Persecution and Grace – Part 2

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. 2 Cor. 8:1-4

I never cease to marvel at the grace that was given to the Macedonian church. It is, simply, indescribable. That is why we cannot say, ever, “Enough talk about these Macedonians!” I am sure their story will echo on into eternity.

The area of giving is one area in which nearly all of us struggle. The issue of giving is a real problem with many of us. Normally, when someone asks us for money or some material thing (but mostly money, since money is the god of this world), our immediate knee-jerk reaction is to feel something akin to an invasion. There is a certain privacy about our material possessions that we don’t like people intruding into.

But that is the flesh. When we are walking the road that Jesus walked, these attitudes are the kind of things that we battle against in the Spirit. And it is when we achieve victory over such attitudes that we can experience the joy of giving. In those rare – or not-so-rare – moments when God touches our hearts and we allow the grace of God to have its way in us, we receive that very rare blessing of giving freely and joyfully, and we come away much more fulfilled in our spirits.

But with these Macedonians there was so much grace in their lives that they gave as if with a primeval instinct – in other words, with a power that was not of this world.

Some time ago I read about some people in England or the U.S. (I can’t remember clearly where) who engaged in bitter brawls as they fought to buy discounted goods in shopping malls.

The Macedonians did the exact opposite. They fought to give! I believe it is not that they did not need the things that they were giving away, but they were overcome with compassion for their brothers in need. And, having an enlarged heart, they saw this as an opportunity to make very good use the power of the grace of God in their lives.

The Macedonian example is an illustration of the extremities to which God’s grace can take us. That these people had literally nothing; but when they heard that their brothers were undergoing a period of want, they gave out their hearts. “Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”

That is a heart that we all need to have.

There are people who love talking about tithing. But in tithing one is trying to give to God in quotas! Can you imagine giving to God in quotas? It is the most tiresome exercise in the world.

And, pray, can you imagine trying to tell the Macedonians about tithing? At the very least, they would have regarded you with of utter confusion in their eyes! How can you talk to someone who has given away everything about now giving a percentage?

The Macedonians were so rich in grace that the ‘lesson’ of tithe would have have flown right over their heads.

But notice also that all this was accomplished at the time that this church was going through a period of “great trial of affliction” and “deep poverty”. It was in these difficult circumstances that their faith was tried and refined to produce these extremely fine examples of Christian-ity.

Whether through persecution or not, when we take the road that Jesus took – denying self, taking up our cross daily and following Him – we will always come up with this kind of life – a life of incredible grace.

[The Macedonians rejoiced greatly at the opportunity to give]

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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!]

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Grace! – the Macedonian Example (Part 2)

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. 2 Cor. 8:1-4

Grace is the church’s inheritance. The Bible says: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17).

Grace is the inheritance that Jesus gave to the church. Isn’t it wonderful to have, or to own what Jesus bequeathed us?

That is why we cannot lightly “fly past” this scripture about the Macedonians. We must encamp there and see what went on with these blessed brethen.

Y’know, today, to a large extent, we do not have preachers of the gospel in church. Today what the church has is mostly worldly-minded motivational preachers. (In this group, unfortunately, there are also fraudsters and scoundrels of the basest sort). Now, motivational preachers will not talk to you about the grace of God. Grace is heavenly business and these men and women have nothing of heaven in their hearts. So they talk of this world. They will talk about the things of this world. They will talk about money and such-like things.

But I think it would have been rather stupid for Jesus to leave behind the glories of heaven and to come to earth to become a billionaire in some church! It would have been extremely ridiculous, and I am glad Jesus did not do that.

There were only two things that Jesus owned when He was here on earth. Jesus had nothing of this world, but He had something else. He had grace and truth. I don’t know about you but me, I want what Jesus had.

These noble Macedonians certainly did.

Today let us look at verse 2 of this wonderful scripture.

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.”

We read in verse 2 that when the Macedonian brethren were going through tribulation and suffering for the gospel’s sake, their joy was increased!

There is something called ‘diametrically opposed’. We all know that suffering and joy are diametrically opposed. So these Macedonians accomplished a mathematical formula which even Einstein could not achieve: the marriage of two diametrically opposed experiences, suffering and joy.

That is something that can only be attained through the grace of God.

The Bible says that in rejoicing through suffering, the Macedonians demonstrated the grace of God that was in their lives!

