For about five years of his ministry (52-57 AD), the Apostle Paul was collecting money from believers in Greece and Asia Minor for “the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem” (Romans 15:26). The Hebrew Christian recipients were suffering because of a famine that had begun the previous decade (see Acts 11:27-30), and also because of high taxes that were being inflicted by Rome and the Jewish authorities. For Paul, meeting physical needs was not a substitute for preaching the Gospel; rather, it was a demonstration of the gospel.
I mention this historic fund raising campaign from nearly 2,000 years ago because of the remarkable parallels to our current situation. Today, Christians from all over the world are being called upon to help those who find themselves in difficult circumstances because of the combination of catastrophic natural forces and government overreach. But the most beautiful parallel is that the need is being met through the joint efforts of the wealthy and the giving poor.
While the gifts of the wealthy are absolutely essential, we cannot miss the grace of God manifested when the poor give. Paul referenced the poor from the Macedonian churches when he said, “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2). To drive home the matter, he continued, “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people” (8:3-4).
…the privilege of sharing…
This joint effort was beautifully demonstrated to me last night in a text exchange with a pastor I know who ministers to a poor community here in Costa Rica. I had recently received from one of our regular donors a special gift that was meant to help feed the most needy. After praying about where to direct the gift, I contacted this pastor and let him know about the funds. Needless to say, he was overjoyed. “This is from God!” he texted. “We have a program to help families in isolation. We have already helped some with a lot of effort. This money will help us to help other families in the community. With all my heart thank you very much, pastor.”
A few minutes later he sent this photo, and texted, “Pastor, these are supplies that we are collecting to help people in the community who are in need. With money from the donation we will be able to buy much more to help more people. Once again thank you very much and thank you to [the donors].”
The wealthy couple who sent the funds and the humble donors who gave from their poverty will likely never meet on this earth. But together they have laid up treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21) while simultaneously meeting genuine need here on earth.
This is the church at its absolute best.