle Paul would not find any other way to keep his heart pure apart from a true, spiritual knowledge of and relationship with our Lord Jesus. In Romans Rom 7:24, as we have seen, he writes, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

In the very next verse he provides us with the answer: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord…”

In effect he is saying, “Only Jesus can deliver me from the rot that I am!” Paul’s heart was desperately wicked, and he knew it. The greatest challenge that he had was in maintaining a pure and holy heart. More than 50 years after his conversion he writes the Philippians, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended…” (Phil. 3:13-14)

He is not referring to his ministry here. He is talking about his personal walk of faith with the Lord, his life as a Christian. He struggled daily to keep a strong faith and to maintain a pure heart.

A pure heart is needed within the Body of Christ. It is what will keep us holy. It is what will keep us in sincere fellowship. It is what will build us up as a Body.

The Consecrated Life

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,

By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;

And having an high priest over the house of God;

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. Hebrews 10:19-25

Every time the Bible talks about a veil, whether in the Old Testament or in the New, it talks about the death of Christ; and every time the Bible talks about the death of Christ it of necessity speaks about our death also. Not the natural death of the body, but the death to self, a result of the work of the cross in our lives.

We can have boldness to enter the Holy of Holies only after we have put away the old man of the flesh. This is the way that Jesus Himself “consecrated for us”. There is no other way.

That is why an understanding of the cross is so essential to the church. The cross was not just a place for Jesus to die for our sins, but it was also a place where we, too, would crucify our fleshly desires (the old man of sin) and have a living way with which to approach God.

That is why on the last Day, Jesus will tell many preachers, “Go away; I never knew you, you workers of iniquity!” (Matthew 7:23). These were men and women who did not pass through the veil.

I have come to realize the reality of this truth in my own life. It is not how much I know or how long I have been a Christian or how much I serve. I have come to appreciate the fact that the really important thing in my life is carrying the cross and crucifying the flesh thereon. If I am not walking in this revelation, I can do all those things but the flesh will still be alive. And when the flesh is alive, sin is close by.

The Apostle Paul cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). Note the words ‘the body of this death’. Not that the Apostle Paul was not saved or that he was not serving God; but he could not ignore the danger that his flesh posed.

But, praise God he found the answer to this dilemma! He says, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In other words, Christ has made a way for us (the veil, the death to the flesh), through which we can walk in victory over the flesh, the world and sin. It is the only way by which we can become totally consecrated to God.

We cannot over-emphasize the importance of an understanding of the true purpose of the cross of Christ in our lives particularly in the days we are living in. If the phrase “last days” exists in the Bible (and it does) then it certainly cannot be referring to any other moment than the time we are living in. The signs are all around us. One of them is a Church that loves the world and the things in it.

But the Church needs to make sure that it is safe – safe within the veil. Anyone who walks outside the work of the cross in their lives is operating outside the veil, and the life of Christ is not in them. Jesus said, “You shall know them by their fruits.”

Paul tells us exactly how we should live a life that has passed through the veil, that is,  a life that has been crucified with Christ.

“Hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering”. Remember Paul tells Timothy that he has “kept the faith”. When he spoke those words he was talking about more than being just saved. He was talking about guarding the revelation he received from Jesus, the revelation of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified”. 1 Cor. 2:2

“Consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works”, which speaks of the totality of our Christian calling.

Lastly, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…  but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (verses 23-25). Here he is talking about the fellowship of the saints.

This is a life that can only be lived if we have crucified our lives with Christ. It is divine Life, which we can only have if we have died with Christ.