The Apostle Paul was no stranger to supernatural events. His New Testament letters are full of glimpses of God’s power, among them the recording of a number of visions. On one such occasion Paul was in Troas, a port city on the eastern edge of the Aegean Sea, when he had one of these supernatural visions. Luke, the physician and historian, recorded it thus:
During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:9
Located in what is now northern Greece, Macedonia was a Roman province. To get there, Paul and his companions sailed from Troas northeast across the Aegean Sea, hopscotching from Samothrace to Neapolis, before traveling inland about ten miles to Philippi, a leading city of the district. It was in Philippi that Paul preached his first sermon on European soil, and where Lydia, the first European convert, understood and accepted the gospel. It was also here that Paul cast a demon out of a fortune-teller which ultimately led to a severe flogging and imprisonment. While in prison, praying and singing, an earthquake shook the foundations and the chains of all the prisoners fell off. Conversions, exorcisms, persecutions, and miraculous signs. They were only there a few days, but they sure packed in a lot! After leaving there, they traveled on to Thessalonica and Berera and in both cities opposition to their message resulted in riots and essentially being run out of town. I think to say that the trip to Macedonia was eventful is a bit of an understatement.
And so, in light of all the events that took place there, I am struck by what Paul chooses to focus on when he reminisces on this trip. In a letter to the church at Corinth, in the region of Achaia, he talks about the churches in Macedonia, their neighbors to the north:
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5
Paul was struck by the generosity of the Christians in Macedonia. Secular history confirms that the region was very poor as the Romans had taken most of their wealth when they were conquered in the Macedonian wars. Paul took note of their ‘extreme poverty’ and the paradoxical response of ‘rich generosity’. I wonder if Paul thought it was a bit surreal, these poverty stricken people begging him to take their offerings to the church in Jerusalem. It certainly seems to have made an impact on him, and he throws down a challenge to the church in Corinth:
But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.
2 Corinthians 8:7-8
That Paul was a clever fellow. He went on to the tell the Corinthians how he had bragged on them to the Macedonians about their intention to give an offering to the church at Jerusalem, and then encouraged them to follow through on their plans. He stresses that they should give not because of any pressure being applied by man, but because of their love for God:
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9: 7-8
We know that the example of the Macedonians was catching, for you see, the believers in Macedonia and Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem.
Fast forward 2000 years and you will find a similar scenario taking place at Dwight Chapel in Belchertown, MA. The finish line is in sight as work continues on a new church building, but the funds needed to fully complete the project are lacking. Sacrificial, generous giving has been the hallmark of this wonderful congregation, and yet there is still not enough money. The deficit? $100,000. How can the leadership ask for people to give even more? The country is in a recession, people have already given. Can we expect a favorable outcome?
But God has heard the prayers of His people, and in His wisdom has used a member of the congregation to issue a challenge to God’s people. “The time to pray is past; we know the need and we need to give.” Bold words issued to a congregation in the midst of hard economic times.
The result? $49,800 raised for the building project in the last eight weeks. God really does bless us abundantly so that we can abound in good works! In two short months the generosity of God’s people has produced half the amount needed to complete the project, and this from a congregation of less than 100 families. What a joy to be a part of a group of people who give cheerfully ‘as much as they are able and even beyond their ability.’ Giving flows from a love for God and a desire to see His Kingdom grow.
We have had a Taste of Macedonia, right here in Belchertown. Generous, sacrificial giving which exceeded our expectations. The finish line is in sight, but we are not yet there. Stay tuned for the rest of the race. 🙂