The first article in this series on funding the Great Commission documented how believers in Christ around the world give to “disciple all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Considering the small amount that Christians give from their personal incomes to all Christian causes (1.8%) and the trifling sum given to world missions ($33 billion) which is exceeded by embezzlement ($37 billion), there are likely more bad than positive examples of giving. This same information also indicates how believers use their financial resources to keep the second greatest commandment, “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, cf. 1 John 3:16). Here we will focus on a great example of first century believers who gave generously to help the poor and to fund the Great Commission; then we will consider how to follow this example in the twenty first century.
A Great Example of Giving
As Paul sought to motivate the followers of Jesus Christ in Corinth to participate in the collection to help the poor in Judea and Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8-9), a “love your neighbor” cause, he began by pointing to the outstanding example of the Macedonian churches.
Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. (2 Cor. 8:1-5)
From Acts, we know that Paul started churches in the Macedonian cities of Philippi (Acts 16:12-40), Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9) and Berea (Acts 17:10-14). The generosity of these churches surprised even Paul, responding “not as we had expected.” Paul mentions their “great ordeal of affliction” and “their deep poverty.” Even today we would not expect great giving from poor and persecuted churches. But the Macedonian churches gave according to their ability, even “beyond their ability.”
Motivation for Giving
As Paul “unpacks” the Macedonians’ motivation for giving, he gives us a glimpse of what was happening in their hearts. He mentions that “they first gave themselves to the Lord…” Previously Paul wrote “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” (2 Cor. 5:14,15). It seems this truth had captured the hearts of the Macedonians. Realizing that they “no longer live for themselves,” they “gave of themselves to the Lord.” In this light we could also say that the Macedonians were keeping the Greatest Commandment, to love God with all of their being. Great giving, then, is motivated by whole hearted devotion to the Lord.
Paul also points out that the Macedonians gave themselves “to us according to the will of God.” People support those they care about and trust. This matter is particularly pertinent to the situation in Corinth. Factions in Corinth had their favorite preachers. Some favored Apollos, others Peter, some Paul – and this led to quarrels, even accusations (1 Cor. 1:11,12; 3:3-6). Also “false apostles” entered the church seeking to undermine Paul’s influence (2 Cor. 11:2-3). Thus some of the people in Corinth did not fully trust Paul and his co-workers. In part Paul writes his second letter to the Corinthians to address these kind of issues that were undermining his influence. For example:
Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide. You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections. Now in a like exchange–I speak as to children–open wide to us also. … Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one. (2 Cor. 6:11-13, 7:2)
This was not the case in Macedonia – they trusted and cared for Paul and his co-workers. Maybe Paul mentioned his good relationship with the Macedonians to challenge the Corinthians.
The key motivations for giving we discover from the Macedonians’ example are:
- Great giving is motivated by great devotion to the Lord.
- People support those whom they care about and trust.
Funding the Great Commission – The Story Continues
The Book of Acts gives another account of how the churches in Macedonia – likely the Philippians – supported Paul’s missionary work in Corinth.
After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 18:1-5)
Reading between the lines, it is likely that Paul was able to devote himself completely to the word because Silas and Timothy brought a monetary contribution for Paul’s work. So it was no longer necessary for Paul to pay his own way by making tents. This inference is strengthened by a statement Paul makes in his second letter to the Corinthians where he states:
I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you; and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so. (2 Corinthians 11:8-9)
Paul enjoyed a special relationship with one church in Macedonia, namely the one in Philippi. He speaks about this relationship in his letter to the Philippians.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5 NIV)
In the conclusion of the Philippian letter, he returns to this special relationship and speaks specifically about the church’s generosity.
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.
You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:10-19)
From this passage we learn that the “partnership in the gospel” mentioned in chapter one included financial support of Paul’s ministry. In fact, Paul states that the church in Philippi was the only church which provided for his needs and that more than once believers at Philippi financially supported Paul’s work.
- This gift which was carried by Ephaphrodius when Paul was in Prison – the occasion in view here
- Several gifts were sent to Thessalonica for Paul’s needs.
- At least on one occasion a gift was sent to Paul after he left Macedonia. (v. 15)
Considering all the evidence, it is reasonably certain that the churches in Macedonia financially supported Paul’s work in Corinth, and this was Great Commission giving.
In all, we see that the Churches in Macedonia kept the second greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, by generously giving to help the poor in Jerusalem and Judea, and they also were partners in the Great Commission, but funding Paul’s missionary work.
Good Discipleship Leads to Good Giving
I concluded my first article about funding the Great Commission with this observation: “Funding the Great Commission really comes back to basic Christian discipleship….At its root, we don’t have a financial crisis; we have a discipleship crisis.” The example of the Macedonian churches confirms this observation. They gave themselves first to God. They trusted and cared about those who discipled them (Paul and his co-workers). They willingly and joyously gave to Great Commission and Great Commandment causes by contributing generously to the collection for the poor in Jerusalem and Judea. We can see why Paul thought so highly of the Macedonians.
Following the Macedonian Example
The example of the Macedonian churches is a good one to follow, not only for the first century Corinthians, but also for those of us in the twenty first century, where ever we may be. We learn that those who want to see great giving for Kingdom causes need to first focus on discipleship issues: primarily, wholehearted devotion to God. People are more likely to give generously to Kingdom Causes when they are wholly committed to God. Second, there is the strong relationship between the giver and the Christian worker. People give to those people whom they trust and care about, or we may say, money follows ministry. So how might these principles be put into practice in your context?
Next: Giving Beyond Your Ability