(Appeared first in June 2012, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
In the midst of a very severe trial, [the Macedonians’] 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.—2 Corinthians 8:2-3 (TNIV)
Whenever I read Paul’s letters to the churches, I am moved by the many signs of God at work, enabling God’s people to carry out God’s mission beyond their own natural means. Paul worried about the immaturity and self-centeredness of the church at Corinth, so he reminds them of their high calling in Christ. In the passage cited above, Paul appeals to the example of the neighboring church at Macedonia as a model of self-giving love. This missional church put its faith into action by sharing from its limited resources.
In the midst of their struggles, the Macedonians demonstrated a vital trait of the missional church. Indeed, Paul testified that they gave “beyond their ability” to bring assistance to a sister church who was in serious need. It gives me hope that our church, too, can transcend the natural tendency to focus on ourselves, empowered by the Holy Power to give to others beyond our natural limitations.
I’m gripped by Paul’s choice of an example of generosity from an impoverished group—hardly the people that first come to mind in a modern fund-raising campaign. Yet this is consistent with my own experience among “mission churches” in poorer countries and the stories I hear from others. Statistics show that many of the so-called poorer churches give more generously (at least by percentage) to others in need than do wealthy churches. I call to mind the widow who put her last coins into the temple offering. What love and devotion to God must surely have motivated that act of generosity. Jesus commended her for giving more than all the others.
It’s clear that missional churches put their faith into action; they “walk the talk” by the way they relate to others around them. That’s the point of the sixth missional trait that is highlighted in the Purposeful Plan for our church:
Missional character trait: A missional community is indicated by how Christians behave toward one another.
Signpost: Acts of self-sacrifice on behalf of one another both in the church and in the locale characterize the generosity of the community.
Recently I’ve noticed the transformative work wrought by the Spirit in the life of Matthew, the apostle. Jesus called Matthew to become a disciple when he was a tax collector. But over time, Matthew became a foremost teacher on generosity. Matthew’s Gospel has more references to money than any other New Testament book. In that vein, Matthew explains the principles of giving. He is the only Gospel writer who mentions the importance of giving alms in secret, without letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing (Matthew 6:1-4). He is the only one who speaks of the great white throne judgment, where people will be judged by how they gave to others (25:31-46).
He is the only one who mentions Jesus’ saying that when we give to the needs of the disciples, we give to Christ (10:40-42). Matthew’s gift of generosity has shaped our understanding of Christian faith, and helps to form us in the image of Christ.
Generous sharing is but one of many ways Christians demonstrate in word and deed how much they care for one another and the community around them. If you’re looking for a practical list, you might use a Bible concordance to find the dozens of exhortations with the words “one another” or “each other.” Better yet, open your eyes to the evidence that God is at work in the world, turning people from self-centeredness to engage in the many ways God uses to bring healing and hope to the world.