Summary: Part of our witness to whom Jesus is in our lives comes from the way in which we share that which our Lord has given to us.
First Kings offers us great insight into the way in which treaties worked in the Ancient Near East. Solomon and Hiram praise each other. They express their desire for one another’s goods and the initiate a way of producing and delivering the goods to their trade partner. At times verses like these are seen as not much more than interesting historical notes. But notice that the ability to execute this trade agreement was the direct result of the “peace” which “the Lord my God has given me.” (NLT v.4) Solomon had been blessed and because of this blessing he was in a place where he could fulfill God’s purpose-thus the agreement for the raw materials needed for the temple. Here’s a spiritual truth in this episode, Sharing is more than a business deal and sharing is more than simply a spiritual discipline. The first view fails to give us any sense of joy while the second allows us to trivialize our gifts.
God is the giver of all we have as well as all we are. Seeing this truth allows us to focus on how blessed we already are. And the reason that God has blessed us is in order that we will share with others in the name of Jesus. This adventure that Christ has involved us in is moves us along the road from caring to compassion and on to confession. Journeying along this road we end up touching others in powerful and life-changing ways.
God’s people in Macedonia discovered this type of sharing was an indispensable ingredient in their lives if they were going to faithfully live for Jesus. Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea had been three stops for Paul as he shared the gospel in a new place. In Philippi Paul and Silas are beaten and tossed in prison because they cast a demon out of a girl. In Thessalonica and Berea it’s the Jews who stir up problems claiming that the news of Jesus was “turning the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6)
Those saw Jesus as a new God by those who were Jews and as a rival King to Caesar. Because of this to live as a follower of Christ would be hard to do. In fact, there were those living in those cities that probably looked at the church like we look at some of the cults we’ve seen in our world. When Paul brought word that the church in Jerusalem was worse off than they were these believers were more than ready to respond. In fact, Paul tells us they were overjoyed at the chance to be a part of those who helped their sisters and brothers.
Corinth was a different case. It was a lot like Portland. It was a crossroads of culture. It was a major shipping hub for Greece. It was a city that lacked nothing and was open to almost everything. Paul even describes the church in Corinth as lacking no spiritual gift. Poor and wealthy believers alike were part of the house churches meeting in the city. Yet here this “strange belief”, this Jesus didn’t cause the stir he had earlier. The church didn’t stick out so much in the cosmopolitan culture of Corinth. It seems that the troubles faced by other believers didn’t find it’s way into the big city.
Paul shares with them in the chapter 8 that sharing goes beyond what is expected. The Macedonian Churches are held up as examples of what it looks like to give beyond what one expects. They weren’t satisfied with giving the minimum but were excited by the prospect of giving something more, something extra, to their sisters and brothers.
Their giving was a work of the Spirit not human manipulation. Paul didn’t trick them into giving. He didn’t use guilt or coercion. He told them of the need and they responded with a free and open heart. There is a sense in which they held nothing back but willingly poured themselves out for the sake of others. One can almost imagine Paul overwhelmed by their compassion as they begged to take the money that they had collected. He may well have reminded them of their own needs only to be met with the pleading of the people to take the gift.
This wasn’t a business deal or a political contribution for these churches. They didn’t give thinking that if they give God a campaign contribution they would get access to the big man when they needed it. It also wasn’t just a spiritual exercise in piety for the Macedonians. I once had a friend who told me that they gave because it made him a better person inside. No, these churches gave because their gifts were busy making a life and death difference to other people whom they didn’t even know; but whom Jesus did.