One thing I can tell you for sure is that I am not like these Macedonians. In all sincerity I cannot say that I am happy when things are going all wrong in my life. When things are not “working” for me, I tend to fret and there are even times when I have known myself to become absolutely grace-less (and probably even plain hostile) when the pressure became too much to bear!

But the Bible states here that when the Macedonians were going through trouble, it was all song and dance in those churches. That’s the one experience I sure would love to have and to own in my life! That’s grace.

No amount of writing could exhaust the riches to be found in this tiny portion of scripture.

Let us take a peep at the second part.

“… their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.”

Here we find another set of diametric opposites: poverty and liberality.

It is generally assumed that the rich should give to the poor. I also subscribe to that belief. He who has should give to him who does not have. That is Biblical.

But that has nothing to do with a generous heart. You can give away all your wealth until you scratch yourself like Job, but that does not mean that you are generous. I know of people who give of their worldly goods, but they are not generous. You can see it in the way they give. They will put you to an interview, where you can feel all the condescending fog from them descending upon you…

Let me put it this way: grace enables us to do things the way God does them. God does things willingly, joyfully and cheerfully. When you have the grace of God in your heart, therefore, the natural outcome is to do God’s will willingly, joyfully and cheerfully. When it comes to giving, you will give in exactly in that manner – willingly, joyfully and cheerfully.

God is generous. I have been saved for a long time, and I can attest to the fact that God is generous. There was a time when I thought that I needed to be financially rich in order to affirm God’s generosity. But I have learned to appreciate God’s generosity towards me, a generosity which does not necessarily have to do with him blessing me financially. Money, as the saying goes, is not everything. That is especially so with the gospel.

What God gives us is a rich heart, a heart rich in grace. This is all that matters with the gospel. A heart rich in grace will accomplish everything God needs it to accomplish.

When the Macedonians received the grace of God, they became rich in generosity.

Let us take time to examine our hearts and to see whether we are rich in grace or not. Today, let us forget for a moment our nicely-trimmed bank accounts. Let us instead look into our hearts. Are we rich there or not?

Tomorrow we will take one final look at this exciting scripture.

[Below: Grace – free as a bird!]

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Grace! – the Macedonian Example (Part 1)

[I have changed the title slightly from the original]

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. 2 Cor. 8:1-4

No, we haven’t read that clearly enough, have we? Let’s read this scripture once more.

“Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia…”

In modern English, Paul is saying: “Brothers, we want to tell you about the grace of God given to the churches of Macedonia”.

Without a doubt, this is the most beautiful sentence in the entire universe. When I was in school, there was a certain type of punishment that a student would be given if they failed to complete a given task. They were commanded to write any sentence that the teacher dictated, a hundred times or more. They would be told, for example, to write “I will never come late to class again” – a hundred times!

That meant that while everyone else was outside enjoying their morning break, you would be cooped up in class trying to hold your brains in. Talk of torture! The equivalent to that today is water-boarding.

But I will tell you one thing: re-writing 2 Corinthians 8:1 is one ‘punishment’ I would be extremely happy to undertake. I could gladly write that sentence a million times over and once I had finished, I would be ready to do it all over again… and again…. and again.

In fact, let me just say that I could never tire of this scripture. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever read.

“Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia…”

But what, pray, is so delightful about this scripture? Actually, what this scripture is saying should knock each one of us off our feet. What it is saying is stupefying. It is telling us that the Macedonian churches received the grace of God! The grace of God!

We will see later on that we probably have a very small idea of what the grace of God really is. Now, don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that in an arrogant sort of way. Let’s all just cool our heels and wait and see what I mean.

Kindly notice that these Macedonians did not receive expensive mansions or bundles of money, nor anything of this world. No, sir; they received the grace of God!

Grace is the most beautiful thing that you can own in this world. There are many wonderful things that we would love to own, but nothing – absolutely nothing – comes even close to comparing to the grace of God in beauty and importance.

There are, for example, many beautiful women in the world. But the truly beautiful woman is the woman who has the grace of God in her heart.

There are also many extremely rich men in this world. But no man is richer than the man who carries God’s grace in their heart.

Tomorrow we will look further at this interesting scripture. But let us, right now, pray that we would be men and women who desire the grace of God in our lives above anything else .

[Below: Even in our modern age, the broken mirror still defines an African woman’s beauty]

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