Considering their reception by the people in Macedonia (Paul’s second missionary journey) is to understand the extent to which God’s grace transforms lives. Paul and Silas were unjustly imprisoned in Philippi because casting the demon from a slave girl destroyed her master’s prospects for financial gain (Acts 16:18). In Thessalonica the unbelieving Jews rioted because the words Paul preached brought many Gentles and prominent women to faith in Christ. Jealousy over their loss of power and influence prompted the Jews to form a mob that set the city in an uproar (Acts 17:5). Paul escaped the city only after money was given as security against further disturbances of the peace (Acts 17:9). Their reception in Berea was more favorable. However, when Jews from Thessalonica heard of Paul’s preaching they traveled the 50 miles and began to stir up trouble there as well. This caused Paul to leave the region all together (Acts 17:14).
In spite of the difficulties they encountered on their initial inroads into the region, here Paul writes of the enthusiasm and “wealth of generosity” the people of the Macedonian churches had in their effort to give in relief of the poor in Jerusalem. Paul uses the Macedonian churches as an example of how God’s grace caused them to give sacrificially, viz. “beyond their means” (v.3). There was no need to compel these saints to give because they had first dedicated themselves to the Lord, then to the work of the ministry by the will of God (v.5). Unexpectedly, the saints in the Macedonian churches begged to be part of the relief effort. Paul’s encouragement to the church at Corinth was that in addition to their growth in faith, Christians speech, knowledge of the Word, and love for Christ’s ministers, they emulate the acts of grace demonstrated by the Macedonian churches (v.7).
Paul’s ultimate example of a gracious act of giving is our Lord Jesus Christ (v.9). He was rich in his preexistent status as the eternal Son of God in heaven (John 1:1–3; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:6). But He became poor in the humility of his incarnation, including his death (Rom. 15:3; Phil. 2:7–8), so that believers might become rich in salvation and all the benefits that flow from it. What Christ has done for the Corinthians is to be reflected in what they do for others.
This encouragement also applies to us. To grow in faith, knowledge, speech, etc., it is not enough to prove our authenticity as Christian believers. The grace we experience by the will of God must be demonstrated in what we do for others. But this is possible only as we dedicate ourselves first to the Lord and next to the work of His ministry. His grace will be reflected in us because the extent to which His grace changes us equates to a total life and lifestyle transformation. By His grace we are newly created in His spiritual image. And by His grace we live, move, and exist.
As you seek to excel in Christian education and stewardship, be sure to excel in gracious acts of giving. Remember Peter’s admonition to us as Christ’s children: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV). Our love for others compels us to give sacrificially (viz., “beyond our means”) by the grace of God. How will you excel in gracious acts of giving?