We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—and this not merely as we expected.
2 Corinthians 8:1-5
I bought my first electric guitar when I was fourteen years old. I had spent the entire summer working and saving up for it, and when I had a few hundred dollars saved up, my dad took me over to a music store while we were traveling in San Diego. It was a black Fender Stratocaster I picked out, double humbucker with a brushed metal pickguard. I loved that guitar. Much of my teenage years would consist in practicing for years locked up in my room or jamming out with my friends (note: it’s a good idea to jam at the drummer’s house because their parents are used to the noise).
That guitar was an important part of my life for many years, but as time passed on, I didn’t play it as much as I had used to. My interests had changed, and I was more likely to be playing my acoustic Taylor or learning classical pieces on the nylon string I bought from my friend’s dad for a hundred bucks. More and more that Stratocaster just sat in the closet.
I found I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it. I was attached to it, and—what if I wanted to play it again? (Though, by this time I don’t think I had as much as touched it for two years.) It was hard for me to imagine ever getting rid of it. And I found out this wasn’t a solitary phenomenon! I had many things just lying around unused, and it was just as hard for me to imagine letting any of them go either!
Have you ever experienced something like this with any of your things? Picture one of your more prized possessions. Now imagine yourself just giving it away to someone. How do you feel? Does it make you anxious or uncomfortable to imagine?
In the passage we read above, Paul is bragging about one of the earliest Christian communities, in Macedonia, which is where both the Philippian and the Thessalonian Christians are that Paul writes to in other letters. This community was undergoing some kind of hardship although Paul doesn’t tell what (famine, drought, disease, war?). And though these people were in abject poverty, they had begged Paul to let them give what they could for the benefit of poor Christians living in Jerusalem. In a wonderful reversal, here are poor people begging not for money, but to give it away.
But why? Why are the poor begging to make themselves poorer?
Jesus Christ is why. These Macedonian Christians had experienced the overwhelming and unexpected generosity of Jesus Christ, who gave up all he possessed, even his own life, so that the Macedonians might share in his riches. Jesus gave up divine peace and joy, untouchable by the vicissitudes of life down here, and became poor. He was the son of poor parents, gave up all his possessions to teach and heal, lost friends (and wept for them), was tortured and killed by the Roman government, and couldn’t even take care of his mother—he had to ask someone else to do it. He gave up his eternal riches so that those Macedonian Christians (and you too!) could share in them.
The Macedonian Christians had experienced Jesus’ overwhelming generosity. He wasn’t just giving them a bit of money and food, but he was giving them peace, joy, resilience, a reformed life, and in the end eternal life. Their hearts were so overcome by Jesus’ generosity towards them that they wanted to be like Jesus and share generously, whatever they could, with others.
We might not be as zealous and generous as the Macedonian Christians, but you can begin to practice and the Holy Spirit will lead you there. Think of one thing that is hard for you to imagine giving away. Pray about it and ask the Holy Spirit to give you the peace and courage needed to give it up. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you who could benefit from your generosity and how. He will certainly show you because it is his greatest joy to make people generous like Jesus Christ is generous.
I ended up giving away that guitar to a friend with a lot of musical talent. It made my heart glad for her to have it, and—you know what?—I’ve never regretted the decision! Now, by the help of God, it’s getting easier for me to give other things away. I only hope that one day I can be as generous and joyful as those Macedonian Christians and their Lord who showed them such abundant generosity.