Christmas is a season of giving. Saying that is kind of like being in a Geico commercial – “Everyone knows that” is your reply. But did you know that the impact your gifts can have doesn’t necessarily depend upon the amount of money you spend? Did you know that some gifts can bring others great joy?
Our Teens have a ministry they call ‘Share the Joy’ where they reach out to someone in need with the love of Christ. I would encourage us as a church to make that phrase our theme this holiday season. We should all look for ways that we can Share the Joy of Jesus Christ this Christmas to all those around us.
The Bible tells us about a group of churches that understood what it meant to share the joy. They were the churches located in a region called Macedonia.
2 Corinthians 8:1 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.
I. Who Were the Churches of Macedonia?
What do we know about the churches of Macedonia? History tells us that they were a part of a region that we might describe as being ‘war-torn.’ Decades of fighting of the nations around them had left them with little. Paul describes them as being people who were in ‘extreme poverty.’ As I think about the Macedonians, I see some of the kids in our Samaritan’s Purse Shoe Box videos. Dirty faced children with torn clothing who became ecstatic over a simple box of toys. Yet the Macedonians were more than just people in poverty. They were people whom we might say had nothing, yet possessed everything.
We first read about the Macedonians in Acts 16. Perhaps you’ll remember how the Apostle Paul received a special vision that was his calling to go and minister to the Macedonians. Even though Paul tried to go to other regions, the Spirit wouldn’t let him go anywhere else at that time except to Macedonia.
As we continue to read through the book of Acts we see that their churches included:
- The Philippians who at times were the only believers to financially support the Apostle Paul in his ministry. (Php 4:14-16)
- The Thessalonians who had such a powerful testimony of conversion that Paul said that the regions around them knew of the life-changing power of the gospel, even before someone told them the gospel. (1 Thess 1:2-10)
- The Bereans who were known for their spiritual hunger and desire to know biblical truth. (Acts 17:11)
Though the Macedonians had very little of this world, they were abundantly rich in the things of God. They were so full of Christian joy that it spilled over into every other area of their lives.
II. What Made the Macedonian Christians So Joyous?
At this point every Christian should be thinking –“What made the Macedonian churches so joyous?” And even more so, “Could I be someone like them? Could I share the joy of Christ this Christmas season?” I believe that there were three key ingredients to the Macedonians Christian joy:
A. They Had Gracious Hearts
2 Corinthians 8:1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;
Paul speaks of the grace of God that was bestowed upon them. What is grace? The simplest definition of grace is – ‘unmerited favor.’ Grace is doing something good for someone who maybe doesn’t deserve it.
The Bible teaches us that God’s grace affects our lives in many ways:
First there is what we might call ‘Saving Grace.’ We read from Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” The Macedonians definitely had a large portion of God’s saving grace.
The Bible also speaks of a ‘Suffering Grace.’ According to scripture, God allowed the Apostle Paul to have a ‘thorn in the flesh.’ (see 2 Cor 12:7-10) What this thorn was, we don’t know; but we do know that Paul pleaded with God to remove it. Yet the Lord didn’t remove his thorn. The Lord said to him – “My grace is sufficient for you.” (vs. 9) Historians tell us that the many of the Macedonians had suffered a lot during their lives, yet they did not let their suffering get them down. God gave them the grace to be joyful, even during times of suffering.
Then there is the kind of grace we might call ‘Standing Grace’ that enables us to stand strong during the trials of life. (see 1 Peter 5:12) The Macedonians had a large portion of standing grace. Even while other Christians were struggling during the days of persecution, the Macedonians stood strong for the things of God.
Lastly, there is what we might call ‘Serving Grace.’ Serving Grace is God working not only ‘in’ our lives, but ‘through’ our lives.
The Macedonian Christians exhibited all four kinds of grace. It might be said of the Macedonians that when they got saved – they got saved all over! The grace of God was so real in their lives that it just spilled over and caused them to ‘Share the Joy!’
B. They Had Willing Hearts
God wants to pour His grace into every believer’s life. Paul speaks of the ‘riches of His grace’ in Ephesians chapter 1. God wants us to be abundantly rich with His grace.
Some Christians, like the Corinthians, receive God’s grace and then hoard it up for themselves. They become reservoirs of grace. But then other Christians, like the Macedonians, receive God’s grace and then share it with others. They become channels of grace. What determines whether or not a Christian is a reservoir or a channel of God’s grace? It’s a matter of the heart.
2 Corinthians 8:3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;
The phrase ‘willing of themselves’ means that their generosity was completely voluntarily. No one forced them to give. It was something that they wanted to do. As a matter of fact, it seems that Paul at one point tried to hold them back some in their giving. Perhaps Paul was thinking – “You don’t need to be the ones who are taking care of others. You need someone to be taking care of you.” Yet these grace-filled Macedonians insisted that they have the opportunity to share the joy of Christ with others. No doubt part of their argument was the example of their Savior.
2 Corinthians 8:9 For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.
“How can we not give to others when the Lord has given so much to us?” was probably some of the things these believers said. It’s not hard to imagine the smile this must have brought to Paul’s face, as well as to the face of God.
2 Corinthians 9:7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:
God will show us a way to be a blessing to others, if that is our heart’s desire.
C. They Had Thankful Hearts
Lastly I would say that they had ‘thankful hearts.’ They were thankful for all that God had done for them and they wanted others to be thankful for His blessings as well. Paul tells us something very important about the Macedonian kind of giving.
2 Corinthians 9:12 For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; 13 Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; 14 And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. 15 Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.
What is Paul saying? Christian giving provides a two-fold blessing:
1. The Practical Blessing
First there is the blessing of meeting practical needs. News had reached the Macedonians that there were fellow-believers who were in need. Having been in great need themselves, no doubt they could relate to what the hurting Christians in Jerusalem were facing. Therefore they wanted to share whatever they could to help them in their practical need.
2. The Spiritual Blessing
Not only does Christian giving bring a practical blessing, it also brings a spiritual blessing as well. Paul tells us that when those in need receive the gift, they will stop and thank God for His goodness.
III. What Do the Macedonian Churches Teach Us About Sharing the Joy?
What do the Macedonians teach us about sharing the joy? I think that there are three simple lessons:
A. Give Yourself
As I think about this special time of year, perhaps the greatest gift that many of us could give to someone else wouldn’t necessarily be a physical gift that they can hold in their hands, but a spiritual gift they can hold in their hearts. Perhaps a plate full of cookies accompanied with a few hours of our time might be the greatest gift some folks could receive this Christmas.
B. Give With Joy
As I saw on the news the crowds of people who were running over the top of each other to be first in line on Friday, (or black Thursday evening), I had to wonder – ‘What was the real motivation for their madness? Was it generosity or greed?’ If we’re not careful, Christmas giving can anything but joyful. I hate to hear people complain about Christmas shopping. In my mind I think – “I’d just as soon as to get nothing as to get something that someone has grumbled about buying and giving.”
The Bible says that God loves a ‘cheerful giver.’ God loves those who give with a Christlike attitude and spirit.
C. Give in Light of God’s Gift to Us
Paul concludes his teaching on giving with a simple statement that has had a profound impact upon others down through the years.
2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.
The bottom line to all Christian giving and generosity should be God’s gift to the world. The Bible says–
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Whenever you and I get bent out of shape about giving, we should pause for a while and think about God’s gift to us. The greatest gift anyone has ever given is when God the Father gave His Son to die on the cross for our sins. God’s gift was based entirely upon His love and grace. We didn’t deserve the gift and He didn’t have to give it, yet He did. God gave us this unspeakable gift because He loved us. That is a lesson for us all to remember at this wonderful time of year.