II CORINTHIANS 8:5b
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
II Cor. 8:5b “. . .and unto us. . .”
Poor Macedonians gave generously to even poorer believers in Jerusalem, but only after giving themselves to the Lord. They decided all they had belonged to Jesus. Once this decision is made, it is easier to give to God than to spend on self.
The Macedonians also gave themselves “unto us,” to Paul and others who could help get the job done. They knew they could not accomplish God’s required mission on their own. The Lord’s kingdom enterprise is vast. It is egotism at its worst to be a Lone Ranger in God’s work. Realizing this, the Macedonians, with a deep sense of humility, joined hands with others to accomplish the task at hand.
Determined to discharge God’s work effectively, the Macedonians committed themselves to trustworthy leaders of the work. They loved Paul, and wed their lives to his ministry. They sent Sopater, Secundus, and Aristarchus to help Paul on his third missionary journey (AC 20:4). Aristarchus accompanied Paul on his dangerous voyage to Rome (AC 27:2). Paul was a prisoner in chains, but Aristarchus was not ashamed. He was on a mission, to help the beloved Apostle in his time of need. When Paul was wasting away in a Roman dungeon, the Macedonians of Philippi sent a love offering by the hand of Epaphroditus, who risked his life and almost died on this mission of mercy. Deeply touched, Paul called him “my brother and fellow-worker and fellow-soldier” (PH 2:25 NAS). Epaphroditus carried home the New Testament’s most joyous book, the letter to the Philippians.
The Macedonians trusted Paul enough to follow his lead. They felt he was in line with God’s will. Paul understood his leadership role. He did not view it as absolute. He told the Corinthians, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 C 11:1). Paul was to be followed solely to the extent he followed Jesus.
It is not a leader’s place to determine what direction God’s people should go. God makes that call. A leader’s job is to help people effectively move in the direction God has determined. I see myself as a flag-man waving traffic on a highway God has already prepared. Jesus is the Leader, capital L; I am a leader, little l.
Our church motto is deeper in holiness, farther in outreach, wider in ministry, stronger in bonding. None of these ideas is an original notion. Each is from the Lord, clearly set forth in Holy Writ. Any time a leader sets his own agenda, do not follow. But if a leader is following the Lord, then follow without reservation.
The Macedonians felt safe in giving themselves to Paul because he had given himself to them. He brought the message of salvation to them, and then went from being their evangelist to being their teacher and companion. He held nothing back. There has maybe never been a more transparent and open minister than Paul the Apostle. He bared his soul to his dear people in his life, letters, and sermons.
To me, this giving of one’s very self to a congregation is the essence of pastoral ministry. To take a public office in a church is to become in a way public property. Ministers do have to be willing to live in a fish bowl, visible to all, and judged by all. Dad taught me by his example to live in such a way that there is no need to try to hide things. He taught me my duty, to live in such a way that I could without fear of embarrassing Christ or His Church exercise the necessary virtue of openness. Be consistent. What you are in public, be in private also. Keep everything up front, on the table, be honest and transparent. I have tried to convey the same message to my household. Thus, my relationship with my family is such that if I were inconsistent at home for a nanosecond, they would call me on the carpet.
For even further accountability, my physician is a member of our church, as is my banker, my accountant, my lawyer. As best we know how, Ruth and I have given ourselves to God and to you. We try to walk close to God, determined to be holy, and we desire to love you with nothing held back. To the best of my knowledge, the same is true of your dear staff. To the person, they are godly, holy, loving people. What you see on the platform is what they are behind the scenes. They do not come here to be holy; they carry the holy with them. They do not in private tell dirty jokes or make light of you, dear people. They do not slouch off in their labors in your behalf. Each works extremely hard. If anything, I have to ride herd on them to make sure they don’t work too much. You can give yourselves to them. You can trust them. This praise is necessary, for when it comes to giving, trust in leadership matters. It was important to the Macedonians, and is to you.
The Macedonians gave themselves first to the Lord and to His leaders, with the result being a closer bond with other believers. They understood that being connected with Jesus and His shepherds entailed also being connected with His people, the flock of God. Shame on us North American Christians for being the first believers in history to try to define ourselves apart from the organized church.
We who grew up in the sixties and seventies often bought into our culture’s decision to cast off institutions. Unfortunately, we conveyed this sad legacy of cynicism to our children. When rebelling against the establishment, we wrongly threw the Church into the mix, as if it were just another organization among many.
Every Christian deeply owes the Church. Every believer can trace their spiritual ancestry to a church member. A member of the church preaches to us, a member of it teaches our children. She is the chief means of extending God’s kingdom.
Next time someone bad-mouths the Church, ask when they last went to a Kansas City homeless shelter, to Nepal, to China, or anywhere else on mission. Ask what risk they’re taking to get the Jesus Film into repressive countries. Be slow to stand outside the Church and harshly criticize her. Workers in the scorching sun find it hard to heed someone under a shade tree offering advice on how to swing a sickle better. The active tend to be skeptical of advice offered by the inactive.
We who belong to the Church know she is not perfect. I have given a third of a century in preaching and ministry to try to help bolster her. If I ever find a perfect church, I will not join it, for if I did, it would immediately become imperfect.
The Church cannot be perfect because none of her members is perfect. People are not angels. Forgetting this fact has caused preachers to leave the ministry, teachers to forsake their classes, members to give up faithful attendance. We need to get a grip. Folks are just folks, they have sin natures, they mess up, they sin.
Everyone knows the Church in North America is struggling with her own sinfulness. Our brand of Christianity has produced a generation of believers who too often define the faith in terms of what it can do for them. Many serve God selfishly, solely for what He can do for them or their family. They choose a church in light of what it can do for them, not for what they can do for it. Our pews contain many whose understanding of Christianity is self-oriented. As a result, some are saying, if you want to find the love of Jesus, the last place to look is a church. I feel this is too harsh, but if perception is as important as reality, we have to admit Christians are facing a long, hard row to hoe in convincing the world we love it.
The Church is imperfect, but still Christ’s bride, and the only New Testament sanctioned expression of the Universal Church is a local church. Friend, find a church to join. Seek out one whose leaders are going where God is leading, and join it. If it is okay for one believer not to join the church, it is okay for everybody not to join, and the result of that would be the crippling of God’s work on earth.
It is time for all believers to cooperate with one another in the work. United we stand, divided we fall. Right now we need to stand shoulder to shoulder, pushing in the same direction. I’m reminded of a man who tried to get his couch out the front door. When the couch lodged and would not budge, he enlisted a neighbor’s help. They got on each end of the couch and pushed until totally exhausted. Finally, the homeowner said, “I’m never going to get this couch out of here.” His neighbor replied with dismay, “Out?” They had been pushing against each other.
Be not ashamed of us, your imperfect brothers and sisters in Christ. Hear Charles Spurgeon’s story. When he became a believer, he was determined to join a church immediately, but had to undergo an interview with the pastor. “I called upon the minister four successive days. . . .Each day there was some obstacle in the way of an interview; and as I could not see him at all, I wrote and told him that I would go down to the church-meeting, and propose myself as a member. He looked upon me as a strange character, but I meant what I said; for I felt I could not be happy without fellowship with the people of God. I wanted to be wherever they were; and if anybody ridiculed them, I wished to be ridiculed with them; and if people had an ugly name for them, I wanted to be called by that ugly name.”
It is time for Christians to come out of the closet. Everybody else is. We need to declare which side we are on. These are the times that try men’s soul. A war is raging for the soul of our nation. If we don’t join now, when the battle is engaged, when will we join? Identify yourself with God’s people. The Macedonians did.