Responding to Suffering with Compassion and Generosity
Early Christians responded to suffering with compassion and generosity. The fundraising examples recorded by Luke and Paul of the early church fundraising for the needs of others should serve as an example to us.
Antioch Church Provides Famine Relief
Acts chapter 11 describes the founding and growth of the church in Antioch, a church planted by unnamed believers from Cyprus and Cyrene. It was in Antioch that Barnabas and Paul began their ministry together and where the followers of Jesus were called “Christians” for the first time.
In verse 27-30, we are told of a prophesied famine. The church in Antioch responds with a collection for the relief of the church in Jerusalem. The collection is delivered by Barnabas and Paul (Acts 12:25).
During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11: 27-30)
In A.D 45-46, during the reign of Emperor Claudius, famine struck Judea impacting the young church in Jerusalem. This famine is historically attested by ancient non-Christian writers such as Josephus, Tacitus, and Dio Cassius.
When the Holy Spirit moves us to respond to crises in our day, we should be encouraged by the example of the Antioch Believers, each giving what he or she was able, to provide for their suffering brothers and sisters.
Paul Organizes Financial Collections for the Poor
Paul organized several other collections to address suffering in Jerusalem. In Romans 15:25-26, Paul writes about the money donated by the Gentile churches saying,
Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem.
1 Corinthians 16:1-4 provides another example as Paul tells the church in Corinth to take up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem which will then be delivered for their aid.
Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.
Again, in 2 Corinthians 8-9 Paul describes the joy of the Macedonia church in providing generously for the relief of other Believers. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 Paul writes,
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 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.
This passage has some remarkable truths on which to reflect. The first is that Paul refers to the Macedonians’ generosity as a “grace” given by God. We are only able to give because everything we have ourselves comes from God. That fact that we can give is a proof of God’s gracious provision to us. In verse 7 Paul urges them to excel in this act of grace.
Second, the Macedonians gave generously despite their own poverty. This should challenge to us; generosity is an attitude of the heart which overflows to action. The rich are not the only ones able to give generously but the poor may also partake in this “grace” from God.
Third, they gave sacrificially. Paul says that they gave even beyond what they were able. An example of sacrificial giving, from Christians who themselves were in extreme poverty, should serve as a challenge to those of us who struggle this level of generosity.
Lastly, they eagerly sought opportunities to give. Paul says that they “urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.” How many of us urgently plead for opportunities to show generosity?
I encourage you to read 2 Corinthians 8-9 where Paul talks in depth about generosity and meeting the needs of others. As you read you will see that the generosity Paul describes is a heart posture that recognizing God’s provision and because of that, cheerfully looks for ways to serve others. As you read, pray that God would cultivate in you a generous heart.
Responding to the Needs of Our Day
Our broken world in filled with opportunities to use the resources God has given us to relieve the suffering of others. We can easily become overwhelmed by the immensity of suffering we see and a feeling of helplessness. Be encouraged that God has called you to be active in the grace of generosity. It is a blessing and privilege that God invites us to serve others in this way. You cannot meet all the needs of the world, but you can help meet some of them. Pray for wisdom and the courage to give generously.
If you’re unsure where to get involved, start with an issue or situation the Lord has put on your heart. If you’d like a suggestion, consider donating to our fundraiser supporting Samaritan’s Purse response to the war in Ukraine. And finally, don’t forget to pray for those in need that the sovereign Lord will meet the physical and spiritual needs of a suffering world.