Feeding Other Churches

1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

2 Corinthians 8:1-5 (ESV)

When the pilgrims reached America in 1620, they faced a winter of cold, disease, and death. These Christian settlers, however, were not alone. They had hired sailors to help them make the journey: men, largely unconverted, who suffered and died alongside their believing passengers. One sailor, on the brink of death, reported the difference between the salty crew and the band of saints: “You, I now see, show your love like Christians indeed one to another, but we let one another lie and die like dogs.”[1] Jesus predicted this response. He knew that the love Christians have for one another would bear Him witness (John 13:34-35). Paul, likewise, taught that faithful Christian churches will express love—in tangible ways—to sister churches throughout the world.

In this passage, Paul called the Corinthians to support the church in Jerusalem. Since Pentecost, thousands of Jews had become disciples of Christ. Conversions in such numbers did not go unnoticed, and the new believers quickly faced the social and economic consequences of newfound convictions. Their precarious situation was only exacerbated by a widespread famine (Acts 11:27-30). Thus, it is no surprise that, when commissioned as an apostle to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:9), Paul was asked to remember the poor, “the very thing,” he wrote, “I was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10). For Paul, this meant instructing the Corinthians to financially support Jewish Christians they might never meet.

Paul lifted up the work of the Macedonian churches as an example of compassion. Although poor themselves they “overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (v. 2). Their offering was not large for it was limited by their poverty (v. 3). Nonetheless, they gave sacrificially, willingly, and joyfully. They were anxious, like Paul, to remember the poor. Did the Corinthians heed Paul’s instructions? Yes. Later, writing to the church in Rome, Paul was able to report that both churches in Macedonia and Achaia (of which Corinth was the capital) contributed to the “poor saints in Jerusalem” (Rom. 15:26).

Today’s Christians are quick to discuss which humanitarian aid organization to support. They fervently debate the role of governments in ending global poverty. Rightly so; the command to love one’s neighbor demands that Christians think biblically about the best ways to serve suffering believers and unbelievers—even if they end up disagreeing on the solution. However, congregations bear a particular responsibility to support believers—whether they are next door or across the world. Biblically speaking, no one church should live in isolation, especially when her members are suffering.

How is a local congregation to be faithful to this biblical truth? Perhaps by developing relationships with smaller, struggling churches in the area; congregations serving believers in the inner-city may need the support of wealthier churches in the suburbs. Perhaps by finding a sister church overseas and being a conduit of spiritual and physical sustenance. Perhaps by cooperating with a denomination that is seriously trying to provide for the “relief of the saints.”

In all the controversy over how to end extreme poverty, believers can agree that the Church will be judged by the outside world on the basis of the love Christians have, one for another. We dare not be found allowing fellow brothers and sisters in Christ “to lie and die like dogs.”


[1] William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, ed. Samuel Morison (New York: The Modern Library, 1952), 78.