The Macedonian Model of Selflessness (9-10-17)

Disasters have a unique way of bonding strangers together. Although they are undesirable, the urgency created by them elucidates the true characters of men. The dire circumstances brought about by destruction (whether created by nature or man), can become a powerful agent for unity by providing a common goal for those affected by the chaos. During these tragic events, strangers become friends and enemies turn into allies. Selfishness is replaced by benevolence, and apathy is removed by compassion. Indeed, the unity and harmony created by calamity is a silver lining revealed in its aftermath. In a curious fashion, destruction allows humanity to witness why “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” is the second greatest commandment given by God to His people (Matthew 22:39). Without a doubt, it is impossible to love God if we do not love our fellow man “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God Whom he has not seen” (1st John 4:20)? The apostle John’s assessment proves to be true and wise if we recall that “God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27). John concurs that during scarcity and need, man can learn to love his neighbor in a godly way because “whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him” (1st John 3:17)? Observe that the apostle John does not say that whoever waits to be asked for help, rather whoever “sees his brother in need.” John encourages his readers to take the initiative in matters concerning the needs of others and reminds man of the need he once had, concerning spiritual affairs. The beloved apostle establishes Jehovah God’s initiatory action in our rescue by manifesting “in this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1st John 4:10-11). God so loved the world, that He did not wait for man to pray to Him for salvation. He saw the need for salvation, thus He sent His only begotten Son to provide it (John 3:16-17). It is in this manner, states the inspired John, that we can prove the purity of God’s love for all of mankind. The difficult sacrifice made by the Father stands as the ultimate testament of how profoundly He loves humanity. Therefore because John exhorts us to emulate the Father in His love, it is important to understand that our love for one another requires great selflessness and sacrifice for it to precisely mirror His. The apostle Paul, too, points to the selflessness of the Master in an effort to encourage the brethren at Corinth to freely give alms to the poor of the church at Jerusalem. Paul explains that this action was “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (2nd Corinthians 8:9). Undoubtedly the apostle Paul is not speaking about the Corinthians becoming rich materialistically, but spiritually. Paul seeks to remind them that Jesus, although God and King, “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). In doing so, the Master attains the authority to command His church to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Undeniably, it was this commandment that was resplendent in the mind of Paul as he proudly boasted of the generosity displayed by the churches in Macedonia. Attempting to awaken a similar spirit in Corinth, he proclaimed “I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (2nd Corinthians 8:3-4). It is imperative to comprehend that Paul was astonished by their disposition and willingness to send aid to the brotherhood in Jerusalem; not by the amount that they sent. The apostle was astounded when they received a larger amount from Macedonia that exceeded his expectations. This surprised the apostle, especially because the churches in that region were “in a great trial of affliction” and despite this the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality” (2nd Corinthians 8:2). The churches that the apostle speaks of, according to Biblical scholars, were those at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. History reveals that this district had been reduced to deep poverty as a consequence of three civil wars. The situation in the region became so urgent that Tiberius Cesar elected to lighten the lofty weight of taxes upon them. Additionally, the apostle Paul was well aware of the daunting persecution that the churches in Macedonia had endured (2nd Thessalonians 1:4). The bitter bite of civil war had certainly left its mark in the region of Macedonia, but the Roman persecution of the church worsened the situation exponentially. In a symbolical way, John illustrates the dire conditions for the persecuted Christians as he writes “no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:17). In a previous passage of this pericope, John portrayed this injustice in the form of a black horse and its rider who “had a pair of scales in his hands” (Revelation 6:5). Both of these descriptions are referencing to the injustice that Christians would suffer at the hands of Rome. History confirms that anyone who did not deny Jesus were not only killed and tortured, but many of them were left in a state of poverty because the government would brand them as enemies to the crown and take their lands and freeze their accounts. Therefore Roman citizens were not allowed to sell to them, for they were considered guilty of treason. Thus, the apostle’s testimony of the Macedonians brightens splendidly since it was they who implored them to take their aid. There is a high probability that the apostle did not intend to ask them to assist in this effort because he was well aware of their suffering. The case could be made that they were in a position of need and could not help the brethren in Jerusalem. Yet, for Macedonia this was not an acceptable excuse. They loved their brothers as Christ loved because “they first gave themselves to the Lord and then to us by the will of God” (2nd Corinthians 8:5). Jesus, too, first gave Himself to the Father and then to us, all for the will of God to be accomplished. Irrefutably, the Macedonians displayed an extraordinary replica of this model with their willing sacrifice and pure selflessness. Indeed they are proof that God’s love, can be imitated.

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